Posted by: exiwp | August 9, 1989

Rainbow Lobby Presentation (IWP Plenary, 1989)

The following is the 1989 Rainbow Lobby presentation to the IWP’s plenary session-a biannual gathering of IWP leaders and cadre. Although the names of IWP leaders such as Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani have been maintained for the sake of clarity-as have the names of public figures and IWP front groups-all other personal names have been deleted for legal reasons.

Good afternoon. We’re going to begin today’s discussion by reviewing briefly a history of the Rainbow Lobby tactic since its humble beginnings in the final months of the Dennis Serrette campaign, in 1984. To prepare this history, I reread my notes from five years of meetings-CC meetings, Political Committee meetings, Monday morning staff meetings, Sunday evening regional meetings, and meetings of the various incarnations of the Business Project (OED, Finance Committee, We Mean Business). In the course of reading these notes I was struck by the enormous changes this tactic has gone through, the many uses we’ve put it to, and the importance that Fred has always attached to its growth and development. I was particularly impressed by the evolution of the Rainbow Lobby’s organizational design. It seemed to me to be an exceptionally clear example of how classical Leninists build organizations.

The Rainbow Lobby, in its organizational development, has evolved what I understand to be three characteristic features of a Leninist organization. First, there has been a continuous dialectic between the activity of coalition-building and the activity of base building between the Rainbow Alliance model and the Rainbow Lobby organization. We have swung between these two modes in an extremely growthful way that I’d like to discuss more later.

Secondly, the Rainbow Lobby has, over the last five years, interacted with a constellation of other tactics created and directed by the pre-party-the New Alliance Party, the Fulani campaign, etc.-and has contributed significantly to advancing the political and material position of the working class and its allies in this national sector. And finally, the Rainbow Lobby has become a point of interface between the working class vanguard in this national sector and the international working class, through its lobbying on behalf of the independent working class forces in Zaire.

This Leninist organizational design is, of course, one of the things that distinguishes the Rainbow Lobby from all the other liberal-issue lobbies that come knocking on the doors of mainstream America. The other thing that distinguishes it is its issue: democracy. In our understanding of democracy we are far closer to the reactionary bourgeoisie than we are to our liberal colleagues sitting across the table from us in a turf meeting. These liberals understand democracy as an end in itself, an end, moreover, that has already been achieved, at least in this exceptional national sector. On the other hand, Communists and the reactionary bourgeoisie both agree that democracy is just a tactic.

The bourgeoisie has no strategic commitment to democracy, because they understand that democracy-the rule of the majority-is inconsistent with the bourgeoisie staying in power. The form of democratic institutions is tactically useful to them in preserving their class rule, although the content of democracy-the rule of the majority-is a source of dangerous contradictions.

The Rainbow Lobby is a tactic for advancing the antagonisms in society between the form of democratic institutions, instruments of class rule, and the content of democracy, its tendency, as Luxemburg calls it, to negate its class character and be transformed into an instrument of working class struggle.

The conquest of a parliamentary majority in favor of reforms such as civil rights, women’s rights, abortion rights, is, again to quote Luxemburg, “a calculation which, entirely in the spirit of bourgeois liberalism, preoccupies itself only with one side-the formal side-of democracy, but does not take into account the other side, its real content.” Our fight for fair elections and democracy, however, has a revolutionary cutting edge because it puts forward the content of democracy-the sovereign power of the people-and exposes the gap between this content and the institutional forms constraining it.

Let’s move now to the brief history of the Rainbow Lobby. A clear understanding of this history would definitively answer many of the questions that have recently been coming up among Rainbow Lobby organizers questions such as “what is the relationship between NAP and the Rainbow Lobby, between Fulani and the Rainbow Lobby,” and so forth. So let’s examine this history.

When we say that the Rainbow Lobby is nonpartisan, we are not just articulating the correct line vis-à-vis the IRS. From its very beginnings the Rainbow Lobby was organized by our tendency to be a broad coalition-“confederation” as Thomas Todd called it-of the forces in the independent political movement. In the midst of our political campaign for president in 1984, comrade [Deleted], as head of National Ops, was busy trying to forge unity among any progressive independent force willing to put some distance, however short, between itself and the Democratic Party. The original coalition between NAP and the Consumer Party-“Independents for Dennis Serrette”-died shortly after we registered the political committee with the FEC.

But we continued to reach out to other parties-Labor Farm, Liberty Union, elements of Peace and Freedom, important leaders in the Nation of Islam like Thomas Todd, Minister Don Muhammed and Johnnie Walls, church leaders like Owen Brooks from Delta Ministries, and Herbert Hoover Wright. And we reached out to them on behalf of the independent working class movement, not on behalf of NAP or the Dennis Serrette campaign.

In October of 1984 we opened the Rainbow Alliance office in Washington DC for the purpose of coordinating a national campaign to educate people on independent politics: its history, the full range of independent parties in this country, how independent politics was being used to advantage by the right wing to leverage its power in the Republican Party.

In the Fall of that year, Jimmy Swaggart packed Madison Square Garden for 4 days, demonstrating the power of right-wing grassroots organizing. We recognized the importance of doing this from the left. We appealed to the left to join us in this nonsectarian, non-partisan coalition that would work for the unity of all progressive independent forces and put together a strategy that would get these forces some political clout in the 1988 election.

Far from conceiving the Rainbow Alliance as a NAP front, Fred told us in September of 1984 that it would be indicative of the Rainbow Alliance’s great success if NAP had to fight for hegemony within the Alliance.

Throughout the following year, 1985, the Mass Organizing project gave enormous energies to bringing this Rainbow Alliance into existence. A new department within Mass Organizing was set up to direct this work: Coalition and Lobbying, under the leadership of [Deleted] and [Deleted].

[Deleted] took over from [Deleted] as the organizer or “convenor” of the Alliance, and [Deleted] concentrated on building our lobbying activities. Early in 1985, our first piece of legislation, the Fair Elections Bill-H.B. 2320 as it was known then-was introduced by Conyers. NAP was of course the most active and supportive member of the Alliance. Following a Rainbow Alliance meeting in March, NAP sent [Deleted] and [Deleted] to Greenville, MS to support a teachers’ strike, at the request of Delta Ministries. In response to a demand by Liberty Union, we co-organized with them a press conference and demonstration in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Haymarket Riot. We tried our best to get paid speaking engagements for Thomas Todd.

In tandem with pursuing this coalitional work, our tendency was deepening our understanding of the centrality of the fairness issue for organizing in this national sector, at this particular point in history. At the 1985 Marxism and Mental Illness Conference, Fred gave a talk entitled “Freedom, Fairness and Violence,” which called for the hegemony of fairness over bourgeois freedom, and identified violence as the result of the hegemony of bourgeois freedom. A slide show produced for the event, ‘Our Time Has Come,” outlined the history of American bourgeois democracy, making the point that whatever fairness we have in this country was not by bourgeois design, but as a result of the struggles of the working class, organized independently, and more often than not, led by people of color.

Our efforts at building a broad, democratic coalition met up with the usual inertia of the US left. By August of that year, Fred had this to say about the Rainbow Alliance:

“There isn’t much of a Rainbow Alliance it’s a marginal social phenomenon. We create the illusion that they’re a sitting body that reviews this stuff. In reality, we are still trying to bring this Alliance into existence. It has a slight history. We’ve begun to identify the kinds of issues that give it coherency-independent politics, H.R.2320, etc. Is there broad coalitional support for this single issue, which is actually so sweeping so as not to be a single issue at all? No one yet has got to go with it. You can go with 2320 and still keep your foot out the door. If these forces take the next step to the petitioning campaign and an independent effort in 1988, that’s a big step.”

In retrospect we can see that this was a step these forces were politically and most importantly, materially, incapable of even contemplating. By the 1988 election, these forces were completely irrelevant to the independent campaign for fair elections. If this future was not entirely visible to us in August of 1985, it became clearer after Lenora’s smashing success in the November mayoral election. The enormous response of the Black working class to Lenora, as measured in votes, indicated the beginning of a fusion between our tendency and the class, and our hegemony over the Old Left. In a CC meeting after the election, Fred gave these instructions for our upcoming meeting of the Rainbow Alliance: “We have a new tactic for the Rainbow Alliance: we’re bringing out Fulani. We don’t care if Johnnie Walls, et al. come. Our message is: come if you desire. Stay away at your own risk. We are bringing out our tendency. Our concern is not about ballot status, etc. It’s about fusion with the class.”

The Rainbow Alliance continued an administrative existence into 1986. We had taken the coalition as far as it would go. Now it was time to go back to the base. Moreover, our growing fusion with the class was making possible a new coalition-the coalition between the left and right wings of the rainbow movement us and the Nation of Islam.

While the Rainbow Alliance was withering away, the Rainbow Lobby-a project supposedly supported by the Alliance but in reality funded entirely by NAP chapters around the country and various Institutes-was establishing itself on Capitol Hill. In late 1985 the Business Project had taken on trying to raise money for the Lobby by approaching organizations which had endorsed H.R. 2320, urging them to become members and contributors. This tactic met with complete and utter failure. Meanwhile, Business launched another project-the Community Social Workers: [Deleted], [Deleted] and [Deleted]. The job of these organizers was to go out to the community, taking with them a portfolio of our political products, and to figure out how to get the community to “buy political,” to fuse with our independent working class institutions. One of the institutions in the community social workers’ portfolio was the Rainbow Lobby. What this research and development team discovered was that the Rainbow Lobby was a hit with the progressive middle class. By April of 1986, [Deleted] was assigned to specialize in the Lobby, to fine-tune how to sell fair elections and democracy at the door. I remember our amazement when [Deleted] began bringing in $60 and $70 a night! This was unprecedented for a door-knocking tactic. In fact, no other mass organizing tactic in our history had ever enjoyed such a high rate of productivity.

The research and development carried out by the community social workers contributed immeasurably to placing our mass organizing on a more proletarianized and scientific basis, and what is an extension of this, on a firm financial basis. By the fall of 1986, the Business Project formed a sub-committee to manage a national canvass operation. Fred directed that NAP organizers deployed to the regions be trained to do the Rainbow Lobby canvass so that they could be as mobile and flexible as possible. The Rainbow Lobby canvass provided the material pre-conditions for building NAP operations all over the country. For the first time, our mass organizing could be self-financing. In addition, the Rainbow Lobby provided the subsidy needed to increase the National Alliance circulation to almost 50,000 copies, and to add another color.

In line with this spectacular entry into the world of middle-class mass organizing, the Rainbow Lobby constituted itself as a new organization, separate from the Rainbow Alliance, and in January 1987, incorporated as the Rainbow Lobby, Inc.

In a meeting in January 1987, Fred spoke about the dialectic between the Rainbow Lobby and the impending Campaign ’88. He told us that the Lobby should resist being taken over by Campaign ’88 for as long as possible. It’s growth, financially and politically, was what would make it valuable to the ’88 campaign-we didn’t want to give it over prematurely.

Fred stressed that the Rainbow Lobby was strategically more important to us than Campaign ’88. In a sense, it was a new “inside’ tactic relative to the Democratic Party-and a far more potent tool than the Democratic Party club work. Instead of taking away members, we were taking away money. Our capacity to carry out our political plans is very tied to our ability to re-route money our way. Revolutions are very expensive!

In June of 1987 we finally had to stop resisting being taken over by Campaign ’88. Following Lenora’s declaration of her candidacy, we began the conversion of our Rainbow Lobby canvass to matching funds. The experience and expertise we had gained in building the Rainbow Lobby opened up extraordinary possibilities that had never existed before-the ability to go into 20 states, in many of which we had no infrastructure, and immediately begin to raise money in small, matchable donations. And the ability to qualify for matching funds was a precondition for accomplishing 51 in ’88.

The Rainbow Lobby had built up sufficient surplus and was able to integrate volunteer organizers into the phone operation successfully enough so as to survive the permanent loss of its top organizers for the 18 months of the campaign, and the loss of all its organizers save one, for 6 months. It emerged from Campaign ’88 in fair financial condition, but with only one-half the cadre it had had prior to conversion. In light of the significance that Fred had attached to the Rainbow Lobby tactic, namely, identifying its post-campaign expansion as the true measure of the success of the campaign. This reduction of cadre seemed a significant deviation, a deviation which, as you all know, we immediately set about to rectify, by recalling our Marxist-Leninists from the New Alliance Party, where they were not needed, and where they were, in a significant way, serving as a fetter to its development.

The Rainbow Lobby, under our collective Marxist-Leninist leadership, is now beginning a new phase of its development. It has done its duty, served its purpose as a source of material support for other mass organizing tactics. It will now intensify its efforts in support of its own autonomous mass organizing goal: the organizing of the progressive middle class into an alliance with the working class. We have long ago identified the willingness of the progressive middle class to give money to an organization which they recognized, at some level, was doing something to fight encroaching fascism. We will now move explicitly to shape the social motion of the middle class, to do base-building, to build a class-wide organization.

We are very excited to have this opportunity today to meet as Marxist-Leninists with comrade Fred, and have him give us political guidance for this next stage of our development.

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