[Marxism] Define the "Left"?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Apr 2 10:18:28 MST 2004

Badili Jones wrote:
What are your various working definitions of the Left? It seems that 
most people define the Left as the existent sectarian organizations? Is 
the Left exclusively Marxist? Is it ideological, etc? This is 
problematic in some ways because it it means constituting a force that 
can articulate a popular will it would seem that the Left would have to 
be more deeply connected to the social movements, especial within the 
communities of color and the working class. I believe that we need to 
soberly analyze the class, and national composition of the left and 
define the tasks for building up the left accordingly.

We are in a period of transition. The left that came into existence 
after the Russian Revolution reached an impasse in the 1970s. 
Methodologies based on a schematic understanding of that revolution 
could always be relied on to achieve a critical mass. A newspaper, a 
couple of hundred to a couple of thousand cadre, a presence in the mass 
movement might convince the participants that they were operating on the 
"legacy of 1917" or some such nonsense. However, with the collapse of 
the USSR and the failure of groups to the left of the Communist Parties 
to succeed even on their own terms, there has been a search for an 
alternative model for the left. Max Elbaum has tried to explain why this 
approach failed in the Maoist milieu while I have written numerous 
articles on why it failed for Trotskyism.

I would strongly suggest that the Green Party is the most important 
initiative right now for redefining the left. This is not to say that 
the Green Party is a finished product. There are obvious unresolved 
tensions that are expressed in the differences between Ted Glick and 
Peter Camejo.

Radical movements cannot succeed unless they flow from the culture and 
language of the native ground. Sectarians failed to understand that the 
hammer and sickle were uniquely Russian expressions. If the left is to 
grow in the USA, it will have to learn to relate to the experience of 
ordinary people and their concerns. This is something that the CP of the 
Popular Front era can teach us. No matter the mistakes made in 
supporting FDR or adapting to national chauvinism during WWII, it was 
highly successful in reaching the masses and being seen as a legitimate 
force for social and political change. By contrast, the Militant was 
running articles during that same period urging its readers to "Vote 
Trotskyist". Whatever the failures of the FSLN and the FMLN, they too 
learned to develop a movement that was uniquely Nicaraguan and Salvadoran.

I myself have not read Marta Harnecker's article but much of what she 
seems to be saying was also expressed in Roger Burbach's very fine "Fire 
in the Americas", a book that tried to apply the lessons of the 
Nicaraguan revolution to the USA. I might scan in a few pages this 
evening for comparison's sake.


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