The 2012 elections are casting a long shadow over the nation's politics, economics and public discourse.
For the Republican right, electoral success next year is crucial in order to radically transform the country to the advantage of the most reactionary sections of monopoly capital and their mixed bag of dangerous allies.
No one on their side, including tea baggers, is going to stay home on Election Day 2012. They will all be expected to march to the polls and bring others with them.
For our side of the struggle, the 2012 elections are of paramount importance too. No other struggle has the same possibility to rearrange the political balance of forces in a progressive direction, to put the working class and people's counteroffensive onto a new forward trajectory.
Some on the left disagree, and advocate either staying home or making a "strategic break" with the two-party system. But there are three questions that must be asked:
* Would staying home or making a "strategic break" enhance the chances of beating the right?
* Are millions of people and their organizations ready to drop the Democratic Party and form a big, broad, labor/people-based political party in the near term?
* Are the differences between Republican and Democratic parties so insignificant that it doesn't matter who wins?
I believe the answer to each of these questions is an emphatic "No."
While millions understandably feel dissatisfied with the Democratic Party, it hasn't risen to the point where they are ready to bolt anytime soon. Nor are they ready to dismiss the real differences, say, between House Republican Paul Ryan's draconian, fatten-the-rich long-term budget plan and the plan that President Obama outlined, in which he defended Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs.
The aggressive role of right-wing extremism in recent months has only reinforced these sentiments.
Politics is a complex and impure process. And as the Rolling Stones sang, "You can't always get what you want." In which case, you try to get what you need with what is available. That's not pragmatism, but political realism informed by the overriding necessity to decisively defeat the right in next year's elections.
Thus, for now, the only vehicle - as inconsistent as it is - that can take down the right in an electoral contest is the Democratic Party.
So what is to be done?
Here are five things that strike me as critical.
* The further building of the spirited, hopeful, visionary, labor-led people's coalition and counteroffensive in every neighborhood, city and state, and nationwide, is at the top of the agenda - especially in the context of the elections.
This movement is the power base of any progressive turn in our nation's politics. Take it out of the equation and only minor reforms are possible at best; at worst, the Republicans go on the offensive as they are currently doing, Democrats waver and give in, and politics shift to the right.
But neither our nation nor the world can afford another era of right-wing-dominated politics. The price is too steep. The future of humankind and the planet is too fragile.
* The next task is to deepen the unity of this movement. Only a movement that unites all races and nationalities, young and old, men and women, immigrant and native born, gay and straight, urban and rural, workers and small business people, and labor and its allies has the political capacity to push the country down a progressive path and safeguard the future.
* A requirement of any progressive and radical agenda is an elevated and sustained struggle for racial and gender equality. Both are of strategic importance. Anyone who devalues the struggle for racial and gender equality and against racism and male supremacy limits the sweep of any potential victory, and provides an opening to the Republican Party and the most backward sections of our ruling class to mobilize people along racist and male supremacist lines.
* There is a burning need for us to engage our adversaries on an ideological level. Our side fights with one hand behind its back when it doesn't bring persuasive arguments and compelling stories into the marketplace of public opinion. Though we don't own the mainstream media, we should still fight to be heard in it and also take full advantage of online media.
When the broader movement takes part in the battle of ideas, people respond positively. Some of the ideas that already resonate with millions include: tax the rich, racism chains working people of all colors, economic crises hit racially and nationally oppressed people harder, wealth comes from labor and nature, working people have no stake in wars of occupation, and the country is not broke.
The image of socialism as economically just, ecologically sustainable, democratic, peaceful, and part of the American experience can and does resonate as well.
* Finally, a bigger left and Communist Party is necessary for any sustained and far-reaching political advances. It is a fact that progressive and democratic breakthroughs in our nation's history have been bound up with popular uprisings in which a growing left played a critical role. There is no reason to think it will be any different going forward.
But here's the rub. Both the left and the Communist Party are too small given the scope of today's challenges.