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 fail to see the logic in abandoning the essence of class solidarity and compromising our most dearly held values and beliefs to appease those on the far right of the political spectrum (who, incidentally, are much more unified and uncompromising than any analogous group on the left) when said rightists will never work with us anyways. If we're in the business of compromising our ideals and giving in to those who are really our mortal class enemies, why call ourselves communist at all? If we're going to be spineless, cowardly, and appeasing, we might as well be honest with ourselves and rightly label ourselves liberals.

    Posted by M Mafi, 07/13/2010 12:18am (5 years ago)

  • I was recently surprised to be called "far left" by a veteran member of the CPUSA, a leading supporter of the strategy and tactics of your party leadership. The charge was made in the course on an online discussion of the anti-war marches of March 20, 2010. In Canada, people with my political orientation and commitments are unexceptional rank and file members of the Communist Party of Canada.

    It seemed to me that it may be becoming increasingly easy to be identified with that particular deviation by some CPUSA members due to the statements and decisions made on internationalist issues by the present leadership of the Communist Party USA.

    It had always been understood in our global Communist movement that the CPUSA guarded an outpost in the anti-imperialist struggle because of its position at the center of the USA, the world's leading imperialist power. Through many struggles and US-led wars we have looked with confidence to the American party to speak truth to power in the United States of America.

    I am seriously concerned that some of the more basic signposts and working-class internationalist perspectives of our global movement are being questioned by leaders of the American party. My main question is whether or not these recent step-backs from Communist identity represent an ideological shift rightwards by the CPUSA.

    Two instances that illuminate the cause of my concern:

    Rick Nagin while campaigning in his ward in the Cleveland election suggested to The Plain Dealer and Press the dropping of the "Communist" name. He suggested the "New Socialist Party" might be a good replacement might be a good replacement with less stigma.

    Another CPUSA leader Roberta Wood, was quoted in Political Affairs as telling this past Anniversary celebration of the birth of the CPUSA that the hammer and sickle should be replaced as the party symbol because it only suggests "The Grim Reaper". It is not necessarily a matter of concern to global communists when a national CP adopts an alternate name and has of course happened in certain parties.

    As an international fraternal party member I can not help but wonder if there is a deeper ideological significance to such suggestions because these suggestions about Communist symbols and identity have been accompanied by rightward political omissions and commissions that seem to possibly suggest a withdrawal from basic principles of Leninist anti-imperialist commitments.

    For example, the official non-participation by the CPUSA Leadership in the March 20th coalition marches across the country seemed an ominous signal that not only might communism's oldest symbols be up for grabs, but the Communist fight-back against a stepped-up US imperialism in Afghanistan may be being eclipsed by right-opportunist ideology.

    I hope American comrades may understand why a member of a neighboring Communist party involved in the anti-imperialist struggle against the US-led NATO military alliance would be concerned by the ambiguity of these acts and omissions.

    I have concluding questions which I respectfully ask the members and friends of the American party to consider.

    By abstaining from official participation in the March 20th marches across different US cities was the CPUSA leadership failing in its internationalist duty to the people of the occupied nations and the global working-class?

    John Bachtell of the CPUSA leadership has stated on open internet exchange that it is not "helpful" to speak of US imperialism today. Does this represent a strategic or tactical move or a move from Leninism by the CPUSA leadership?

    In a pre-March 20 political statement, an official discussion document: "International Issues and US Foreign Policy by Communist Party USA" the leadership authors made a slighting reference to "narrow Left elements" under the heading "Peace movement and its role."

    "Some narrow left elements within the peace movement insist on lumping the new administration in with the Bush administration, maintaining the same oppositional stance. To be sure, an important task of the peace movement remains opposing and mobilizing against policies that continue the old destructive path, such as the military escalation in Afghanistan."

    The co-sponsors of the marches included Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CODEPINK, Iraq Veterans Against the War, a wide variety of trade union militants, and some of the main middle-class Muslim citizen associations, members of the School of the Americas Watch, Catholic religious, etc. Why was the first major anti-war march in the US since Obama took office not officially endorsed by your party leadership? I think this is an honest Communist question that deserves a response in light of President Obama's massive troop surge in Afghanistan.

    I respectfully submit that the CPUSA leadership would help foster mutual trust and clarity in the international Communist movement if it provided an Elucidation of its political position toward anti-imperialist solidarity and its commitment to basic signposts of historic Communist identity.

    Andrew W. Taylor
    winnipeg, canada
    Bethune-Penner Club

    Posted by Andrew Taylor, 05/01/2010 1:44pm (5 years ago)

  • @Beth -- good point! You gotta be in it to win the jingle for the lottery goes. And you gotta be in it to help mobilize people at the grassroots around the issues, deepen understanding, experience and self-interest. too much of this criticism is demobilizing.

    Posted by Terrie, 03/01/2010 8:21pm (5 years ago)

  • Also, while compromise shouldn't be a dirty word, people have reason to be dissapointed when Democrats had a 60 vote majority in the senate for a year and still have majorities in both houses and a popular Democratic president, that more of the progressive agenda hasn't been advanced. If the agenda isn't advanced soon, the Democrats will face more losses in the upcoming elections.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 02/22/2010 9:17pm (5 years ago)

  • Re

    Democrats such as Dennis Kucinich and Russel Feingold should be supported but not Max Baucus or Joseph Lieberman who was Al Gore's running mate in 2000.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 02/22/2010 9:08pm (5 years ago)

  • The CPUSA needs to show how Obama isn't going far enough with economic relief and other issues and to discuss alternatives. Its all right to support the Democratic parties on some issues, but often the Democrats are reading from the same scripts as the Republicans and they shouldn't be supported uncritically.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 02/22/2010 8:59pm (5 years ago)

  • Webb seems to be making a strawman argument about the Left and Obama. Virtually the entire Left in America and much of the center is disapointed with the direction Obama has taken since taking office and with legitimate reasons. Criticising Obama for abandoning his campaign promises and giving in to the far right on many issues is not divisive and it does not mean dismissing the significance of Obama's election. Progressives need to put pressure on Obama to push him towards the Left.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 02/22/2010 8:55pm (5 years ago)

  • D. Bell - "I would argue that the conditions of the people are such that they themselves are questioning the system and looking for alternatives while carrying on the struggle. We are obligated to provide the answers." --- absolutely agree. It would be criminal not to.

    That's why I think it's an enormous error not to have a major focus on the relationship between the Democrats, Obama, and capital.

    We also need direct anti-capitalist agitation. People at health care rally I went to were themselves cheering at "we need a system that puts people over profits." If they want it in health care, then why not generally? We need to make that argument.

    Posted by D. Bester, 02/22/2010 2:45am (5 years ago)

  • Bruce,

    I absolutely do not disagree with your assessment of the imperative of the moment. Among other things we have a moral obligation to be immersed in the struggle. I don't think it is an issue of priorities or a conflict of priorities to fight for ideology and class consciousness while fighting for immediate demands. I would argue that the conditions of the people are such that they themselves are questioning the system and looking for alternatives while carrying on the struggle. We are obligated to provide the answers.

    Even under the most extreme conditions communist parties have always included ideology and advanced positions alongside organizing for immediate reforms. Was it an accident that after the overthrow of Salazar in Portugal, the communist party and its press emerged as the most influential force in the country? It was a combination of commitment to the immediate and projecting the future. The communists were not the only force fighting for liberation but emerged as the strongest with the right combination of the present and the future.

    How can we not renew the fight for a peace dividend in the face of the administration and congress (republican and democrat) selling a bill of goods about a balanced budget in the face of a $700 billion defense budget? Talk about an obscenity. I don't see injecting this into a struggle for jobs as a conflict of priorities. I think this will be a requirement in order todraw peace forces into the struggle.

    Posted by David Bell, 02/21/2010 10:32pm (5 years ago)

  • Bruce I want to thank you for your comments directed
    at me. Basically I agree with you because I think your emphasis is correct. We will get left behind the mass movement trying to figure out the line of march before we become engaged.
    You mentioned Jobs for America Now Coalition, which is a formation created out of great suffering of the working class due to job loses and joblessness. We need to make sure that this Coalition is used at the local level to build a militant campaign for jobs and relief for the workers in our communities and we need to share these practical experiences with one another; reporting honestly on our progress and our mistakes.

    Posted by Frank Chapman, 02/21/2010 8:53pm (5 years ago)

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