[Marxism] Can the Democrats be moved to the left?
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?
By LANCE SELFA
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
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
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.
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