Which way forward for the left

There is a lively discussion in left progressive circles about the response to the tax (and unemployment insurance) extension compromise, and where to go after the midterm election set back.  Left and progressive activists and voters have played a very important role in the fight against the extreme right-wing.  I think most left people understand that the main danger to democracy and progress is coming from the extreme right, GOP/tea party and their powerful corporate backers.

The Communist Party will not agree with our liberal allies at every turn, but we keep pushing for unity, we keep working to find the tactics that keep a broad labor and people's coalition, that keeps the movement for change going.   

In my view, too many people are arguing that the compromise tax bill "is the last straw" and "I'm through with Obama."  This view singles out the tax breaks for the rich and largely ignores the concessions the GOP had to make to the working class. The fact is if the bill had been dumped it would have meant several million workers would go from low income to no income.  Taxes would have gone up for working people.  

And Republicans would still do their thing in the next Congress only with new powers.  

I completely agree that it is wrong to continue tax breaks for billionaires.  It's like rewarding the crooks for their crimes. But that is not the whole picture.  

In my opinion, a winning strategy has to be based on the real world; on the facts, not on subjective feelings that we all understandably have at this point.  Serious change  makers should not let those feelings be the sole guide as to how to move forward.  If  we want to win more economic and democratic rights for working people, minorities, women, young people, etc., it is self defeating to use this tax compromise difference to "break" with Obama. (I have to add that there are some voices who advocate a "break" that were never "with" the coalition to elect Obama in the first place.)

The stakes for our country and world are too high for any break -- or left/progressive go it alone -- tactics.  Theories that promote "the worst things get, the better the opportunity for progressive change" are too simplistic and one dimensional.  The problem is more complicated then that.  

The economic crisis is deep, and millions of working people are suffering.  The facts are that the Republicans policies deepened the crisis yet, they made the greatest gains in the last election.

The times we live in call for a strategy and tactics that will bring victories; victories that can be built on. Victories that will better conditions of life not create more suffering.  Working and racially oppressed people have suffered enough.

Everybody understands that running an election and running a country are different.  It is my view that the Obama administration policies and legislative victories have helped tens of millions of working families -- perhaps more then any president in living memory -- considering the short time and the challenges he faced in office.  Much more needs to be done but this struggle is a marathon not a sprint.

Communists say that even though we are not in agreement with the president on many basic issues, he implemented many of his campaign promises. Progressive researchers who track that sort of thing give him pretty good marks.   

A significant problem that the president and others had to grapple with was while the Democrats had a majority in both houses of Congress, they did not have a big enough majority in the Senate to stop the filibuster. And on many questions Democratic members of Congress were not united enough to win. It was a fragile coalition to say the least.  

The first woman speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and the progressive Democratic leadership did a heroic job from 2006-2010. They passed 290 pieces of legislation in the House that the U.S. Senate never acted on, everything from a clean energy bill to the DREAM Act.   
The right-wing opposition to these bills and Obama policies have been unrelenting, unprincipled, well financed and well organized.

In my time, I have never seen a sitting president subjected to such an unrelenting, personal attacks. The level of racism and red-baiting, including violent threats, has been unprecedented.  

What does it achieve when some on the left join in with the right wing, proclaiming Obama a liar who had deceived the voters; and worst of all that he was no different than Bush.

Tell that to all those workers who were able to put food on the table and keep their jobs and homes because of legislation proposed and passed by Obama and the Democrats in the Congress.

If it were the case -- i.e. Obama is Bush, etc. -- how do we explain those right-wing billionaires who finance so-called tea party and other anti-Obama movements.  To these Bush supporters, Obama was the devil incarnate.

Some on the left saw any compromise with the right as "being too soft" rather then what was often a reflection of the real balance of power between the more lock step Republicans and divided Democrats.  

I think Obama could have fought harder on many instances, but I also think when the racism was pouring down like acid rain polluting the atmosphere, and staining the political and moral fabric of the nation, the left was amazingly unresponsive.  Too many times I heard people say it was Obama's fault for not fighting back.  But the movement could have fought back.  Blaming Obama makes it seem that the attacks are acceptable. Is that a principled position? For me, it's a form of capitulation to the extreme right and racism.

It's important to note, if the results had been more positive on November 2, the movement would be discussing taking the political offensive to help working people survive this horrible crisis by creating new, green jobs, ending the wars and attacks on immigrants.  

The right-wing racist attack did more than mobilize their base, it also demoralized and demobilized Democratic voters. Some Democratic and progressive voters went from a messianic view of Obama to demonizing him. Neither are the right assessments to make.  

For progressives, adopting an anti-Obama strategy is totally self-defeating.  How do we distinguish ourselves from Sen. Mitch McConnell's  and the  Republicans' main goal of bringing down Obama?  

2012 has to be part of any strategic and tactical thinking after these midterm elections. The next president will either be Obama or some right wing Republican.  That's the reality for now.  If the Republicans take control of all three branches of government -- again -- that will put the great majority of people on the defensive in the fight for economic and democratic rights. To not see that is a gross miscalculation of the right danger.  
I think the most explosive issue is jobs and related economic crises -- like evictions -- facing working people. This will not be a easy time for the broad left/center coalition that brought the victory in 2006 and 2008.  

One thing is clear to me, this fight cannot be won by making Obama the enemy.  Those who are looking for a third party candidate on the left certainly have a right to do that, but it's not the path to victory at this stage.

The path to victory is in the critical fight for jobs and related issues.  It's clear that the crisis of massive joblessness is not going to be solved in the halls of Congress and the White House alone.  We need a united visible movement of the jobless to make it happen.

There needs to be a two year offensive for jobs through public works.  In every city, state and town across the country we need to raise the demand.

Martin Luther King holiday weekend is an ideal occasion to kick off what should be a two year campaign all across the country.  

King struggled for peace, jobs and freedom.  The issue of jobs is not just an economic issue but a moral one, too.  It can be linked to other issues including child welfare, poverty, immigrant rights, education, racial and gender equality, military spending and housing crisis.    

Such a broad, grassroots movement will give real momentum to and build multi-racial unity for the 2012 elections.  Franklin Roosevelt needed social movements to deliver the New Deal, and today, so does Obama.


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  • I agree with Jarvis Tyner that the anti-Obama approach is no way to go forward. Science teaches that we must halt the reactionary momentum before we can change direction. Likening Barack Obama to George Bush II only gives cover to our real opponents and undermines the coalition-building so necessary to defend against attacks on Social Security, Medicare, etc.

    I would like to point out, however, that there were White House staffers such as Robert Gibbs, who alienated voters and activists. They deliberately misrepresented Leftist conduct and the Left’s criticism of the Obama administration, made insulting remarks about Labor and the Left, and allowed the media to perpetuate the hype that President Obama and the Democrats must move to the right in order to win back independent voters.

    Democratic Party losses are attributable to the downturn in GOTV enthusiasm. While this may be partially due to the misdirected anger that Tyner cites in his editorial, I would mention herein two additional sources which led to the set back. Firstly -- in the eyes of the public, the White House inner circle appeared to be preoccupied with accommodating the boys in the back room rather than communicating a coherent message. Secondly -- the United States Senate was and is presently occupied by aristocrats who have made a science out of thwarting the will of the people.

    I heard the following complaints repeatedly from fellow workers and activists:

    “I’m not blaming President Obama for failing to deliver on every campaign promise. I expected him to use his office more openly and aggressively on our behalf. This did not happen.”

    “It’s not fair that one guy in the Senate can stop the majority!”

    I will temper the aforementioned by stating that I still agree, like Jarvis Tyner, that assigning blame from without is no substitute for promoting unity from within the broad peoples’ movement. Let’s all concentrate on fixing what’s broken and take care to welcome everyone who wants to lend a hand.

    Tim Mills
    UAW Member

    Posted by Tim Mills, 01/09/2011 11:14am (5 years ago)

  • Mr. Tyner, I understand where you are coming from, but you said it all when you stated that for many, the tax compromise was "the last straw". Note: not the "first straw". All too often, we have seen Mr. Obama capitulate before the fight has even started, throwing in the towel on the "public option", for example, before the first punch was even thrown. And saving his verbal vitriol not for his enemies on the right but for his supporters on the progressive left, i.e. those of us who worked hardest to get him elected by working the phonebanks and knocking on doors. And what about the Obama foreign policy--ramping up the war in Afghanistan instead of pulling out, while claiming to be pulling out of Iraq while leaving 50,000 troops and countless mercenaries behind? And what about his claim to have the power to declare US citizens "terrorists" and order their assassinations without any kind of due process? And what about the prosecution/persecution of anti-war groups as "aiding terrorism"? I don't remember even George W. Bush going that far! And, Mr. Tyner, as to your claim that the left was "unresponsive" to the racism pouring forth from the right, that is pure B.S. We were screaming our heads off, and the "Tea Party" was highly offended at our accusations! Where were you at? In conclusion, I won't abandon the administration, but I don't have much "hope" or expectations from it. I believe that it is time to take to the streets to protest the injustices perpetrated by both arms of the "capitalist party"--the Republicans and the Democrats!

    Posted by John Whiskey, 01/03/2011 6:34pm (5 years ago)

  • EVERYthing's racism. i'm so sick of this card being played all the time. it has nothing to do with the fact that our freedoms, even the freedom you have to write an absurd article like this one, are being taken away more and more every day, right?
    and you know, the problem isn't with the 'working' people. it's with the NON-working people who are living off of the working people and are contributing NOTHING to this country's economy, production, or anything else to make it strong, proud, and self-sufficient as it has been in the past.
    you want the government to produce more jobs. and how are they going to pay the 'worker's' when they create them? more taxes? well, you can't have more taxes is someone isn't out there WORKING to make PRIVATE money to pay taxes. it makes no sense. you can't have the government provide everything if there is no private sector to create those provisions.
    if the millionaires and billionaires don't have the money to keep jobs going, then there are no taxes. yes, you could have a sizeable tax (one time? since income can only be taxed once) from these people, but then what? when that money's gone and they haven't been able to keep private companies operating (to create more jobs and CONTINUED taxing) because they have no more money to operate them, how is the government going to pay for these 'workers' then? print more money on worthless paper with nothing to back it? you know, like the 'greenbacks' we have today that have no true value because they aren't backed by silver or gold as the old 'silver certificates' were.
    and if China decides to call in our debt to them, well, you'll get your communism then. but i'm thinking that speaking Chinese isn't quite what you had in mind.
    its a huge circle of complicated economics and consequences(by your own admission in this article) to simplistically say that the 'right' is totally wrong. you ARE correct that the left can't do it alone, so why alienate the very people you think you are trying to help? and, have you forgotten, that the democratic Congress are the people who have created the majority of the laws in now place that you are trying to overcome?
    i challenge you to quit blaming the 'right' and be realistic. look at the hard core facts and not simple opinion. look at the bigger picture of WHY people are tired of the rhetoric coming out of Obama's mouth and why public opinions of him and the 'left' have been so drastically changed. you just might find something other than 'racism' there.

    Posted by Gene, 01/03/2011 4:40pm (5 years ago)

  • "However, I have gotten more and more alienated from the party's current message that the Republican Party is "the enemy." There is no longer any effort at all to connect to who the ACTUAL enemy is---the corporate/capitalist class! "
    BruceB: Republicans and corporate capitalists are two parts of the same enemy, are they not? Who pays for the ads to get so many Republicans elected? Who votes for deregulation of business and finance?
    The corporate capitalists are engaged in "profit as the only value" capitalism. They have no allegiance to the USA and will not grieve its ruin as they make greater than ever profits.
    Both are responsible for the upward redistribution of wealth and the growing chasm between rich and poor. The middle class is disappearing.
    How would you work to save Americans from the corporate capitalists?

    Posted by forsocialjustice, 12/29/2010 4:34pm (5 years ago)

  • I agree with Bruce Bostick. Little is said about class struggle and the role of the Party in moving from points A to B.

    With regard to the coalition that elected Obama and the difficulty in maintaining the level of organization that elected Obama, there are two things we forget:

    1. Those who hit the streets for and contributed to the primary and election campaigns viewed the coalition (I think incorrectly) as Obama's coalition. Therefore, they expected Obama and the Democratic Party to maintain the coalition. This did not happen and the Party and other left forces should not have banked on it.

    2. The formation created by the Democratic Party was Organizing for America (OFA), a form strictly setup to support the Obama agenda. It had no interest in hearing from the bottom up and therefore could not fulfill the role of pushing a progressive peoples' agenda. The Democratic Party, being one arm of capital (all be it a bit more liberal) had no interest in organizing or maintaining a mass movement.

    We need an analysis of what is necessary to break the electoral cycle we are in, years of the right then years of the less right. We need a class analysis of the election results which would include the role of the Democratic Party in aiding and abetting the Republicans. It was the Democratic Party that declared before the summer that it would not deal with any substantive legislation during the election cycle. This perhaps lead to the need for Obama to "compromise" on the tax issue. If Congress and Obama had acted in spring, the results would have been easy to swallow.

    We need the Party to state clear positions on ending two wars, reducing the military budget, affirmative action, creating jobs, reducing the work week, improving social security, single payer health care insurance, debunking the deficit hawks, and socialism.

    Posted by David Bell, 12/29/2010 3:55pm (5 years ago)

  • We cannot wait for crumbs from the Democratic party. Only local mass movements and building to a national movement will change anything. We also must push Obama to the left and reconnect with those who got him there. I find it curious that he is vehement in attacking his base as the professional left while trying to placate the right wing. Hopefully he has leaned that now matter what he does he will be hated by the right and race plays a major role

    Posted by Harvey Smith, 12/29/2010 1:58pm (5 years ago)

  • There is only one way forward for the Left. Disband all existing Left groups. Then, reform into ONE organization, under WORKING CLASS LEADERSHIP!

    Posted by Lincoln, 12/29/2010 1:11pm (5 years ago)

  • The argument is not where we want to go but how to get there. Jarvis' understanding of the class situation today, and the way forward, is impeccable.

    We mustn't get carried away with abstractions.
    --jim lane

    Posted by Jim Lane, 12/29/2010 1:03pm (5 years ago)

  • Thank you !

    Posted by wynne, 12/29/2010 12:33pm (5 years ago)

  • Thanks to all those who sent in their comments.

    I appreciate the issue of Social Security and deduction, the 99ers and other tax issues harmful to working people contained in the compromise. Going forward however, I do not think all is lost on those issues.

    My point is, to make Obama the main enemy is not a winning strategy. I did not say you
    can’t criticize the president and we clearly do not agree with some basic aspect of his policies and have said so.

    Obama’s policies however are not the same or just as bad as Bush’s. To say they are, I think, is inaccurate and very short-sighted. Obama’s politics tend to move in a progressive direction and are far more democratic then his opposition on the right, of course. At the same time his politics are in motion and in development and a stronger movement will make a stronger Obama and vice versa. Obama supports capitalism but his vision of democracy and change is in sharp conflict with Bush and the neo-cons. Obama is not anti-imperialist but his foreign policy moves towards more peaceful resolution rather then perpetual war. The right wing is so hysterical in their opposition to Obama for a reason. They see him as opposed to the kind of capitalism and world view that has given them such phenomenal wealth and power.

    Obama’s election opened the doors to new possibilities for change. These were doors that
    were locked under Bush. The fact that he is the first African American president, who is more liberal and more of a reformer then most Democratic presidents, is a big part of why democratic masses have greater expectations and see new possibilities if one recognizes the huge role that race and racism has played in blocking all progress.

    Frederick Douglass worked with Lincoln, John L. Lewis worked with Roosevelt, Martin L. King worked with Kennedy. These great leaders did not allow the imperfections of powerful allies to stand in the way of advancing the people’s interest.

    The main challenge before the democratic forces is 2012. (And we don’t have much time). The extreme right has the resources and the energy to retake the White House and more in 2012. They can be defeated but not if the democratic forces are divided and left forces adopt anything resembling an anti-Obama approach.

    The center needs the left but the left also needs the center.

    We cannot win this historic challenge without a winning Obama candidacy. The left is not for going back to another Bush in the White House for another 4-8-16 years of neo-con/tea party policies, and that could be the alternative if Obama loses. That is unacceptable.

    On the other hand an Obama administration in a second term will gives the people's movement even more space to make advances.

    The organization of a larger and more active unemployed movement initiated by labor, civil rights and religious forces will give a real lift to the struggle against the right for the next two years and beyond.

    Obama still has huge support in the country especially among African Americans, Latinos, labor and other key forces. I am not saying that you can’t criticize him but in order to build or rebuild the broad left-center coalition that gave us the 2006 and 2008 historic defeats of the right, the main emphasis has to be on the unity of action of the democratic forces.

    Posted by Jarvis Tyner, 12/29/2010 8:51am (5 years ago)

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