Leftists and Popular Movements
are a number of reasons why some of those who are left of center in the United
States have not yet decided to support the Ralph Nader/Winona LaDuke Green Party
independent Presidential campaign. Some have the usual "lesser of two
evils" arguments, with the fear of Attila the Hun-like Supreme Court
nominations often being at the top of the list. Others have problems with Nader
because he has a poor track record when it comes to speaking out in the past on
certain issues; e.g., police brutality, affirmative action, reproductive rights,
lesbian/gay rights and peace issues. Although he is now speaking to them during
his Green Party Presidential campaign, some activists still question the depth
of his commitment to "doing the right thing" on these issues.
there are those who don't support Nader because he's not a socialist, or is not
the risk of offending some friends, I have to take issue with those in this
latter category. I think that this approach is reflective of a larger problem
among some sections of the political Left.
has the Left in this country been so relatively small and ineffective? There are
many reasons, among them: the strength of individualism and competitive
ideology, racism and racial divisions, a winner-take-all electoral system, a
population with a large percentage of middle-income people, and repression
and/or cooption of union organizing efforts, anti-racist activism and leftists.
Also significant, however, has been a long history of sectarianism and
many leftists have not grasped one of the most fundamental, most basic lessons
from history when it comes to major social transformation: masses of people in
motion make history. Relatively small groups of organizers, no matter how
dedicated or skillful, cannot by themselves overturn structures of injustice and
role as organizers, more than anything else, is to play a connecting and
leavening role, helping broader and broader numbers of people become active with
others as they learn through experience that only by doing so can their
do I mean by "masses of people?" If we are talking about something as
big as an actual struggle for power, for control of the government, which is
ultimately what those of us who are serious about change have to see as our
objective down the road, then we have to be talking millions, eventually tens of
millions of people involved or supportive. Nothing else stands a chance against
a ruling group as powerful as the tiny minority of ultra-rich individuals who
stand astride the commanding heights of the corporate economy and the
United States is not a country with a history of mass socialist or communist
parties as is true in western Europe, Japan and other parts of the world.
Movements of opposition to the rule of corporate capital in this country have
been programmatic and issue-based and not ideologically-driven, even when there
are those within them whose work is ideologically-based. There is a relative
paucity of knowledge within the U.S. population about Marxism, socialism,
communism, anarchism and other historic Left ideological traditions, primarily
due to government repression and mass media distortions of those ideologies.
this political context, it is unrealistic in the extreme to think that the way
in which a broadly-based, popular movement for fundamental change is going to
emerge is through an emphasis on socialist education, or the building of an
ideologically-based political organization. It is not that these cannot be of
value and even of significant value, long-term. But that value, that political
impact, will only come to pass if a politically less radical, more populist,
more issue-driven and program-based alternative emerges, grows and eventually
succeeds in its objective of winning political power.
who are ideologically-driven need to swim in that people's ocean, interact
personally and politically with "the masses." They need to learn how
to talk to, influence and learn from working people from a wide range of
backgrounds and with a mix of different ideas, some progressive, some
conservative, some confused and some just plain common sense.
electoral campaigns, with candidates who are articulate and democratic in their
approach to the campaign, can be one of the most effective ways to put forward a
comprehensive, alternative vision of change. Such campaigns can plant the seeds
to help increasing numbers of people grow in their understanding of our
political/economic reality and their commitment to being part of the process of
can also be an important arena for ideologically-based leftists to test their
ideas in practice, gather signatures, ask for money, motivate people to come out
and vote. In this way they can discover the extent to which their ideas match
with reality. And as a result, the two can become more closely aligned.
then we'll see the emergence of a 21st century organized Left in this country
that is unlike any we've seen for decades: playing a significant role in a
broadly-based, popular movement to take back our government from the corporate
criminals who control it now. Let's speed the day!
Ted Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org). His first book, Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society, has just been published. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 1132, Bloomfield, N.J. 07003 or futurehopeTG@aol.com.