Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Texas Longhorns with newborn calf in Bluebonnets

Please note I have a new phone number...


Alan Maki

Alan Maki
Doing research at the LBJ Library in Austin, Texas

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

It's time to claim our Peace Dividend

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

We need to beat swords into plowshares.

A program for real change...


What we need is a "21st Century Full Employment Act for Peace and Prosperity" which would make it a mandatory requirement that the president and Congress attain and maintain full employment.

"Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens"

- Ben Franklin

Let's talk...

Let's talk...

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Doing Elections

The essay below by Bill Fletcher, Jr. raises a number of very important questions... the most important question is: Should progressives follow the lead of Bill Fletcher, Jr. and the new group "Progressives for Obama?" I don't think progressives should follow these progressives in jumping off the bridge into muddy waters of undetermined depth.

Fletcher has repeatedly written in vague generalities, unwilling to confront specific problems like the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant closing even though he has entered the debate in opposition to the most recent sell-out contract "negotiated" by the UAW.

Fletcher and one of the groups to which he belongs, the "Center for Labor Renewal" has focused on "two-tier" wages without any consideration that plant closings are an integral aspect of the "two-tier wage" problem.

Here we find Fletcher writing a column for the "Freedom Road Socialist Organization" stating that the left should reconcile itself for "decades" in developing any kind of credible alternative to the two-party trap. Fletcher writes as if the left has no experience with left forms and alternatives winning elections.

In fact, like the closing of the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant, Fletcher, Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the Center for Labor Renewal intentionally ignore the successful left-wing alternatives to the Democrats and Republicans that have been very successful over the years... one of the best examples being the Farmer-Labor Party... perhaps its most successful campaigns were right here in Minnesota and it is not by chance that workers at the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant played a most important role in the success of the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party.

To listen to Fletcher and Freedom Road Socialist Organization, one would think the U.S. working class has no experience to build on, which simply is not true. Perhaps if this experience was widely written about as what kind of independent political action is possible we would see similar formations take shape very quickly, especially given the numerous problems besetting capitalism which are making life unbearable and miserable for working people--- I think we all know the problems. Less known and talked about are the solutions to these problems.

If Fletcher thinks alternatives to the Democratic and Republican Party are far into the future by "decades;" one can only surmise how far off into the future Fletcher would speculate that socialism is.

Putting time-tables to either finding alternatives to the two-party trap and socialist revolution is very dangerous because this becomes an impediment to bringing forward more advanced demands, which if fought for in the right way could hasten both.

Fletcher writes of "urgency" as if working people can wait until academia comes up with solutions to their problems... this isn't going to happen.

As Bill Fletcher, Jr., Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the Center for Labor Renewal are very well aware, working people made their greatest advances when the Communist Party USA was at its strongest; further ignored is the fact that Communist Party Clubs which were the think-tanks and action centers of these movements were at the heart of working people winning on both the electoral front and in the streets where these activities complemented each other.

Yet, knowing this, Fletcher, Freedom Road Socialist Organization and the Center for Labor Renewal put forward, in one way or another--- Freedom Road Socialist Organization openly state this erroneously:
"We believe that a multi-tendencied left can bring strength to the mass movements for progressive change in our country; movements that are crucial to the struggle for socialism."
This is very dangerous thinking because the working class will never be united in action with such thinking.

No thinking person can really believe that an Obama or Clinton victory over McCain will in any way advance any kind of progressive agenda or alternative. Clinton's and Obama's thoroughly reactionary stance regarding the Olympics in China is but one example; suffice it to say not one of those, including Bill Fletcher, Jr., identified with "Progressives for Obama" has made any attempt to challenge Obama on this issue. Why not? Because they know to do so will immediately put them at odds with Obama and many--- if not most--- of his supporters. The Olympics is all about people getting along and the lessening of tensions between peoples and nations and about cultivating friendships... if anything, the Olympics should be seen as a way to support China in trying to resolve the problems in Tibet; not supporting a bunch of parasitic feudal monks who want poor peasants to support them while they go on with a life of leisure.

I am sure Barack Obama will appreciate this essay below written by Bill Fletcher, Jr.; I am not so sure workers at the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant will agree that the defense of their jobs should proceed at such a leisurely pace; lest the lack of urgency to respond by asking Obama or Clinton how they will resolve this issue proves an embarrassment to Clinton and Obama. I would note that Bill Fletcher, Jr. and his fellow "Progressives for Obama" has completely ignored International Association of Machinist President Buffenbargar's attack on Obama... why?

Perhaps not coincidentally, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Tom Hayden, Carl Davidson would like to evade the issue of "plant closings?"

Further, perhaps these "progressives," many, like Fletcher and Davidson, who claim to be for socialism, too, would like to evade this issue because the solution brings into view a remedy to the two-party trap which is the need for a labor party on the one hand, and calls into question the "legitimacy" of the capitalist system... in other words, bringing forward the public ownership question as the solution to individual plant closings, and the complete nationalization of entire industries like auto, steel, finance and power generation and distribution begins to place socialism on the table.

I find it very interesting that not one single one of the "Progressives for Obama," not even Bill Fletcher, Jr. have added their voices to supporting SF 607 here in Minnesota... the legislation aimed at keeping the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant and hydro dam intact as an industrial unit aimed at saving two-thousand jobs.

One would think that Fletcher, Davidson and even "The Boss" Bruce Springsteen would have added their voices to support of SF 607 long ago if they were really interested in the "urgency of defeating McCain" because this is a real empirical issue that has the potential to unite the working class and with support from Obama or Clinton, preferably both, there would be an outpouring of working class voters on Election Day.

Instead, Fletcher, Hayden and Davidson would have us believe that "hope," or, "the hope for change" is good enough.

I'm all for "Doing Elections" but those running for public office should not receive any help from progressives unless, and until, we have something of substance from the candidates which merits this support.

Of course, what every worker does in the secrecy of the election booth is her/his own business and I don't think most working people--- definitely not progressives--- need Fletcher, Hayden or Davidson telling us that we don't need McCain in the White House. On the other hand, the working class does need progressive ideas addressing their urgent problems brought forward into the "public square" and the political arena.

Ironically, not only do we not know what Obama will do about plant closings, we don't even know where Bill Fletcher, Jr., Carl Davidson or Tom Hayden stand on what needs to be done to save the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant... nor do we know where any of these organizations like Freedom Road Socialist Organization, the Center for Labor Renewal or the Democratic Party or any of the organizations with which the endorsers of the "Progressives for Obama" stand on something as simple and basic as SF 607 and public ownership of the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant.

I couldn't care less that Obama isn't capable of scoring over 30 bowling. I would like to hear Obama's thinking on SF 607... maybe Fletcher, Hayden and Davidson could put this question to Obama... doing so might give them the courage to come forward on this issue, too.

Something to think about. But, remember, while thinking, there is an urgency to this question the Tibetan monks do not understand, and I don't think working people want to be told they should wait for real solutions to their problems for "decades;" and this is what Bill Fletcher, Jr. is asking working people to do... to be patient with capitalism. I find it strange that the Freedom Road Socialist Organization has a similar "patience" and tolerance for the social and economic injustices working people are experiencing. We Communists, never have--- and never will share this patience for social and economic injustice.

Of course, the problem isn't limited to the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant; I could have cited the two-million casino workers employed in the more than 400 loud, noisy, smoke-filled Indian Gaming Casinos spread out across this country where workers receive poverty wages and have no rights under state or federal labor laws, forced to work at the mercy of sleaze-balls like the Fertitta Family whose ill-be-gotten financial gains are footing the bill for Hillary Clinton's campaign or the dollars that are pouring into the Obama campaign from Brownstein/Hyatt/Farber/Schreck--- a lobbying outfit none of the "Progressives for Obama" want to talk about... like the St. Paul Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant; or I could have cited the problem with the minimum wage not being a legislated real living, non-poverty, wage.

Fletcher and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization like to promote

Doing Elections

by Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Sunday, 13 April 2008

Some recent controversy in connection with the statement on the US Presidential elections by Jamala Rogers posted on the FRSO website, along with a odd exchange that accompanied a piece that I wrote at The Black Commentator on the now-halted John Edwards campaign, caused me to reflect some more on the radical Left and elections. Is there a point for the radical Left to be thinking in terms of participating in elections, be they national or local? If so, in what capacity?

Contrary to those, such as the Greens, who suggest an immediate third-party run for national (and local) office, I believe that the actual conditions plus the nature of the electoral system do not justify it. To borrow from the remarks offered by long-time writer and activist Frances Fox Piven at the recent Left Forum in New York City, there are those who wish to engage in an electoral politics that does not exist in the USA and wish to avoid the electoral politics that does.

Central to a radical left practice must be a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. Among other things this means understanding the nature of the state in a particular social formation, including how it operates, its history and the class forces operating within it. The US state is extremely undemocratic, particularly when it comes to electoral politics, making it difficult for minor or third parties to operate and be considered relevant. This reality has often led many left activists to turn entirely away from electoral politics and focus on non-electoral social movement activity. While this work may at times be exemplary, it is often disconnected from the fight for political power and can be condemned to the realm of resistance-only activity. This is not a criticism of the work, but a criticism of the decision to turn away from electoral politics.

Another view is to engage in symbolic politics, such as the current Ralph Nader and Cynthia McKinney campaigns for President of the USA. Neither campaign has a chance of winning but both are posed by their supporters as ways of suggesting an alternative to the two-party system. While this is noble, it is not about serious political strategy. It is rooted in justifiable anger, but does very little to build the sort of social-political bloc that we need to combat the empire and introduce significant structural reforms (not to mention, to open discussions on the possibility of an alternative system).

Yet another view suggests that local electoral work may make sense, but that it is unlikely for the radical Left to have any real impact at the national level; therefore, in this case, the presidential elections are of little importance. This view is grounded in a more accurate assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the radical Left and turns away from symbolic political activity. Yet it makes the mistake of missing the opportunity for significant action even within the context of candidacies that may not be left, and in some cases, may not be particularly progressive.

The radical Left can engage in electoral work to raise issues. This can take place at the level of local or statewide initiatives or referenda, or it can take place in the context of battling over the platform of a particular candidate. Initiatives and referenda are very straight to the point. With candidates such as that of Democratic nominee for Congress Donna Edwards (from Maryland), their candidacy can become a means to push a very progressive agenda--in her case, around the war.

At the national level it is certainly trickier, particularly given who is generally running. Yet here is where an assessment of the moment becomes very important. In our situation, for instance, a victory of John McCain would be most dangerous. He makes noises about (and actually sings about) bombing Iran; keeping the USA in Iraq for 100 years; and privatizing Social Security. His social base shares nothing in common with the progressive movement and he owes progressives nothing. He would continue the offensive, albeit with a softer voice, against the bottom 80 percent of this country.

So, one issue, as far as I am concerned, is that McCain needs to be defeated in the election. This is more than about educating people on the issues, though it is not enough, particularly when resource-strapped organizations need to make decisions about the level of involvement in a particular campaign--if any. The question is whether the radical Left and progressives can influence an anti-McCain candidate. My sense is that it is definitely possible but not on all or often most issues. Thus, a Clinton or Obama win might open up the chances of pushing genuine national healthcare, but only if there is a social base that is organized and can demonstrate its organization. If there is anything that can and should be learned from the practice of the Christian Right, it is this point.

An additional factor, which is particularly relevant to the Obama campaign, is the level of energy that it has produced and inspired and the deep desire for change that appears to be inspiring record numbers of voters. This energy, however, is very unfocused and will more than likely dissipate following the election season unless there are vehicles to channel it. It is with this in mind that it is worth considering two initiatives that I proposed in a column at www.blackcommentator.com. One, a "progressives for Obama" initiative that could either be a very loose network or a platform that unites those that wish to find a means to support the Obama candidacy, but do so without reserving their principled criticisms of his policies, e.g., on the Middle East. A second approach, which is more long-term, is the development of locally based mass electoral organizations along the lines of the original conception of Mel King's, and later Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. Specifically, independent political organizations that are not political parties but can engage in locally based legislative and electoral work (inside or outside of the Democratic Party). Work to build such organizations can start now, but with a set of objectives that go way beyond the November 2008 election.

Much can be said about the idea of locally based organizations, but by way of conclusion let me suggest that locally based organizations do not aim to replace non-electoral social movement activity. They are not being suggested as something into which every activist should jump. Rather, this form of organization is suggested as a means of linking together social struggles and giving voice to them in the electoral arena. The aim is to think in terms of building local social-political blocs that can move to win local political power, ultimately aiming to affect a national political realignment. Such formations can be one means to channel those who get motivated by the excitement of a national political campaign, e.g., Obama's, but are unsure how they will continue to operate at the end of the election cycle.

We on the radical Left must be thinking in terms of decades. While urgency is critical, the development of a viable social-political bloc that can win power is a process that is deeply connected to both electoral and non-electoral activism. There is no straight line of stages in moving to electoral politics. We must be building the links from the very beginning because a well-considered and grounded strategy for power is the real source of the hope that millions so desperately desire.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of The Black Commentator and the co-founder of both the Black Radical Congress and the Center for Labor Renewal.