FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

May 23, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
A Gathering of Autocrats: Trump Puts US on Sunni Muslim Side of Bitter Sectarian War with Shias
Shamus Cooke
Can Trump Salvage His Presidency in Syria’s War?
Thomas S. Harrington
“Risk”: a Sad Comedown for Laura Poitras
Josh White
Towards the Corbyn Doctrine
Mike Whitney
Rosenstein and Mueller: the Regime Change Tag-Team
Jan Oberg
Trump in Riyadh: an Arab NATO Against Syria and Iran
Susan Babbitt
The Most Dangerous Spy You’ve Never Heard Of: Ana Belén Montes
Rannie Amiri
Al-Awamiya: City of Resistance
Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
The European Left and the Greek Tragedy
Laura Leigh
This Land is Your Land, Except If You’re a Wild Horse Advocate
Hervé Kempf
Macron, Old World President
Michael J. Sainato
Devos Takes Out Her Hatchet
L. Ali Khan
I’m a Human and I’m a Cartoon
May 22, 2017
Diana Johnstone
All Power to the Banks! The Winners-Take-All Regime of Emmanuel Macron
Robert Fisk
Hypocrisy and Condescension: Trump’s Speech to the Middle East
John Grant
Jeff Sessions, Jesus Christ and the Return of Reefer Madness
Nozomi Hayase
Trump and the Resurgence of Colonial Racism
Rev. William Alberts
The Normalizing of Authoritarianism in America
Frank Stricker
Getting Full Employment: the Fake Way and the Right Way 
Jamie Davidson
Red Terror: Anti-Corbynism and Double Standards
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Sweden, and Continuing Battles
Robert Jensen
Beyond Liberal Pieties: the Radical Challenge for Journalism
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Extravagant Saudi Trip Distracts from His Crisis at Home
Angie Beeman
Gig Economy or Odd Jobs: What May Seem Trendy to Privileged City Dwellers and Suburbanites is as Old as Poverty
Colin Todhunter
The Public Or The Agrochemical Industry: Who Does The European Chemicals Agency Serve?
Jerrod A. Laber
Somalia’s Worsening Drought: Blowback From US Policy
Michael J. Sainato
Police Claimed Black Man Who Died in Custody Was Faking It
Clancy Sigal
I’m a Trump Guy, So What?
Gerry Condon
In Defense of Tulsi Gabbard
Weekend Edition
May 19, 2017
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
Getting Assange: the Untold Story
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Secret Sharer
Charles Pierson
Trump’s First Hundred Days of War Crimes
Paul Street
How Russia Became “Our Adversary” Again
Andrew Levine
Legitimation Crises
Mike Whitney
Seth Rich, Craig Murray and the Sinister Stewards of the National Security State 
Robert Hunziker
Early-Stage Antarctica Death Rattle Sparks NY Times Journalists Trip
Ken Levy
Why – How – Do They Still Love Trump?
Bruce E. Levine
“Hegemony How-To”: Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
Robert Fisk
The Real Aim of Trump’s Trip to Saudi Arabia
Christiane Saliba
Slavery Now: Migrant Labor in the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
Chris Gilbert
The Chávez Hypothesis: Vicissitudes of a Strategic Project
Howard Lisnoff
Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Curtain
Brian Cloughley
Propaganda Feeds Fear and Loathing
Stephen Cooper
Is Alabama Hiding Evidence It Tortured Two of Its Citizens?
Sheldon Richman
The Real Danger From Trump is Ignored
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail