Not everybody is on same page

Let me begin with the obvious: the left (organized and unorganized) has seldom been of one mind. Differences over aims, strategy, tactics, programmatic demands, forms of struggle, etc. have been commonplace.

This moment is no different. In fact, I would argue that two distinct and competing trends have taken shape in the course of the first year of the Obama presidency.

One trend stakes out a left position on every issue, resists compromise, believes that the Democratic Party has no democratic/reform potential, pays little attention to right-wing extremism in its strategic and tactical thinking, and reduces President Obama to nothing but a puppet of Wall Street.

This trend turns criticism of the Obama administration into a measure of one's militancy. The sharper the tone the more legitimate one's left credentials. The main, if not the only, thing holding up far-reaching political and economic reforms, in the eyes of this trend, is the president. Somehow, in this rendition of the political moment, the interaction and struggle between (and within) competing political coalitions/blocs composed of various class and social groupings has no or minimal bearing on the process of change since the 2008 elections. In short, the class struggle in all its complexity is both simplified and invisible.

This same trend "damns with faint praise" the new currents, thinking and initiatives in labor and people's organizations, while it narrowly defines political independence as only electoral formations outside the two-party system. It acts as if militant minorities and moral outrage can reshape the political landscape alone, forgetting that popular majorities in the end make history.

Finally, this trend places an outsize accent on left initiative and unity, but detached from broader forms of unity and struggle.

The other trend on the left argues that the 2008 elections reset the political terrain to the advantage of working people and their allies.

While the Obama administration is not above criticism, this trend believes that criticism should be constructive and unifying, not a test of one's radicalism.

The main role of the left, according to this trend, isn't simply agitational - talking points, sound bites and militant slogans. Political agitation has an important place in class and democratic struggles, but only to the degree that the left is involved in day-to-day struggles in a sustained, practical and non-sectarian way.

In 2008, a broad people's movement was instrumental in electing Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress. Since then, however, it hasn't reached the same level and scale of activity. Without reassembling this coalition, progress will be largely unrealized.

This trend embraces left demands, but it embraces broader demands as well that masses of people are ready to fight for. It doesn't counterpose one against the other. Instead, it sees broader mass demands as a highway that has to be traveled to win more progressive and radical changes.

In a similar vein, compromise isn't a dirty word in this view. Instead, whether and when one makes compromises depends on a very sober estimate of the balance of class and social forces.

This trend understands as well that its task is not only to unite a broad multi-class coalition in the current phase of struggle, but also to assist the working class and its core allies to impress their unmistakable stamp on the struggle for reforms.

Unlike the other trend that shoehorns Obama into a tightly sealed political shell with little or no political potential, this trend believes he has a role, a potentially major one, to play at this juncture of the class struggle.

By the same token, it strongly rejects the notion that the task of the left is to reconfigure the struggle into a contest of the people's movement against President Obama.

This trend supports left unity, but insists that practical involvement with broader movements and coalitions and some rough agreement on strategic orientation among left groups are a necessary condition for such unity.

Finally, an independent, labor-based people's party is a strategic necessity in the view of this trend, but it doesn't see such a formation on the short horizon. In the meantime, it supports struggles for political independence (which take many forms) both within and outside of the Democratic Party.

No individual, organization or social movement on the left fits neatly into one or the other trend outlined above. Life is always more complicated than broad generalizations. Nevertheless, these two trends are taking more definitive form and the future of the left and its place in U.S. politics, in my opinion, hinges on which trend becomes dominant. I think it is obvious where I stand.


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  • I don't care about Left cred but I do care about the killing of innocent children in drone attacks. Drone attacks that he openly justifies. I don't care what his other successes are.

    Posted by Mel Danvers, 12/16/2013 1:29pm (2 years ago)

  • The fragmention of the left in the U.S. has crippled its capacity to lead and has only served to further the interests of capitalism. The CPUSA strategy of working within the system, recognizing the important role that Obama has played in building a broad-based working class consensus as well as coalescing with progressive labor and other progressive movements has the best chance of success in this country. The CPUSA should make efforts to coalesce with DSA which has a very similar strategy of working within the Democratic Party. DSA has the largest membership of any socialist organization in the U.S. This admittedly may be difficult because there are those within both organizations who are highly suspicious of the other group but this is just another example of how the fragmentation of the left is crippling its capacity to lead. The CPUSA would greatly improve its chances at forging such a relationship if it publicly repudiated its past associations with the failed Soviet Union, Soviet imperialism and in particular its defense of Stalinism. This history will forever shadow the Party unless it strikes out in a new direction.

    Posted by Thomas Wells, 02/07/2013 1:14pm (3 years ago)

  • @donny, don, etc.,

    Im sorry the labor movement (can we drop the conceit of calling the calcified, paid-for labor beauracy and its tiny, battered, ever-shrinking membership a "movement') feels "alienated" by a flare up of popular resistance. Perhaps its to be expected, since the labor beuracracy has spent the last 5 decades (at least) alienating everyone else. The occupy protests were at least a sign of life. Much of the leadership of "The labor movement" apparently now agrees with us (miraculously). The rest of your snippetts were devoted to (weak) ad hominem attack....i mean come on, "suburban young men" ?? The Skinheads at least can muster a good ad hominem attack. I should probably be arguming with them. Theres really no point in arguing with some soft, hypocrtical, revisionist liar. You'll just go on defending your cushy opinions, falsifiable assertions from now till the sun fails.

    Posted by Marcus, 07/28/2012 6:14pm (4 years ago)

  • Even the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks needed to create a coalition. However, I cannot get over the fact that Obama's and his Democrat's campaign donors come from the same, bourgeois, ruling class gene pool. Rosa Luxemburg wrote a poignent piece called, "Reform or Revolution." I understand the differences between early 20th Century Russia and 21st Century United States. Pannekoek was on target when he identified the sharp contrast between Russia and Western, capitalist Europe. He noted that the tactics of the Russian revolution were not necessarily pheasable in Western Europe. Western Europe was an industrialized region whereas Russia was a feudal, agrarian, medieval state in many respects. He also criticized Stalin for waging a tyrannical counter-reformation.

    That being said, I think that a military revolution is untenable. It would put the revolution back over 100 years as the imperialists own the global military industrial complex. I also believe that the persecution of religion and religious persons has no place in a Marxist society. The state must respect this as a civil liberty. The religion of atheism, and it has its dogma, its faith in no deity, etc, cannot possibly replace other religions or the socialist society that is realized will automatically be stratified, and another Stalin will emerge. However, I cannot see myself being a Democrat patsy either. I as a Marxist, this creates a great amount of dissonence for me. However, the Marxist left is totally splintered, often working against itself based upon dogma and its rigid applications to modern Marxist thought. We cannot be so rigid if we are to realize a socialist international. Marx, Lenin, etc were human and given to error. There's is not a universal blueprint to achieve a socialist international. In fact, Stalinism and Maoism have failed, not socialism.

    Thank you comrades. Does the party accept differing views on this matter?

    Posted by Thomas Lane, 03/23/2012 3:58pm (4 years ago)

  • I have outright rejected the distorted belief that the Democrat AND Republican parties have reform capabilities. Both parties represent bourgeois, ruling class interests. These interests are dictated first and foremost by global banking elites who have managed to ramp up their controls upon the global economy. Their main instrument in the United States happens to be Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve. These institutions have no accountability to the people, yet they determine economic outcomes of every worker in the United States; and to a large degree, every worker in the world. Both major political parties in the United States are capitalist parties that are funded by the monied interests that drive their policies. The Rothschild banking monopoly, which has financed both sides of every major European and American conflict since 1800, does not care which regime is in power so long as they control the monetary policies, and the flow of money for any given regime. Ten Rothschild-owned, global banks have representatives upon the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States. The name, 'Goldman-Sachs' is one of them. So, you can see, based upon this information, that both Democrat and Republican parties ARE puppets of global banking elites. Thomas Jefferson refused to renew the charter of the first National Bank of America because it was a subsidiary of the Bank of England (A Rothschild family entity in Britain). The War of 1812 broke out as a result. Abraham Lincoln refused to renew the charter for a third National Bank of America for the same reasons as Thomas Jefferson. Rothschild's bank funded the Confederacy and ultimately assassinated Lincoln using Confederate pawns. John F. Kennedy merely suggested that the powers of the Federal Reserve ought to be curtailed. He was assassinated. The power of these capitalists has no bounds. Colluding with Democrats is ineffective. Socialism cannot coexist with capitalism. Socialist social policies will cause untold suffering upon the people if this demented capitalist system is left to survive as well. It is the duty of all socialists to fight capitalism. The CP-USA needs to rethink its adulterous behaviors with the Democrat Party whore.
    Comrade Thomas Lane

    Posted by Thomas Lane, 02/10/2012 2:38pm (4 years ago)

  • I enjoy your analysis. If anyone wonders about the effects of the first trend simply look at the Seattle Occupy movement. It has degenerated into a small group of people speaking to a small group of people who have effectively alienated the labor movement, the religious community, the working class and most import the majority of residence who's participation is critical.

    Posted by donny1020, 01/18/2012 11:34pm (4 years ago)

  • I agree, it's nice to hear a reasoned approach rather than the shrill screams against organized labor made by fake revolutionary suburban young men

    Posted by Don, 12/16/2011 6:25pm (4 years ago)

  • Obama's assasinated of Bin Laden has boosted his popularity with American voters substantually. CNBC says he's unbeatable now. Obama is now going after other high ranking terrorists in the same dramatic way. As long as he stays popular, I'd look for him to continue moving to the political center. The Left will get upset-but what difference does it make. If he wins again, look for him to move Left until the end of his term time, when he will move dramatically Right.
    He did kick off his election campaign you know and he's using his office as a campign platform flawlessly.

    Posted by David Lubin, 05/07/2011 3:18pm (5 years ago)

  • "This trend turns criticism of the Obama administration into a measure of one's militancy. The sharper the tone the more legitimate one's left credentials. The main, if not the only, thing holding up far-reaching political and economic reforms, in the eyes of this trend, is the president. Somehow, in this rendition of the political moment, the interaction and struggle between (and within) competing political coalitions/blocs composed of various class and social groupings has no or minimal bearing on the process of change since the 2008 elections. In short, the class struggle in all its complexity is both simplified and invisible."

    This is of course, ridiculous. This "trend" is responding to the indifference and outright hostitlity that the Obama administration has shown the Left. The excitement over the 2008 election on the left, was due to Obama. I think it safe to say there would not have been over a million at the inauguration had it been john kerry. Its only natural that Obama as a symbol of the "hope" of the left, will be a symbol of the failure of "change" on the Left. The rest of your impenetrable comment could have come from the wh press secretary himself! essentially the failure of the democrats is a "complicated" issue that the childish left dosent understand. In the face of the ENTHUSIASTIC continuation of the worst neoliberal economic polices and the very worst of the bush administrations imperialist foreign policy, this is revisionist history, almost not worth responding to. WHERE is the communist party? do we have a communist party anymore? or are we democrats in leftist drag?

    Posted by Marcus, 08/03/2010 4:04pm (6 years ago)

  • I tend to agree, in some ways, with both trends. There's plenty of reason leftists should be outraged with Obama's performance, yet we can't place full blame on him, there is the legislative branch, after all.

    To a degree, I agree with M Mafi. Kind of. A leftist movement has to be a strong movement, one that clearly marks a difference between the Democrats, who are in truth centrists, and this new political party. This new political party would be the perfect balancing hinge in congress to allow more efficiency with laws passed, and more balance. The Republican Party is far-right, the democrats centrist, and I don't want to be part of a right-wing militaristic nation anymore.

    Queue Leftist-Party entering the scene?

    Class solidarity though is something I disagree with. Since money is power we can't just exclude the rich. Yet the working class is the heart of America, and what we SHOULD be fighting for. It's a bottom-up economy that will save us, not top-down. If we could merely convince the rich it would be better for their own financial security, and a more stable and progressive economy really would be in their best interest, than we can make this a multi-class movement. We must not forget our ideals as we enter the political game, but the game must still be played.

    Posted by Brandon, 07/22/2010 8:23pm (6 years ago)

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