| For Flacks'
essay, "Reflections on Strategy in a Dark Time," click here.
An Electoral Strategy
Near the outset of his interesting "Reflections," Richard Flacks notes: "Left-wing activists have . . . organized defiance to institutional authority, taken to the streets, boycotted, struck, sat-in -- as much as, perhaps more than, they have used the ballot." That is certainly an understatement. The 60s generated a grand and well deserved disillusionment with a government (and a Democratic Party) that claimed to be creating a Great Society even as it dropped more tonnage on a poor third world country than was dropped on the entire Axis in all of World War II. It is little wonder that many activists (myself included) turned our backs on electoral politics, some never to return. For this reason and others, the left today has less experience in electoral work than it ought to have, and this is crippling in many ways. I saw the effects first-hand when I ran for Congress. Among our campaign volunteers the talent and commitment were extraordinary, but not the experience. And this situation is unlikely to change unless the left can find an electoral enterprise that engages it deeply. For this purpose the very occasional progressive Democratic candidate simply won't do, because, even in the case of a victory, that candidate's progressive impulses are smothered by the Democratic Party. And in the event of a defeat, nothing has been built by the effort except perhaps a following for a decent individual, at best, or a deepened despair, at worst. In contrast, a progressive party provides an enduring project that can grow, develop, and learn from experience.
That is why it is disconcerting to read Flacks' flat declaration that: "The
100-year old effort to create a left party is over and failed." Even more disturbingly,
despite a brief bow in the direction of the New Party, Flacks seems to implicitly
In addition there is an awful irony that results from the failure to develop
There are other criticisms to be made about Flacks' piece. First, there is
A much more likely way forward is to build a party like the New Party from the bottom up, using people, not money, to win campaigns. Finally, since Flacks' piece deals with the prevailing mood of pessimism on the left, it is worth noting that there is optimism to be found in doing what really counts no matter how difficult. The best way to kick the habits of pessimism that come of vague wishes for "empowerment" is to embark on the road to political power.
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