Next Steps: a working paper.
I am the first to admit that we live in difficult times. A reactionary Republican cabal controls the Presidency and has resumed a policy of imperialism in the name of fighting terrorism, Republicans control the House and the Senate, conservatives in the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) dominate many issues in the Democratic Party, the U.S. economy is weak, and corporate capital dominates the debates on global integration. Programs and policies which were once a part of victories by the Civil Rights and Women’s rights movements are now under assault.
While organized labor has regained some of its momentum, the organized, conscious left in the U.S. is at its weakest in decades. The African American, Latino and Women’s movements are widely dispersed and only a few have access to the mainstream media. The several communities have developed their own media.
At the same time, there has developed a broad, substantial popular left in the U.S. albeit largely divorced from the youth movements. Most cities have a number of ideological left organizations, an alternative press, and a number of grassroots organizations like ACORN devoted to building political participation. The Gay/ Lesbian/Transgender politics has emerged (some of it liberal and some of it quite conservative), the invasion of Iraq produced the broadest outpouring of opposition in the streets since the 1970s.
Most progressive work is done on a local level with loose networks of organizations such as Peace Action, and United for Peace and Justice trying to bring organizations together for large regional events.
While a broad and inclusive left has grown in the U.S. in the last two decades, as demonstrated by community groups such as ACORN and church based groups affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the ideological left in the U.S. has experienced a decline.
In the 1980s one part of the active left participated in the struggles for solidarity with the several revolutions in Central America, Nicaragua, El Salvador and to a lesser extent Guatemala. The solidarity efforts were very broad including several organizations and numerous religious groups.
The development of sustainable social movements on a large scale- such as an anti war/anti imperialism movement, do not just come into existence. They are created by hard work. Movements develop when a number of people decide to “make history”, to shape their own destiny. And, the critical mass of activists influence each other, progress in labor leads to progress in elections, which may lead to progress in schools and in social services. Successful organizing in one sector demonstrates to the disenchanted that the people can create their own future.
While many of us on the left have made progress in our understanding of imperialism, of hegemony, and of the Democratic Leadership Council and the current National Security Strategy, our strategies and practices must keep in mind that most 18 -22 year olds have not had this history. They entered political consciousness at best during the Clinton era. They have no memory of the Central American struggles, NAFTA, and the changes in the AFL-CIO. We need to be able to talk with and participate with this generation.
The current situation
As mentioned above, we now have a broad, popular left and broad opposition to the war. This broad left is made of diverse organizations and diverse organizations forms. Most are local. Each group has its own face to face communications. There is relatively little national presence.
One consequence is that each coalition requires extensive negotiations and compromise and endless meetings. The processes for education and decision making are not yet developed on the left. While we painstakingly build coalitions, our opponents march the country and the media off to war. The popular left has improved its use of the internet through groups such as Moveon.org.
Much of the communications among groups is through e mail and the internet. This builds some strengths, however, it also leads increasingly to persons talking primarily within their own networks and not engaging people with differing viewpoints. Both talk radio on the right, and the internet on the left, means that we engage more and more with people who already agree with us, and hear less and talk less with folks from an opposing point of view. The national newspaper War times has provided a valuable vehicle for that struggle.
There is at least a possibility that the internet based activism actually disengages people. It is far easier to sign an e mail petition and think that you have done something, than to table an event or to create an educational forum.
Much has been written about the nature of U.S. parties. Here I will only refer to some of the issues which should guide our decision making.
In the U.S. class ties are particularly weak as are our political parties. Voters and potential voters must be persuaded to support human dignity, solidarity, peace and social justice, as well as democracy as positive values to support, not as ideological possessions of the failed political parties.
The two major parties disguise deep divisions based upon race, ethnicity and to a lesser extent social class.
Large majorities of voters reject a left analysis and reject left activism. They also oppose taxes but support public programs which benefit themselves such as social security. They prefer to continue within the present political electoral structure. Class lines are blurred and unclear, and white people, and increasingly some African Americans, Latinos and Asians do have a significant degree of mobility.
Since the early 1990's, our two political parties have become more ideological, with the class divisions in the society running down the middle of the Democratic Party, with the Democratic Leadership Council on one side and a potential labor-left on the other side.
The consolidation of a White Republican Party in the South has delivered both the Congress and the White House to the Republicans for some time to come. Republicans have become a consistent conservative party and the Democrats are denounced as a liberal party, even though the left social-democratic portion of that party is small; as can be measured by either membership in the Progressive Caucus or by votes for Dennis Kucinich.
The divisions between the two parties are significant, with complex regional and racial dimensions. But both parties are primarily engaged in rancorous inter party battles for control of the state or national legislatures. They have little of an educational development. And, both parties seek to suppress the vote of their opponents in elections. The difficulty in changing the system, including the development of non competitive seats, along with the partisan rancor has increased voter cynicism and non participation in both the parties and in elections.
Part of our task is to build a political opposition to imperialism, war, racism, and anti union politics. We do this by working for justice and fairness. It is not enough for a candidate to oppose this war now, he must oppose the war makers- they must oppose imperialism. In the last election, neither of the major party candidates opposes global capitalism and imperialism. This has major consequences. WE know that the last 30- 60 years of inept colonialism has produced a radicalized Islam and associated terrorism in the West. This development, along with the West's dependence upon oil, will create economic and military crises for at least the next 20-30 years. We are living in a time parallel in some ways to the Roman Empire. We just don't know if we are at the start , the middle, or the end of the empire. Any President, operating out of the imperialist paradigm, will involve us in a series of wars of occupation draining resources domestic resources needed for schools, health care, housing and other human needs. Our task then is to work to defeat Bush and to build a left opposition for the future.
In keeping with our understanding of the potential left in the U.S., and our own organizational goals, our politics must always be guided by demands for social and economic justice for all. African Americans, Latinos, Women, can not be asked to place their agenda aside while we work on an election. Real politics does not work that way . Active groups in the African American, Latino, and Asian Communities, as well as the Women's movement will be deeply engaged in electoral campaigns. Those groups who do not engage in practice in the electoral effort will demonstrate that they are irrelevant to day to day political life in the U.S.
For DSA, multi-racial coalition building and anti racist politics must be an integral part of all of our activism. We must choose to work in campaigns and efforts where we work side-by-side with activists from communities of color.
While we seek to defeat Bush and the Bush regime we have little reason for Democratic Party loyalty except for those working to build democratic clubs such as the Wellstone Democratic Clubs. We have reason to support the work of 3rd. parties and the development of independent politics
The present condition of numerous new organizational efforts to engage in electoral politics independent of the Democratic Party and the developing broad diversity of the popular left makes our ideological work more important. Participants are engaged in popular campaigns, from Sweatshop watch, democratic media to co-ops. They come and go. Our task is to connect these many popular left organizations and efforts with an organized left and to develop a modern ideology of a left appropriate to the current U.S. political terrain.
What is to be done?
There is no clear evidence that the current political parties serve us well as an organizational form. We do not have a party. And, labor and the left have tried to build a left party dozens of times.
We recognize that at present political parties in the U.S. and electoral campaigns can serve as vehicles for advancing specific social goals, i.e. single payer health, labor law reform, stopping the imperialist adventures in the Middle East.
Draft. April 2005.