2005 Solidarity Cadre School Guiding Questions

General Guidelines

Session 1: Revolutionary Moments – Film Land and Freedom
Session 2a: Introductions
Session 2b: Marxism as a Theory of Liberation: Understanding the Intersections of Class, Race, Gender, and Sexuality
Session 3: Marxist Analysis: What is Class and Why Does it Matter?
Session 4: Socialist Organization Past and Present
Session 5: Race, the National Question, and the U.S. Left
Session 6: Case Studies in Radical Nationalism: the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Young Lords and La Raza Unida Party
Session 7: Revolutionary Film: Mortu Nega (about Guinea Bissau)
Session 8: What is socialist feminism and what makes Solidarity a socialist feminist organization?
Session 9: Sexual Liberation and Socialism: What is the Connection?
Session 10: Imagining Socialism: What Would a Revolution in the U.S. Look Like?
Session 11: Reforms vs./Reformism: Movement Building and the Fight for Socialism from Below
Session 12: Case Studies in Transitional Politics
Session 13: Which Way Forward for Solidarity?
Session 14: Building for the Future: What Kind of Organization do We Want?
Session 15: Building a Culture of Ongoing Internal Education

General Guidelines

1) Presenters/facilitators are free to use the "crib sheets" and/or to do something different.

2) The only request is that you try to fit your session into the overall context of the school, because the consensus from the start was that folks wanted a "progressive" approach (i.e. sessions building on each other) rather than a "smorgasbord" approach (i.e. each session freestanding and independent). The sessions on the first day are especially important and probably a bit less free, because they have to lay some foundation.

3) The other thing to keep in mind is that we are hoping to make most of these sessions primarily spaces for discussion – again, in response to consensus among the planners – avoiding a classroom model (i.e. teacher/students) in favor of a model we hope is more comradely (i.e. mutual interaction and learning). So the expectation of the planning committee is that the presentation will be minimal and the discussion facilitation will take the majority (2/3 to 3/4) of the session. Please keep that in mind when you start laying out the specifics of what you are going to do.

4) Most of you don’t need to worry too much about pouring hours into prepping your presentation – in many cases you’ll just be covering basic definitions and ideas to help establish a common ground for discussion. There are some exceptions, when it is thought that the majority of comrades may lack crucial knowledge on a given subject.


Session 1: Revolutionary Moments – Film Land and Freedom

Format: Short film summary/review; facilitated discussion

Description: Many people will be arriving over the course of the evening, so this session will ease participants into the school. The film Land and Freedom highlights several of the questions that we’ll face during the summer school.

Points to highlight/summarize (especially if many people missed part of the film):

  • Dynamics of the revolutionary situation in Spain: roles of Spanish Communist Party, Soviet Union, Third International, POUM, anarchists
  • Examples of self-emancipation in the movie (More examples can be found here)
  • Relationship between anarchists & socialists in the film
  • One theme the planners saw (you need not agree): top-down intervention destroys achievements of self-organization & self-emancipation

Possible discussion questions:

  • What might have happened if the Third International had not intervened as it did? How could the war have been won by the anti-Fascists?
  • Given that the intervention happened, what else could or should the main character have done, instead of what he did?
  • What analogous situations have comrades witnessed or participated in, at any level, where top-down intervention has interfered with self-organization or self-emancipation?
  • What constrains people from resisting these interventions?
  • What responses have been successful?
  • When (if ever) is top-down intervention useful or even necessary?
  • How can you define and differentiate between top-down intervention and self-emancipation? Are the differences clear, or is it difficult to figure out what’s going on when things are in motion?


Session 2a: Introductions

Description: This session will give participants a chance to introduce themselves, and get a sense of the sort of background other folks are coming from. It will review the stated goals of the summer school, then allow attendees to refine those goals and share their vision for ongoing internal education in particular and Solidarity in general. In addition to framing the school, this session will be a chance for everyone to “get it all out there,” to say (in a positive, visionary context) what they most strongly think about the organization and their hopes for it.


Session 2b: Marxism as a Theory of Liberation: Understanding the Intersections of Class, Race, Gender, and Sexuality

Format: Panel followed by discussion

Description: This panel will lay part of the foundation for the rest of the school. It will provide some basic definitions and frame one key theme of the summer school: intersectionality. It will introduce Marxism as a way of understanding social oppressions, particularly by examining societies through the lenses of class, race, gender, and sexuality (and in other contexts religion, caste, ethnicity, etc). The goal would be to get the participants thinking about these four oppressions, in particular their complex interactions and intersections. Hopefully this will spark many questions and thoughts that we will be able to tackle at different points throughout the school.

Possible presentation topics:

  • How do we think about these issues differently from non-socialists?
  • Intro to some basic concepts (You may want to try to assess the level of knowledge in the room and adjust accordingly)
    • The “special oppressions”
    • The ways they form “pillars of capitalism;” that is, how do they function in material, economic terms to control labor and perpetuate / facilitate the functioning of the capitalist system?
    • Are these things individual or structural/institutional issues? Both? How does that work?
  • What role does self-emancipation play in Marxist theory?
  • Interactions: “What does this have to do with me:” some argue that all are inextricably linked to each other and to capitalism; liberation for any is impossible without overthrow of capitalism. Agree / disagree?
  • How are these oppressed groups played off each other to maintain hierarchies of domination and exploitation?
  • Some argue that the leadership of the “specially oppressed” is necessary for revolution to take place in the U.S. Agree/disagree? If yes, what does/would/will this look like in practice? (What’s the difference between genuine leadership and tokenism?)

Possible discussion questions (suggestion – break into small groups, then report back):

  • How does our experience—in activist work in general, and in Solidarity in particular—echo, reflect, and even support these hierarchies & oppressions?
  • How have we seen these hierarchies successfully challenged and disrupted—in activist work and in Solidarity?
  • What do we need to do to improve Solidarity’s functioning as a feminist, anti-racist organization? (this theme will be re-visited several more times; this is just an introduction)


Session 3: Marxist Analysis: What is Class and Why Does it Matter?

Format: Presentation followed by discussion

Description: This workshop will provide a basic understanding of class, including its economic basis (grounded in alienation and exploitation), its social and cultural dimensions, and the political potential Marxists have traditionally attributed to the working class (“class for itself”). In addition to covering the basics, we can hopefully begin to discuss the ways in which race, gender and sexuality mediate the lived experience of working class people. We could also talk concretely about the forces – both in the workplace and beyond – that are shaping the lives of the U.S. working class today, as well as the changing face of the U.S. working class.

Possible presentation topics:

Introduce basic concepts: labor, alienation, class, exploitation, relations of production (You may want to assess level of knowledge in room & adjust accordingly)

  • Definitions – “working class”:
    • Material, social definitions (class = group with same relationship to the means of production and the same material interests)*
    • Cultural, individual definitions
    • Class consciousness
  • Why the working class is the key agent for social change in the Marxist tradition
  • How is class alienation related to our alienation from nature?
  • Macro-economic changes have created obstacles to traditional labor organizing,
    • part time jobs, temp & limited term workers, fewer workers in one job site, etc.
    • mobility of capital (“sending jobs overseas” etc.)
    • undocumented workers, “workfare” as union busting, etc.
  • Are there parts of this definition and understanding of class that are unique to us in Solidarity? i.e., does our understanding of the role of the working class differ from that of other groups?
  • Is class a real identity for people in the U.S. today? How is it defined?

Possible discussion topics: the big questions

  • How do we adjust our strategies to the changes that undermine traditional labor organizing?
    • What creative ways have comrades experienced or learned about, to organize despite these challenges?
  • What is power and why did Marx say that the working class has it?
    • Has the fundamental nature of class, class interests, relationship to means of production, changed since Marx first defined it?
    • So is “organizing as a class” still the key to revolution?
    • What about other intersecting identities—gender, race, nationality, sexuality—that have been used to organize movements. How do these relate to class? How do these relate to creating revolution?

Session 4: Socialist Organization Past and Present

Format: Panel followed by discussion

Description: This panel will discuss several of the key organizational issues that socialists have faced throughout history, and the different forms that socialist organizations have taken as well as the rationale behind them (e.g. vanguard parties; electorally-oriented social-democratic political parties; underground militias; etc.) It will also hopefully relate these issues to the creation of Solidarity and the key political themes associated with our organization, including several big picture questions (e.g. socialism from below; working class political independence; internationalism; centrality of the working class to human liberation) as well as more concrete issues (e.g. regroupment of the U.S. left; rank and file trade union work; etc.).

Possible presentation topics:

  • How have socialist parties organized historically and cross-culturally?
  • Why do many Marxists argue the necessity of political parties? What different forms do these parties take (e.g. vanguard parties; social democratic electoral parties, etc.)? Are other forms of organization advocated? Rationale for these different visions…?
  • What role is advocated for political organization in developing and intervening in the class struggle?
  • What is democratic centralism? What is Leninism? What do other theorists contribute?
  • How did the founders of Solidarity grapple with these questions in founding our organization?

Possible discussion questions:

  • Do we need to choose particular forms of socialist organization to prioritize over others? Are some of the forms mutually exclusive?
  • What lessons can we learn from predecessor groups?
    • What features worked well? Do we want to emulate any of these?
    • What didn’t work for them, that we want to avoid?
  • What, if anything, is different about today? If certain organizational forms were successful in the past can the same forms work today?
  • Is there a role for democratic centralism in Solidarity? How should it be defined & implemented?
  • Are there lessons we should take from other kinds of contemporary organizations, such as from the anarchist movement?


Session 5: Race, the National Question, and the U.S. Left

Format: Facilitated discussion

Description: This session will present and discuss the various ways in which socialists and other radicals have made sense of race in the United States. This includes classic approaches such as “nation-within-a-nation” and “revolutionary integrationism.” It would also address more recent points of view that attempt to grapple with the complexities of race and ethnicity in the U.S. today. The goal is to both familiarize ourselves with the debates, as well as help people understand how different theories of race in the U.S. have led socialists to make different choices about where to organize, and who they consider the social group with the most revolutionary potential. (Time permitting, this workshop may also touch on related questions such as how racism has shaped American capitalism; the conservatism of the white working class; and whether the racial lens we use to understand the U.S. is suitable for other countries).

Possible Presentation topics:

  • Define terms & specify preferred usage if necessary
  • What do we mean by “the national question” and a “national solution”? What constitutes a “nation”? What is the Marxist definition of “national self-determination”?
  • How have different groups of revolutionary socialists conceived of “race” and “nation” in the past?
  • How have Marxists related to movements of national liberation?
  • What is the relationship between self-activity and the definition of a nation?
  • What are the social consequences & political ramifications of white supremacy combined with imperialism in the United States?
  • Race as social construction – origins and development of “whiteness.”
  • Impact of changes in U.S. capitalism on the class structure of the Black community in the U.S. (e.g., relationship of the Black bourgeoisie to the Black working class, historically and today), impact of these changes on Black activism over time; Black activist layers today (Urban League; radical/nationalist groups; hip hop; etc.)

Possible discussion questions:

  • Is there a national solution to the question of race and racism in the U.S.?
  • Is it possible to build a multi-racial/multi-national revolutionary organization in the US?
  • How should Solidarity change our disproportionately white demographic? How is this related to other aspects of our organization?
  • How can Solidarity effectively relate to & ally with radical groups organized around national or racial identity? (covered in more depth in next session)
  • What are some useful ways for activists of color to defeat internalized racism? What are the best ways for white activists to self-educate re white supremacy?
  • What should we prioritize within our movement work to most effectively undermine and destroy white supremacy?
  • How can we productively challenge and educate around white supremacy in other organizations (for example in an anti-war coalition) without undermining the group’s functioning and work?
  • Is it possible to build movements around race internationally? What are some examples? What are some pitfalls?


Session 6: Case Studies in Radical Nationalism: the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, the Young Lords and La Raza Unida Party

Format: Presentations followed by discussion

Description: This session will examine several concrete cases of radical nationalism. We will look at where these movements came from; how they understood their politics and put them into practice; how they related to white allies; and their internal dynamics of class, gender and sexuality.

Possible Presentation topics:

  • Did these organizations see themselves as Marxist organizations? If so how? If not, how did they relate to Marxism?
  • What is the relationship between radical nationalism and socialism?
  • What did self-determination mean to these groups?
  • Would we define these struggles as nationalist in a narrow or broad sense?
  • Was there any attempt to build radical multi-racial organizations out of these experiences?
  • What were the roles of white allies in these struggles? What mistakes did they make and when did they succeed in being effective allies?

Possible discussion questions:

  • Share with comrades any similarities & differences between these organizations and others: nationalist organizations in other countries (such as those struggling for independence from imperial domination), other nationalist organizations in the U.S., anti-nationalist (internationalist) Marxist organizations of people of color; pan-Africanist, pan-Arabist groups; etc.
  • What lessons can be drawn by radical activists of color working today?
  • What are the lessons for today for disproportionately white organizations? How can Solidarity effectively relate to & ally with radical groups organized around national or racial identity?
  • Note Solidarity’s position on allying with nationalist movements (in our founding statement). Should this be changed in any way? Why? And, if yes, how?


Session 7: Revolutionary Film: Mortu Nega (about Guinea Bissau)

Format: Facilitated discussion

Description: This film provides an introduction to the national liberation struggle against the Portuguese in Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde islands. It also grapples with the problems that plagued Guinean society after liberation.

Points to highlight/summarize:

  • Dynamics of the liberation struggle in Guinea-Bissau
  • Examples of self-emancipation in the movie (if any)
  • Role of women in the liberation struggle (at least as portrayed by the film)
  • Problems that cropped up after liberation, when guerilla fighters returned to civilian life?
  • Who is Amilcar Cabral and why is he an important figure in this revolution?

Possible discussion questions:

  • What defined the revolution for different members of Guinean society? How did those different definitions come to define the different paths that the revolution could take?
  • What are the lessons, if any, that we can draw for our own situation here in the U.S. today?


Session 8: What is socialist-feminism and what makes Solidarity a socialist-feminist organization?

Format: Facilitated discussion

Description: This workshop will deepen the basic understanding of a distinctly socialist feminism and feminist analysis.. It will introduce any aspects of patriarchy & Marxist-feminist theory not introduced in session 2b above, as well as the historical & contemporary racial dynamics (alliances & exclusions) of feminist movement(s) in the U.S. and the emergence of multiple feminisms in response. This workshop has as a central goal the exploration of “feminist functioning” and ways of deepening Solidarity’s socialist-feminist practice.

Possible presentation topics:  

To the extent not covered in session 2b (you may also want to assess level of knowledge in room & adjust accordingly):

  • What are our working definitions of gender, gender oppression, sex, sexuality (To the extent not covered in session 2b) You may also want to assess level of knowledge in room & adjust accordingly.
  • What are the different theories and manifestations of socialist feminism (time permitting)
  • if women’s oppression originated before capitalism, what does that imply for revolution and a post-capitalist society?
  • Feminist/inclusive process: why do we want to include as many voices as possible in our processes?

Possible discussion topics:

  • Are women fundamentally different from men in our “style” of interaction or other ways? If so, how? do we have special contributions to make? If not, how does patriarchy impact our participation—why do we need to explore feminist process?
  • What is “feminist process”?
    • What is un-feminist about processes that comrades have noticed/experienced in Solidarity or other activist work?
    • What experimental processes have comrades tried or participated in? Results (good & bad)?
    • What do comrades identify as successfully feminist processes—either that they’ve experienced, or their ideals? Do other comrades concur?
    • Can we agree on criteria that define our goals for feminist process?
  • How can Solidarity implement “more” feminist (and otherwise inclusive) processes? Consider: Access to participation; Comfort with participation; and decision making;
  • What is “power” in our organization and how is power distributed, gained, lost, manipulated?
  • What resources may be required to broaden & deepen inclusive process? (time, money?) How can we advocate for these resources to be allocated?
  • Can we make any recommendations to the national organization about strengthening/deepening our feminist/inclusive process?


Session 9: Sexual Liberation and Socialism: What is the Connection?

Format: Presentation followed by discussion

Description: This session will provide a basic understanding of sexual oppression, and how socialists have traditionally understood and addressed it. It will include some brief highlights from the history of gender expression in different cultures, and focus in more depth on contemporary struggles against sexual oppression here in the U.S. Time permitting we will explore how race, class, gender identity & expression, and sexuality have interacted. The big question will be the stance and tasks of socialists on these issues in the contemporary climate.

Possible Presentation topics:

You may want to assess level of knowledge in room & adjust accordingly

  • Review of basic definitions of gender, sex, sexuality from the previous session (You may want to assess level of knowledge in room & adjust accordingly).
  • History: probable origins of sexual oppression in Europe; different manifestations of sexual and gender identity & expression in other cultures; impact of European colonization.
  • History: attitude of the Left, particularly the traditions from which Solidarity emerged, towards sexual oppression
  • Sexual oppression and struggle against it, including:Material aspects of sexual oppression (relationship between sexual oppression and family, production, reproduction, wage labor); intersectionality/relationship between sexual/gender identity oppression and patriarchy, white supremacy
  • Contemporary issues related to sexual oppression, including: legal challenges (marriage, gender reassignment, access to information/care related to reproductive & sexual health) ; health issues including voluntary and involuntary gender reassignment interventions

Possible discussion topics:

  • How does the struggle for queer liberation relate to the struggle of the working class? Is it (how is it) a democratic, material, libertarian, and/or social struggle?
  • What is the responsibility of a revolutionary Marxist organization to that struggle?
    • What position is most consistent with a Marxist worldview?
    • Is there a difference between our position in an ideal, abstract sense and our actions on the ground (for example, on marriage)? If so, how do we justify this?
    • How important is this struggle compared with others?

What priorities should Solidarity adopt for action and organizing?



Session 10: Imagining Socialism: What Would a Revolution in the U.S. Look Like?

Format: Panel followed by discussion

Description: This session will take up two related questions. First, it will address how a revolution in the U.S. might actually unfold in this country. This includes the institutions and social forces that might propel it forward, what the dynamics might be and how socialists would be involved. Second, it will address what we think a different society, a socialist society, might look like. To the extent possible we will also explore the relationship between the two. The session format aims to generate as much creativity and vision as possible from panelists and attendees.

Possible presentation/discussion questions:

  • What are the key features of capitalism that you think are most important to eliminate? (e.g.,alienation, exploitation, inequality, lack of democracy, etc.) What might the US look like without those features?
  • What are the elements of US society that you imagine would be necessary to involve in order to achieve a revolution? Do we need majority support? Do we need the military? Do we need some segments of the capitalist class?
  • Are there benchmarks that would indicate an increase in our ability to make a revolution in the U.S.? (e.g. conducting a general strike in a single city; creating a single-payer, universal healthcare system in a single state or at the national level; taking public ownership over a key resource like the power generation system in a city) Are there any activities like this that are necessary for a successful revolution?
  • Is it likely that a revolution could happen in the US only? Or would it likely require that we have help from the working class in other countries?
  • What would a socialist society look like in the U.S.?


Session 11: Reforms vs. Reformism: Movement Building and the Fight for Socialism from Below

Format: Facilitated discussion

Description: Under the broad label of "transitional politics" this session will address why socialists fight for reforms, and why the way that we go about it is important. We will discuss the different ways fighting for reforms helps build socialism, as well as explore the links between our concrete fights for improved social conditions and our politics of self-emancipation and socialism from below.

Possible Presentation topics:

  • Why do socialists fight for reforms? How do we choose the reforms that we fight for? Does the winnability of the reform matter?
  • What are the traditional definitions of transitional politics? Do those definitions seem relevant today?
  • Where did the idea of transitional politics come from? Is it a modification of the classical Marxian understanding of how class consciousness is formed? If so how?
  • What is a transitional organization? Why do Solidarity members place such importance on building transitional organizations?
  • What are some examples of transitional politics in the U.S. today? For example, what might be a transitional demand around the Iraq war? What would a non-transitional demand around the war look like?
  • Is there a relation between transitional politics and forms of socialist organization?

Possible discussion topics:

  • How, why, and under what circumstances does the ruling class grant reforms? Examples?
  • Some argue that reforms are more often the byproduct of militant/revolutionary struggle than of “reformist” struggle itself. Agree/disagree? What examples do you see—contemporary or historical—to support or refute this idea?
  • Do traditional definitions of transitional politics still seem relevant today? Should this method still be applied today?
  • After a victory (or decisive defeat) in a reform campaign, how do we prevent the majority of the movement from “standing down,” demobilizing? In other words how do we ensure that the end of the specific campaign won’t undo all our work to build a movement?
  • How do we articulate and share our vision of transitional politics with our allies in these struggles, to help them look beyond the next victory/defeat?
  • In Solidarity specifically, how should we select and prioritize the reforms that we fight for? Does the winnability of the reform matter?
  • What fundamentals (if any) are essential in our organizing to ensure that we are using the transitional method—that we’re developing these movements in the direction of socialism?


Session 12: Case Studies in Transitional Politics

Format: Presentations followed by discussion

Description: This session will continue our examination of transitional politics, considering concrete work in three areas: rank and file union activism; independent political action; and feminist activism. In addition to discussing the issues and questions raised in the previous session, this workshop will explore how we put our politics into practice and wrestle with the difficulties of organizing in the here and now, while building for a much larger vision of revolutionary socialism.

Possible presentation questions:

  • How does your particular case study reflect a transitional approach to politics?
  • In what ways did the case study tie into the fight for a socialist future? Were the opportunities to make those connections lacking, or if available missed?
  • Did the specific struggle win? If so, why do we think this happened?
  • Was the victory distorted/diluted in some way to make it less beneficial than what had been demanded?
  • what was the response among those who had been working on the issue? why?
  • in retrospect, could /should this struggle have responded better to the final outcome in order to build for socialism more effectively? How?

Possible discussion topics :

  • Does our organizing reflect a transitional approach to politics? If so, in what ways?
  • How do we identify “transitional demands”?
  • Is the classic distinction of “revolutionary” versus “reformist” politics a useful one today? If so, in what ways?
  • How do we ground those debates? Are there concrete ways we can identify in our current work?

Session 13: Which Way Forward for Solidarity?

Format: Fishbowl

Description: Fishbowl participants will be asked a series of questions designed to draw out their perspectives on Solidarity along four interlinked dimensions:

  • Internal: what we need to do as an organization – do we need to change our structure,
    culture, and/or process? How?
  • External: what we should be doing in our movement work & how we should relate to
    other organizations, on the left and in the broader “progressive” movements;
  • Theoretical/visionary: e.g. what is the role of democratic centralism, voluntarism, etc. in
    our organization; what kind of organization(s) and activity will put the US “on the
    revolutionary road"?
  • Concrete/strategic: what specifically do folks think we need to be building in the short &
    long term?

Session 14: Building for the Future: What Kind of Organization do We Want?

Format: Facilitated discussion

Description: This session
will start the process of clarifying and concretize the organizational goals that participants express throughout the school. This will include how Solidarity could help us be more effective activists and revolutionaries (and what changes to the organization may be needed in order to do that); what role our internal culture plays in efforts to recruit new members; how
the needs of our generation do and don’t overlap with those of the rest of the organization; and what role cadre school participants can play in revitalizing the organization. This
process will likely involve tracing out areas of political agreement and disagreement among participants. It may also discuss the issue of how a generational transition could take place in
the organization.


Session 15: Building a Culture of Ongoing Internal Education

Format: Summation of ideas generated at the school followed by facilitated discussion

 Description: This session will attempt to summarize and synthesize the various ideas about internal education that emerge over the course of the summer school. In addition to discussing some of the theoretical issues involved in internal education, we will hopefully be able to generate some very concrete ideas and possibly even plans for ongoing internal education coming out of the cadre school.

 Points to highlight/summarize/discuss:

  • What are the concrete topics that young people in the organization want to study?
  • What are the types of educational activities participants are interested in? (e.g. ongoing reading groups, topical discussions, debates, etc.)
  • How can we use technology to build internal education? (e.g. blogs, conference calls, email discussion lists, ?)
  • What is the role of collective study in ongoing education?
  • What is the role for mentorship or one-on-one interactions with veteran comrades?
  • What is the role of studying the classics?
  • Are there curricula/study guides that we could use to read through the classics?
  • Are there educational programs that different branches do? Is it possible to collectivize them? (e.g. via the web?)
  • Could we conduct “virtual” nationwide educationals via the web/blog/conference call?
  • Are educationals just events? Are they ongoing, how do we do it?