Issue 1 - Summer 1994

The Promise and Peril of the Third Wave: Socialism and Democracy for the 21st Century (page 7 of 7)
By Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris
The Chicago Third Wave Study Group / May 1, 1993

Socialists must find new ways for uniting the many to oppose the few. While seeking the unity of the entire working class, we think two sectors are crucial: first, the main victims of the transition to third wave, those excluded from production or at risk of exclusion; second, those engaged in third wave production. The starting point to rally the forces for change to a new society is to take a stand among those with the least stake in the old order.

This means we place the survival problems of the urban poor, people of color and displaced workers at the top of our list of priorities. But we also take up the social priorities and concerns of the progressive wing of the third wave workers. These include ecology, disarmament, peace and human rights issues, and expanded access to information and education.

This is not always the perspective of organized labor. Crucial sectors of its leadership have always been hamstrung by the prevalence of undemocratic, racist and shortsighted environmental views. The racism in white labor and white society generally also continues to do its damage. As long as racism goes unchallenged in any sector, it will continue to keep workers ineffective in the pursuit of their own self-interests, as well as blocking all attempts to unite all progressive democratic forces for change.

Finally, we do not see this way of making distinctions among the people--their relation to the third wave--as replacing or liquidating earlier conclusions drawn by our movement on the centrality of the national question, racism or sexism. Nor do we believe that third wave workers are "the vanguard" while all others are secondary and subordinate. These rigid schematics are part of the old thinking that we want to challenge.

But we are arguing for genuine strategic thinking, an analysis that proceeds from a global perspective and takes the whole of society into account. The main battleground in this sense is the North-South conflict, i.e., the growing and desperate inequality among the world's nations, countries and peoples. This can no longer be a side issue for the workers movement or other social movements of the West. We think it is ludicrous that the multinational corporations are the internationalists, while organized labor and the left remain trapped in nationalist conceptions.

The globalization of the market is daily driving home the lesson that this question must be placed at the top of labor's agenda. Runaway shops can only be fought strategically by raising the living standards, wages and level of organization among the peoples of the impoverished areas of the world. In the past, trade unions at best dealt with this issue superficially--a resolution was passed, a sympathetic article was written in the labor press. At worst, the top union leadership for decades collaborated with the CIA in destroying progressive labor organizations in the third world. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. A complete reversal of these policies is required for the very survival of the American trade union movement itself.

As for the divisions within the ruling class, high technology entrepreneurs are looking to break away from the old military industrial complex. They hope to make more profits by exploiting the application of environmental and computer technology in the global marketplace, rather than by remaining addicted to the inflated contracts of old, slow- moving, nationally-dominated (and nationally limited) military establishments. They need a vast expansion of education, research and development resources, as well as new infrastructure.

These entrepreneurs may side, temporarily, with reform movements and progressives. This is the meaning of Al Gore's staking out a leading analysis on ecology, as well as John Scully of Apple Computer's sitting next to Hillary at Clinton's inaugural address. But we must not allow these factors to cover over the basic class conflict between third wave capitalists and third wave workers. For all their unique and progressive stands on certain issues, the Silicon Valley bigwigs are still notorious union busters and social reactionaries, especially when it comes to their treatment of the lower-skilled, female and nonwhite sectors of their labor force.


The advent of the third wave does not mean the end of class struggle. But it does mean that the terrain on which class battles are waged has dramatically shifted. We are in a new environment and on the threshold of a new age. The outcome is not predestined; we can face a grim future of "Bladerunner" societies in the North and Somalia-type disasters in the South. Or we can emancipate our thinking and mobilize our forces to reconstruct society into an ecotopia with liberatory features still beyond our imaginations. The choices are ours, but the time is shorter than we think.

The Chicago Third Wave Study Group was initiated by the three authors--Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris--to produce this document for the discussion on goals and principles taking place in the Committees of Correspondence.

The CoC debate is leading up to a founding convention of a new organization of the American left in the summer of 1994. The Authors invite comments and criticisms. People in agreement with the perspective in the paper are also invited to join the study group. E-Mail can be sent to Carl Davidson (democracynet@worldnet.att.net). Second-wave communicators can write to Carl Davidson, Networking for Democracy, 3411 W Diversey, Suite 1, Chicago IL 60647.
Fax: 312-384-3904.


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