I have maintained that, when we observe the discourse of the Latin American Left with respect to issues that have the potential of dividing the people, we can discern a contrast between the US Left and the Latin American Left, such that the alienation of the discourse of the US Left from the people can be seen. I believe that we need a reconstruction of the discourse of the Left in the United States with respect to such issues as race, ethnicity, gender, gay rights, the environment, patriotism, and spirituality.
In concluding this series of posts on the need for popular coalition in the United States, I would like to make five observations.
(1) Comprehensive national plan. We need a comprehensive national plan to propose to our people; we need to stop jumping from issue to issue. In the 1960s and early 1970s, the Left protested the Vietnam War and supported the civil rights and black power movements; it called for women’s liberation, women’s reproductive rights, gay and lesbian rights, and the protection of the environment; and it supported the United Farm Workers grape boycott. In the 1980s, the Left advocated nuclear disarmament, protested US policies in Central America, and called for the end of apartheid in South Africa, while continuing to give support to black and gender equality. In the aftermath of the imposition of neoliberal project, the Left protested structural adjustment programs. After September 11, the Left protested wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. During its evolution, the Left gave increasing emphasis to gay and lesbian rights, and in recent years it has turned to the issues of gun control and the protection of the rights of immigrants, in response to unfolding national events. To some extent, support for the Cuban Five, the closing of the prison in Guantanamo, and the end of the blockade against Cuba was included in this mix. All of these issues are interrelated, and we must formulate an integral plan to propose to the people, a plan that is rooted in an understanding of the historical development of national and global dynamics.
(2) Reframing of issues. We must learn to affirm the full rights of blacks, Latinos and women in a way that does not alienate us from significant numbers of whites or men. We must call for the protection of the rights of gays in a form that is sensitive to the conservative values of many of our people. We must formulate a comprehensive project that projects an image of protecting all of our people, not merely blacks, minorities or women; and that affirms the fundamental rights of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, without appearing to endorse controversial lifestyles. We must formulate a discourse that is patriotic; not a patriotism that calls to war, but one that demands fidelity to the democratic values on which the nation was founded, taking into account the evolution of our understanding of those values on the basis of popular movements in the United States and the world. And we must formulate a discourse that is spiritual; not a spirituality that is narrowly religious, but one that is faithful to the universal human values that humanity has affirmed.
We need a discourse that is less conflictive in tone. In Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s, leaders of the “new” social movements representing women, indigenous groups and ecologists did not attack known leaders of the movement for their insensitivity to these issues in the past. Rather, they made clear their full appreciation for the struggles and gains of the popular movement to that point, and that their hope was to bring the movement to a more advanced stage by incorporating other issues. They sought to redeem the social movement, to help bring it to the fulfillment of its historic destiny. This kind of discourse, with the support of known and respected popular leaders of the earlier period, was the key to bringing the movement to a comprehensive project that integrated various issues: the defense of the sovereignty of the nation against imperialist intentions; the protection of the social and economic rights of all, regardless of gender or ethnicity; the full participation of women in the construction of a just society; the affirmation of the political and cultural rights of indigenous nations and peoples; and the need for the development of forms of production that are ecologically sustainable.
(3) Connecting to our people. We need a comprehensive national project that formulates specific proposals that connect to the needs of our people. I do not yet know what these concrete issues are. I do know that the charismatic leaders of important revolutions (Lenin, Ho and Fidel) possessed an exceptional capacity to put forth concrete proposals that struck a responsive chord among the people. Perhaps such concrete proposals in the United States might include: abolition of student debt; affordable higher education; free health care; a housing construction program that, in addition to providing for housing needs, also would provide employment for persons with low levels of formal education; and local community control of law enforcement and of schools, as a dimension of a national urban development project.
(4) A manifesto. We need to formulate an interpretation of history that understands the present crises in historical and global context. We must affirm that human history has meaning, and that we can discern its meaning from the signs of the times. The manifesto should affirm not only the need for the protection of the political, civil, social and economic rights of all of our citizens; it also should envision a just and democratic foreign policy, seeking to participate with other nations in the development of a just, democratic and sustainable world-system, thus leaving behind imperialist policies.
(5) The taking of power. We need to move beyond protest and to formulate a plan for the taking of power. Our goal should not be to “speak truth to power” but to take power in the name of the people and to exercise it morally, in accordance with universal human values. “Power to the people” is a call that is as old as the nation itself. To this end, we must create an alternative political party, which functions above all as a structure for uniting the efforts of many people in popular political education and in the organization of the people, with the intention of ultimately using the electoral process to take control of the presidency and the Congress in twenty years.
It will be said that third parties do not work in the United States. In this regard, I offer two observations. (1) Many of the third parties have had serious limitations. They were not necessarily connected to the concrete needs of the people, nor did they necessarily have a valid historical and global reading. Any Eurocentric formulation, for example, would be doomed, because it would be discerned as such by blacks, who historically have been the most important actors in movements for progressive social change in the United States. (2) We are in a new historical situation, in which the world-system is in a multi-faceted systemic crisis, and the global elite has demonstrated its incapacity to respond constructively to the crisis. As a result, in Latin America, the two-party system of alternating representation of competing sectors within the elite has collapsed, and new parties are coming to power. Even parties of the Right are new parties. The people have lost faith in the traditional political parties.
The emergence of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in the presidential primaries is a sign of this. But Sanders is not the answer, even though he calls himself socialist. What is needed is a party that educates and that has the support of the people and captures the presidency and the Congress, not merely a “socialist” who gets elected president in the context of the two-party system, in which the traditional parties would continue to control the Congress. Even an alternative party with control of the presidency and the Congress would have only partial power. The President would have to struggle to attain effective control of the government bureaucracy and the military, and the Congress and the President would have to struggle with corporate control of the economy and the media. In these struggles, the active and mobilized support of the people for the agenda of the new party would be of decisive importance.
As for Trump, CNN news analysts are saying that many people are his fans, because he is challenging the establishment, and he says anything he wants. But what is needed is not a candidate with the audacity to say anything, but a candidate and a party with the audacity to challenge the establishment on the basis of universal human values; a candidate and a party that connect not to the rebellious instincts (or the fears) of the people but to the hopes of the people.
I invite the reader to review my previous ten posts on these issues: “A just, democratic & sustainable world-system” 1/12/2016; “The twelve practices of socialism” 1/14/2016; “Popular democratic socialist revolution” 1/15/2016; “Lessons of socialism for the USA” 1/18/2016; “Race and Revolution” 1/19/2016; “Gender and revolution” 1/21/2016; “Gay rights and revolution” 1/22/2016; “Race, the university and revolution” 1/25/2016; “Ecology in an integral form” 1/27/2016; “Patriotism” 1/28/2016; “On spirituality and heroism” 1/30/2016. Scroll down to find the posts; they are in reverse chronological order. Also see: “Presidential primaries in USA” 8/25/2015.