Wednesday, August 15, 2012

2012 U.S. Presidential Election and the Fletcher-Davidson statement

Imperturbable opportunism: a walk through “The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record: Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him” By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Carl Davidson

Every four years a phalanx of left-liberal foundation, union, and academic grandees present the thesis that the Republican Party must be defeated at all costs.  If the issue is not taken seriously, fascism will destroy the Constitution, the right to organize, Roe v. Wade, and Brown V. Board of Education.  What is the method for defeating this rightwing onslaught?  Electing Democrats, of course.  

That answer, like the article it is contained within, are the same every four years.  No mention is made of the US role abroad, of permanent wars against semi-colonial populations; of austerity at the hands of Democratic Party officials indistinguishable from their Republican counterparts.

The 2012 version, contained in the article “The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record: Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him,” expressed all the arrogance and nationalist myopia of previous attempts in the same field.  Fletcher-Davidson offer no historical context for their assertion.  We are presented with a series of subjective pragmatic assertions all expressing the conclusion that we [Marxists, revolutionary socialists, et cetera] are stiff-necked sheep who are too tardy in acknowledging that Republicanism is beyond the pale.

Fletcher-Davidson so hate the Republicans with a passion, though strangely they hate them over crises of bipartisan origin, and that a rising independent working class movement could resolve more quickly than electing another bourgois figure.  

Republican irrationalism and misogyny are an affront to the sensibilities of Fletcher-Davidson and their milieu.  How, I imagine them asking plaintively, can we look colleagues in the eye at board meetings of our foundations, cocktail parties of our university colleges, and parleys of our cohort in the labor bureaucracy if we are not serious about disliking Republicanism?  Unstated is the fact that their idea of Republicanism in US politics is usually a stalking-horse for traits they find contemptible and backward in workers themselves.

The Fletcher-Davidson article begins with a very bold title, as noted above:

The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record: Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him
By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Carl Davidson
August 9, 2012  

Let’s cut to the chase. The November 2012 elections will be unlike anything that any of us can remember.  It is not just that this will be a close election.  It is also not just that the direction of Congress hangs in the balance.   Rather, this will be one of the most polarized and critical elections in recent history.  

It comes as no surprise to anyone who lived through “Defeat Reaganism at all costs” and “Drive out the Bush regime”  that the 2012 election will be the most important ever.  After all, for the Fletcher-Davidson type, every election is.

Then we are given a grab-bag of fears for each constituency that might question whether they want to throw away their sense and vote Democratic.  The context is that the Republicans are too well organized, are appealing too proficiently to an electorate they polarized, for these things to be left to chance.  Otherwise, Fletcher-Davidson insinuate, every grandma in a wheelchair will be scabbing in a salt mine:

Unfortunately what too few leftists and progressives have been prepared to accept is that the polarization is to a great extent centered on a revenge-seeking white supremacy; on race and the racial implications of the moves to the right in the US political system. It is also focused on a re-subjugation of women, harsh burdens on youth and the elderly, increased war dangers, and reaction all along the line for labor and the working class. No one on the left with any good sense should remain indifferent or stand idly by in the critical need to defeat Republicans this year.

U.S. Presidential elections are not what progressives want them to be

A large segment  of what we will call the ‘progressive forces’ in US politics approach US elections generally, and Presidential elections in particular, as if: (1) we have more power on the ground than we actually possess, and (2) the elections are about expressing our political outrage at the system. Both get us off on the wrong foot.

The comment on the “wrong foot” is revealing.  By acting so brutally realistic or pragmatic, they attempt to bluster anyone soft-headed enough to imagine that Obama needs to be defeated.  It is what petty bourgeois radicals have left us with instead of a party.  A series of patterned gripes and embitterment over pulling the lever for the Democrats instead of building a substantial movement over time of, by, and for the working class itself.

The US electoral system is among the most undemocratic on the planet.  Constructed in a manner so as to guarantee an ongoing dominance of a two party duopoly, the US electoral universe largely aims at reducing so-called legitimate discussion to certain restricted parameters acceptable to the ruling circles of the country. Almost all progressive measures, such as Medicare for All or Full Employment, are simply declared ‘off the table.’ In that sense there is no surprise that the Democratic and Republican parties are both parties of the ruling circles, even though they are quite distinct within that sphere.

When Fletcher-Davidson write the phrase “both parties of the ruling circles,” it speaks volumes to the gap existing between their opportunist politics and any degree of class clarity.  

Euphemisms abound in the piece, replacing the simple clarity of a politically correct Marxist vocabulary:

The nature of the US electoral system--and specifically the ballot restrictions and ‘winner-take-all’ rules within it--encourages or pressures various class fractions and demographic constituency groups to establish elite-dominated electoral coalitions.  The Democratic and Republican parties are, in effect, electoral coalitions or party-blocs of this sort, unrecognizable in most of the known universe as political parties united around a program and a degree of discipline to be accountable to it. We may want and fight for another kind of system, but it would be foolish to develop strategy and tactics not based on the one we actually have.  [Emphasis mine throughout. JR].

This is the vocabulary of post-Marxist political science on campus.  We are told it is foolish to have anything other than strategy and tactics that promote maintenance of the capitalist status quo under - hopefully - Democratic Party imperialism.

Indeed, men like Fletcher and Davidson serve as gatekeepers, Pinkertons discouraging independent working class political action as always premature.  

Alternatives that might not achieve electoral majorities in the short term, but have the luxury of not being betrayals and lies peddled to the working class, are written-off by Fletcher-Davidson as hopelessly utopian.  No mass third party exists today that might win, they tell us.  There isn’t even motion toward such a party.  Just temporarily, stick with the Democrats to outmaneuver the right wing Republican Party, they tell us; one day, when the stars are right, you will be rewarded with the millenium.  

Unstated in all this is the fact that Fletcher-Davidson and their ilk work at all costs to prevent any emerging motion toward class conscious struggle to break the Democratic Party.  

The unions, foundations, and institutions that finance the Fletchers and Davidsons of the imperialist United States are paying life and health insurance on the Democratic Party, not the maintenance of a temporary but necessary evil.

One of the ironies about stiffening the spine of workers about the Democratic Party is that it completely legitimizes the election of the hated Republicans, too.  Fletcher-Davidson thus bear a responsibility to workers in the US and around the world [about whom they say nothing and to whom they offer nothing], having prevented our class for decades from taking power out of the hands of Washington and Wall Street.  

The winner-take-all nature of the system discourages independent political parties and candidacies on both the right and the left.  

This is incorrect:  even a parliamentary form of government [the kind of nostrum the late Gore Vidal used to toss off in a TV Guide interview] would provide a site of governance for the capitalist class alone, whether through bourgeois or petty bourgeois parties.  The example of Greece is pertinent here.  But in a broader sense, it is gatekeepers like Fletcher-Davidson today who discourage third party candidates and promote attempts to police them out of existence.  

For this reason the extreme right made a strategic decision in the aftermath of the 1964 Goldwater defeat to move into the Republican Party with a long-term objective of taking it over.  

How could Goldwater win the Republican nomination without the party having previously been taken over?  This is not explained, of course.  Fletcher-Davidson spent pages examining the class forces which come together to form the Republican Party; they provide no such perspective in this document on the Democrats.  The consequences of such a study would be too damning for their purposes.

This was approached at the level of both mass movement building, e.g., anti-busing, anti-abortion, as well as electoral candidacies.  The GOP right’s ‘Southern Strategy’ beginning in 1968 largely succeeded in chasing out most of the pro-New Deal Republicans from the party itself, as well as drawing in segregationist Democratic voters in the formerly ‘Solid South.’

Efforts by progressives to realign or shift the Democratic Party, on the other hand,  were blunted by the defeat of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, and later the defeat of the McGovern candidacy in 1972, during which time key elements of the party’s upper echelons were prepared to lose the election rather than witness a McGovern victory.  In the 1980s a very different strategy was advanced by Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow insurgencies that aimed at building—at least initially—an independent, progressive organization capable of fielding candidates within the Democratic primaries.  This approach—albeit independent of Jackson himself—had an important local victory with the election of Mayor Harold Washington in Chicago.  At the national level, however, it ran into a different set of challenges by 1989.

Attempts at realigning the Democratic Party were still-born, not defeated, by the simple fact that the Democrats are a ruling class party.  The party allows some progressives to foment illusions about it as a social shock-absorber; this fact has fueled intermittent reawakenings of the old Popular Front daydream of realignment. Beneficiaries of the “Rainbow insurgencies” were the capitalist class in general, the party, and secondarily, political figures like Jesse Jackson and Harold Washington.  

In the absence of a comprehensive electoral strategy, progressive forces fall into one of three cul-de-sacs: (1) ad hoc electoralism, i.e., participating in the election cycle but with no long-term plan other than tailing the Democrats; (2) abandoning electoral politics altogether in favor of modern-day anarcho-syndicalist ‘pressure politics from below’; or (3) satisfying ourselves with far more limited notions that we can best use the election period in order to 'expose' the true nature of the capitalist system in a massive way by attacking all of the mainstream candidates.  We think all of these miss the key point.

Our elections are about money and the balance of power

Elections in today’s context have nothing to do with “balance of power” in terms even remotely beneficial to the working class.  “Balance of power” is a pre-modern and petty bourgeois idea of how the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie [to call things by their right name] works.  In a capitalist state, unchallenged bourgeois dominance of the electoral arena means the ruling class can dispense with balancing between its own political parties, and can rule in a more boldly bipartisan manner, as we see today.

Money is obvious, particularly in light of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Emphasis on the Citizens United ruling by figures and institutions on the liberal-left betrays the fact that they are operating on behalf of the Democratic Party Bourbons, who fear nothing so much as being spent out of existence by their cheif opponent in US market elections: the Republican Party.  Corporations have always acted in an unimpeded manner when funding their candidates, and Supreme Court decisions, no matter how scandalous to liberal ideals, will change this fact.  

The balance of power is primarily at the level of the balance within the ruling circles, as well as the level of grassroots power of the various mass movements.  The party that wins will succeed on the basis of the sort of electoral coalition that they are able to assemble, co-opt or be pressured by, including but not limited to the policy and interest conflicts playing out within its own ranks.

The weakness of left and progressive forces means we have been largely unable to participate, in our own name and independent of the two party upper crust, in most national-level elections with any hope of success.  In that sense most left and progressive interventions in the electoral arena at the national level, especially at the Presidential level, are ineffective acts of symbolic opposition or simply propaganda work aimed at uniting and recruiting far smaller circles of militants.  They are not aimed at a serious challenge for power but rather aim to demonstrate a point of view, or to put it more crassly, to 'fly the flag.'  The electoral arena is frequently not viewed as an effective site for structural reforms or a more fundamental changing of direction.

The point that “weakness of left and progressive forces” keeps the working class out of US electoral politics in its own name is correct.  But wherein lies the source of that weakness?  I suggest that in addition to primary and secondary reasons for the weakness, a tertiary cause is the cynical, lowest-common-denominator work of characters like Fletcher-Davidson themselves.  

Fletcher-Davidson also disapproves of “flying the flag,” as though it were only a form of moral superiority in action as against the shameful electoral politics expressed by the authors.  But how can a nucleus of working class militants be gathered and start building mass workers parties unless the flag is flow?  How else will future cadre meet such a party and learn about its perspectives and traditions?

Our politics, in this sense, can be placed in two broad groupings—politics as self-expression and politics as strategy.

A shocking admission, that Fletcher-Davidson and their cohort view politics as strategy and self-expression.  But it is not wholly unexpected, either.  Since the 1975 world depression, the workers movement has been in retreat under the hammer-blows of austerity and the re-emergence of virulent racism and sexism.  At the same time, the counterfeit of Marxism [Stalinism] which held sway in the petty bourgeois political landscape for nearly eight decades, has suffered irredeemable shipwreck.  What could remain except politics as pragmatism and politics as individualistic subjectivism?  Here all struggles are reduced to horse-trading and a decorative lack of principles:

In an overall sense, the left needs both of these—the audacity and energy of the former and the ability to unite all who can be united of the latter. But it is also important to know the difference between the two, and which to emphasize and when in any given set of battles.

Consider, for a moment, the reform struggles with which many of us are familiar.  Let's say that a community is being organized to address a demand for jobs on a construction site.  If the community is not entirely successful in this struggle, it does not mean that the struggle was wrong or inappropriate.  It means that the progressives were too weak organizationally and the struggle must continue.  The same is true in the electoral arena.  The fact that it is generally difficult, in this period, to get progressives elected or that liberal and progressive candidates

[i.e. capitalist candidates; for Fletcher-Davidson no other type of candidate may be taken seriously]

may back down on a commitment once elected, does not condemn the arena of the struggle.  It does, however, say something about how we might need to organize ourselves better in order to win and enforce accountability.

Apparently the problem is not that the working class is continually led to voting for candidates against its own interests as a class: the problem is that after we elect our class enemies and they begin their work against our interests, we are at fault for not demanding their “accountability” to our illusions, whose real author of course are the Fletchers and Davidsons of US politics.  No mention could be made by them of one salient necessity:  holding Fletcher-Davidson accountable for stampeding workers into slitting our own throats at the ballot box every four years.

In part due to justified suspicion of the electoral system and a positive impulse for self-expression and making our values explicit, too many progressives view the electoral realm as simply a canvass upon which various pictures of the ideal future are painted.  Instead of constructing a strategy for power that involves a combination of electoral and non-electoral activity, uniting both a militant minority and a progressive majority, there is an impulsive tendency to treat the electoral realm as an idea bazaar rather than as one of the key sites on which the struggle for progressive power unfolds.

With the preceding paragraph we begin to hear the dog-whistle of pre-modern, pre-Marxist electoral euphemisms in action.  What is progressive power?  Is it the authority of the few to convince the many to keep digging a hole without acknowledging it as a grave?  Is it not the height of viewing bourgeois electoralism as a “canvas upon which various pictures of the ideal future are painted” to convince voters that their goals, their life-and-death necessities, can be achieved by voting against them time after time?  As the old joke starts:  “A wolf, a fox, and a sheep sit down to discuss the menu.”

The Shifts within the Right and the Rise of Irrationalism

Contrary to various myths, there was no 'golden age' in our country where politicians of both parties got along and politics was clean.  U. S. politics has always been dirty.

So let’s be the dirtiest opportunists we can be!  No one, after all, will ever be permitted to call our judgments into question.
One can look at any number of elections in the 19th century, for instance, with the Hayes-Tilden election of 1876 being among the more notorious, to see examples of electoral chicanery.   Elections have been bought and sold and there has been widespread voter disenfranchisement. In the late 19th century and early 20th century massive voter disenfranchisement unfolded as part of the rise of Jim Crow segregation. Due to gains by both the populist and socialists is this era, by the 1920s our election laws were ‘reformed’—in all but a handful of states—to do away with ‘fusion ballots’ and other measures previously helpful to new insurgent forces forming independent parties and alliances.

From this potted and rather quaintly Progressive view of U.S. politics, with its whiff of camphor and mothballed antimacassars, one would not imagine that today the Fletcher-Davidson types, and Fletcher and Davidson themselves, serve as defensive outliers for a left-liberal Tamany of the upper echelons of so-called progressive think tanks, foundations, academicians, and AFL-CIO bureaucrats whose job it is to shunt and detour any seemingly independent social struggle into the Democratic Party dead-end.

What is significant about the current era has been the steady move of the Republican Party toward the right, not simply at the realm of neoliberal economics (which has also been true of much of the Democratic Party establishment) but also in other features of the ‘ideology’ and program of the Republicans.  

Here we have a nicely placed dichotomy between Republicans and Democrats.  The Republican Party proceeds to the right all down the line, while the Democratic Party merely embraces this rightward shift in the realm of neoliberal economic policy, and even then only on the part of “much of the Democratic Party establishment.”  

With this statement we see the important role Fletcher-Davidson play in defending not only the Democratic Party itself, but Wall Street in general.  The rightward shift in bourgeois politics permits Democrats to carry out everything the Republicans propose with the luxury of an argument beforehand to make it look honest.  Legitimacy is maintained, while at the same time workers in the US and around the world are able to be continually fed of lucrative diet of obscurantism, whip-sawing them into extremes of demoralization and cynicism.  Fletcher-Davidson  simply handle one end of the saw, and gleefully let the chips fall where they may.

For this reason we find it useful to distinguish between conservatives and right-wing populists (and within right-wing populism, to put a spotlight on irrationalism).  Right-wing populism is actually a radical critique of the existing system, but from the political right with all that that entails.  Uniting with irrationalism, it seeks to build program and direction based largely upon myths, fears and prejudices.

Here we return to the political science of Stalinism, which for practical and episodic reasons of USSR state policy painted Republicans as war-mongers and Democrats as part of the progressive bourgeoisie. [Recall that this progressive bourgeoisie in the 20th century at one time included everyone from Jim Crow Democrat Franklin Roosevelt to Chiang Kai-shek].  This political science was practiced by the USSR’s Institute for US and Canadian Studies [ISKRAN].  It is best captured in the 1984 book Political Consciousness In the USA: Traditions and Evolution by ISKRAN leaders and detente defenders Aleksandrovich Zamoshkin and Ėduard Batalov.  In the book we see all the original insights about the irrationalism of Republican Party politics,  a party once so reasonable but now defined by Fletcher-Davidson using scientific nomenclature for STDs.  

Right-wing populism exists as the equivalent of the herpes virus within the capitalist system.  It is always there--sometimes latent, at other times active—and it does not go away.  In periods of system distress, evidence of right-wing populism erupts with more force.  Of particular importance in understanding right-wing populism is the complex intersection of race, anti-immigrant settler-ism, ‘producerism,’ homophobia and empire.

In the US, right-wing populism stands as the grassroots defender of white racial supremacy.  It intertwines with the traditional myths associated with the “American Dream” and suggests that the US was always to be a white republic and that no one, no people, and no organization should stand in the way of such an understanding.  It seeks enemies, and normally enemies based on demographics of ‘The Other’.  

Let me clearly state that I am not accusing Fletcher-Davidson of plagiarizing from Aleksandrovich Zamoshkin and Ėduard Batalov.  The fact that there are so many similarities between their views of Republican Party politics flow from commonality of interest in defending the imperialist Democratic Party with only faint damns.  

After all, right-wing populism sees itself in the legacy of the likes of Andrew Jackson and other proponents of Manifest Destiny, a view that saw no inconsistency between the notion of a white democratic republic, ethnic cleansing, slavery, and a continental (and later global) empire. ‘Jacksonian Democracy’ was primarily the complete codification and nationalization of white supremacy in our country’s political life.

Irrationalism is rising as an endemic virus in our political landscape

It is indeed rising, and wonder not why.  The US capitalist system [and here one is tempted oneself to use medical terminology: sclerotic, gangrenous, senile] on its anti-worker course of four decades has met with little resistance.  Its electoral duopoly of Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as labor and academic institutional leaderships, and the mass media, have all worked to prevent the discussion [much less rise] of an independent working class political movement.

Who would dare spend time on such a will-o’-the-wisp when Republican irrationalism is on the march?  Utopian dreams of labor or revolutionary socialist parties  must be patient, and must be slapped-down as unsound and unserious dangers “in this period” by Fletcher-Davidson, representing the National Institute of Bourgeois Political Health.

Largely in times of crisis and uncertainty, virulent forms of irrationalism make an appearance.  The threat to white racial supremacy that emerged in the 1960s, for instance, brought forward a backlash that included an irrationalist view of history, e.g., that the great early civilizations on Earth couldn’t have arisen from peoples with darker skins, but instead were founded by creatures from other planets.  

This formulation is rather interesting.  We are presented with Willard Romney as inheritor of the “Chariots of the Gods” theory of human evolution.  Of course there are plenty of textbooks for public and home-schooled children today with equally odd nostrums replacing real science and real sociology.  What to Democrats do to combat them?  On a national level, they inform us that school textbooks are a local or states’ rights issue.  We know that tune, don’t we?  And let’s be honest, the Republicans learned their approach to textbooks from a great teacher: the Democratic Party.

Irrationalism, moreover, was not limited to the racial realm. Challenges to scientific theories such as evolution and climate change are currently on the rise.  Irrationalism cries for a return to the past, and within that a mythical past.  A component of various right-wing ideologies, especially fascism, irrationalism exists as a form of sophistry, and even worse. It often does not even pretend to hold to any degree of logic, but rather simply requires the acceptance of a series of non sequitur assertions.

Yes, as opposed to the more sophisticated levels of moral self-congratulation among smug and condescending beneficiaries of neoliberalism whose battering-ram against the working class has been the Democratic Party.  At least if one votes for the Democrats and reads Thomas Friedman, one can hold up one’s head while asking the oil octopus for foundation research grants.

Right-wing populism and irrationalism have received nationwide reach anchored in institutions such as the Fox network, but also right-wing religious institutions.  Along with right-wing talk radio and websites, a virtual community of millions of voters has been founded whose views refuse critique from within.  

Funny that such delusional communities are always on the right, while the hard-headed, pragmatic, and scientific approach is the horizon of the Democratic Party.

Worse, well-financed and well-endowed walls are established to ensure that the views are not challenged from without.  In the 2008 campaign and its immediate aftermath, we witnessed segments of this community in the rise of the ‘birther’ movement and its backing by the likes of Donald Trump.  Like many other cults there were no facts that adherents of the ‘birthers’ would accept except those ‘facts’ which they, themselves, had established.  Information contrary to their assertions was swept away.   It didn’t matter that we could prove Obama was born in the US, because their real point, that he was a Black man, was true.      

The fertile ground on which “birther” politics germinated was not Republican intellectual atavism.  It was the realization in the petty bourgeoisie that for all the hopey-changey rhetoric they had allowed themselves to believe during the 2008 election [aided and abetted by Obama proponents like Chomsky, Zinn, Moore, and other Fletcher-Davidsons of the time], their dangerous economic situation [unemployment, foreclosure] was not being resolved in their favor.  Instead, the Obama administration, given flanking coverage by the Democratic Party ideological apparatus, was no different than the Republican George W. Bush.  Bailouts went to banks, bankers were not prosecuted, and wars continued.

Is it any wonder the petty bourgeoisie, always precariously situated, would be the first social layer to go mad and start listening to the Koch brothers and Donald Trump?

But the blame here is with those rationalizers and snake oil salesmen who set up expectations that capitalist political parties have no desire to meet.   Democratic Party politicians enjoy talking about jobs  and infrastructure repair and daycare centers while on the hustings.  More skeptical middle class radicals are softened up by The Nation and outfits like Progressives for Obama, but the effect is much the same.

Fletcher-Davidson and their ilk sow the whirlwind, then blame Republican irrationalism and deep-seated national mental deficiencies when it is time to reap.

The 2012 Republican primaries demonstrated the extent to which irrationalism and right-wing populism, in various incarnations, have captured the Republican Party.  That approximately 60% of self-identified Republicans would continue to believe that President Obama is not a legitimate citizen of the USA points to the magnitude of self-delusion.

The Obama campaign of 2008 at the grassroots was nothing short of a mass revolt

Are they kidding?  A mass revolt requires an alternative to existing class relations, and a historically rising social class to give it life.  The 2008 election was sold as a “revolt” by the Fletchers and Davidsons in the US left, but only to the skeptics who knew the Democratic Party was no alternative to Bush.  How else to get leftists to vote for the imperialist Democratic Party than to tell them the “realignment millenium” was here, and all would soon feed at the trough?

The energy for the Obama campaign was aimed against eight years of Bush, long wars, neoliberal austerity and collapse, and Republican domination of the US government.  It took the form of a movement-like embrace of the candidacy of Barack Obama.  The nature of this embrace, however, set the stage for a series of both strategic and tactical problems that have befallen progressive forces since Election Day 2008.

The mis-analysis of Obama in 2007 and 2008 by so many people led to an overwhelming tendency to misread his candidacy.  

Truly this is blame-the-victim taken to new heights.  

In that period, we—the authors of this essay—offered critical support and urged independent organization for the Obama candidacy in 2008 through the independent ‘Progressives for Obama’ project. We were frequently chastised by some allies at the time for being too critical, too idealistic, too ‘left’, and not willing to give Obama a chance to succeed.  Yet our measured skepticism, and call for independence and initiative in a broader front, was not based on some naïve impatience. Instead, it was based on an assessment of who Obama was and the nature of his campaign for the Presidency.

And how did “critical support” for Obama, as opposed to mass uncritical support, differentiate itself?  After the election, voters who has wholeheartedly supported the Democrat, and those who had voted for him “critically” too half a year off from political activity around foreclosures in Cleveland.  Why?  Because Obama would handle it.  If supporters could kick up their heels, then critical supporters could, too, since their audience was at home relaxing.

Obama was and is a corporate liberal

A liberal is a bourgeois who, in periods of capitalist economic expandsion, deems it wise to grant concessions to workers and their oppressed allies rather than force a show-down filled with unanticipated risks and consequences.  That material base for liberalism [an expansionary capitalist economy], has not existed in any imperialist country since the 1975 world depression.  Hency austerity “all down the line.”  To call Obama a “corporate liberal” is to paint him as the lesser evil, when in fact he and his party are the greater evil.

Obama is an eloquent speaker who rose to the heights of US politics after a very difficult upbringing and some success in Chicago politics.  But as a national figure, he always positioned himself not so much as a fighter for the disenfranchised but more as a mediator of conflict, as someone pained by the growth of irrationalism in the USA and the grotesque image of the USA that much of the world had come to see.  

Now they tell us!  Is it any wonder Wall Street needed a new face, the face of Barack Obama?  And now we learn that if Obama pursued his course of “corporate liberalism” after election, it was our fault for not pressing harder to make him “be” progressive?  

To say that he was a reformer does not adequately describe either his character or his objectives.  He was cast as the representative, wittingly or not, of the ill-conceived ‘post-Black politics era’ at a moment when much of white America wanted to believe that we had become ‘post-racial.’  He was a political leader and candidate trying to speak to the center, in search of a safe harbor.  He was the person to save US capitalism at a point where everything appeared to be imploding.

For millions, who Obama actually was, came to be secondary to what he represented for them.  This was the result of a combination of wishful thinking, on the one hand, and strongly held progressive aspirations, on the other.  In other words, masses of people wanted change that they could believe in. They saw in Obama the representative of that change and rallied to him.  While it is quite likely that Hillary Clinton, had she received the nomination, would also have defeated McCain/Palin, it was the Obama ticket and campaign that actually inspired so many to believe that not only could there be an historical breakthrough at the level of racial symbolism—a Black person in the White House—but that other progressive changes could also unfold.  With these aspirations, masses of people, including countless numbers of left and progressive activists, were prepared to ignore uncomfortable realities about candidate Obama and later President Obama.

There are two examples that are worth mentioning here.  One, the matter of race.  Two, the matter of war.  With regard to race, Obama never pretended that he was anything other than Black.  Ironically, in the early stages of his campaign many African Americans were far from certain how ‘Black’ he actually was.  Yet the matter of race was less about who Obama was—except for the white supremacists—and more about race and racism in US history and current reality.  

Nothing exemplified this better than the controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright, followed by Obama's historic speech on race in Philadelphia.  Wright, a liberation theologian and progressive activist, became a target for the political right as a way of 'smearing' Obama.   Obama chose to distance himself from Wright, but in a very interesting way.  He upheld much of Wright's basic views of US history while at the same time acting as if racist oppression was largely a matter of the past.  In that sense he suggested that Wright's critique was outdated.  

Is a Black person heading an imperialist state a “historical breakthrough at the level of racial symbolism”?  I think not.  Obama’s scolding of Reverend Wright for living in the past, his embrace of Bill Cosby’s “war on Black fathers,” were both acts of political expediency, occurring at campaign junctures  when the candidate knew the ruling class was testing his loyalty and perspicacity.  He came through for them with flying colors.  

Wright's critique was far from being outdated.  Yet in his famous speech on race, Obama said much more of substance than few mainstream politicians had ever done. In so doing, he opened the door to the perception that something quite new and innovative might appear in the White House.  He made no promises, though, which is precisely why suggestions of betrayal are misplaced.  There was no such commitment in the first place.

Nice to know illusions cultivated four years ago, and now being cultivated again, are done with such consummate cynicism.

With regard to war, there was something similar.  Obama came out against the Iraq War early, before it started. He opposed it at another rally after it was underway. To his credit, US troops have been withdrawn from Iraq.  He never, however, came out against war in general, or certainly against imperialist war.  In fact, he made it clear that there were wars that he supported, including but not limited to the Afghanistan war.  Further, he suggested that if need be he would carry out bombings in Pakistan.  Despite this, much of the antiwar movement and many other supporters assumed that Obama was the antiwar candidate in a wider sense than his opposition to the war in Iraq.  Perhaps ‘assumed’ is not quite correct; they wanted him to be the antiwar candidate who was more in tune with their own views.

Since Fletcher-Davidson were so savvy in their approach to Obama four years ago, why have us repeat the same mistake twice?  The dirty answer to this question is that for Fletcher-Davidson there is no alternative to imperialism; to suggest there might be if we starting moving on it today is the greatest evil.  At all costs, such motion must be arrested and aborted by these Pinkertons of Democratic Party imperialism.

For decades Fletcher-Davidson and their ilk have been making sure the Barack Obamas of the world were the only choice for principled anti-racists and anti-imperialists; i.e., pro-racist and pro-imperialist figures presented and promoted as their opposite.  

With Obama's election, the wishful thinking played itself out, to some degree, in the form of inaction and demobilization.  Contrary to the complaints of some on the Left, Obama and his administration cannot actually be blamed for this.  There were decisions made in important social movements and constituencies to (1) assume that Obama would do the 'right thing,' and, (2) provide Obama 'space' rather than place pressure on him and his administration. This was a strategic mistake. And when combined with a relative lack of consolidating grassroots campaign work into ongoing independent organization at the grassroots, with the exception of a few groups, such as the Progressive Democrats of America, it was an important opportunity largely lost.

Again Fletcher-Davidson blame the victims of their own strident pro-Obama political action in 2008, when they ruled out of order any electoral or mass movement alternatives to voting for a candidate of the class enemy.

As to “providing Obama space,” this was done by many out of fear of being race-baited or utopian-baited by the likes of Fletcher and Davidson.  No grass roots campaign was ever to be consolidated, ever could be consolidated: the prophylactic function of Obama’s election ensured this.

There is one other point that is worth adding here.  Many people failed to understand that the Obama administration was not and is not the same as Obama the individual, and occupying the Oval Office is not the same as an unrestricted ability to wield state power.  ‘Team Obama’ is certainly chaired by Obama, but it remains a grouping of establishment forces that share a common framework—and common restrictive boundaries.  It operates under different pressures and is responsive--or not--to various specific constituencies.  For instance, in 2009, when President Zelaya of Honduras was overthrown in a coup, President Obama responded--initially--with a criticism of the coup.  At the end of the day, however, the Obama administration did nothing to overturn the coup and to ensure that Honduras regained democracy.  Instead the administration supported the 'coup people.'  Did this mean that President Obama supported the coup?  It does not really matter.  What matters is that his administration backtracked on its alleged opposition to the coup and then did everything in their power to ensure that President Zelaya could not return.  This is why the focus on Obama the personality is misleading and unhelpful.  

Focus on “Obama the personality” was never the work of Fletcher-Davidson, and is a red herring.  Oprah and the amen corner at MSNBC and The Nation magazine focused on Obama the personality, as they do today.  For Fletcher-Davidson the key issue is maintaining the legitimacy of the Democratic Party in the eyes of those fighting back, or soon to fight back, against austerity and class war at home and abroad.  Obama is a very useful tool for this purpose, but they also have the luxury of proclaiming that Obama’s actions are irrelevant to the need to vote for him again in 2012.

No Struggle, No Progress

President Obama turned out not to be the progressive reformer that many people had hoped.  At the same time, however, he touched off enough sore points for the political Right that he became a lightning rod for everything that they hated and feared.  This is what helps us understand the circumstances under which the November 2012 election is taking place.

Because “the right” hates Obama, he must be elected?  

As a corporate liberal, Obama's strategy was quite rational in those terms.  First, stabilize the economy.  Second, move on health insurance.  Third, move on jobs.  Fourth, attempt a foreign policy breakthrough.   Contrary to the hopes of much of his base, Obama proceeded to tackle each of these narrowly as a corporate ‘bipartisan’ reformer rather than as a wider progressive champion of the underdog.  That does not mean that grassroots people gained nothing.  Certainly preserving General Motors was to the benefit of countless auto workers and workers in related industries.  

Again, are Fletcher-Davidson kidding?  The solution imposed on the UAW at General Motors was a historic defeat.  Multi-tiered and lower wage scales and an intentional and brutal reduction in capacity and hourly employment were defeats only a Democrat could perpetrate against the US working class without spurring calls for some sort of resistance.

Yet Obama's approach in each case was to make his determinations by first reading Wall Street and the corporate world and then extending the olive branch of bi-partisanship to his adversaries on the right.  This, of course, led to endless and largely useless compromises, thereby demoralizing his base in the progressive grassroots.

While Obama's base was becoming demoralized, the political right was becoming energized

Both these  transformations are interlinked.  The petty bourgeoisie in 2008 was told it beheld its saviour, the man who would prosecute the bankers, protect their homes, et cetera.  When in late 2009 this vast and disparate social layer realized the profound continuity between the Bush and Obama regimes, the anger and resentment was internalized, but erupted in different ways.  Some on the left began to say that they never presented Obama as another FDR;  some on the right began to say that, since the capitalist system’s legitimacy was beyond question, Obama’s legitimacy must be in question.

It did not matter that Obama was working to preserve capitalism. As far as the right was concerned, there were two sins under which he was operating:  some small degree of economic re-distributionism and the fact that Obama was Black.  The combination of both made Obama a demon, as far as the right was concerned, who personified Black power, anti-colonialism and socialism, all at the same time.

Use by the Republican Party of Obama as a symbol of “Black power, anti-colonialism and socialism” had solely electoral ends: victories via polarization in the 2010 elections.  The Tea Party groups that emerged in late 2009 and early 2010, when it became clear Obama would not use his Democratic majorities for anything other than the defense of Wall Street, were the initial expression of this marshalling of a mass electoral army.  As with the Democratic Party in 2006 and 2008, vote-catching was the aim.  The seeming independent strength of any Tea Party organization today flows from the necessity of duping revanchists into the electoral game.  In this respect, the goals of these Republican groups and of outfits like Progressives for Obama are consonant: build and energize the party multitudes and aim them at the ballot box by any scary means necessary.

The Upset Right and November 2012

We stress the need to understand that Obama represents an irrational symbol for the political right, and a potent symbol that goes way beyond what Obama actually stands for and practices.  

Use of Obama as a symbol on the liberal-left by Fletcher-Davidson has a similar purpose in gathering votes.

The right, while taking aim at Obama, also seeks, quite methodically and rationally, to use him to turn back the clock.  They have created a common front based on white revanchism (a little used but accurate term for an ideology of revenge), on political misogynism, on anti-‘freeloader’ themes aimed at youth, people of color and immigrants, and a partial defense of the so-called 1%.  Rightwing populism asserts a ‘producer’ vs. ‘parasites’ outlook aimed at the unemployed and immigrants below them and ‘Jewish bankers and Jewish media elites’ above them. Let us emphasize that this is a front rather than one coherent organization or platform.  It is an amalgam, but an amalgam of ingredients that produces a particularly nasty US-flavored stew of right-wing populism.

Missing from the Fletcher-Davidson thesis [and we are in its heart now] is any sense of the broader political context of imperialist war, economic crisis, and an airless and stultified bipartisan political life presented to the US population by its ruling class.  The two imperialism parties suffocate independent working class political action precisely in their use of the Obamas and the Tea Parties they promo as “mass revolts’ to their voting bases.  

Breaking out of the Democrat/Republican duopoly, and not giving credence to each side’s mobilizations preceding election day, is the key.  The fact that the AFL-CIO leadership, in its own dance of death, offers nothing to workers but the ballot box only compounds the accumulating disaster implicit in maintaining legitimacy.

Reports of declining Obama support among white workers is a good jumping off point in terms of understanding white revanchism.  Obama never had a majority among them as a whole, although he did win a majority among younger white workers. White workers have been economically declining since the mid-1970s.  This segment of a larger multinational and multiracial working class is in search of potential allies, but largely due to a combination of race and low unionization rates finds itself being swayed by right-wing populism.  

“Low unionization rates” makes the problem sound safely abstract.  But in the face of four decades of union-busting and austerity, and in the face of workers begging their union leaderships to fight back, the AFL-CIO leadership has rejected the prospect of organizing the unorganized.  They pour members dues into Democratic Party coffers, telling the rank and file that all their problems will be resolved when labor-friendly politicians are elected.  

When workers in Germany saw that social democratic and communist parties would not work together to lead them to take power, a similar demoralization set in.  It was not the fault of the rank and file; and the reactionary political activities some later pursued were only the logical outcome of rejecting independent working class political action, as opposed to maintaining illusions in labor’s deadliest enemy, the capitalist ruling class.  

Along with other workers it is insecure and deeply distressed economically, but also finds itself in fear—psychologically—for its own existence as the demographics of the USA undergoes significant changes.  They take note of projections that the US, by 2050, will be a majority of minorities of people of color. They perceive that they have gotten little from Obama, but more importantly they are deeply suspicious as to whether a Black leader can deliver anything at all to anyone.

Political misogynism—currently dubbed ‘the war on women’---has been on the rise in the US for some time.  The ‘New Right’ in the 1970s built its base in right-wing churches around the issue in the battles over abortion and reproduction rights, setting the stage for Reagan’s victory.  In the case of 2012, the attacks on Planned Parenthood along with the elitist dismissal of working mothers have been representative of the assertion of male supremacy, even when articulated by women.  This in turn is part of a global assault on women based in various religious fundamentalisms that have become a refuge for economically displaced men and for gender-uncomfortable people across the board.

The attack on ‘slacker,’  ‘criminal’ and ‘over-privileged’ youth, especially among minorities, is actually part of what started to unfold in the anti-healthcare antics of the Tea Party.  Studies of the Tea Party movement have indicated that they have a conceptualization based on the "deserving" and "undeserving" populations.   They and many others on the right are deeply suspicious, if not in outright opposition, to anything that they see as distributing away from them any of their hard-won gains.  They believe that they earned and deserve what they have and that there is an undeserving population, to a great extent youth (but also including other groups), who are looking for handouts. This helps us understand that much of the right-wing populist movement is a generational movement of white baby-boomers and older who see the ship of empire foundering and wish to ensure that they have life preservers, if not life-boats.

The defenders of the 1% are an odd breed.  Obviously that includes the upper crust, but it also includes a social base that believes that the upper crust earned their standing.  Further, this social base believes or wishes to believe that they, too, will end up in that echelon.  Adhering to variations of Reaganism, ‘bootstrapping’ or other such ideologies, they wish to believe that so-called free market capitalism is the eternal solution to all economic problems.  Despite the fact that the Republican economic program is nothing more or less than a retreading of George W. Bush's failed approach, they believe that it can be done differently.

Empire, balance of forces and the lesser of two evils

The choice in November 2012 does not come down to empire vs. no-empire.  While anyone can choose to vote for the Greens or other non-traditional political parties, the critical choice and battleground continues to exist in the context of a two-party system within the declining US empire.  The balance of forces in 2012 is such that those who are arrayed against the empire are in no position to mount a significant electoral challenge on an anti-imperialist platform.

To assume that the November elections are a moment to display our antipathy toward empire, moreover, misses entirely what is unfolding.  This is not a referendum on the “America of Empire”:  it is a referendum pitting the “America of Popular Democracy”—the progressive majority representing the changing demographics of the US and the increasing demands for broad equality and economic relief, especially the unemployed and the elderly—against the forces of unfettered neoliberalism and far right irrationalism.  Obama is the face on the political right’s bull's eye, and stands as the key immediate obstacle to their deeper ambitions.  

Whatever the rhetoric or the views of the Republican rank-and-file, Obama is a capitalist politican who carries out the program of Wall Street in this period: class war at home and abroad.  His is the force of “unfettered neoliberalism,” whose consequences breed “far right irrationalism” as well as the Fletcher-Davidsons of the Democratic Party.  

We, on the left side of the aisle, recognize that he is not our advocate for the 99%.  Yet and quite paradoxically, he is the face that the right is using to mobilize its base behind irrationalism and regression.  

We have been told this every time we were being sold a Democratic Party imperialist candidate.  At long last Mr. Fletcher and Mr. Davidson, have you no sense of shame?  This repeated pandering, this repeated rhetorical inflation and Cassandra crying about the ultra-right from a couple of Democratic Party Pinkertons in the working class must end.  The national narrowness of your political horizons and sense of solidarity are an embarrassment.  

That’s why we argue that Obama's record is really not what is at stake in this election

Had the progressive social movements mobilized to push Obama for major changes we could celebrate; had there been progressive electoral challenges in the 2010 mid-term elections and even in the lead up to 2012 (such as Norman Solomon's congressional challenge in California, which lost very narrowly), there might be something very different at stake this year.  Instead what we have is the face of open reaction vs. the face of corporate liberalism, of ‘austerity and war on steroids’ vs. ‘austerity and war in slow motion.’

Here again alternatives are only allowable in the electoral area for Fletcher-Davidson .  And I wish they would visit some of the countries currently suffering Obama’s “corporate liberalism” to see how slow-motion the austerity and war really are.  

This raises an interesting question about the matter of the "lesser of two evils," something which has become, over the years, a major concern for many progressives.  Regularly in election cycles some progressives will dismiss supporting any Democratic Party candidate because of a perceived need to reject "lesser evil-ism", meaning that Democrats will always strike a pose as somewhat better than the GOP, but remain no different in substance. In using the anti-‘lesser evil-ism’ phraseology, the suggestion is that it really does not matter who wins because they are both bad.  Eugene Debs is often quoted—better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you oppose and get it. While this may make for strong and compelling rhetoric and assertions, it makes for a bad argument and bad politics.

In elections progressives need to be looking very coldly at a few questions:

    Are progressive social movements strong enough to supersede or bypass the electoral arena altogether?
    Is there a progressive candidate who can outshine both a reactionary and a mundane liberal, and win?

No, Fletcher-Davidson, you and your co-thinkers in the great Democratic Party-funded foundations and institutions have derailed all attempts at creating such movements and parties.  But is their absense a reason to continue the same course, which leads to ever-greater defeats of workers in the US and around the world no matter which party grabs the big brass ring on election day?

    What would we seek to do in achieving victory?
    What is at stake in that particular election?

In thinking through these questions, we think the matter of a lesser of two evils is a tactical question of simply voting for one candidate to defeat another, rather than a matter of principle.  Politics is frequently about the lesser of two evils.  World War II for the USA, Britain and the USSR was all about the lesser of two evils.  Britain and the USA certainly viewed the USSR as a lesser evil compared with the Nazi Germany, and the USSR came to view the USA and Britain as the lesser evils.  Neither side trusted the other, yet they found common cause against a particular enemy.  There are many less dramatic examples, but the point is that it happens all the time. It’s part of ‘politics as strategy’ mentioned earlier.

It is for these reasons that upholding the dismissal of the 'lesser evil-ism' is unhelpful.  Yes, in this case, Obama is aptly described as the lesser of two evils.  He certainly represents a contending faction of empire.  He has continued the drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  His healthcare plan is nowhere near as helpful as would be Medicare for All.  He has sidelined the Employee Free Choice Act that would promote unionization. What this tells us is that Obama is not a progressive.  What it does not tell us is how to approach the elections.

It is my contention that  Obama and the Democratic Party are the greater evil.  Illusions and demobilizations, braking of militancy, rationalization of wars as opposing genocide, are some of the facts my contention is based upon.  Others include a supposedly class-neutral “fairness” wherein only the capitalists get to have their cake and eat it, too.

Workers in the US have a responsibility to themselves, and to fellow workers around the globe.  What is it?  To stop approaching elections in the way we always have, the way we are cajoled, whipped, and stampeded by the Fletchers and Davidsons of the left.  This approach is a horrific failure, a self-inflicted defeat for ourselves and workers around the world, who suffer from the consequences as surely as we do.  

The long history in the Democratic Party’s left milieu of “simply voting for one candidate to defeat another” has accomplished nothing for our class.  Every Democratic victory has been revealed as a defeat:  in 1964 we voted against “Goldwaterism,” and got it.  In 1976 we voted against imperialist wars and thought-police, and got both .  In 1992 we voted against Reaganism, and it continued, as was also the case in 1996.  Fletcher-Davidson would tell us it was our tough luck we had such illusions, and that we should have listened to the footnotes in their pro-Democratic Party prevarications more carefully.  All along they were telling us to “defeat the Republicans,” then build a mass movement to control the Democrats in office.

Approaching November

The political right, more than anything, wishes to turn November 2012 into a repudiation of the changing demographics of the US and an opportunity to reaffirm not only the empire, but also white racial supremacy.  

Here Fletcher-Davidson is truly the boy who cried wolf.  We are told a vote for Obama is a vote against white supremacy.  Assiduously they prepare the ground for a symphony of race baiting to be conducted closer to the election against the last holdouts who refuse to support Democratic Party imperialism.

In addition to focusing on Obama they have been making what are now well-publicized moves toward voter suppression, with a special emphasis on denying the ballot to minority, young, formerly incarcerated and elderly voters.  This latter fact is what makes ridiculous the suggestion by some progressives that they will stay home and not vote at all.

The real “voter suppression” happens when a ballyhooed Democratic politican reveals that he is no different from his Republican predecessor, leaving workers of all races feeling like fools and deciding they will never feel that way again.

It is high irony for the people who brought is “Progressives for Obama” to now tell us Obama is not the issue in the election: that defeating the Republican Party program is the central issue.  
In one form or another this message has been trumpeted by the Fletcher-Davidsons of the United States.  It used to be done by CPUSA hacks; not the New Left of the 1960s who decided to shill for imperialism is heading toward retirement.  But the arguments never change.

The political right seeks an electoral turn-around reminiscent of the elections at the end of the 19th century in the South that disenfranchised African Americans and many poor whites.  This will be their way of holding back the demographic and political clocks.  And, much like the disenfranchisement efforts at the end of the 19th century, the efforts in 2012 are playing on racial fears among whites, including the paranoid notion that there has been significant voter fraud carried out by the poor and people of color (despite all of the research that demonstrates the contrary!).

Furthermore, this is part of a larger move toward greater repression, a move that began prior to Obama and has continued under him.  It is a move away from democracy as neo-liberal capitalism faces greater resistance and the privileges of the "1%" are threatened.  Specifically, the objective is to narrow the franchise in very practical terms.  The political right wishes to eliminate from voting whole segments of the population, including the poor.  Some right-wingers have even been so bold as to suggest that the poor should not be entitled to vote.

November 2012 becomes not a statement about the Obama presidency, but a defensive move by progressive forces to hold back the ‘Caligulas’ on the political right.

I must say that calling for a vote for Obama to defeat the “Caligulas on the political right” is a novel formulation.  But Fletcher-Davidson have a harder case to make every four years.  Especially when a Democrat is president, and US workers can see that he is far worse than his predecessor, and will not become any friendlier if he knows the electorate is is patsy again.  Parenthetically, are Fletcher-Davidson suggesting Romney is a figure comparable to Caligula?  They should beware comparing assassinated Romans to living US politicians:  these kinds of obscene rhetorical inflation leave little maneuvering room for 2016.  Caligula is about as far as one can go.  

It is about creating space and using mass campaigning to build new grassroots organization of our own.  It is not about endorsing the Obama presidency or defending the official Democratic platform. But it is about resisting white revanchism and political misogynism by defeating Republicans and pressing Democrats with a grassroots insurgency, while advancing a platform of our own, one based on the ‘People’s Budget’ and antiwar measures of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. In short, we need to do a little ‘triangulating’ of our own.

Why do we keep getting ourselves into this hole?

Our answer to this question is fairly straightforward.  In the absence of a long-term progressive electoral strategy that is focused on winning power, we will find ourselves in this "Groundhog Day" scenario again and again.  Such a strategy cannot be limited to the running of symbolic candidates time and again as a way of rallying the troops.  Such an approach may feel good or help build socialist recruitment, but it does not win power.  Nor can we simply tail the Democrats.

The central lesson we draw from the last four years has less to do with the Obama administration and more to do with the degree of effective organization of social movements and their relationship to the White House, Congress and other centers of power.  The failure to put significant pressure on the Obama administration--combined with the lack of attention to the development of an independent progressive strategy, program and organizational base--has created a situation whereby frustration with a neo-liberal Democratic president could lead to a major demobilization. At bottom this means further rightward drift and the entry into power of the forces of irrationalism.

Voting for Obama again in 2012 will repeat the same situation faced in 2009:  “The failure to put significant pressure on the Obama administration--combined with the lack of attention to the development of an independent progressive strategy, program and organizational base--has created a situation whereby frustration with a neo-liberal Democratic president could lead to a major demobilization.”

If the only reason to vote for Obama is to defeat the Republican Party, the same demoralization will result.

It isn’t what you’re against, it’s what you are for!  Approaching electoral politics without a positive choice for party and program, means acknowledging the whole operation as a vast and ghastly “Groundhog Day.”

Crying over this situation or expressing our frustration with Obama is of little help at this point.

Well, fellas, you made that bed; you can lie in it alone this time.

While we will continue to push for more class struggle approaches in the campaign’s messages, the choice that we actually face in the immediate battle revolves around who would we rather fight after November 2012:  Obama or Romney?  

I suspect many feel like I do: better to keep a Democratic Party official in office for the sake of exposure and ijn the interest in the long term of breaking with the Democratic Party.  But given what Obama, Fletcher, and Davidson have unloaded on the US in the last four years, and refuse to take responsibility for, I think I will instead vote for a party with a Marxist program, and go forward from there.

Under what administration are progressives more likely to have more room to operate?  

They haven’t done much “operating” in the last four years, other than selling us on Obama’s status as a lesser-evil.  Progressives, in face of all the current regime has perpetrated at home and abroad, cannot even organize a demo at the DNC without calling it “March on Wall Street South.”

Under what administration is there a better chance of winning improvements in the conditions of the progressive majority of this country?  

If history is any judge, the Nixon administration.  There is no correlation between the party in power and concessions won.  Concessions, and building a permanent structure for independent labor political action, depend upon militancy, class clarity and class independence.  

These are the questions that we need to ask.  Making a list of all of the things that Obama has not done and the fact that he was not a champion of the progressive movement misses a significant point:  he was never the progressive champion.  He became, however, the demon for the political right and the way in which they could focus their intense hatred of the reality of a changing US, and, indeed, a changing world.

How loathsomely chauvinistic and insular.

We urge all progressives to deal with the reality of this political moment rather than the moment we wish that we were experiencing.  In order to engage in politics, we need the organizations to do politics with, organizations that belong to us at the grassroots. That ball is in our court, not Obama’s. In 2008 and its aftermath, too many of us let that ball slip out of our hands, reducing us to sideline critics, reducing our politics to so much café chatter rather than real clout. Let’s not make that mistake again.

There is no louder “cafe chatter” than that telling us how backward Republicans are, and how they must be defeated by any means necessary.  

In 2008 the Fletcher-Davidsons told us the election was all about Obama and all the progressive leverage we would be “given.”

In 2012 they tell us the election is not about Obama at all, but about defeating the Republicans.

Only working class political independence and political organization around a class struggle perspective of revolutionary socialism, no matter how modest its beginnings now, will give us a future free of the Democrat/Republican shell game.  The fact that it will finish-off the double-dealing careers of the likes of Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson will not even amount to icing on the cake.

Jay Rothermel


The text of “The 2012 Elections Have Little To Do With Obama's Record: Which Is Why We Are Voting For Him” By Bill Fletcher, Jr., Carl Davidson is taken from its August 9 appearance here:


  1. Andrew Pollack on OWS and the Fletcher-Davidson statement

    Now I admit I've still only had time to skim this overly (and needlessly)
    long piece, but I'll be damned if I can see any mention in it of the Occupy
    movement. (Nor was there any mention of OWS in a recent Portside email with
    three positive reviews of it.)

    Which is important because Occupy puts the lie to many of their claims
    about the supposed nonexistence of a mass base for independent politics.

    My friends and comrades in Occupy (and readers of my recent article on
    anarchism and the Spanish Civil War) know that I have no truck with the
    antipolitical character of anarchism. But the astounding, consistent,
    almost unanimous sentiment among Occupiers against having anything to do
    with the Democratic Party is a huge step forward for US politics.

    From the very start, and right to today, thousands of Occupiers just in NY
    have said, and they mean it, that the DP can kiss their ass.

    And the fact that so many could stay so free of bourgeois politics for so
    long is symptomatic of underlying alienation from the system.

    Obviously the rejection of the DP is only the beginning of political wisdom.

    But among these thousands of day-in, day-out activists are where we will
    find eventual allies for building a genuinely-independent, working
    class-based party in this country.

    This is what scares the shit out of Bill and Carl, and why they've put such
    frantic effort into trying once again to hold us back.

  2. This is only a very brief comment, but your article reminded me of what Marx wrote about political activity: that socialists and communists should run in every election possible, if for no other reason than to get their views before the public. Waiting every four years to vote for a socialist presidential candidate is a recipe for failure.

    What we need is thousands of socialists and communists running for public office all over the country. However, don't ask me to do it. It has taken me 65 years of living in one of the most reactionary parts of the the country to become a Marxist. Now, if I were 25 again...

    1. Alex, thank you for your comment.

      I was not suggesting communists and socialists hold themselves to one campaign every four years, but expressed myself poorly. I agree with you that one's organization should be stretched to the utmost to take advantage of elections in order to raise class consciousness, recruit rebel youth, and increase paid circulation of the party press.

      Glad you took the time to write.


  3. The underlying problem is that none of us here, on any side of the argument, who would like to speak for the working class has any ability to do so with any force and reach. That's what we meant by politics as 'cafe chatter' and strategy as 'self-expression.'

    The task, then, is to start with the working class we have, organize the best of them, and find a path forward. Most progressive-minded workers understand that the danger from the far right is quite real, even if some on the left would like to convince themselves that it's only a 'bogey man.' They'll do what they can to thwart it, and the best of them will do so by also building organizations of their own to wage the wider battles of politics as strategy.

    As for OWS, the current conjuncture has brought it to an impasse as well, a crisis of anarcho-syndicalist one-sided reliance on fanning the flames of mass movements to bring pressure 'from below', largely a kind of militant liberalism. I've supported OWS, visited many of them and won over allies for them. But mass movements ebb and flow, and one has to have the ability to know how and when to cast the net out, and draw it back in. As much as I love mass insurgency, I'm not one who worships spontaneity. In my book, organization-building trumps movement-building, even as they are intertwined.

    Keep in mind that we are not asking anyone to support Obama or his platform or the Democrats. We are simply asking people to vote for him to defeat the alternative. If you don't think this matters, you are seriously out of touch with those sectors of the masses you think most important for more radical change. At the very least, you could get in the streets to oppose the GOP's efforts to deny the ballot with their new VoterID 'poll tax.' That's just a matter of consistent democracy with a small 'd.'

    1. Carl Davidson writes:

      "Keep in mind that we are not asking anyone to support Obama or his platform or the Democrats. We are simply asking people to vote for him to defeat the alternative. If you don't think this matters, you are seriously out of touch with those sectors of the masses you think most important for more radical change."

      I cannot imagine a more dismissive or contemptuous attitude toward the working class at an international level. What must workers in other countries, under the gun of a bipartisan war by the Wall Street parties, think of Fletcher-Davidson's rationalization for voting for drone death lists, invasions, and unconditional preemptive war.

      Are we really to believe, after all the decades of Browder-cum-Fletcher/Davidson, that a vote for Obama is NOT a vote for Wall Street's platform, or all the other millionaire and billionaire Democrats who [like their Republican opposite numbers] have conducted in the last thirty-five years an undifferentiated capitalist assault on life and limb at home and abroad?

      In the comment above, Davidson seeks to bait us by saying, "At the very least, you could get in the streets to oppose the GOP's efforts to deny the ballot with their new VoterID 'poll tax.' That's just a matter of consistent democracy with a small 'd.'"

      When Obama is re-elected and emboldened on his current course; when missiles strike in Syria and Iran; when Homeland Security rounds up another autumn's protestors; when all this happens because we voted against Romneyism, the Fletcher-Davidson's in the US will have much to answer for, as they do already for their anti-worker actions in 2008. They will have sold US workers on another four years of voting against their interests, defeating their own independence.

      Vote against the ultra-right. This is a decades' old cats paw for supporting the Democrats, and it has pushed US workers further away from the class political independence we need so badly today. It is time to stop the lesser evilism. Republican and Democratic imperialist agendas and their ideological rationalizations will be stopped only when this process reaches fruition. Better to start now than delay another four years.

  4. Thinking the ultra-right these days is an imaginary 'cat's paw' is a huge illusion held by the far left, which likes to lecture others on 'illusions.'

    As for internationalism, who do you think Palestinian-Americans and Iranian-Americans, in good measure, will be voting for this round? An anti-imperialist isn't on the ballot, but someone who criticizes Obama for not invading Iran now, and who thinks the West Bank is poor because of 'Palestinian culture,' is running. Voting to keep him out doesn't mean you 'endorse' Obama. Workers often vote for those they think will do them the least harm without endorsing any of them. The larger task is to create a socialist organization with 100,000+ members--which might be done, if we could cut the number of circular firing squads in half or better.

    1. Carl Davidson writes:

      "The larger task is to create a socialist organization with 100,000+ members--which might be done, if we could cut the number of circular firing squads in half or better."

      What can one make of such thinking? The greatest circular firing squad facing the US working class is the every-four-year squad telling them they need to put off their political independence, even the germinal stage of it, for another four years, [then another, then another] because things are too urgent now.

      Urgent how? Because of the horror stories Obama shills tell us, citing Fox news.

      Is their really any equal sign between the Republican who says "West Bank is poor because of 'Palestinian culture,'" and the president who leads an international bombing campaign on the population of Somalia and Libya, and every day promotes doing the same against Syria and Iran?

      "An anti-imperialist isn't on the ballot"? Hmmm... could be because Fletcher-Davidson and their ilk scare us every four years into voting for actual imperialist war-makers, and denigrate anti-imperialism as a sideshow distraction from defeating the Republican Party at the polls.

  5. Do you really believe US workers vote for Dems (largely, since one third of them around here vote GOP) because left groups tell or urge them too? You've got to be kidding. Or living entirely in a world of illusion about our reach and impact. You might have a case if you argued the reverse, ie, that the reason some groups on the left deal with battles within the Democratic orbit is due to the attractive pressure from the more progressive-minded workers drawing them there.