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. It should give us pause that the Right is doing what the Left talks constantly about doing, but with no results. Here are some possible lessons:
1. The party form still matters. The party form is operative for the Right. The Right uses both the Republican party as well as the Tea Party as a subsection of the Republican Party. In other words, an organized far right has been able to lasso the Republican Party and bend it to its will. What would it take for the Left to do the same? Perhaps identifying 30-40 Congressional seats that are worth trying to take. In addition to confronting weak Republicans, this would mean forcing Democrats into primaries instead of continuing to roll over and piss on ourselves whenever there is an election.
2. We don't need a majority -- we need a solidarity, committed minority. The Tea Party is able to hold the entire country hostage because it is acting in a relatively unified fashion. These Republicans are ideologically committed. What if the Left did the same? This might look like refusing to approve a budget until the cap on Social Security withholding was completely eliminated, until US corporations were not allowed to use off-shore accounts, until the OTC market in derivatives was abolished. It would, of course, require us to agree on a few issues that would be our lines in the sand rather than continuing stupidly to go round and round each insisting on her pet issue.
3. We can't be afraid of controversy -- this is what has happened as the Left turned into liberals. Everyone became tolerant and neutral. This has got to stop. Our movement diminishes because there is nothing to follow, no primary current. This was starting to change with Occupy. The components are there with the anti-foreclosure movement, but we lost our way in trying to be all things to all people. This made us nothing.
4. Popular opinion is against the Republicans. Some pundits are saying that this is because they have gone too far, aren't playing by the rules, etc. Perhaps. But it might also be because the content of what they are fighting for is completely fascistic -- bringing down the government rather than providing people with health care. What if a group that was fighting for the people was behind the shut down, a group that was willing to stop payments to creditors until social programs were replaced, infrastructure was rebuilt, new jobs were created, and any company relying on government subsidies was turned into a public utility or commonized?
We constantly hear that radical change is impossible, that revolution is impossible, but here we have a cold civil war, the shut down of government as part of a radical political agenda. Change is possible -- it is being done, but by the enemies of the people.
Make of it what you will. My thoughts are ones that are at least in part expressed quite well by some of the commenters. In particular, it is worth remembering that the Tea Party, while capitalizing on an existing fascist (or Ur-Fascist to use Eco's terminology) undercurrent in the US, was largely a success due to a handful of astroturf organizations with deep pockets. Without the huge outlays of corporate money, the Tea Party would have amounted to little more than a minor movement. Assuming that we see more of a concerted effort to create a more united Left in the US, it is safe to say that we won't have the benefit of relying on the largess of billionaires. If you think George Soros or soon-to-be-former Mayor Bloomberg will contribute to any sort of Marxist-based cause, you are living in a land of delusion. Nor will we likely have the material support of any leftist or left-leaning governments or parties - moral support perhaps is about the best we can hope for. So it will have to be on us to build what we want to build.
It is equally worth considering what movements are - they are coalitions that consist of various factions. Those factions are not in 100% agreement, even if on the surface they can present a united front of sorts. The Tea Party seemed to me to be at least in part Christian extremists, white nationalists, libertarians, and business owners. Some overlap across those categories is to be expected. Whatever else we might note, they do have in common that they benefited disproportionately from a system in this country that is economically and socially unjust. They've been held together by a few common enemies - a President (who ironically enough is a corporatist), a bailout for the health insurance corporations under the aegis of reform, and changes in demographics which will be unfavorable to their maintenance of privilege over the long haul. A Left front would have to be able and willing to unite a variety of Marxian factions that have largely been more effective at fighting each other than fighting the powers that be. We've seen leftist factions unite before to achieve revolutionary victories (e.g., The October Revolution in Russia) and electoral victories (e.g., Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in the late 1990s; Evo Morales in Bolivia last decade). The factions that made up those winning coalitions were not in 100% agreement, but were willing to set aside theoretical differences long enough to secure their common goals. If it has been done before, it can be done again - even here in the Belly of the Beast. We can unite a good many factions that actually hold more in common than we sometimes want to admit.
A party organization is going to be a must. Spontaneous movements (such as Occupy most recently) tend to quickly fall apart. That party must be willing to achieve its goals through multiple methods - some electoral, some outside the electoral system. Given the material conditions in the US currently, I think it is safe to say that we're not quite at a point where revolution is feasible. Hence, for practical reasons, our actions will be necessarily reformist in nature. We will also have the challenge of winning over a working class that has bought into a number of rightist memes - rebuilding the trust of this very important class of low-wage workers is going to be a must. It will not happen overnight. On the electoral front, I am convinced that running presidential candidates is a waste - but working at a local level (and offering tangible material support to those in other locales doing likewise) to elect school board members, town council members, and state legislators is potentially doable with a good deal of elbow grease. Outside the electoral front, there is still no substitute for feet on the ground when protests and agitation are necessitated. Where the system has failed, why not fill the void? A good deal of community organization can be done on a shoestring budget. And although I will advocate for the concept that "our word is our weapon," some sort of paramilitary presence would be worth at least consideration, as after all the material conditions may one day change and we don't want to be mowed down by already well-armed right-wing thugs. Any party leadership will need to be truly controlled by and held accountable to its membership. That would have to be non-negotiable. Party elites are the last thing we would ever need. Any party leadership will need to understand that economic and social justice go hand in hand.
Anyhoo, these are just a few thoughts. I had commented once recently that although we're hardly in the best of times, but Big Darkness has finally receded. We're in a better position than we were, say, a decade ago when I began blogging. A conversation about income inequality would have been unthinkable in the aftermath of the 1990s, but is now front and center thanks to a well-publicized spontaneous movement that arose in the aftermath of the Great Recession. At least those who might want to organize and unite have tangible evidence that there is interest in an alternative to the various flavors of neoliberal capitalism that we've been told by our elites was inevitable (remember the End of History?). The question becomes, are we willing to lay down any differences enough to make a new world possible?