Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Left Has Some New Opportunities

Let’s start with good news today. The great folks at Philly Socialists are calling for a united front and there is some serious work being done in this area. Freedom Road has given us an advanced analysis to use in this work. We also have this from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in The New Yorker:

Now is the time to acknowledge the ways in which Democrats have condescended to the white working class—and to acknowledge that Trump condescends to it by selling it fantasies. Now is the time to remember that there are working-class Americans who are not white and who have suffered the same deprivations and are equally worthy of news profiles. Now is the time to remember that “women” does not equal white women. “Women” must mean all women.

Now is the time to elevate the art of questioning. Is the only valid resentment in America that of white males? If we are to be sympathetic to the idea that economic anxieties lead to questionable decisions, does this apply to all groups?

And that gives us a good starting point for this post.

I have a hard time with “…and who have suffered the same deprivations…” and “Misogyny is not the sole preserve of men” as that sounds false to me, but I’m open to a discussion on how we hear what is being said. When I hear people on the left blaming white workers for voting for Trump I hear a retreat from class analysis and the centrality of a multiracial, multigenerational and multilayered working-class. And when I hear talk of “economic populism” from the left I hear a retreat from socialism and a step towards white privilege being made. Maybe I’m hearing something which is not being said. The New Yorker article helps me question what I'm hearing. 

It hit me two months or so before the election that Clinton was not going to win but I took the line that a mass anti-Trump vote was necessary, that we needed to mobilize immediately after the election regardless of who won, that the point of voting against Trump was a strategic point in order to give us the space to organize, that this mobilization needs to be under the leadership of people of color and working-class whites, women and LGBTQIA organizations working in a united front, that victories could be won, and that the ultraleft and Greens posed a particular danger to unity. I was especially inspired by the Movement For Black Lives platform. A bitter confrontation with armed white racists at the state capitol underscored for me what I already knew: a multiclass and racist alliance of the right could win, and will win if the white left doesn’t root itself in class and community struggles and engage people. I still do not believe that there was a white working-class right-wing revolt; it's worse than that because many white workers joined a multiclass alliance and adopted the position of another class on that class's terms. Our job is still to organize with the working-class, but now that is much more difficult.

What I could not see was the damage done to the left by not mobilizing in the streets over the past eight years, the damage done by the Voting Rights Act not being in full force and the last-minute intervention by the FBI. I also missed the dangers posed by some complacent white leftists and the depth of nihilism present among so many white and Black activists and the lack of an inside/outside strategy for working with Democrats. I assumed, wrongly, that parts of the Sanders campaign would immediately consolidate and serve as a mechanism for reforming the Democratic party and that a necessary outside strategy would emerge spontaneously and then find its measure and voice with speed. I also mistakenly assumed that the big-tent of the Sanders campaign would remain in place and that a weakened Democratic party establishment would either cede space to the left or would not be so tone-deaf to the times.

The election was not about candidates for me. I had no faith in Clinton and said so, and I think that criticism from the left was necessary and helpful. Criticism from the left was not the problem in the election, but if we must focus on this, as some people would have it, then I want to say that criticism should be extended to self-criticism and that it is only harmful if it does not lead to solutions. The hypocrisy among some on the left of criticizing Sanders from a “left” point of view but not criticizing Clinton, and now criticizing Tulsi Gabbard but not Gore and Obama for meeting with Trump, and not having or supporting a Democratic party reform program, is remarkable. For me, the election was not about candidates, but about a strategy and tactics to give us on the left breathing room and stopping sociopathy from taking over. Since the election we have seen a pronounced tendency towards sociopathy on the left as well as on the right, and in the so-called “center” as well.

We are paying for not organizing and mobilizing under Obama, and we will be paying for this for years to come. The repeated point that Obama was a terrible president and a corporate Democrat has its truth, but it misses the mark by not understanding the pressure that he was under, the damage done by the crashes of 1987 and 2008, the dynamic that the first person to break any bar in America must necessarily be cautious and will likely be conservative, the political cost of alienating people of color and our own collective failure to organize and protest with and behind people of color. We let people of color down when we did not join in the protests against the police killings in mass numbers. Why didn't we make this a union issue? We let all working-class people down when we did not continue the fight for single-payer. We abdicated leadership and organizing when we did not make the fight for a $15 minimum wage and a union a grassroots fight owned by the people and linked to other bread-and-butter demands. We will miss the boat again if we do not support the Movement For Black Lives program, the strikes likely to happen in 2017 and turning every protest into part of long-term organizing strategy. We will have a repeat performance of 2016 in 2020 if we don’t have an inside/outside strategy for moving the Democrats. Most of the mistakes we made over the past eight years benefited the ultraleft by creating a political vacuum and helped conservative Democrats by giving them a pass. Each mistake has had its pragmatic justification, its misused quote from Lenin to back it up, its repetition of old left-wing arguments and its predictable outcomes. This is what we get for abandoning Marxism as a science and a practice.

If you’re not good with all of these fights, or if you have your own bucket list, get busy joining or building a united front from below and making practical cooperation around key issues real.

If you're going to criticize Sanders and his movement for downplaying racism and not fully understanding the dynamics of racism, then support him when he supports Standing Rock and use that to broaden the conversation with his movement. If you're going to criticize Cornel West for supposed "ultraleftism," then also give him credit for his nuanced view of the Democratic party and the way he advances his disagreements with Sanders. If you're going to criticize the Greens for their rejection of united front tactics, support the recount struggle as a means for them growing past sectarianism. If you're going to criticize the Communist Party for not having a program beyond cautiously supporting some Democrats, remember the great history of Communist organizing in the U.S. and use that tradition to carry radical ideas forward. If the Democratic Socialists of America seems too tame for you, understand that DSA is best-positioned to grow now. The criticisms are all valid today, but most will not be valid tomorrow.

In order to help myself process what’s going on I am making columns to help me think things through. In the positive column I place the Movement For Black Lives and the white people organizing to support it, the Democratic Socialists of America, The People’s Tribune, Freedom Road, Philly Socialists, the Greens pushing for the recount, the people uniting behind the Standing Rock resistance, Mark Rudd’s long-term focus, the UE and CWA as two of perhaps a half dozen honest unions fighting back, FRSO's advanced analysis, the thoughtful analysis from Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Bob Wing, and Rising Tide. Among these groups and efforts are opportunities to learn or relearn how to talk to people and organize around things which matter. In a middle column I’m placing folks who say they want a united front but lead off with criticism which undermines principled unity. In the negative column I’m placing the folks who are running away from class analysis, just discovering intersectionality, posing class and race as necessarily contentious identities, the folks short-circuiting class organizing, the “left populists” who cling to privilege and those who have a history of demobilizing people. This is not about legacy or political tradition; it is all about who is doing the necessary serve-the-people and organizing work. And I know that negatives can become positives and positives can become negatives over time. I don't expect everyone to stay in my columns and I do expect my views to evolve.

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