Socialist movements are notorious for infighting. Even the most successful ones have been beset by debates over tactics, counterrevolutionary elements, and revisions to the party line. But as the Dianne Morales mayoral campaign collapses less than a month before primary day, it’s a reminder that the revolution can’t get around to eating its own children if it eats itself before getting off the ground.
The saga began last Tuesday, when Morales, a 53-year-old nonprofit executive running as the leftmost candidate in a crowded Democratic field, missed an Al Sharpton–hosted mayoral forum for what she called a “family emergency.” Turns out the “family” was her campaign staff, though “emergency” was the right word. Simmering concerns boiled over that night in a five-hour meeting, and in the ensuing days, two senior officials quit, a handful of staffers were fired, and the remaining ones formed a union and went on strike less than a month before the primary.
Their grievances remain vague. In a statement released Thursday morning, the nascent union wrote that “racial aggressions, sexual harassment, exploitation, and manipulation” had created a “pattern of marginalization” within the campaign that most afflicted “Black and brown organizers.” Campaign manager Whitney Hu, who resigned in the Tuesday night meeting, noted that “black women” had played a leading role in “holding this movement accountable.” Morales tried to put a positive spin on things, writing that afternoon that she had fired the two employees responsible for “racially based biases and sexual harassment,” that the other firings were unrelated to the unionization effort, and that she welcomed the union as a “historic” part of a “transformational campaign” that she and her staff were “co-creating.” She expressed regret—“our campaign works to intentionally center the voices of those who are excluded from politics, and we acknowledge that mistakes have been made in our attempts to do this”—before somewhat desperately trying to put pressure on her Democratic rivals, imploring them to “reconsider unionizing as a campaign standard moving forward.”
If they’re following the story, odds are they will decline the invitation. Morales’s statement did not go over well with her newly unionized staff, as a senior Queens organizer wrote on Twitter that a “Morales mayoral administration, would be one that would actively seek to do the direct opposite, of the platform Morales exclaims” and another called on her to “terminate her campaign and pay her staff,” charging her with not being a “f---ing progressive.” On Friday, a few dozen remaining staffers and volunteers marched on the campaign office. To dutiful snaps and nods from colleagues, a staffer listed as among the union’s demands “equal pay across the board,” “a new leadership structure that is co-created with the leaders of this campaign,” and “severance for folks who might not want to continue with this campaign anymore.” Yet they still want Morales to win: a union spokeswoman told City and State’s Jeff Coltin that they’re ready to get back to work once their demands are met.
The situation is beyond parody, but it represents a fitting end for a flagging campaign that dressed up the ideological obsessions of a tiny minority as the genuine expression of a critical mass of New Yorkers. Morales used the propagandistic boilerplate developed on elite college campuses and borrowed by socially conscious white-collar workers to advance positions woefully unpopular among the “marginalized communities” she claimed to represent—referring, for example, to the “so-called rise in crime” while making the case for de-policing. Now her employees are using the same language to insist that the fate of millions rests on the outcome of their own irrelevant psychodrama. “This is the work that we were all hired to do,” Morales’s former policy director told Coltin after Friday’s march. “We were hired to uplift the leadership of Black, brown and queer New Yorkers. Of immigrants, of undocumented folk, of working-class folk. To fight for worker power and worker justice. We are doing the work that we were hired to do.” Like candidate, like staff.
In an 1881 letter to a Dutch politician, Karl Marx criticized a planned conference in Zurich to inaugurate a Second International. Because the “critical juncture” for revolution had not yet arrived, Marx believed that such a conference would serve only to sidetrack the socialist movement. Without any prospect for success, political activities would be “not merely useless but harmful”—and would, he concluded, “always fade away in innumerable stale generalized banalities.” Hey, he got that one right.
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