A Call to Study Historical Materialism

The economic crisis throughout the world, including the US, continues to unfold, and the outline of a political crisis in the US is beginning to emerge. It is becoming urgent for those of us who see the necessity of fundamental societal change to deepen our understanding of how and why societies change. This demands we turn to the study and the further development of Marxist thought.

It is impossible to have an in-depth understanding of the world we live in today without developing an understanding of, at least, the basics of Marxist philosophy. As Harry Selsam and Harry Martel put it in Reader in Marxist Philosophy, Marx and Engels believed “philosophy, in the old sense of the term, had come to an end, and that the solutions offered by conventional philosophy, brilliant as many of them were, were nevertheless infected with an alienation from reality. The time had come, they maintained, for the emergence of a new type of philosopher, one whose feet were on the ground, and who regarded the social practice of mankind as both the source of philosophical concepts and the criterion of their truth.” These “new philosophers” were not inventing or discovering anything, but rather only giving expression to the actual realities of the world as it existed.

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"A New and Unsettling Force": The Leadership of the Poor

The dispossessed of this nation — the poor, both white and Negro — live in a cruelly unjust society. They must organize a revolution against that injustice, not against the lives of the persons who are their fellow citizens, but against the structures through which society is refusing to take means which have been called for, and which are at hand, to lift the load of poverty.

The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.

Rev. Dr. King wrote these words for a series of lectures he gave in December of 1967. The passage is one of the clearest statements of how he saw America’s political and economic situation at that time; as well as the vision and strategy behind his call for a Poor People’s Campaign. Looking closely at it can help us understand that vision and strategy, especially the idea that the poor — as a united social force — can and must lead the rest of our society.

That idea is more true today than ever. The current technological revolution is transforming every part of the economy all over the world. Because of our “cruelly unjust” class-based society, this revolution is bringing more poverty and violence instead of shared wealth. The poor are feeling the effects first: they’re becoming totally unnecessary, from the perspective of those who own and control the economy. This puts them in position to lead the “middle class” to political independence and clarity, as they face the trauma and fear of downward mobility.

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Book Review: Always with Us? What Jesus Really Said about the Poor by Liz Theoharis

The New Poor People’s Campaign, of which Dr. Liz Theoharis and Dr. William Barber are National Co-Chairs, does not just commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s Poor People’s Campaign; it is a New Poor People’s Campaign for today. Never has such a Campaign been more needed. And the Co-Chairs are eminently qualified to make this a national and historic movement. The Rev. Dr. Barber, who wrote the Foreword to Theoharis’ book, comes from the North Carolina NAACP where he created a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-everything movement of the poor in their own interest. The Rev. Dr. Theoharis has spent the last two decades of her life organizing among the poor in the United States and worldwide. Together, they have travelled through more than 20 states, organizing among the poor.

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Digital Capital Is Still Capital, And There Is Nothing About It That Marx Would Enjoy

On the topic of digital technology and automation, the business world has woken up to concerns that organized auto workers in Detroit have been raising since the 1970s.

Digital technology and artificial intelligence have revolutionized the way business is done in every major industry. Technology no longer simply reduces the need for human labor in production and circulation. In many cases, computers and robots replace people altogether.

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Taking Action Together

Alicia: One of the goals of our movement is to develop the leadership of the poor as a social force.  What is the significance of the Poor People’s Campaign: a National Call for Moral Revival (PPC) in developing the leadership of the poor as a social force?

 

Emily: There are not many movements or organizations that explicitly name the poor at all, nor are they specific about the need to organize the poor as a social force. So just introducing that framework is an important intervention in the movement landscape. As well, we shift from the common community organizing model of identifying local, winnable issues and instead start with an analysis of multiple systems and work to build a movement with broad goals and a shared analysis. That shared analysis enables the poor to be organized as a social force.

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Leadership Across Difference

An interview with leaders from Put People First! PA

The following interview was conducted with Put People First! PA’s Nijmie Dzurinko, Phil Wider and Borja Gutiérrez. PPF is a statewide membership organization among poor and working class people in Pennsylvania. It is leading a “health care is a human right” campaign and has been involved in the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. In this interview we discuss PPF’s role in the Poor People’s Campaign and how they are building unity among the working class. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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The Capitalist Class & the Council on Foreign Relations

The University of the Poor seeks to identify and develop leaders of the poor and dispossessed in order to build the unity of that class. By dispossessed, we mean those who do not own private property: factories, plants, stores, banks, farms, etc. All we own is personal property: cars, TVs, furniture, perhaps a house, etc. The poor – if you count everyone at or below twice the “official” poverty line – are about 48 percent (nearly half) of the population of the United States. Four out of five – 80 percent – of the population will experience poverty at some point in their lives. Those are the people we aim to unite.

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You Only Get What You're Organized to Take!

John Wessel-McCoy: In your experience of the poor organizing the poor, where do we begin?  

Willie Baptist: Like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, “”The prescription for the cure rests with the accurate diagnosis of the disease.”

Any approach to social change, organizing and leadership development has to be based on an accurate assessment of the situation, on an accurate analysis of the problem you aim to solve.  If you have one assessment or a certain diagnosis of the disease to be cured, you’re going to have a particular prescription and a particular approach to the solution. Either we’re dealing with a teddy bear or we’re dealing with a grizzly bear, and either estimate will determine a different set of tactics and correspondently a different organizing approach.  If you think you’re dealing with a teddy bear and in reality it’s a grizzly bear coming at you, you’re going to be in trouble. So an exact estimate of the situation has to be where you begin. This involves a tremendous amount of intellectual work to effectively and efficiently guide the practical work of particularly the poor organizing the poor.

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