Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Road Ahead: Obama

The Bumpy Road Ahead:
New Tasks of the
Left Following
Obama's Victory

By Carl Davidson
Progressives for Obama

American progressives have won a major victory in helping to defeat
John McCain and placing Barack Obama in the White House. The far right
has been broadly rebuffed, the neoconservative war hawks displaced,
and the diehard advocates of neoliberal political economy are in
thorough disarray. Of great importance, one long-standing crown jewel
of white supremacy, the whites-only sign on the Oval Office, has been
tossed into the dustbin of history.

The depth of the historical victory was revealed in the jubilation of
millions who spontaneously gathered in downtowns and public spaces
across the country, as the media networks called Obama the winner.
When President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama took the platform in Chicago
to deliver his powerful but sobering victory speech, hundreds of
millions-Black, Latino, Asian, Native-American and white, men and
women, young and old, literally danced in the streets and wept with
joy, celebrating an achievement of a dramatic milestone in a 400-year
struggle, and anticipating a new period of hope and possibility.

Now a new period of struggle begins, but on a higher plane. An
emerging progressive majority will be confronted with many challenges
and obstacles not seen for decades. Left and progressive organizers
face difficult, uncharted terrain, a bumpy road. But much more
interesting problems are before us, with solutions, should they be
achieved, promising much greater gains and rewards. for the America of
popular democracy.

To consciously build on the gains of this electoral victory, it's
important to seek clarity. We need an accurate assessment of strengths
and weaknesses--our own, as well as those of our allies and our

The Obama campaign, formal and informal, was a wide undertaking. It
united progressive forces, won over middle forces, then isolated and
divided the right. It massed the votes and resources required the win
a clear majority of the popular vote and a decisive majority of
Electoral College votes.

At the base, beginning with the antiwar youth and peace activists,
Obama awakened, organized, mobilized and deployed an incredible and
innovative force of what grew into an army of more than three million
volunteers. At the top, he realigned a powerful sector of the ruling
class into an anti-NeoCon, anti-ultraright bloc. In between, he
expanded the electorate and won clear majorities in every major
demographic bloc of voters, save for whites generally; but even there,
he reduced McCain's spread to single digits, and among younger white
voters and women voters, he won large majorities.

Understanding the New Alliance

It is important to understand the self-interests and expectations of
this new multiclass alliance. If we get it wrong, we will run into the
ditch and get bogged down, whether on the right or 'left' side of that
bumpy road, full of potholes and twists and turns.

The Obama alliance is not 'Clintonism in blackface' or 'JFK in Sepia',
as some have chauvinistically tagged it. Nor is it 'imperialism with a
human face,' as if imperialism hasn't always had human faces. All
these make the mistake of looking backward, Hillary Clinton's mistake
of trying to frame the present and future in the terms of the past.

The Obama team at the top is comprised of global capital's
representatives in the U.S as well as U.S. multinational capitalists,
and these two overlap but are not the same. It is a faction of
imperialism, and there is no need for us to prettify it, deny it or
cover it up in any way. The important thing to see is that it is
neither neoliberalism nor the old corporate liberalism. Obama is
carving out a new niche for himself, a work in progress still within
the bounds of capitalism, but a 'high road' industrial policy
capitalism that is less state-centric and more market-based in its
approach, more Green, more high tech, more third wave and
participatory, less politics-as-consumerism and more 'public citizen'
and education focused. In short, it's capitalism for a multipolar
world and the 21st century.

The unreconstructed neoliberalism and old corporate liberalism,
however, are still very much in play. The former is in disarray,
largely due to the financial crisis, but the latter is working
overtime to join the Obama team and secure its institutional positions
of power, from White House staff positions to the behind-the-scenes
efforts on Wall Street to direct the huge cash flows of the Bail-Out
in their favor.

How the Obama Alliance won:
Values, Technology and Social Movements

The Obama alliance is an emerging, historic counter-hegemonic bloc,
still contending both with its pre-election adversaries and within
itself. It has taken the White House and strengthened its majority in
Congress, but the fight is not over. To define the victorious
coalition simply by the class forces at the top is the error of
reductionism that fails to shine a light on the path ahead.

What is a hegemonic bloc? Most power elites maintain their rule using
more than armed force. They use a range of tools to maintain hegemony,
or dominance, which are 'softer,' meaning they are political and
cultural instruments as well as economic and military. They seek a
social base in the population, and draw them into partnership and
coalitions through intermediate civil institutions. Keeping this bloc
together requires a degree of compromise and concession, even if it
ultimately relies on force. The blocs are historic; they develop over
time, are shaped by the times, and also have limited duration. When
external and internal crises disrupt and lead them to stagnation, a
new 'counter-hegemonic' bloc takes shape, with a different alignment
of economic interests and social forces, to challenge it and take its
place. These ideas were first developed by the Italian communist and
labor leader, Antonio Gramsci, and taken up again in the 1960s by the
German New Left leader, Rudi Dutschke. They are helpful, especially in
nonrevolutionary conditions, in understanding both how our adversaries
maintain their power, as well as the strategy and tactics needed to
replace them, eventually by winning a new socialist and popular
democratic order.

As a new historic bloc, the Obama alliance contains several major and
minor poles. It is composed of several class forces, a complex social
base and many social movements which have emerged and engaged in the
electoral struggle. There is both class struggle and other forms of
struggle within it. There are sharp differences on military policy, on
Israel-Palestine, on healthcare and the bailout. From the outside,
there are also serious and sustained struggles against it. And some
forces will move both inside and outside the bloc, as circumstances
warrant or change. It is important to be clear on what the main forces
and components are, and their path to unity. It's also important to
understand the relation and balance of forces, and how one is not
likely to win at the top what one has not consolidated and won at the
base, nor is failure in one or another battle always cause for a
strategic break.

Obama obviously started with his local coalition in Chicago-the Black
community, 'Lakefront liberals' from the corporate world, and a sector
of labor, mainly service workers. The initial new force in the winning
nationwide alliance was called out by Obama's early opposition to the
Iraq war, and his participation in two mass rallies against it, one
before it began and other after the war was underway. This both
awakened and inspired a large layer of young antiwar activists, some
active for the first time, to join his effort to win the Iowa primary.
The fact that he had publicly opposed the war before it had begun
distinguished him from Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, his chief
opponents. These young people also contributed to the innovative
nature of his organization, combining grassroots community organizing
with the many-to-many mass communication tools of internet-based
social networking and fundraising. Many had some earlier experience
organizing and participating in the World Social Forum in Atlanta
2007, which energized nearly 10,000 young activists. Those who came
forward put their energy and innovation to good use. Had Obama not won
Iowa, it is not likely we would be talking about him today.

The Iowa victory quickly produced another major advance. Up until
then, most African-American voters favored Hillary Clinton, and were
dubious of a Black candidate's chances. But Iowa is one of the
'whitest' states in the country, and Obama's win there changed their
minds. In short order, Obama gained wide unity in Black communities
across the country, inspiring even more young people, more
multinational and more 'Hip-Hop,' to emerge as a force. Black women in
their churches and Black workers in their unions joined with the
already-engaged younger Black professionals who were seeking a new
voice for their generation. The internet-based fundraising was
bringing in unheard-of amounts of money in small donations. A wing of
trade unions most responsive to Black members came over, setting the
stage for Obama's next challenge, winning the Democratic primaries
overall against Hillary Clinton.

Defeating Clinton and the corporate liberals backing her was not easy.
Hillary's main weakness was her inability to win the antiwar movement.
Obama had mainly won the youth and Blacks, and through them, many
young women and many Black women, but he had tough challenges. Clinton
still rallied much of the liberal base and the traditional women's
movement. But it was not enough, nor was she able to deal with all the
new grassroots money flowing his way. Her last reserve was the labor
movement, most of which was still supporting her. She tried to keep it
with a fatal error: playing the 'white worker' card in a racist way
against Obama. It only moved more progressives to Obama, plus won him
wider support in other communities of color, who saw the move for what
it was. Even with her remaining base in a sector of the women's
movement and a large chunk of organized labor, after a fierce fight,
he narrowly but clearly defeated her.

Now it was Obama versus McCain, and the Republicans were in the weaker
position. Some think McCain made a mistake picking Sarah Palin as his
VP choice, but actually it was his smarter and stronger card. To
defeat Obama, he had to both energize the GOP core rightwing base,
plus win a large majority of the 'white working class.' Palin's
proto-fascist rightwing populism was actually his best shot,
especially with its unofficial allies in rightwing media. The
Fox-Hannity-Limbaugh machine, and its allies in the right blogosphere,
escalated their overtly racist, chauvinist, illegal immigrant-baiting,
red-baiting, terror-baiting, anti-Black and anti-Muslim bigotry to a
ceaseless fever pitch. The aim was to manipulate the significant
social base of less-educated, more fundamentalist, lower-income white
workers who often seek economic relief through being tied to the
military or the prison-industrial complex. They threw everything, from
the kitchen sink to the outhouse, at Obama, his family and his
movement. They whipped their crowds into violent frenzies. The Secret
Service even had to ask them to tone it down, since assassination
threats were coming out of the woodwork with each rally like this.

This now put organized labor in the critical position. Even though
they represented only a minority of workers generally, they had wider
influence, including into the ranks of the white working-class
families who were for Clinton, and leaning to McCain. But both
national coalitions, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, did the right
thing, and in a big way. They knew McCain was their 'clear and
present' danger. So they mobilized their resources and members into
the streets, especially in the 'white working class' battleground
areas in critical electoral states, and among Latino voters in the
West. They won a wide majority of union households. They won among
women and younger workers, as well as Latinos and other voters of
color. Although they still did not get a majority of white working
class voters for Obama, they brought the spread down to single digits.
In many areas, they did better with Obama than Kerry had done four
years earlier. It was enough to put Obama over the top.

There are books to be written about many other aspects and components
of the Obama alliance. But these five: insurgent antiwar youth, a
united African-American community, Latinos and other communities of
color, women with a grasp of the importance of reproductive rights and
health care, and organized labor-these form the major elements of the
social base of Obama's historic bloc against neoliberalism and the
right. Add these to the disgruntled progressive-to-liberal regular
Democratic voters in the suburbs and elsewhere, and it brought the era
of the conservative right's dominance in the White House and Congress
to an end.

The Obama Alliance From Below and Within

The alliance was also diverse in terms of political organization. At
the very bottom grassroots, in the final months, there were often four
campaigns, overlapping to one degree or another, united to one degree
or another, but not the same by a long shot.

First, the local Obama offices were mainly run by the Obama youth,
twenty-somethings, many of them young women, who worked their hearts
out, 16-hours-a-day, seven days a week, months on end. They were
deployed in a vast array of 'neighborhood teams,' with old teams often
generating new ones, connected via the social networking of their own
blogs, email, cell phones and text messaging. Each team knocked on
hundreds, if not thousands of doors, and tracked it all on computers.
The full-time leaders were often 'parachuted in' from distant states,
skilled mainly in mobilizing others like themselves. But add up
dozens, even hundreds of teams in a given county, and you're making a
serious difference.

Second, the Black community's campaign was more indigenous, more
traditional, more rooted, more deeply proletarian-it made use of the
Black church's social committees, tenant groups and civic
organizations, who widely united. Many day-to-day efforts were in the
hands of older Black women who knew everything about everybody, and
had decades of experience in registering and getting out the vote. In
some parts of the country, there were other nationalities working this
way-Latino, Asian, Native American-and they found the way to make
common cause with the African American community, rebuffing GOP
efforts to appeal to anti-Black racism or narrow nationalism as a
wedge. Some of the older people in these communities learned how to
use computers, too, and sent regular contributions to Obama via PayPal
in small amounts. But multiply one of these experienced
community-based women organizers by 50,000 or 100,000 more just like
her in another neighborhood or town, and something new and serious is
going on. They always faced scarce resources, and there was friction
at times with the Obama youth, who were often mostly white or more of
a younger 'Rainbow.' They worked it through, most of the time.

Third, organized labor carried out its campaign in its own way. They
had substantial resources for meeting halls, phone banks and the
traditional 'swag' of campaigns-window signs, yard signs, buttons,
T-shirts, stickers, banners, professionally done multi-colored flyers
directly targeted to the top issues of union members and the wider
working class. They put it together as an almost industrial operation,
well planned with a division of labor. Top leaders of the union came
in, called mass meetings, and in many cases, gave fierce no-nonsense
speeches about 'getting over' fear of Black candidates and asserting
the need to vote their members' interests. The central offices
produced walking maps of union member households and registered voter
households, political district by political district, broken down
right to how many people were needed for each door-knocking team to
cover each district or neighborhood. They printed maps with driving
directions. They had tally sheets for interviewing each voter, boxes
to check, to be scanned and read by machines when turned in. Hundreds
of member-volunteers from that ranks came to each hall, raffles were
held for free gas cards, and when you got back and turned in your
tallies, free hot dogs and pizza. Sometimes busloads and car caravans
went to other nearby states, to more 'battleground' areas. They often
shared their halls with the Obama kids, and tried not to duplicate
efforts. It was powerful to see, and it worked. There's nothing to
replace a pair of union members standing on the porches of other
working-class families, talking things over.

Fourth, the actual ongoing structures of the local Democratic Party
did things their way. In many cases, the local regular Democratic
leaders were very good, and took part personally in all three of
elements of the campaign described above. But frequently, there was no
'mass' to the local Democratic organization. The mass member groups of
the old Democratic Party were just history. (It was a problem, but
also an opening for new independent mass progressive groups, like
Progressive Democrats of America, to grow). Each incumbent, moreover,
had their own staff and core of donors and loyalists, lawyers and
media consultants, and guarded their own turf. Some were Obama
enthusiasts, some more low-key, but more than a few avoided any
responsibility to win Hillary voters to Obama. They capitulated to
'Democrats for McCain' elements in their base, elements who worked
informally with the GOP right. This latter group was called 'the top
of the ticket problem.' They worked their campaigns as independent
operations, but avoided identification with the 'top of the ticket' or
those working locally for it.

The Core Message of Change

While all four of these sub-campaigns were united by the central
message and 'change' theme from the top, each also carried out the
'change' message in its own way. One issue linking at least three of
them, save for a few 'Blue Dog' incumbents, was the need for a rapid
end to the war. From Obama's personal appearances on down, whenever a
speaker forcefully made this point to a crowd, it got the loudest
applause, if not a standing ovation.

The people in these crowds constitute a new component of the antiwar
movement. It needs to be understood, however, that they have a
different character than the traditional left-led antiwar rallies.
Demands to end the war here are deeply connected with supporting our
troops, getting them home and out of harm's way, supporting veterans
across the board, expressions of patriotism, and a view of the war as
an offense to patriotism. They hate the waste of lives of people from
families they know; and they hate the waste of resources and huge
amounts of money. Ending the war is stressed as the way to lower taxes
and revive the economy by spending for projects at home, People will
denounce oil barons, but you'll hear very little put in terms of
anti-imperialism or solidarity with various other liberations
struggles around the world. 'We were lied to getting us into this',
and 'we have our problems to solve here'-that's the underlying themes
and watchwords. There are a few incumbents who will take positions to
the right of Obama on the war, trying to stake out various nuanced and
longer 'exit strategy' processes, or who just don't mention the war at
all. But at the base, most just want to troops rapidly and safely out,
while a few cling to the right's calls for 'victory.' But there's not
much in the middle.

The other components of 'change' at the base are, first and foremost,
new jobs and new industries. People are especially motivated by
practical plans for Green Jobs in alternative energies and major
infrastructural repair, health care for everyone, schools and support
for students, and debt relief and other protections of their economic
security in the face of the Wall Street crash. In fact, the Wall
Street crash was the major factor in many older voters rejecting
McCain and going for Obama. Regarding health care, many unions and
local government bodies are signing on to HR 676, Single-Payer health
care, but some will accept many other things, wisely or not, as a step
in that direction or an improvement over the current setup.

The Nature of Rising Hegemonic Blocs

Within the Obama historic bloc, there are at least four contending
trends regarding 'change' and political economy-two major and two
minor. The two major ones come mainly from the top, while the two
minor ones come from below.

At the top, the Obama White House will be pulled in two directions.
The first is the 'tinkering at the top' approach of traditional
corporate liberal capitalism, mostly concerned with securing the major
banks by covering their debts and reducing the deficit through 'shared
austerity' cutbacks. The emphasis will be on greater
government-imposed efficiencies in entitlement programs, tax reform
and adjustments in global trade agreements. Some of their favored
programs, like pressing businesses to provide more 401K plans for
employees, may be set aside because of the stock market' volatility.

The second direction is Obama's own often-asserted 'High Road' green
industrial policy capitalism, which wants to restrict and punish pure
speculation in the 'Casino Economy' in favor of targeted government
investment in massive infrastructure and research, encouraging the
growth of new industries with 'Green Jobs' in alternative energy
sectors. Since resources are not infinite, there will be a major
tension and competition for funds between two rival sectors--a new
green industrial-education policy sector and an old
hydrocarbon-military-industrial sector. It's a key task of the left
and progressive movements to add their forces to uniting with and
building up the former, while opposing and weakening the grip of the
latter. This is the 'High Road' vs. 'Low Road' strategy widely
discussed in progressive think tanks and policy circles.

From below, Obama is being presented with a plethora of
redistributionist 'New New Deal' plans, including Rep Dennis
Kucinich's 16 Points, to Sen. Bernie Sanders 4 Points, to the
Institute for Policy Studies 'Progressive Majority' plan. One outlier
'Buy Out, Not Bail Out' proposal, David Schweickart's Economic
Democracy option, goes beyond redistributionism, and proposes deep
structural reforms of public ownership in the equity of financial
firms in exchange for the bailout, in turn directing capital into
community investment banks to build worker-controlled options within
the new wealth creation firms of green industries.

From the other side, the unreconstructed rightwing neoliberals will be
out of positions of executive power but not without positions of
influence. Centered among the House GOP and allied with the rightwing
media populists and anti-global nationalists, with Lou Dobbs as a
spokesman, they will remain a powerful opposition force. They are
likely to try to sabotage Obama, as best as they can without their own
mass base, suffering from the crisis, turning against them. This was
the role they played in the rightist opposition to the corporate
liberal bailout plans stirred up by the far right Human Events

The key point here is shaping the exact nature of what Obama unfolds
as 'change.' What will bring about any progressive reform and protect
'Main Street' and the 'Middle Class' against 'Wall Street' is still
open and not fully formed. In fact, it will be a focus of intense
struggle both internally at the top and on the part of mass social
movements defending and advancing their interests from below. Class
struggle will unfold within the bloc, to be sure.

The Bankruptcy of the Ultraleft

This is where the questions facing the left and an account of its
tasks become critical. What is our role? Who are our friends and
allies? Who are our adversaries, of various sorts? What is our left
platform within broader proposals for growing and uniting a
progressive majority? What is our strategy, tactics and orientation
for moving forward? All these need to be re-examined in this dynamic
and new situation.

We have to start by acknowledging the real crisis across the entire
socialist left for some time. While some progress and innovation has
been made by some in recent years, no one is surging ahead with major
growth and breakthroughs. What this election, its outcome, its battles
and ebb and flow, and the engagement of the masses, has especially
done is reveal the utter bankruptcy of almost the entire anti-Obama
Trotskyist, anarchist and Maoist left, save for a few groupings and
some individuals. The crisis was not nearly as deep among the wider
left-those hundreds of thousands working among trade union activists,
community organizers and our country's intellectual community, but
often not identified with a given socialist group or anarchist
project. Whatever their problems, most of them understood this
election and what to do, even if their efforts were limited. They 'got
it right', even if they lacked the organizational means to advance the
socialist project.

But among those belonging to organized socialist and anarchist groups
with enough resources to put out their views, most got it dead wrong.
On the election, only the CCDS (Committees of Correspondence for
Democracy and Socialism, cc-ds.org, ) the Communist Party USA,
cpusa.org, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO,
freedomroad.org) got it mostly right, mainly because they have some
grasp on the importance of racism, elections and mass democracy. But
we know these three groups, even if well situated, are rather small
and not growing in any major way. Next was DSA which at least saw the
importance of defeating McCain and backing Obama, even though they
only managed to put out a rather wimpy pro-forma statement without
once mentioning race. The other 10-to-15 groups, with the larger
majority of organized US socialists, communists and Marxists in them,
failed miserably, whatever the subjective feelings and views of their
individual members. Besides broadsides against Obama and those backing
him, they had nothing new or relevant to say, and some of them didn't
bother to say anything, especially among the anarchists. Go to the
sixty or more Indymedia sites, and you hardly see anything useful said
besides macho bluster and shit-talk against the few
pro-voting-for-Obama postings put up.

This is the face of this crisis: While there was an upsurge of
millions of Obama volunteers in one of the most critical elections in
our history, a true milestone, which was combined with direct
engagement from a united Black community and the best elements of
labor, from precisely the sectors all of them have been claiming to
try to reach for decades, and almost all they could was bark at them:
'You're deluded!' You're Obamaniacs! 'You're wrong!' 'Obama is a
capitalist!' 'Don't Drink the Kool-Aid! Obama is the more dangerous
warmonger because he's the new 'Uncle Tom' Black face of imperialism!'

If the question of the day was immediate working-class mass action on
seizing power from the capitalist class, for reform vs. revolution,
socialism or capitalism NOW, they might have had a point. But it's
not. Even with the financial crisis, it's not even close. Besides
getting troops out of this or that country, they don't even have a
package of demands or structural reforms worthy of the name being put
forward. Worse of all, they don't think any distinction between
revolutionary and non-revolutionary conditions is all that important.
What that means, in turn, is that it's almost impossible for them, as
groups and as a trend, to correct their course.

It's not a matter of being critical of Obama. Everyone engaged in his
movement had criticisms and alternate positions of all sorts. Some
made them public, some did not-but all these did so in a way designed
to help him win, not to take him down, to add votes to his totals, not
to subtract them.

As mentioned, the wider left, the left that defines itself as more
than liberal but not necessarily socialist, did relatively well. These
are the union-based organizers, community organizers, campus
organizers, and the readers of Portside, The Nation, Black
Commentator, Huffington Post and DailyKOS. For the most part, they
were fully engaged for Obama in this election. Comparing the online
commentary in these media voices and outlets with that of the
Indymedia anarchists and the socialist papers of the far left was as
revealing as the difference between noon and midnight.

We have to break decisively with this ultra-left, semi-anarchist
perspective. While the hard core of this trend is small, it reach is
wider than some might think. It's not a matter of purges; it's a
matter of emancipating the minds of many on the radical left from old
dogma. There's no way forward under these new conditions if we don't.
We have to break with it not only in our own ranks, the groups working
with 'Progressives for Obama', where it's not that influential, but
across all the mass democratic organizations of the wider social
movements as well. We have to spotlight it, stand up to it, isolate it
and defeat it. It's not that we are demanding a split. The split has
already taken place over the past two years, in real life and in
actual battles. Many of us, for instance, stood up to the rightwing
media's racist attacks on Obama, his family and his movement; others
from this corner of the left added fuel to the fascists' fires and
fanned the flames. We are sharply divided. We are as far apart in
practice as we can be. What we have to do is acknowledge it, sum up
its lessons, and warn others of its dangers, and try to unite all who
can be united on a new path forward.

Charting Our Path Forward

So what is our path? Again, we start by getting clarity on where we
are. We were in an alliance with Obama and the forces and movements
that brought him to power against the NeoCon neoliberals and the far
right. If we assess things accurately, we'll see that we are still in
this alliance, although its nature is changing. We are part of a new
emerging counter-hegemonic bloc in our country, an historic multiclass
alliance. The Obama forces at the top are in turn linked to the
multipolar, multilateralist sector of global capital. A new bloc on
this higher, global level is both trying to consolidate its power
against its rivals and maintain a degree of both unity and struggle
among the contenting poles and centers of power within it. Our task is
to grow the strength of the left, the working class, and broader
communities allies within it, to secure strong points, and to win,
step by step, the 'long march through the institutions' until we
emerge with a new counter-hegemonic bloc of our own, in an entirely
different period.

From the beginning, the Obama alliance brought together
left-progressive forces, along with moderate center and center-right
forces, from the grass roots level through middle-layer institutions
to the top. No one or even two of these voting blocs was enough to win
alone. It took the entire coalition to win-and driving out any one
part of it may have made defeat far more likely and risky. We were
part of a left-progressive pole in a broader sub-bloc comprised of
social movements, primarily antiwar youth, minority nationality
communities and organized labor. While we were the most numerous of
the blocs, we were not necessarily the most powerful.

A political pole or sub-bloc's power in electoral campaigns is a
combination of three things-first, an organized platform of ideas
appropriate to solving the problems of the day that, second, is in
turn embodied in organized grassroots voters and, third, those
organizations have readily available amounts of organized money. We
can take part in an alliance without some or even all of these things,
but we shouldn't then expect much clout.

Let's look at each of these three elements from the perspective of
left-progressive activists.

What was our platform? First, we stressed an end to the war in Iraq
and a prevention of wider wars, even if Obama talked of going into
Afghanistan in a bigger way. Second, we were demanding 'Healthcare Not
Warfare,' and in many cases, pressing HR 676 Single-Payer even if
Obama opposed it. Third, we stressed Green Jobs and New Schools, and
Obama eventually pushed these in a big way. Fourth, we stressed
Alternative Energies over dirty coal, offshore oil and unsafe nuke
plants, even if Obama waffled. Fifth, we wanted Expanded Democracy and
Fair Elections, and Obama pressed voter registration and early voting
in a big way.

The Obama volunteers in the official campaign often couldn't put
things out exactly like this. Their messaging was more controlled from
the center. But nothing stopped either organized labor or independent
forces like PDA, MDS or other local groups connected to 'Progressives
for Obama' from exercising our 'independence and initiative within the
broader front.' We simply did what we thought best, but in a way that
still maintained solid unity among local allies.

The Importance of Independent Mass Democracy

How did we organize voters? Many progressives simply worked through
the local Obama campaign, registering and identifying voters with the
neighbor teams. This was fine, especially if you spent some time in a
mutual education process with the young staffers. But some of us were
looking for something more independent and lasting. So we joined with
groups like PDA, or set up 'voters for peace' groupings based on local
coalitions, or worked through union locals. The idea was for the
information gained--voter lists, donor lists, volunteers lists,
contacts and such-to remain in the hands of the new grassroots
formations, to grow them in size and scope, so as to help further
struggles down the road.

To be sure, our influence, compared to the incredibly sophisticated,
well-funded and innovative Obama campaign, was relatively minor. That
didn't matter so much; what was important was that we weren't simply a
tail on the Democratic machinery, but that we were building our own
independent strength for the future. In nearly every major city,
independent blogs or clusters of blogs went up to serve as a public
face and organizing hubs of these grassroots forces. Case in point:
The local Obama offices are now all closed, but our local groups or
coalitions have doubled or tripled in size, we now have news blogs
getting thousands of hits, and our efforts are ongoing and more
connected with labor and community allies.

How did we raise money? To be frank, we didn't raise that much
independently. This is a fault, not a virtue. Some groups in the
African-American community went into the T-shirt and button business,
making a range of campaign items, selling them to raise stipends, gas
money and donations to Obama, then turning some over to make more
T-shirts and buttons, and so on. In some places, we relied a good deal
on the resources supplied at local union halls-meeting space, phones,
and printed materials. 'Progressives for Obama' kept itself alive from
a few initial startup donations from individuals, then from its two
blogs and listservs on the Internet via PayPal in small amounts.

But to return to our platform of issues and demands, the key
underlying principle was segmenting the business community into
productive versus speculative capital, rather than asserting an
all-round anti-capitalist or anti-corporate perspective. We want to
see mills reopened with new companies we can support that would make
wind turbines via Green Jobs, while we oppose the Casino gamblers on
Wall Street or insurance company parasites blocking universal health
care. People can and will denounce every sort of corporate crime or
outrage to make a point. But when it came to the platform of reforms
for uses of our taxes dollars, we were much more focused on what kind
of businesses we wanted to see grow, and how we wanted them to relate
to their workers and surrounding communities. This approach did very
well in getting many rank-and-file workers to take us seriously,
especially in areas where many people suffer more from the lack of
business than its presence.

The main point is that we now have mass democratic organization
anchored in many communities, workplaces and schools, and that they
have a basis to expand. PDA is a good example. Starting with only a
few dozen people in 2004 with an 'inside-outside' independent view of
dealing and working with Democrats, they have grown to some 150,000
people scattered across the country in every major city, with most of
that growth taking place in the context of the last campaign to defeat
the GOP and McCain. At the Democratic convention, together with The
Nation magazine, PDA delivered a week-long series of panels and
workshops that drew thousands of activists and hundreds of delegates,
establishing itself as the 'Progressive Central' mobilizing and
organizing pole for the week in Denver. Many PDA local chapters
mobilized members that became the backbone of the Obama campaign
offices, as well as boosting local labor mobilizations. The PDA
chapters built their credibility by advocating Healthcare Not Warfare
and backing local progressive candidates down the ticket. They helped
unite progressives within the various trends of the Obama campaign
with local unity events.

On a smaller scale, Movement for a Democratic Society groups did well,
too Austin, Texas is a great example, where they combined with 'The
Rag' blog, which is now getting over 25,000 hits a month. On campuses,
where the New SDS was able to make a break with anarchism and relate
to the Obama youth, they also report successes and growth.

The Critical Priority of Organization
and the Relative Importance of Socialist Tasks

What the heart of this says is that for left-to-progressive activists,
organization-building trumps movement-building in this period. The
movements are very wide and diverse, and in front of our noses. But
the current wave has just peaked, and will now ebb a bit. In
situations like this, it's more important than ever to consolidate the
gains of mass struggle, including electoral struggle, into lasting
organizations, either expanding earlier ones or building new ones. The
same goes for coalition-building of local clusters of organizations,
then networking them across the country, horizontally and vertically,
via the internet. We need organizers now, more so than activists and

What about the 'socialism' part of the socialist left? Up to this
point, I've mainly addressed the mass democratic tasks we share in
common with the non-socialist left and progressive activists
generally. Fortunately or unfortunately the Wall Street financial
crisis combined with the right wing's red baiting of Obama as a
'Marxist' and 'socialist' has given the 'S' word far wider circulation
and interest than it's had in decades. Unfortunately, in the mass
media, it's mainly discussed in a one-dimensional, cartoonish way as
'socialism for the rich' or 'sharing the wealth.'

No matter. This expanded media buzz serves to underscore the main
aspect of our socialist tasks in today's conditions. Our work here is
mainly that of education, theoretical work, and the development of
program and policy options. We need our own think tanks and networks
of study groups developing our policies and platforms for deep
structural reforms that serve as transitional levers to a new
socialism. Before we can fight for it, we better have a fairly clear
idea of what it is in this country in today's world-both among
ourselves and the wider circles of the best left and progressive
organizers with whom we want to share this learning process and
socialist project.

It is a good time, however, to expand this work in a serious way. One
small example: in the context of the initial wave of reaction to the
Wall Street crash, and the first round of progressive proposals to
deal with it, 'Progressives for Obama' asked David Schweickart, one of
our country's foremost proponents of socialist theory, to write up his
take on it. He wrote not only his account of why the crisis happened,
but also briefly contrasted today's capitalism and its downturn and
crash with the socialist alternative. His own 'successor system
theory' of Economic Democracy, however, is designed to be a bridge to
socialist options. If we, the public, are to buy up the bad debt of
failed banks and firms, why not demand equity in the stock and public
seats on the board, or buy them out entirely. Instead of simply paying
off debt and providing the wherewithal for big bonuses and Golden
Parachutes, why not do more than simply restrict or forbid this? Why
not use these now-public resources to launch local community-owned
investment banks to partner with labor and local government and
entrepreneurs to build the new worker-owned factories of green
industries and alternative energies?

These are excellent take-off points. Schweickart's article was widely
circulated as an authoritative piece, commented on across the
political spectrum. In several cities, leftists in and around the
Obama campaign even set up study groups to go over it. This shouldn't
be exaggerated, but it does show the possibilities and frames our
socialist tasks more accurately.

Both Immediate and Transitional Programs

But the more pressing task for us as part of the left is sharply and
concretely outlining our immediate and transitional programs and their
platforms. The immediate program of demands, like Kucinich's 16
Points, are basically redistributionist programs aimed at taking
wealth from above and spreading it around below. Given the vast
inequalities of our society, that is both pressing and desirable. As a
stimulus, it also spurs the generation of new wealth. The transitional
program of deep structural reform, like Schweickart's Economic
Democracy, takes public resources to generate new wealth, but in a way
that alters power relations in favor of the working class and broader

Some of the best proposals and projects on the table combine both of
these. The Apollo Alliance, where steelworkers and environmentalists
come together, put forward a range of recession-busting programs. Van
Jones' Green Jobs programs for inner city youth do the same, as does
HR 676 Single-Payer health care. The Blue-Green Alliance is still another.

Our task is to put flesh on these in a way that melds with our local
conditions. We start by uniting antiwar Obama youth, community and
labor locally, then build outwards and upwards from there. We start
with an understanding of the critical role of a united
African-American community, the most consistent defenders and fighters
for a progressive agenda in the country, especially when it works in
alliance with Latinos and other minority nationalities. We also grasp
the significance of women and labor, and the overall intersection of
race, gender and class in defining our policies, seeking out allies,
and setting priorities. We design a package of critical local reforms,
whether in rebuilding Ohio River locks and dams, constructing
high-speed rail in California, or delivering single-payer healthcare
everywhere. Then we make the fights for these a centerpiece to unite
the entire area, win over all the public officials that we can, and
then, in turn, take it to an Obama administration, demanding an end to
the war and war making, in order to fund it and make it happen. It's
really the only way out of this mess.

Our great victory in this election, finally, is that efforts and
programs like this won't fall on deaf ears. The challenge to Obama is
that to get it done, he has to end the war, avoid wider wars and cut
the military budget in a major way. If he does, he can be a great
president. If he doesn't, he'll have hell to pay.


Here are the key points, once again:

1. We have won a major victory, now consolidate its gains.

2. Start where you are, and build mass democratic grassroots groups
bringing together the best local activists from the Obama campaign and
others like it.

3. Build a coalition with local partners in labor, campus and
community groups that did the same.

4. Start local left-progressive blogs to have a public face, and link
it to others.

5. Develop a program of deep structural reform and immediate needs for
your area, and take it upward and outward through the elected
officials and government bodies, all the way to the top.

6. Break decisively with the ultraleft mindset, in order to deepen and
broaden left-progressive unity.

7. Prepare the ground for mass mobilization to end the war this
spring, and to prevent wider war. Link this battle to the economy.
Green Jobs over War Jobs, New Schools, Not More Prisons, HealthCare
Not Warfare, Peace and Prosperity, Not War, Greed and Crisis. You get
the idea.

8. Study socialism seriously, the version for today, and bring it to
bear in developing policy and uniting the most advanced fighters for
the whole, not just the part, and for the future, not just the present.

[If you liked this article, go to http://progressivesforobama.net, and
offer some support by using the PayPal button. Other writings by Carl
Davidson are available at http://carldavidson.blogspot.com and contact
him for speaking engagements at carld717@gmail.com ]


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