Movement Strategy & Tactics

November 13, 2015


The reason for this paper is to address the tactics and strategies that must be utilized by the progressive movement in the current environment which has changed substantively. Progressives are aware of the current corruption of the Capitalist system. But the real debate concerns strategy and tactics to build a movement, not simply an exposé of that corruption. Although that expose is important, it has to be in conjunction with a strategic analysis trust tactical actions to achieve that strategy. A movement will not happen spontaneously. It never has and it never will. It must have leadership and it must have an analysis. That is, it must have a program that will resonate with the population. Our actions have consequences. Our ideology directs our strategy and tactics. Today, if we make mistakes, we lose. There is very little margin for error.


I guess that is why criticism most often occurs with those closest to us. But criticism performed correctly can help the movement to grow. The problem occurs when positions are held inviolate as if the person or the organization owns the idea. As a result of these rigid viewpoints, the positions cannot be challenged or even discussed. But being thin skinned in political struggle is at best anomalous and at worse totally counterproductive. If we are going to build a movement, our combined intelligence is obviously necessary but only if it occurs in the context of strengthening the movement, not strengthening the individual organization or the individual leader.


When one assesses the fractious left, it is not encouraging. Building a movement involves first and foremost points of unity that will encompass the needs and aspirations of millions of people. It has been done and it can be done again but only with discipline and intellectual leadership. The organizations on the left contain very dedicated comrades who work hard with great sacrifice. But if these comrades are not directed by a strategy with tactics for building a movement, their effort will fail and the left will continue to be fractious and destructive. The tendency for dogmatic, rigid positions is obviously a part of political activity as witnessed by the incredible divisions within the Republican Party. And Republicans have enormous sums of money that can be used to enforce discipline. But at least the right wing has had the common sense to take over the Republican Party, not stand on the outside and complain. As a result, the right has achieved considerable power with policies that are hateful and mean-spirited. Historically, race baiting and hatred that becomes generic has always been successful in this country at least in the short run.


Comrades within the left movement, however, are always faced with the same problems as generals face in any war. Because this is a class war, the strategic and tactical decisions are far more complicated than those found in most wars. But two inflexible principles apply: 1) we cannot make the mistake of fighting last year’s war and 2) the ruling class learns from past working class uprisings  and develops tactics to neutralize our efforts. Historical precedent is only helpful if the differences between the past and the present are fully evaluated.


I have been a part of the left movement for over 40 years. For a long time, I have carried a cartoon of Sluggo and Lucy. In the first frame it shows the two in the woods. Sluggo says to Lucy “Lucy I think we’re lost.” In the next frame Lucy says “no, I have a map.” The next frame shows Sluggo looking perplexed and says to Lucy “let me see the map”. The next frame Lucy takes out a miniature globe of the world and shows it to him. Anyone who has been lost in the woods has to laugh. However, that is what we are often faced with on the left.


So often, I feel that the left sees the big picture and maybe the ability to prepare for the next demonstration but very little in between in terms to strategy for building a moment and mobilizing people millions of people based on political program.


For the last 150 years political struggles have generally revolved around the right to vote. Even the union movement, which most often involves direct action, nevertheless, recognizes the political importance of the right to vote. The left has fought valiantly for the right to vote. Then, having helped to obtain that right to vote, the left often leaves the voting process to bourgeois politicians.


In the 1960s, we were successful in mobilizing millions of people against the Vietnamese War. We actually turned the country against that war. When Bush II entered his illegal war and committed open war crimes in attacking Iraq and Afghanistan, we mobilized millions of people, probably more than against the Vietnam War, but we lost. Basically, Bush II ignored the demostratable opposition to the endless wars. In Vietnam, it was not the poorest of the working class who had to fight. Everyone was subject to the draft. In Iraq, the ruling class protected the children of privilege. They recruited the poorest individuals who had no private job alternatives. In addition, in collaboration with the media Bush II would not even let TV monitors show the effects of the war, actually hiding coffins from the media and staging events for propaganda purposes. There were many other differences but the point is that the ruling class learned from Vietnam and changed the rules of engagement. Most importantly, the ruling class embedded journalists in the military, not allowing independent reporting.  In that way, the ruling class was able to carry out its brutal, illegal wars in spite of tremendous working class resistance. That is, the ruling class learned to turn the tables on the working class.


We can take similar lessons from the 3rd party movement. In 1932, the Communist party and Socialist Party obtained 988,192 votes. The Socialist party was a force programmatically also. Both parties helped to shape the political agenda from approximately 1905 to 1940. Significantly, in 1932, the Liberty Party had 34,038 votes, Socialist Labor Party had 34,038. Even the Prohibition Party had 81,905 votes. The ruling class learned from those struggles by the working class. Slowly but certainly, the ruling class eliminated the viability of 3rd party movements unless financed by a member of the ruling class like Ross Perot.


The Joseph McCarthy era successfully deformed the union movement. I am not arguing that there is some devious troika orchestrating this process even though it has that appearance. First the agents of the ruling class, Republicans basically, passed Taft-Hartly outlawing Communists and for that matter socialists, or anyone who militantly supported the working class. The ruling class effectively chose union leadership. And, Taft-Hartly truncated all union tactics.  Then, McCarthy attacked everyone who participated in working class struggles and it devastated much of the movement, ruining lives and destroying organizations.


Still, at that time, the Supreme Court actually adhered to legal principles and analyzed the constitution with an honest effort. Therefore, comrades could turn to the courts to protect the rights of the first amendment and of association. As a result of that success, the ruling class led by Justice Louis Powell moved to take over the Courts using the Federalist Society as their front group. That is, again the ruling class changed the rules of engagement, this time legal engagement. Today,  the courts are blatantly dishonest and totally committed to corporate power. Nevertheless, at that time, Jim Crow segregation remained the Achilles heel of capitalist power. The tremendous sacrifice by millions of workers was actually aided by a section of the ruling class to destroy the violent Jim Crow superstructure.


Finally, the corporate media was rebuilt to favor the right wing control of information, fundamentally changing the culture of this country. Ironically, the Republican Party, the party that destroyed slavery, became the mouth piece for Southern reactionary racism. In doing so, the ruling class drove out all semblance of liberal viewpoint or fairness within the Republican Party. There was a realignment of the parties.

The Democratic Party changed as well. While still connected to a section of the ruling class, it no longer contained the reactionary segregationist South. The difference between the two parties became evident.


All of these changes orchestrated by the ruling class were designed to provide greater control of the working class. As a corollary effect, these changes also provided the basis for fascist mobilization of a section of the working class. The corporate media, the Tea Party, and the Republican Party’s move to the right using wedge issues (i.e. hate issues) fanned the prejudices of a section of the working class.

At the same time, the militarization of the police and mass incarceration made the repression of the rest of the working class violent and biased.

This history sets the context for which the strategic and tactical analyses are required of the left. In trying to build a working class movement, the left must recognize this changed landscape.

The problem I have observed is that this changed political landscape is ignored when addressing the question of strategy and tactics. Or, most often the entire question of strategy and tactics is conveniently neglected.


I often use the example of the Green Party to illustrate the ruinous effect of the failed analysis. That is because their boneheaded activity has been so blatantly ineffective and so easily exposed.


The Green Party continues to assert that the two bourgeois parties are the same when any objective analysis disposes quickly of such a superficial almost frivolous position.


In addition, the inability of any third party ever to achieve even insignificant results is directly related to the failed analysis of objective conditions. But it is also related to the ability of the ruling class to marginalize 3rd parties. I have not checked, but the Green Party was not able to match the result the Prohibition Party achieved in 1932 (81,905 votes). That is pretty pitiful, especially because the country had 2 ½ times more votes, in 2008 and 2012.


For want of a better approach, other left groups simply attach on to the Green Party having no other plan for electoral work. And electoral work is an important avenue to energize political discussions and educate the working class. The ruling class has successfully marginalized ever the largest demonstrations. The left has almost no voice. The avenues where political discussion is possible is in the electoral arena. Otherwise, our voice is marginalized. Social medial provides inroads but we do not know how long that will last. Corporations have moved to block free access. Having lost, that only means they will redouble their efforts.

Left groups all contain hardworking skillful cadre who could achieve great results with a correct analysis of objective conditions. That analysis is that these cadres could change the Democratic Party by entering into that institution with demands for working class solidarity. They could actually move into the Democratic Party while remaining open in terms of their organizational loyalty, whether it is the Green Party or any other left group.


Many of these groups fear that they would lose the dedication of their cadre or undermine their militancy. That certainly is a problem. That has been much of the experience in France and Italy for the communist parties there in terms of their electoral work. But the alternative is to remain irrelevant to the struggle for power and irrelevant to the opposition to capitalist imposition of fascism. More importantly, they become irrelevant to the political discussion generally. Such a strategy would require painful compromises such as supporting candidates who do not muster the militancy that is desired. And often clear anti-capitalist positions are fogged up. But it would not require left compromise of positions on working class solidarity or even working class demands. It would allow a more substantively based discussion of issues. If these struggles were successful, we could actually obtain a voice for real issues.

The precedents are clear. It is only for left groups to open their eyes. In speaking to Bernie Sanders political effect, Eric Foner, one of America’s greatest historians considers the effect on the political discussions in this country as follows:


“You have energized and inspired millions of Americans and forced the questions of economic inequality and excessive corporate power to the center of our political discourse. These are remarkable accomplishments.

So take the following advice as coming from an admirer. I urge you to reconsider how you respond to the inevitable questions about what you mean by “democratic socialism” and a “peaceful revolution.” Next time, embrace our own American radical tradition. There’s nothing wrong with Denmark; we can learn a few things from them (and vice versa). But most Americans don’t know or care much about Scandinavia. More important, your response inadvertently reinforces the idea that socialism is a foreign import. Instead, talk about our radical forebears here in the United States, for the most successful radicals have always spoken the language of American society and appealed to some of its deepest values.” The Nation p. 4 11/16/15


Left comrades could actually add further analysis as a part of the political discussion within the Democratic Party. Again, the strategy and for that matter tactical question is whether millions of people can be mobilized on issues that are clearly anti-capitalist. As I have said before, standing on the outside throwing pebbles is wrong by every measure. The question for the fractious left is whether it is willing to join in the political struggle for power. The alternative is to observe and complain. There will be no spontaneous move to the left.


Yours In Struggle,



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