Event: The Future of the Status Quo – The Left after the Election

by Ben Campbell on December 4, 2012

If you’re in New York City, and you’d like to come to an evening of intelligent debate and discussion about the future of left politics, please swing by NYU on Thursday evening. Oh, and I’ll be speaking too! Since there will be so many razor-sharp Jacobins on the panel, I am looking forward to a sublime evening. My hope was to fill this space with an enticing reflection on the state of the left, but I only have one shtick, and I don’t want to wear it out. Until then, I will point you in the direction of Pham Binh’s recent piece on the post-2012 left, and leave you with the following questions posed by the Platypus Affiliated Society, who tirelessly organize such events. For those not in New York, I’m sure audio/video will eventually wind up here, and if I come out alive I’ll post my remarks (and any others I can get ahold of) for your dissection on this site.

Event page | Facebook page.

The Left after the Election

PANELISTS:

• BEN CAMPBELL (The North Star)
• ANNIE DAY (Revolution)
• ANTHONY GALLUZZO (CUNY)
• CHRIS MAISANO (DSA, Jacobin)
• BHASKAR SUNKARA (Jacobin)

MODERATOR:

• TANA FORRESTER (Platypus Affiliated Society)

Thursday
Dec 6, 2012
7:00-10:00pm
NYU Kimmel Center
60 Washington Square South, rm 804
New York, NY 10011

This past US election season saw an array of positions on the Left concerning the outcome that might follow from either major party’s victory. Among them, there were some who openly supported the incumbent Barack Obama as the lesser of two evils, others who opposed him by casting a vote for another candidate, and still others who followed the abstentionist line by not voting at all. Many of those who voted for “four more years” did so under the assumption that the Democrats were a broadly center-left party with vaguely social-democratic tendencies, who might be pushed to reverse neoliberal policies and stave off measures of austerity. Some, while generally less optimistic, endorsed Obama on the premise that organizing a mass movement against capitalism would be easier with the Democrats in power. Others argued that Obama had done nothing to deserve reelection, offering no hope for either change or progress moving forward. The rest, who took no stance either for or against any party, chose instead to eschew electoral politics altogether.

Now that the quadrennial plebiscite for the “leader of the free world” has resulted in a Democratic victory, we are afforded a brief chance to critically evaluate the prospects for the Left’s transition into the next four years. What is different today from four years ago, when Obama’s election seemed departure from eight years under Bush? Did the last four years signal progress or regress for the Left? How will the terrain shift for the Left with another term under the president? In terms of foreign policy, will there be an end to the wars? Or will US militarism continue unabated? Domestically, will government social programs and infrastructure deteriorate yet further? Or will legislative reforms breathe life back into the moribund welfare state? Should we, in fact, take for granted the idea that keeping Romney out of office promises a better environment in which the Left to organize? What does the future hold for a Left caught in the stale air of the status quo?

 

  • Manuel Barrera

    I would say that the first task is to avoid the framework of the “quadrennial plebiscite”. I recognize that bourgeois politics remains at the center of most “Americans”, but it is wrong to think of revolutionary politics as subsumed into the electoral cycle. I say this while believing explicitly in the need for a strong revolutionary electoral strategy where revolutionaries can come to agreement to engage the bourgeois elections in unified manner.

    If the advertisement for this event (I’m not in NYC, but would sincerely entertain to help build a similar kind of forum in the Twin Cities or the Midwest–any takers?) is simply intended to be “topical” for purposes of attracting the broadest audience, I suggest that there be a more pointed description of the utterly chaotic manner in which different left organizations approached the elections; many of whom simply entered the road of class collaboration (vote for Stein where Obama’s vote was secured? Vote for Obama and THEN attack him? Analogies abound. . . ). The call for “building a movement” while conducting a class-collaborationist strategy (see Freedom Road) was simply leftist “cover” for cowardice in the face of Black and Brown people clamoring to support a Wall-Street mouthpiece and you didn’t, “you are a racist”.

    However, it is true that building mass movements and organizing left unity are indeed a much better focus. We just need to find a way to use our forces effectively in a comprehensive and comprehensible program that includes a revolutionary electoral strategy.

    Much has been made of the Socialist Alternative campaign of Sawant in the Northwest. However, I believe that campaign was severely limited politically. This was true not only because of the groups like the ISO who approached that campaign in a sectarian manner refusing to support it, but also by S-Alt in the way it seemed to compartmentalize the electoral approach. S-Alt’s work elsewhere seems quite un-focused and erratic gravitating between local reformist politics and “community organizing” that includes more willingness to engage with bourgeois politicians and labor bureaucrats than building stronger potential for mass actions; and, yes, I do know that none of those activities and perspectives are counterpoised. I just do not believe that some of our left organizations believe so.

    The need for left-anti-capitalist unity has always been important, but in the face of the impending battles and the growing militancy of workers and youth throughout the world in conjunction with the growing militancy of the imperialist bourgeoisie (the finance capitalists and their minions in government), NOT engaging in veritable efforts to unify the revolutionary forces is fast becoming a counter-revolutionary strategy that leaves the workers, peasants, and oppressed of the world as vulnerable to world war, fascism, and even greater defeats. “American” workers continue to be an important force even as the “American” empire continues to recede in economic and political importance (witness the reinvention of the “American” finance capitalists into the world finance capital and the world capitalist class).

    I do not pretend that any of these points either new to many of you in NYC nor that I am the only one to think them. Thinking and doing remain two different things. I am prepared to do differently and I hope the rest of us are.

    • http://www.planetanarchy.net Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp

      “… NOT engaging in veritable efforts to unify the revolutionary forces is fast becoming a counter-revolutionary strategy that leaves the workers, peasants, and oppressed of the world as vulnerable to world war, fascism, and even greater defeats.”

      You hit the nail on the head here with this one. The Sawant campaign was important in my view because it showed how it is possible to 1) rally a scattered and unnecessarily bitterly divided left against the two enemy parties 2) fight those parties for power, a fight that we have to win if we are going to actually stop austerity. Yes, the approach and lessons of the campaign have yet to be generalized elsewhere outside of Seattle by any group or force on the left, but at least we have a living example we can look to that works instead of blowing off the dust on our Debs/Lenin history books and then spending inordinate amounts of time re-litigating every facet of Bolshevism ad infinitum.

      If you’re prepared to do differently, then you are in good company. The recruit recruiters organizing model has proven itself to be utterly ineffective in terms of stemming the tide of defeats but old habits die hard and we are only at the very beginning of a very long road out of a series of historic impasses.

      • Manuel Barrera

        Yes, prepared to do differently, but I cannot do it alone and my voice is rather meager compared to others who write more and profess much; including S-Alt who calls for everyone to unite but only seems to mean everybody unite behind them. Enough of allusions to left unity. Someone has to start.

        An argument has been made that there is no mass struggle in the U.S. that could galvanize revolutionary elements to work together. That may be true, but it is not an excuse for revolutionaries to find the way, right now, to unite and build for coming battles. Revolutionaries should need no further motivation than that the working masses need a leadership and we need no impetus of mass struggle to begin truly talking among ourselves. Indeed, if we do not prepare NOW then the masses when they begin to move will be at a disadvantage succumbing to the inevitable buying off by the “lesser-evil” liberal bourgeois elements inside and outside the working class.

        This potential for siphoning away the masses revolutionary ardor absent a stronger and united leadership of its most conscious elements as upsurges begin, THAT is the reason why it is counter-revolutionary, if one understands this problem, to engage in the rampant sectarianism and disunity among the potential revolutionary forces. In the elections we saw it already with the treachery invoked by left and liberal elements about “safe state strategies” (note how neatly seemingly “radical” leftists like Freedom Road dove-tailed into reformist politicking). It is just as treacherous to claim a so-called high ground of revolutionary correctness in opposition to all other revolutionary currents; that somehow the masses will flock to a “correct revolutionary program”. The masses will move toward a leadership that gives them the best chance to win clear victories and in the absence of a revolutionary leadership that “clarity” will default to the lesser-evil strategy because it will appear as “sane” and “practical”. The masses DO NOT NEED A “CORRECT PROGRAM”, they/WE need Correct Action, the revolutionary will to engage in unity despite one’s individual views about what constitutes “correctness”. Indeed, the MASSES IN STRUGGLE–IF LED BY A UNITED REVOLUTIONARY LEADERSHIP–WILL DEVELOP A CORRECT PROGRAM because it will be based on democracy, action, and their direct involvement. It seems to me that we could use a little less correctness and a little more willingness to be wrong and to overcome our errors together. Battling with each other from the sidelines about who has the best handle on what Lenin did at the turn of the 20th century or understands the true nature of the Cuban state while the masses are in motion is bad enough. It is laziness and slovenly to argue about it when we could be working through plans engage together in whatever mass movements begin to emerge. It is counterrevolutionary to engage in such as a matter of principle.

        I hope this NYC event is one place to start. A call must be issued and the willing must be able to be involved.
        Enough of allusions, enough of sideline commentary, enough sectarianism.

        Time to act.

  • Anthony Abdo

    I would say that the main task of the American Left continues to be how to oppose the Empire’s war machine. Interestingly enough, the Counterpunch website today led off its site with a great article entitled ‘Why Humanitarian Interventionism is a Dead End- Beware the Anti-Anti-War Left’ where it discusses this issue in detail. Here are some of the conclusions that the author, Jean Bricmont, reached…

    The anti-anti-war left has no influence on American policy, but that doesn’t mean that it has no effect. Its insidious rhetoric has served to neutralize any peace or anti-war movement…. The anti-anti-war left has no influence on American policy, but that doesn’t mean that it has no effect. Its insidious rhetoric has served to neutralize any peace or anti-war movement…. What is also remarkable is that most of the anti-anti-war left shares a general condemnation of the revolutions of the past, because they led to Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc. But now that the revolutionaries are (Western backed) Islamists, we are supposed to believe that everything will turn out fine. What about “drawing the lesson from the past” that violent revolutions are not necessarily the best or the only way to achieve social change?…. The demonization campaigns prevent peaceful relations between peoples, cultural exchanges between citizens and, indirectly, the flourishing of the very liberal ideas that the advocates of interference claim to be promoting. Once the anti-anti-war left abandoned any alternative program, it in fact gave up the possibility of having the slightest influence over world affairs. It does not in reality “help the victims” as it claims. Except for destroying all resistance here to imperialism and war, it does nothing. The only ones who are really doing anything are in fact the succeeding U.S. administrations. Counting on them to care for the well-being of the world’s peoples is an attitude of total hopelessness. This hopelessness is an aspect of the way most of the Left reacted to the “fall of communism”, by embracing the policies that were the exact opposite of those of the communists, particularly in international affairs, where opposition to imperialism and the defense of national sovereignty have increasingly been demonized as “leftovers from Stalinism”.

    So in short, the author posits correctly that many of the liberal types along with other Lefty types are actually now working against building any real and actual antiwar movement which would impact the war machine of the US and Europe negatively, but instead are actually working with the same goals of their own capitalist Imperialist class themselves! Obviously, a Left like this is extremely sick and tilting hard Rightward, and will become totally unable to counter any of the capitalist classes policies, domestic or foreign, unless it reverses its present course of advocating what is often called Left humanitarian imperialism.

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