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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  • No excuses for Obama. His decisions from day one have been void of any concern for the economic problems of the working class. Yes - he has pushed for the liberal social agenda that does nothing to correct the disaster of the economic system we have.

    Michael Harrington years ago in a speech I heard said the Republicans will run us into a depression immediately (and the depression would have hit in 2008) and the Democrats will do it in slow motion. 100% correct.

    Where can we find the "roots" of much of the capitalist economic mess we have today? ....Bill Clinton.

    IN the end Obama is a corporatist Democrat. The Communist Party needs to organize in communities on the grass roots level....didn't Marx say it took 400 years for Capitalism to develop to that point and how can you expect to get rid of it overnight.....nothing works better than "Educate, Agitate and Organize!"

    Posted by Duckabushwriter, 12/28/2010 2:57pm (5 years ago)

  • Jarvis is correct when he states that Obama is not the enemy. 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!

    We are in a massive crisis of overproduction/underconsumption and the super wealthy ruling class is getting richer and richer, at the expense of working folk, the working class. People are furious, and rightfully so, at policies that are are enriching the wealthiest in our nation while regular folks have their jobs shipped overseas, their pensions stolen, benefits cut, and then told that they need to "sacrifice" to get out of the crisis. In this volitile situation, the party, the left and labor do Obama and the Dems no favors by being mere apologists. During the last great crisis of the '30's, the Communist Party built unemployed councils, organized independent industrial unions, built the party by organizing the people. They supported FDR's positive steps by creating the ground that he could move to. Today, by not building the independent movement of the people, all pressure on Obama comes from the right. The people are left without ideological rudders because nobody is actually fighting for them, showing the people what is at the cause of the crisis.

    If our focus is on the class struggle, on building a movement to fight for the people, then we can create ground for Obama/dems to stand on. Without that, all "solutions" being offered are coming from corporate-ruling class quarters.

    Posted by bruce bostick, 12/27/2010 10:30pm (5 years ago)

  • right on

    Posted by ismael parra, 12/25/2010 1:27am (5 years ago)

  • Correction to my 12/23 comments, it wasn't Betty Smith who expressed concern about the SS provisions, it was Kevin Earl Lynch. In further commentary in Jarvis's article, the goal of political analysis isn't to produce ideas which people agree with, so we can attract them, it is to express things the way we see them, and let the chips fall where they may. It's also not who says it, but is it true It is very popular these days on the left to criticize the President or even to argue against independent political action that is in any way carried out within the Democratic Party, even when doing so as part of a union-based or other organization-based effort. That doesn't make such points of view wise.

    Posted by Michael Dover, 12/24/2010 4:37pm (5 years ago)

  • I agree that extending unemployment benefits was necessary both for the millions of people who remain unemployed or who will become unemployed in the near future. I disagee with extending the tax cuts to the 1% of this nation who own 40% of the wealth and earn 25% of the income. I admit I did not vote for President Obama so I am not in a position to say that any of his actions disappoint me. I believe his actions reflect a sincerely held belief in obtaining some measure of relief for people facing the unemployment crisis. I would have preferred some measure of relief also in the housing crisis caused by historic rates of home foreclosures. Without futher measures to help the housing market the as well as deal with problems of the long-term unemployed, President Obama may very well be a one-term president.

    Posted by Dean Gunderson, 12/24/2010 2:02am (5 years ago)

  • While it is true that we had to extend unemployment benefits, it is also true that there is a lack of revenue to support other necessary services to working class people. Taxes are needed and our states and cities are in deplorable shape in their ability to support education, safety services, and services to families and children in need. Cases of child abuse and neglect can not be investigated. State colleges and universities will soon have tuitions that will be so high that only the wealthy will be able to qualify for higher paying jobs. Our tax structure only expedites the rate at which the United States will enter the realm of third-world countries in the disparity between the small group of wealthy and the rest of the population with steadily diminishing income and quality of life, the have-nots.

    Posted by Judy Botwin, 12/23/2010 9:54pm (5 years ago)

  • I share some of Betty Smith's concerns about the SS provision and couldn't understand why so few on the left were concerned with that part of the compromise. However, there was and is a real danger of a double-dip recession and many progressive economists concluded it was the number one stimulus which could help stave off continued economic doldrums. I ended up supporting the compromise and remembering what Saul Wellman used to say, i.e. that sometimes we have to even demand compromise. It seems to me one lesson of November is the need to re-focus on center/left unity. We need to work hard for progress, including on the SS front. In working to restore the 2%, as the debate continues on SS 'reform' we should take seriously the need to protect the institutional integrity of SS. The idea of another long-term increase in retirement age isn't a bad one but it must be combined with efforts to simultaneously improve SS via ending the waiting period for Medicare after SS disability, building a new national short-term disability program like now exists in five states, and permitting drawing on SS to fund family leave (with payback provisions to prevent a small deduction in the eventual SS amount). We should work to raise the maximum wages/salaries on which FICA contributions are based, but resist efforts to make SS a welfare program rather than a social insurance program. One of the lessons of November is that what is most progressive isn't necessarily what is most left. We have to refocus on center/left unity, work for bipartisan solutions to social programs (hey, how about fully funding President Bush's excellent ideas on homelessness and on community health centers!). And we have to counter the growth of ultra-leftism and anti-Obama thinking on the left. One would think that this would decline given the November results, but contrary to common sense it has increased! The President is way ahead of the left on this; he recognized right away that he needed to govern more from the center and help re-build center/left alliances, but it has taken the left a while to realize this. The President is a liberal pragmatist, but needs the support of progressive pragmatists and the left. Enough verbiage; Jim Williams said it, well, Wise Words Jarvis!

    Posted by Mike Dover, 12/23/2010 5:58pm (5 years ago)

  • At first, I was concerned in ways similar to Betty Smith about the SS provisions, and I was shocked how few on the left were concerned about that as opposed to the other aspects of the compromise. I am remain concerned that the administration doesn't fully understand the centrality of social insurance, and that while it is based upon flat rate taxes it is progessive in many ways, not just because of the redistributive provisions of its benefit structure but because of the institutionalized trust in Social Security as a platform which can continue to be improved in years to come. These improvements may well require compromises such as further increases in the full retirement age (the existing increase didn't prove disastrous, did it?). But we should work for improvements at the same time such as closing the waiting period for Medicare when one gets SS Disability, such as national short-term disability, such as drawing on SS to fund family care leaves (at a cost of slightly reduced later benefits). That would be a compromise, too, no? I ended up feeling that the compromise the President made was necessary and I supported it; but we have to be vigilant about restoring the 2% SS contribution, and we need to get ready to fight for both "reform" and "improvement" in SS and Medicare. No increase in full retirement age without improvements in coverage should be the position. Yes, another compromise, but as the late Saul Wellman once pointed out, sometimes progressives should demand compromise! As some of us learned in 2008 electoral work in so-called battleground states, sometimes the progressive position is n-o-t the most "left" position. In fact, some of the so-called "left" criticism of our President is becoming decidedly unprogressive. One could see this coming as early as the Presidential primary, with some "progressives" supporting Obama being more critical than supportive even then. Now, since the election, just when one might think we would realize the if anything we didn't take the center in center/left unity seriously enough as part of the effort to isolate the right, the opposite conclusion has been reached by many of the left! Not taking the need for center/left unity seriously was, it seems to me, one reason for the November results. Since the election, the President has re-emphasized his liberal pragmatism, and the left needs to re-emphasize its progressive pragmatism. The article by Jarvis was, it seems to me, quite realistic and on target. Finally, I do tend to agree with my good friend Jim Williams who called them wise words. I agree! (:}

    Posted by Michael Dover, 12/23/2010 5:32pm (5 years ago)

  • With all respect, Jarvis, you are looking at the glass as being half full. To me it is half empty.

    Even with Obama as president one should not compromise their principles as many leftists have done.

    Posted by detectivetom, 12/23/2010 4:39pm (5 years ago)

  • The main weapon of the Communist Party is, and has always been, our Marxist ideas. Our influence on the movement has always been greater than our numbers. When I joined the Party almost thirty years ago it was because I wanted to be in a working class, socialist movement. I'd been a volunteer for SNCC, a war resister and later a union organizer. Though life experiences I had come to understand that capitalism was the root cause of racism, war and explotation. I didn't join our Party because of our Party's approach to this or that our bourgeois politican, even the better ones.

    Do you think young radicals today will find a reason to join our party today when our press and leaders are so focused on defending the President, even against the progressive wing of the Democratic Party?

    Sadly, anyone attending the One Nation rally or the Detroit Social Forum knows the answer to that question.

    Are we growing and recruiting or gaining influence? To quote my grandmother, the proof is in the puddin'.

    Posted by Les Bayless, 12/23/2010 3:34pm (5 years ago)

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