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Toward a New Leftist Politics

by RON JACOBS

There is no need to despair; no need to retreat; and no need to lash out at the liberals cheering Barack Obama’s re-election. Leave all that to those who voted for Mitt Romney. It is their world that has changed, hopefully forever.  For those on the left, it is time to organize. The desire to change the nation remains. Obama’s reelection is evidence of that.   Instead of choosing the failed millenarian politics of Mitt Romney, voters chose the uncertainty of Barack Obama and his hopeful change.

Will he continue appeasing the far right and Wall Street?  Will he maintain the status quo at the Pentagon, fighting wars that only serve to fatten the war profiteers, kill innocents and soldiers,and guarantee the exorbitant waste of tax monies?  Will the infrastructure of the nation continue to crumble while the roads, bridges and beaches of our land cry out for a jobs program that puts men and women to work rebuilding?  Will he allow attempts to further privatize the nation’s educational system to continue and encourage policies that expand student debt?

These are just a few of the questions the left needs to be organizing around. While it is certainly easier to point out the failures of Obama and his closeness to the very same forces that have created the situation we find ourselves in, this attitude is nothing more than that: attitude.   There are some on the left who argued that there was no difference between Obama and Romney. While this may have been so in a general sense, the facts seem pretty clear.  The Romney forces represented a proto-fascist mindset, and the nature of the campaign and election is evidence of a fundamental divide in the ruling class.  So is the ongoing “gridlock” in Washington; the forces of the right representing robber baron capitalism are reluctant to align themselves with the more liberal capitalist forces represented by the Democrats.  If I understand history correctly, it is the job of the left to take advantage of this divide.  Instead of sounding like the partisans of the right and lambasting Barack Obama and his party for what they are, we should focus on the people of the country who know something is wrong and understand that the reactionary policies of the right cannot remedy the situation.

Last year’s Occupy movement proved that thousands (if not millions) of US residents know that the situation we face is a systemic one; it cannot be fixed by voting in one politician or the other.  Nor can it be resolved by meaningless reforms.  Also understood, especially in the wake of the police attacks on the Occupy encampments, is that those that profit from that system will do whatever it takes to protect those profits.  This understanding is a positive step forward.  Yet, it is not enough.  As anyone who spent time with Occupy (or read their literature) knows, this general understanding led to many different conclusions, some of which were liberal in nature; some which were revolutionary; some that were conspiratorial, and some that were just plain nonsense.

I mention Occupy for the hope it provides.  Not only did it prove that people understand the systemic nature of our situation, it also showed that they understand that it will take popular protest and a willingness to confront the authorities to change that system.  Both of these realities are positive and both of these realities are also what the left should focus on.  Of course, revolution is not around the corner, but the opportunity for building a left-leaning movement opposed to monopoly capitalism in all its manifestations exists.  One need only look at the protest movement in Europe for evidence of this possibility.  Of course, the European movements have a longer tradition of organizing behind them and work in a different electoral system, but the US has its own traditions of protest.  The left should revive those.

In parting, let me revisit the days of Richard Nixon’s presidency.  First, let me make it perfectly clear (as Tricky Dick used to say) that I agree with musician Stephen Stills’ recent comment saying that Mitt Romney was the “creepiest politician” he had seen since Nixon.  That being said, it is currently fashionable among some mainstream commentators to claim that Nixon’s policies were more progressive than Barack Obama’s, as if Nixon was progressive.  He was not.  He was a reactionary and a wannabe fascist. However, he ruled in a time when there was a popular left-leaning movement with a large militant wing.  The existence of that movement and its leftist politics is why his policies were more progressive than many of those pursued by Barack Obama these last four years.  That movement forced Nixon’s hand into agreeing to policies and programs he would not have agreed to if there was not such a movement.  If the left can organize a similar movement today with comparable power, then a new and leftist politics might truly flourish.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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