(This article is an excerpt from Mann's new book The 2004 Elections: A Turning Point for the U.S. Left, see www.paitdb.org)
On November 2, 2004, if George W. Bush is thrown out of office after stealing the last election (with Al Gore’s complicit passivity), there will be a celebration heard round the world. It will reach from the Latin American Axis of Good that spans Venezuela and Hugo Chavez to Cuba and Fidel Castro to Brazil and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to every Black and other oppressed nationality community in the U.S., to most European Union countries. As in any “united front” (a broad front of often conflicting blocs and interests), people’s reasons for celebration will differ markedly. And if the two Johns, Kerry and Edwards, are able to strut around in victory, many of us will feel joy for a few moments (as we did the day Clinton and Gore defeated George Bush, Sr.), knowing full well that while today we share in the celebration of the defeat of Bush, tomorrow we will have to take on Kerry and Edwards as adversaries.
George W. Bush and his right-wing and strangely mad group of cohorts are deeply and deadly dangerous. Their coherent, aggressive, ideologically driven, ultra-militaristic, unusually racist and undemocratic zealot faction of the ruling class calls for a broad united front and electoral coalition to preserve what is left of democratic rights and to place any constraints we can on U.S. military, corporate, and racist ruling circles, in the U.S. and the Third World. This broad electoral united front to defeat Bush is in need of an organized force inside of it to prioritize the fight for democratic rights, and against U.S. imperialism’s corporate and racist ruling circles. This fight now prioritizes the defeat of George W. Bush, but, after the hoped for election of John Kerry, the force will have to continue its work, energized by the hoped for defeat of Bush.
People do not just hate Bush, they fear him—and for good reason. Bush’s line in Michael Moore’s important film Fahrenheit 9/11, “Well obviously running a dictatorship would be easier” (said with his usual insipid and malevolent grin), should serve as a word to the wise, and an eerie warning of his future plans. Is George W. Bush a reactionary, a neo-fascist or a proto-fascist? I do not have the scientific and political theory to accurately define exactly what form of right-wing coup his group represents, but I do think and feel that an uncharted form of U.S. dictatorship over its own people (which it already exercises over the Third World) is the general direction in which Bush is moving the country. I will delve into this question more in the section “George W. Bush: The Clear and Present Danger.”
The foundation of my politics, and those of the organizations with which I have been affiliated all my life, is building a broad antiracist, anti-imperialist united front that prioritizes the needs, aspirations, and national liberation of Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander (A/PI), Indigenous people and all peoples of color inside the U.S., and Third World peoples outside the U.S. This article argues that building and participating in the broadest possible electoral united front to defeat George W. Bush/Dick Cheney by electing John Kerry/John Edwards on November 2, 2004 is the highest priority for the antiracist, anti-imperialist U.S. Left.
Within the overarching electoral united front to defeat Bush, I see three major forces driven by ideological concerns (besides the Democratic Party hacks who simply seek power and party influence).
The united front against reaction and for democratic rights, focusing on the post-September 11 attacks on civil liberties, represented in the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act (PATRIOT Act) and the Office of Homeland Security. This is a broad united front including civil libertarians, activists and organizers facing increased scrutiny and repression, Blacks (the primary victims of all intensified police activities), all people of color, increasingly, Arab and Muslim peoples, and women fighting to protect the remnants of their constitutional and civil rights.
The united front against racism and discrimination inside the United States, which demands new civil rights laws to reverse Bush’s gutting of existing civil rights law (e.g. the Sandoval Case), which challenges the lily white Bush machine and his anti-black legislative and judicial appointments, and which cannot be pacified by the Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, and Clarence Thomas right-wing members of the elite. (There are many people of color in the U.S. who are very angry about their “second class” status in the U.S. but still share a “great nation” chauvinism that allows them to support U.S. wars of aggression against other Third World peoples.) Thus, they are antiracist inside the borders of the U.S. but often anti-immigrant and pro-imperialist.
The united front against imperialism and war is represented by the massive antiwar movement that has integrated antiracist demands, demands for self-determination of the Palestinian people, and has touched more of the mainstream than Kerry would ever dare attempt through its “No blood for oil” chants and genuine support for GIs with its clear demand, “Bring the troops home, Now!” This united front against imperialism and war incorporates the united front for democratic rights and the united front against racism in its demands and membership.
As in all united fronts, groups and social forces do not share the same long-term objectives or agenda, and are often in sharp struggle with each other. In the current situation, all these united fronts are focused on a common tactical objective: the defeat of George W. Bush on November 2, 2004.
The new anti-imperialist force I am proposing—Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush (PIDB)—will carry out the struggle against reaction, racism, and imperialism within this broad electoral united front. This tactical plan will rise or fall on the creation of a network of anti-imperialist groups inside the U.S., political organizations independent of the Democratic Party and the trade union bureaucracy, rooted in major oppressed nationality communities—Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, Indigenous, and immigrant—in key urban and rural centers, beginning with Los Angeles where a group of us, functioning independent of any other organizational forms are trying to get this experiment off the ground.
John Kerry and John Edwards are imperialists, not anti-imperialists. They support the war in Iraq and even propose a more extended and complex plan for U.S. occupation. They both voted for the Patriot Act and while proposing mild amendments to some of its worst excesses, they have some frightening “national security” ideas of their own. Yet, even their hollow calls for “multi-national” domination of the Third World create more favorable conditions under which to challenge their imperialist objectives than we have under Bush. Unlike Bush, they are not overt racists nor are they allied with the most virulent white supremacist groups. Kerry and Edwards support some important legal and legislative elements of racial equality inside the U.S., the general principle of affirmative action, and some moderate restrictions on corporate power. They do not, of course, support any form of self-determination or even structural economic uplift for the U.S. working class and its most oppressed sectors.
With regard to the subjugation of the Third World, they prefer the Clintonian tactical plan of domination by strangling the economies and self-determination of Third World nations, through draconian international bodies such as IMF, NAFTA, World Bank, WTO, GATT, and CAFTA. As bad as those institutions are, the nations of the Third World and U.S. forces against “globalization” and “imperialism” are far better equipped to ally and struggle against the forces of U.S. imperialist international capital than to face an endless threat of “pre-emptive war” and mass military assaults and occupations. In the section, “Kerry--Without Illusions,” I have attempted to make a coherent analysis of the profound challenges, as well as the opportunities, posed by a Kerry victory.
This tactic, however, will not rise or fall on the ability of those embracing it to reach full unity on our assessment of Kerry. The subject at hand is building a united front against the extreme Right, the forces of reaction—reflected in an electoral united front to defeat Bush by electing Kerry. It is that assessment upon which we must agree in order to have a unity of action, and which could lead us to work together in a proposed new organizational form, Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush.
Many on the Left today—working as organizers in Black, Latino, A/PI, and Indigenous communities, working in antiwar coalitions, working in the trade unions—understand full well that it is often the liberals who initiate red-baiting and try to drive out and isolate the Left from united fronts, and often the liberal Democrats who serve as “gatekeepers” to protect the system, the trade unions, and the Democratic Party from any progressive challenges. (Just recently, the Kerry forces dismantled the Kucinich delegates’ efforts to have a strong antiwar platform at the Democratic National Convention.)2 This is neither ancient history nor an easy set of circumstances to navigate.
Still, the Left can, under certain historical conditions, play an aggressive role in a broad united front (including at times electoral alliances with the Democrats) when it is in the best interest of the immediate and long-term objectives of the working class and oppressed nationality peoples inside the U.S. and the peoples of the Third World oppressed by the U.S. ruling class. Moreover, I believe there will be plenty of room for an effective anti-imperialist force to move in this broad united front given the present circumstances. These include: the loose organization of the Democratic Party at the grassroots; its virtual abandonment of many key states such as California (I do not share their assessment of it as a “safe” state); gutsy actions such as those of both SEIU and AFSCME to take national votes by their membership for the U.S. to immediately get out of Iraq, in direct opposition to Kerry even though they are strong supporters of Kerry; the social bases many groups of color have built that are already independent of the Democratic Party; and the possible help we can provide on the ground doing actual precinct organizing and getting out the vote in primarily Black, Latino, and Asian/Pacific Islander communities, trade unions, and universities.
I am arguing that the dangers posed by the arch right-wing ideology and structures led by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft, William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas constitute the historical conditions that necessitate Left participation in a broad electoral united front, in the communities, on the campuses, at grassroots rallies, in full page ads critiquing Bush and challenging Kerry, and at the ballot box, to defeat Bush by turning out the vote for Kerry.
There are many committed organizers who question whether we will be double-crossed by Kerry after November 2nd. They wonder: will he move to the right in a way that undermines our credibility with our own base? Why are we bringing oppressed nationality peoples into the electoral arena when they have often refused to register or vote out of protest over the two party system? Are we not in danger of raising illusions about the Democrats, or in fact, delivering our base right into the Democratic Party? Aren’t we in danger of “too much unity and not enough struggle with Kerry” as we will be pressured by forces to our right to “hold off” any criticisms of Kerry until “after the election?”
Those, and many more, are very legitimate concerns and dangers, and even the best-laid plans cannot always guarantee predicted outcomes. I can only begin by saying that the reason Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush will focus on people from already-existing groups is because this work assumes the most introspective discussion of these dangers among an actual oppressed nationality, working class membership, and coming up with specific policies to remedy them, or at least to face them squarely.
Many of the people with whom I have been working for years have been going to war with both the Republicans and the Democrats in Los Angeles. Sadly, most often it is the liberal Democrats who feel they have no obligation to working people and the poor; who may cut deals with specific trade unions on specific issues, but on issues of economic development, they side with the big developers; on issues of “law and order” they often capitulate to the right; and even on issues of civil rights they often take a weak stand, afraid of turning off white voters who they fear will go Republican. Often, no matter how “constructively” we try to struggle with liberal Democrats, trying to connect with their stated values or their past more radical incarnations, they are often furious, ballistic, at any pressure from the Left.
But we have also seen that in particular moments, in particular struggles, some Democrats—even those with whom we’ve had very sharp fights—can be willing rather than grudging allies. As an example, Cynthia Rojas and Manuel Criollo went to El Salvador as observers for the presidential elections. When they arrived, a group of U.S. Republican Congressional members lead by Dan Burton (Indiana) and Dana Rohrabacher (California), emboldened by the Bush Administration, threatened the Salvadorean people that if they voted for the Left, for the FMLN, the U.S. would end all “remittances” from Salvadorean immigrants in the U.S. to El Salvador (a massive part of their budget) and even implied deportation of Salvadorean immigrants inside U.S. back to El Salvador. By contrast, Los Angeles Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra and City Councilman Ed Reyes tried to reassure the voters that they should vote their conscience, and they would do everything they could to prevent U.S. retaliation. Obviously the threat of U.S. military action was greater than their assurances, and we have no guarantees at all that a Kerry presidency would not also intervene. Still, in that international context, the difference between conservative Republicans and liberal Latino Democrats was like night and day.
My point is that all politics is a calculated assessment of diverse factors. The key is to involve grassroots people in the most clear and open discussion of the choices they make, understanding that we will all suffer the consequences of our errors, and, if we are fortunate enough to defeat Bush, we must all be prepared for a full and frontal challenge to the Kerry forces the day after the election.
Trying to learn from history, we want to avoid the “all unity, no struggle” posture towards the Democrats taken by the U.S. Communist Party during World War II. The CPUSA decided to form an alliance with the Roosevelt Administration to join a world united front against Hitler, a position with which I fully agree. But to the shock of many people throughout the world, including Leftists in other countries who were also in united fronts with capitalist forces, the CPUSA did not fight for civil rights during the war (while A. Phillip Randolph threatened to lead a civil rights March on Washington if Roosevelt did not integrate the U.S. armed forces, which Roosevelt did under that pressure). The CPUSA did not stand up to the corporation’s demands for “piece work” on the assembly line and even passed a “no strike clause” against the objections of many militant workers; did not challenge obscene corporate war profits; did not even challenge the incarceration of Japanese Americans during the war, a shameful record that—as much as the post-war McCarthy attacks—led to its radical decline.
Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush will have to exercise independence in the united front towards Kerry, while focusing its main efforts to defeat Bush.
Finding the proper balance between unity and struggle in the united front is one of the hardest dances to navigate. How to find the right nuance of primary focus on Bush while certainly, for just one example, keeping up the strongest antiwar pressure on Kerry, beginning at the Democratic National Convention and continuing during and after the election, will be a matter of tactical sophistication and keeping a clear eye on one’s objectives. But we can assume, must assume, that pro-choice groups will not tolerate or remain silent when Kerry asserts, as if he is God himself, “that life begins at conception,” or that civil liberties groups will not bite their tongue when Kerry proposes more funds to merge the CIA and FBI, or public sector unions will not look the other way when Kerry tells the press that he does not support any cuts in the military budget and wants to subsidize corporations to provide “real jobs” in the private sector as opposed to, what, “false jobs” in the urgently needed public sector?
In dozens of in-depth conversations I have had with many key Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and antiracist white organizers in Los Angeles, and a few around the country, this is a high stakes experiment with high stakes consequences that people want to pursue with eyes wide open. The conversations will of course continue throughout the campaign, this is just a first stab at addressing the complex challenge that we all face, but for many of us, this is a challenge we are willing to face in the broad electoral united front to defeat Bush.
As you read this, there is already a massive popular explosion of political involvement that will intensify in the two-month period between Labor Day and the November 2nd election. Millions of people will be knocking on doors, participating in phone banks, holding house parties, and doing all the simultaneously active and passive things necessary to “get out the vote.” The already operative electoral united front to defeat Bush is composed of many forces in both alliance to and significant contradiction with each other.
*The Democratic Leadership Council, the center-right power in the Democratic Party that is increasingly shaping the Kerry-Edwards ticket as a Bill Clinton déjà vu move to the right to defeat the far-Right game.
* The 20% to 50% of the Democratic voters who are to the left of the Kerry-Edwards politics, who are militantly antiwar and whose “no blood for oil” stance reflects a nascent anti-imperialist perspective, but who could not get Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, or Al Sharpton elected. Many of these voters do not like Kerry at all, and are actually more in line with a PIDB perspective; they see defeating Bush as the main challenge and electing Kerry as the main tactic to achieve that objective.
* Antiwar and anti-globalization whites who are tempted by Nader but are increasingly seeing the danger of waking up the day after the election with Nader disappearing again and George Bush very much in their face.
* Virtually the entire Black community, facing structural re-imprisonment and re-enslavement and the Latino, Asian, and Arab immigrant communities facing the worst excesses of the growing police state.
* The liberal to left glitterati, important “stars” and intellectuals who use their celebrity to back every Democrat but try to give a more progressive direction to each campaign.
* Conservative voters who are furious about their personal economic situation, and who feel lied to about Iraq, and are suffering the loss of their children in an imperialist war.
I am arguing that we, as the antiracist, anti-imperialist Left—who are small, often isolated, and fighting courageous and often uphill battles in the barrios and ghettos, and in the sweatshops and on the buses—can and should work to expand the influence and organizational capacity of the anti-imperialist forces in the broad electoral united front. The specific interrelated “movement objectives” in this effort include:
* Building a new organized force, Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush (PIDB), to put out independent, left politics, primarily to defeat Bush and mobilize communities of color, and secondarily, to create an independent position far to the left of Kerry, and often in contradiction to Kerry, that is part of the broad united front. This allows us to inject a set of antiracist, anti-imperialist mass demands—U.S. out of Iraq, free the U.S. two million prisoners and end the racist prison industrial complex, self-determination for the Palestinian people, tear down the U.S. military bases that dominate the world, repeal the Patriot Act, stop global warming and reduce greenhouse emissions by 50%, protect and expand women’s reproductive rights in the U.S. and Third World.
* Giving a strong, organized, independent issue focus to the left wing of the campaign—including developing teach-ins, community issue meetings, web materials, radio spots and other media, as well as marches and rallies to expose the Bush Administration and to pressure Kerry by signaling future struggles with his administration if he wins the election.
* Defeating George W. Bush by helping to register and get out the vote in communities of color, both in key urban centers that are part of a long-term resistance, and in swing states where, while the Democrats and Republicans court white voters, we try to make the most strategic electoral intervention we can to raise the prominence and influence of communities of color. (Just one example here in a discussion that will be elaborated in the conclusion. In Florida, the 2000 presidential election ended with Bush and Gore at 49% each, and Nader with 2%. Bush won by 257 contested votes while Nader got 97,000. Florida’s population is 15% Black and 16% Latino, with many Black Democratic voters in particular disenfranchised. If movements like Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush would be able to register and turn out just 5% more of the Black vote, locate, register, and turn out 5% of a progressive Latino vote, and convince 10% of previous Nader voters that at this point in history, a vote for Kerry to defeat Bush is the best way to go, we could generate thousands of more votes against Bush in Florida—a very modest but powerful goal for a new experiment, with 27 electoral votes on the line.)
* Expanding our own left movement capacity to engage in electoral politics as an independent political force. To learn how to register and turn out voters in order to combine our primary emphasis on grassroots consciousness, leadership, and organization, as well as the organizing of direct struggles against the government and the corporations, with a valuable tactical intervention in electoral politics, especially at the presidential level.
* Working in an effective united front with many progressive people throughout the U.S. to build stronger ties to Democratic left liberals and the progressive elements in communities of color who will be deeply moved by the goal of defeating Bush, but also deeply hurt and disappointed by the Kerry-Edwards rejection and distance from the progressive and Left forces even among those trying to elect them.
* Trying to reach more functional, operational unity among many groups on the Left, primarily Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander, and Indigenous people, but also antiracist whites, to break down some of the isolation, unnecessary contradictions, and lack of effective joint actions. Despite a period of very weak left organization, we still find relatively strong left sectarianism and difficulty building an effective anti-imperialist tendency. We have very little culture of effectively working together to turn out the vote, to turn out the people, or to generate joint actions. This election offers a unique historical possibility to build greater unity within the broadly defined Left as part of a far broader united front for democratic rights, and against reaction, racism, and imperialism.
I am not arguing that electoral politics should be the primary tactic of a U.S. Left. The reactionary nature of the electorate itself, the archaic and racist rules of the game, the dictatorship of the two-party system, the “winner take all” reactionary structure of the electoral college to virtually guarantee a white domination of the results, the exclusion of a vast number of resident immigrants, the mass disenfranchisement of Black voters, and the fundamentally passive role of “representative democracy” all point us in the direction of mass popular struggles as the Left’s best and primary arena of influence. Still, the U.S. presidential elections in particular offer an opportunity for the Left to assess its own strength, and to try to intervene in the important national debate, no matter how limited it is by the reactionary two-party system. In virtually every election, there is something important up for grabs, and the Left must find ways to position itself, develop a complex tactical plan, and fight for national attention and influence, and not passively “sit it out.” This election pushes us to go beyond those general arguments and opportunities to embrace an historic challenge and responsibility to defeat George W. Bush by voting for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
At this moment, the defeat of George W. Bush is the central task facing the U.S. Left. This book proposes that the antiracist, anti-imperialist Left work for both unity and independence with many other forces, including the Democratic Party in the broad united front to defeat Bush. It rejects a Ralph Nader candidacy that will objectively help Bush get re-elected. In fact, it calls for aggressive work to convince voters not to vote for the Nader/Camejo ticket. While Ralph Nader has every right to run, and that democratic right should be aggressively defended, we have a political responsibility to urge people to vote for Kerry to defeat Bush.
As we debate these critical issues facing the Left, there are literally billions of people in the Third World looking to us to defeat Bush—and who see this election as a life and death matter for them. In the current world context, the defeat of George W. Bush is our highest internationalist obligation.
Eric Mann has been a civil rights, anti-Vietnam war, labor, and environmental organizer for 40 years with the Congress of Racial Equality, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the United Auto Workers, including eight years on auto assembly lines. He was the lead organizer of the labor/community campaign to Keep General Motors Van Nuys Open that stopped GM from closing the auto plant for ten years. The views expressed in this article are the author's alone. Responses are encouraged. Write Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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