Interview originally published on The North Star. Reproduced in its entirety here.
Radical Activist Interview: Max S Morgan
Max S Morgan is the chair of the Communist Labor Party and an organizer for the CLP’s Harry Bridges Chapter in Tacoma, WA. In the first of what will be a series of interviews with on-the-ground radical activists, he agreed to talk with The North Star about his group’s unusual approach to revolutionary work.
The North Star: Describe for us the work you’re doing.
Max Morgan: Right now, the Harry Bridges Chapter is facilitating a Serve the People program; we’re adopting Black Panther Party for Self Defense survival programs. We’re having a fun problem: our immediate-term goal is to bring the community into the operation, administration, and management/decision-making process of these programs–but everyone we bring in, even people who were total strangers before meeting us through the program, keeps joining the party!
I say facilitating, not organizing or running, because our end goal is to create self-sustaining programs that are not dependent on the party and would continue on without us. Which is not to say we won’t continue fostering the development and expansion, day to day operations, of these programs and projects–simply that the goal is to have an independent organization. I may expand on the rationale later.
TNS: What led you to work on directly providing social services?
MM: Our party’s Program (capital P big plan™) calls for the development of dual power, which in this case takes the forms of institutions (economic and political) that create or channel class power for proletarian communities. In this case it’s economic power, in the form of food security and, eventually, housing security initiatives.
TNS: How does this approach compare with other organizing techniques you’ve tried?
MM: Compared to the traditional socialist “organizing methods” of attending other peoples’ events to push papers, organizing book clubs for academics to discuss esoteric theory, and generally putting around poo-pooing the imperfect practices of others while we explore our inner selves with our thumbs? No equitable comparison can be made.
MM: The point is not to “provide services,” but to create structures of self-sufficiency at a community and collective level. Resilient communities weather economic hardship, resist displacement, and foster day-to-day economic security that enables proletarian people to engage in political work they would have to ignore while struggling to survive.
MM: Yes and no–the social services provided by the bourgeois state are crafted, quite ingeniously (respect your enemies or you will underestimate them and be destroyed), to perpetuate survival without fostering success. Food stamps take the edge off of extreme poverty. Housing assistance (at least in this state) takes the form of subsidized rent, which merely takes the edge off.
MM: Mid-term is to expand the program as much as possible, to provide as much to as many as logistically feasible, and to encourage other groups of activists or communists to do the same in other municipalities.
MM: Class antagonism is central to the development of society. As it stands, the working class, which sells its labor to survive, has little or no political power because of two limitations. The first is economic: if you stop selling your labor, you starve. If you burn down the factory, you are unemployed and may starve. The capitalist mode of production coerces our cooperation very effectively, and no act of will alone can break that coercion unless you are literally suicidal.
MM: Mostly practical lessons. The BPPfSD was organizing on a different timeline and principle of revolution, which I do not mean to critique or denigrate by not following their example exactly. We’re just trying something different.
MM: It doesn’t, unless there’s someone out there in North America pursuing some kind of Gramscian Autonomism, or the Wobblies got back on a hard-line syndicalist program when I wasn’t looking.
MM: Some of the problems we are keeping an eye out for are things brought up by Lenin as criticisms of Autonomism: that merely seizing small portions of the means of production through “legal means” is not a revolutionary act if it does not propel a revolutionary movement with a political dimension. And he’s right; projects like this one have historically lost their revolutionary character and become charity organizations. We’re keeping a close eye on that and even though our project is barely started, not even a year old, we are already beginning to pivot in a political direction. Which we must also be cautious about, as it invites opportunism and disconnection with the masses if handled without forethought and self-criticism.
MM: I cannot in good conscience promise you or anyone else that what we’re doing is going to work, or is even a good idea. I can explain my rationale and the historical events and programs that lead me to believe this is the correct combination and integration of disparate Marxist practices and revolutionary programs. I can explain how the current material conditions in North America call for this sort of power-building over traditional organizing methods. But this is still new and untested.
MM: Read about the Panthers. Read about the Young Patriots. Read about the old Rainbow Coalition. Read about the New Left in Chicago and Los Angeles. Ask questions, talk to your neighbors, go down to a bus stop and ask people what they need and what their life is like right now.