The Tasks and Possibilities of a U.S. Refounded Left

Posted July 21, 2008


or millions, the Soviet Union and China were what socialism in the concrete looked like. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Chinese bureaucracy’s embrace of capitalism in its most rapacious form, millions have concluded that socialism has been tried, and it has failed. Certainly those bureaucratic and authoritarian versions failed. However the removal of this alternative economic bloc has placed new strictures on the possibility of anti-capitalist outcomes for liberation struggles in a developing world.

Even the exciting promise of workers democracy articulated by Brazil’s and South Africa’s mass trade unions remain unfulfilled. Each maintained alliances with political parties which, upon taking governmental power, adopted a neoliberal model with an occasional populist gesture. Tied to these parties, the unions and much of the social movements, including Brazil’s militant Landless Workers Movement, lost a substantial measure of political autonomy and have been unable to defend themselves let alone pave the way for an alternative.
U.S. revolutionaries need to understand how global capitalism is evolving, how that affects the confidence of the working class and social movements, and how those changes reveal new fault lines. We also need to support and participate in working-class and community-based struggles and social movements. With a few notable exceptions like the antiwar and immigrants’ rights movement, today’s battles are largely defensive and local in nature — such as police brutality cases, attacks on abortion clinics or laws regulating them, issues involving prisoner rights, community struggles over water and pollution, and many local labor struggles.

In its present state, the left is almost never the generating force for these struggles. It is far too small and lacking in social legitimacy. However, these developments tell us that leadership has developed; militant, collective action has been taken. It is crucial for socialists to participate in such movements in order to learn from them, to support their most progressive direction, and to recruit as many of their ranks as possible to a socialist perspective in a respectful way, mindful of the parasitical stereotype that does confront us.

Experiencing solidarity is crucial to understanding that we are not condemned to live in an alienated, commodified world of growing inequality. To the greatest extent possible, our small forces should do all they can to honor and assist these fights – from direct participation, to support work, to education on the underlying issues. Recognizing our limitations, the left should not develop delusions about taking the lead, although individuals among us are leaders or mentors to leaders. In today’s relation of forces, the immediate objective is a successful struggle that can encourage further developments.

Too often socialist groups have seen the development of a movement not for what it is and can become, but only what it might offer in the way of recruits. We reject this conception and affirm the need for an effective class movement in and for itself, which requires new forms of action, thinking and dialogue rather than repeating the known formulas.

The left must be involved in the struggle against current wars and occupations, demanding that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan be brought home now. No occupation is benign! We think this moment provides socialists with an opportunity to educate about the nature of U.S. foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. We want to explain how complicity with the brutal Israeli occupation underpins U.S. policy, and express our solidarity with the Palestinian people. We do so without illusions that the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the ongoing Palestinian tragedy, will end in the near term. We oppose the U.S. empire and support struggles to close down U.S. military bases wherever they exist.
On an international scale, our “programmatic judgments” on liberation struggles in the developing world must be held up to the light of global capitalist hegemony. That is, we can see some of their limitations, but it is more difficult to see how far these struggles can go in a world dominated by unipolar capitalism.

Despite unfair election laws that benefit the two-party system, we believe it is necessary to build a party independent of the ruling-class. Such a party needs to be both a participant in the social movements as well as run candidates that can articulate a working-class perspective. Over the course of Solidarity’s existence, we have supported various initiatives toward building independent political parties including the Labor Party, the Party for the 21st century, the Green Party and exploratory efforts to build a Reconstruction Party. Some of our members work in the Green Party that, however fragile, has been able to gain ballot status in almost half the states and has elected officials at the local level. In addition to its platform of environmental justice, opposition to the Iraq war, and supports reparations, community struggles and workers’ strikes. We think that a movement-rooted political formation that encourages people to break with the two capitalist parties has high priority and an unfortunately low momentum. The capitalists have two parties, the working class has none.

In this next presidential election, we recognize that the historic possibility of electing Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States is a touchstone issue for the vast majority of the progressive community, and especially African Americans. Yet Obama is a centrist Democrat. What is unknown at this point is whether his possible victory and subsequent inability/refusal to end the U.S. occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan, reverse the repression launched by the war on terror or implement such needed social measures as single-payer health care will demoralize those who vote for him – or spur them into action.
While Solidarity has endorsed Cynthia McKinney’s campaign in the 2008 election cycle, we realize that most of the progressive community that votes will choose Obama either as symbol of hope and change, or as the better of the two mainstream candidates.

Solidarity views Cynthia McKinney’s campaign as attractive to a layer of Black activists interested in independent political action, and we want to work with them. We also note that a small group of people of color have joined the Green Party and several have run for political office. Others have decided to build the Reconstruction Party, and are also supporting the McKinney campaign. While we are not hostile to Ralph Nader’s 2008 run, we want to help the Greens sink deeper roots into local struggles and feel the McKinney campaign can advance that goal. Solidarity members inside the Green Party, just as in other movements, respect the party’s integrity and encourage its democratic process.

Even though no “really existing alternative” to capitalism occupies the stage at the moment, the terrifying dimensions of the global environmental crisis help convince millions of people, including the best of a new generation of activists, that capitalism is incompatible with the survival of human society. A convergence of “global justice” and environmental justice is key to the emergence of 21st century socialism.

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