A new left for the future--and the here and now

July 5, 2017

This weekend's Socialism conference in Chicago will be one of the largest gatherings of the U.S. radical left in years--and there are many critical questions to discuss.

A CABAL of hateful right-wing reactionaries is in charge of the U.S. government--and leading a war on working people of this country and every other.

Every week brings a new horror from a different branch of government: Trump pulls out of the Paris Climate Accords; Congress moves closer to passing a "health care" bill that denies coverage to millions to give billionaires more tax breaks; the Supreme Court reinstates key sections of Trump's blatantly anti-Muslim travel ban.

And all of this on top of the daily drumbeat of injustice that started long before the current administration--from immigrant workers living in fear of deportation while they do backbreaking work for exploitative bosses, to cops continuing to get away with murder no matter how clearly their crimes are captured on camera.

FACING WAVE after wave of attacks from Republicans in power, it can seem like the prudent thing to do is to seek shelter and safety inside the only opposition party in mainstream politics--and that's exactly what many in the Democratic Party will be urging us to do.

Socialists stand up to the far right in New York City
Socialists stand up to the far right in New York City

With hard-right Republicans in power, we have to give up our demands (only for now, they insist) for major progressive changes like single-payer health care and ending deportations. Instead, all we can do is get behind Democrats running for election next year, no matter how right wing, to end the Trumpian onslaught.

Many Democrats continue to push the failed strategy of fighting the right by trying to meet it in the middle. In California, Democratic leaders in the State Assembly killed their own bill for statewide single-payer health care with the nonsensical excuse that they needed to "prioritize" fighting the Republican's national health care deform law.

Meanwhile, in the Atlantic magazine, liberal writer Peter Beinhart argues that the Democratic Party has lost support because it's become too pro-immigrant--after Barack Obama carried out the most deportations in history over his eight years in office.

This centrist logic is a whirlpool that only gets faster further down. The aim is to make sure people's choices are limited to the center versus the right--and then take the resulting "choice" as "proof" that people didn't want the left.

If followed, this road would be disastrous because it will further shackle radicals and socialists to the Democrats' politics of the status quo, a miserably unequal capitalism that is bringing immense riches to a few, and desperation and the fear of worse to the majority.

The top 1 Percent of Americans make three times as much as they made in 1980--$1.3 million a year--while the bottom 50 percent makes the same as they made then.

This long-term trend of inequality has gotten far worse since the Great Recession: 95 percent of households still make less than they did in 2007, while their rents and health insurance premiums keep rising.

This massive economic gap goes hand in hand with other injustices to create a culture of hypocrisy--where no banker goes to jail for billion-dollar frauds, but millions of Black and Brown people are carted off to prison; where poor women are forced to have babies because they can't afford to travel out of state for an abortion, but rich and powerful men like Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby and, yes, Donald Trump get away with sexually assaulting dozens of women.

IN THE face of this grossly immoral status quo, the center is losing its political grip across the globe. People are trying out new parties, candidates and messages on both the left and right.

In April, France's far-right National Front had its best result in the presidential election. Two months later, Jeremy Corbyn shocked Britain by almost becoming Prime Minister with his successful left-wing campaign as head of the Labour Party.

When the election was first called, Corbyn was widely predicted to be crushed--both because he was bitterly opposed by most of the media and even most of the leaders of his own party, and because last year's referendum to leave the European Union was supposed to be proof that most people in Great Britain were committed to right-wing xenophobic politics.

Instead, Corbyn led one of the most successful Labour campaigns in history, in large part because enormous numbers of young people joined the party and actively campaigned for Corbyn, inspired by his manifesto that clearly laid out policies to transfer money from the rich back to the majority.

It's just as important to note that the election took place in the aftermath of two terrorist attacks, including the horrific Manchester bombing--to which Corbyn responded by declaring the attacks to be proof that the "war on terror" isn't working.

These are the politics that are desperately needed in the U.S. It's urgent that we build a strong left that can put out a clear alternative to both the racist nationalism of Trump's Republicans and the dismal status quo being pushed by Democrats:

The reason these ideas aren't in charge of one of our major parties isn't because people in the U.S. are more right wing. In both places, there is tremendous polarization and many people in the middle who can be won to either a clear and confident left or right. The main difference between the U.S. and Britain isn't the people but the parties.

THE RAY of hope in this dark time in which the hard right in the U.S. has so much power in the U.S. is that the left is growing as well.

Up to 4,000 people came to Chicago last month for the People's Summit, and as many as 2,000 are expected for this coming weekend's Socialism 2017 conference--of which SocialistWorker.org is a co-sponsor. These are among the largest left-wing conferences to take place in the U.S. in a number of years.

One of the reasons for the left's growth is that millions of people were inspired by last year's presidential campaign by Bernie Sanders, who proved that calls for wealth redistribution--and socialism--can be just as popular in the U.S. as in the rest of the world.

Since then, the key questions have been how to most effectively build on that experience so that the left can be strong enough to overcome the Democratic Party leaders who ultimately did in the Sanders campaign.

SocialistWorker.org hopes to contribute to the ongoing discussion on the left--specifically on a couple of points we consider to be key in moving forward.

Point One: You can't successfully fight the Democratic Party establishment from within. Unlike the Labour Party in Britain, the Democratic Party wasn't founded by unions--it began as the party of slave owners, and it has been controlled by the rich and powerful ever since.

Furthermore, there is no mechanism to "take over" the party in anything like the way Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party--and that's very much by design. So we're going to have to find our own path toward political power in the U.S.

Which brings up Point Two: What kind of power are we trying to build?

Electoral campaigns can be an important way to popularize left-wing ideas, but they have rarely been the source of fundamental change. Instead, our most important rights and victories have come from strikes and protest movements.

In the most recent period of substantial progressive change--the 1960s and early 1970s--civil rights and affirmative action programs didn't come about through elections, but through social struggles that forced change on those already in power--from the segregationist Democrat Lyndon Johnson to the arch-reactionary Republican Richard Nixon.

SocialistWorker.org regularly reports on struggles large and small across the country. In recent days, for example, we've covered a mobilization against the far right in Washington D.C., protests in Minnesota and elsewhere against the acquittal of the cop who murdered Philando Castile, and the successful fight to win the freedom of Claudia Rueda from immigration detention in California.

The fight to win the release of one young immigrant activist might seem small compared to election campaigns that hold out the promise of changing immigration policy for millions of people. But socialists understand that these local struggles are critical not only for their own aims, but to build the organization and power we need to enforce whatever changes are promised to us through elections.

WE NEED a left that can both project our future vision during election season--and start fighting for pieces of that vision in the here and now.

A glimpse of that combination could be seen in London last month, when raised expectations and class anger given expression by the Corbyn campaign reached another level after the horrifying Grenfell Tower fire.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, housing activists were able to win resettlement for the victims in unused apartments of a nearby luxury building, a solution that is eminently rational but would be seemed impossibly radical just weeks before.

Finally, we need to create a new generation of millions of socialists who understand that there is only so much positive change that can be accommodated by capitalism's inhuman priorities--and that we need to connect all of our local protests and electoral campaigns to a longer-term goal of a socialist society run by working people so that the things we vote for will actually happen.

The rise of both the right and the left is giving new relevance to this year marking the 100-year anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution, when for a few years people came closer to that goal that they have before or since.

We're not on the brink that kind of world-historic event, but for the first time in decades, the left has a chance to become a force in the U.S.--and to hopefully have an impact when decisive moments do arise.

This coming weekend's Socialism conference is an excellent opportunity for people to engage in the critical debates about how best to make that happen. We'll see you there.

Further Reading

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