There is, in America, a potentially powerful, but presently only nascent (if even that), force for positive change. I submit that if that force is not unleashed in the coming months, there is no hope for reversing a catastrophic path toward what will be the final world war. The political terrain is now littered with explosive devices and our government,
, carries around the ignition engines, just looking for an opportunity to push the little buttons.
That force is the American political Left. At present, though, it's just a sleeping giant. What will it take to wake it up, feed it, and unleash its power to drive positive change?
mean the so-called "progressive" or "liberal" wing of the Democratic Party. There are indeed several members of Congress, such as Barbara Lee, Dennis Kucinich, and John Conyers, who take a decidedly leftist position. For the most part, however, those who now call themselves "progressive" are really classical, middle-of-the-road politicians who have consistently supported the Bush administration's foreign and domestic policies.
Keeping abreast of the new Congress's plans for the upcoming session, it is clear that the Democrats will
take up the issues that the "Hard Left" sees as critical priorities: an immediate exit from Iraq, demilitarization of our society, rescinding the PATRIOT Act, reversing the attack on civil rights, rescinding tax breaks for the richest citizens and corporations, and impeaching Bush and Cheney.
In my opinion, it should be clear to those on the Left that spending
the past two years hoping to reform the Democratic Party from within
was a waste of time. To hope that it will just take more time (two more
years? four? ten?) is a mistake, because we don't have more time
I submit that if we do not form a vital and vibrant third-party
alternative, with a known and attractive presidential/vice-presidential
ticket and strong candidates for Congress, in the next two years, we
will be beyond the brink.
Rather than moving an inch or so leftward as the result of a slim
Democratic Party majority, the Bush administration will spend the next
two years escalating their efforts to forward their agenda. How can we
think otherwise? Bush/Cheney have shown just in the past two weeks that
they are prepared to ignore any resistance, even from the military
leadership. The commander of the war in Iraq, General Abizaid, who has
supported Bush unequivocally until recently, has just resigned because
he can not influence the President to take a more prudent course.
Insiders in Washington report that a thorough shake-up in the military
command structure is imminent. And rather than withdrawing troops, the
government, with Democratic Party collusion
is about to send thousands more troops into harm's way, as well as
growing the arms services with the possible reinstitution of a military
At the same time, there is much evidence that the government may soon
take even more disastrous military measures in the Middle East,
possibly including nuclear strikes.
In order to pull all of this off, I predict that the administration is
prepared to pull out all the stops for a domestic counteroffensive
against what will surely be a growing protest and resistance. The
technology to do this is pervasively in place and we cannot ignore the
fact that "detention camps" are
being built as you read this. This administration has already proven
that they will not countenance any effective opposition to achieving
So I ask, "What will it take?
What will it take for the Left to abandon the Democratic Party as an
agent of real change? What will it take for the dozens of leftist
parties, independents, and the unaffiliated and disenfranchised to
organize and unify, negotiating common principles and values? And what
will it take for this movement to educate the people about what is really
because I don't know. In the past, I was a community organizer
affiliated actively with Mobilization for Survival, as well as the
Democratic Socialists, led by the late Michael Harrington. Although the
Left was as much fragmented as it is now, we consistently were able to
find common ground in a sustained effort to have our voices heard
against the Vietnam war and later against the US military and CIA
interventions in Central and South America. We didn't just show up at
the semi-annual marches; we worked hard all the time, bringing
unrelenting pressure against the reactionary forces of the Right.
Somehow, over two decades, that movement has been discredited. In my recent essay
"Just Because It's An Old Idea Doesn't Mean It's A Bad Idea" I wrote
that we seem to have left behind many old ideas simply because they're
old. We have succumbed to fashion, assuming that these old ideas,
principles, and actions won't/don't work anymore.
The Reagan onslaught of the 80s decimated the liberal presence in our
government. I remember several liberal members of congress, notably
Bill Bradley and Pat Schroeder, simply retired. There is, by the way, a
significant body of scholarly work on this issue. Unfortunately it is
in Political Science journals for which you need a membership to read
on-line. When Bill Clinton, a neoliberal centrist, was finally elected,
after twelve years of Reagan and Bush I, the true left was at best
moribund, at worst dead.
In "Name That 'Toon: Why There's No Still No Vital Third Party" (here
which I wrote in late October, I explored briefly (and somewhat
satirically, I might add) the present state of third parties in the US.
Wikipedia lists over sixty third parties
, admitting they probably don't have all of them.
Clearly not all of these parties are lefties. Of those that are, many
are localized, single issue, small, and/or probably so radical that, as
parties, they would be difficult to mobilize. However, if a third party
could actually be generated, it might be able to attract many members
of these parties.
There have, of course, been third-party and independent candidates
in recent elections, Ralph Nader for example. But they have not really
been anything except vehicles for celebrity candidates. And some of
these candidates rely mainly on endorsements by existing third-parties.
In effect, the candidate runs the party, rather than the other way
around, so the party disappears and its allies become once again
invisible as soon as the election is over.
The Left and its many parties does not have a good track record in
organizing. The history of forming a "circular firing squad" is well
known. The effort would have to be very principle, value, and goal
driven. The main obstacle to overcome is the extreme resistance of many
of these parties, mostly on the fringes, to concede some of their
ideology in negotiations for common ground. Frankly, this behavior is
intransigent and, under the present circumstances, very destructive.
Some of these parties have openly and steadfastly held to the line of,
"We'll just wait until all else fails and people see that we're right.
Then people will flock to us." That just ain't gonna happen
Although I'm convinced that this path is the only one which might save
us, I have neither the expectation nor the influence to lead such a
movement. I do, however, have some suggestions:
- people must contact the leaderships of the various parties and groups and encourage them to reach out to other parties
- after some initial negotiations, these parties must meet at a
"summit" at which consensus must be reached as to principles, tactics,
- those parties who currently espouse violence must by all means
reject that. Parties and groups who continue to embrace violence must
- there absolutely must be a spirit of cooperation, flexibility, and some degree of selflessness. Focus on what can be done, rather than what can't
- the movement must be multi-racial and cultural. It must not be exclusive
- the urgency of the situation must be recognized and turned into a powerful force for mobilization
- principles must drive candidates, not the other way around. To
simply endorse Dennis Kucinich or Ralph Nader is defeatist, although
fielding candidates with some name recognition is important. Once
principles are negotiated, appropriate candidates will appear
As I said, I can't make this happen. I'm not sure where to start, other than the suggestions I've just made. Maybe the Meetup
system can be a tool. All I know is that this kind of thing has happened successfully in the past, and must happen now. Saul Alinsky
said, "We must believe that it is the darkest before the dawn of a
beautiful new world. We will see it when we believe it." I say, "Git