by Eve Mitchell, originally posted on We’re Hir We’re Queer here.
I recently finished reading Michael Staudenmaier’s Truth and Revolution: A History of Sojourner Truth Organization 1969-1986. Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) was a majority white revolutionary group that worked closely with Black Nationalist and Black Power groups to build autonomist workplace, community, identity- and issue-based organizations. They are most known for their theoretical contributions including the white skin privilege analysis and theory of dual consciousness. Perhaps their most well-known writing (which was originally a speech) is “Black Worker, White Worker,” which describes their approach in building militant, fighting groups that organize on the demands of the most oppressed layers of the class. Concretely, in their time and in the spaces they organized, that meant the Black proletarian.
However, as Truth and Revolution describes, STO was involved in many forms of struggle including the early anti-nuke movement, the women’s liberation movement, some immigrant defense work, among other things. The sheer amount of work they accomplished with very few people and resources in the span of a 17 years is extremely impressive. This post will discuss some other reflections I have on their work. These reflections are relevant to me in this stage of my organizing and experience, having recently moved to New York City and attempted to help build the Florence Johnston Collective (aka Flo Jo), a group that organizes within and across feminized workplaces, alongside working to build Unity and Struggle, a small, national, left communist grouping for the last five years.(1) Obviously both of these tasks have been carried out in an extremely low movement time, in the wake of some interesting struggle globally and some upticks nationally and regionally. My comments may not reflect some of the broader lessons to be learned from STO; I recommend checking out Truth and Revolution itself to extract those.
1. Privilege Theory and STO’s Race Politics.
Elsewhere I have written substantial critiques of how today’s activists and the Left use privilege theory and identity politics. While I think this is qualitatively different from how STO used them, I agree with Staudenmaier when he writes that STO must bear some of the responsibility for how this theory continues to be applied.
Continue reading Reflections on Truth and Revolution: A History of Sojourner Truth Organization 1969-1986
Towards a Revolutionary Party, the Sojourner Truth Organization
I am a member of Unity & Struggle in Texas and I want to share an early pamphlet of the Sojourner Truth Organization (STO) that I re-read recently that has been a critical supplement for me of our group’s organizational studies. It is called “Towards a Revolutionary Party” (TARP) and was written in 1971, just two years after STO was founded and after the collapse of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), the national student civil rights and anti-war network from which it emerged.
STO, like many New Communist organizations, grew out of the Revolutionary Youth Movement (RYM) opposition to the Progressive Labor Party’s (PLP) dominate tendency in SDS called Worker Student Alliance (WSA). When PLP took the position that all nationalism is reactionary it overnight put them in opposition to every national liberation struggle and hence every revolutionary Left tendency including the American Black movement which was then seen by many as a national liberation fight. RYM formed as a broad opposition to the WSA which inevitably led to another broad opposition to the Weathermen faction (which became RYM I), a group that emphasized and undertook armed struggle then and who felt that the American working class was inherently backward, and RYM II. It was out of RYM II that many Marxist Leninist pre-parties and grouplets would take shape and this included what would become the STO.
Continue reading Libertarian Marxism meets Leninism: some thoughts on STO’s “Towards a Revolutionary Party” (1971)
I appreciate the overview Don Hamerquist has written dealing with the meaning of Lenin and Leninism for building revolutionary organization today. I think the timing of Hamerquist’s essay couldn’t be better for personal and historical reasons. For the last three years many around what is now Gathering Forces have been thinking about the relationship between revolutionary organization and mass politics in ongoing organizing efforts. Thinking through and against the history of the Bolsheviks, in particular Lenin, has been one way of many ways this process has taken place.
The historical reasons are also important and explain a lot about what on the surface only seems like a relatively isolated process. This is a moment of ideological recomposition where we can’t take up any kind of ready-made ideas and practices. Many of the old divisions of different traditions have been scrambled.
At this time there is no way I can take up all the issues Hamerquist raises. Important questions I won’t address here are, nevertheless, part of the mission of the GF blog and will be taken up over time, all of which go well beyond a specific discussion about Lenin.
I have broad agreement with much of what Hamerquist writes, even if I have specific questions over where we might disagree: the question of the state and the transition to communism and the question of consciousness. I also have a lot of agreement with what Tom Wetzel writes in Anarchism, Class Struggle and Political Organization, the original article Hamerquist is partially responding to, as well as Wetzel’s response. Unfortunately, I don’t have time right now to synthesize these agreements or dive in fully to what Hamerquist sees as the failure to take power seriously in this tradition, which Wetzel would would deny.
Rather than taking them up in a point-by-point way, what follows are a number of brief thoughts, not fully developed in any way, which overlap with the concerns of all these essays. There is a lot of work to be done in a time where I think a lot of us feel we are rooted in some basic principles but have to work through this contemporary moment and construct a new historical tradition and way of working in order to arrive at some answers to fill these principles out in theory and in action.
Continue reading Thinking about Hamerquist on Revolutionary Organization and Lenin