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.










 

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
September 01, 2015
Mike Whitney
Return to Crisis: Things Keep Getting Worse
Michael Schwalbe
The Moral Hazards of Capitalism
Eric Mann
Inside the Civil Rights Movement: a Conversation With Julian Bond
Pam Martens
How Wall Street Parasites Have Devoured Their Hosts, Your Retirement Plan and the U.S. Economy
Jonathan Latham
Growing Doubt: a Scientist’s Experience of GMOs
Fran Shor
Occupy Wall Street and the Sanders Campaign: a Case of Historical Amnesia?
Joe Paff
The Big Trees: Cockburn, Marx and Shostakovich
Randy Blazak
University Administrators Allow Fraternities to Turn Colleges Into Rape Factories
Robert Hunziker
The IPCC Caught in a Pressure Cooker
George Wuerthner
Myths of the Anthropocene Boosters: Truthout’s Misguided Attack on Wilderness and National Park Ideals
Robert Koehler
Sending Your Children Off to Safe Spaces in College
Jesse Jackson
Season of the Insurgents: From Trump to Sanders
August 31, 2015
Michael Hudson
Whitewashing the IMF’s Destructive Role in Greece
Conn Hallinan
Europe’s New Barbarians
Lawrence Ware
George Bush (Still) Doesn’t Care About Black People
Joseph Natoli
Plutocracy, Gentrification and Racial Violence
Franklin Spinney
One Presidential Debate You Won’t Hear: Why It is Time to Adopt a Sensible Grand Strategy
Dave Lindorff
What’s Wrong with Police in America
Louis Proyect
Jacobin and “The War on Syria”
Lawrence Wittner
Militarism Run Amok: How Russians and Americans are Preparing Their Children for War
Binoy Kampmark
Tales of Darkness: Europe’s Refugee Woes
Ralph Nader
Lo, the Poor Enlightened Billionaire!
Peter Koenig
Greece: a New Beginning? A New Hope?
Dean Baker
America Needs an “Idiot-Proof” Retirement System
Vijay Prashad
Why the Iran Deal is Essential
Tom Clifford
The Marco Polo Bridge Incident: a History That Continues to Resonate
Peter Belmont
The Salaita Affair: a Scandal That Never Should Have Happened
Weekend Edition
August 28-30, 2015
Randy Blazak
Donald Trump is the New Face of White Supremacy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Long Time Coming, Long Time Gone
Mike Whitney
Looting Made Easy: the $2 Trillion Buyback Binge
Alan Nasser
The Myth of the Middle Class: Have Most Americans Always Been Poor?
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Cycle of Crises
Andrew Levine
Viva Trump?
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Behind the Congressional Disagreements Over the Iran Nuclear Deal
Lawrence Ware – Marcus T. McCullough
I Won’t Say Amen: Three Black Christian Clichés That Must Go
Evan Jones
Zionism in Britain: a Neglected Chronicle
John Wight
Learning About the Migration Crisis From Ancient Rome
Andre Vltchek
Lebanon – What if it Fell?
Charles Pierson
How the US and the WTO Crushed India’s Subsidies for Solar Energy
Robert Fantina
Hillary Clinton, Palestine and the Long View
Ben Burgis
Gore Vidal Was Right: What Best of Enemies Leaves Out
Suzanne Gordon
How Vets May Suffer From McCain’s Latest Captivity
Robert Sandels - Nelson P. Valdés
The Cuban Adjustment Act: the Other Immigration Mess
Uri Avnery
The Molten Three: Israel’s Aborted Strike on Iran
John Stanton
Israel’s JINSA Earns Return on Investment: 190 Americans Admirals and Generals Oppose Iran Deal