[Marxism] Can the Democrats be moved to the left?

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 25 10:31:44 MST 2005

Counterpunch, March 25, 2005
You Ain't a-Goin' Nowhere
Can the Democrats be Moved to the Left?


In a recent fundraising appeal on behalf of Progressive Democrats of 
America (PDA), Global Exchange and Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin 
urged support for the PDA's effort to "take over and transform the 
Democratic Party."

But this is only the latest in a long line of attempts to "take over and 
transform the Democratic Party." If history is any guide, the PDA's attempt 
will end like all the others--in failure.

Perhaps the closest a movement has come to transforming the Democratic 
Party came in the 1930s with the eruption of the industrial union movement 
in the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The Democrats were 
revived as an electoral vehicle and a tool for capitalist rule as the 
Roosevelt administration, in the depths of the Great Depression, devised a 
program to save the system.

The new labor movement quite quickly became an appendage of a pro-business 
party--one that helped get out the working-class vote while burying or 
watering down working-class demands in the interests of "party unity." 
Until the civil rights movement, that meant unity with the right-wing 
Dixiecrat rulers of the U.S. South, who hated organized labor almost as 
much as civil rights for Blacks.

This logic affected almost all the main labor leaders of the era--including 
United Auto Workers (UAW) President Walter Reuther, who once confessed that 
the UAW could have taken over the Michigan Democratic Party, but refrained 
from doing so because it wanted to keep the party's middle-class and 
business supporters. So for years, labor remained the Democrats' most loyal 
backers, but got little of its agenda--from national health care to repeal 
of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act--considered.

No one can realistically compare today's PDA with the CIO of the 1930s and 
'40s. But that's precisely the point. If the most powerful working-class 
movement in U.S. history couldn't transform the Democratic Party, how can a 
few thousand liberal activists--whose preferred 2004 presidential 
candidates (Dennis Kucinich and Howard Dean) couldn't win a Democratic 
primary--hope to?

So far, the PDA appears to be just another progressive pressure group 
inside the Democratic Party, promoting the legislation of 40 to 50 liberal 
members of Congress. If it becomes a more serious player in Democratic 
politics, it will face pressure to stand with party leaders who oppose it 
on issues like the Iraq war, in the interests of "party unity."

An example of just how this works took place recently in the Internet 
activist network and fundraising machine MoveOn.org. Even though MoveOn 
gained its prominence by its identification with opposition to Bush's war 
on Iraq, it recently decided to shelve opposition to the occupation--in 
favor of promoting the Democratic Party's opposition to Bush's Social 
Security "reform" instead.

"We're seeing a broad difference of opinion among our members on how 
quickly the U.S. should get out of Iraq," MoveOn executive director Eli 
Pariser told columnist Norman Solomon. "As a grassroots-directed 
organization, we won't be taking any position which a large portion of our 
members disagree with."

This explanation doesn't pass the laugh test. Like many other liberal 
groups, MoveOn.org is a staff-driven lobby whose "members" have no control 
over the organization's direction. While it's no doubt true that there is a 
range of opinions about Iraq among MoveOn contributors and "Internet 
activists," the staff's interpretations of those opinions is what counts. 
So Pariser could easily have argued the opposite case--in favor of ending 
the occupation "as soon as possible," or some other nebulous 
formula--because that position would no doubt reflect a substantial opinion 
among MoveOn constituents as well.

Why "move on" to Social Security instead? Most likely because the 
Democratic politicians that MoveOn plays to oppose getting out of Iraq. 
Meanwhile, they are finding that opposition to Bush's Social Security 
privatization scheme has actually earned them support.

Because MoveOn wants to be taken seriously as a "player" in Washington and 
because it is, at heart, a partisan pro-Democratic organization, it is 
deferring to its "friends" in the Democratic Party. This is how 
"grassroots" organizations that talk about influencing the Democratic Party 
end up being influenced by it instead.

Lance Selfa writes for the Socialist Worker.

Louis Proyect
Marxism list: www.marxmail.org 

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