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October 14, 2013

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Jeff K

"The Left needs to study the Tea Party carefully and ask whether we can learn from them. After all, a radical group with the support of less than a quarter of the US population has been able to shut down the government, to hold it hostage to its demands."

I think the TP (what a wonderful acronymic coïncidence) owes most if not all of its success to being an astroturf movement that can count on millions in big corporate donations. I really don't think that's a direction that any left formation, party or otherwise, wants to take.

Jodi Dean

Agreed -- astro-turf out. So, this leads to other questions: if we are unwilling (as well as unable) to rely on deep pockets to fund our political endeavors, what follows? Does it follow that forgo electoral politics completely (and I have tended to agree with this option, but I have been wondering if it stupid to write it off completely) or does it follow that we compensate by building campaigns with larger numbers of people or by using alternative sources of funding (political kickstarters)and publicity? Generally, I am very skeptical of electoral politics. But right now Congress is so weak and divided and people are so fed up that there could be a window. It also might be that it's only the Republicans who are are crumbling, that the Dems are relatively solid, and so those options aren't open. But then we need to think about why we choose the options we do and why they are not working and what we need to do to change.

Alain

I would suggest that "TP" is not just an astro-turf movement. There are literally millions of true believers and I personally know many of them. This doesn't negate the importance of money in terms of their effectiveness but it is a mistake to dismiss them as simply the useful tools of a segment of the elite. Even in the mainstream narrative of events it has been noted how traditional business elites (especially wall street) have been unable to exert the same influence as they have with Republicans in the past.

And I would note that there is huge opening for the left. Here in Minneapolis there is a real Socialist running for city council and he has a legit chance of winning. His campaign has generated a lot of excitement. Electoral politics is not everything but it has to be part of a broader strategy.

Ben Neal

I'm from Britain so have perhaps a different perspective from you guys. It seems to me that among other things a big problem for the left is the lack of a decent left-wing third party. While some individual Democrat members of Congress may be decent leftwingers, even socialists, the Democrats as a whole are not a vehicle for introducing genuinely left-wing policies. The other problem is the relative weakness and fragmentation of grassroots movements, which does seem to be changing for the better in recent years with things such as the Occupy movement. Traditionally the Democrats have been the party which people even on the left turn to when it comes to political expression and elections. However, it is such a broad party that the left within it get drowned out. Furthermore it is dominated by the corporate centrists who are pretty hostile to genuine left wing politics. With perhaps some exceptions, the Democrat party only does grassroots political activity at election time. Most European Social Democratic parties have a similar problem: they have traditionally been mainly electoral machines, and dominated by the right wing of those parties. Hence most of them today are little different from their conservative opponents in practice (the British Labour party being a case in point).

So what the US needs is a separate mass socialist party which is firmly rooted in grassroots campaigns and struggles. The impetus for this must come from below. It's main aim should not be winning elections, but uniting the various movements in the US and broadening them. While it should be broad enough to include various strands of opinion on the left, uniting them in fighting for common aims, it should have clear lines which it will not cross. It should support Democrats when they stand with the working class, but not be afraid to oppose them when they are against the working class. As for elections, at least in the initial stages, I don't think it needs to run for President, and should at most aim to get seats in Congress. The seats it aims for should be ones where it has a good chance of winning. So it should stand in areas where it has a good basis of support. Perhaps at first it should aim to get elected at local and state level.

Throughout this process it should aim to keep maintain its link to the grassroots. The activists should own the party, and any leadership must be subordinated to that. It must gain support by participating in and initiating real campaigns on the ground on real issues which affect people. It should refuse all corporate funding: only funds from grassroots members and supporters should be accepted. One million supporters donating $5 each are much more valuable than one rich donor giving $5 million.

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