The Divided Left

The Satan Sandwich budget deal seems to have been left lying on the table in some television green rooms. Dylan Ratigan has begun cursing both political parties, even while still fantasizing about the President saving us. Keith Olbermann and Al Gore want a Tahrir Square in Washington, even while ignoring the actual preparations for it that are going on. Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, who are part of those preparations, were permitted onto CNN momentarily — only to be informed that they should calm down about the wealth gap since poor people “even have refrigerators!” (The refrigerators are empty, but they look good in the kitchen!)

More and more people are fed up. Press releases and email alerts are reaching absurd extremes. With Congress reduced to a 12-member committee that will set our budgetary priorities for years to come, organizations are politely asking that the committee include one or two humane individuals, or that the committee’s meetings be live-streamed or its decisions be posted publicly for 72 hours prior to being rammed down our throats. These absurd proposals come out of a divided left, one side of which is not ready to admit that nonviolent resistance is required or that Democrats ought to be held to the same standards as Republicans.

The public policy agenda of the groups building an independent nonviolent movement at is virtually identical to that of the groups filming professional videos and sending around emails at The divide between these two sets of groups is largely a divide between those wanting to engage in nonviolent resistance even if the President is a Democrat and those wanting to do PR and make statements at least as long as the President is a Democrat. It’s a divide, in other words, between independents and party loyalists, and between activists and lobbyists, to generalize very roughly.

This is a crying shame, in my opinion, because the insiders on the right fund the craziest of activist groups, while respectable organizations on the Professional Left would rather rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic so as not to be seated anywhere near the sort of people who are willing to go to jail for what they believe — the sort of people we cheer for when we see them on TV in other countries. In fact October2011 has built alliances with those engaged in the same struggle in several other countries, and coordinated actions are planned in several countries in October.

Yes, some of the groups on the left that are willing to do serious activism have bizarre, crazy, or evil beliefs. But those beliefs rarely intrude on coalition work, and those groups are in a distinct minority in any coalition, serving primarily as an excuse for other groups to stick their noses in the air and rush off to draft a new Contract. Most of the participants joining in under the banner of any given group are doing so primarily because they can’t in good conscience keep sitting still. They want to act. They want to hold a poster, so they hold the one that is stuck in their hand.

If other insider-focused leftist organizations that view their own ideologies as unsoiled were to engage in activism — real activism that doesn’t shut down when our misrepresentatives are Democrats — then lots of people would take action under their banners instead, believe me.

The trouble is that we are at the point when even Al Gore wants a Tahrir Square, when the lack of resistance is going to take us barreling into fascism, and too many people are treating coalition building as polygamy (we don’t want to marry you, just stand shoulder to shoulder in the daylight!) and nonviolent resistance as a lifestyle choice (we’d all prefer to be able to accomplish what’s needed from an air-conditioned office, but that choice is no longer available).

Meanwhile many fully engaged in independent principled action would rather fail than join forces with others whom they see as corrupted or partially corrupted or — what amounts to the same thing — Democrats! Rather than struggle to maintain discipline and avoid unnecessary compromise with a vibrant movement, these activists would rather their efforts shrivel away in glorious purity. They are also reluctant to make plans for what comes the day after “Tahrir Square,” for the actual implementation of power, for the inevitable compromises that must be made. This, too, is suicidal.

When Adolph Hitler took power in 1930, many workers wanted to resist and spontaneously protested, but the Social Democratic Party leadership and its followers decided the most appropriate thing to do would be to sit still and make comments. The Social Democrats worked to establish the “constitutionality” of the power grab and to prevent “premature” resistance from spreading. Meanwhile, the Communist Party was still avoiding any alliance with Social Democrats and even backing the Social Democrats’ removal from government, basing these actions on the delusion that Hitler couldn’t last long. Before long, however, the Communist leaders were dragged off to concentration camps. The Social Democrats and the trade union leaders still refused to oppose the Nazis. Then they were dragged off to the camps as well.

It’s a good thing that can’t happen here.

David Swanson is an author, activist, journalist, and radio host. He is executive director of and campaign coordinator for Swanson’s books include War Is A Lie. He blogs at and He hosts Talk Nation Radio. He is a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and was awarded the 2018 Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation. Longer bio and photos and videos here. Follow him on Twitter: @davidcnswanson and FaceBook, and sign up for: