Posted June 30, 2010
The US Social Forum left me feeling, more than anything else, overwhelmed and confused. I don’t mean to be overly negative—of course, it was also inspiring to see so many radicals come together and to feel the energy that was present. But I was really struck the urgency of several questions for the left, none of which I have answers to.
One question is that of the relationship of the revolutionary left to the social movement or NGO left. Just from observing the contingents at the opening march and the forces responsible for most of the workshops at the USSF, it became clear to me that the left NGOs—workers’ centers, community organizations, etc.—are pretty big deal, much more important, in terms of their day-to-day work, than the Marxist left. While many socialists from other traditions as well as radicals who follow a horizontalist or intersectional analysis have made work in the so-called NGO world a priority, socialists in the Trotskyist tradition, including Solidarity, have often dismissed such organizations out of hand. I think we need to figure out a way of relating to this sector of the left that is critical but constructive. And, to the extent that the division between the social movement left and the socialist left is artificial (I’m not sure whether it is or not), we need to think about why it arose and how we can break it down.
Another, even more overwhelming question that the USSF brought out is that of strategy. Right now, this is a pretty crucial question—the economic, environmental, and political crises make the situation more urgent than ever and make many people are open to the message of revolutionary change, and yet left organizations and movements are disorganized and scattered. Determining the appropriate strategy or strategies for the revolutionary left is far too great a task for one person or group to accomplish singlehandedly. For this reason, I was disappointed that there was so little space for strategic discussion at the US Social Forum. It seemed to me that much of it was devoted to discussion of specific movements or organizations without much reference to the political situation in which we are immersed, or how our work relates to a long-term project. It would have been great if some people who saw the need for strategy had gotten together beforehand and thought about how to start discussion at the USSF about left strategy.
A good discussion that suggested what could have been occurred at FRSO/OSCL’s workshop “Presente!” featuring several venerable leftists debating the role and future of the left. The debate was wide-ranging, including discussion of the relationship between the left and Obama, what the movements of the last ten years indicate about the current political situation, whether the working class remains central to liberation, and what kind of left organization is necessary for rebuilding socialism as a political force, and the panelists often clashed. Although I didn’t always agree with the views that were being expressed, the discussion was refreshing and productive since it dealt with concrete strategic questions. I think this sort of discussion ought to happen more across groups within the broader left, as well as within Solidarity. How can we on the far left work together to promote strategic discussions that are both deep enough to seriously contribute to the struggle, and broad enough to engage new people?