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Headlong into the storm

Tempest Collective member, Aaron Amaral, launches our first issue of Tempest with a round-up of the current political moment and an overview of this week's articles.

Changes come before we can grow…
Don’t just take me for tryin’ to be heavy
Understand, it’s time to get ready for the storm
Stevie Ray Vaughan

As we are writing, Tropical Storm Isaias is threatening largely Black coastal counties in the Southeast, areas already hard hit by COVID-19. This, in the midst of both a pandemic that has killed over 150,000 people in the U.S., and protests sparked by the racist police murder of George Floyd and the federal government’s subsequent provocations, all of which show no signs of letting up. For more than two months a multi-racial rebellion led by youth has chanted down the murderous inheritances of the country’s settler past—so insidiously reproduced and refashioned by the unelected capitalist market—and won victories. Leaps and leaps; decades in weeks.

Why now another socialist website? With a new socialist Left enamored with elections and renewing the claim of moving “from protest to politics,” all while the movement in the streets is reasserting its strength, what do revolutionaries have to offer? A modesty borne of hard experience and a perspective of urgency, to start. We know the challenges: rooting our emerging socialist Left within our working class communities, with all of our diversity; breaking through the incredibly powerful provincialism and U.S. exceptionalism that hampers our Left; creating and nurturing democratic organization, and building a lasting infrastructure for struggle.

Whatever important battles we won in the era of neo-liberalism and whatever movements we built in a period of largely defensive struggles, our first and most important task as revolutionaries was, to paraphrase: learning not to forget the past to protect our ability to foresee the future. If we believe these challenges can be overcome, it’s because history has shown us they can. And yet, while thousands of us continue to carry the memories, the organizational forms which saw us through this last period have largely not survived.

It is for this reason, mainly, that the organized Left which is currently being born has the appearance of starting from scratch. Our wager as the Tempest Collective is that this appearance belies reality. The legacies and strategic battles of earlier iterations of the socialist movement have not, and could not be, entirely left behind, because behind them are questions which confront every generation of the Left, posed in the form of the present moment.

Therefore, clarity about the task, and an understanding of the constellation of historical lessons, questions, and their importance, are a few things we can offer. Even if these come with no promise of success, we can strengthen the odds.

Over the last year or more, we have strongly felt that a yawning political vacuum exists for the politics of revolutionary socialism from below. We seek now to help fill that vacuum; not create a place to plant our flag, or to declare our politics—internationalist, abolitionist, liberationist, eco-socialist, solidaristic, revolutionary, etc.—but a place to put those politics to work; a place to engage and debate; a place to actively and passionately argue and think through the live questions for our mutual Left project. The Tempest Collective will have failed in our efforts, despite our politics, if that framework, that method, that space, is not reflected on our pages.

The future of our movement, of the Left, is in the hands of the multi-racial working class of this new generation, who have already demonstrated incredible power in its all-sided diversity while leading this recent rebellion. Tempest has an active commitment to giving voice to those fighters and those struggles. We aspire for this site to be a reflection of the competing perspectives and concrete strategic challenges with which this new Left is wrestling.

The socialist movement in this country has not always been an outside, negligible force. For decades of the last century it was an integral part of working class communities, politics and struggle. It was the force which built the labor movement, which later helped support and sustain civil rights struggles, which ensured that the ruling class’s concessions of the New Deal era had to be made, and which opposed decades of bi-partisan imperial policies. It was a relentless internationalism, and principled opposition to all forms of oppression, that made these and other victories possible.

The coerced separation of our movement from our class is a wound from the middle of the last century; yet it is a live wound, which makes itself felt broadly in our organizing and in our personal lives. We have been reminded of this wound as long as we can remember; every time we were forced to pledge allegiance to the imperial flag in our classrooms or in our union halls. We will not win lasting reforms, let alone the defeat of capitalism, until this damage is fully repaired.

The multiple, conspiring, crises of this moment have brought their own damage and destruction. But like a storm they also force us to come together, to find new shelter, to reach out to one another, to protect our neighbors and communities, and in their wake they open up possibilities, a new terrain for struggle.

If there is a single imperative which drives this project it is not letting this opportunity be lost. The Left must lay the foundations for independent and democratic organizations of self-activity and struggle, and must ensure that these organizations are deep-rooted and organically reflect and represent the working class. To do this also requires us helping recohere a resurgent revolutionary current, to keep our eyes on the prize, and to provide the perspective and commitment to get us there. Lofty goals, we know, but we feel there is no other road.

We launch with six pieces. These include statements of principle on two fronts: anti-imperialism and sexual violence. And four pieces on the uprising for Black lives.

In the context of the persistent popular struggles in Hong Kong, Promise Li and Andi W. of the Lausan Collective, argue for what should be the principled position of the U.S. Left on the basis of our commitment to international class solidarity and support for the fight for basic democratic rights, regardless of which capitalist state, or which imperial or sub-imperial power, is being challenged.

Natalia Tylim, a DSA activist and member of the Tempest Collective, calls the question on the double-standards with which much of the Left, and a vast majority of the liberal and progressive movement, have answered Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against Democratic Party presidential candidate, Joe Biden. What does it mean for the future of #MeToo, and the relationship between the new Left and the burgeoning international feminist movement—standing for bodily autonomy and against sexual and gendered violence— when socialists principles are compromised?

Four articles are addressed directly to the questions of the recent historic rebellion, its place in the history of the fight for Black Liberation in the U.S., and the role of the socialist movement within that struggle.

Tempest Collective member, Sherry Wolf, interviews Donna Murch, an activist, author, and scholar of the Black Panther Party. The conversation takes up the question of the origins of the current rebellion, the relationship between the new multiracial Left and the last generational upsurge in the Black freedom struggle, the relationship between allyship and comradeship, and the possibility of building multi-racial organization.

We also publish the lightly edited transcript of a Tempest-hosted roundtable discussion from July, entitled “Socialists and the Uprising Against Racism.” This event included four DSA activists and participants in the rebellion: Cinzia Arruza, Justin Charles, Michael Esealuka, and Tempest Collective member, Haley Pessin. The roundtable participants discussed the character of the rebellion, the responsibility and evolving role of DSA, as well as the role of specifically Black cadre in this relationship.

Third, and as part of what will be an ongoing series entitled, “Marxism 101: A User’s Guide to Revolutionary Socialism,” we are proud to re-publish a classic speech by C.L.R. James, with a new preface written by DSA activist and revolutionary, Erica West. Delivered in 1948, James’ “The Revolutionary Answer to the Negro Problem in the United States” is a ringing demand for the centrality of the fight for Black liberation in any struggle for socialism in the U.S., and an insistence on challenging “any attempt to subordinate or to push to the rear the social and political significance of the independent Negro struggle for democratic rights.”

Last but certainly not least, we include a perspective piece we hope will kick off further discussion. Long-time revolutionary socialist and Tempest Collective member, Joe Allen, reflects on the meaning of the current rebellion for the development of our new Left. He writes, “Black liberation has been put back at the center of the socialist project in the U.S., and the rebellion has sparked a new debate about strategic goals both in and around DSA.” He then notes that the millions who have participated in the rebellion are unlikely to be “pushed back to work in dangerous health and safety conditions” without significant impacts on the shop-floor, and within our unions. Prescient, we hope and expect.

Aaron Amaral, for the Tempest Collective

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Aaron Amaral is a member of the Tempest Collective and serves on the editorial board of New Politics.