December 9, 2012

After the November Elections; Thoughts on the Future of a Relevant Left

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it."
                                                                                                                                         Karl Marx

For the American Left, the November 2012 elections are a paradox. On one hand, these recent elections contained very little Left influence. The tenor of the campaigns was an ideological fight between Republicans and Democrats where the outside poles of the debate were a neo-liberal centrism on one hand (Democrats), versus a (white mans') revenge oriented extreme right, as characterized by the Republicans.

As for the Democrats, the inclusion of any of the themes of the 2011 Occupy movement were glaring in their absence. No new populist or progressive were put forward. The rhetoric was the same stuff of the last four years with a call for a new prosperity based on the opportunity offered through a healthy Wall Street and profitable employers. Inequality was not an issue, neither was the spiraling global environmental crisis, or rampant unemployment, or the likelihood of a state of permanent warfare. 

On the other hand, the November 2012 elections were a clear peoples' victory. What we saw in November were large numbers of people, in many cases coming from the most down-trodden and marginalized tiers of society; union and non-union working class people, African Americans, Latino immigrants and workers, LGBT people; uniting at the ballot box for the purpose of rejecting a narrow right wing vision of a plutocratic white man's-only democracy.

A lot of Left individuals and Left leaning organizations can justifiably be proud of the roles they played in defeating the Republican Right. These are the people who went out, registered voters and got them to the polls, who went door to door and made a whole lot of phone calls. All about how important it was to defeat the Right.

Yet, in spite of all the good work done, the aspirations and visions of the Left remain outside the national political discourse.

Those of us on the Left, aware of our near irrelevance, point to the difficulties of moving a Left agenda in the United States. Here we are talking about difficulties stemming from a winner-take-all electoral structure and the history of "American Exceptionalism". All of these are valid points, but the one factor we generally don't analyze is ourselves, our organization(s), and our broad approaches to politics.

The paradox of the 2012 elections offers the Left an opportunity for the future. The demographics that defeated Romney and the Republicans includes within the same demographics that could make for a broad socialist and Left radical movement. The question remains however, are we on the Left capable organizing and growing such a movement?

Optimistically, I do believe we on the Left are capable of organizing a relevant Left movement. The big questions remain however: How do we do it? How do we organize such a movement?

Over the last few weeks, I've read a number of good articles coming from a number of intellectuals on the Left who are grappling with the question of building a relevant Left and how to do it. I don't want to speak for these authors. Instead, in the space below I've built links to these articles, and maybe a paragraph from me briefly describing the key points, as I see them.

Finally, to build a real and relevant socialist movement in the USA (and maybe the world) will put us on the Left outside our usual comfort zone. I can't imagine a powerful socialist movement existing without us first being willing to think 'outside our usual boxes', and second, without being willing to act in new ways based on our "out of box" thinking.

How the Left Can Become a True Political Force to be Reckoned With: Carl Davidson and Bill Fletcher Jr.

This is a must read piece. Fletcher and Davidson open with a critique of the American Left. It's a brutal but pretty honest critique. In a nutshell Left politics have fallen into essentially moral and ethical positions with activities focused towards protests. What's lacking according to Fletcher and Davidson is a political (as opposed to a moral agenda) agenda, and organization aimed at exerting Left political power.

(To read more click here:)

Beyond November: Michael  Hirsch and Jason Schulman

This is a pretty grim piece. The authors focus on the almost strangle-hold grip held on electoral politics by the Democratic and Republican parties, the difficult "candidate" based structure of American politics (which mitigates against a principled politics), and the legal obstacles put in place over the past half century aimed at maintaining the current state of affairs.

All the same, the authors do offer some openings and suggestions towards Left electoral politics. Specifically the authors point out that the Democratic Party is a de-centralized and amorphous organization, and one where Left candidates could have an impact through engaging in electoral primaries. The authors also discuss openings that might happen through fusion politics.

(To read more click here:)

Suggestions on How to Run a Socialist Political Campaign: Dan La Botz

In 2010, Dan La Botz ran for an open Ohio Senate seat on the Socialist Party ticket. Dan La Botz's article is an on-the-ground account of how to run a socialist electoral campaign from press releases to campaign appearances to how to talk socialism in an electoral context. An excellent, "in the trenches" approach.

(To read more click here:)

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