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Study Our History

Political leadership consists of figuring out what to do next.

A good way to study to become a good political leader is to study our history to see what other people did in other times and situations. A lot of the decisions made by working class leaders in America were good decisions. That's how we got up out of the muck and made the progress we made. Other decisions were probably not so good and we didn't do as well.

It surprises me, sometimes, to hear young "radicals" show off their detailed knowledge of Russian history. Or, they might be able to explain the beginnings of a Central American guerrilla organization, or tell stories about mountains of Cuba. Then my jaw drops when I find out that they don't know the simplest things about their own towns! Details like when a city was founded, what was its economic basis, where did people live, are extremely important.

Lately, there have been several good books on Texas history - honest books, not the bogus songs of praise about the "hard but fair" frontiersmen. An honest look at, for instance, the Texas Rangers, goes a long way toward understanding the kinds of problems we have today.

It's not usually talked about, but the Socialist Party of the United States was one of only two Socialist Parties that stuck to their guns and opposed the First World War. The other SP was Russian! The situations were entirely different, but the SP here might have been much more effective if they had embraced an alliance with farmers and with oppressed minorities, as did the Russians. The Russians were very effective, while the SP in our country, and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) as well, fell on very hard times during and after the war.

It seems to me that there is way too little evaluation of our history, especially working class history, in America. The AFL-CIO took a sharp progressive turn in 1995 when new leadership was elected, and they have done some fine things since then. But, most people think that their changes were something new, because there is no evaluation of American labor history. Most of the progressive changes in organized labor today are very much like the Congress of Industrial Organizations before 1947.

Looking at past history doesn't give a direct roadmap for actions in the future, but it can certainly help.