Party in the U.S.A. — Changing Prospects for A New Mass Party of the Left

by Tim Horras, Philly Socialists on July 17, 2013

The U.S. two-party system is a reality. Socialists active in the U.S. have to acknowledge the unique character of the U.S. government and Constitution. We cannot import ready-made foreign organizational models more salutary to parliamentary systems with proportional representation and must instead find ways of organizing consonant with American traditions.

A more democratic political system can only be brought into being as the result of revolutionary changes in which the U.S. Constitution was altered to make government more representative in character and thereby less prone to corruption. There is historical precedence for this (see the 17th Amendment). But as the government is currently in the hands not only of the wealthiest 1% of Americans but the wealthiest 1% of the 1%, we cannot expect that electoral reform will be on the agenda anytime soon. For this reason, electoral reform should be seen as an ends, not a means. The means, if history is any indicator, will be a militant mass movement directly challenging the power and privilege of the most powerful Americans.

Where We’ve Been: Theoretical and Historical Considerations

Objective characteristics of the U.S.’s 18th-century election model have been a major factor in preserving the two-party system but have not prevented the formation and growth of robust new party formations in periods of acute class conflict at both the local and national levels. The rise of the Republican Party in the 1850s, which replaced the then-dominant Whig Party, is the most successful example of a new party formation in U.S. history. Its rise, although in very different conditions, can serve as a model and an inspiration to party-builders today.

Socialists should also look to the robust tradition of regional parties. There are numerous historical cases of third parties that found great success at the local level. Examples would include the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs’s day and more recently the modest successes of Vermont’s Progressive Party.

Many party “brands” often need to be attempted before one finally finds success. For instance, before the Republican Party caught on there was the Free Soil Party, which itself came out of the failure of the Liberty Party. Similarly, the Progressive Party of Vermont was preceded by the Citizen’s Party and the Liberty Union (for more on this story, take a look at Eric Leif Davin’s excellent book Radicals in Power).

The lesson here is that even these apparent “failures” in fact laid the groundwork for a larger mass party came later, when conditions were better suited for masses of people to join. And like the progressives and abolitionists of the time, we too shouldn’t get overly tied down to one or another party vehicle.

Reshuffling the Deck: Is the U.S. Party System Nearing an Inflection Point?

Considering the failures of third parties over the past several decades, have the prospects for third parties become more favorable now as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago? This can only be determined in practice, but there are several important trends worth considering that bear on this question: the rise of generalized dissatisfaction with government, the global financial crisis, the likelihood of further stagnation or deterioration of economic conditions for the U.S. working class, the increasing impact of climate change, among others.

One important trend is the changing demographics of the U.S. electorate. These changes present a number of opportunities that have been unavailable to left political interventions previously both at the local and the national levels. I will only briefly touch on two demographic blocs whose emergence onto the political scene has the potential to upset the two-party status quo.

U.S. electoral map adjusted by population density.

U.S. electoral map adjusted by population density.

Firstly, consider the uneven emergence of a Latino voting bloc. While the number of Latino voters rose between 2008 and 2012 by 1.4 million, turnout was lower in 2012 than in 2008. Latino turnout dropped 2% and the number of Latino nonvoters grew by 2.3 million. As Paul Taylor, executive vice president of Pew Research Center put it: “Given what we know about the youth bulge in the population, Millennials and Hispanics will become ever-more important voting blocs in upcoming presidential elections. But in 2012, both groups left a lot of votes on the table.”

How can the left capitalize on the growing power of a Latino voting bloc? This question is well beyond the scope of this short article, but there are many lessons which should be studied more seriously on the left — for instance, the experience of La Raza Unida Party in the 1970s and early 1980s.

As mentioned above, another key emerging demographic is Millennials, a demographic bulge larger numerically than the famous “Baby Boom.” Millennials constitute the core cadre of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring, and the uprisings in Turkey, Brazil, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, too many on the left are dismissive of the revolutionary potential of college-educated youth because they are “privileged” or “middle class.” This is an unscientific and moralistic reading of both the immiseration thesis and revolutionary history. A revolutionary class is no less revolutionary because it does not conform to theoretical precepts; more likely, the theory needs to be adjusted in light of new evidence.

Positive indicators for this demographic — besides a penchant for mass grassroots street protest after a decades-long lull — might include a decline in partisan identification, especially among progressive youth. As Rolling Stone reported:

The turn away from party identification has been a long-term American trend: According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans don’t consider themselves members of a political party, compared to 36 percent in 2002 and 33 percent in 1988. But that trend has been all the more accelerated among young people — and even more so among young progressives.

The increasing lack of trust in government and bourgeois political parties could lead to this demographic toward a cynical disengagement with politics, or alternatively, it could prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Left. It’s the responsibility of the Left to humbly yet earnestly offer another way forward.

Seize the Time: Towards a New Mass Party

None of this is to say a transition toward a new mass party of the Left is inevitable. Politics is struggle, and the emergence of a new alternative to the status quo will mean conscious action by individuals, organizations, and masses of people over a protracted period of time. As Bill Fletcher Jr. rightly reminds us:

There are rare moments in US history where there is a reshuffling of the deck that may result in either the transformation of an existing political party or the emergence of another. The emergence of a new mass party is not the result of a founding convention but on the basis of an adjustment and repositioning of political constituencies. This is a matter of mass politics, including but not limited to electoral action.

New possibilities exist today which suggest a mass party of the left can be built within our lifetimes. Now we must begin an urgent conversation on how to seize the time.

However, conversation is only the first step; it must culminate in action, in real-world organizing. If we succeed, the working class in this country will face its enemies — for the first time in many decades — with a great powerhouse of organization: a political party of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Tim Horras is Chair of the Philly Socialists.

{ 157 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom July 17, 2013 at 4:43 pm

Eric Leif Davin’s book “Radicals in Power” is, unfortunately, primarily focused on socialists working within the Democratic Party. While it does contain some very useful information on the early history of the Vermont Progressive Party and a few other hotspots, I was largely disappointed. Moreover, instead of trying to build a new national political party, which would include obtaining ballot access in states like California and Texas, which is more daunting of a task than you realize. It would be more effective to work within the existing Green Parties across the country, which already have ballot access in the inhospitable places mentioned above.


Robert Gahtan July 17, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Working with and within the Green Party sounds right to me.


David Harding July 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Thanks for this interesting and encouraging article, Tim.


pinkfishegg July 17, 2013 at 5:39 pm

It seems to me that there should be far fewer socialists parties but not one large block party. It just doesn’t make sense because they don’t have anything in common as far as strategies and what kind of government structure they would create if they actually came into power. Trotksyists for example want to focus on international socialist revolution and Maoists on National liberation. Getting communists and anarchists into parties with social democrats makes absolutely no sense since it would automatically make it a reformist platform. To me it would make sense if there were larger political groups with divisions that made sense. Maybe something like:

A Stalinist/Maoist front
An anarchist front
A Trotskyist/left-somewhat left of Lenin yet not anarchist front
reformist “socialists”

Although I am always told that Trotskyists are over-sectarian and over-doctrinal, I fin there are a lot of quite reasonable people in the third group who aren’t mobilized into any sort of parties. A lot of parties and groups on the other hand have similar positions and slightly different strategies but aren’t working together out of habit, or because of some historical split in the 1970’s. The Worker’s World Party and the Party for Socialism and Liberation, for example seem to have almost the same policy.

Groups for students and other young socialists who have not yet decided where they stand on the other hand are a great idea. I’m one of those students and I’m currently involved at the Revolutionary Students Union at my school, which is a multitendency, anti-capitalist students union. We read socialist literature, attend protests, do direct action, etc and the combination of different socialist tendencies is great since I’m still learning and deciding where I stand. However, I can not imagine joining a mature communist party with this kind of structure considering there are already splits (mostly between the Anarchists and Maoists here). If you threw socialist democrats into the picture even less would get done.


Ben Manski July 17, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Agreed. I’ve yet to see a compelling argument for building independent politics outside of the Green Party in the U.S.. I’ve seen arguments that boil down to “the Greens aren’t anti-capitalist (enough)” and the like, but those seem ill-informed usually, and just plain incorrect.


pinkfishegg July 17, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Well anti-capitalism isn’t really they’re platform is it? I though there were both communists and reformists in the Green Party.


Deran July 17, 2013 at 8:49 pm

The Greens are not a socialist party, although there are ecosocialist members. I think there is an opening for a mass party that anti-capitalist Greens could participate in. I can see electoral alliances around candaites. The Greens are not the enemy, like the Democrats are, but the Greens are a failed attempt at a mass party and for that they can be a useful example.


Ben Manski July 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm

“Failed” except for 1.000 times LESS failed than everyone else, including so far, you. What will you -do- that will make your “mass party of labor” so much more successful in succeeding, and what are your markers of success? Until and unless you can show that in a compelling way, it’s just air.


Darwin26 July 18, 2013 at 1:41 am

It’s clear the leftists no matter with sect or faction they/we all have our idiologue but one thing is certain all politics is local. i agree with Ben.
In Montana i have an opportunity to seat a Green Party candidate in the US Senate. And a good shot at winning that seat if i can get some interest. i don’t know a lot about electoral politics cause i dread it so but it is imperative if anything is to change. Aliens are not going to bring us a parlimentary system from Mars.
1st off i’m succoring the Montana Green Party to be my horse for this journey as they were for the last couple races. i like the people who are involved in it and feel it’s as socialist as i can get at least with the Unified Platform support and endorsement.
The MGP is abit on the hardly visible side and i’ll have to initiate some actions like the one coming where i’ll go public with this search for a candidate and the means to win. {{{Frank Little memorial Aug 3rd Butte, Montana Emma Park 11:30 pm ~ all are welcome /potluck }}} seems like a good place to begin the search for a Big Sky Green Party Senator.
The important thing is to Check the Unified Platform of the New Progressive Alliance this is what sets us free… if your list of parties can subscribe to this platform, can endorse and support it, then a party ticket is in hand.
So i’ll explain the Unified Platform and see if i can get any IWW’s/friends/relative to run or at least pick up the Green Party baton and help search for the first Green Party Senator.
Keep in mind the Dems are flying the missing man/Cowboy Coal formation ha ha stoopid pos Brian Schwietzer and that Neo-lib low life Max Baucus is not in the running either; the Repugs are likely to run Rehberg /all hat no cattle 23rd richest member of Cong critters till he lost last election ~ good riddance:) So there’s a good chance with some Organization and help from the Nat’l Green Pty we can seat a Green Party senator.


Deran July 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm

I’ve been reading about the history of the Peace and Freedom Party and it’s national efforts in 1968, 1972 and 1976 (the People’s Party was the national orgs name). After ’76 there was the Mass Party Organizing Committee that tried to pick up the failed People’s Party effort. The MPOC archive is in a university somewhere, it would be fascinating to read abt their efforts. I think their last real effort was a national meeting in The Bronx at the same time as the Democratic Convention in that city, the Convention of Unrepresented Peoples (name?). But it did not amount to anything. Eventually in ’84 MPOC morphed into the National Committee for Independent Political Action, which folded into the post-CPUSA factions. I think?

I think what we are looking for is a mass socialist party. Not necessarily a “progressivist” new New Deal coalition, which is what the Green Party is supporting.

I agree that in a dozen or so states the GP is an active, viable organization. Otherwise certain locals are active, and those Greens that are socialists can find common cause with a broad-based socialist party.


Pham Binh July 18, 2013 at 3:50 pm

As it stands now, the Green Party has 133 officeholders:

What’s remarkable to me about this list is that even in their stronghold of California, the overwhelming majority of their officeholders occupy positions other than mayor or city council. For a state party that has been around since 1991, that is not a good sign. Plus, they are competing with California’s Peace and Freedom Party.

I think in a lot of places the Green Party hardly exists and therefore could play a useful role in giving left forces a ballot line. In other places like the South, radicals around the Chokwe Lumumba campaign have run in Democratic primaries to gain access to their ballot lines in local races.

Basically I think people need to take a flexible, locally-based approach to these questions since the correlation of forces can vary considerably from place to place.

People who discount running and winning office need to study the map included in this article carefully. What it shows is that the Republican Party would simply not be a force in national politics were it not for America’s 18th-century electoral system as Tim rightly pointed out. Getting rid of that system starting from the bottom up would be an important step in weakening the foundations of two-party rule.


Deran July 18, 2013 at 10:39 pm

I can see the practical usefulness of the GP’s few state ballot lines, but is it really worth their baggage?


Darwin26 July 19, 2013 at 2:41 am

…well to say that the Green Party hasn’t shown much since it’s inception means you’re comparing it to What? The Repugs have been around since what 1860 they’ve had a ton of time why don’t you give the Greens equal time?
Getting rid of the 18th amendment or any amendment will take Legislators who have they peoples pulse… The ‘Repug’ is a mentality, it would exist no matter what ~ nothing to do with any amendment but lots to do with genetics.
i was a member of The Peace and Freedom Party but now i’m in Montana and i have a different set of criteria and trashing the Greens doesn’t help my Socialist cause in MT.


Ben Manski July 19, 2013 at 1:22 am

You really have no experience with running in elections in this country, do you? If you’d like to, you can go out and try and get your “Mass Party of Labor” some serious ballot lines. Or you could save yourself the trouble, and not have to reinvent the wheel, and build on what is already there.


Deran July 19, 2013 at 2:15 pm

That would be the Democratic Party, and I don’t think anyone here supports that sort of “entryism”.


Ben Manski July 19, 2013 at 3:20 pm

The Democratic Party is not a left party. The Green Party of the U.S. clearly is.


Michael J Cavlan July 19, 2013 at 3:36 pm

No you are not. Not even close


Aaron Aarons July 19, 2013 at 2:45 am

It’s interesting, though not surprising, that an essay on building a mass “left” or “socialist” electoral party in the world’s number-one imperialist country — a country with a large proportion of the world’s military forces, police and prisons — doesn’t include any variants of the words “imperial”, “military”, “police” or “prison”. Moreover, in a country where white supremacy and Black oppression are still extremely significant, the words “white”, “black”, “African”, “oppression”, “racism” and their variants are totally missing as well, along with “immigrant” and its variants. And then there’s no mention of women, either, nor of workers or strikes!

The author of this article goes to extremes in avoiding topics that might interfere with electoral appeal to the large white-supremacist, anti-feminist, pro-police, national-chauvinist section of the U.S. voting population that now supports the “Tea Party”. It’s clear that any party built under the leadership of people like him would be an obstacle to the fight against the U.S. ruling class. Unfortunately, that would be the case with any party built in the U.S. today with the intention of seeking electoral majorities (except in a few special situations) rather than organizing mass subversion.


Aaron Aarons July 19, 2013 at 4:36 am

My apologies for not noticing that the term “working class” does appear twice in the article. However, those appearances don’t invalidate the main thrust of my criticism.


Deran July 19, 2013 at 2:19 pm

The lack of your pavolvian trigger words does not relate to what the author is talking abt. I think we can assume that anyone writing a post for The North Star has all those words in mind when talking about how to move forward. Just because the usual laundry list is not shown, does not mean it is not already in everyone’s consciousness.


Aaron Aarons July 19, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I pointed out the absence of those “pavolvian trigger words”, as you disparagingly call them, to point out the contradiction, in Imperialist America, between being a principled left party, i.e., a party that, inter alia, calls on its supporters to work for the defeat of U.S. imperialism everywhere and opposes demands that explicitly or implicitly seek to protect the relative privileges of U.S. workers, and being a party that seeks to gain electoral majorities in major contests.


Aaron Aarons July 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Thanks to the editors of this site for deleting the duplicate comment, as I had requested, and restoring my later comment that had apparently been deleted by mistake. I only mention this in case somebody who has been following the discussion is confused by the difference between this thread as it is now and as it was at various times in the last three days.


Richard Estes July 19, 2013 at 3:19 pm

At the risk of being repetitive, I think that it is important to address why people are increasingly registering as independent, decline to state, or not participating in the political parties at all. There are reasons that go beyond the dissatisfaction with existing parties to alienation from the political process itself. One need only look to the reflexive hostility to formations like SYRIZA and the prospect of trying to replicate it in the US and elsewhere. Some condemn these efforts as doomed to failure from the inception, even though it maintains close connections with radical protest.


Michael J Cavlan July 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm

Well hello all. Michael Cavlan from Minnesota. Often called the North Star State.
I ran for US Senate here in 2006 as a Green and in 2012 as an Independent when myself and others left the Green Party. Deeply ironic that those of us who left did so because of the anti-working class bias of the Greens- the completely undemocratic way they operated and the pretty frank way they play kissy face with the Democrats. Both here and nationally.

Just like Democrats they also refuse to participate in an open, transparent and honest debate with their political opposition. Folks are free to work with the Green Party.

I worked with them actively for 12 years. Both on the local and national level. I will never do so again. All the activist friends of mine feel the same way.

For the same reason that I will not work with the corporatist apologist Dumbocraps. Because I am a working class, Irish Catholic, Trade Union, Peace, Justice and Media Accountability activist. Not in spite of it but because of it.

Make of that what you will. As for Ben Manski- the deep and utter contempt I and others who have left the Greens is total and complete. Ben at the 2008 RNC in St Paul- I was the guy giving you the finger at the rally at the St Paul Capitol. I would do so again.


Ben Manski July 19, 2013 at 4:54 pm

I feel bad for whoever it was you flipped off in St. Paul, because it wasn’t me, wasn’t there. That said, I still have no clue who you are. You seem to think we’ve met. I’m pretty sure we haven’t.


Michael J Cavlan July 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Here- I am now flipping you the cyber bird. I had been told that the person on the stage was you.

I would debate you anywhere any time Manski. In public. I am in Minnesota and you are in Wisconsin. However- I fully expect that you will do the same as your Democratic Party friends do.

Refuse to debate.. For the same reasons as the Dems- you have something to hide.

OK. Are we clear now?


Michael J Cavlan July 19, 2013 at 5:41 pm

We have never met- I know who you are. I was a National Green Party delegate from Minnesota at the 2004 Green Party Convention in Racine


Ben Manski July 19, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Well, no wonder we didn’t meet in 2004. The Convention was in Milwaukee. You were in the wrong city, Michael! But look, you’re right, I won’t debate you. I’ll let others draw their own conclusions as to why.


Michael J Cavlan July 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Of course you wont Manski- Yes indeed. people will draw their own conclusions.
Hint Folks on why. David Cobb and The Liberty Tree Foundation.. Which then set up Move To Amend. This foundation got it’s start up money from somewhere.

Right after Ben Manski and friends rigged the Convention in Milwaukee (I swore it was Racine but no prob) so that Ralph Nader would be unable to get the Green Party nomination. This new “foundation” sprang into existence.

THAT is why Ben Manski will not do a public debate. Just like his well heeled Democratic Party apologist foundation friends.


Ben Manski July 19, 2013 at 6:41 pm

Well, that’s just a lie. Liberty Tree’s seed money was $250,000 from a donor who had given to Nader in 2004. Not to Kerry. Not to Cobb. But to Nader.


Michael J Cavlan July 21, 2013 at 10:46 pm

I had faith in the Green Party in 2004. That was then, this is now. It would appear that this man’s money has been pissed into the wind. A loss of valuable resources. In my honest opinion the Liberty Tree Foundation and it’s bastard off-spring Move To Amend are a continuation of the safe states, work with our friends the Democrats in PDA debacle.
At least you will respond to a political criticism unlike your Democratic Party friends. They just clam up and have no response.


Carl Davidson July 22, 2013 at 7:07 am

Studying the collapse of the Whigs, including the mass youth insurgency for Lincoln knowns as the ‘Wide Awakes’, 800,000 strong, is important, even though conditions have changed considerably.

I also think my piece on how we best view our system as one made of six ‘parties’ has more explanatory power, and gives us a better view of the landscape.

Here’s the link if you haven’t seen it:

In some areas, building the Greens is an option. And I like the municipal effort by SA in Seattle. But I’m also working with PDA as a ‘perty within a party’ to hasten an implosion of our current Dem and GOP structures, with the hope of bringing something new into being, using both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ tactics.


Louis Proyect July 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

I’m also working with PDA as a ‘perty within a party’ to hasten an implosion of our current Dem and GOP structures, with the hope of bringing something new into being, using both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ tactics.

Yeah, except that genuine radicals in the 1840s through the eve of the Civil War were not pursuing an “inside/outside” strategy. They were launching new parties to challenge slavery like the Liberty Party and then the Free Soil Party. That’s what the left should be about today not blurring the lines between us and the wage-slavery party that has two heads, the donkey and the elephant.


Ben Manski July 22, 2013 at 3:25 pm


Also – the Wide Awakes were not merely a “mass youth insurgency.” They were a radical militia that engaged in actual combat with the federal government over slavery.


Aaron Aarons July 23, 2013 at 1:12 am

When you refer to “actual combat with the federal government over slavery”, do you mean their armed support for the Federal government against the secessionists, most notably in Missouri? Do you have any references to any combat by the Wide Awakes against the Federal government, which, if it happened, would have certainly had to be in the period before the inauguration of Lincoln?


Ben Manski July 29, 2013 at 1:50 am

Yes. I wrote an article on this entitled “State Power Against the Slave Power” about Wisconsin’s secessionist actions in the 1850s. Hans Christian Heg, a leader of the Wisconsin Republicans, a Norwegian socialist who later fought and was killed in the Civil War, holding the rank of Brigadier General, was state prison commissioner when Buchanan sent marshals into Wisconsin in an attempt to seize Sherman Booth (himself the man who drafted the call to form the Republican Party). Heg took the marshals prisoner, and eventually released them. Heg, it so happens, was also captain of the WI Wide Awakes.

Later in this struggle, Booth was captured by the feds, and briefly incarcerated in a county jail. His jailbreak was widely blamed on (or credited to) Alexander Randall, who happened to be governor at the time, and also a Wide Awake.

There’s much more to this story. Been meaning to reprint it. But you can find it in print at some libraries in the Liberty Tree Journal – Harvard, NYC, LAX, etc..


Carl Davidson July 29, 2013 at 7:07 am

Agreed about the ‘Wide Awakes’ as also a militia. They were also into marching bands and nightime torchlight parades. 800,000 of them all told–and they were largely working-class and farm labor youth as an insurgent base for Lincoln, the former Whig, who became the GOP’s leader. The point is that it took them all–Radical abolitionist, the Liberty Party, Free Soil, forces within the Whigs that led to the Whig implosion and fracturing–abolitionists, abolitionists who were also racists, people simply against the expansion of slavery who also wanted to keep Blacks out of the Western territories, the First International locals in dozens of US cities, and so on. It took all of them to bring down the Slavocracy, and many of them radicalized in the process from where they began, as was understood by Marx and others. And unfortunately, all of the most interesting aspects of this 2nd American revolution are shoved down the memory hole.


Aaron Aarons July 30, 2013 at 12:02 am

What political conclusions do you want us to draw from this masala of political and social forces that were involved in defeating the slavocracy? And why don’t you mention John Brown and his comrades, whose violent suppression of slavery supporters in Kansas followed by the raid on Harper’s Ferry — an (unsuccessful) attempt to arm slaves for rebellion — played a big role in panicking the slavocracy into secession and civil war?


Carl Davidson July 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

The point is that it takes more than ‘genuine radicals’ to make a new first party, even in Lincoln’s day. Lincoln himself started as a Whig, and a variety of Whig forces clashed to see that party implode and shatter into four factions, making room for the Free Soilers, the Liberty party supporters and others. At first the new GOP party wasn’t even against slavery and certainly not equal civil rights, but only blocked to stop its expansion. Yet those like Karl Marx could read what was in the cards. Later, even the US locals of the First International got behind Lincoln. The most radical of all, by the way, were the Radical Abolitionists, who put one man in Congress, who soon resigned after deciding that only armed struggle could smash the slavocracy. While he read the main question right, whether he was correct in resigning is open to debate.

In any case, our task is to do an analysis of forces today, not only for socialismm but also for a popular front vs finance capital, and the latter has some 80 votes in Congress in the form of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We need to expand it.


Ben Manski July 22, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Carl – I’m not sure where this history comes from. Every Wisconsin Republican elected from 1854 on was a radical abolitionist – for decades. And the idea that the early Republicans were not anti-slavery is an East Coast history that does not reflect the true origins of the party or its impact.


Abraham Marx July 22, 2013 at 11:00 am

GOP as an encouraging example?
Didn’t I write an article on this and get execrated?

The real question is how do we take this reading of the situation, distill it to its essence, and get it percolating among the anti-political segments of the millennialist and the really hopeless segments of the working class?


Brandon Slattery July 22, 2013 at 11:51 am

Sorry Carl, the CPC is a total spineless joke. They were never very influential to begin with, but since Obama was elected they have become nothing more than lapdogs.


Carl Davidson July 22, 2013 at 2:20 pm

Lapdogs? Hardly, Brandon. More like a thorn in his paw. You need to study them a bit more. At the moment, they are touring the country will public rallies pushing and opposing the White House on Jobs. Likewise, Barbara Lee is raising the antiwar banner. On most major points of policy, they are in opposition to the White House. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie sanders on the banks is a case in point. As for their influence, yes, it needs to be tripled. But compared to what? Ours as Marxists? Not even in the same ballpark yet. If you can’t see these folks as allies inside the Beltway, then you have none at all there, and an even more difficult problem of getting beyond the teeny margins of irrelevance.


Richard Estes July 22, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Barbara Lee is antiwar except when she isn’t, when things are really on the line, like in 2007 when she was allowed to personally vote against supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while whipping votes in favor of it, as did Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson and Maxine Waters:

“They got a breakthrough Thursday when four of the bill’s most consistent critics said they would not stand in its way. California Democrats Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters said they would help round up support for the bill despite their intention to personally vote against it because it would not end the war immediately. “Despite my steadfast opposition, I have told the speaker that I will work with her to obtain the needed votes to pass the supplemental, but that in the end I must vote my conscience,” said Rep. Diane Watson, D- Calif.”

Not surprisingly, the supplemental got precisely the number of votes needed for passage. If more were needed, the CPC could have provided them, one by one at Pelosi’s request.

And, do we really need to go over the sordid history of the CPC in relation to the Affordable Care Act? Brandon Slattery is correct, except that they were lapdogs prior to Obama’s election.


Aaron Aarons July 29, 2013 at 1:45 am

California Democrats Lynn Woolsey, Diane Watson, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters said they would help round up support for the bill despite their intention to personally vote against it because it would not end the war immediately. “Despite my steadfast opposition, I have told the speaker that I will work with her to obtain the needed votes to pass the supplemental, but that in the end I must vote my conscience,” said Rep. Diane Watson, D- Calif.

If “steadfast opposition” to a bill means working to obtain the needed votes to pass it, I wonder what support for the bill would mean? Threatening to shoot people who didn’t vote for it? Or, if they are consistent in their use of newspeak, support for a bill might mean threatening to shoot people who did vote for it?

These “progressive Democrats” are truly a marvel to behold!


John Halle July 22, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Many excellent points very cogently expressed, most notably this:
“We cannot expect that electoral reform will be on the agenda anytime soon. For this reason, electoral reform should be seen as an ends, not a means.”

Also worth discussing in this connection is the tendency among the left (and Democratic Party apologists) to exaggerate statutory obstacles to 3rd party candidacies. These exist but they are by no means insurmountable-as the Davin book demonstrates.


Carl Davidson July 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm

I urge positive votes for certain Democrats. John Lewis, Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison come to mind. Does that, a priori, make me an ‘apologist for the Democratic party’? I think not. And if you do, that’s part of why we can’t move forward here. Given our system, cherry-picking candidates, or backing one to defeat another, is a matter of tactics, not principle. If you think it is a matter of principle, then you’re trapped in a cul-de-sac, going nowhere in relation to the mass base we need to organize for any fundamental change.


Darwin26 July 22, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I hear a lot of democrats (from hometown Los Angeles especially) sound off ‘well s/he’s good on everything else’ for candidates/incumbents like Israhell firsters: Brad Sherman, Alan Grayson ! or Lizzy Warren also Israhell Firster ~ why should i vote or contribute to these almost humanitarians? i think there’s a point of no return on most dems and certainly repugs. If your principles contain moral gaps then no way can i vote or contribute. Cherry Picking is imperative but in the case of the Dem Pty the TREE is Empty; and the Repug tree was never planted due to lack of empathy.
I’m in the process of finding a candidate to run on the Green Pty ticket for the US Senate seat in Montana ~ neither Repugs nor Dems have a handle on the race and are pretty much in dissaray ~ WE have a chance to get a candidate who supports the NPA Unified Platform in the Senate. i know there will be obstacles like filling fees should i/we get lucky and find this candidtate but it isn’t going to deter the impetus to change the system.
There’s enuff disenchated ppl with the Imperial-Capitalist parties that i believe make it worth while for the Greens to exploit this Race.


Tim Horras July 22, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Thanks for the positive feedback, John. For some reason I was totally unaware of your “Why I Ran” article from years ago, along with your more recent Truthout bit on the Sawant campaign. If I had, I would have engaged more substantively with both of these pieces.

I agree that concerns around statutory obstacles, i.e. ballot status, are overblown. In reality, third party forces aren’t large enough, well-organized enough, or hard-working enough to overcome them, but then, that’s not solely the fault of the system.

Davin’s book, as useful as it is, is quite dated, focusing almost exclusively on the 70s and 80s. I was totally unaware of your campaign and the others in New Haven during the 2000s, and would love to hear a summation and rethinking on these experiences now, a full decade later. Also would be very interested to hear your take (positive, negative, or both) on the Working Families Party campaigns in Hartford.

In solidarity,

Tim Horras


Aaron Aarons July 30, 2013 at 12:12 am

The main value of agitating around the most obviously “unfair” aspects of the electoral system is to help instill in wavering sections of the oppressed and other potentially rebellious elements a genuine contempt for the laws produced by that system and for those who administer those laws.


John Halle July 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

No that does not make you an apologist and there is nothing in the above three sentences which provides the slightest indication that I believe that. What I did say is that if you exaggerate statutory obstacles-either out of ignorance or in bad faith with the intent to undermine potentially promising third party runs-it does make you an apologist-or hack may be a better term.


Julia July 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Are there any concrete plans to try to create this party? It needs to be a democratic motion, not more top down bullshit. Is there going to be an event somewhere where leftists come together in real life to make a mass party. I think there’s going to be some problems but overall this is still a better idea than the situation we currently have.


Michael J Cavlan July 22, 2013 at 10:42 pm

Oh My Dear God.

Carl Davidson AND Ben Manski?

What kind of nest of vipers have I landed in? As my mother used to say- “Show me your friends and I will show you what you are.”

The real third party activists I work with know full well who these folks are. We are well aware of their work. We know just how dangerous they are to activists who are working for real on building an opposition to the corporate corrupted, pro-war, anti-humanity one party system with two wings.

I need to leave this place. How can I be removed from this group?

Michael Cavlan RN
Candidate for US Senate in Minnesota 2006 – Green Party)
Candidate US Senate in Minnesota 2012- Minnesota Open Progressives


Michael J Cavlan July 22, 2013 at 10:46 pm

Oh annd FYI- Keith Ellison is “my” Congressman and he is awful.. Unless you are a corporatist Democratic Party apologist. His very first vote was for the war funding bill. It has gone downhill rapidly from there.


Carl Davidson July 22, 2013 at 10:56 pm

What a hoot, Michael! You’re running for office and you’re scared off, running with your tail tucked, by a few people who don’t go along with your CODA? We need to elect folks made of sterner stuff. As for Ellison, he’s doing a pretty good job from what I see. Here’s a recent link….


Aaron Aarons July 23, 2013 at 10:53 am

So for you, Carl Davidson, a politician is “doing a pretty good job” if he balances his vote for imperialist war with support for something that benefits the working class of his own country. That kind of politics is called “social imperialism”.


Carl Davidson July 23, 2013 at 11:12 am

Aaron, Ellison, along with Barbara Lee, is part of the antiwar bloc in Congress, which finally got a majority in the House to press Obama to get all the troops out of Afghanistan ahead of time. The opposing line in those quarters is to keep them there longer, if not indefinitely. That is where a real struggle is being waged (not the only onbe of course), and it’s just silly to discount or ignore it.

Second, Ellison never claims he is a socialist, so ‘socialist in words, imperialist in deeds,’ is a misnomer for him. the popular front vs finance capital, war and the right has a variety of contending views in it. Others, it wouldn’t be a real front, would it?

My organization’s position is ‘out now’ and ‘cut off the money’ from the get go–and Barbara Lee, who has been close to us, was the sole vote in Congress opposing the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place.

If you can’t see this Congressional Progressive Caucus grouping as an ally, it tells us far more about you than about them, for anyone who studies and cares about such matters. You’re welcome to stay stuck in teeny left blocism, but others of us have wider goals of uniting the many to defeat the few.


Aaron Aarons July 24, 2013 at 1:20 am

I was using the term “social imperialism” to describe the combination of “left” positions on domestic issues, and not necessarily professions of socialist identity, with support for, or failure to oppose, imperialism.

Opposing the continuation of a war that much of the ruling class, particularly the sections that don’t profit from military contracts, has given up on does not make one anti-imperialist. Anybody who votes for any money for the U.S. military is objectively pro-imperialist and anybody who supports such people in elections is undermining their own anti-imperialist credentials and, therefore, their ability to instill or reinforce hatred of imperialism in the most potentially subversive sections of the population.

That doesn’t mean that one can’t bloc with such people on specific campaigns, provided those campaigns are narrowly defined so as to avoid including slogans or demands that are pro-ruling-class. For example, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere on this page, leftists can support moves to stop various policies that persecute immigrants, but should never do so in conjunction with support for other policies (e.g., greater border militarization) that harm other immigrants or strengthen the capitalist state.

And, no, I don’t support the chimera of “a popular front vs finance capital, war and the right”. There may be times when leftists can support specific moves on those issues coming from bourgeois elements, but it will a rare moment when such moves won’t be contaminated by pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist provisions, and therefore not supportable as proposed.

Part of my position is that, especially given that only a tiny fraction of those people negatively affected by U.S. government actions have even the right to participate in the largely fraudulent process of electing the officials of that government, no leftist should vote for, or urge a vote for, anybody who might actually become, through such elections, an administrator of, or legislative supporter of, the U.S. capitalist state.


Michael J Cavlan July 22, 2013 at 11:37 pm

No Carl

You and this place are a waste of time. Corporate apologist birds of a feather and all of that.

Of course you love Keith Ellison.. He is doing a stellar job of providing cover for your war criminal “progressive” president. Keith is out holding forums, as the Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chair explaining Drones. I chit you not.
Not that you would give crap. To neo-liberals like yourself- wages are more important and worth the sacrifice of a few brown people in another land. You and Benn Manski deserve each other.


Aaron Aarons July 23, 2013 at 3:01 am

Anybody who claims to be “on the left” who takes part in elections in order to get people elected to positions of power within the system rather than to carry out propaganda and agitation for extra-parliamentary action is bound to become an apologist for imperialism.

Getting honest radicals elected to positions they can use to make further propaganda and agitation rather than try to manage the system is an exception. But that only works if you can count on the people you are electing to such positions to not make pragmatic compromises, such a voting for a budget that includes some good things but also money for police or military forces, or, e.g., voting for something like the horrible Senate Immigration Bill, which should be known as the N.I.G.H.T.M.A.R.E. Act, that the right wing of the immigration rights movement is supporting.


Darwin26 July 23, 2013 at 3:15 am

Ellison is no Prince of Peace ~ just like M Calvan said this pepster is wedded to the MIC.
Do i blame Ellison ? No, i blame the system and it’ll only change if we get enuff of our principled candidats IN! The Unified Platform at is a great pc of work for endorsing candidates and visa versa.
…and i don’t think the viscious word attacks are propitious.


Carl Davidson July 23, 2013 at 7:20 am

Aaron, it’s quite possible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Around here, we do both election work and ‘extra-parliamentary opposition’ work all the time. And all of us would be wise to defeat any Republicans we can in 2014. The more progressive-mined among the masses of workers and the oppressed will certainly be doing so.

Politics in our time can be grouped in two baskets–politics as self-expression and politics as strategy. The first unites a militant minority in order to expand its numbers via education. The latter seeks to avoid greater harm by uniting the many to defeat the few. For us on the left, the art of politics is in understanding that we need both of these, and in grasping how best to emphasize one and the other in various times and places.


Darwin26 July 23, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Spoken like a true Obama-Crypto-fascist APOLOGIST. Your words fill the status quo couch, artfully.
The art comes in knowing that a Candidate that supports Israhell First but is ‘good’ on everything else is a LUZER. If they are Racists they are not serving my principles even if they’re anti-Wall St or big on Education.
Carl, i don’t think you know anything about art ~ there is nothing in the Art World where Lesser of Two Evils is in play. Perhaps you mean an art to ‘Juggling Evil’ refering to ‘art of politics’ ~ never forget a Democrat dropped two Atom Bombs on Japan for political hay.
i think i sound a big mifffffed.


Carl Davidson July 23, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Politics is both a science and an art because the future is open. You have to do a scientific analysis and assessment of ALL forces as best as you can, but once you have, there are still many choices. And every successful revolution broke many, if not all, of the rules of those that went before it. So you have to create some things anew. That’s where the ‘art’ comes in. Especially in helping us find ways not to have to fight all of our adversaries at once, a foolish plan. Start with Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War.’


Michael J Cavlan July 23, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Aaron and All

Occupy Wall Street came into existence precisely because the corporate corrupted duopoly failed us. All of us. Even the apologists who make excuses for them.

President Jimmy Carter put it perfectly in his interview with Dier Speigel. The United States does not have a functioning democracy any more.

I hope and pray that we can create a real political opposition to the corporate duopoly. Before it is too late.


Carl Davidson July 23, 2013 at 12:50 pm

The USA never had a ‘functioning democracy’ inclusive of a wide majority. No matter. The electoral arena is contested terrain even if its not a level field. Ceding it to our adversaries without a fight is not wise. Naturally, we fight on other fields as well, but all of them are unfair and stacked against us. Just try organizing a union at Walmart.


Aaron Aarons July 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm

“The electoral arena is contested terrain” in the same way a football game is contested terrain, and the main function of both is to divert attention from real-world struggle.

BTW, Carl, who are the “we” you keep talking about as if this “we” were in any sense a coherent entity capable of developing and implementing any coherent strategy or tactics? Or do you just have delusions of grandeur, thinking of yourself as a General, but with an imaginary army?


Carl Davidson July 24, 2013 at 7:30 am

Far from ‘delusions of grandeur,’ I’m the one who usually presses folks to take realistic stock of their forces. All the active members in all organizations with socialist, communist, Marxist or revolutionary in their name, taken together, add up to less than 10,000 people, and probably closer to 5000. In a country of more than 300 million, this is rather pitiful. But with the end of circular firing squads and decent strategy and tactics, the ground is fertile these days for rapid growth, if we can overcome dogma and old stupidities.

‘We’, depending on context, either means my core base community in Western PA, or CCDS, or those in a few socialist organizations. And none of us have anything to brag about

My directive slogan of the day is ‘organization is the central task, with revolutionary education as the key link!’, precisely in order to gain enough critical mass to have something to implement strategy and tactics WITH.

But in any case, if you have no strategy, you’re likely part of someone’s else’s strategy. And all ‘real world’ struggles take place in ‘contested terrain,’ meaning that our adversaries and our base are in conflict there, even if we are not.


S.Artesian July 24, 2013 at 10:25 am

Your “directive slogan of the day” can say one thing, or anything you want people to believe you’re saying, but at the end of that day, what we are left with is this:

“In any case, our task is to do an analysis of forces today, not only for socialismm but also for a popular front vs finance capital, and the latter has some 80 votes in Congress in the form of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We need to expand it.”

The same old-same old “For a popular front against……” of course NOT capital, but “FINANCE capital.”

So much for the old new left, so much for the attempted recuperation of a new new left… it all boils down to the big C Communist Party baloney “for a popular front….”

What poseur garbage.


Carl Davidson July 24, 2013 at 11:31 am

So, SA, you think it a wise strategy to fight all capitalists at once? Make your case, I’d love to see it.

We will even have some capitalists with us for a while under socialism, which is a mixed economy by its nature. Communism, the withering away of all classes, including the working class, is a bit farther down the pike.

The first question of strategy is, who are friends, who are adversaries? Then we work to develop the progressive forces, win over the middle, divide and isolate the reactionaries, and crush our opponents batch by batch. Our tactical orientation is to wage struggle on just grounds, to our advantage and with restraint ( the latter means don’t go out on strike the day before pay day).

All these forces are changing all the time, and you always have to keep a fresh analysis, over and over. Just proclaiming ‘class vs class’ as a strategy won’t do very well in practice. It’s only phrase-mongering, and lazy to boot.

So yes, a popular front vs finance capital, war and the right. That’s the fleshed out content of today’s ‘99% vs the Wall St one percent,’ don’t you think? That is an approach to unite the many to defeat the few. Within that, however, we have a second task, winning the militant minority to 21st century socialism.

Here’s the point: communists are always in the minority, even under socialism. But history is made by the broad masses in their millions, with a range of views. That’s why we need the popular front, as well a revolutionary organization and a capacity of self-defense as our ‘three magic weapons.’


S.Artesian July 24, 2013 at 12:20 pm

Here are the points: “popular fronts,” in their various iterations, are and always have been reactions to, and against, developing class struggle; popular fronts and popular front ‘type’ governments have failed and the price of that failure is paid in blood by the working classes– a few examples– Spain, France, Vietnam, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia.

“We’ll even have some capitalists with us after the revolution.” It depends what you mean by “with us.” I’d point out that this approach was used by the UP govt. in Chile, who based their program on appealing to a “national” “democratic” bourgeoisie, and curbing workers’ actions against such a “national” bourgeoisie, figuring that by attacking the “international” “monopolistic” “finance” bourgeoisie, the popular front “democratically” and “incrementally” replace capitalism.

Turned out of course that the so-called national democratic bourgeoisie knew which side of the bread was buttered and where quite active in demanding the end to the UP government. You can look it up.

We’ll have some “capitalists” with us? Well, since I don’t think we plan on exterminating all capitalists individually but rather expropriating capitalism as a mode of production, and such a transformation takes time, yeah sure we’ll have some capitalists “with us.” That’s not the same thing as a popular front PROGRAM which maintains the organization of the economy AROUND capitalism, around capitalist property.

Additionally, I don’t know how you intend to disentangle your so-called “democratic” or “patriotic” or “enlightened” or “productive” bourgeoisie and capital from your so-called “undemocratic” “nasty” “parasitic” financial bourgeoisie and capital when the interconnections, alliances, “co-branding” of all capitalists makes such an effort impossible.

Mere technical/theoretical aside: Communism is not the withering away of all classes. The establishment of communism requires, preliminarily, the abolition of the capitalist mode of production; the expropriation and elimination of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat. In so doing, in doing away with the bourgeoisie as a class, as a class with a mode of production based on wage-labor, the proletariat begins the process of its own “withering away”– of its transcendence of its class status as proletariat. That’s the only withering away there is. One class, the bourgeoisie, and its mode of production gets expropriated, seized, abolished, by the other class which, in abolishing the previous mode of production, “overcomes” itself.

We’ve heard all this garbage about assessing who are your friends an who are your enemies before– see previous remarks about the failure of popular fronts. Sure we have. Hubert Humphrey was a “friend,” until he wasn’t. ( I have old time SDS roots myself). Sure he was. Hart of Michigan was a friend. Sure he was.

It’s a shame however Carl, that you choose to deliberately ignore, and maybe repress what SDS’ seminal contribution to the struggles of the 1960s was: and that is that the struggles weren’t about friends and enemies. The struggle didn’t center on individuals, or alliances with friendly individuals.

The struggle was about the institutional nature of racism; about the institutional nature of imperial war; about the institutional nature of discrimination, oppression, and exploitation.

Popular fronts have always been about preserving those very institutions that manifest those charming features of capitalism, because such charming features are inherent, necessary to the maintenance of capitalism.

It’s not, and never is, an issue of “taking on all the capitalists at once.” It is always an issue of identifying the “root cause,” and mobilizing those social formations, that class and its allies, that can move against the root cause– and of developing the programs that “bind” more or less that class to itself.

Yes, indeed history is made by masses of people. And the history of the struggle of those masses of people shows us that such a mass struggle has to confront, oppose, reject the popular front.


Carl Davidson July 24, 2013 at 1:17 pm

You’re one-sided, SA. Many popular fronts were not successful. But some rather important ones were successful–China especially, but also Vietnam and Tito’s effort in Yugoslavia. Many efforts of your sort failed, too–Bela Kun in Hungary, the postww1 uprisings in Germany. In any case, we have to define our alliances, direct and indirect, anew for our time. This is the question I put to you that you have artfully dodged. In you don’t like my strategy, spell out yours for us.


S.Artesian July 24, 2013 at 1:38 pm

I haven’t dodged anything. I’ve told you our “alliances” are defined by program, program is determined by assessment of institutions, not separation of the ruling class into its “angels” and devils.”

Our allies are those who oppose capitalism and propose independent class-based opposition to the institutions of capital. Our “friends” are the class that has the capability of expropriating the ruling class of capitalists and reorganizing social production on the bases of use and need.

Yes, I’m one sided– as are you. Your one side happens to be the wrong side– the side of the non-existent “liberal” “enlightened” “productive” bourgeoisie.

As evidenced, BTW, in your mistitled “Progressives for Obama.” No such thing. Oxymoron. Contradiction in terms. Logically impossible. Unlike “jumbo shrimp.”

All you are proposing, once you strip the flowering engaging language away is but another episode in the repetition compulsion of failed leftism.


Carl Davidson July 24, 2013 at 5:16 pm

SA, ‘Progressives for Obama’ is not the same thing as ‘Lefties for a Progressive Obama’. Big difference. Do you want to claim that the 95% of the Black vote and 48% of the white workers voting around here don’t count as progressives in your book? Especially since the other whites went for McCain/Palin?

In any case, ‘Progressives for Obama’ is long since folded up, and its two sites were renamed ‘Progressive America Rising’ years ago.

Our strategy is one that starts with uniting a progressive majority to defend itself. It ‘s not yet socialist, and is not likely to be so for some time. But it still has important mass democratic, antiwar and anti-austerity tasks and battles to win along the way. We can unite only a small handful at the moment to replace capitalism with socialism. We work to do so anyway in the sphere of revolutionary education and building socialist organizations and other left formations.

But if we left it at that, we would be remiss in a big way. Moreover, by only focusing on replacing capitalism with socialism, we would never get there. We would never have lead any of the battles that can serve as a bridge between the old order and the new.

Class struggle is being waged all around us in a variety of forms. Look at the ‘Moral Monday’ battles going on in North Carolina. They are aimed largely at the GOP, the banks and the far right. A militant minority of the progressive forces is spurring a wider majority into action. But at this point, it has little to do with socialist revolution as a demand for mass action or a a platform for a common front of unions, NAACP and liberal churches and radicalizing youth.

How would you lead it with your approach? Would you denounce its present leaders, nearly all of whom voted for Obama? Would you insist on socialism as the common platform to unite all these forces? Spell it out for us.

S.Artesian July 24, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I disagree with those advocating alliances with some (illusory) “democratic” “enlightened” fraction of the bourgeoisie, whether that advocacy and that “alliance” is in the US, or Egypt, or France or South Africa.

First and foremost, a “popular front” is not an alliance confined AMONG rank and file people, with the “masses,” with urban and rural poor. The popular front is an alliance with a leadership fraction of the bourgeoisie. That is what a popular front is– it’s when Marxist, or anarchist working class organizations ally with social-democratic organizations, and fractions, elements, of the leadership of the bourgeoisie around a program of containing, “postponing” class struggle in the face of a so-called “common enemy.”

Now that “common enemy” may be what the CPUSA refers to it in its justification (progressive justification, I’m sure you would call it) for its support of Obama as the “extreme right.” It may be “fascism” as the official CPs termed it in the 1930s. It may be “imperialist, monopoly capital” as the Allende UP called it. It may be “finance capital” as you call it.

All these iterations however are committed to supporting the organization and organs of capitalist rule– as was the popular front in Vietnam in 1937; and as were the actions of the big C communists in Vietnam again in 1945 (proclaiming “Ours is a bourgeois democratic revolution” while they arrested workers and broke strikes).

I don’t have any problem with class based organizations that are “not yet” socialist as long as they are independent of the established capitalist parties, and capitalist organizations. That includes the Democrats and the Republicans.

If your organization urges voting turnouts to support friendly “Democrats” all I can say is that you are simply repeating/perpetuating the behavior that has led to the place we are now in this struggle, which is square zero. It’s the pattern that had people saying “Part of the Way with LBJ” and winding up all the way in Vietnam. It’s the pattern of people saying “Better Carter than Ford” “Better Clinton than Dole”– and winding up bombing Serbia and/condemning to misery and privation hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children.

I’d as you “lefties” for progressive whomevers– when’s the last time you DIDN”T support one of the major party candidates over the other in an election of more than local significance? Carter vs. Reagan? Clinton vs. Bush? Gore vs. W. Bush?

Since Hubert Humphrey has there ever been a presidential election whey you thought, “can’t waste time trying to make a progressive purse out of these pigs’ ears”?

As for the percent of black people voting for Obama and the percent of white people voting for Obama… What does that have to do with anything, other than the ability of capitalism to maintain its hegemony? Look how many people voted for Clinton. So what?

Hell, you might as well be telling me how many people loved FDR. So what? Got a lot of people killed, didn’t it? You think somehow generating all that love doesn’t have anything to do with all that killing?

In the present case, regarding Obama, I remember everybody talking about how in this 2nd term, because he didn’t have to worry about reelection, we were going to get “the real Obama.” Sound familiar? Did by any chance you make that argument?

Well, guess what, we did get the REAL Obama and how do you think that’s working out? Good you think? The real Obama is the guy we already had; who dramatically increased drone attacks and civilian deaths in Afghanistan. The real Obama is the guy who authorizes targeted executions. The real Obama is the guy authorizing and defending the massive wiretap and surveillance programs. The real Obama is the guy who can’t close Guantanamo. The real Obama is the guy who decided not to prosecute those who practiced (and still practice) torture. The real Obama is the guy whose actions towards Assange, Manning, Snowden, make Nixon’s response to Ellsberg look like the height of civility and respect.

Now I’ve already outlined, I think, how I would approach the North Carolina alliance– if it’s any alliance of rank and file people. If it’s an alliance of organizations, I have no problem with that as long as, if I’m going to enter that alliance as part of an organization– my organization gets to put forward its analysis, its suggestions that says– “You know, and particularly in North Carolina, the problem is not solely the GOP and the bankers and the far right– the problem is the social organization that anoints these as its agents. We can’t really address that problem with we allow ourselves to become attached, and auxiliary, to the Democrats, the liberals… if we try to move individuals in oppressive institutions to the “left” rather than organizing for our own power.”

That would be how I would start off. Hey you know where I learned that? When organizing with SDS in civil rights struggles, and in the anti-war movement.

Shows you how old and inflexible in my ways I am.

We’re not living in the 19th century where some sort of bourgeoisie are emerging and are driven forward by a “progressive” not to mention revolutionary impulse.

This isn’t 1865, and the emancipation of black labor and labor in general is not going to be achieved by “friends” in Congress. And even 140 + years ago, those actions in Congress towards emancipation were only made possible by a civil war, a revolution conducted against a specific organization of property.

Seems to be a lesson some never learn. That doesn’t mean we go around preaching “civil war”– it means we don’t look for “friends” in the organizations of the ruling class.

What you’re proposing isn’t realignment, reshuffling or anything other than recuperation. Been there, done that, ad nauseum.

Richard Estes July 25, 2013 at 2:23 am

“Do you want to claim that the 95% of the Black vote and 48% of the white workers voting around here don’t count as progressives in your book?”

This is an amazing statement. There is no reason to believe that they are anything other than people who participate in an electoral process until there is some evidence to the contrary.

Beyond this, what does it mean to be a “progressive”, anyway? I really have no idea after the ways that I have seen word abused in a variety of political contexts.

Aaron Aarons July 23, 2013 at 5:58 pm

Organizing a union at Walmart in the U.S. may be very difficult, but doing so would be a victory for the working class, particularly for its most oppressed and exploited sectors. OTOH, getting Democrats elected by playing down their role in maintaining oppression is not a gain at all.


Carl Davidson July 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

Well, one thing this discussion reveals is that some folks are quite content to be a big frog on a very small lily pad. Or they want a strategy and set of tactics for a country they wish they had, rather than the one they have.

Though PDA and independently as CCDS, we are working locally with the NAACP, our local labor council, a dozen unions and many churches, filling 4 or 5 buses so far for the upcoming Aug 24 March on Washington for jobs, freedom and Trayvon. Save for some of the churches, nearly every one of these groups took part in the Obama coalitions to defeat McCain and Romney. Some had their own GOTV apparatus, others worked through the Dem regulars. And in 2014, the same coalition will do everything it can to back back GOP-inspired voter suppression efforts by defeating every Republican they can. Within this front, we draw attention to the reactionary role of finance capital and the neoliberals in both parties. This is how we are developing a progressive majority as a form of the popular front.

What would you have us stop doing that we are doing here?

As for ‘enlightened’ capitalists, it has little to do with the Enlightenment. Here again in Western PA, the United Steel Workers formed an alliance with GAMESA, a Spanish wind turbine company, and the state government under Ed Rendell, the former governor. They recovered two old factories to build turbines and a new one to make the blades. Part of the deal was there would be no opposition to a vote of the workers concerned for a union. So now we have 1000 new USW jobs making windmills. The interesting question is why a Spanish capitalist firm? One reason is that the GOP and many finance capitalists here are trying to discourage alternative energies in favor of oil and uranium. GAMESA isn’t particularly ‘enlightened’. They are simply interested in making money by producing the infrastructure for clean and green energy, and they are willing to make deals with unions and state governments to do so. So again, in this case, we have a multi-class alliance, a popular front of existing forces, creating some decent green jobs.

The USW has gone even farther, creating a new worker-owned coop industrial laundry in Pittsburgh with 100 new jobs for the unemployed, forming all sorts of alliances to make it happen, again multi-class alliances as a form of the popular front on economic matters.

If you were a USW member, would you vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on these matters?

As for how one defines a ‘progressive’ these days, I suppose you can do it however you like. But the platform of the Congressional Progressive Caucus is a good starting point, or the platform of Progressive Democrats of America. In our work here, we stress 1) ‘out now’ on the wars; 2) defending voting rights and opposing other racist assaults, 3) EFCA and Repeal Taft Hartley, 4) Medicare for All and defend Social Security, 5) the Conyers Jobs bill and the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s ‘Back to Work’ budget, which includes the financial transaction tax on Wall St, 6) opposing the ‘war on women,’ and 7) debt relief for students and homeowners.

You can get a majority of the population around each of those, taken singly, if not as a whole package. It takes all the issues of the day, and aims the fire and places the burden to pay for it on Wall St.

It’s a good starting point for uniting the many to defeat the few, and within those battles, we can conduct a school for socialism as well for the militant minority, and we have done so. When we get strong enough to run some socialist candidate of our own for municipal and state offices where it makes some sense, we’re also interested in forming a Left Front to do so. Our dealing with the Dems–all four major factions of them–is entirely a matter of tactics, not ‘principle’, and they are tactics that are serving us well for now.

We have no illusions about transforming them into a European style social-democratic or labor party. It’s not in the cards, in my opinion. It will implode and go the way of the Whigs first. But we want to be in a position to pick up the best components on the working class and the oppressed side of the fault lines in its base.


Aaron Aarons July 25, 2013 at 10:36 am

For the last four-and-a-half years, the crimes of the United Snakes have been committed by a Democrat President. In fact, this POtuS has done many things that his Republican predecessor wouldn’t dare have done, both inside and outside of the only country where he received any votes to provide him with an appearance of “legitimacy”. So, in what way have you “united the many to defeat” Obama’s crimes around the world? By diverting all anger against the Republicans?

And what, exactly, would be the benefit to the future of humanity and the planet if you could “[transform] them into a European style social-democratic or labor party”? What have such parties accomplished in European imperialist countries to undermine imperialism and/or advance the struggle against capitalist devastation of the world?


Carl Davidson July 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

We have a number of mass mobilizations against the wars to our credit, AA. How about you?

In any case, if you want to have a decent discussion of strategy and tactics, around elections and anything else, we’ll have to get the level of discourse a few notches above ‘United Snakes’ and the Rivers of Blood of various US presidents.

We share the common aim of moving from capitalism to socialism, I would hope. Serious people should find serious ways to talk about it.


Aaron Aarons July 26, 2013 at 7:22 pm

I use the term “United Snakes” as a shorthand way of reminding people that the imperialist United States of America is the problem, and not just the 1% or 10%. I’m not even sure that the problem is confined to the 50%. When I speak of proletarian struggle against the U.S. ruling class, I have no illusions that the section of the global proletariat that lives in the U. S. (much of which doesn’t even have the right to vote, for whatever it might be worth) is going to defeat the U.S. ruling class. Rather, that section of the proletariat, together with a small part of the middle class (including part of the waged and salaried middle class) can act as a “fifth column” inside the U.S. for the global struggle of proletarians and semi-proletarians against imperialist-led capitalism.

Orienting towards winning elections makes you dependent on gaining the support of a majority of the largely parasitic U.S. population, which is one of many reasons for opposing an electoralist political strategy.


Carl Davidson July 26, 2013 at 7:48 pm

‘Largely parasitic’ US population? That tells me all I need to know about your politics. We have complete clarity on our basic disagreement. Thanks for getting us there. There’s no much more worth talking about, so we should move on.


Aaron Aarons August 2, 2013 at 9:00 am

In case you had any doubts, my replies to you and those like you are not intended to convince you of anything, but to counter any possible influence you may have.


S.Artesian July 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I guess I could point out how you avoid dealing with every substantive disagreement raised to your positions, instead choosing to tell us of the important work you are doing– the very same important work that has been done for oh….50-60-70-80 years; important, well-intentioned, heartfelt, decent it may be–but it hasn’t gotten us very far down the road to our “shared goal” of socialism…. no more than alliances with wind turbine companies and local govts and entrepreneurs have made a bit of difference to the economic conditions of the working class under capitalism; no more than any such alliance has materially benefited the class as a class; no more than such alliances have prevented the “runaway” of capital to areas of less regulation, lower wages; no more than such an alliance has prevented general decline of income equaltiy, of the wage portion of income, of the recessions that are paid for by the workers, the poor, and the working poor.

I could point out how your support of the USW initiative is nothing other than one more iteration of the SEZ-maquiladora- thesis, and will amount to just about as much and as little “progress.”

But I won’t say that, because all that is already painfully clear to the most casual observer. Instead I’ll quote you as the quote says all that and more:

“We have no illusions about transforming them into a European style social-democratic or labor party. It’s not in the cards, in my opinion. It will implode and go the way of the Whigs first. But we want to be in a position to pick up the best components on the working class and the oppressed side of the fault lines in its base.”

Right you have no illusions but you think when your noble work and your support of a fraction of the bourgeoisie implodes, you think that the disillusionment, the real material loss that such an implosion necessarily inflicts on the class as a whole is going to leave you in a better position to sift through the rubble and “pick up the best components,” like these struggles are but a rubbish heap and you’re the scrap dealer.

Like I said before, nauseating.


Carl Davidson July 25, 2013 at 1:38 pm

With this, you’ve told me all I need to know about your approach to the realities of class struggle in our time, in our country. The differences between us are quite clear. Thanks.


Aaron Kreider July 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

An interesting result of gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic voters in districts (or Democrat/Republic polarization) is that it increases the probability that a third progressive party will actually be a second party – and can win by having a solid organization and a strong reform/kick the incumbents out message.

Philadelphia is a great example of this with the Democrats winning 80% of the vote.

Economic slowdown is at the heart of most revolts/revolutions (Egypt, Turkey, United States – Occupy Movement, etc) and it is very likely that future recessions (possibly caused by environmental destruction / resource exhaustion) will spur small third progressive parties into power.


Aaron Aarons July 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm

“[…] it is very likely that future recessions […] will spur small third progressive parties into power.”
It might be easier to make a revolution than to convince electoralist reformists that political office is not “power”, and that the bourgeoise continues to hold power regardless of who wins its elections.


Carl Davidson July 26, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Of course, Aaron. But the government is also ‘contested terrain’ within the state. A wise left still works to capture positions if for no other reason than to intensify the conflict and win a reform or two, even if they are taken back. As a wiser man than me put it, the more democratic rights we win, the clearer it becomes to the masses that their problem is not the lack of rights, but capitalism. Here in the West today, however, it’s a long march to get there. If you know any shortcuts, share them with us. But I won’t hold my breath.


Aaron Aarons August 2, 2013 at 9:09 am

Are you really equating winning democratic rights with “capturing” positions within the government, i.e., within the public face of the capitalist state? I put “capturing” in quotes, since it is pretty universally true that it is the leftists who take such positions who are “captured”, and not the positions.


Carl Davidson August 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

‘Including,’ not ‘equating,’ Aaron. When the Black Panther Party of Loundes county, Alabama ran a Black candidate for sheriff back in the 1960s, breaking a lily white monopoly on the post, it mattered to the masses of Blacks, and many white workers as well, and sent waves everywhere, from one end of the country to anyone. Same with Chokwe Lumumba’s recent victory in Jackson.

If you can’t see it from the facts and conditions, ponder what Lenin meant when he made the point that the more democratic rights that are won, including the right to elect a Black sheriff or mayor in a racist order, the clearer it becomes to the masses that their problem is not simply the lack of rights, but capitalism. Any yes, there’s an ongoing struggle as to who is capturing whom. That’s what ‘contested terrain’ means, and why class struggle continues, even under socialism, let alone a small Southern town or county. But you seem so frightened of being captured, that you’re ready to concede the battlefield without a fight.


Aaron Aarons August 3, 2013 at 4:20 am

If you’re going to quote Lenin to back up your position, at least have the decency to actually directly quote him and provide a citation. But even without seeing whatever statement he made that you might be alluding to, I’m pretty sure it didn’t include anything about “the right to elect a Black sheriff or mayor in a racist order”.

But your playing fast and loose with citations of authority fits your pattern of making claims about work you have been involved in without specific information that would allow verification or negation of your claims. Then again, you can’t even spell Lowndes county correctly, so maybe you’re just sloppy.

But you seem so frightened of being captured, that you’re ready to concede the battlefield without a fight.

I believe in choosing or creating battlefields where the enemy doesn’t have full control of the terrain before the battle begins.


Richard Estes July 25, 2013 at 1:33 pm

From a comment at firedoglake about the defeat of the Amash amendment that would have curtailed NSA surveillance activity:

[By my informal count, which should be checked, 11 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus voted against the amendment, plus one (Frank Pallone) who didn’t vote. Together, these 12 could have pushed the amendment through.

They should henceforth be known as the WTF Caucus.

They are:

Corrine Brown
Lois Frankel
Luis Guiterrez
Sheila Jackson-Lee
Eddie Bernice Johnson
Hank Johnson
Marcy Kaptur
Joe Kennedy III
Ann McLain Kuster
Jan Schakowsky
Louise Slaughter]

As with the 2007 supplemental funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, if 15 were needed, there would have been 15, if 20 were needed, there would have been 20.

Proponents of working with the Democratic Party, and the CPC specifically, need to honestly confront the extent to which the political process in the Congress is stage managed, and explain their strategy for dealing with it, instead of maligning critics for not being “serious”.


Carl Davidson July 25, 2013 at 1:47 pm

We confront it all the time. the Congressional Progressive Caucus, like everything else in politics, has a solid core and a wavering edge. It’s a problem, and you deal with it. But at least we have an approach to the various contested terrains in Congress and among the various factions. That we are weak is obvious. That we need to triple the size of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and shrink and defeat others is also apparent. Likewise is the need for street heat, revolutionary education and socialist organization. But we cede no terrain to our adversaries, nor should anyone here. If you can’t win a few battles in congress, how in the world do you ever hope to find the strength for organizing dual power and proletarian revolution?


S.Artesian July 25, 2013 at 3:29 pm

“If you can’t win a few battles in congress, how in the world do you ever hope to find the strength for organizing dual power and proletarian revolution?”

Oh come on……….. here’s how: Congress is an institution of the bourgeoisie, for the bourgeoisie, by the bourgeoisie; of capital, for capital, by capital.

A proletarian revolution is based on the actions of that class opposed to the institutions of, by, and for the bourgeosie.

You might as well be asking: If you can’t sway a handful of directors on a corporate board, how are you ever going to sway the workers of the corporation?

What nonsense; distortion of language and logic… in the service of tailing after this or that so-called “progressive.”

We ALL know all we need to know about your approach.


Carl Davidson July 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm

Congress is the least of it, AA. There’s also the NSA, the CIA the courts, the prisons, militarized police forces, a professional military, rightwing militias–all that and more, and we haven’t even discussed the machinery for the manufacturing of consent.

It’s not called ‘hegemony’ for nothing, and developing the working class and its allies into a forces that’s not simply oppositional, but counter-hegemonic, and then hegemonic itself, is going to take a high degree of schooling in a ‘long march through the institutions,’ to use Rudi Dutchke’s turn of phrase to explain Gramsci’s point.

And my point, following from these two are well as Lenin and others, is that strategy and tactics is concerned with contenting for, capturing and/or deconstructing these institutions both from within and from without. How else do workers learn to be masters, learn how to rule?


Aaron Aarons July 26, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Workers in Czarist Russia didn’t learn how to establish and run Soviets or factory committees by participating in the Duma. Bolshevik participation in that institution was limited to propaganda and agitation and whoever represented the Bolsheviks in that parliamentary body wasn’t there to “learn to be masters, learn how to rule”.

What some workers and many middle-class beneficiaries of working-class votes do learn from their “long march through the institutions” is how to manage the public, “democratic” false front of the capitalist state in the interests of the real masters, the real rulers.


Carl Davidson July 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm

I don’t agree with your view of what the Duma was all about. But as Gramsci noted, it hardly applies anyway, since the West is rather different from Czarist Russia, especially on matters like civil society and government institutions, and the lack of subordination of the latter to an autocracy. And your view of what workers can learn in the course of both political, economic and cultural battles, in institutions both old and new, mainly shows us your own lack of imagination on the matter. Any battleground can be a school, if there’s a revolutionary organization of ‘permanent persuaders’ (Gramsci) that’s up to its tasks.


Aaron Aarons July 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Yes, any battleground can be a school, but there’s a difference between learning how to fight your enemy and learning how to be like him.

P.S. Your constant references to the Stalinist Gramsci don’t impress me.


Carl Davidson July 27, 2013 at 7:15 am

Ignore Gramsci if you wish. It’s your loss. But reducing him to ‘Stalinist’ is rather silly, and tells us more about you than anything else.


Aaron Aarons July 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm

My swipe at Gramsci was a mistake, in that it gave you an excuse to ignore my main point, that “there’s a difference between learning how to fight your enemy and learning how to be like him.”


Carl Davidson July 28, 2013 at 6:14 pm

You main point is a ‘straw man’ argument, Aaron. No one is arguing that we should learn to be like our adversaries. Since it’s not the view of myself or anyone else here, it was ignored.

Aaron Aarons July 31, 2013 at 12:14 am

Carl Davidson writes:

If you can’t win a few battles in congress, how in the world do you ever hope to find the strength for organizing dual power and proletarian revolution?

You find the strength by winning battles in the streets and workplaces, battles that prepare “you”, i.e., the oppressed and their allies, for organizing dual power and proletarian revolution, and not, unlike battles in congress, for taking over the management of the capitalist state.


Carl Davidson July 31, 2013 at 7:13 am

What an odd way of looking at things. Actually, it’s what’s called a syndicalist deviation. A ‘tribune of the people’ fights in every arena. In our last revolution, we had the full range from John Brown and armed slaves to Marxist officers in the army and Radical Republicans in Congress–and we needed them all.


Aaron Aarons August 2, 2013 at 11:12 am

150 years ago, there was a capitalist class in objective conflict with an agrarian slaveholding class, so there’s no comparison to the contemporary situation where you have one ruling class that, moreover, uses its elected institutions mainly for show.

Moreover, the results of the U.S. Civil War weren’t all that great, because, inter alia, the capitalist class, which, with much hesitation, went along with the abolition of property in the form of slaves, had no intention of expropriating landed property or, even less, of allowing those who had worked it to become its owners. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the genocide of the indigenous peoples continued under Lincoln and ensuing Republican governments, and that many of the former slaves who had played a key role in the Northern victory in the war became ‘Buffalo soldiers’ to be used to assist that genocide.

Most of my study of the U.S. Civil War was during the 1960’s, so I don’t remember much of the specifics. But I do think the long-term results would have been far better if other radicals had acted with as much independence of the capitalists and the Federal government as John Brown and his men had.


Carl Davidson August 2, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I agree that conditions are quite different today, Aaron. But this was a revolution in our country, involved our own families, and we would do well to study it, and draw those lesson we can. I think all revolutionaries have done so in regard to their country’s histories.

But there’s a solid argument, at least, that the slaveowners were also capitalists. The labor on their plantations produced cotton, a commodity sold on the world market, the profits from which gave them considerable wealth to re-invest in various way. The ‘peculiar’ aspect of their enterprise, was ‘owning ‘their workers as ‘bonded for life,’ as well as their offspring, rather than paying them a wage. Some even got out of the cotton business and bred and sold their slaves as they would cattle, the slaves themselves being a commodity on the auction block.

The ‘result of the Civil War wasn’t all that great’? What an odd thing to say. Try looking at it from the viewpoint of the slaves, if you don’t care for what Marx and the First International thought. True, its victories suffered under the counter-revolution against Reconstruction, another worthy topic of study.

The Achilles heel of the US left and the US labor movement has always been around this matter. So long as masses keep thinking there’s a ‘white race’ and a ‘black race’, our adversaries will maintain a hegemonic grip. And breaking up that hegemony begins with understanding slavery and all the battles that followed from it.


Aaron Aarons August 3, 2013 at 3:04 am

The Civil War and Reconstruction indeed constituted the closest thing to a social revolution that has ever taken place in European-colonized North America north of the Rio Bravo. And, for a generation of Africans in the U.S., it made a major difference for the better in their lives. But, by the 1880’s and certainly by the 1890’s, the major beneficiaries of that war were the capitalists of the North. Probably the biggest losers were the indigenous peoples of the continent. Later, the losers were all those who became victims of an empowered United States.

It might be interesting to speculate on whether and how the outcomes would have been different if the First Internationalists and other genuine partisans of social and economic equality had all followed the path of John Brown and worked to encourage, aid and abet slave rebellion and defend indigenous peoples against the U.S., rather than attached themselves as leftist junior partners of the rising capitalists. I wouldn’t be surprised, in fact, to find that such speculations are out there, though I haven’t come across them.

BTW, I don’t know about your family, but my ancestors probably knew as little about the United States in 1865 as I know now about wherever they were living back then.


Aaron Aarons August 3, 2013 at 3:29 am

You write:

The Achilles heel of the US left and the US labor movement has always been around this matter. So long as masses keep thinking there’s a ‘white race’ and a ‘black race’, our adversaries will maintain a hegemonic grip. And breaking up that hegemony begins with understanding slavery and all the battles that followed from it.

To the extent that racial differentiation is the problem, it’s not what “masses keep thinking” but the actual material advantages and disadvantages of being part of the white ‘race’ and being part of the Black ‘race’. But that’s just one component, although perhaps the most important one historically, of the impact of the entire history of the U.S. as a settler colony and then as the dominant imperialist power. Nowadays, the distinction that most serves the interests of capital is that between “Americans” and others, particularly inside the U.S., where the ‘others’ are mainly undocumented immigrants.


Michael J Cavlan July 28, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I am delighted to see that people are calling out Carl Davidson on his pro-corporatist apologist crap. His little PDA and Ben Manski deserve each other.

They both are collaborating with the enemy in my own honest opinion.


Carl Davidson July 28, 2013 at 5:47 pm

People are welcome to ‘call me out,’ anytime or anyplace, Michael. But if they do, they should at least get the argument right. First, there are no apologies for anything, second, narrowing your fire to finance capital, neoliberalism and the right, while seeing some green energy upstarts as allies, is hardly ‘pro-corporatist.’ If you think so, make your case. I’d love to see it.


Aaron Aarons July 28, 2013 at 6:09 pm

I would call it “pro-capitalist” rather than “pro-corporatist”. Corporations are only a form of capitalist organization and, in fact, might be expropriated from their capitalist owners but kept in existence for a while under a workers’ transitional government, under some kind of combined management of their own workers and of society in general.

And there’s nothing wrong with limited alliances with non-proletarian forces against particularly harmful groups of capitalists (e.g., arms makers and merchants, big pharma, extractive industries, private prison outfits) provided that it doesn’t involve express or implied political support to other factions of capital.


Carl Davidson July 28, 2013 at 8:31 pm

I am very much in favor of replacing capitalism with a 21st century socialism, Aaron. In fact, here’s one of the slide shows we use in doing study groups on what socialism means today: We can use it to try to unite a militant minority.

But the more difficult question of forms transition, of how we fight and get from today’s conditions, where conditions and no-revolutionary and where we are on the strategic defensive, in a way that can both unite a progressive majority, while a militant and socialist minority contends for leadership in actual class and democratic battles, well, that is part of what this thread, on a ‘mass party of the left,’ is all about, isn’t it? We can’t simply declare a ‘mass party’, left or otherwise, can we? It has to be organized, educated and developed, step by step, from the human materials at hand, the ones we have, not the ones we might wish we had, doesn’t it?

If you want to unite with workers and their allies in the mass struggles against austerity and in defense of democracy today, you don’t make your starting point unity around socialism, do you? It’s far better to practice the mass line, to see what the more progressive-minded workers see as their pressing demands, help them develop the with more clarity and effectiveness, so they see them as their own and are willing to fight for them today. Demanding that Wall St pay for baling the masses out of the current crisis in an immediate sense–jobs for all with a living wage, starting with those most in need, and end to wars and militarism, justice for all and consistent democracy across the board, clean and green energy to thwart the dangers of climate change, and all of it paid for by seizing back a portion of the surplus value creating by the working class via the structural reform of a financial transaction tax–all that is a decent place to start in uniting that progressive majority, which, by its very nature, is going to have mixed political views, both revolutionary and reformist of many varieties. Isn’t that the mean of the 99% vs the one percent, and why the popular front vs finance capital is a deeper strategic expression of that slogan that won wide resonance? And in those battles, you can win the more advanced fighters to socialism in a living way.

We have to deploy both politics as self-expression (uniting the militant minority) and politics as strategy (uniting the many to defeat the few, uniting the progressive majority). The latter especially cannot be done just as we please. We have to take into account what the masses think, in all their diversity, and since it changes over time, we have to do it over and over.

I’m sure there are disagreements with this approach, and others have other views. Good, spell them out. But let’s have a real discussion, based on what people actually say and think. not faux posturing vs straw men


PatrickSMcNally July 28, 2013 at 6:55 pm

The notion of centering one’s fight around a battle against finance capital is also absurd. If followed consistently this would place one in alliance with the conservative Koch brothers against George Soros. There actually are sectors of the Right which would cheer for this. Many of them have charged that Soros is funding liberal organizations as a way of creating Left-wing subversion. Though I would regard Soros as a class enemy, I would never endorse any fight against “finance capital” which put me in alliance with “productive capitalists” like the Coors family.


Carl Davidson July 28, 2013 at 8:36 pm

This is just wrong-headed and fanciful thinking, Patrick. The main demand against finance capital today is the financial transaction tax to fund social needs and create jobs with the Green New Deal. That’s the way the Congressional Progressive Caucus puts it forward, along with many others. And it is utterly opposed by people like the Koch brothers. It’s also expressed in the opposition to Citizens United and the demand for public banks, likewise opposed by Koch and crew. Deal with it as it is, not as you fancy it might be. See the reply to Aaron above.


PatrickSMcNally July 28, 2013 at 9:56 pm

The Kochs would indeed be opposed to a Green New Deal, because that treads on their turf. But that is precisely because Green demands go beyond finance capital and are actually more directly related to productive capital of the kind which oil oligarchs like the Kochs would protect. You actually would have a better chance of getting Soros to finance a Green New Deal if he could be convinced that it was potentially profitable in the long run. That’s why phrasing this as a fight against finance capital is absurd.


Darwin26 July 28, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Michael Cavlan Why bother to call CD out over his romance with PDA ? It is what it is; and it takes up so much time in discussion. To him they’re a solution to us they’re a menace to the movement but i’d hate to lose political hay over saying who deserves whom.


Michael J Cavlan July 29, 2013 at 12:34 am

Darwin Mo Chara (Irish for My Comrade)
I am delighted to see folks calling out Carl Davidson on his corporatist apologist pseudo lefty crap.

As for the PDA love affair- well my point is that it is Ben Manski who deserves just as much crap for promoting the PDA nonsense.

Just my thought and opinion of course. Based upon experience.


Carl Davidson July 29, 2013 at 6:50 am

Many people like PDA for a reason. Around here, they actually organize among the working class, do radical education and fight all sorts of progressive battles. In our county alone, together with the NAACP and the Labor Council, they’re working on their fifth bus for the MLK March on DC next month. Before that happens, they’ll have between 100-200 workers out for ‘Dinner and a Movie,’ showing Naomi Klein’s ‘Disaster Capitalism.’ It has a public face, Beaver County Blue, Check it out.


Michael J Cavlan July 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm

PDA are the perfect vehicle for what some of us call Veal Pen Politics. In other words- keeping progressives and even some pseudo radicals corralled in the Democratic Party Veal Pen. Where they are fattened up, made lazy and so ready for the corporatist slaughter.

That is their job. Sadly- same goes for the National Green Party as they work with their “friend and allies” in the PDA.

David Cobb put it perfectly when he said that “My friends, the Democratic Party is where progressive politics and movements go to die.” Even as he and his mentor Benn Manski and their actions protected the corporatist Democrats from Damage. Which was the whole point of the David Cobb campaign. As for what these two and those left in the Green Party did with Cynthia McKinney’s campaign (deliberate sabotage IMHO) I will never forgive them for that.

Cynthia McKinney and Cindy Sheehan remain my heroes.


Michael J Cavlan July 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Like I say- Ben Manski, Move To Amend, Carl Davidson and the PDA all deserve each other.

In the meantime- time to carry on. With actions that match our words. Unlike the above.


Carl Davidson July 30, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Michael, all I can say about this is that you know next to nothing about what really goes on in the daily struggles in PDA, and for that matter, in the Democratic Party, which isn’t even a party in any normal sense of the word, and at the base, has precious little ‘inside’ to swallow up or co-opt anyone with any revolutionary politics to begin with.

The simple truth is, that if you want to organize among the more progressive-minded people among workers and the communities of the oppressed, you’ll find yourself doing so among people who usually vote Democratic as the party that will likely do them the least harm. If you help them build organizations that belong to them, where they set their polices and rule by majority vote (not necessarily the same thing as you think they SHOULD do), you’ll like start out with something like PDA. Where it goes from their will depend on how well you’re able to lead, or not, in the actual struggles as they arise, while keeping your eyes on the longer-term prize.

But if you don’t care about working among these folks in any case, then it’s all a moot point.


Richard Estes July 30, 2013 at 2:54 pm

I really believe that you need pressure from outside the Democratic Party to make this sort of thing happen. Here in California, Governor Brown proposed a ballot measure for increasing state tax revenues. It was primarily regressive, and was limited in the amount of revenue raised. Molly Munger, a wealthy activist, pushed to get a more progressive alternative on the ballot. That forced Brown to make concessions to allow more progressive taxation of income and the raising of funds through his measure. It subsequently passed, as did another measure promoted by someone else independently. The likelihood of getting Brown to modify his measure in a more progressive direction in the absence of outside pressure was slight to non-existent. Brown and the Democratic Party in the legislature were trapped within the “you have to have the Chamber of Commerce on your side” mentality.


Carl Davidson July 30, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Of course you need ‘outside pressure,’ ie, class struggle and mass democratic insurgencies. That’s exactly what ‘inside/outside’ means to PDA–the ‘inside’ is the Congressional Progressive Caucus bloc and its bills and measures, the ‘outside’ is the mass insurgencies in the streets pressing those demands.


Darwin26 July 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm

ya know Carl i keep wanting to give you the benefit of the doubt… but it’s not working.
Your myopic sense of PDA on a full national spectrum is absurd; where was the bogus, which way is the wind blowing PDA support of Cindy Sheehan, in her run for Nancy Pelosi’s seat ??? PDA might work fine in your neighborhood but they’ve been unsuccessful and run out of many more. You should now just keep the PDA thing a secret to yourself…forever.
If a candidate doesn’t meet the minimum of endorsing the Unified Platform then they aren’t worth the time of day… see Unified Platform


Carl Davidson July 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm

Seeing as how its only been around since 2004, PDA has done rather well for itself. I don’t think it’s the only game in town, though. I’m also a fan of Gail McLaughlin, the Green Party mayor of Richmond, CA, in the Bay Area. I was a member of the Greens in Chicago for a short time, and voted for Rich Whitney for governor. I do know that PDA only picks a short list of candidates to endorse–12 in the last round, as I recall. But no need to go into it here. Anyone interested can check them out at The question posed for this thread is on a ‘mass party of the left.’ In my view, PDA and the Greens might be building blocks of such an instrument, and any practical effort along those lines would do well to examine their experience. You have to start somewhere, since I don’t believe a new party is going to be sucked out of our thumbs or constructed in the realm of pure thought.


Julia July 31, 2013 at 1:28 am

So from these conversation we can conclude that we don’t one giant “left-front” of communists, anarchists, and social democrats. The question is where are reasonable points to draw lines for parties.


Michael J Cavlan July 31, 2013 at 11:28 pm

I disagree. We absolutely do want and need a giant united left progressive political movement and party. Those who want to pay patty cakes with the Democratic Party can do so. It is their time to waste.
I love the term used at Firedoglake. Veal Pen politics. As in those who try and get proggies to stay in the Veal Pen of the corporatist Democratic Party.

The Democratic Party is where progressive politics and movements go to die. That is what makes them the greater evil- not the lesser. They can destroy movements in ways that the Rethugs could never do.

Perfect example was shown in Wisconsin. It is no question that the Democrats destroyed that wonderful experiment in real democracy. It had potential until Dems showed up and took all the energy out of it. To pimp for their anti-labor Governor candidate.

The Wisconsin North West Labor Council had issued a public call for the General Strike. Then the clipboards for Dem Governor candidate showed up.

Imagine the possibilities of what could have been. A state wide General Strike that could have spread nationally.


Carl Davidson August 1, 2013 at 7:08 am

If you think Democrats were the main factor in de-mobilizing Wisconsin, you need to learn more about politics and social movements.

Start by doing a study of the political views of the Wisconsin working class, all of it, not just those in the streets.

Next, do a study of Taft Hartley, especially the provisions and penalties to unions for things like ‘general strikes’–not that we won’t have them anyway at some point, but are you ready to pay the cost, as a union member, in this context?

Finally, consider the impact of 14 Democrats holing up across the border in Illinois in expanding the movement during its upturn.

I think one of the sad weaknesses in the Wisconsin story was the lack of imagination of many on the left around the recall. You didn’t have to work through the Democrats. You could have had independent worker coalitions for the recall in every little town and county across the state. Then even if it failed, as the Dems insured with their piss-poor leadership of it, you would still have and organization at the base to go on build better things. Instead, people sat it out, bemoaning the lack of a general strike that was a delusion, never in the cards.

You need the audacity of the politics of self expression to advance the struggle. But you also need to know how to count, in order to unite the many to defeat the few, the politics of strategy.


Aaron Aarons August 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm

One of the many problems with the Wisconsin “Recall” campaign was that it was not a “Recall” at all but a re-run of the election, which meant that the only way to vote Walker out was to vote for his Democrat opponent. If there had been an actual recall option on the ballot, such as there was on the California ballot when Gray Davis was recalled, principled leftists could have voted to get rid of Walker. But there was no way to do that in Wisconsin, which was a good reason to not support the recall petition in the first place!

All that the “recall” campaign did was to demoralize the opposition to Walker and his policies and give him and them more pseudo-legitimacy.


Ben Manski August 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm


1 – The recall was not a rerun. There was Democratic primary with four candidates. The DPW (state Dem party) muscled the strongest progressive Dems out of that race, leaving only another corporate Dem (Falk) and two weak progressives in their primary. So it ended up being a rerun of 2010. But it didn’t have to be – at least, not on paper.

2 – There were independent recall committees all over the state. I wasn’t involved with them. But I know they were there. The state and national Dem party leadership actually decided to cancel the recall in August of 2011, but because of independent organization outside of their party structures, they were forced to renege – it was made clear that the recall was happening with or without them.

3 – It was the South Central Wisconsin Labor Council that voted the strike resolution – Madison and our region – not the northwest.

4 – The Greens did pass a resolution – which I authored – calling for an independent candidate in the recall election. No one stepped forward.

5 – Not a correction so much as a statement – Carl, the return of those 14 was a terrible blow to the movement in WI. Far as I’m concerned, the 3-5 of them who broke that action should have been recalled themselves. By returning to WI at that time . . . well, some people died because they did that. And 100,000s are paying the price for it.


Aaron Aarons August 1, 2013 at 5:53 pm

It was a ‘rerun’ in the sense that it was another multi-candidate election in which the only way to defeat the Republican, given the lack of a mass left party, was to support whichever Democrat was running against him. With that clarification, my original comment stands.


Darwin26 August 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm

quoting Michael Calvan… YES YES YES …”We absolutely do want and need a giant united left progressive political movement and party” its actually happening through Uniting People which you can find more of at
“veal pen” ie PDA and MO and all of those Bold Progs, Daily Kos, etc all GROOMED by the Insideous NEO-LIB Democrats that developed thru the DLC Democratic Leadership Council that thou underground is still calling the shots.
There is nothing more insideous than a Neo-lib democrat and that’s what they ALL are. Only a movement to new Party/s will change and even then Wall St will try to capture it like it has done with Democracy and our Constitution.
Capitalism is the Problem.


Michael J Cavlan August 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm

Poor Carl Davidson

A discredited corporatist apologist hack. Muttering “radical” slogans to himself.

So- how do we unite on the left to create a new political paradigm and party? To this effort- this former Trotskyist offers the golden pick axe of peace to my Stalinist friends- Grin.

As an FYI- yesterday Occupy Minnesota, Idle No More and Minnesota had a stellar Global Climate Change Action Forum. Well attended and lots of actions being planned on ways to shut down the XL Tar Sands Enbridge Pipeline 67, more commonly known as the “Alberta Clipper.”


Michael J Cavlan August 1, 2013 at 12:56 pm

By the way- speaking of Wisconsin- perhaps Ben Manski can explain why the Wisconsin Green party did not have a candidate to run at this time? From here in neighbouring Minnesota it looked like a candid support for and protection of the Democratic Party candidate. Who was absolutely awful. I am quite willing to be proven wrong.


Carl Davidson August 1, 2013 at 3:38 pm

‘Discredited corporatist hack’—goodness, that’s a new one to add to my vast collection. ad hominems are cheap, however, and don’t win a single argument. If you want to do polemics with grown ups, you’ll have to do a little better. Nice try, but no cigar, Michael.


Michael J Cavlan August 1, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Ad Hominem attack is a personal attack in an attempt to change a political topic or to discredit another’s political message. Like for example- Ralph Nader is just an egoist or a “spoiler”. To attempt to smear the political message of the individual.

In your case Carl- it was not a smear. Just a simple statement of facts. You are a corporatist apologist and your group “Progressives For Obama” simply proved it.

No go on ahead. Your corporatist masters are calling for you Mr Davidson.


Carl Davidson August 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm

”Progressives for Obama’, when it existed, made no apologies for corporations. It simply saw a need to defeat McCain/Palin and take the ‘whites only’ bar from the Oval office. It brought together a wide range of people to do so, and rather accurately described Obama as a corporate liberal speaking mainly to the center–no apologies required. We never claimed to be ‘Lefties for a Progressive Obama,’ even though some people, mistakenly, chose to see it that way.

You can disagree with that position. And if you want to argue with it, do so. Thus far, you haven’t. ‘Straw man’ arguments are non-starters.

In any case, it’s not the topic of this thread, which is how to develop a ”mass party of the left’ that would be considerably to Obama’s left. You might want to lay out your views on that matter.


Aaron Aarons August 1, 2013 at 6:17 pm

1) Any “party of the left”, mass, minuscule or in-between, would have to “be considerably to Obama’s left” because Oreoboma (or, recognizing his Irish ancestry, ‘O’Bomber’) is not on the left at all, but in the same mainstream right that was previously represented by Reagan, the Bushes and Clinton. The tragedy is that, with the combined help of the Tea Party and so-called ‘Progressive Democrats’, he manages to pass as, if not a ‘leftist’, then some kind of ‘centrist’, thus demobilizing opposition to his right-wing, imperialist, neo-liberal, police-state policies.

2) The topic of this thread is not just how to develop the Mass Party you are talking about, but whether, and under what conditions, it is possible or desirable from a genuinely left point of view.


Carl Davidson August 1, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Obama is an African American, one key reason he is hated by the far right. You may think it cute to make fun of his name or question his ancestry, but you’re jumping into a den of white supremacist racists when you do. The man has enough by way of actual policies to criticize. Feel free to do so, but just stop this chauvinism about his person and family if you want to be taken seriously.


Aaron Aarons August 2, 2013 at 8:45 am

Calling the POtuS ‘Oreobama’ is not something the racist right would do. They, in fact, accuse him of being a socialist, which might translate to being ‘pink’ or ‘red’ on the inside, but not white! They do what you ‘Progressive Democrats’ do, which is to protect his right-wing, militantly pro-capitalist and imperialist policies and actions from massive attack from the left. It’s likely that the banksters and other capitalists who selected and groomed Obama for the job actually discussed beforehand how such predictable attacks from the racist right would help him in pushing their agenda without the leftist opposition that would be a real threat to them.

I don’t see O’Bomber’s racist-right critics attacking his Irish ancestry, BTW, and, if any did, it wouldn’t be by also pointing out his crimes on behalf of Empire.


Carl Davidson August 8, 2013 at 8:11 am

Here’s a case-in-point for you to ponder, Aaron, where the right makes a racist attack on Obama for his ‘mixed’ race…


Carl Davidson August 2, 2013 at 10:58 am

You need to get out more, Aaron. They attack him as Kenyan, Muslim, and an on the far right, as a mongrel stemming from ‘race-mixing.’ As I said, criticize the man’s policies. I do all the time. But when you get into this ‘oreo’ stuff, you’re doing something else. You’re claiming he’s illegitimate as an African American. It’s a cheap shot (a kind way to put it) and not a good practice. Just drop it, or you’ll dig yourself deeper into a pit.


Adam Turl August 2, 2013 at 9:02 pm

There are a lot of political hiccups and impediments to left regroupment and towards building an electoral alliance of the left independent of the Democratic Party. The biggest impediment is the inside/outside politics of Carl Davidson (and many more of his ilk.) You may pretend, Carl, to favor Green politics where possible and “working within” the (obviously worthless) Democratic Party everywhere else… The truth, however, is that you use every protest, every election and every strike that you can to bring it all back home to the Democratic Party. Progressives for Obama is, in hindsight, a clearly sad joke (mass NSA spying, mass deportations, ongoing and new wars, cuts to social welfare, failures to deliver even modest promises to organized labor, etc.) This fronting for the Democrats is THE biggest organizational problem of the U.S. left. Your politics are, in fact, IN THE WAY of actual progress on the subject at hand. Likewise, your talk of syndicalist deviation is the real straw man argument. Wouldn’t it actually be wonderful if there was, let us say, a million strong syndicalist deviation in the American working-class? It would be a massive improvement over the disenchanted “choices” we get to make every 2, 4 or 6 years (see the original post). You helped drive the New Left of the 1960s and 1970s into the graveyard of Democratic Party realism. Perhaps it would be best if you sat this one out.


Pham Binh August 2, 2013 at 11:25 pm

I’m no fan of Davidson’s approach to national elections because every four years we are supposed to “defeat the right” by campaigning for the Democratic candidate, meanwhile the right we are supposed to be defeating gets stronger and more extreme every year while the candidate who we are supposed to defeat him with also becomes ever-more right wing. Clearly this is a losing strategy over the past 8 president cycles (since McGovern) when the above happens even when it succeeds in defeating the GOP candidate.

Even so, it’s gross oversimplification to say Davidson’s politics (or Davidson personally) drove the 1960s-1970s upsurge into the dead end of the Democratic Party. The New Left — and especially its Marxist/revolutionary wing — generally speaking was not interested in creating and winning institutional power of its own and so eventually, when it ran out of steam or ran into difficult problems, it got absorbed into the existing bourgeois institutions of power, of which the Democratic Party is one. SDS could have been the beginning of a national student federation or union, but it exploded into a myriad of competing microsects, mostly Maoist but a few Trotskyist/Schachtmanite, and that little to nothing to do with the pernicious Democratic Party or the evil Carl Davidson and everything to do with the immaturity and inexperience of thousands upon thousands of revolutionary-minded students who were radicalizing faster than they could strategize.

Nowadays, there are a ton of huge problems confronting the left and it is hard to say which one is the biggest since they are all connected in chicken-egg fashion. The Democratic Party exerts the pull that it does because the alternatives — the Greens and even more so the reds — are so weak and not credible threats or challengers; the challengers are weak because the Democrats are strong; the unions don’t engage in militant action because the rank and file is passive and the rank and file is passive because the unions don’t call for or enagage in militant action. When Governor Cuomo ended the ConEd lockout here in NYC, he single-handedly ensured that tens or hundreds of thousands of workers would be loyal to him and his party; if a Green governor had done that, it would have had the same effect and broadened the Green base from disaffected petty bourgeois liberals to encompass some working class/union elements.

The difficulty is in getting Greens and reds elected so that they can use their offices to aid rather than attack the labor movement and build a following in this manner. Reds could have spent the last decade giving the Greens a solid backbone and defeating Cobbs and co. but chose to mostly sit on the sidelines bemoaning the ascendance of the right Greens over the left Greens like Hawkins and Camejo and then bemoaning the resultant weakness of the Greens vis-a-vis the Democrats.

It’s all well and good to criticize and attack elements to your right but if you think they are wholly or mostly responsible for the left’s self-inflicted wounds and costly mistakes — or if you think they are going to “sit this one out” (they never do or will) — it’d be a good idea to go back to the drawing board strategy-wise because denouncing treachery isn’t a strategy at all, it’s catechism/liturgy.


John Halle August 3, 2013 at 10:31 am


hits the nail on the head here.

I’d add the following context, from my brief foray into electoral politics (discussed in the parallel thread). While I wasn’t expecting passionate support from all sectors of the New Haven left, I was a bit taken aback by the combination of apathy and, to some degree, contempt with which the Greens’ success in New Haven was received. This came from three predominant quarters. 1) What I will call the Yale liberal technocratic left. 2) The activist left centered around the globalization movement (which had recently emerged from the WTO protests in Seattle) 3) The “red” left centered around the remants of the Communist Party which had at one time been a significant force in New Haven politics. All were more or less hostile or uninterested for reasons I’ll say something about in the following.

As for 1), not much needs to be said. Probably the defining characteristic of Yale students is their taking as a life and death matter “getting ahead”, interpreted within nominally left political channels as self-advancement within existing institutional structures-unions, gender or LGBT equity organizations such as NOW or the Human Rights campaign, big green environmental groups and other non-profits generally with directorates and staffs interlocking with the Democratic Party, locally and nationally. Any challenge to these structural arrangements is deeply threatening to them and some also realized, taking their place within a long and sordid history, that there were points to be scored by attacking “dissident” elements. That meant, in the early 2000s meant attacking “Naderites” nationally and the Green Party locally. Two indications of these retrievable by a google search are articles/blog entries by two such Yalies, Josh Eidelson (now the Nation’s go to reporter on the low wage workers campaign) and Alyssa Rosenberg (now ensconced at corporate Dem think tank the Center for American Progress), both of whom will be seen to attack the New Haven Greens politically and to a lesser degree me personally in rather strident terms. Also in this category was the alderman elected from the Yale student ward Ben Healey who, while boasting impeccable radical credentials (the grandson of CPer Dorothy Healey) actively supported my Democratic opponent.

Their opposition didn’t come as any surprise, of course. In fact, an important function of the Greens, as I saw it, was to upend these sort of institutional arrangements and connections forged, first, on a local level in New Haven and elsewhere. I should be remembered that Joe Lieberman and Bill Clinton, among many others received their political initiation by dealing with some highly unsavory characters in the New Haven machine-indeed, Clinton crows about this in his memoir. This would become a model for their dealings with still more unsavory characters on a national level cynically rationalized then and now as “pragmatism”. One of main reasons I ran was to shine a light on the opportunism and cynicism of the Yale/Ivy League liberal class-so they were quite right in seeing me as a threat, though I was a bit surprised that their attacks were taken by many leftists as based on good faith disagreements on political strategy, not as defenses of bourgeois political control-which is exactly what they were engaged in.

2) My essay Why I Ran begins with a mild dig at the anti-globalization movement which in retrospect seems misplaced or at least a bit odd. I chose to focus on these shortcoming because as most on the left will recall, Seattle was a watershed moment, with its organizing model highly and justifiably influential on the left. I was not as involved with it as I should have been, though I had students and friends at Yale (most notably David Graeber) who were. Our disagreements, in contrast to those with the Yale technocratic clique, were based on good faith, principled differences in organizational strategy and, more fundamentally, in political philosophy. These were aired openly and I understood and to some degree sympathized with their stance. As such I neither solicited nor expected the support of our party building efforts. Even so, several of them, while not ready to join the Greens ended being supportive of our agenda and to a lesser degree our campaigns. One of these, of incidentally, was Justin Ruben, later to become the communications director of and but who was at the time very effective organizer for what seems to be a political agenda complementary to what those of us in the Greens were pursuing. I mention Justin because as his later trajectory into one of the more darker holes of neo-liberalism demonstrates that opportunism is not confined those circles where it is most nakedly apparent-i.e. those noted in 1).

3) I have not researched the history of the CP in New Haven, and its relationship with the unions and the Democratic Party. More importantly, I had not, so when I took office, I was somewhat surprised to find a cadre of more or less unreconstructed CPers remaining active through two main channels. One of these was the New Haven People’s Center, a cultural center where I had, even before taking office, attended various events, artistic, cultural and polical. (As I recall URPE, the Union for Radical Economics, had offices in this building). Another was the New Haven Peace Commission which sponsored hearings and were officially empowered submit resolutions to the Board of Alderman (usually rubber stamped) to “promote a culture of peace in New Haven and around the world.” The former received a yearly budget through the City of New Haven, the latter was effectively an aldermanic committee and thereby were required to be signed off on by the Democratic machine. This support was obtained at a price: whether informally or formally, the Red left in New Haven was committed to actively campaigning for Democratic candidates and, more significantly, opposing challenges to single party machine governance in New Haven. I do not know whether similar arrangements obtained in other cities-this would be interesting to investigate. I mention this here as a specific instance of how what was a movement (and indeed a political party) explicitly opposed to bourgeois capital has become active in defense of one of its most reactionary expressions-within the Democratic machine of New Haven, whose most powerful official was, for many years, it should be recalled, Senator Joseph Lieberman.

The bottom line is that Binh’s observations are well taken. If those reading this decide to become politically engaged in the manner in which he is, in my opinion, appropriately, suggesting, these are some of the on the ground realities which they will confront.


Aaron Aarons August 3, 2013 at 7:34 pm

There is nothing ‘Red’ about the U.S. “Communist” Party and there hasn’t been since the 1930’s. It has mainly functioned as a loyal vaguely-left caucus within the Democrat Party and within unions that, with the blessings of the C.P., support the Democrats.


Carl Davidson August 3, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Aaron, I think your understanding of the US left and US unions is out of whack. Our unions, such as they are, are their own faction in the Democratic coalition. Call them the ‘Old New Dealers,’ to be distinguished from the Congressional Progressive Caucus to its left and the Clintonista ‘New Democrats’ and ‘Blue Dogs’ to its right.

The CP is active in a handful of local and scattered Democratic clubs, and has no ‘caucus’ in the Democratic party. It may wish it had, but it doesn’t. Finally, US trade unions do not seek the ‘blessing’ of the CP or any other socialist group on anything. At one point, the former pro-war remnant of the Shachmanites had some influence with Meany and Kirkland, but that it long gone. It would be nice if socialist did have more influence, but any notion that they do suggests your assessment of forces is way off.


Aaron Aarons August 4, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Maybe ‘caucus’ was the wrong word. Perhaps ‘Fan Club’ would have been more accurate.

I’ll admit, though, that I am not au courant on these matters. But I really shouldn’t waste my time on minutiae when every member of every faction of the Democrats in Congress will vote for budgets that include hundreds of billions of dollars for the imperialist war machine and tens of billions for the National Security state. (If there are any exceptions, i.e., cases where one of these “Progressive Democrats” has voted against a budget promulgated by Obama or Clinton, I’m pretty sure that it was in a situation where their vote didn’t matter and that they didn’t organize a real fight against it, either in Congress or more broadly.)


Aaron Aarons August 4, 2013 at 3:40 pm

Binh refers to “the left’s self-inflicted wounds and costly mistakes”. But “the left” in the U.S. has not been one thing, but many, and, since at least the early 1960’s, there has been no hegemonic group that could impose policies leading to “self-inflicted wounds and costly mistakes” on “the left” as a whole. This should mean that some parts of the left would avoid such policies and therefore grow both absolutely and relative to the rest of the left.

But this hasn’t really happened, at least not to an extent that would reflect the misery that capitalism is imposing both on the already-poor and on newly impoverished sections of the working class that used to consider themselves, with some justification, to be middle-class. So, instead of acting like a reformist version of the Spartacist League and blaming other leftists for the lack of an effective left, how about trying to figure out what there is in the society at large that prevents the rise of a genuine left, however one defines it, and what can be done about it.

My own position is, in part, that, despite the decline of the economic position of U.S. workers in the last decades, and especially since 2007, there is no basis for a genuine, anti-imperialist, anti-national-chauvinist leftist electoral majority anywhere in the U.S., with the possible exception of a few mostly-Black-and-Latino districts, and that leftist politics in the U.S. should be minoritarian and subversive, rather than majoritarian and electoralist.


Carl Davidson August 3, 2013 at 7:26 am

I agree, Adam, that an upsurge in syndicalism among workers would be a fine thing. We don’t need one among Marxists, however. It’s too strong as it is. We need more ‘tribunes of the people.’

As for the Democrats being ‘obviously worthless.’ the question is ‘To whom?’ Among ourselves, of course, especially the major factions at the top. If it were ‘obvious’ among the masses, we’d be in a very different place politically. I wish we were, but we’re not.

The US left has many problems. Three I can think of off the top of my head are a need to break with dogmatism around Marxism and anarchism, a need to have deeper, day-to-day connections with the masses of workers and organization among them, and getting greater clarity on white supremacy and the delusion of the ‘white race.’ It would also help if people could see our various approaches to the electoral arena as matter of tactics, rather than ‘principle.’ None of us has yet to come up with any major breakthrough there of any sort, Greens, PDA or anything else. That’s why this thread interests me.


Michael J Cavlan August 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Adam Turl

You put it perfectly. In fact I was wondering what Carl Davidson was doing in this group. For all the reasons you just stated.

So lets get to work, shall we?


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