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Beyond Inauthentic Opposition

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Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0


The More Effective Evil

I’ve cast presidential ballots for the Green Party from the at least technically contested state of Iowa in the last three elections. I’ve long and consistently used a metaphor from the original version of Upton Sinclair’s famous Socialist novel The Jungle, describing the Democrats as one of “two wings of the same [capitalist and imperialist] bird of prey.”

I’ve distanced myself from Lesser-Evilism and written and spoken about some of the ways in which the dismal, dollar-drenched Dems (the DDDs) are the greater and (in Glen Ford’s words) “more effective evil.” The domestically (but not anti-imperially) leftish Bernie F-35 Sanders candidacy (which seduced even the officially Trotskyist group Socialist Alternative during last year’s presidential primaries) could not entice me back into my parents’ and grandparents’ party. (Any slight chance Sanders had of getting me on board was lost by his refusal to meaningfully confront the Pentagon system, which undermines the nation’s potential for social-democratic policy by sucking up more than half the nation’s federal discretionary spending in the process of murdering and maiming millions around the world to maintain a global Empire that accounts for nearly half the planet’s military spending and bears the planet’s single largest institutional carbon footprint.)

In a forthcoming print essay on “The State of the Left,” I approvingly quote James Kavanagh on the perfidy of the DDDs in California, where they hold the governor’s office and both legislative houses and where top Dems recently shot down a single-payer health insurance care measure supported by 65% of that giant state’s population, including 75% of its Democrats:

“This is the Democratic Party. Lying losers who will do anything to avoid taking an effective stance for a healthcare policy that would immediately solve one of the worst horrors American families face … Passing single-payer in California and fighting for it everywhere else would guarantee the Democrats electoral victories. But they will not do it…because they are fervent supporters of the capitalist market system in healthcare (and everything else), and they are corrupt agents of the health insurance and pharma industries…Because it captures and cages the energies of so many well-meaning progressives, the Democratic Party is the most effective obstacle to, and enemy of, single-payer, and it has to be fought. …This is not a Trump problem, and not a Republican problem, it’s a bipartisan capitalist elite problem.”

My sentiments, exactly. (What would the older Upton Sinclair, leader of the Depression-era End Poverty in California movement, say?)

Beyond Two Minutes Once Every Four Years: Voting v. Serious Political Action

So why did I check the Des Moines Register’s final state poll to make sure that there was no real contest between the major party candidates in Iowa before making my third-party vote? Why would I have considered making myself vote “for” Democratic candidates I loathed (Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016) if I thought it would have made any difference in which of the two major party candidates were going to prevail?

Part of the answer is that for me electoral politics is distantly secondary to long-haul social movement-building. I see voting (or not) as little more than a tactical adjunct to the primary task. It’s not some terrible sin to not “vote your conscience,” as if U.S. electoral politics had anything to do with morality and conscience. I agree wholeheartedly with something Noam Chomsky wrote on the eve of the 2004 presidential election:

“Americans may be encouraged to vote, but not to participate more meaningfully in the political arena. Essentially the election is a method of marginalizing the population. A huge propaganda campaign is mounted to get people to focus on these personalized quadrennial extravaganzas and to think, ‘That’s politics.’ But it isn’t. It’s only a small part of politics… The urgent task for those who want to shift policy in progressive direction – often in close conformity to majority opinion – is to grow and become strong enough so that that they can’t be ignored by centers of power. Forces for change that have come up from the grassroots and shaken the society to its foundations include the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s movement and others, cultivated by steady, dedicated work at all levels, every day, not just once every four years…election …choices…are secondary to serious political action. The main task is to create a genuinely responsive democratic culture, and that effort goes on before and after electoral extravaganzas, whatever their outcome” (emphasis added)

“Take the Bernie Sanders campaign,” Chomsky told Abby Martin eleven years later. It “ought to be directed to sustaining a popular movement that will use the election as a kind of an incentive and then go on, and unfortunately it’s not. When the election’s over,” Chomsky said, the movement is going to die…a serious error. The only thing that’s going to ever bring about any meaningful change is ongoing, dedicated, popular movements that don’t pay attention to the election cycle.”

“The really critical thing,” the great American radical historian Howard Zinn once sagely wrote, “isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.”

However you vote (and I honestly don’t know that my head could ever make my right hand mark a ballot for a Democrat again), the act takes two minutes once every two or four years. What do you do with the rest of your political life? As Zinn argued in a reflection on “the election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society including the left” in the Obama-mad spring of 2008:

before and after those two minutes [in a voting booth], our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice…Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war.” (H. Zinn, “Election Madness,” The Progressive, April 8, 2008)

Since I agree with Chomsky and Zinn, I do not morally fetishize the American ballot fox, which the Marxist historian Alan Dawley once aptly described as a “coffin of class consciousness.”

To See That Things Still Suck with the Democrats in Office

Another part of the answer to the question of why I might try to make myself vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in a contested state also has nothing to do with what W.E.B. DuBois called “the game of lesser evils.” There’s a different, rarely noted strategic and radical case for wanting the Democratic wing of the capitalist-imperialist duopoly in office. It’s about exposing the corporate and imperial Democrats for what they really are. Call it a vote for the hope of more radical and bipartisan disillusionment.

How are the Democrats best revealed and exposed as agents of the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money and empire? Which is better for the development of “serious political action” (grassroots, and non-co-opt-able citizen and workers’ activism and organization) beyond the masters’ quadrennial electoral extravaganzas, radically regressive Republicans holding nominal power or dismal dollar Democrats sitting atop the symbolic ship of state?

On domestic political matters, at least (maters are least clear on foreign policy, I readily admit), the answer is the latter. I wanted Obama back in 2013 and Hillary back in 2017 (and might have tried to vote for them if I thought it would have made any difference) because of my sense that the presence of another white male Republican in the White House would just encourage liberals and progressives and others to blame everything wrong in America on “those insane evil Republicans.” Bringing back a Republican to the White House, I reflected, would just reinforce the longstanding liberal claim that installing Democrats in power is the cure to the national malaise.

I want Americans (young ones above all) to come into regular visible contact with the bipartisan nature of the U.S. ruling class. I wanted them subjected to the reality that, to quote the Marxist commentator Doug Henwood in early 2008, “everything still pretty much sucks” when Democrats hold the top political offices – that the basic underlying institutional realities of capitalist and imperial rule stay the same. As the antiwar activist, author, and essayist Stan Goff wrote seven years ago, “I’m glad Obama was elected. Otherwise, people would blame the war on McCain and the Republicans and continue with the delusion that elections can be our salvation.”

My dark dialectical hope for Obama was born out to some extent by the remarkable rise and spread of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, which fed off youthful disillusionment with Obama and the Democrats—a bursting of political “hope” bubbles that followed two years after the bursting of the real estate and financial bubble to fuel disenchantment with the underlying profits system. We don’t know how far Occupy would have gone had it not been crushed by the state, including Obama’s Department of Homeland Security in collaboration with Democratic-run city governments across the country.

But Obama was at least for a time a great object lesson on how “everything still pretty much sucks” when Democrats hold down the White House. Eschewing the left-leaning progressive potential he was handed (Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and an angry, “pitchfork”-wielding populace at the gates), the nation’s first half-white president and his neoliberal, Robert Rubin-appointed team followed George W. Bush in continuing to give the corporate-managed citizenry qua electorate what William Greider called “a blunt lesson about power, who has it and who doesn’t. In a March 2009 Washington Post editorial titled “Obama Asked Us to Speak, Is He

Listening?” Greider wrote about how “Americans watched Washington rush to rescue the very financial interests that caused the catastrophe. They learned that government has plenty of money to spend when the right people want it. ‘Where’s my bailout,’ became the rueful punch line at lunch counters and construction sites nationwide. Then to deepen the insult, people watched as establishment forces re-launched their campaign for ‘entitlement reform’ – a euphemism for whacking Social Security benefits, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Americans also watched as Obama moved on to pass a health insurance reform, the so-called Affordable Care Act, that only the big insurance and drug companies could love, kicking the popular alternative (single payer “Medicare for All”) to the curb while rushing to pass a program drafted by the Republican Heritage Foundation and first carried out in Massachusetts by the arch 1 percenter Mitt Romney. As Kavanagh points out, citing the work of Marcy Wheeler, Hillary Clinton “fatal slide in the [2016 presidential election] polls began before [James] Comey’s notorious letter of October 28th, and coincided with the announcement, four days before, of steep Obamacare premium increases.”

Californication: Can’t Blame Republicans

With their killing of single-payer in California, that state’s top Democrats distilled down their dismal, dollar-drenched dastardliness for millions to bitterly digest. So what if two-thirds of that giant jurisdiction’s residents and three-fourths of its Democrats want a state version of Medicare for All? Who cares? Not California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Renden or his Governor Jerry Brown. “The dissembling Democrats,” James Kavanagh observes, “are throwing away just about the most popular policy anyone could imagine …something people are literally dying for” – this because of their transparent captivity to the big insurance and drug companies and their financial backers.

But here’s the thing. The “Lying Losers” can’t hide their cringing servility to their corporate masters quite so easily when they hold nominal power. They can try to blame the Republicans for their abject refusal to defy corporate donors and enact a critical policy backed by the popular majority, but that looks ridiculous when they hold the big legislative cards on “the Left Coast.” They are exposed as servants of capital in sharper and bolder relief than if they were minority party.

I am reminded of a passage in Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Under the rule of “the bourgeoisie” (capitalism), Marx wrote, “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.” The profaning of the Democratic Party by “the bourgeoisie” – the drowning of all its heavenly progressive pretense in the “city waters of egotistical [capitalist] calculation” – is made most clear when the DDDs hold the reins of nominal power.

Left radicals like me want workers and citizens to grasp that the real taproot problem is not which of the two major party wings holds majority political office but the rule of capital and Empire behind the plutocratic charade that passes for “our great democracy.” Having Democrats in office can assist because it helps bring that lesson home.

The Fake Resistance

The Inauthentic Opposition Party – as the late Sheldon Wolin rightly described the Democrats – is more adept at deadly and co-optive leftish-progressive affectation it is out of power and its leaders feel the need to deceptively pose as a party and movement of the people against the establishment. That’s when the Democrats’ populist and progressive masquerade is most dangerous and crippling. It’s much easier to pose as an Opposition Party when you are out majority power in government.

Look at the current political situation in the U.S. The Twitter-addicted malignant narcissist and quasi-fascistic Donald Trump (talk about insane and evil) and the ever more radically right-wing Republican Party are straight out of central casting when it comes to making the neoliberal and imperial Democrats look decent, democratic, and progressive. It helps the leftish pose that the Republicans and their vast right-wing noise machine love to absurdly call the Democrats and just about everything else to the portside of Charles Grassley (e.g. the New York Times and the Washington Post) “The Left.”

The Democrats have been seizing the moment to close off the potential for serious, actually Left opposition. With MSNBC’s arch-Russophobe Rachel Madoff in the propaganda vanguard, Democratic elites have responded to the Trump ascendancy by concocting a fake “Resistance” movement. It’s a curious formation, devoid of any real progressive meaning beyond “bipartisan” opposition to Donald Trump. “The Resistance” grants loyalty to Hillary Clinton, a One Percent champion and a leader in the War Party’s calls for deadly confrontation with Russia and for regime change around the world. By Danny Haiphong’s incisive account on Black Agenda Report:

“‘the resistance’ is…entangled in…the non-profit industrial complex and its attending Democratic Party paymasters. ‘The Resistance’ has significant support from the non-profit industrial complex and the Wall Street-stuffed coffers of the Democratic Party. Such support is evident in the organizations MoveOn.org, the Town Hall Project, and Indivisible. The Democratic think-tank Center for American Progress (CAP) assists each of these so-called anti-Trump focused organizations. On CAP’s Board of Directors sits Democratic Party elites Madeline Albright and John Podesta… Podesta was Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair during her losing Presidential campaign in 2016. Leaked Podesta emails revealed that the Clinton campaign rigged the Democratic primaries against Bernie Sanders. They also outlined how Clinton used her extensive connections with Wall Street firms to expand the influence of the Clinton Foundation…”

Indivisible: “A Devastating Impact”

With more than 6000 chapters by early February, the classic Astroturf organization “Indivisible,” set up by two Democratic Congressional staffers, has worked to channel popular anger into manageable mainstream channels that offer no challenge to the nation’s unelected and interrelated dictatorships of money, class, empire, race, gender, and ecocide. Indivisible talks about the need to get past “ideology” and unite Americans across partisan lines to “get big things done” through government – standard “pragmatic” neoliberal language. An activist and attorney from California’s Monterey County recently wrote me on how Indivisible is a “mechanism for co-opting the anti-Trump resistance and channeling opposition to Trump into support for the Democratic Party.” By the activist’s account, Indivisible “has had a devastating impact on local organizing. A broad-based and diverse coalition was developing here in the first few months after the election; it collapsed as soon as Indivisible appeared.” Further:

“Here in Monterey County, we were on our way to building a broad-based, inclusive and diverse progressive coalition.  Then Indivisible came along and killed it.  By the end of January, there were over a dozen Indivisible groups operating in this congressional district…The largest one has a Facebook page with over 1000 members (huge by local standards).  I was a member for a while, but I just couldn’t stand it.  [Democratic Congressman Jimmy] Panetta’s very first vote as our new congressman was to condemn the UN for its stand against Israel’s illegal settlements.  This put Panetta in opposition to the state policy of the Obama administration and in support of Trump’s position.  When I asked on the Indivisible Facebook page if we intended to hold him accountable for this vote, several people tore me a new one. …Indivisible is now promoting a June March for Truth,’ calling for an independent commission to investigate Russiagate….the Indivisibles have pretty much acted like they are the only game in town and have managed to suck most of the oxygen out of the room.  One of their big activities seems to be writing postcards to Panetta, Harris and Feinstein telling them what a great job they’re doing.,”

“I had been involved in the local March for Science.  A couple of weeks before the March, the planning committee was taken over by the Indivisibles.  By this point, I’d had enough.  I decided I just couldn’t work with them and I dropped out.   They ended up attracting about 1000 people (at least 900 of whom were white).  An activist from Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom wanted to give a short speech about the link between militarism and environmental destruction, but the organizers wouldn’t let her…It looks to me like Indivisible is a well-funded AstroTurf group.  It walks and talks exactly like it would if it had been deliberately designed by some joint DNC-COINTELPRO committee to channel popular outrage into support for the Democratic Party and for a war with Russia.  Locally, no other group has the resources to compete with them. …I’ve learned a valuable lesson, but a bit too late, I fear.  I naively thought that leftists could work in a united front with Democrats.  I thought that Democrats could be part of a broader coalition.  But, I underestimated the Democrats ability to co-opt the movement.”

I’ve received similar reports from other correspondents. One of my favorite ones comes from South Florida, where an Indivisible chapter invited as a speaker its notorious right-wing corporate-Democratic Congressperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz – an arch-neoliberal Democrat who led the rigging of the primaries against Sanders as Democratic National Committee chair and who has openly pledged allegiance to big money campaign donors over single-payer health insurance. As Florida progressive Taylor Raines reported last May 2nd, “not only did this group invite one of the most divisive women in liberal politics to speak at their meeting, but they openly prepared to silence dissent by banning signs, and promptly removed protestors who spoke up against her.” Any angry Floridian who had the accurate audacity to note that Wasserman-Schultz wing of the Democratic Party essentially elected Trump (Sanders would likely have defeated the orange-tinted beast) was evicted from the gathering – in the name of “one nation, under God, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Such testimony jibes with my experience in and around the bright-blue campus town of Iowa City, where an initial upsurge of popular protest at Trump’s election and inauguration collapsed in the spring as Russiagate took hold on CNN and MSNBC and in the New York Times and Washington Post. The local academic-professional class headed off on to their annual summer European vacations secure in the belief that those great progressive heroes the FBI and CIA and their corporate media allies would join with such left people’s champions as Charles Schumer and Nancy (“we’re capitalist and that’s just the way it is”) Pelosi would soon remove the Trump regime.

That’s the Inauthentic Opposition Party (IOP) doing its job, a central part of which is functioning as a the “graveyard of social movements” – a role it plays even better when it is out of office than when it’s in.

“You’re Toast … in 2020”

One thing that is particularly jarring about “Indivisible” is its claim to be non-partisan and beyond electoral politics when it clearly represents the reigning right and neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party and is gearing “progressive” energies for the Congressional and presidential election cycles.

I would not be surprised to learn that Indivisible or some other one of the Astroturf Democratic Party entities posting as grassroots movement recently put an angry citizen in a Town Hall meeting to finish his denunciation of Republicans’ attempt to repeal Obamacare with the following threat to a GOP Senator: “pack your bags, you’re toast in 2020” – when voters, the outraged citizen hopes, will put in a dismal dollar Democrat. In 2020? God how the election cycle rules consciousness – with its absurdly holy elevation of two minutes spent marking ballots for a narrowly pre-selected group of ruling class candidates. People need to connect with Chomsky and Zinn’s call for movements that “shake…the society to its foundations” (Chomsky) and compel “whoever is in the White House, in Congress” to “chang[e] national policy on matters of war and social justice.”

At least that bitter armed lunatic James T. Hodgkinson – an epitome of the feckless and self-destructive rebellion that often occurs without attachment to a real popular movement – tried to make some vicious right-wing Congressmen (and one Tyson Foods lobbyist) into toast in the present moment, not three years from now. He had the wrong method but at least he fell off the election cycle trap.

Tres Cerdos Grandes

The major party confusion and related electoral obsession carries across national boundaries. Nobody made bigger fools out of themselves over the fake-progressive and fake-peacemaker promise of Barack Obama in 2008 than the Western Europeans. It was awesome to see Roger Waters brilliantly and epically skewer the nativist piggy-nesh of Trump before no less than 300,000 people in Mexico City’s Zocalo Square last October, one month before the 2016 elections. The masses roared their approval as a giant Trump pig-blimp floated above the crowd and a colossal video-screen flashed images of Trump in drag and put up Spanish translations of some of the “Charade’s” more absurd statements. But we might recall that it was the Democratic presidency of the neoliberal globalist uber-cerdo por excelencia Bill Clinton who mercilessly assaulted Mexican campesinos with the North American so called Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Bill Clinton then joined with the Republicans to begin construction of a great Wall on the southern U.S. border to stem the flow north of desperate economic refugees. And it was “free trade” Hillary Clinton who as Secretary of State sponsored the right-wing business coup that overthrew a democratically elected populist government in Honduras, which deepened misery in that nation to the point where tens of thousands of “unaccompanied minors” piled up on Mexico’s southern border three summers ago – a crisis that continues to his day.

“We’re Dying Out Here…Enough with Russia!”

Even with Trump in the White House, the IOP’s fake-progressive charade is now facing popular push-back. The Democrats and their many corporate media allies and faux peoples’ “movement” (led by Indivisible) have advanced an all-too easy and convenient explanation for their epic electoral decline: it isn’t about the dismal, dollar-drenched neoliberal inauthenticity of their purported progressivism, it’s because of Russia and its dastardly chief Putin. The bear ate their homework. So what if there’s been no real evidence of relevant Russian interference in “our” purported “great democracy”? It was just too irresistible to the DDDs: Russiagate was designed by Democratic Party elites (including John Podesta) from the night of Hillary Clinton’s epic electoral fail to take the heat off the IOP’s corporate and professional class nothingness and place all the blame for their outward “failure” (the “lying losers” continue to be very well paid for their sell-out – ask Obama) on a demonized foreign Other. It was crafted, among other things, to shut-down the progressive challenge within their own party

But now they’ve gone too far in playing the Russia card, perhaps.

The mad neo-McCarthyite Moscow obsession has moved them too far off issues that any self-respecting Left or even self-respecting liberal Opposition would be fighting on: racism, racist voter suppression (which may have elected Trump, by the way), the police and prison state. immigrant rights, economic exploitation and inequality, sexism, environmental ruination – stuff like that. According to the Washington political journal The Hill, “Frustrated Democrats hoping to elevate their election fortunes have a resounding message for party leaders: Stop talking so much about Russia,…rank-and-file Democrats say the Russia-Trump narrative is simply a non-issue with district voters, who are much more worried about bread-and-butter economic concerns like jobs, wages and the cost of education and healthcare.” Imagine that. As the left writer Craig Gordon notes, the Democrats ae pissing in the wind of Russiagate while millions of ordinary working- and middle-class Americans are screaming like Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon “Hey, I’m Dying Over Here…enough with Putin and Russia, we can’t afford health care…our jobs are in the tank.”

Russiagate, it appears, may have been something of a xenophobic conspiracy trap for the Democrats themselves. Not that they care. The money keeps rolling in. Ask Obama, who is regularly rubbing progressives’ face in the dirt and giving FOX News and Brietbart new talking points with his relentless big cash-in, telling us all that “nothing says Show Me the Money like POTUS on your resume.”

“Ordinary Citizens Have No Influence”

Just what “great American democracy” was it that the IOP’s bet noire Vladimir Putin supposedly intervened against, anyway? This is an ever more openly oligarchic nation where: the top tenth of the upper 1 Percent owns as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent; 15 million children – 21% of all U.S. children – live at less than the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty level (more than 1 in 10 U.S. children ages 0-9 is living at less than half that level); half the population is poor or near-poor and without assets; millions drink from poisoned water systems; an imperial military devours more than half of all discretionary federal spending and accounts for nearly half the world’s military spending; more people are incarcerated (in extremely racially disproportionate ways) than in any nation in history (a curious achievement for the self-described homeland and headquarters of “liberty”); a deeply entrenched corporate and financial sector is leading the world over the environmental cliff through the championing of endless growth and attendant “anthropogenic” (really capitalogenic) climate destruction. A recent Harvard University survey finds that 51 percent than half of U.S. Millennials (18-to-29-year-olds) “do not support capitalism,” intimately related to Harvard’s finding that half of the cohort thinks “the American Dream is dead” for them.

You don’t have to be a Leftist radical like the present writer to know that the United States’ political order is a corporate and financial plutocracy. Just ask the establishment liberal political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern). Over the past three plus decades, these leading academic researchers determined three years ago, U.S. political system has functioned as “an oligarchy,” where wealthy elites and their corporations “rule.” Examining data from more than 1,800 different policy initiatives in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Gilens and Page found that wealthy and well-connected elites consistently steer the direction of the country, regardless of and against the will of the U.S. majority and irrespective of which major party holds the White House and/or Congress.  “The central point that emerges from our research is that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy,” Gilens and Page wrote, “while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.” As Gilens explained to the liberal online journal Talking Points Memo three years ago, “ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”
The Kremlin didn’t do that. U.S. capitalism did that.

The Main Left Deficit

Am I recommending that people vote for the IOP, he DDDs, in 2018 and 2020? No, not really. I can’t tell people to do something I’ve never been able to do (well, except once, 2004, the first time I ever voted in a contested state). And I realize that my clever and dialectical if somewhat half-hearted argument for Dems in office doesn’t really apply to foreign policy, intimately related to domestic oppression here in the “homeland” (a lovely imperial term). Let’s get down to the “serious political action” Chomsky referred to 13 years ago – to movement-building beneath and beyond the quadrennial electoral spectacles. It’s all rather moot in the absence of a real and serious grassroots Left in this country. The building of such a Left, it seems to me, is a project and task far closer to our real “sphere of influence” than the alternating problem of which of the two major-party wings hold most of the nation’s elected offices.

In the year marking the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, it is worth remembering that Lenin’s famous 1902 pamphlet What is to be Done? said nothing either on reforms under capitalism (or under Russian Tsarist rule) or on what an alternative, post-capitalist society might look like. It was focused entirely on the question of revolutionary organization: how to build such institutions and what they should look like.

The top thing missing in “The [U.S.] Left” (where is it, really?) isn’t a positive policy agenda or a vision of an alternative society. The main deficit is institutional and organizational.

This gap must be addressed in what is still the world’s most powerful and destructive capitalist state, in a time when five absurdly rich people now possess as much wealth as the bottom half of humanity and the U.S.-headquartered global profits system is speeding humanity to a lethal, Antarctic-dissolving 500 carbon parts per million by 2050 if not sooner. It’s “socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky” at this stage of capitalist ecocide. “The uncomfortable truth,” Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 15 years ago, “is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself.”

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