Do Progressives Have a Plan?
Date: December 27, 2002 (revised December 28)
Words: 1009 (excluding footnotes)
Not long ago I articulated a vision for a national progressive movement to pursue power in America through the electoral process. After none of the major progressive websites were interested in my proposal, I found myself wondering: How, exactly, do progressives intend to go forward at this critical juncture in history?
The stakes could not be higher. A small clique of wealthy monopoly capitalists, aided by their captive intellectuals, runs our country--and intends to rule the world--for their personal benefit. By any number of objective measurements, our economic system disadvantages a majority of Americans, and the welfare of many is actually declining. This process will only continue as globalization advances: Indonesia will not become like the U.S.; we will become like Indonesia. When workers around the world are competing with each other in an unrestrained global capitalist economic system, wages race toward the bottom.
The rest of the world faces the unparalleled danger of a United States, unconstrained by credible rivals, that has openly declared a goal of global domination, announced a readiness to jettison 100 years of international law in favor of a policy of ongoing military aggression ("preemption"), and emphasized its willingness to employ weapons of mass destruction to support its hegemonic agenda.
Progressives have only a limited number of options.
One is to decide that the cause is hopeless, that the fraternity that rules America has achieved such domestic political dominance that change is impossible. This course proposes, at best, fighting a never-ending series of defensive battles or, at worst, simply waiting to die. This choice must be rejected.
If, then, we propose to act, a threshold decision is whether our strategy will be electorally based, that is, whether we will directly participate in the electoral system. I contend that a strategy lacking such a basis is destined to fail.
What would be the causal chain for a nonelectoral approach? What sequence of events leading to the necessary changes would such a plan intend to set into motion? I cannot conceive of one. Do you think that, if we agitate and educate enough, eventually the American public will demand major party candidates who support justice, fairness, and the rule of law--and that those parties will feel compelled to submit? Do you think it's even possible to organize people without giving them a concrete vision of the process by which life will become better, and asking them to take part in that process? I don't.
Assuming, then, that the progressive strategy must have an electoral basis, what will be our electoral vehicle? The Green Party, the Democratic Party, or a party that does not yet exist?
The Green Party is not the answer. First, the "Green Party" name is not an American party name, and on this basis alone Americans will not vote for it. Second, the party's organizing premise, the environment, is a peripheral issue for many Americans. To people who can't pay the hospital bills for their sick child, or who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, or who live in inner-city ghettos without cause for hope, the ecological damage caused by clearcutting is of exceedingly little moment. And third, the Green Party has little national presence beyond its white liberal base.
There is absolutely no reason to place our confidence in the Democratic Party. The two major parties exist for the very purpose of advancing the interests of the moneyed class. It is structurally impossible for the Democratic Party to change.
Surely your hopes are not raised by the likes of Jimmy Carter, whose crimes included supporting Somoza in Nicaragua, the generals in El Salvador, the Shah in Iran and Pol Pot in exile in Thailand, declaring that the U.S. had no debt to Vietnam because the "destruction was mutual," and facilitating Indonesia's genocide in East Timor and South Korea's 1980 massacre at Kwangju. Or Bill Clinton, whose foreign policy achievements included the bombing of Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Sudan and the occupation of Haiti, and whose domestic accomplishments encompassed NAFTA, which as of 2000 had cost 766,000 American jobs in all 50 states, according to the Economic Policy Institute; welfare "reform" that threatens to end benefits to millions of families; codification of the military's anti-gay policy; and the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, which severely limits the appeals of death row inmates.
Continued reliance on the Democrats is like refusing to leave an abusive relationship. You keep hoping they'll change.
The only approach that offers the prospect of success is the launching of a new national political party.
Of course the effort in creating such a party will be enormous, and the project may ultimately be unsuccessful. But there are two key advantages: The work is entirely under our control, and the sequence of events between where we are now and where we want to be is easy to visualize: We evangelize the American people with an army of volunteers, convince them that change is both necessary and possible, and earn their electoral support.
As outlined in my earlier commentary, for this effort to be successful, the party's electoral prospects must be credible, and the party's program must be clearly defined, of concrete economic assistance to a majority of Americans, and rooted in basic American values.
It's true that there has not been a successful third party for at least the last century. But almost every third party has been either rooted in values, such as socialism or communism, that are foreign to the American people; based in a narrow constituency; or little more than an instrument for a presidential campaign (Teddy Roosevelt, Robert LaFollette, Sr., and Henry Wallace under the Progressive Party banner in 1912, 1924, and 1948, respectively; George Wallace and the American Independent Party in 1968; Ross Perot and the Reform Party in 1992).
History is poised on a precipice. Will we allow the moneyed class to subjugate our planet to an economic system benefiting only the rich? Or are progressives willing to lead the way to a sane and humane future?
It's time to decide.
1. Robin Miller, "A Proposal for Regime Change in the United States," November 28, 2002.
2. Carter was elected in the 1976 election and defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election.
Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi went into exile on January 16, 1979, 14 months after Jimmy Carter had warmly welcomed him on a visit to the U.S. on November 15, 1997. After he arrived in the U.S. for medical treatment later that year, the hostage crisis erupted. See the "Timeline on U.S. Hostages in Iran."
Anastasio Somoza fled Nicaragua for the United States on July 17, 1979, and two days later the Sandinistas came to power.
For general sources, see:
Alexander Cockburn, "Starring Jimmy Carter, in War and Peace," CounterPunch, October 18, 2002.
John Pilger, "How Thatcher Gave Pol Pot a Hand," The New Statesman, April 17, 2000.
Mickey Z, "The Legacy of Jimmy Carter," Dissident Voice, October 12, 2002.
American mainstream media has always been silent about the killings in Kwangju, although the incident was similar to China's 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square that continues to resonate in the American public consciousness. To learn more, see:
Lee, Jae-Eui, Kap Su Seol, and Nick Mamatas, Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age, UCLA Asian Pacific Monograph Series, 1999
Lewis, Linda Sue, Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising, University of Hawaii Press, 2002
Scott-Stokes, Henry, and Jai-Eui Lee (eds.), The Kwangju Uprising: Eyewitness Press Accounts of Korea's Tiananmen, M.E. Sharpe, August 2000
3. Robert E. Scott, "NAFTA's Hidden Costs: Trade Agreement Results in Job Losses, Growing Inequality, and Wage Suppression for the United States," Economic Policy Institute, April 2001.
4. For recent books on American third parties, see--
---From an academic perspective:
Rosenstone, Steven J., Third Parties in America, Princeton University Press, 1996 (2nd ed.)
Bibby, John F., and L. Sandy Maisel, Two Parties--Or More? The American Party System, Westview Press, 2002 (2nd ed.)
--From a progressive perspective:
Reynolds, David, Democracy Unbound: Progressive Challenges to the Two Party System, South End Press, 1997
Sifry, Micah L., Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America, Routledge, 2002
--On Jesse Ventura and the Reform Party:
Frank, Stephen, We Shocked the World: a Case Study of Jesse Ventura's Election as Governor of Minnesota, Wadsworth Publishing Company, 2001 (2nd. ed.)
Lentz, Jacob, Electing Jesse Ventura: A Third-Party Success Story, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002
Ventura, Jesse, I Ain't Got Time to Bleed: Reworking the Body Politic from the Bottom Up, Random House, 1999
Ventura, Jesse, Do I Stand Alone? Going to the Mat against Political Pawns and Media Jackals, Pocket Books, 2000
--On Ralph Nader:
Nader, Ralph, Crashing the Party: How to Tell the Truth and Still Run for President, St. Martin's Press, 2001