Defend the democratic coalition

The broad democratic coalition that elected Barack Obama faces sharp attack from the ultra-right as well as from some on the left and it is critical for progressives to come to its defense.

This coalition is multi-class and is basically an alliance of two constituent groupings. The first comprises the people's forces led by organized labor and includes racially oppressed communities, youth, women, and many progressive organizations and movements fighting for peace, environmental protection and social justice. The members of this grouping have their own programs which are generally in advance of the platform and program of the Obama administration and while this grouping was critical, in no way was it able to elect Obama on its own. It needed the organization, resources and standing of the corporate liberals and moderates who lead the Democratic Party.

There are obvious conflicts and contradictions between the two groups but there was agreement on one thing - the need to defeat the Republicans and end the 30-year nightmare of increasingly right-wing government and assault on the living standards and rights of working people, as well as its reckless foreign policy. The success of this alliance produced an additional democratic breakthrough of profound historic importance - the election of our country's first African American president, whose roots and sympathies are with the people's forces.

The election was a serious setback for the dominant right-wing section of the U.S. ruling class but, as has become clear over the past year, did not in any way represent their fundamental defeat. Even with the loss of the White House and from a minority position in Congress, the right has been able to block significant progress on every front, especially the economic crisis and health care.

After being in power for decades, the right-wing is deeply entrenched, not only in elected branches of government, but also in the courts, the military, the intelligence community, the media, the churches, the think tanks, etc. They do not recognize Obama's presidency and are determined to make his government fail. They see this as their only hope of returning to power and continuing to push the country in a fascist direction.

With total control over the Republican Party their tactics have become clear. They seek in lockstep to block the normal functioning of the national government even on routine appointments or on measures that they themselves endorsed. They obviously cannot propound their real program of maximizing corporate profits and power, slashing living standards, pursuing aggressive war and restricting democratic rights. They seek to block progress on the economic crisis and through their various media and ideological outlets use racism and anti-communism to incite fear and prejudice and build a phony populist grassroots movement.

The success of their efforts was demonstrated by the special election in Massachusetts, which serves as a warning of the danger of serious setbacks in the 2010 mid-term elections. The initiative of the AFL-CIO to build a mass movement for jobs is of utmost importance in and of itself but also in creating a political climate to counter this danger. It is urgent for progressives to build this movement as well as work directly in the electoral arena to hold the line. The fact is, despite their frantic efforts, the right has been weakened, and it is possible to make gains both legislatively and electorally.

This is all the more reason why it is necessary to answer the divisive actions of those on the left who seek to focus and divert the anger of progressives into a sharp attack on the Democrats and the Obama administration.

This does not mean we cannot criticize Obama and the Democrats. The expansion of the war in Afghanistan cannot be justified, nor can Obama's support for charter schools or the futile attempts to appease and cooperate with the Republicans. These are all reflections of the influence of the corporate forces inside the administration.

Labor and its allies have no intention to stop pushing for action that goes beyond the limited programs offered so far to deal with health care and unemployment. But the leaders of the people's forces understand that criticism of a coalition partner is not the same as criticism of the main enemy and cannot be conducted in an irresponsible way that feeds the phony populism of the ultra-right and threatens the survival of the coalition. Support for Obama is not unconditional, but until the ultra-right danger is ended or until labor and its allies have another way to take power, the coalition is essential.

Resistance to the ultra-right section of the U.S. ruling class is not simply a short-term policy aimed at immediate relief for working people. It is that, but it is part of a much deeper project to significantly weaken monopoly capital and shift power into the hands of the people. In fact, the ultra-right is so deeply entrenched that dislodging it may have revolutionary implications. A liberal democratic government may be incapable of the task and the fight could result in labor and its allies becoming dominant.

But until that happens there is no alternative to the democratic coalition.

There are many echoes of the current situation in the history of the New Deal. During the first Roosevelt administration the attitude of the left was sectarian and equated the Democrats and Republicans. In the second administration beginning in 1936, the Socialist Party continued the sectarian line, joined with the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party and disappeared as a force in U.S. politics. The Communist Party, on the other hand, adopted the broad democratic coalition policy, immersed itself in the mass movement to organize industrial workers and the building of broad alliances against fascism among youth, cultural workers and in the nationalities movement. The influence and size of the CP grew to its greatest degree in U.S. history and the right has spent 70 years trying to uproot the popular gains that were made. Battered but unbowed, organized labor, Social Security, unemployment compensation, a progressive income tax, civil rights and democracy itself have survived.

Progressives need to relearn the rich lessons of that experience and defend the democratic coalition.


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  • robert reich a , "corporate liberal."?~! HEH. that word from New Left historiography does not pertain to a Reich who is a social democrat for crying out loud. Corporate Liberals doo not write pieces in the american prospect and dissent, which are two fora of reich.

    Posted by michael pugliese, 03/11/2010 9:34pm (6 years ago)

  • I say re-read "Towards A Soviet America, " by William Z. Foster, a full throated attack on the , "social fascists, " in the S.P. Now that is a legacy for the CPUSA to be proud of, eh?!

    Posted by michael pugliese, 03/11/2010 9:31pm (6 years ago)

  • Will the CPUSA ever be able to type Trotskyist not the derisive term , "Trotskyites."? Some in the S.P. continued to attack the New Deal from the Left. Others in the S,P. worked with the New Deal. To the point of becoming quite uncritical of it.

    Posted by michael pugliese, 03/11/2010 9:28pm (6 years ago)

  • I struggle with the position that Rick Nagin takes here.
    Yet, I understand it. I do, however, feel that the CP could be more outspoken against many of Obama's positions, given that he deserves to hear principled & informed comment from the Left, a constituency that's been vital to his political career. He's not hearing much, if any, from mainstream liberals.

    Posted by Cord, 03/11/2010 6:02pm (6 years ago)

  • The coalition must remain strong, along with support from Communist actors (where appropriate), until the Republican Party becomes largely irrelevant. Splitting too early will result in the resurgence of right-wing ideology, and more of the same.

    Socialism is something that must be built.

    Further, while socialism might only be in the planning stage thusfar, the chance to promote it is ripe. Marxist analysis provides us with some of the best ways to "re-frame" debates over things currently being fought for in politics.

    The trick is to know where the fight is now, and meet it with relevant analysis. I believe Mr. Nagin's article does just that.

    Posted by Jean Paul Holmes, 03/11/2010 4:24pm (6 years ago)

  • I agree wholeheartedly with this column by Rick Nagin. The problem he deals with is going to exist to one degree or another as long as capitalism remains our economic system. It's the old question of the united front opposed to ultra-leftism.
    Today's foremost example of the schism between these two forces is the battle for health care reform — not the only example, but the one that's on the front burner right now.
    No democratic (small d) person should dispute the preferablility — revolutionary, actually — of having a public option competing with the rapacious health care industry. But while we still fight for that — since single payer doesn't seem to be on the immediate horizon — we should not choose to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
    In short, to underscore the correctness of Nagin's argument, defeat for a health care bill — with all its shortcomings — would be devastating for the D(d)emocratic coalition that Nagin speaks of. And that would be devastating for Obama and the country.
    We must ask ourselves: Would that scenario advance or set back the left and liberal forces in our country?

    Posted by Seymour Joseph, 03/11/2010 3:09pm (6 years ago)


    Posted by LABORPEACE, 03/10/2010 1:54pm (6 years ago)

  • I do know the history, which you can read yourself in "The Communist Party of the United States -- From the Depression to World War II" by Fraser Ottanelli, Rutgers University Press, 1991. Yes, Browder ran for President in 1936, but made the Republicans the main focus of attack and the Party was given the green light to work for Roosevelt. Wealthy Republicans offered Browder $250,000 to withdraw and endorse FDR, but he refused. I didn't attack the Socialist Party. I stated the historic fact that they refused to unite with the CP against the ultra-right and preferred to merge with the Trotskyites and attack FDR and the New Deal. I agree that the movement for the CIO and against fascism, in which the Party played a critical role, was key to making it possible for the New Deal to have the progressive character it had. It was essential to have both the movement and FDR, just as today it is essential to have both Obama and a mass movement (which we do not yet have).

    Posted by Rick Nagin, 03/05/2010 6:11pm (6 years ago)

  • You left out the fact that candidates ran under the CP banner in the "New Deal" era. You forgot to mention that Foster ran against FDR in 1932. Also in 1936 Earl Browder ran for president while FDR was an incumbent(it makes me laugh that you attack the SPUSA while totally forgetting this fact). Also the movement forced FDR in a progressive direction. FDR was not a leader of this movement. I agree we need to learn from our history. It would be nice if you actually new your history.

    Posted by redone, 03/05/2010 3:30pm (6 years ago)

  • Robert Reich and corporate liberals generally see no role for the people. When he writes: "Anyone with an ounce of sanity understands government is the only effective countervailing force against the forces that got us into this mess," he forgets that the only times when significant reforms were won in American history -- the 1930's and the 1960's -- was when there was a huge mass movement that could make it possible for progressive tendencies in office to prevail. The task of progressives today is not to be spectators and detached critics but to build that movement and dislodge the corporate influence. As Marx said: "The weapon of criticism is nothing compared with the criticism of weapons."

    Posted by Rick Nagin, 03/05/2010 9:18am (6 years ago)

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