What is MDS and why do we need it?
MDS (Movement for a Democratic Society) is what you make it. Like SDS of old, it will not have a strict set of ideological positions that one must endorse going in. It will be inclusive and pluralistic within broad parameters of Left thought. However, given who is already involved in this organization, it can be characterized with some degree of accuracy. Look at the Board and that will give you a good idea of where MDS stands. That board includes Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, Angela Davis, Cornel West, Barbara Ehrenreich, Manning Marable, Lawrence Ferlingetti and Mark Rudd among many others. That said, the following is only my own analysis and characterization.
Why do we need MDS? That’s easy. We need a bold, new voice of the Left in the American political dialogue. By Left, I mean the anti-imperialist Left. A Left that is overtly and unapologetically socialist. A Left that rejects the basic premises of both the “War on Terror” and the “War on Drugs”. A Left that advocates the growth of a decentralized public sector. A Left that considers prevention based healthcare, basic housing and wholesome nutrition as human rights. A Left that supports the diminution of corporate domination of both the economic and political spheres and supports enhanced worker rights. A Left that supports fundamental reform of the electoral system including public funding. A Left that opposes discriminatory hierarchies, be they economic, political, racial or gender based. A Left that renounces violence as a means of conflict resolution between nations and supports the development of international institutions with sufficient power to mediate such conflicts. I could continue at length in this vein. But in general, we need a Left that advocates policies clearly distinct from those of the liberals of the Democratic Party and that acts as a counterweight to corporate dominance of American society.
It is clear that we need a multi-issue organization that represents the views of the American Left. There are many publications and websites that address a broad spectrum of issues and many Left organizations focused on more narrow agendas. But there is no broad based and powerful organizational voice of the American Left that addresses all the social problems that beset American society and provides a comprehensive analysis that unites those issues. Manning Marable, the new chairperson of the MDS Board, did just that in his powerful address to the MDS founding conference February 17th in New York City.
To combat the isolation we often feel in our local efforts, we need a national organization of which we are proud to be members. This gives us strength and identity. It can facilitate our efforts to develop local progressive community infrastructure. With the leadership of the African-American Columbia history professor Manning Marable and the inter-racial nature of the national MDS Board, MDS can effectively facilitate multi-racial progressive community integration and coordination. And as the old SDS grew explosively when it seized the leadership of the student antiwar movement and promoted militancy, an integrated MDS that represents a unified progressive community should be able to exponentially expand the anti-Iraq war movement.
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, MDS will support the development of the new SDS. We can provide mentoring, funding, professional services, and networking. The younger generation will ultimately be the spearhead and we can help sharpen that weapon. MDS will also provide a political home for SDS graduates; where you go when you leave the campus to provide continuity to the struggle. All of us remember losing our political bearings, at least temporarily, after leaving academia.
For me, as some of you may remember, it’s long been a question of fight or flee. Do I stay and dedicate myself to the liberation struggle, or do I leave the USA, embracing expatriation? Given my wife Sally’s thriving career and the imminent arrival of my first grandchild, fleeing is not now really an option. So I invite you to join this new effort to advance the struggle for peace and justice in American and the world. As our French comrades said on the eve of the liberation of Paris, “Aux Barricades”! Very soon, there will be an MDS chapter founding meeting in Austin and hopefully in communities across the nation. I hope to see you there.
Further note on the MDS conference. On reflection, the handling of the “democracy caucus” dissidents at the MDS conference was flawed. They may have been a small minority. They may be crazy and they may even be infiltrated. But they were pretty much dismissed out of hand and that was not consistent with the principles of an organization that is supposed to be dedicated to participatory democracy. It would have been much better to have diverted from the agenda, entertain their motion and vote on it. They would have lost and the conflict would have been over. Instead, they were essentially ignored and told to “be civil”. They screwed their own case in advance by obnoxious threats and behavior. But they should have been dealt with by a more democratic procedure.