In the year 2042, an oral history of the then 25 year-old ongoing Revolutionary Participatory Society organization/project in the U.S. will be published. The book’s fifteen chapters will excerpt and arrange insights culled from eighteen interviews to present events and ideas in a sequential, encompassing way.
By unknown dynamics, the book’s introduction, its 18 source interviews, and even drafts of its chapters, have begun to appear via email in the present. The web site at http://rps2044.org presents more about the project, its aims, and ways to relate to it, and offers more of its substance as well.
In any event, the interviewer is named Miguel Guevara and the interviewee in this article is named Andrej Goldman. The year they meet is 2041. The interview delivered below is a virtually verbatim transcription. Also, as there are 18 interviews and since Guevara will seek to avoid undue overlap, no one interview serves as more than a facet of the larger whole.
Andrej Goldman, you are an economist and activist born in 1987. You have been involved with RPS since its origin, You have held various movement jobs while writing numerous books and articles and teaching in various institutions. You have been deeply involved in the process of continually revising RPS program and vision. I thank you for participating in this project, and to start, I wonder, do you remember your radicalization?
When I was in college I got into economics as a major. My classmates eagerly did equations and recited pat answers about supply and demand. They argued about government spending and private investment, and I just got bored.
I tried. I took course after course until I could recite acceptable answers to sterile questions. But I had no idea what working in a corporation was like or how a corporation functioned. It was as if a medical doctor knew a lot of biochemistry but not what lungs are much less how to treat them.
I was fully radicalized during my college years by major campaigns against militarism, but before that, not long after arriving at school, I remember I went to a particular militant demonstration. I found myself agreeing with what various speakers said and admiring the activists’ willingness to take a visible, public stand. After I left, I wondered, what did it mean to watch something, admire it, respect it, feel happy it was happening, but not join in more fully?
That was me, and before long I decided that when I thought something was right, and if I believed I could further it, I should. I think that likely had a big impact on my joining the boycott efforts.
What also comes to mind to answer your question, is that on graduating, with the boycott campaigns raging fiercely, I visited some workplaces to see whether my economics training was as bereft of wisdom as I thought. This was an irreversible turning point. I watched people doing various rote jobs. They told me what the jobs did to them. I saw what other jobs, like being a manager did to other people. It was real economics and intensified my radicalization.
Can you tell us what events in RPS history most affected you personally?
I am not sure I can rank them, but I was incredibly inspired by the 2021 Public Schools for the People campaign and much later by the 2027 Amazon sit down strike and the support it garnered and spinoffs it propelled. In each case I got to see the action and feel the spirit. The joy and courage were incredibly infectious.
Envision being in a high school auditorium. Parent after parent speaks, often haltingly, always emotively. They recount their own lack of education. They reveal loneliness. They reveal desire for community and for the benefits of having a center to learn and socialize. You listen and you know they want roses on their tables, not diamonds on their necks.
And regarding the Amazon strike, I wasn’t an employee but I did line up outside in support and defense. The courage those workers showed, sitting down and telling the owners, the police, and the state that they simply would not be moved short of their winning dignity and income was phenomenal. I remember there was this constant effort to break their spirit. One of the techniques was a steady flow of rumors about gangs coming to attack them, but support outside put the lie to that.
The people involved were the leaders, the source of energy. They set the tone. The strike was working class to to its core. Its participants were compassionate and militant. They danced and fought. Both these experiences were exemplary for all who participated or who even just encountered them, and for whatever reasons each touched me particularly deeply.
Once you get a bit later, inspiring events and campaigns arrived almost daily. Each one moved me more than the last because each always built on what went before and foreshadowed what was to come, yet something about those two early experiences stuck with me, so that even now, when you ask, I answer with them.
Returning to the origins of RPS, what role did the early boycotts play?
The Wall Street march unleashed incredible energy and desire. It showed that a large sector of the population rejected the deadening past and wanted to contribute to an enlivening future.
I was in college, living near Boston studying economics, which was still, back then – you can see this was a refrain for me – a thankless intellectually sterile and elite-serving pursuit. Suddenly activism demanded an end to campus complicity in war. And the boycott that inspired that campus development came from the Wall Street march.
One of the Wall Street speeches called for all those present, and all their family, and all their friends, and all who they could reach out to, to stop buying products from producers of the automatic high velocity weapons that had become prevalent in public mass shootings. The idea took off across society and sparked a remarkable broadening of activism.
But I didn’t own a gun and I was never going to buy one. It would be wasting time pushing an open door for organizers to talk to me or to anyone I was in school with about boycotting. We weren’t gun aficionados. People who wanted to work on the gun boycott had to talk to people who owned or might soon decide to own a product from the gun manufacturers. Indeed it was a wonderful benefit of the campaign that to succeed it had to explicitly reach out to audiences that many activists had until then egregiously avoided. Reaching out to that audience happened somewhat a few years earlier when Trump ran against Clinton, but the boycott was different because boycott organizers had to bring to gun owners precisely the message the gun owners were most hostile too. Nonetheless, activists started doing it. And in hindsight this was, I believe, a major turning point for the emergence of RPS.
How, in what sense was it such a turning point?
Left activists always seek gains for their own constituencies but unlike many other projects and movements, RPS has always allotted its most creative and greatest energies to reaching out to those who very strongly disagree with us. That started in the early boycott, and probably in earlier work battling Trumpism, too.
At any rate, campus boycott activism arose first at MIT where a bunch of students, including myself, went to Wall Street and were inspired by the famous “We Are the Future” speech. We heard the call for a boycott of arms dealers and started talking about how we might relate to it. We could certainly organize for students to not buy from the producers of automatic weapons, but doing so would be silly. MIT students were not prospective customers of those producers. It would be like organizing fish to swim. Not needed, so not useful.
So the talking went on and a new idea surfaced. Why should we confine ourselves to manufacturers of the hand held weapons that enable lone psychopaths to become mass murderers? Why not take on the stupendously larger military engendered death, destruction, and misallocation of resources?
We quickly realized that such a boycott couldn’t be by individual students since we didn’t buy or design tanks or missile systems in our homes – but it could be by MIT as an institution. We had to create a campus movement demanding that MIT reject contracts with arms producers and war purveyors. We would organize students not just to boycott assault rifles, which they would do anyhow, but to resist the militarization of local and campus police and to resist all campus complicity with war.
I think the boycott approach was part and parcel of the thinking of the then still active boycott seeking to generate solidarity with Palestinians, and of the earlier boycott around South African Apartheid. In any event, we said MIT should not seek profits for investors, but should pursue justice and peace for humanity. And the time was right. When we reached out to students asking for agreement that complicity in war was wrong, it was like selling ice cream in the tropics.
It can’t have been that easy, there must have been obstacles?
Yes, okay, there were. That was too glib. For example, we encountered a troubling concern. For MIT to end war research overnight would be budgetary suicide. We decided to deliver our demand and organize support, but to ensure that the demand was implementable, we also offered positive ideas for a financial transition to take the suicide aspect off the table. No more war research would be our primary demand but we would also propose how to operate viably without war research.
We revealed how campus spending could prioritize dealing with global warming and other social issues. We highlighted how funds could come from revised government budgeting and punitive taxes on corporate arms producers. We initiated campus wide sustained discussion and in time demanded a campus referendum.
Having emerged from a period of reflexive opposition to Trump, we thought carefully about the implications and likely trajectory of our effort and tried to mold our demands and associated actions to ensure desirable and lasting effects.
I remember long personal sessions with friends exploring how to discuss demands and what actions to use to win support and apply pressure. It was less emotive and feisty than barreling into high gear and never down-shifting to evaluate what we were doing, but we believed a careful approach had more chance of long term success. It was hard to oppose our calls for greater attention to global warming, for research on new energy sources, and for various health campaigns. It was hard to refute our rejection of weapons research, and our events, talks, and actions.
What was your own experience of it?
The boycott was my first serious political activism and luckily the effort took off. I did a lot on social media but also helped arrange meetings in living units for free ranging discussions, worked on teach ins, helped organize campus marches and rallies, and finally helped occupy offices and labs. The work was relatively easy because we became active at the right moment.
I remember hearing about earlier similar efforts at MIT in the late 1960s, and I looked into that. After all, the Sixties did not fully win. The Sixties didn’t change society into a new shape, or even prevent, decades later, Trumpism. I wondered, would our effort also grow only to later dissipate? One of our priorities became trying to discern past problems we could avoid so we would do better. This was another key mindset leading toward RPS.
So how was it different than the earlier efforts?
There were unique and difficult periods for the boycott, but the campaign grew and soon there was a national boycott of manufacturers selling assault rifles to the public but also a campus boycott spreading from MIT to Johns Hopkins, to Stanford, to Michigan State as the first military connected schools to adopt the campaign, and then far more widely. This was already quite different than anything earlier.
Sometimes a school had fewer Pentagon ties, so the battle was somewhat easier, but the overall campaign just kept spreading and growing. It was a harbinger of things to come when to support the boycott became a mark of student responsibility. We didn’t shame people for not joining, rather, the movement dynamic uplifted people when they did join. This was another big difference, I think.
It was even more foretelling when cross campus solidarity led to city wide demonstrations and rallies, and when movements on different campuses started sharing lessons and explicitly lending each other support. It was eye opening when after two years of efforts, and this is after I was no longer a student, we held a rally culminating in a sit-in at MIT that had over 50,000 students and supporters from all over the Boston area. Nothing like that he ever happened before. Then when all those and more attended a rally and subsequent sit in at Harvard, we realized we were not going to be stopped. Our upward trajectory of support was too much to overcome. We couldn’t be thwarted unless we undermined ourselves and we were steadfastly committed to carefully avoiding that.
Can you tell us about some of the “unique and difficult moments”?
Sure, though it was around 20 years ago I remember like it was yesterday. One hard step was to discover and reveal the research. How could we do that? Students had tough class schedules and few resources. The contracts were secret. Each project was isolated from others and even more, each was shielded from general visibility.
In that context, a few daring students snuck into a secret site, took pictures, and stole revealing documents. Sometimes radical activism is very boring. Other times, more exciting. But this particular choice wasn’t just exciting. It proved beyond doubt that MIT wasn’t solely engaged in respectable science the military might not pervert. Rather, MIT was a big corporation literally designing drone, surveillance, and missile technology for repressing domestic and foreign populations. Students elsewhere quickly used similar tactics, often even more successfully. Once there was revealing information, calls for open books and war divestment escalated.
Do you know the Whitman poem that references seeing the universe in a grain of sand? I heard something like that from a famous scientist too. He said nature uses only the longest threads, so each small piece reveals the organization of the entire tapestry. Similarly, each radical campaign teaches a remarkable amount relevant to all radical campaigns.
For example, I remember the incredibly hypocritical lengths to which MIT’s typically liberal campus officials stretched their minds to come up with rationales for conspiring in murderous policies. Knowledgeable, scientifically oriented, highly logical, and in many cases even socially concerned officials swiftly swept aside evidence so they could trumpet self serving rationales. They admired themselves in the mirror, oblivious to their murderous culpability.
In contrast, a few right wing officials happily celebrated what they were doing rather than feeling any need to rationalize it. At the other extreme, a few caring officials escaped the bounds of their roles and allied with us, but they typically got ostracized and even fired for their wisdom.
I remember that the staunch right winger’s absence of hypocrisy made them easier to personally stand than the more prevalent liberals who deluded themselves and tried to delude us. I had heard that black organizers in the south during the anti Jim Crow campaigns decades earlier said the same thing about talking with overtly racist police officials as compared to talking with liberals who would say one thing and then act precisely opposite. At least with the right wingers, what you got was what they said, albeit what they said was vile. I also remember being very impressed with the officials who sincerely resisted their higher ups which was initially barely a trickle, but eventually nearly a torrent.
In any case, of course we students faced opposition, denigration, penalties, and repression during the boycott campaign. That goes with the territory. But a more interesting trend was administrators trying to use fear and our sense of responsibility to curb us. MIT administrators would spread rumors about how right wing students were getting ready to assault us and how the administrators sympathized with us and just wanted to avoid that horror, so wouldn’t we please discontinue our occupation of some labs to avoid disastrous student against student violence. The warnings were cynical lies. Threats to use police, however, were real. And the pattern was similar on campus after campus.
What were the key lessons of the boycotts regarding organizing?
First and this is now partly enriched by hindsight, was the mindset of the students we asked to join the effort. Discussion would often go on for hours with students offering first one rationale for not joining the campaign, then another. The weapons aren’t really offensive, they would say. Or they won’t be used. Or they are needed to preserve peace. Or, perhaps most strange, when used they will provoke dissent.
As we overcame each rationale with evidence about how weapons are actually used plus appeals to common sense values, plus noting that fighting against weapons that were being used was a horrible step back from fighting against weapons even existing, we got closer and closer to the heart of the matter with each student we talked with.
And when we would finally get to down to the roots, from campaign to campaign, in one dorm and then in the next, on one campus and then on the next, students resisting boycott appeals would finally tell organizers, “okay, okay, you are right about the facts. You are right about the ethics. But I am still not joining. To participate will achieve nothing.”
I heard it over and over. If you plumbed the depths of non participation you ultimately got to, “you are right, but you will fail. It isn’t worth my time.”
It was very enlightening to hear that being right wasn’t enough for winning people to the cause. We also had to have a good chance to succeed, and those rejecting our boycott thought we had no such chance.
So how did you deal with that?
In reply, we would patiently explain how signing up enough sufficiently informed and committed support could win. Eventually folks resisting our call would admit that campus administrations would give in if a large enough percentage of students and faculty were unrelentingly committed to boycotting. It would make no sense to try to preserve war research for budgetary reasons or even for “patriotism” when doing so would mean an end to their institutions due to rebellion by their students and faculty.
But then there would surface the full scope of what for me was the most important and revealing reason for people’s resistance to heeding our call. “I am not going to join you,” they would finally say, “because it is useless on a larger scale. It doesn’t matter if you win or not. Even if you get rid of war research here, it will be done somewhere else. Even if you have lots and lots of people in many places, it will still come back somewhere and eventually everywhere. People are greedy. People are violent and evil. There is no stopping war. There is no stopping injustice and inequality.”
Looking back, it seems so sad, as if the young folks were jaded and beaten old folks – old folks in college?
Yes, this kind of hopelessness fueled almost all the student resistance we encountered. It was stated explicitly only after overcoming other rationales because students didn’t like to admit such defeatism, but they deeply felt it. When all else had been rebutted, students would say, “human nature sucks, so we are all fucked. You should make the best of it. Play along. Your efforts to change society are futile.”
My subsequent investigations into past movements and especially the Sixties revealed this was nothing new. Such deep rooted despair was an obstacle then too. And in the Sixties, ultimately cynicism won. We had to do better.
I began to see that overcoming cynicism was the single greatest indicator of people in some situation becoming radical and a movement advancing. Of course, people’s cynicism was often bolstered by how much they thought they had to lose, but cynicism was pivotal even for those who had nothing to lose.
Where did it come from?
A defeatist attitude was drummed in tenaciously during upbringing and schooling and thereafter by society’s rules and roles. Society made adherence to social defeatism and individualist greed a rational near term response to society’s inequalities and hierarchies. Being cynicism about winning justice not only bolstered students who thought they were going to be really well off and have benefits that they didn’t want to risk, it also colonized people destined for low income, low status, and debilitating circumstances.
From our campus experiences, I soon realized that in communities and workplaces and wherever else, this defeatist attitude was a critical factor in why people resisted fighting for change. People had a gut level belief that nothing better was possible. People thought we have had social evil too long and it is too ingrained to overcome. Or they thought social evil is part of our nature, nothing non evil can persist. Folks would spin whatever facts came their way to always indicate how difficult change would be. They explained everything in the most depression-inducing and hopelessness-creating ways. Once you became aware of what was occurring, you saw it everywhere.
The mass upsurges to replace Trump, necessary and positive as they were, didn’t really fundamentally combat this nearly as much as needed. They were too much about removing what was deemed an aberration and about getting back to depressing business as usual for them to directly challenge the deeper cynicism about business as usual being the only kind of business possible.
And that is what seemed true for the Sixties radicalism and for much else that came before RPS, too. There was often great motion. A kind of rip in the tide of hopelessness. Moments of elation and hope. Moments of fierce struggle. But the glue to hold it together was absent, so over and over the moments didn’t persist. The rip was always too partial. For most, it was always belief in small gains against horrible deviant horrors, not belief in huge gains against the whole social order.
Many saw that we had to go beyond warding off reactionary excessive evils. Many saw we had to create hope about a new society, not just about ending one war, stopping out of control climate change, or blocking a race toward rejuvenating racism. But it took time for this lesson to move from being an idea some would offer, to actually defining what people chose to do, though I think that occurring was key to RPS emerging.
Were there other lessons, specifically from the boycott?
There was a more subtle one that was for me comparably important. We fought to get our universities to stop supporting military agendas. That was good. It looked forward rather than just rejecting backwardness. But it had a problem.
What would winning achieve? Would our victory mean the murderous research that universities had been doing would no longer occur? No. We knew the research would migrate to private firms, often even to firms created by university personnel. Schools would spin off labs by making them into private corporate firms, which, however, not only maintained their war complicity, but also retained the involvement of previously involved faculty. Only the name and legal definition would change, not to protect innocence, but to hide guilt.
This trend was rightly scorned as a massive version of “not in my backyard” you don’t put that crap – but, okay, you can put it somewhere else. You can even keep it in the same damn building as long as you legally formally disown it while it keeps right on operating as in the past.
The lesson I and others took was that we shouldn’t allow partial gains to deteriorate or be reversed by cosmetic realignments. Campus movements had to transcend campuses to take on private corporations as well. Today MIT, Stanford, and the University of Michigan. Tomorrow, not only the spinoffs, but also the NSA and Boeing.
Instead of all the experience we gained on campuses merely moving the site of the crimes and going home, we expanded our focus. I was out of school by this point and many of us began reaching out to workers at companies doing war research. Instead of trying to get the people and firms to stop cold and therefore go out of business and out of work, a mistaken approach that had derailed much prior organizing, our proliferating and diversifying anti war movement confronted all sorts of firms with demands for how they could do new, socially desirable work in place of war work, even as we simultaneously confronted the government with demands to re-allot funds from military to social use.
Another lesson was that we began to realize resistance to our anti militarist demands reflected factors well beyond war fighting, a point that should have been clear all along. The added issue was would the economy produce military stuff, some that was used, which was of course the worst outcome, but much that would neither be used, nor even work if it was used? Or would the economy produce quality affordable housing, good green infrastructure, renewable energy sources, excellent public transport systems, and vastly better education, housing, and health facilities?
Why would a society militantly pursue militarist production over humanist production? The answer had to be that warding off criticism of the military path was warding off a threat. But the threat wasn’t some external enemy. We knew that was nonsense. The threat had to be that producing housing and schools and otherwise redistributing wealth from the military sector and private arms producers to uses benefitting the population at large was way worse than producing weapons that benefitted no one other than those who directly profited off their production.
Can you explain that, and the reasoning leading to the conclusion?
In time, we followed the Sherlock Holmes advisory. If you rule out all but one explanation, then what is left is what you must consider. We knew that the people deciding, albeit with some exceptions, were not literally sadistic. They didn’t build a tank, not a school, because they literally wanted to rob students. And we knew that benefits of military production beyond profits for directly involved corporations were slim and and even non existent. We even knew that a shift in focus of war related firms could preserve and indeed enlarge their workforces and probably even their revenues. The government could pay for a transit system or for a missile system. Private firms could receive the payments in either case. We ultimately realized that when the government acted on behalf of the population it had two effects which the government and elites felt they desperately needed to avoid.
First, enlarged social spending reduced conditions of instability and poverty and, in so doing empowered workers and insured them against attacks from employers thereby increasing their ability to win greater gains. Second, social spending established what elites considered a terrible notion – that the country and the government ought to benefit the whole population.
I remember how seeing these two points made the disgusting logic of capitalist social structure far more real to me.
I wonder if you took any lessons that were more personal?
There was a key lesson for me bearing on organizing and people’s belief systems. I was in Texas on a trip and I spoke about the boycott of military work and there were lots of questions about private guns. I remember after a talk, I got into it with a campus advocate of open carry who wanted students to be free to bring hand guns to classes. We were arguing on a lawn and before long there were maybe twenty people listening and tossing in comments.
What struck me after awhile was how we were arguing right past each other. The gun advocate was taking for granted permanently abysmal societal conditions. He felt that at any moment some demented soul could try to impose his will on you. Some maniac could unholster a gun of his own and start shooting people. Having this view, the gun advocate felt there was only one antidote. He had to have his own gun for self defense.
For him the issue of guns or no guns was like a miniature version of the old notion of mutually assured destruction in which gargantuan stores of nuclear weaponry on both sides meant neither Russia or the U.S. could use what they had without being annihilated. Similarly, my gun advocating adversary believed that if most or even all students were carrying hand guns, no student could get away with being a bully or imposing his will. Even a crazy student hell bent on murder wouldn’t be able to do much before succumbing. Forget that this ignored the presence of guns unleashing crazy inclinations and escalating what would otherwise be moderate disputes into violence as well as creating a climate of fear. The gun advocate took all that as baseline. In his view, that was in any event unavoidable.
I listened and realized gun advocates believed society was headed to hell in a hand cart and that no significant renovation was possible. This wasn’t academic for them. It wasn’t merely a possibility. For them it couldn’t be averted and reversed. It was inevitable. So arose gun advocates’ mutual assured destruction logic.
This gave me a new view of many other difficult debates. I wasn’t going to win what seemed like a trivially simple and limited issue – kids carrying guns in classes would be horrible for everyone – without first winning a non trivial and not at all simple issue, that society did not have to keep devolving into a kill or be killed condition.
The lesson was general. In horrible circumstances that people believe will only get worse, things that are insane when considered in light of positive social aims, can seem perfectly sensible and even necessary for self defense. If you believe inevitable dynamics rule out social sanity, then why not opt for the most effective “insane approach” you can find? In many cases, the fact that people took that path did not make them irrational, or even proponents of evil. It made sense, given their incorrect but understandable assumptions. Learning this stood me in good stead for later trying to communicate past gigantic chasms of difference.
Andrej, others have mentioned that many involved in the campus boycotts, and other upsurges as well, would melt back into their old lives once demands were won, or lost. You were intimately involved. Was this your experience?
I saw it. I could be saddened by it. I could even be totally sidetracked by it. But instead I guess I saw the optimistic side more intensely. I saw that some, like me, kept on keeping on. And I also saw that even those folks who went back to their prior ways had a residue of the boycott experience living on in their minds and I knew it could resurface not too long later, if we who kept active did good work.
So what about the significant number who did not return to prior choices?
We were changed and retained the changes. We no longer fit our past patterns. A few of us became social misfits, shattered and for a time unable to function due to our outrage at all the injustice around us interfering with engaging thoughtfully at all. But others became designers of new slots for ourselves. We decided society had to fundamentally change and we resolved to help make it happen. We became part of the flow leading toward RPS along with others who learned from even earlier campaigns against Trump’s vile policies.
Other gains occurred at that time and led toward RPS as well. Perhaps most important, activists began to realize that the right criterion for judging events, meetings, and campaigns, wasn’t did our effort win what was directly demanded. It wasn’t did it achieve the disruption that was directly sought. The real criteria was did our effort increase consciousness, desire, organization, and commitment in the larger circles of people communicated with. This new criterion for judging our efforts helped birth RPS. “Movement first” replaced “me and mine first.” Long run desire informed short run anger.
What makes you think that occurred?
A lot of things, not least my experiencing it myself. But here was one particularly stark indicator. Consider a major demonstration called to shut down some elite meeting. In earlier periods, in the early organizing the focus of associated activist commentary would be the substantive issues. What was the meeting for? Why was it a heinous gathering? Why did the demonstrators oppose it? What did the demonstrators want beyond merely shutting it down? When the new criterion gained sway this type of focus persisted for such endeavors right through when they occurred and into the aftermath. But before the new criterion gained sway, pretty early on and steadily more so as the event neared, organizers and left media would shift overwhelmingly from focusing on the issues of the movement and the aims of the meeting and the larger scale aims of opposing those aims, to the technical details of blocking the meeting and especially dealing with police. The tone became stop the meeting, we win. Fail to stop the meeting, police win. This was remarkable because of course elites won as soon as that became the substance of discussion. That occurring meant real radical insights faded from discussion. It meant organizers and activists could be easily crushed. Coerce us into tactical retreat and there would be little focus on reaching wider audiences.
In any case, with the change to the new criterion, our priority became developing an approach that was about how today’s choices impact tomorrow, not about whether today’s action accomplishes some specific short term tactical aim. When we organized to stop some meeting, or to win some campaign, demands and actions mattered for the immediate benefit they could deliver to worthy recipients, but also for how they laid a basis for winning more gains in the future.
This insight caused me and many other activists to deeply realize that being a revolutionary wasn’t mainly about supporting particular ideas or even a transformative vision. It wasn’t mainly about courage or even organizational ties. Beyond all that, being a revolutionary was mainly about having a new attitude. Life had to reorient from being firstly about day to day concerns, one’s job, or even an immediate radical agenda, to being about winning a changed society. “I am a revolutionary” came to mean and still means that the organizing principle guiding my life is to win a new society.
Andrej, i have heard a bit about chapter building from folks, but would like to explore that further, if you will. Did you try to get a chapter going when you returned home from the first convention?
Not at first. I was a bit of a loaner. I was deeply into RPS, engaged with the convention, and so on, but my history made me quite a bit less social and even shy, I guess, once the discussion turned from politics, or anything intellectual, to matters of daily life and socially interacting. So I didn’t jump into trying to form a chapter. Rather, I was someone others came to to recruit to a chapter they were trying to create.
I was an older graduate student at the time, and at first I felt like between trying to write about RPS ideas, and even contribute to them, and also to teach my course allotment and attend my classes and so on, giving time to a chapter would be a burden I couldn’t manage. But, after some prodding I couldn’t say no. How could I be writing up ideas for RPS yet ignore chapter building? I couldn’t. So reluctantly, I signed on. And much to my surprise I not only benefitted, and hopefully contributed, but I enjoyed it. The chapter I joined, and remember this is still the early days of RPS, and on our campus we were still quite tiny and barely known, did indeed progress much like Bill described. Indeed, I even had responsibility for reaching out to the then president of the inter fraternity conference on our campus, and surprisingly we got on great and he joined. Thereafter chapter folks were welcomed to talk to gatherings in each fraternity.
I think we should be clear about something. This was not typical of past organizational efforts. Far more likely would be an unfolding situation of constant tension, aggravation, overwork, and alienation – which is why far more often organizations fairly quickly stoped growing and started declining. Obviously RPS is alive and well, verging on winning a new society, so even in the early days there must have been attributes, commitments, features, and even lucky happenstances, that led to such success. I think one, maybe even the main one, was the way the chapters grew and had a healthy manner about them.
Once you were chapter building, what was your own approach? What were the problems and how were they overcome?
My own priority had to do with internal education and external outreach, which I saw as intimately related. And it was also deeply connected to what I thought was a main problem we had, which was a lack of confidence and ability to engage with other students, particularly ones who didn’t already largely agree with us. We needed to hear them, relate to them, and, in time, one hoped – and it did prove true – welcome them into RPS.
To be able to do that really well, I thought we needed to prepare ourselves. So in addition to all that Bill mentioned, I made it my concern to work hard on establishing a kind of school for RPS organizing. It would have two main aims for those relating to it. To prepare folks to go out and organize effectively on campus. And, for at least a subset of those involved, and the more the better, to also prepare folks to ready others to do likewise.
In a sense, the idea was for those doing the helping and teaching to prepare those who they were engaging with to become the ones doing the helping and teaching. So we worked on that, and as Bill said, made known what we were doing and why, and how it was going, and before long the internal education priority developed into a kind of activist curriculum and spread not only to chapters on campuses, but with needed adaptations, also to chapters in communities and workplaces.
It seems like there was no one right or accepted approach to getting a chapter going? Was that true? Did you require attendance? Did you have dues?
You are quite right, there was no single anointed approach. And, indeed, even when we had hundreds and then thousands of chapters, there was still no one right way to operate. Our group did require attendance at the two meetings we held weekly, and also at one group event a week, which was a lot to ask for. On the other hand, since there was no penalty other than being rejected from the group for really excessive violation, it was more a matter of having a norm and trusting that folks would try to respect it.
Chapters evolved as they matured and grew. Chapters also were different in different places and times. Daycare, for example, came later. So did collecting dues to help pay costs of preparing documents, holding events, and so on.
One problem Bill didn’t mention was resistance to breaking up chapters. People became very tight with one another, really good friends. And you spent a lot of time relating to your chapter. So when we reached forty members, and it was clearly time to break in two, it was a bit traumatic for many of us. Personally, we wanted to stick with our mates. Politically we knew growth was essential. To avoid hassles we settled on a mechanical approach. We conceived a rather arbitrary line through the campus and moved it around until we had 20 of us on one side and 20 on the other side, and then that was it, the east and west chapters were born, and so was an assembly of two chapters. Later we had north, south, east, and west, and so our campus assembly had four chapters. Then we decided it was too uncreative so chapters adopted names they liked. I remember the first named chapter I was in was called willy, but for the life of me I don’t remember why. Before long, there were enough chapters so they were in dorms, and then often there were a few chapters in a dorm. And I think roughly the same kinds of developments occurred in communities and workplaces too, albeit for many obvious reasons, more slowly than in colleges.
One of the best aspects of this, besides that it led to incredible and constant growth, was on our personalities. It used to be that when a left group formed, not only organizations but, say, a campus movement, it would grow for a time and become very ingrown. Members would become very entwined and start, very often, to dress and talk alike. It would become more or less a sub community on a campus, sort of like a tribe with its own logic and patterns, and quite defensive about preserving each. It would stop growing, often, because it reached a stable workable size and was more intent on maintaining itself as a community then on growing as a movement. Our approach to chapter building countered that tendency. You were regularly dealing with new folks, and growth was the indicator of success, not survival. We had community, but it was outward facing and growth seeking.
What about the flip side of getting social with each other? What about people disliking others, or even feuding with others?
Some people like to think that if you are on the side of justice and courageous, all will be absolutely wonderful. But that is quite wrong. There are still disputes. Jealousies, and all manner of tensions can arise. No one likes everyone. We all find some people annoying.
So was this a problem for chapters? Yes and no. When a chapter is small, disputes and tensions can be deadly. Suppose you have five members and two don’t like each other. There is no avoiding it. It is there all the time. It not only infects how the two who are at odds behave and feel, but most likely all five. Whose side am I on, whose side are you on? What did you say?
When you get up to around twenty members, it is easier for everyone to do their thing and for those at odds to avoid conflict. And when chapters break up to form two out of one, of course those at odds with each other could be separated.
So the question becomes what do you do when the two at odds couldn’t separate and couldn’t accommodate? There is simply no perfect answer. Different choices would happen in different cases. The contending parties might just back off until there were more members. Or they might behave. Whatever. It isn’t pleasant. It can literally derail a group. I wish there were a simple one way fits all cases solution, but I don’t think there is. Sometimes it isn’t a big deal. Other times the people are both highly active, even important, and their differences are unbridgeable, perhaps because of both, perhaps felt more by one than the other.
Were you ever in a situation like that?
Yes, a couple of times. Once the split of distance solved it, at least as much as possible. The other time we both had to control ourselves for quite awhile, which was no fun, but better than the alternative. You know as bad as that could get when, say, it was long time friends who fell into dispute, or worse when it was about love life – there was a still more difficult dynamic when parents and each other, or parents and their children, or two siblings were at odds. After all, being part of the same lineage doesn’t mean people are going to never disagree profoundly, or even that they won’t become consistently hostile. On the contrary that kind of tension and incompatibility happens quite often for all kinds of reasons. In an ongoing situation like RPS, the most troubling, depressing, and sometimes disruptive situation was when the difference causing people to split was precisely about RPS itself – whether it was over differences about how much time should be given to RPS, or even about being positive about it at all.
Twenty years into the experience, I still don’t think anyone can sensibly say, here is how to deal with a relative or spouse who disagrees with your involvement in a way that will inevitably turn out well. RPS creates a very strong community of support, and that helps, but when your spouse, child, parent, brother, or sister is beyond your reach and opposes your choices, that is hard to navigate no matter what kind of support you have.
Do you think there were other new aspects of chapter priorities compared to prior efforts that contributed to later success?
Besides outreach, participation, and the rest? Probably, I am not sure. After Trump’s election and right through the convention there was a lot of soul searching. Well, actually, at first there was a lot of finger pointing as folks emphasized possible problems in society and in everyone other than themselves and their closest allies. But in time we started to look in the mirror. I am not sure it was your intent with this question but I remember four areas of concern that incredibly troubled me.
First, as an anti sexist feminist I looked at Trump’s female vote and I asked myself, what did movements do wrong over months, years, and literally a half century during which we had been trying to develop feminist awareness and commitment? Why had five decades of efforts left society with so many women and men who did not cry out at Trump’s obviously misogynistic intentions? Did our organizing polarize away potential allies too often? Did we attract potential allies, but convey insufficient clarity and commitment for them to stay? Were our feminist values, aims, or methods flawed? Did anyone believe that in five decades we could not have done better?
Did it follow that rather than bemoaning the choice of women and men who voted for Trump, we should ask what we ought to change about how we talk about, make demands about, and organize about gender so we attract rather than repel those who don’t agree?
Being morally and socially right for decades about society’s gender injustices hadn’t created an unstoppable tide against sexism. Did we need to say more about medium and long run goals? Did we need to seek feminist outcomes in ways that put off fewer potential allies? Could we find ways to make uncompromising, comprehensive demands about gender that didn’t polarize away men, and that accounted for other social phenomena like class and race?
Second, as an anti racist internationalist I looked at the admittedly small numbers of low or modest income blacks and Latinos confused about Trump and I wondered how any could exist. I looked at the relatively modest support from Blacks for Sanders – which was part of the whole election turning out as it did – and I wondered how that too could exist. And while I certainly understood some racism still existing in various white constituencies, I looked and saw the relative lack of fury at Trump’s racism, Islamophobia, and immigrant bashing, and I wondered, again, how can that exist?
Had decades of anti racist organizing not tried often or energetically enough to reach whites who resisted the appeals? Had our movements preached overwhelmingly only where we already had a receptive audience? Had our messages too often failed due to their tone or substance alienating those we meant to reach? Had anti-racist communities pursued too narrow an understanding? Had anti racist values, aims, or methods been flawed?
Did anyone believe that in over a half century we could not have done better? Did it follow that rather than bemoaning the choices of whites who voted for Trump, we should ask what we ought to change about how we make demands and organize about race so we attract rather than repel those who don’t agree?
Being morally and socially right for decades about racism’s ills hadn’t created an unstoppable tide against racism. Perhaps we needed to say more about medium and long run goals. Perhaps we needed ways to seek anti-racist outcomes that put off fewer potential allies and pulled others more more sustainably into anti racist commitment. Could we find a way to talk and make uncompromising, comprehensive demands about race that didn’t polarize away white people and ignore other social phenomena like class and gender?
Third, as an anti capitalist I looked at a narcissistic billionaire bully attracting tens of millions of working class votes and I wondered how that could exist. How could five decades of anti capitalist organizing leave so many workers susceptible to Trump’s rhetoric and posturing? Was it something about our substance? Did we not sufficiently address what working people feel and experience in ways they relate to? Was it something about our approach? Did we give off hostility toward working people quite like what they daily encountered from authority figures in hospitals, courts, and workplaces?
Working people were furious at their plight yet anti capitalists had little connection to and often even little empathy for workers’ rising fury. What did we have to change about how we talked about, made demands about, and organized about class and economy to reach those who didn’t yet agree? Did anyone believe that in a half century we could not have done better? Rather then bemoaning the choice of working class people who voted for Trump, shouldn’t we ask what we ought to change about how we make demands and organize about class and economy so we could attract rather than repel those who don’t agree?
Being morally and socially right for five decades about capitalism’s horrors hadn’t created an unstoppable tide against class oppression. Perhaps we needed to say more about medium and long run goals. Perhaps we needed ways to seek anti-capitalist outcomes that put off fewer potential allies and pulled others more sustainably into anti classist commitment. Could we talk and make uncompromising, comprehensive demands about economy in ways that didn’t polarize away workers, and that didn’t ignore other social phenomena like gender and race? Was the issue part style, part substance, with both owing to inadequately understanding the situation of workers and being too dismissive of them, and perhaps even aspiring to be above them, both in the movement and in a new economy?
Finally, fourth, as an activist, I looked at progressive and left writing over the year 2016, the election year, and I saw a lot of people saying that Trump has a silver lining, Trump will galvanize us, Trump is just another ruling class lackey same as the rest, and not voting in contested states or voting for Stein in contested states was a wise choice. I wondered how the callousness such views displayed toward those who would most suffer Trump’s fascistic inclinations and ecological madness could exist. I wondered how such confusion about the implications of movements trying to seek radical progress against a right wing thug rather than against a liberal albeit corporate and war complicit woman could exist.
How could such views exist for radicals immersed in left literature and activism? What had those of us who knew better done wrong that had caused us to fail to reach the commentators who offered such suicidal views? How could months much less years or decades of involvement in radicalism have left so many thinking such deluded thoughts? I wondered what had been wrong with the accumulated literature and practice of all the left’s many parts taken in sum, such that a good many left commentators and incredibly many young radicals could be highly versed in all that radical output, and yet nonetheless hold the views many had been propounding.
I think in feeling these concerns I was typical of many, and even most, who became involved with RPS. So I think the import of the above many questions and desires to deal with them in practical choices fueled much that was right about chapter building. And I guess I would say that that orientation to correct our own faults was an added factor, a tone and intent, if you will, on top of other choices I have already described.
Andrej , at the risk of over focusing on one event and its aftermath, especially one which has been written, talked, and argued about ad nauseam over the years, I wonder if you could tell us a bit about your reaction to Trump winning – how did it happen, and what did you take from its having happened? As you saw it then, not as you see it now.
There isn’t much difference in my view of it now, and my view of it then.
Lots of people wondered why is Trump President? How did it happen? My first reaction was to wonder, why ask why? Were we morbidly curious? Were we seeking someone to blame? Were we looking to escape blame ourselves? Or did we hope to find a workable path for the future? I opted for that last motive for myself and here were my thoughts which were part and parcel of what RPS also came to feel.
I blamed Mainstream media mendacity. I knew mainstream media coddled Trump throughout the primaries and well into the national campaign. I knew it sold eyes to advertisers, not truth to the public. I knew that when media moguls finally saw a disaster brewing, they continued to prioritize profits so even their end game castigations of Trump were shallow.
What I took from that was that truth and commitment required developing more alternative media and also forcing better results from mainstream media. Pressing the press and building alternative media had to become paramount activist concerns for print, radio, video, and social media.
I felt that if all the largest megaphones were operated by unhindered elites and if our smaller megaphones were operated as a discordant cacophony rather than in concert, we would continue to face insurmountable odds. To mimic the mainstream would be suicidal. We had to carve our own entirely new communicative and organizational paths.
I also blamed the Democratic Party. I knew if Sanders had run, he might have won. I could see that fearing that, the DNC torpedoed Sanders’ campaign. I knew if the Democrats had not squandered grassroots white working class support in prior decades, Trump would not have won no matter who he ran against. I knew it was accurate to blame the Democratic Party but that anyone surprised by Democratic Party behavior hadn’t been watching up until then. The Democratic Party was part and parcel of power and wealth. The Democratic Party did what it does, which was to protect power and privilege. For me, that indicated that a progressive agenda could benefit from a reconstructed Democratic Party and that a radical agenda could benefit from one or more effective new parties plus major election reform. Acting on these insights while not allowing maniacs into office could win Democratic Party overhaul, generate new parties, and win electoral procedural changes.
I also blamed Republican obdurate tenacity. If the Republican base had decided to forego their party to block Trump on grounds of his special debits, then Trump would have lost. But other than pointing to the obvious need to “organize, organize,” did that observation lead anywhere new? I thought about it by asking myself to suppose Clinton had won in a landslide, or that Sanders had won and we were dancing in the streets. Should Sanders or Clinton voters then dismiss and ignore Trump voters? Should Sanders or Clinton voters then write off Trump voters as irredeemably opposed to progressive much less radical change? As irrational and unreachable?
To my mind, to ask the question was to answer it. If those who voted successfully for Clinton or Sanders wanted to not only win an election but also to fundamentally change society, they would have to ask, could that happen without winning over those we disagree with? The answer would be no. Trump won, but the question should have therefore been even more forefront than in the hypothetical case above, not less.
The lesson I drew from this was that whether we win or we lose, and whether it is an election campaign or a programmatic battle for some policy change, when the dust clears the next task is to reach out energetically and congenially to those who disagreed with us but who we think ought to have agreed given their situations.
We shouldn’t ignore allies but we also shouldn’t spend all our energy listening, talking, and organizing only among allies. We ought to solidify and also grow. Yet I knew we routinely often avoided reaching out to those we disagreed with. And I knew we had to instead collectively make that a priority.
Okay, regarding the white working class, why did so many radicals and others, right after Trump won, assume the worst was predominant? Why not assume other less vile albeit very confused motives dominated?
It was striking. Virtually all the interviews done with Trump voters by non name calling interviewers pointed toward better, albeit confused motives. Vote tallies also pointed toward better motives. So why did so many upset anti-Trump commentators and even left activists reject what was highly probable?
Perhaps one reason some concluded only racist and sexist desires yielded Trump votes was that they lacked knowledge of the pain, suffering, and daily fear of contemporary working class life Trump’s voters felt. If that suffering didn’t register in your perception, clearly you would not deem avoiding it an important motive. That is an ugly picture of the reason for blaming white workers but I think it applied to many Democratic Party regulars. However distasteful, that was far more plausible to me than that half the country were little Trumps. But, at the same time, I didn’t think ignorance of or even dispassion for working class suffering was a major reason why so many progressives and radicals were castigating white workers as irretrievably racist and sexist. At least I hoped not. But what else might have lead to some progressives and radicals aggressively disparaging and dismissing white workers?
Imagine you thought that if people believed rampant racism and misogyny motivated most or all Trump voters it would lead to effective follow up activity to reduce racism and misogyny. At the same time, imagine you also thought that if people believed that most Trump voters were attracted to his claim that he would aid the “working class” by challenging trade agreements and rebuilding infrastructure, it would reduce effective anti racist, anti sexist follow up activity. Feeling that way, you might assert racism and sexism were the key factor not because there was some compelling case it was so, but because you felt asserting it was so would yield the best outcome.
So I wondered what responses would follow from believing the worst about Trump’s voters or from instead believing the situation was more complex?
Those who said racist and sexist motivations were paramount seemed to feel that to deal seriously with racism and misogyny those phenomena had to become absolutely forefront. They had to be very aggressively “called out,” shamed, and even punished person by person. In this view, asserting that factors other than racism and sexism played a preponderant or even just significant role would lead to less or no calling out and shaming of Trump voters. It would cater to them, coddle them, and reduce prospects for improvement.
In contrast, those who said that a great many or most Trump voters were not mainly motivated by racism or sexism but by anti establishment anger funneled into a candidate who at least acknowledged them, heard their grievances, and said relevant (albeit, lying and manipulative) things, saw a very different approach for dealing with the situation. They felt activists fighting against reaction and for positive change needed to avoid adding to Trump’s voters’ feelings that liberals, progressives, and radicals reflexively dismiss white working class concerns as stupid and/or vile, which feelings would only further alienate those constituencies.
We needed to reach out, in this view, by making clear what real action on behalf of working class gains would include. We needed to explain, without denigration and dismissal, why Trump wasn’t an avatar of desirable change. We needed to point out the incredible injustice and harm of racist and sexist policies, but without pointing our fingers at the people we were talking with. We needed to admit the horrendous faults of Clinton and the Democrats, and battle those as well.
We needed to address that economic and social support for workers faces opposition not only from owners, but also from managers, doctors, lawyers, many top level union bureaucrats, and others who the Democratic Party catered to and who I call the coordinator class, and who actively defended their massive advantages, and we needed to challenge those relations too. We needed to talk not at Trump voters but with Trump voters. We needed to hear their valid insights and debate our important differences.
I took away from it that we needed to prioritize two simple insights which were, of course, part and parcel of the later emergence of RPS. Opposing generalized economic domination of workers while ignoring or even minimizing and dismissing the non economic pain and suffering of women and non white communities is morally deficient and strategically disastrous. But, at the same time, addressing the social suffering of women and non white communities while ignoring or even minimizing and dismissing the economic and non economic suffering of workers is also morally deficient and strategically disastrous.
So for me the big divide was would we we try to shame Trump’s voters, to call them out, and to label them racist and sexist, somehow thinking that doing that would cause them – unlike anyone else ever before accosted that way – to welcome and side with us? Or would we try to reach out, listen, hear, and when need be forthrightly not yield an inch regarding racist or sexist policies and beliefs, but also and very strongly address the class issues that both white and non white, and both male and female Trump supporters powerfully felt? Would organizers working with white workers and would activists in general assess our own efforts to see if anything we had been doing may have contributed to white workers willingly voting for Trump?
There were those, I believe, who felt black voters had a share of blame, weren’t there?
At this point some might hear that and wonder, what? Blacks at fault? Blacks voted only somewhat less for Clinton than for Obama, but still overwhelmingly for her. So how could they have been even partly at fault for Trump’s victory?
Some looked a few months further into the past and noted that Southern blacks voting for Clinton against Sanders in the primaries ended Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination. While few writers addressed this, it too was true. There were various reasons such as Sanders starting out little known, initially emphasizing economics to the near exclusion of race, and especially fear that Sanders might do worse against a Republican, as well as, less compellingly, the Clinton’s undeserved reputation as allies of the Black community. Still, it was true that if black communities across the country, and particularly in the south, had voted even modestly more for Sanders, much less if they had voted mainly or overwhelmingly for him, he would have won the nomination with an avalanche of delegates.
A lesson this implied, I thought, for future work was that insular identity politics often breeds confusion as well as hostilities. And I felt that just as organizers of white workers should assess if aspects of their past work were in part responsible for some white workers holding views that allowed voting for Trump over Clinton, so too organizers in Black communities should assess if aspects of their past work were partly responsible for some Blacks holding views that allowed them to vote for Clinton over Sanders. But beyond that, I didn’t think the historically anomalous one time error of some black voters had implications for what to do next.
What about blaming women and especially white working class women?
Women were at fault in this view for voting less for Clinton than she needed if she was to win. Women who voted for Trump were in some cases branded racist or even misogynist. The formulation came not only from antifeminists trying to parlay it into feminist division, but from some feminists, too.
It seemed to me that this issue was almost exactly parallel in most relevant lessons to the other issues we discussed earlier. The one thing to add, was that I thought in this case too, organizers of women should assess if aspects of their past work were in part responsible for so many women holding views that allowed voting for Trump against Clinton (or for Clinton against Sanders in the primaries). Had they organized women in a way that unnecessarily polarized men? In a way that neglected other important aspects of women’s lives?
Andrej, a last point about that election, was there tension between the Sanders’ “Our Revolution” project and the early RPS?
The Sanders spawned project, it wasn’t only his, had a different agenda than RPS. Our Revolution was about trying to maintain the momentum of his campaign via a project that would focus largely, though not exclusively, on electoral work.
Our Revolution sought to raise money, galvanize volunteers, and provide other functionality mostly to candidates but also to particular policy campaigns. It was a good thing, potentially, though there was a danger it would become so enmeshed in the processes and connections with more mainstream elements that its value would evaporate. The positive scenario was that Our Revolution would be a pressure and advocacy group able to help Sanders-like candidates and projects win office or demands and then use the gains to win further gains.
There was a moment when the project may have been able to be more than that, and, indeed, perhaps it could even have become what RPS became so the success we have had would have come even more quickly than it did, and I think perhaps Sanders considered this. But no one in Our Revolution’s core visibly displayed that kind of inclination at its outset, though many of its most energetic local volunteers and organizers did have just such inclinations. While some efforts were made to galvanize the more radical elements to try to influence the organization, those efforts didn’t pan out. Mistrust of the dangers of cooptation kept away additional folks who might have made Our Revolution much more than it became.
Ultimately, I think the presence of the more limited Our Revolution was nonetheless quite helpful to RPS in three ways. First, Our Revolution helped elect many candidates, including in time many with RPS connections, and it aided their efforts in office to win new policies. Second, people working with Our Revolution often wanted to move beyond it to a more encompassing approach, and to grassroots campaigns for valuable changes, or even to add a more encompassing connection in addition to their work with OR, which often meant they joined RPS. And third, another benefit was that with OR in place, RPS didn’t have to fret nearly as much as it would have otherwise about its choice to organizationally ignore electoral intervention. OR took care of electoral intervention, if not always precisely as RPS people favored, still, better than it not happening at all. And OR doing that facilitated RPS’s choice to avoid that realm and the dynamics that realm embodied, which I think was very healthy for RPS development. On the other hand, if RPS hadn’t emerged and become so effective including by greatly strengthening the more radical members of OR, my guess is OR would have devolved into nothing but a Democratic Party booster club, and even changes inside the Party itself would have been minimal.
Okay, changing gears a bit, what was most critical for activism to achieve what it hadn’t in prior decades – a lasting, persistent, growing, project, RPS?
Information and analysis mattered, of course. But I tend to think it was secondary. I remember hearing a talk about activism, decades back, that focused on a case study. In May of 1968, the speaker said – and I guess this talk occurred about forty years from the event described – Paris and France entered a kind of revolutionary moment. One month it was like other places at the time, with considerable activism, but along with the activism a vast sea of passivity. Then some modest events happened – mostly about male and female hours of access and entry on college campuses – and, bam, overnight the country was in turmoil. And for weeks after France was, indeed, a revolutionary cauldron of tremendous energy and creativity. Everyone seemed incredibly creative about delineating the horrors of modern life, and incredibly ready to fight for comprehensive freedom. Everything about society was called into question. Yet, if you looked a few months later, all was again relatively quiet. Rebellion, then passivity.
What happened? How could we explain such sudden turning on and off of gigantic social upheaval? The speaker said one broad possibility that many might suggest is that ideas about how society works were suddenly successfully widely conveyed, and the new wisdom fueled the uprisings. But then the insights melted away and the upheaval subsided back into life as usual.
The speaker then amusingly wondered how a whole society can become enlightened and then undergo mental erasure so apocalyptically. Mass lobotomy?, he joked. He then suggested another possibility that dramatically affected my thinking.
Before May 1968 there was, he proposed, no hope among France’s population for a transformed future. Then during May there was hope. Then hope disintegrated. The relatively brief presence of widespread hope freed minds and hearts. Hope aroused and fueled turmoil. But once hope dissipated, hope’s absence terminated the turmoil.
I thought claiming aroused hope was key was astute, just as thinking newly learned ideas were key was ridiculous. That is why, when I am asked about ideas that I thought were important for RPS emerging, the one I emphasize is that RPS offered compelling, desirable vision for the future sufficient to sustain informed hope. At any rate, that was central for me.
But that was then, what about now?
I later had your thought, too. I think a way to answer it is to compare the half century extending from 1965 to 2015, to the next quarter century, extending from 2015 to 2040. What is the broad difference? What changed so that in the earlier period, despite that large numbers of people compellingly understood society while countless others were only a hair away from similarly understanding society, the period never generated lasting sustainable projects for literally winning a new society – yet now we have such projects verging on full success?
There are many who want to say it is such and such a brilliant insight we have had that they didn’t have earlier, or it is such and such an event we experienced that they did not experience earlier. And while I am not denying the importance of ideas or events, I don’t think they are the sole or even the primary answer. Their spread or isolation is important, but a spread of activism is at least as much caused by other factors as it is by brilliant insights or specific events.
So what was primary?
Let me offer a few ways of saying this that are probably different sides of one complex dynamic.
One is what is above. Hope replaces absence of hope. By that I mean people altered from believing during the first period, that “there is no alternative,” to people believing, during the more recent period, wait, “there is an alternative.”
A second difference, very connected to the first, is a dispositional switch from people being mainly eager and willing to criticize, reject, and denigrate one another along with old social relations, in the earlier period, to people being most eager and willing to celebrate, advocate, and support one another while proposing new social relations in the recent period.
Related to this was recognizing that “united we stand, divided we fall” is not just a catchy slogan but a powerful insight we have to embody to succeed. One person can have impact. Many people can have more impact. But many people don’t combine effectively unless they self consciously acknowledge each other’s diverse contributions and desires. This is related, of course, to why RPS’s concepts highlight the way different sides of life are mutually entwined.
Yet another change is a bit different, though also related. In all communications of anything new, one aspect is style, and another is substance. The former is the cleverness and poetic or emotive punch of chosen words. The latter is the coherence of sentences in paragraphs and then of paragraphs in full arguments. The two factors deal respectively in the former case with addressing and even appealing to or countering feelings and biases – and in the latter case with evidence and logic.
In the half century up to 2015, I think the prior component was emphasized often to the near exclusion of the latter component, rather than there being a good balance. The climax was Trump who paid essentially zero attention to evidence, logic, and even truth – and who gave all attention to catch words and slick phrases seeking to stoke passions. But Trump wasn’t alone in that. He just operated more blatantly. The growth of social media played a role in this. Twitter and Facebook distorted communication into short nuggets that precluded serious evidence and argument. The narcissistic idiocy of selfie photographs was indicative. All this was toxic, and while it certainly wasn’t inevitable, Trump emerged.
In the years since, I think we have reversed the imbalance between style and substance, and I think that that has been part of laying the foundation for RPS. I imagine you will later address institutional efforts, including new media to preserve what was positive about internet connectivity and avoid what was negative. But the upshot is we realized that while a catchy phrase can matter, we had to emphasize substance while we aggressively avoided manipulation.
I think mutual aid oriented insights about society, commitments to develop and share vision, and growing desires for organization and program that could win aided RPS forming in our last quarter century where it hadn’t in the prior half century, at least in the U.S.
So, Andrej, if we could, I would like to ask you a bit about the founding convention. Did it matter greatly to what followed? What was it like? How did it emerge? What conflicts occurred?
I think having the founding convention was fundamentally important, though at the time we had doubts. Would enough people attend? Would attendees divide over minor differences or unify over major agreements? Would we attain collectivity and lasting structure? Would we implode and do more harm than good?
We wanted an organization suited to the times, oriented to win a new society, and able to facilitate mutual trust. We worried attendees would nitpick priorities, ignore others’ views, and fail to compromise.
One aspect of having the convention was mechanics. We didn’t want fifty people, or a hundred, but a few thousand. We already had two or three dozen local groups who hoped to become part of a national organization, which was very good, but none of these had an agreed structure or membership criteria. We lacked enough coherence to have the first convention be a gathering of delegated representatives. Even more, most who would want to attend weren’t in any such group.
A bunch of people took initiative. We could have been terrible at it and alienated others by seeking power. We could have been precipitous and incompetent. Inflexible. Luckily, instead, we had considerable credibility because of our other involvements, connections, and participation in past collective efforts. We proved able to mediate and organize.
Conveniently, most of the work creating a convention was familiar from past gatherings, and was certainly not elitist. You had to get space. Put out a call. Arrange housing. Develop an agenda. We were trying to get a very broad assemblage into a room for a long weekend, including settling on a clear agenda that would congenially arrive at shared program without abrogating participation. We knew some who would attend would have deep ties with others attending. We knew most would have only modest or no prior ties with others attending.
Did you have a conscious plan to survive until a more structurally rooted gathering was in place? What was the initial idea for what the emergent organization would look like?
We sought a bridge toward a workable future, but to say we were sure it would happen would be a gigantic exaggeration. Almost everyone planning the first convention was very nervous. We knew if the effort failed, it would delay and might even prevent for a long time arriving at a multi issue, multi tactic, vision-oriented organization. I remember losing a lot of sleep worrying about such possibilities.
To cover all consequential matters, folks needed to arrive at the conference familiar with diverse proposals for program and structure. Attendees needed to have understood the issues and added their own views. To facilitate that, we disseminated a programmatic and a structural proposal months before the convention. We asked people to bring their concerns, amendments, and extensions. We wanted everyone prepared to collectively decide defining issues and post conference responsibilities.
We had to leave the convention with a workable but not necessarily perfect agenda. For one thing, we knew there was no way to know what would be perfect. For another, we realized that even if we could chaotically settle on perfection, it would be only marginally better or even a lot worse than “less perfect” agreement reached with a higher level of unity and mutual support. We needed a sense of proportion and modest compromise. We agreed that decisions would be provisional until the fledgling organization could attract more members into local chapters, meet again, and solidify its definition by enacting corrections and improvements. We didn’t seek false perfection immediately. We sought good results able to flexibly attain better results over time.
So how did that happen?
We had many meetings. We consulted many additional activists about how to establish initial program and structure to promote needed improvements in the future. We proposed that the organization should centrally address economics/class, politics, culture/race, kinship/gender, ecology, and international relations without privileging any one above the rest. We proposed it should seek to transcend capitalism, racism, sexism, and authoritarianism. It should explore and advocate long term vision sufficient to inspire wise current activity. It should acknowledge that program is always contingent on place and time and should plan to continually update analysis, vision, and strategy in light of new evidence and insights.
We prioritized leaving plenty of leeway not only for insights that might emerge at the convention, but for what we would learn later. This mindset may even have been our key contribution. Our first convention prioritized continual improvement. People didn’t adopt an identity to defend. We saw shared agreements as a contingent basis on which to build. We would adapt to new circumstances and refine our views as needed. We knew loyalty to what we had settled on meant we should continually, respectfully and collectively improve it. Our standard of accomplishment was to change tomorrow, not to have been right yesterday.
Did you propose specific societal vision?
Some, yes, but we emphasized that everything we proposed, even if ratified, would be contingent on a better grounded future convention ratifying it. We believed for an organization to be successful, it had to have considerable agreement in its initial iteration, but also not preclude future innovation. We proposed just enough societal vision to provide enough organizational unity and clarity to move forward. We thought the convention would settle on some of what we proposed and reject some, put some on hold and adapt or replace some, but in any event that whatever it decided would apply only until a second convention which could be more definitive due to having attained greater membership and local chapters learning from the experience of members working together.
What about proposals for the organization itself?
As much as personal choices were central to outcomes, we also knew that the setting in which we each operated and the structures we each inhabited would impact what our choices were. We knew a new project wouldn’t accomplish much without a well developed institutional foundation. People had to aspire to and achieve exemplary personal choices, but we would fail if we operated in a context that propelled the opposite.
We proposed that RPS structure and policy should be regularly updated and adapted and always seek to be internally classless and self-managing. We urged that no minority that was initially disproportionately equipped with needed skills, information, and confidence, such as those of us who were taking the most initiative at the outset or those who had long experience could form a formal or an informal decision-making hierarchy, leaving less prepared or less experienced members to merely follow orders and perform rote tasks.
The organization should strive to implement the self management norm that “each member has decision making say proportional to the degree they are affected.” It should guarantee members’ rights to organize dissenting “currents” and it should guarantee those “currents” full rights of democratic debate plus resources needed to develop and present their views.
The organization should literally celebrate internal debate and dissent. It should make room, as possible, for contrary views to exist and be tested alongside preferred views.
National, regional, city, and local chapters should respond to their own circumstances and implement their own programs but not interfere with the shared goals and principles of the organization or with other chapters addressing their own situations.
The organization should provide extensive opportunities for members to participate in organizational decision making including deliberating with others to arrive at the most well-considered decisions. It should implement mechanisms for assuring that decisions get carried out correctly.
It should provide transparency regarding all actions by elected or delegated leaders. It should impose a high burden of proof for secreting any agenda, whether to avoid repression or for any other reason. It should provide a mechanism to recall leaders or representatives who members believe did not adequately represent them. It should provide ample means to peacefully and constructively resolve internal disputes.
This is getting very long winded…
I know. I feel it too. But would you rather I leave stuff that matters out? Building a new organization to try to revolutionize society isn’t a small matter. I could just note the high points, or the guiding aims, but if this is to record what matters, well, more than high points mattered. Making a revolution is not a pile of Tweets.
So…we also quite explicitly proposed that the organization should apportion empowering and disempowering tasks to participants to ensure that no individuals control the organization by having a relative monopoly on information or levers of daily power. Members should have to actively participate in the life of the organization including taking collective responsibility for its policies. We should present, along with minority doubts and parallel undertakings, as much as possible a unified voice in action.
We proposed, as well, that the organization should incorporate its members in developing, debating, and deciding on proposals. It should treat lack of participation as a serious problem to be addressed whenever it surfaced. The organization should set up internal structures that facilitate everyone’s participation including, when possible, offering childcare at meetings and events, finding ways to reach out to those who might be immersed in kinship or other duties, and aiding those with busy work schedules due to multiple jobs.
And the organization should monitor and respond to sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia as they manifest internally, including having diverse roles in projects suitable to people with different situations.
We knew we were not yet even remotely perfect people. We knew we couldn’t escape centuries of mutilation in minutes of elation. So we knew that for all the above, we had to not let seeking unattainable immediate perfection erase steps leading toward progressively attaining excellence. We had to know where we were going and we had to want to get there as well as possible, but we also had to realize that it was not a day’s, a week’s, or a month’s journey. We had to always be being born into the above broad pattern, never dying away from it.
You can see, again, despite that there are so many ideas, despite that delivering them all at once, as with vision, was a massive load, still, we weren’t leaping into detailed specifics. We knew we would have to come out of the convention with interim rules, and that that was likely to be hardest to do well and without rancor, but we didn’t want to narrow that discussion or go beyond what we felt was essential.
On the other hand, you can also see in the structural proposals a prominent emphasis on the prioritization of participation, self management, and attention to structurally avoiding hierarchy. We were seeking positive activist results, for sure, but we were also quite consciously trying to avoid negative ones, including, in particular, sectarianism and authoritarianism. We wanted to create an organization that was constantly intent on rejuvenating itself, revolutionizing itself, and even replacing itself, if need be, but never usurping to itself some kind of permanent power. At the convention a bit more specificity was added, and in ensuing months and years, especially with the emergence of active chapters, much more.
Andrej, I have heard from others there was considerable debate about advocating or not advocating reforms. How did you feel about that, and what has been the RPS solution? Has it worked?
I think the dispute often owed to poor terminology. If the opponent of reforms said, simply, I reject an approach which says all we need are reforms and to fight for each one unto itself, then an advocate of reforms could reply, of course, I agree. And that is what RPS said. But RPS also said that while rejecting reformism, we need to win reforms both because they matter to people’s lives, and because in doing so people can move toward further commitments. Why not fight for reforms that will benefit people in ways that are non-reformist?
And that became the lynch pin of the RPS solution to this long standing tension. We should fight for reforms, of course. We should not say we want the world and we want it now, concluding that seeking anything less now is a sell out. But nor should we say we want such and such a reform, concluding that seeking anything more is utopian.
RPS decided we should fight for reforms using language that explains our ultimate motives, aims, and methods. We should fight in ways that build lasting organization. We should ensure that upon winning a reform as many people as possible want further gains and are in better position to win them.
RPS said fight for winnable gains now in ways that enhance people’s desire to win greater gains later. Fight for winnable gains now in ways that improve people’s means of winning greater gains later. Fight for winnable gains in the present, but talk about the efforts, organize the efforts, and create lasting structures during the efforts, all to ensure that the efforts will unleash a trajectory of change leading toward establishing new institutions.
The upshot was we want reform and we want revolution, or, if you prefer, we want non reformist reform struggles as part of a revolutionary project. And the key to this view becoming predominant wasn’t so much an intellectual breakthrough. After all, there is nothing complicated about it. The key was for people who favored transforming society to recognize that wanting immediate more modest changes did not somehow negate seeking longer run fundamental changes.
Can you provide an example of people following this logic?
Well, virtually every campaign and project to win anything that RPS initiated, or even was closely involved in, over the years, followed this logic. Take the two mentioned issues, income and pollution. For example the national campaigns for higher minimum wage, but also local industry campaigns for wage innovations in their particular firms all followed the logic – meaning, they all sought to win some immediate demand, but while doing so they argued for full equitable income for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, explaining its ethics, logic, and implications, and that the sought immediate goal was not an end, but a step toward the still larger aims. And the same for all kinds of pollution related efforts to get cleaner and safer industrial practices seeking the immediate gain, but also addressing larger long term issues of structure, and even, for example, markets and profit seeking per se.
If it is okay, and for purposes of having the oral history address all it needs to, I would like to shift focus and ask you about RPS economic vision. I know you have been involved, so, what is it?
RPS economics as by now everyone knows, proposes to carry out production, consumption, and allocation in a classless, equitable manner. It seeks to deliver to each actor self-managing say. It seeks to produce not only desired goods and services, but also desirable solidarity and diversity.
To accomplish these ideals we of course needed venues where people could determine their actions in accord with other people doing likewise. In workplace and community councils of the sort we have often seen in historical risings in the past, we found such venues. The idea we added to them was that each actor should, in accord with RPS values, have a say in council decisions proportionate to the impact of the decided issue on them.
So to use a workplace example, sometimes few workers would be the most affected constituency and decide their own actions though of course in context of overarching decisions by the whole workplace council. Sometimes the whole workplace council would be directly involved and decide, for example, work hours for all. Sometimes decisions would be by majority vote. Other times they would be by consensus or by two thirds or whatever. The point would be to best approximate people having a say proportionate to the effect on them while respecting that others should enjoy that same right. And all these patterns were tested in our own projects, of course, but also, as possible, in workplaces via reforms in them that moved them toward the RPS vision, as we proceeded.
But beyond having workplace self management, RPS economics wanted to also change work itself. This was about the class issue discussed earlier.
In the usual corporate pattern, about 20% of the workforce does overwhelmingly empowering tasks while 80% does overwhelmingly disempowering tasks. The former do work that conveys to them confidence, social and conceptual skills, knowledge of the workplace and its possibilities, and effective decision making habits. The latter do work that diminishes confidence, reduces social and conceptual skills, reduces knowledge of the workplace and its possibilities, instills habits of obedience, and exhausts them.
RPS members like everyone in society have had extensive personal experience that some jobs have better conditions and more enjoyable and engaging work than others. This differential could be offset by income considerations. But we knew a second aspect of work that people regularly experienced would be harder to deal with.
Some who work within a corporate arrangement become ready to govern, others become ready to be governed. The 20% who do overwhelmingly empowering tasks set agendas, make proposals, and dominate discussions. The 80% who do overwhelmingly disempowering tasks become bystanders. This difference derives from people’s position in the division of labor. RPS focused on this because our concepts highlighted role structures and asked their implications and our values highlighted impact on people’s ability to participate. Seeing the difference, RPS calls the the dominant 20% the coordinator class and calls the subordinate 80% the working class.
RPS members saw that in past experience eliminating owners’ relative monopoly on property did not significantly alter the coordinator/worker hierarchy. We saw that 20th century socialism, despite that ownership change had eliminated capitalists, had not ended class rule. So RPS members realized we had to also break the coordinator class’s relative monopoly on empowering circumstances. Rather than segregate empowering tasks into a relatively few jobs that a relatively few people would hold, we had to spread empowering tasks through all jobs by establishing what RPS called balanced job complexes.
Each person would do a mix of tasks they are capable of and comfortable at. The mix you would do and the mix I would do and the mix everyone else would do, would be balanced from one person to the next for the empowering effect of work on the worker doing it. This balancing would occur not only inside each workplace, but across workplaces as well. As a result, we would all have responsibility for an array of tasks that summed to a comparably empowering overall situation. Due to that, we would all be comparably prepared by our daily work life to confidently participate in workers and consumers councils and in other social engagements as well.
What about income and wealth? What became RPS’s view of each person’s rightful claim on the social product? How much should we get? What is responsible and fair? What works?
RPS said people who are too young or too old – or who are otherwise unable to work gainfully – should get a full income anyhow, but that people who could work should have an income share that depends on the duration, intensity, and onerousness of their socially valuable labor.
I shouldn’t be remunerated as an athlete, a singer, or anything else for which my abilities don’t allow me to produce outputs others want to have. But I should be remunerated for anything I do well enough for my efforts to be socially valuable.
Similarly, if I want to consume more out of the total social product than average I should be able to do so by virtue of working more hours, or more intensely, or perhaps doing some more onerous tasks, as long as I work in a balanced job complex and as long as I arrange my activities with my workers council, but the rate of pay per hour of socially useful average intensity work under comparable conditions should be the same for everyone.
RPS initially settled on this as fair but before long we all also realized it was needed to facilitate consumption matching production, to convey sensible incentives, and to unearth and convey essential indicators of people’s preferences for leisure and for different kinds of work and different products.
Beyond division of labor and income, what about allocation?
RPS members knew we also needed to replace markets and central planning with a system that could get allocation accomplished consistently while preserving RPS’s other institutional aims and promoting RPS values.
For that, we settled on advocating cooperative negotiation among workers and consumers councils. Each council would announce desires and then mediate their offers in light of what others offered. Various structures would help with assessing costs, benefits, and preferences. There would be no center or periphery, no top or bottom. Actors would self-manage their production and consumption in light of emergent measures of personal, social, and environmental costs and benefits. Personal motives and behaviors would mesh with those of self-managed councils and fit with balanced job complexes and remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor.
RPS claimed this economic vision could accomplish production, consumption, and allocation without class division and in accord with people’s needs and desires and with ecological sustainability and social harmony. RPS members in workplaces and communities began to agitate for changes in accord. In some cases this has already taken us to partial cooperative planning, for example, where federations of workplaces in industries mutually negotiate their interconnections and where communities and surrounding providers in what some have called communal arrangements negotiate their entwined production and consumption. If the RPS claim for the benefits of full scale participatory planning proves true, as I and all RPS members believe it will, then the overall RPS economic vision will be a worthy alternative to capitalism and also to what has been called market or centrally planned socialism – which RPS members instead call coordinatorism.
Of course, beyond the broad aspects of RPS economic vision, there are countless details, some of which are pretty settled after the past twenty years of experiences in new RPS workplaces, occupied corporate firms, and via exploring the implications of reforms, and so on. But much else, indeed far more at the most practical level, no doubt, will emerge from further experience and, in particular, only once participatory planning occurs for a time throughout the whole economy and its implications for behaviors and habits are more evident. This is true not least because there is undoubtedly no one right answer to every aspect. Rather different populations, industries, technologies, heritages, and preferences will lead to an endless variety of details for RPS economies and firms, even as the core elements of self managing councils, equitable remuneration, balanced job complexes, and participatory planning form the backbone or soul of it all.
It can’t be that this vision arose and won support without dissent from both outside and even inside RPS. What was that like? Their reasons, their choices?
You are quite right, of course. Outside RPS, resistance to these ideas typically took just a few forms. The critics said equitable remuneration would provide insufficient incentives to elicit creativity and productivity. They said balanced job complexes and self management would sacrifice quality for false justice. And they said participatory planning would sacrifice efficiency and even viability for false solidarity.
Replies have appeared in countless exchanges, debates, and presentations. They came down, ultimately, to three things. We demonstrated how equitable remuneration would not only be morally sound and socially positive, but would also deliver needed information and desirable levels of both work and creativity. We revealed how balanced job complexes and self management would be not only morally sound and socially positive, but would also unleash huge swaths of human creativity and capacity as well as eliminate waste associated with class division. And we explained how participatory planning would not only eliminate the motivational and informational anti social ills of markets and the authoritarianism of central planning and the ecological irrationality of both, but also positively unearth the information needed for sound choices and mesh compatibly with equitable remuneration, self management, and classlessness. But the ultimate argument came only with being able to point at ever more successful experiments.
Within RPS, however, among its members, debates around economic vision were more about the implications of different visionary commitments for strategic success. Those within RPS who opposed the emerging vision did not often claim that once attained it would be harmful or even less desirable than some other outcome, but that at the current stage of history, enunciated now, then, the proposed vision risked alienating too many people – mainly of the coordinator class – to the detriment of RPS advance. The dissidents said why not offer an economic vision that will be less controversial and closer to our current immediate potentials. When and if consciousness permits, we can promote and seek to our full desires later in accord with the new possibilities.
So with RPS, one side was saying we have to be very careful not to alienate coordinator class identified people. We cannot afford their absence from activism both for reasons of numbers, and also for reasons of needing various skills they can bring. The other side, and I was on it, agreed that welcoming coordinator class involvement was necessary, but argued that to welcome coordinator involvement without being clear about our ultimate aims would interfere with attaining what was sought on two counts.
First, the duplicity would itself repel many and be internally corrosive. Second, to seek coordinator involvement without simultaneously addressing the dangers of coordinator co-option of the entire project invited disaster. To advance without coordinator class folks involved would be difficult, we agreed, so we should certainly try to avoid that situation. However, to advance with coordinator class involvement but without attention to the potential for it to subvert other aims risked suicide. If we advocated anti capitalist but not anti coordinatorist economic vision, we would wind up with no project or with a project subordinate to coordinator class interests and aims.
The second position ultimately won overwhelmingly. And indeed, it was a case in which it was hard to maintain the minority position at the same time as pursuing the majority one. The best we could do was to have a standing committee that would continually reevaluate visionary commitments and their strategic implications in light of learning more about each from RPS developments more generally. And we did that. But I must admit that it wasn’t long before the emphasis moved toward discerning further essential aspects of the favored vision, with the minority positions to drop balanced job complexes and to drop self management pretty much dipping into complete inattention. What remained at all times a flexible focus, however, was how best to grow and develop RPS in accord with attaining its ultimate goals.
I should add that some left RPS over this. But I think it is fair to also note that few if any who left were working class. And while each person who left over this difference operated for a time in progressive political ways, as they fell back into daily life coordinator involvements they fell away from dissent, or when they decided to persist in dissent, in time they rejoined RPS. The fear that the full vision would cause some coordinator class people to not relate positively to RPS was certainly correct – particularly for the folks arguing it. But for many many other coordinator class members, and more as each month and year passes, the predication was wrong.
Indeed one to the most celebratory dynamics occurring throughout society during all these years of RPS growth, is not just old coordinator class members signing up to RPS, but their joyfully teaching their worthy skills to worker’s and their sincerely progressively dispensing with their non prior worthy practices and attitudes. It has paralleled, for example, whites fighting against their prior racism and men fighting against their prior sexism, but often with even larger personal material losses and far fewer historical precedents.