Carl Davidson is the co-chair of the Committees Of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), a member of Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), and former vice president and inter-organizational secretary of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
NLN’s Thomas Altfather Good ran into Carl Davidson at the 2012 Left Forum. Davidson was tabling for CCDS in a small, very loud and busy, room in the student union. Good invited Davidson to do a stand-up interview in a (slightly) less noisy part of the Forum.
Although the interview is available on YouTube (and worth seeing to get a feel for Davidson’s personality – and to appreciate his sense of humor) it is transcribed here as the background noise at the Forum is evident on the video.
TAG: Since you are well known for being associated with Progressives For Obama, I’m wondering how you feel on this [election] cycle.
CD: This cycle’s different. The first cycle, Obama was an unknown in terms of what he would actually do. We knew where he would stand, in terms of his campaign, what issues he stood on. Some of us knew him personally, from going way back, when he first ran for office, that’s when I first ran into him. I helped him speak at the first anti-war rally he spoke at. But mainly we knew that, back then, in the Progressives for Obama days, is that, whatever you wanted to say about where he was at, and we pegged him as a liberal speaking to the center, that he was, there was a difference that mattered between him and McCain and Sarah Palin. And so we said vote for him and that’s why we formed Progressives for Obama.
But this time it’s a little different because he has a track record. And I can tell just from the working class around where I live, is that they’re a lot less enthusiastic. They are really against Republicans and they may get out and vote for him but with not nearly the same degree of intensity as they had before. So I think it’s going to be uphill for him. For our part, we’ve decided to take the approach, and by our I mean, Progressive Democrats of America. Which I guess I can describe, it is to the Democratic Party what the Tea Party is to the Republicans. It’s independent of them but it operates in their orbit. Like the Tea Party tries to push the Republicans to the right, we try to push the Democrats to the left. And our approach to the election is to work for the election of 12 candidates including Norm Solomon, to get them in the Progressive Caucus. We’re going to expand the progressive caucus in the Congress. We see that as kind of the third pole, the third of three poles in the election. There’s the Republicans, there’s the Democratic leadership, and then there’s PDA, the progressive caucus. We’re trying to expand the progressive caucus. As to who we will work for, that’s who we will work for. And where we’ll put our money and energy. And we will tell people to vote for Obama, in the sense that you can always vote for one adversary to defeat another as long as you tell the truth about them both. (laughs)
So that’s a slightly more nuanced version of what we did last time but we think it matches the conditions.
TAG: So you would oppose a third party candidate.
CD: Not necessarily, it depends on the state. If you have a third party candidate running in your state and it’s not one of these cliffhanger states, go ahead and vote for him. In fact we are actively, and here by we I mean the Committees of Correspondence, some of us in the Committees of Correspondence are actively looking for a socialist candidate to run for statewide office so that we can run somebody on a socialist ticket. To take down, say a governor or a state senator. Again, if it’s not a cliffhanger. It’s sort of like what Dan Lebotz did in Ohio back in 2010. We’re looking to find other places like that where we can run a socialist ticket. You know, to try to build for the future. Because, I mean PDA’s good, for what we are doing now. It’s sort of the working class, democratic wing, of Democratic voters. It has no official connection to the party, we’re an independent PAC. But that’s the arena we operate in. But eventually we’re going to have to, I think what will happen is that the Democratic Party will eventually implode. And so our task is to take people out of there en masse, at least all of the good people out of there en masse. And then merge them with other people who have already been out – Greens or socialist candidates – and build something new. That can become, that can displace the Democrats. But to do it in a way so that you don’t help the right. That’s the hard part.
TAG: Given that we’re standing in a university and your arguably most famous work is called The New Radicals In The Multiversity, I’m wondering how you feel about that book now.
CD: It actually holds up very well. You know some of the tactics in it might seem kind of quaint, in the list of different tactics for battles for SDS chapters to go through. But the core of that book is probably where I did some of my hardest and most original work. Which was to understand what the university really is. And there were all kinds of debates going on — whether Students were workers or, there was a pamphlet out at the time called ‘Students N—-r’ which was absolutely wrong. Not only to use the N word but the whole concept was wrong. There was a concept out that youth is a class. There were all these different competing ideas about what students were. So what I did is, I studied Marx and I studied American higher education and I came to the conclusion that what students were, were the trainees for the new working class and that they were the knowledgable. That’s the product that they were in the university. You had to look at the university from a sort of political economy of knowledge or a political economy of information. And then what students were were the knowledgable. And that that was the main product of our universities – create a knowledgable worker that could fit in to what was then a new and expanding scientific and technological sector of the economy. And indirectly, would fit into the social safety net sector of the economy as well. And that that was what was going on in the universities and that’s how students should see themselves. They should see their battles in that context. And I was trying to write it in such a way that, by seeing their overall position in production and how the universities connected with the overall system of production, that it would instill wider class consciousness as part of their battles. That was the core of that work and I think it’s still true.
TAG: I think a lot of people would agree with you. So my last question has to do, it’s the perennial question, how do we stop the wars? First of all, I’m assuming that you agree the war in Iraq has not stopped.
CD: No, I don’t agree with that.
TAG: You don’t think it’s [not] stopped?
CD: I think it’s stopped. As a war it’s stopped. As an occupation, you know, war is a continuation of politics by other means. So what we have going on in Iran, er, Iraq right now is, imperialist politics by normal means. Which is intrigue, conspiring, you know, sending in spies.
TAG: But we have a lot of mercenaries there.
CD: I think the mercenaries will mostly be drawn out. Mainly because they have nobody to back them up at this point. So they’ve been all pulled back, put in these centralized places where they can protect themselves. They’ve been put entirely in a defensive mode. And I think that you’ll see that over the next year that they will be drawn down. So, I think that continued American oppression and exploitation of Iraq that will continue, as they do with any Third World country for want of a better term. THat will continue and that needs to be opposed on our part. But as a war, where we’re actually out there with our soldiers engaged on the battlefield, that part of Iraq is over.
TAG: And Afghanistan?
CD: Not yet. But it looks like its on its way. They don’t call it the graveyard of empires for nothing. And they’re beginning to see that they can’t stay there. Obama says he wanted them out by 2014. I don’t know whether I would believe that or not. But now, they’re pushing, Karzai himself is pushing to get them out by 2013. So, it’ll be interesting. I think we need to, out now from Afghanistan, still needs to be one of our main campaigns. That should be the focus, that and the danger of war in Iran. Those are the main focuses of the anti-war movement at this point.
TAG: So what can people do to resist the next war — which would be Iran?
CD: Well, I used to argue, and I think I still do, that wars end when three things happen. One, is that the streets become ungovernable; two, is when soldiers refuse to fight, and three; is when Congress votes to cut off the money. So, pick all or any one of those that you like and get to work on them!
TAG: Thank you, Carl.