Throw Out the Old Left and Start Dreaming Big

The Democratic Party is a disaster, and may well be headed for the dustbin of history. They read everything wrong — the polls, the electorate, the political climate and their own base.

But you know who else is a disaster? The Left. Certainly the U.S. left, and probably the global Left.

The Democrats have been a disaster for arguably six years (I am talking about their inability to win elections and accomplish their own agendas, not the wisdom or morality of those agendas.) But the Left has been a disaster for somewhere around 35 years, give or take a decade. We have misread not only the U.S. electorate, the political climate, the global working classes, and the construction of identities, we have misread and misrepresented the arc of history.

The Dems were arrogant, but at least they had some basis for it. They’ve controlled the most powerful office in the world for eight years. We’ve been equally arrogant, and we haven’t won a thing.

Please spare me the litany of impressive popular movements and victories. I am aware of them. I participated in some of them. I have been inspired by some which have made major gains in the last few years — notably Fight for 15, the movements that blocked Keystone XL and the Arctic drilling project. But none of them succeeded in transforming our society or our culture into one that values people over profit. We have never forced our country to reckon seriously with the genocide, land theft and race-based enslavement that corrupted our claim to democracy from the beginning. We have not even been able to win the release of our political prisoners — the longest held in the world (Oscar Lopez Rivera, Mutulu Shakur, Herman Bell, Jalil Muntaquin, Seth Hays …).

The left since I have been part of it has always been excellent at fighting each other and terrible at fighting the power. We’ve been valiant but we have not been flexible, and ultimately that means we have not been smart. We have been unable to evolve beyond discredited paradigms — just like the Democrats have. We’ve encountered resistance and repression, yes, but that is a given, not an excuse. A social change movement that is unprepared for resistance and repression is unworthy of its name.

So forget about the Democrats. It makes no difference who told who what or what they should have done. It doesn’t make a difference whether Hillary would have been worse or the same or better than Trump. It doesn’t even matter whether Trump is a fascist or an authoritarian or a new kind of neoliberal.

What matters is that we — those of us who never put our faith in Hillary or the Democrats — find a new direction. Those who continue to hold up the governments of Syria and Russia as anti-imperialist standard bearers will and should go the way of the Democrats. We cannot transform 21st century societies with nineteenth century ideologies.

One way we can all believe in would be nice, but it is probably not realistic. After all, we come from many different experiences and traditions. The Leninist and Maoist and Fanonist traditions were not the only possibilities for twentieth century revolutions either. They were the ones that emerged in the strongest position to take advantage of conditions at the time. But they were Big Ideas, and Big Ideas are what we need now. Let’s stop arguing over the minutia of a system we all agree has failed and start Dreaming Big.

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