"Bourgeois politics" and the mature left

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Below is a section of the keynote to the Communist Party USA 30th National Convention, June 13-15, 2014, delivered on the convention's opening day by outgoing National Chair Sam Webb. The newly elected national chair is John Bachtell, who previously served as Illinois organizer for the party.

This article discusses one of six challenges for the party and progressive movement. (See previous articles here, here and here.) We will feature other sections in the coming weeks.

Challenge 4: The elections and the struggle for political independence

An immediate challenge for anybody who cares about the future of our democracy is the elections this fall. Their outcome probably won't shift the political terrain in a deep-going way, but that doesn't take away from their importance.

Whichever side wins will have the wind in its sails over the final two years of the Obama presidency and a leg up going into the 2016 presidential race.

If the Republicans capture control of the Senate, while retaining control of the House, they will claim that the American people have unambiguously rejected the president and his policies of "redistributive" economics, government "overreach," and a supersized "nanny state."

On this ground they will press their reactionary agenda to the max. They will block the president at every turn as well as ramp up their efforts to portray him as incompetent, a voice of "takers and freeloaders," and a weakling in the global theater. Nothing new here, except that they will pursue this smear campaign with more vigor.

This zealousness of the Republican opposition goes beyond the "normal" give and take of politics and heated partisanship, even beyond their zeal to beat the Democrats in the 2016 elections. What it reveals is a barely concealed and deeply felt racist animus toward a Black president who in their eyes symbolizes the imminent demise of the old order that is white, male, and well-to-do.

As fixated as they are on Obama, they are by equal measure indifferent to the plight of tens of millions struggling to survive.

Thus the stakes are tremendously high. And it goes without saying that we should be in this battle; no one should sit on the bench.

This is PLAYOFF TIME!

Now granted, it won't be a cakewalk.

But who ever said the road to freedom would be easy or smooth? Who ever said, for example, that it would be easy to elect the first African American president? None of us, I bet; and most other people shared our view. But life and struggle and a Yes We Can attitude combined to break new ground and make history.

Can we surprise the pundits again and give the Republicans a good thrashing in November? Se puede?

We got the right spirit, but we (and the larger people's movement) have to combine this spirit with two other things, if we are to win in November.

First, good talking points that will convince people that their vote counts and that the right wing can be defeated this fall.

The other thing is a massive voter registration, protect the vote, get out the vote campaign.

If this is done - and I think it can be - then lots of talking heads that predicted a Republican victory will have to eat their words.

Now some left and progressive people minimize the importance of this election - in part because they don't share our concern about the right-wing danger and in part because they feel that the Democratic Party is no great shakes either.

I'm mindful of the fact that the Democratic Party has a class anchorage, and it ain't working class. Despite the broad range of people and organizations that comprise it, not everyone has an equal seat at the table.

But I'm also mindful that any realistic strategy to defeat the right, thereby creating opportunities to move to higher ground, necessarily includes the Democratic Party as part of a growing people's coalition at this stage of struggle.

So how do we square this circle? I'm not sure if I can do it completely, but here are some brief thoughts:

An independent labor-people's based party able to compete with the two main parties doesn't exist now, nor is it on the horizon. And while there is disaffection within the Democratic Party, nearly nobody in the Democratic Party is ready to say "See ya later." What they are ready to do is to fight with the party's leaders and Wall Street over policy and political direction.

So if a third party isn't on the agenda for now, and if there are substantial numbers of people and organizations ready to fight within the Democratic Party over policy and directions, what does the left do in the meantime? Hope the Democratic Party will do right by us? Not at all!

Three interrelated tasks come to mind. One is to continue to build the broadest and deepest (grassroots) coalition, including the Dems, against the right wing in this fall's elections and beyond.

Another is give new urgency to extending and deepening the streams of political independence - both inside and outside the orbit of the Democratic Party - and to press a progressive agenda.

Finally, we need to keep in the conversation at lower volume the need for an alternative people's party at the national level that has the capacity to compete with the two major parties of capitalism.

Will there be tensions in executing this layered policy? Of course! How could there not be? But we will learn how to negotiate these tensions. And we will do it without fracturing the still developing multi-class coalition against right-wing extremism.

I mention this because some on the left - even in our own party - are ready, if not to vacate, then at least to dial down on the struggle to defeat right-wing extremism. In their view, the strategy has come up empty; the two parties are two peas in a pod; the democratic - legislative and electoral - process has become completely compromised and corrupted, thanks in part to Citizens United and other Supreme Court decisions. The real action, many now say, is at the state and city level.

And then a few on the sectarian left go a step further, claiming that the effort to defeat right-wing extremists is a retreat from the real class struggle.

None of these claims hold up in the court of life. In the first place, this strategy has stymied the right wing's most extreme plans to restructure political, economic, and cultural relations in a deep-going, permanent, and thoroughly reactionary way. No small achievement; in fact, an enormous achievement!

Second, victories - some of great import, some garnering fewer headlines - have been won. And these victories have made a difference in the lives of tens of millions.

Third, the emerging movement against the right doesn't yet have transformative capacity, but it's closer to it today than a few years ago.

Fourth, there is no other way - and certainly no easy way - at this stage of struggle to get to a future that puts people and nature before profits other than to battle and defeat right-wing extremism.

I wish this stage of struggle could be skipped in favor of something sexier, but it can't. Political possibilities at every level are and will be limited as long as the right wing casts a long shadow over the nation's politics. Islands of socialism, and even progressivism, in a sea in which the right wing makes big waves are a figment of a fertile but unrealistic imagination.

Finally, the struggle against the right is a form of the class struggle. In fact, it's the leading edge of the class (and democratic) struggle at this moment. Only someone with a dogmatic cast of mind would think otherwise. Struggle, class and otherwise, never comes in pure form.

That said, we shouldn't minimize the difficulties, nor conceal the class nature of the two-party system, nor give the Democrats a free pass, but at the same time we shouldn't suggest in the slightest way that the electoral/legislative struggle in present circumstances is a fool's errand. Such a position feels self-satisfying and has a radical ring to it, but in the end it's the real fool's errand. Frustration - and we all feel it now and then - can't be a substitute for informed and sober politics.

Or to paraphrase Engels: impatience is a poor substitute for theory.

In the 20th century two transformative movements uprooted deeply structured modes of political and economic governance - one an unregulated, crisis-ridden capitalism in the 1930s and the other a massive, many-layered, and deeply racist system, sanctioned by law, custom, and violence in the 1960s.

Neither one of these transformative movements, however, boycotted or stood apart from the electoral and legislative process. They were engaged in a very practical way in "bourgeois politics," but that didn't weaken their cause, in fact it was part of the explanation for their historic victories. A mature party and left will not discount these experiences.

Photo: "I voted." Micki Krimmel CC

 

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