A parting thought


With the end of the year fast approaching, I decided to join the pundits and leave one parting thought. So here goes!

The battle over taxes was a teachable moment. But left and progressive people missed the boat. An opportunity to teach millions about the realities of class power, politics, and tactics went by the board. Let me explain:

The compromise met nearly universal opposition from progressive and left people. I don’t know if anyone called it a “sellout,” but they might as well have. One writer said in the aftermath of the legislative compromise that we won the battle in 2008 and lost the war in 2010. 

The question is: is this criticism warranted? In my view the answer is unequivocally – No. What was the president’s alternative given the balance of class and social forces in the capital and across the country at that time and later when the new Congress convenes in January? What was the policy option given the right-wing Republican comeback, the political confusion of the American people and the weaknesses of the left and broader movement that the election results revealed?

To stand down Mitch McConnell and his gang as his critics suggested would have been feasible, but only if a legislative alternative was available and only if millions of ordinary people, many of whom just voted for Republicans in the midterm elections, could be rallied to compel congressional Republicans to support that alternative – and let’s not forget that all the while this is going on working people’s paychecks are shrinking and their unemployment benefits are evaporating.

Finding an alternative legislative package, say one that sunset the Bush tax cuts and expanded spending for the jobs and the unemployed, would be easy enough to come by. 

But setting millions into motion in an organized fashion is a different kettle of fish. A snap of the fingers won’t do it. Nor will a good slogan. Not even a presidential address. Indeed, it would depend in the end on the political and organizational capacity of the leaders of the main social organizations (labor in the first place), liberals, progressives, left thinking people, and so forth to activate millions – including again many who turned the election map red on election night this past November. 

I’m not suggesting that we enter only those battles that we are sure that we can win, but we should have some confidence that in the battles in which we engage, we can make a respectable fight of it and stand some chance of winning – provided, of course, that we exploit every division among our opponents, look for allies – reliable and unreliable – and fill the streets and the corridors of Congress with an army of outraged people.

We don’t need moral victories at this moment, but real ones. And that is particularly the case for the unemployed who in this instance would have  lost their benefits. 

While we don’t set moral claims aside, it is imperative to take into account the balance of class and social forces at any given moment, our capacity to bring into motion masses of people, and our best guess of what can be realistically won.  

Critics of the president say that the tax/unemployment extension compromise was demoralizing and unnecessary, but I would argue that walking into the jaws of a hungry lion with barely a weapon in hand can be far more demoralizing, even near deadly, which is what I think would have been the political residue in this instance if no compromise had been reached.

Obviously, I have a different estimate of our fighting capacity and public opinion (that by the way overwhelmingly supported the compromise) than the president’s critics. If the last two years have revealed anything to me, it is this – our ability to influence and bring into the streets millions in any sort of sustained way is limited and the political consciousness of the American people (as a whole) is contradictory and confused.

I wish that were not the case, but I’m afraid this is the reality. Some blame the president for this situation, others the Democrats, but this is too easy an answer. The president should take some responsibility, as should his party, for the present political mess to be sure, but shouldn’t we as well? Doesn’t it say something about our politics (which lean in the direction of narrowness), mass connections (not enough to the main mass social organizations), organizing skill set (not enough emphasis on broad unity), and ability to shape mass thinking (speak too much to ourselves and in a language that only we understand – the new buzzword is “Empire.”)

Over the past two years, don’t we have to admit that the tea party has better communicated its message to millions, united its supporters, and expanded its bases of power than our side has?

For too long we have assumed that the American people are ready to wholeheartedly embrace left solutions. If we, and especially Democrats, project them, "the people will come." Tell that to Russ Feingold!

This is wishful thinking. Notwithstanding the awful mess we are in, I don't see the system breaking down or people spontaneously rising up. In my view, the path to a progressive, and socialist, future will take long persistent work, flexible and broad tactics, and a sound strategic policy.

Supposedly, a deep and protracted economic crisis is the triggering mechanism for a lurch to the left, but in the current situation it is being resolved to the advantage of capital. This contrasts with the 1930s. During that decade, a broad upheaval and openings from above, thanks to President Roosevelt and congressional New Dealers, resulted in the New Deal. The current ruling class and especially its most reactionary sectors (politically represented by right-wing extremism that now controls the Republican Party) prefer a “raw deal” for the American people. Their aim is not only to multiply their wealth at the expense of working people, minorities, women, youth, seniors, and other social groupings, but also to crush any organized opposition.
It's amazing, isn’t it, how little reform transnational and finance capital will tolerate! In this latest battle over tax cuts, right-wing Republicans acting on their behalf drove a tough bargain – a hostage deal, the president correctly called it – on behalf of their clients who operate globally. And earlier this year it only took some very modest financial and health care reforms for the corporate elite, and finance capital in particular, to go apoplectic and beat up on the administration.

Which brings me back to the overriding necessity to significantly enlarge the political and organizing capacity of the working class and people’s movement. It’s the linchpin of progressive change at this moment.

Moreover, the starting point – not the ending point – for such an effort is not some long-range vision or a full blooded left, or even progressive, program of action. They have a place for sure. Ground zero, however, is the immediate struggles for relief that are stirring millions and the overarching task of decisively defeating right- wing Republicanism in 2012 – something we didn’t do four years earlier.

White House photo

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • The second paragraph says it all to us,rest is,explaining.
    "The battle over taxes was a teachable moment" as we
    and the coalition went into elections-2010. If Dems win
    the house, Bush tax exempts will pay $ 120 Billion,over
    next two years,until in 2012 you can vote again to change situation.($800 Billion is confusion,fear play,it
    being a ten year odd figure,frightening working fams).If
    Repubs are given the house,they may insist for and may
    compel Dem-Reps to continue Bush cuts. So Working families should have been educated. It was "an oppor
    tnity to teach millions about the realities of class power
    ,politics,and tactics." "Left and progressive people missed the boat". Figures speak to us,of the 68 million
    Dem voters of Obama,30 million stayed home,only 38
    million voted to yield 193 Reps. Of the 54 million Repub
    voters of Mccain,only ten million abstained, 44 million
    voted. Call it Surrender, but fault is mine. Ramakant

    Posted by Rama kant Sharma, 01/08/2011 4:25pm (5 years ago)

  • Sorry Sam,

    I think (like a previous statement) we don't know the fighting power before we fight AND that the "fighting power" in the hearts and minds of the people that we had in 2008 totally disappeared due to Obama's leadership or lack there of.

    Even though I believe it would hurt a lot of people to loose some of battles to make a stand on what Obama ran on it was the only way to keep people pushing.

    Unfortunately my take on the left/liberals that you give part of the blame have nothing to do with the american working class. Of course there are a few working class people in our ranks but most of us are well educated people that easily exceed the average american income of 40000 a year. The working class in the united states are by far undereducated (in no way by there own fault thats the way the people in power set it up and fight tooth add nail to keep) and easily made to believe what Fox tells them. They don't have the ability nor the recourses to understand or find otherwise.

    I live in VA now and I meet far to many people that can't see that voting Republican is the same as putting a gun there own head. Then there are all those who don't understand that not voting is just as bad for them.

    So until they are really hurting and all hope is out they will keep crawling along to the pipers tune and vote republican because the either are religious, racist, think the will have to pay more taxes, think that they will be rich tomorrow or simply that it is better to be free and pour than a communist which in there mind is the same as having a government of any kind.

    I'm sorry but no revolution is started if people have just enough to get buy and are kept way to busy to think much less act, to achieve just enough.

    In history there have been many battles won by the weaker side because they took a stand and summoned a will power that the greater side underestimated.

    Nothing is won buy negotiating with hostage takers, every time we do they gain a little more will power and support from there ranks. The ranks that rightfully should be ours.


    Posted by Niels Petersen, 01/08/2011 2:47pm (5 years ago)

  • San is correct that is was a "teachable moment!" Unfortunately, he fails to identify what those teachable points are, In fact, I very, very strongly believe that, due to our failure to fight here, we completely lost that moment and its teachable product.

    The extremely important, crucial, "teachable moment" in this situation was, in my opinion, that it is absolutely essential to get funds to working and poor folk in our nation, because THAT, & not a continuation of "trickle-down" economics is the ONLY way to stimulate anything in the economy. The private/corporate run market will not, in fact, CANNOT produce jobs or stimulate the economy due to the ongoing relative impoverishment of our working class. Had a line been drawn to state that we are fighting for tax justice for working folk and unemployment benefits for working folk, it forced the GOP to fight, uncovered, for their true aim---tax cuts for the wealthy, we'd have won, but far more importantly, in order to win, we'd have ACTUALLY made this a true "teachable moment," and would've come out of it with our people in far better position, ideologically and economically!

    What, for Christ's sake, was the teachable lesson learned by this cave-in? I could be wrong, but all I see that was taught was that when the ultra-right takes a strong position, we MUST cave, there is no other way! This absolutely WAS a teachable moment for the right, and they learned it well. We can expect that in March, when the debt ceiling is reached, that Social Security and Medicare cuts are on the agenda, that this lesson will be taught again. We will face the strong likelihood of another "great compromise," in order to then "save" the debt ceiling, this time delivering a near death blow to Social Security & Medicare. The lesson, of course, is that the right can stand for anything at all, and they KNOW that our side will cave!

    Meanwhile, the all-important issue of WHY we MUST fight---because if we don't we cannot hope to strengthen the economy & aid will continue to go to the wealthy to "prime the pump," instead of to working folk, who'd actually spend it & build the economy, will continue to be lost on our people, even increasing the hopelessness we are feeling out here!

    Sam is correct in that "the putting of millions into motion is not done with a snap of figures, a presidential decree, etc." What it IS done with is a real mobilization of the people, led by organization built by the left, labor and the people's organizations. It is NOT an act of god!! It is NOT correct that a economic depression, somehow naturally "triggers a lurch to the left." In the last great depression it was the left, the Communist Party & allies, that started the organization of the people, building the great unemployed movement, the huge anti-fascist movement, the Congress of Industrial Organizations, (originally the Committee for Industrial Organizations, a rank & file movement which led to the building of a huge movement of workers which led to the organization of the mass production industries). It was this great movement which provided a mass, ground for FDR to stand on, if you will, and created the "lurch to the left," certainly not any merely spontaneous act of nature.

    What has (disgusted, depressed, deeply saddened, frustrated, angered, etc, etc.) me is not what the right has done, but what we are NOT doing! Marx stated that the goal of worker's struggles was "not to analize history, but to change it!" I learned (& had it pounded into me as a young man) that "we must have a movement of the rank & file---to support good leaders when they do good work and to push them when they don't." However, at some point it was determined that we should become mere observers of history, waiting on history's sidelines, for nature, God, or someone else to finally develop a fight. That wait could be very, very long and not have the outcome we'd hope for!

    Building a rank & file push for our own positions, for aid to working folk, tax justice--tax the wealthy, real govt. jobs program to rebuild our nation's infrastructure and put folks to work, will be difficult. We don't have blueprints, but we DO have our own proud history to show us REAL lessons. This is a TRUE way to support positive potential in this administration. Without it is mere historic sightseeing, patronising and only following the lead of the corporate liberals. I sure hope that it isn't too late already!!

    Posted by bruce bostick, 01/08/2011 1:11pm (5 years ago)

  • Oops! I did not notice that our comment system was not automatically putting down my name. So: The 1/03 comment that starts out "the lesson that I take..." was by me.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 01/05/2011 12:04am (5 years ago)

  • From down here in a rural gulf shore county in Ron Paul's district, I couldn't welcome Sam Webb's courage to be sane more! I can't think of but two people in this county of 14000 who would not check "working-class" if given a list to choose from including "middle class" "Hispanic" "Anglo" "African American" "Woman" or "Gay". Yes the tea party is the most noxious and leading up to the November election the best politically organized as the Right to Life movement was leading up to 1980. It is critical not to confuse the most reactionary sector of capitalists with the people they have analyzed and created an appeal to target. I'm not certain the best path to socialism is via the best path to defeat, elude, pole vault over fascism, but there has seemed to be a connection

    Posted by Peggy dobbins, 01/04/2011 5:28pm (5 years ago)

  • Right on , Sam !

    Posted by charles, 01/04/2011 9:27am (5 years ago)

  • Taxation without representation is indeed tyranny,and of course when the president of the U.S.,Obama,calls out this hostage tax deal of imperial rulers(the far right and its necessary connections with finance,transnational,and multinational capital),he is correct.
    Oppressed minorities,its women,the working poor,the shrinking unionists,the elderly and youth are and will be devastated,both on a national and international scale,the struggling immigrant population,with its almost 100% working class composition,included.
    Genocide stalks children,women and men in these United States of America,in the wake of this hostage by the imperial rulers.
    The left,the progressives and moderates are not the enemy. We should be very,very careful not to cast,after all,ourselves,as the enemy-for this harms unity.
    Sam,you seem to flirt with this.
    The communists,women,oppressed minorities,unionists,those of diverse sexual orientation,the working poor,elderly and youth are both the movement's best friends,and the president's.
    We need to demand,that the Obama administration help and be these,those who elected him,to support taxation,but with representation,an equal chance and equal share.
    We need to demand the Obama administration take this demand,in turn,to the international arena,to show how finance capital makes genocide for immigrants,minorities,women,children,youth and the elderly,nationally and internationally.
    We need to warn all,including the Obama administration,that our great country was not founded on "no taxation for those with universal selfish imperial domination and oppressive taxation for those with little or no representation",as the late hostage tax "deal"played out.
    Two hundred,a score and fifteen years ago,it was those organizers against George's Imperial Crown-the African American,the poor farmer,the seamstress,the international diplomat,the blacksmith,the cooper,the carpenter,the printer,the servant,and the slave and half slave-and even the justifiably cursed slave owner,who gave life to our country.
    The modern day imperial tyrants threaten to literally destroy our great country,at its foundations,with the genocide,which is part and parcel of this late tax"deal".
    Today in 2011,as in 1776,our great weapon is unity against war, and the violence and war of tyranny,including this tax tyranny.
    On this,we can agree with "A Parting Thought" by Sam that:
    "Ground zero,however,is the immediate struggles for relief that are stirring millions and the overarching task of decisively defeating(EEWC-along with controlling and owning finance capital,for we will never"decisively"defeat it without this) right wing Republicanism in 2012-something we didn't do four years earlier."

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/04/2011 6:53am (5 years ago)

  • Sam, you state that you have a "different estimate of our fighting capacity" than the president's critics, but one can never estimate one's "fighting capacity" until one actually fights, which is something that President Obama has steadfastly refused to do. Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, Mr. Obama repeated the mantra "fired up and ready to go", but, apparently, at some point between his election and his inauguration, his fire went out! The reason why the "tea party" is better at getting out its message is that, like Hitler before them, they passionately believe in their message, and it is passion that sets hearts afire, sometimes for good and sometimes for ill, and not the emotionless, pseudo-"reasonable" pablum that Mr. Obama likes to dollop out when he is not on the campaign trail. All of which leads many to wonder whether he actually does believe what he claimed during the campaign, or whether he is just another Democrat sell-out.

    Posted by John Whiskey, 01/03/2011 6:56pm (5 years ago)

  • The lesson I take from the past two years and especially from the Democratic defeat in the November 2010 elections is that we have to be out among the masses more, in the midst of the struggles in workplace and working class communities. We should work with leaders of unions and mass organizations, but I agree with Eric that we have to have face to face, struggle related interactions with the rank and file also.We can not rely on the Democrats to do our job of organizing and consciousness raising for us. That's not who they are. The Democrats have never said they are about class struggle; that's who we claim to be.
    The chronic problem of the whole of the socialist left in this country is to fail to be actively in the struggle, and to just talk to each other. This is the result.
    In 2008, Obama won and the Democrats made gains because key mass sectors whose electoral participation is usually very low turned out in unusual numbers, True, some independents who usually vote Republican also crossed over, but this was less important than the millions of youth, minorities and poor people who, in many cases, were voting for the first time, for "hope and change".
    They did not turn out in November 2010 for two reasons: In the first place, because they did not see enough change or experience a sufficient increase in hope, and in the second place, because there was not enough effort made to keep in touch with them and keep them mobilized and educated on the issues. For this we can blame the Democrats, but we also have to blame ourselves. In Virginia where I live, the result was predictable because in the November 2009 state election, those very sectors dropped off very sharply in voting, with disastous results: The Democrats lost the governorship and Republicans were elected as lieutenant governor and attorney general. The Democrats did next to nothing to mobilize that vote, but what's our excuse?
    Democratic Party functionaries, elected officials and wheeler-dealers are not always delighted by the idea of being mobbed by thousands of new people who are going to make demands in them that disrupt their cozy relationships with powerful special interests (30 years of working in electoral politics in Chicago taught me that, the powerful special interests in that city usually being private contractors doing business with the city). I have even seen cases in which individual Democratic Party politicians would rather see their own ticket go down to defeat than lose their own seats. So in 2010, mobilization of the Democratic base in Virginia was inadequate, and the Democrats lost three House seats.
    It may well be that, as Ted says, tens of millions are ready to march, as this is a huge country--308 million, according to the 2010 census. But unless the left gives more coherent leadership than it has been doing lately, this mobilization will not happen, and the tens of millions will mill about in confusion rather than hammering the ruling class the way they need to do.

    Posted by , 01/03/2011 5:40pm (5 years ago)

  • With no air beneath the wings, aircraft will not fly. The thermo air currents which lifted Santorum out of the Senate, boiled up from a PA senior movement focused on saving Social Security. Alone, that movement would still be fighting the same battle - Santorum would still represent PA. What changed in 2006, was a deeper unity among all forces, including many young peoples' organizations, to save Social Security.

    I believe that the failure to defend ACORN exposed influences of racism in the coalition that produced electorial victory in 2008. In PA, for instance, ACORN was responsible for registering and turning out nearly a million voters in 2008. That did not happen in 2010.

    The destruction of ACORN in PA has had a devastating affect on mobilizing workers hardest hit by the 'recession', aggrevated distrust and created a sense of isolation. Many religious based organizations are trying to fill the gap, but there is still a gap.

    Posted by denise winebrenner edwards, 01/03/2011 1:33pm (5 years ago)

1 2 3 next »

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments