General Gordon Baker Jr.: Evolution of a Revolutionary
Editors’ Note: The first part of this article was published in the September/October 2014 issue of Rally, Comrades!
Born September 6, 1941, General G. Baker Jr.’s politics of protest began in the late 1950s and continued until his death, May 18, 2014. General’s life experience confirmed for him a fundamental truth: until the American proletariat makes an ideological break with its capitalist masters and develops a vision of the kind of society it wants to live in, emancipation and a world of peace is impossible. General fought to ensure that the organization he was a member of, the League of Revolutionaries for A New America (LRNA), recruited and built up a cadre of revolutionary propagandists dedicated to such a purpose.
General tirelessly taught that the proletariat had to emancipate all of society from private property relations in order to emancipate itself. He would explain that a new society could only be built based on existing technology. Robotics (computers, additive production processes and biogenetics) is revolutionary and makes possible, human relations qualitatively different from all past societies based on exploitation of labor. This new technology provides the means to end the economic exploitation of people by people.
Rendezvous with Revolutionary History
The political-economic period in which General matured as a revolutionary began around the time of the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Between Montgomery 1955 and Michigan 1978, the system of Jim Crow (legal segregation) was overthrown, the Voting Rights and Fair Housing Acts passed, and Roe v. Wade was implemented. Internationally, the direct colonial system was dismantled in the context of the Cold War.
The civil rights movement of the 1950s became the black power movement of the 1960s. Black power ushered in the election of Carl Stokes and Richard Hatcher as the first black mayors of major cities in 1968, the fateful year of the Dodge Main strike, opening America’s last industrial strike wave. The strike wave inaugurated with Dodge Main in 1968, peaked in 1973 with strikes at Mack Stamping and Jefferson Assembly. Between 1968 and 1973, General Baker was part of one group (among many) of revolutionaries in Detroit studying Marxism, the history of the world communist movement, general labor history and the role of black labor in American history
After spending a stint underground escaping the subpoena power of the corporations who were seeking his arrest for strike action and demonstrations, and who were hoping to stop his revolutionary propaganda and agitation against the system, General was hired into the Ford Rouge Complex in 1973. Blacklisted from auto work since 1968, General worked under a false name – Alexander Ware – and was fired two years into his employment. Dave Moore, a legendary figure of the 1932 Ford Hunger strike, led the efforts that resulted in General’s rehiring with all his seniority intact. After winning back his job, Gen became vice-president of the foundry unit inside UAW Local 600.
During the early 1970s, General’s encounter with Dave Moore, and with Nelson Peery of the Communist League, connected him more firmly with the revolutionary aspects of the labor movement history and American Marxism. General held an unshakable belief in the benefit of lifelong education and was an autodidact of the highest degree. He understood that “knowing is not enough.” General was a practical communist, a subjective reflection of the objectively communist new class whose program, strivings and vision he represented. He taught that as revolutionaries, the world is not ours for the thinking. General repeatedly explained that the self conscious revolutionary has to “bell the cat.”
Qualitative Change Changes Something Fundamental
The Nixon, Ford and Carter presidencies of the 1970s saw financial restructuring and creation of a new non-banking financial architecture. Based on computer technology, this new real time worldwide infrastructure was the platform for the global system. As the robotics revolution advanced, American society underwent deeper polarization, destruction and transformation.
Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential victory ushered in the so-called Reagan revolution, which politically paved the way for American speculative capital’s economic-political hegemony as leader of globalization. The Reagan revolution began dismantling the Roosevelt coalition, destroyed the air traffic controllers union (PATCO), presided over a period of draconian union concessions, attacked Civil Rights legislation, increased militarization of the economy and accelerated the buildup of the prison-industrial complex. Reagan brought a new level of selfishness, moral degeneracy, greed and fascism to American ideology.
In the 1980s use of electronic labor-replacing devices rapidly increased with devastating social effects. Massive plant closures spread across Michigan. Welfare recipients were refused annual increases in their welfare grants. Housing, neighborhoods, hospitals, clinics, and local grocery stores were destroyed. There was a wholesale rise of homelessness and a flight of laborers out of the state of Michigan seeking work.
The Changed Man and a Changed World
The globalization of both the market and production was followed by a dramatic decline of union membership led by the steel, mining, auto and dockworkers. By the end of the 1980s, General and many revolutionaries began coming to grips with qualitative changes taking place in production and distribution and their social consequences. Robotics began destroying labor in production, creating a new class of workers living in a new kind of permanent poverty. The technological advance laid waste to entire industries, while pundits said job loss and falling wages were the result of outsourcing jobs. While noting the structural changes wrought by electronics, a June 1989 Communist Labor Party (CLP) report outlined how robotics were a revolutionary new technology, ushering in an epoch of social revolution and creating the basis for a new kind of revolutionary movement.
This new class consists of employed and unemployed sectors. The part-time, contingent, minimum wage, below minimum wage workers within the employed sector is already over a third of the workforce. This employed sector of the class is constantly drawn into the growing unemployed sector that ranges from the structurally unemployed to the absolutely destitute, homeless workers.
As the crisis deepened in the 1990s, it became clear that the government would not provide social programs for unneeded workers. The new class was being cast adrift from the society of the bourgeoisie. Michigan led the way in its response to the growing poverty. Standing in the epicenter of the rise of a new class based on robotics, General and his comrades sought out the “undiscovered country” and turned their focus onto the developing new proletariat, whose ranks were being filled with formerly secure union workers.
The undiscovered country began with a new vision of society. The electronics revolution destroys the economic foundation of private property and creates the possibility of bringing the exploitation of one class over another to an end.
1990s Survival Movement
President Clinton’s years of dismantling welfare and implementing NAFTA, in the context of the expanding robotic economy, pushed world wages toward the low-cost producer in the globalized market. Mass homelessness and mass public begging, not seen since the Depression years of the late 1920s and 1930s, reappeared in America.
George W. Bush entered the White House under the aegis of the mega-corporations and the increasing domination of the mega-corporate State. The Bush W presidency further consolidated the American State as an empire of military bases and prisons that effectively gutted political liberty enshrined in the Constitution, although preserving the bourgeois democratic category of citizen. As the mega-corporate State tightened its murderous grip on American society, Bush W left the White House as the country experienced its greatest economic crisis since the 1929 Great Depression.
Obama was elected on a platform that promised to end the Iraq war, to enact immediate comprehensive immigration reform and to undo the harm done to the economy and political liberty by the Bush administration. Obama has done none of the above, although he has now signed a limited executive order on immigration reform.
As the second decade of the 21st century began, General – now retired – was part of organizing the 2010 Detroit U.S. Social Forum and building the fighting forces for national health care. At the Social Forum, General took part in several educational presentations aimed at introducing the history of our country’s revolutionary tradition to a new generation. When the Occupy Wall Street movement exploded in 2011, General took part in local activity, along with protests against mortgage defaults and the growing water crisis. Occupy Wall Street shifted the national ideological and political debate from issues shaped by the Tea Party to the 99% versus the 1%.
General didn’t let his failing health and use of a walker stop him from being active in a new round of struggles. In the last year of his life he took part in protest and education on the fascist Financial Emergency Manager system, the fight for water rights, support of national health care for all and the fight for pensions. During October and November 2013, General took part in the People’s Potlucks, giving stirring presentations on the history of labor in America.
By the start of 2014, General’s failing health became more apparent. On May 15, 2014, surrounded by friends and comrades, General – the gentle giant – drew his last breath and let go.
During every decade of the last 50 years General G. Baker Jr. remained at the forefront of the social struggle. General lived the life of a professional revolutionary and his organization of choice was the LRNA. This concluding article on the life of General G. Baker Jr., is an invitation to join us – the LRNA – in the quest for a new America.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011