Which way forward for the left

There is a lively discussion in left progressive circles about the response to the tax (and unemployment insurance) extension compromise, and where to go after the midterm election set back.  Left and progressive activists and voters have played a very important role in the fight against the extreme right-wing.  I think most left people understand that the main danger to democracy and progress is coming from the extreme right, GOP/tea party and their powerful corporate backers.

The Communist Party will not agree with our liberal allies at every turn, but we keep pushing for unity, we keep working to find the tactics that keep a broad labor and people's coalition, that keeps the movement for change going.   

In my view, too many people are arguing that the compromise tax bill "is the last straw" and "I'm through with Obama."  This view singles out the tax breaks for the rich and largely ignores the concessions the GOP had to make to the working class. The fact is if the bill had been dumped it would have meant several million workers would go from low income to no income.  Taxes would have gone up for working people.  

And Republicans would still do their thing in the next Congress only with new powers.  

I completely agree that it is wrong to continue tax breaks for billionaires.  It's like rewarding the crooks for their crimes. But that is not the whole picture.  

In my opinion, a winning strategy has to be based on the real world; on the facts, not on subjective feelings that we all understandably have at this point.  Serious change  makers should not let those feelings be the sole guide as to how to move forward.  If  we want to win more economic and democratic rights for working people, minorities, women, young people, etc., it is self defeating to use this tax compromise difference to "break" with Obama. (I have to add that there are some voices who advocate a "break" that were never "with" the coalition to elect Obama in the first place.)

The stakes for our country and world are too high for any break -- or left/progressive go it alone -- tactics.  Theories that promote "the worst things get, the better the opportunity for progressive change" are too simplistic and one dimensional.  The problem is more complicated then that.  

The economic crisis is deep, and millions of working people are suffering.  The facts are that the Republicans policies deepened the crisis yet, they made the greatest gains in the last election.

The times we live in call for a strategy and tactics that will bring victories; victories that can be built on. Victories that will better conditions of life not create more suffering.  Working and racially oppressed people have suffered enough.

Everybody understands that running an election and running a country are different.  It is my view that the Obama administration policies and legislative victories have helped tens of millions of working families -- perhaps more then any president in living memory -- considering the short time and the challenges he faced in office.  Much more needs to be done but this struggle is a marathon not a sprint.

Communists say that even though we are not in agreement with the president on many basic issues, he implemented many of his campaign promises. Progressive researchers who track that sort of thing give him pretty good marks.   

A significant problem that the president and others had to grapple with was while the Democrats had a majority in both houses of Congress, they did not have a big enough majority in the Senate to stop the filibuster. And on many questions Democratic members of Congress were not united enough to win. It was a fragile coalition to say the least.  

The first woman speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the progressive Democratic leadership did a heroic job from 2006-2010. They passed 290 pieces of legislation in the House that the U.S. Senate never acted on, everything from a clean energy bill to the DREAM Act.   
The right-wing opposition to these bills and Obama policies have been unrelenting, unprincipled, well financed and well organized.

In my time, I have never seen a sitting president subjected to such an unrelenting, personal attacks. The level of racism and red-baiting, including violent threats, has been unprecedented.  

What does it achieve when some on the left join in with the right wing, proclaiming Obama a liar who had deceived the voters; and worst of all that he was no different than Bush.

Tell that to all those workers who were able to put food on the table and keep their jobs and homes because of legislation proposed and passed by Obama and the Democrats in the Congress.

If it were the case -- i.e. Obama is Bush, etc. -- how do we explain those right-wing billionaires who finance so-called tea party and other anti-Obama movements.  To these Bush supporters, Obama was the devil incarnate.

Some on the left saw any compromise with the right as "being too soft" rather then what was often a reflection of the real balance of power between the more lock step Republicans and divided Democrats.  

I think Obama could have fought harder on many instances, but I also think when the racism was pouring down like acid rain polluting the atmosphere, and staining the political and moral fabric of the nation, the left was amazingly unresponsive.  Too many times I heard people say it was Obama's fault for not fighting back.  But the movement could have fought back.  Blaming Obama makes it seem that the attacks are acceptable. Is that a principled position? For me, it's a form of capitulation to the extreme right and racism.

It's important to note, if the results had been more positive on November 2, the movement would be discussing taking the political offensive to help working people survive this horrible crisis by creating new, green jobs, ending the wars and attacks on immigrants.  

The right-wing racist attack did more than mobilize their base, it also demoralized and demobilized Democratic voters. Some Democratic and progressive voters went from a messianic view of Obama to demonizing him. Neither are the right assessments to make.  

For progressives, adopting an anti-Obama strategy is totally self-defeating.  How do we distinguish ourselves from Sen. Mitch McConnell's  and the  Republicans' main goal of bringing down Obama?  

2012 has to be part of any strategic and tactical thinking after these midterm elections. The next president will either be Obama or some right wing Republican.  That's the reality for now.  If the Republicans take control of all three branches of government -- again -- that will put the great majority of people on the defensive in the fight for economic and democratic rights. To not see that is a gross miscalculation of the right danger.  
I think the most explosive issue is jobs and related economic crises -- like evictions -- facing working people. This will not be a easy time for the broad left/center coalition that brought the victory in 2006 and 2008.  

One thing is clear to me, this fight cannot be won by making Obama the enemy.  Those who are looking for a third party candidate on the left certainly have a right to do that, but it's not the path to victory at this stage.

The path to victory is in the critical fight for jobs and related issues.  It's clear that the crisis of massive joblessness is not going to be solved in the halls of Congress and the White House alone.  We need a united visible movement of the jobless to make it happen.

There needs to be a two year offensive for jobs through public works.  In every city, state and town across the country we need to raise the demand.

Martin Luther King holiday weekend is an ideal occasion to kick off what should be a two year campaign all across the country.  

King struggled for peace, jobs and freedom.  The issue of jobs is not just an economic issue but a moral one, too.  It can be linked to other issues including child welfare, poverty, immigrant rights, education, racial and gender equality, military spending and housing crisis.    

Such a broad, grassroots movement will give real momentum to and build multi-racial unity for the 2012 elections.  Franklin Roosevelt needed social movements to deliver the New Deal, and today, so does Obama.


Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • Of course Jarvis,and the brothers and sisters are correct.
    "King struggled for peace,jobs and freedom."
    A deep and deeper analysis will show that this struggle started during the Roosevelt administration,in'41,and had a distinctive African American print.
    Bayard Rustin,A. Philip Randolph,president of both Porters and Negro American Labor Council and vice-president of the AFL-CIO,(the idea of what's known now as King's March on Washington in '63 was Randolph's of '41)Whitney Young,president of the National Urban League,John Lewis,president of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee,James Farmer,president of Congress of Racial Equality,and of course,Rev.Dr.Martin Luther King Jr.,went far,to make its content and character.
    This grouping with its more than 200,000,Jew,gentile,Protestant,Catholic,Buhdist,Black,white,rich,poor,male,female,agnostic,atheist,non-atheist constitution,delivered a historic crippling blow to anti-communism.
    The Communist,W.E.B. Du Bois,was honored at this event,as the father of the whole movement. He had shook the world,embracing peace,jobs and freedom struggles around the globe,as communists do,joining the CPUSA,in October,'61.
    The modern inheritor of this movement for jobs in the necessary condition of peace we see in the One Nation Together movement.
    This movement of One Nation Working Together for good jobs,equal justice and quality public education,will do much to win what Jarvis points out.
    "It can be linked to other issues including child welfare,poverty,immigrant rights,education,racial and gender equality,military spending and housing crisis."
    At this massive protest,Oct 2,2010 it was Harry Belafonte who juxtaposed the latter crises to military spending as MLK did,on the"Mahatma's"birthday.
    This movement and its predecessors,much more significant than president Obama,his positive, progressive achievements as the first African American president,(which would have never occurred without this movement)contains the seed of Du Bois's goals of peace,equality and justice for all people of color and all people on earth.
    We must,to complete this sacred goal,go to the South of the United States,home of heroes like congressman John Lewis,and finish the fight for peace,jobs,and freedom,equality. John Lewis both initiated this fight in the south,from-"...We will march through the South,through the heart of Dixie,the way Sherman(mine-the Civil War's General Sherman)
    did. We shall pursue our own scorched earth policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground-nonviolently..."to his proclamation that the movement to elect president Obama was just that,a movement,and he had to break convention and support it. From Isaiah 40,for this holiday season,Reverend King is quoted in his '63 I Have a Dream Speech:
    "I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted,every hill and mountain shall be made low,the rough places will be made plain,and the crooked places made straight,and the glory of the Lord shall be reealed,and all flesh shall see it together."
    Excellent article Jarvis. Let us go this way forward,for the left and all,in 2011 in the tradition of Du Bois and King.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/23/2010 3:32pm (4 years ago)

  • I totally agree with your statement concerning the attack on President Obama by some of the Left. I witnessed this in working with Peace groups as well as the Unions. There is a vocal minority in the Unions and in the anti-war movements, supported by some Left organizations that aim their attacks on the President instead of the Republican Party and its Corporate sponsors.
    There is an underlying racist response which exhibits itself in holding African Americans to a higher standard while expecting our President, who happens to be African American, to support the demands of the Left.

    Posted by Lance Cohn, 12/23/2010 3:12pm (4 years ago)

  • There's no doubt that disappointment with President Obama runs deep. At the very least, he intimated some goals that were purely vote-getting, as well as some he intended to achieve.

    Had McCain occupied the White House since 2009, we would not have been at all disappointed, and our expectations, although unwanted, would have been fulfilled. Among those Americans whose suffering would have been totally ignored were the sick, the unemployed, the victims of bias in the armed forces, and the young men and women in uniform whose lives are daily being shattered or terminated in wars that go on solely to provide profits to our "defense" megacorporations.

    I'm old enough to remember FDR and the New Deal, and what I remember most of all was that we repeatedly took to the streets to ask for unemployment insurance, social security and medical care for the aged.

    President Obama may also be among the disappointed. He didn't see the streets and meeting halls alive with scores of thousands of people declaring support for what they wanted by way of health care, a public works program like the WPA for millions of workers, ending of the wars in the mid-East, ending of the police-state measures by the Department of Justice and the military.

    Until we find real-life non-sectarian concepts with which to express the militancy with which we seek salvation from our free-fall into more poverty and suffering, we will go on being disappointed, not only in people we elect to represent us, but also in ourselves.

    Posted by David Alman, 12/23/2010 1:58pm (4 years ago)

  • I agree with much of what Jarvis Tyner says in this article. I certainly agree that “adopting an anti-Obama strategy is totally self-defeating.” That would not be a strategy for preserving and expanding a progressive majority. Furthermore, I am also in no position to “break” with Obama, because I was never “joined” with Obama, the man. I am joined to a progressive majority, a movement of Labor, African Americans, Latinos, and all people of color, women, and youth who are for ending the wars, seriously reducing the misappropriation of our country’s wealth for the military, for ending the legacy of white supremacy, and for a crash program for jobs, housing, education, and economic expansion that is ecologically sustainable.

    For me, and I think for the movement, Obama is not the issue. The issues are the issue.

    I don’t think that when the AFL-CIO rejected the so-called tax “compromise” in which the ultra-right agreed to take its heel off the necks of some of the unemployed in exchange for a $700 billion ransom payment, they were breaking with Obama. They were, in fact, upholding the principles of the movement that elected Obama. The same thing is true of many others who have been part of the progressive electoral majority who could not go along with this ransom payment, and the continuation of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This in no way discounts the many, many positive accomplishments of the Administration, most of which are not widely enough known and need to be publicized especially in public health policy, science and technology, and the environment.

    We need to think strategically. Not only was the “compromise” a bad deal for the working class and the oppressed. It was a bad deal strategically going forward into the 2012 election. Whether the President had a choice or not, given the circumstances, is really not the question. We really can’t second guess him and those among his advisors who have a bias against the progressive movement, against keeping the campaign for progressive change alive and active. Now, however, only the most massive movement in the streets will be able to stand against a drive by the now Republican-controlled House to gut Social Security, Unemployment Compensation, Health, Education, and Welfare in the name of “fiscal responsibility.” The Bowles-Simpson Commission’s recommendations will be pushed in Congress, and the President will be tactically disadvantaged to resists by his Administration’s “bi-partisan” strategy. It will be up to Labor and the people. Furthermore, the President now has been given responsibility for all the problems, including the wars that are bleeding the country dry.

    This does not bode well for 2012. It is too early to predict what will happen except that the right will make a strong play for the Republican Presidential nomination and larger right-wing majorities in both houses of the Congress. Resistance now is not only necessary, but to delay resistance makes future resistance more difficult.

    It is not strategically sound to only agitate progressives about the dangers of an anti-Obama strategy. The problem is that many progressives are demoralized by the viciousness and strength of the resurgence of the rabid right coming out of our 2008 victory. After all, WE won the election, they did not. Now, two years later, it seems that everything is turned upside down. We win the election in 2008 and lose the war in 2010. If there cannot be unity around a a basic progressive agenda, not a left agenda, there will be no enthusiasm for protecting the gains of the Obama victory. That’s reality, and simply calling for the defense of the President fails to answer the problems we face.

    Ted Pearson

    Posted by Ted Pearson, 12/23/2010 11:54am (4 years ago)

  • Right on! Jarvis, and some of Obama's critics look a bit
    silly today after the lame-duck blitz of victories and
    partial victories. Obama proved there is more to
    Congress than gridlock, and the stage is set much better
    for struggles in 2011 and beyond.

    Posted by Betty Smith, 12/23/2010 11:53am (4 years ago)

  • You keep on missing the point where they agreed to lower the funding for Social Security. And no matter how you spin it, returning that funding to normal will be nearly impossible next year. The Republicans will scream "Tax increase! Tax increase!", then will gleefully let the program go underfunded. Meaning that benefit cuts will be coming FAST!

    This was a brainless move that can not be forgiven

    Posted by Kevin Earl Lynch, 12/23/2010 11:28am (4 years ago)

  • The way forward is to completely disband ALL left groups currently existing. Amalgamate their former members (sans police informants,feebies, and US Army intell operatives) into ONE BIG WORKERS PARTY, under the leadership of workers, and with its own security service (to unmask police snitches) and militia. Then, to organize the de-classed segment of the proletariat (homeless,unemployed,etc) to make revolution.At the current time, all existing left groups are utterly infested with US Army/police "fusion cells", which renders them incapable of anything other than lame posturing, and/or calling for futile reformism. The revolutionary communist recognizes that Capitalism cannot be "reformed", must be overthrown, and replaced with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Any activity that strives for any less is useless, and plays into the bourgeoisies hands.

    Posted by Lincoln, 12/23/2010 10:29am (4 years ago)

  • Yes, the compromise on tax breaks for the wealthy is unfortunate—even outrageous. But is Obama to blame for that? Should he have "hung tight" and let tax breaks for working people and unemployment insurance go down the tubes? Can anyone seriously argue that he should have? The blame for the necessary compromise should go where it belongs: to the Republicans first of all, who held necessary measures for most of us hostage to benefits for their benefactors, and then to the members of the Senate who have failed to abolish or restrict the filibuster so that the minority party can't get away with forcing such compromises as this on us. Let's get our heads straight on this issue—and start building a movement for filibuster abolition. Common Cause is already on board.

    Posted by Hank Millstein, 12/23/2010 1:04am (4 years ago)

  • Jarvis, thanks for this thoughtful article. My own opinion on the issue of the tax/unemployment compromise is that it was made inevitable by events earlier in this administration, including errors made by Obama and his advisors. By the time the vote in Congress rolled around, it was really too late to do anything other than what was done, as the Republicans were holding too many hostages. I think that the analysis of how we, or rather the Obama administration and the Democrats, got ourselves/themselves into such a pickle should engage our attention as we work out tactics for the next period.

    But I do not think it is sustainable to argue that the things the Democrats do which we don't agree with are the result of Republican pressure only. Having worked in electoral politics and other types of struggles in Chicago, a Democratic Party - controlled city, from1969 to 2004, I have been too close to too many Democratic politicians to take such a position. The Democratic party is a very big tent in which extreme reactionaries coexist with figures who, in any Western European country, would be on the left of the local 2nd international Socialist Party. People like Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich and Raul Grijalva are in this category. Many Democratic Party politicians have their financial and personal connections to various sectors of monopoly capital, which determines their political positions and actions as much as the pressure from the ultra-right and from the Republicans does. And in my experience, many Democratic Party politicians are not enthusiastic about seeing the growth of the organized, grassroots working class base. Many care more about their own re-election and long term careers than they do about the fate of the Democratic Party itself.
    So while we should put forth a commonsense tactical vision, and resist the sectarian slogan that there is no difference between parties, we should not be uncritical of the administration and the Democrats because after all, the most important thing is the class struggle and the organizing and mobilization of the base.

    Posted by , 12/23/2010 12:24am (4 years ago)

  • Good analysis, but what some comrades in the Party and other moderate-progressives are in danger of is focusing too much on always having the Democrats back.

    We should defend progressive anybodies, Democrats, Independents or other. But failing to remain critical of of the Democratcs has lost us support, and will continue to lose us support.

    I have heard the Obama-Roosevelt comparison before and there is much truth to it, but these men weren't simply conduits for the masses. At the point of building up a faulty argument, I would just say that perhaps there existed other factors that helped in the passing of Social Security and other progressive/pro-worker reforms during Rossevelt's presidency. And perhaps Obama's case is similar, too (i.e. Corprate-dominated special interest groups).

    I, for one, of course voted for Obama and am not "disenfranchised" with the Democrats, the president or the entire American government. I know that the entire system is rotted to the core. I know that not one of either party, especially the Republicans or their ultra-right offspring Tea Party, will effect radical change. Although working with and through the Democrats can and has won many concrete victories.

    If the argument against the right-wing and for lasting peace and justice is that only a broad-base mass movement can bring us this, then we seriously have to work more at the ground level.

    Posted by Luis Rivas, 12/22/2010 9:28pm (4 years ago)

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