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Session 6: The Democratic Party, the Balance of Forces, Breaking the Current Stalemate

BLOCK AND BUILD: Left Strategy in the MAGA Era

We are now in the most intense phase of the backlash against the gains of the 1960s movements that has been underway for 50-plus years.


Key Points

  1. The Democratic Party must be the main terrain of progressive electoral activism and struggle for the foreseeable future. This is for two reasons. One, because we are still forced to function under a winner-take-all, two-party electoral system, the only way to defeat MAGA/GOP candidates for office is to elect their Democratic opponents. Two, the constituencies with the greatest stake in progressive change currently engage in politics mainly via the Democratic Party. Therefore, struggling to maximize progressive influence within the party, to move its center of gravity to the left, to change its rules to make it more “small-d” democratic, and to restrict the power of money, are part and parcel of our political tasks.
  2. We are now in the most intense phase of the backlash against the gains of the 1960s movements that has been underway for 50-plus years. Thanks to an outpouring of resistance in various forms and the way that energy manifested in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 elections, the opponents of MAGA have so far stopped MAGA’s drive for total power. The two sides are now in stalemate, neither able to fully implement its agenda on a nationwide scale (though in states where Republicans hold trifectas they are rapidly constructing “authoritarian enclaves” and implementing their anti-democratic program).
  3. Within the anti-MAGA front, the mainstream wing of the Democratic Party is currently stronger than the progressive forces. Due to pressure from the Left, and the exhaustion of the neoliberal model as highlighted by the 2008 financial crisis, that Democratic mainstream is moving away from the neoliberal orthodoxies that dominated party policy from the Clinton through Obama years, but it has not yet formulated a consistent alternative. Likewise, neither progressives nor the Left have solidly formulated a next-stage alternative to neoliberalism.
  4. What will be decided in the political battles in the next few years is whether the current MAGA vs. anti-MAGA stalemate will be broken in favor of MAGA rule or in favor of the anti-MAGA forces; and whether the emerging social justice trend will have gained sufficient strength to ensure that the post-stalemate governing coalition will be able to launch a new progressive cycle in US history that can constitute a successful Third Reconstruction. Becoming the most resolute and consistent organizers in defending against MAGA attacks today is essential if progressives are to gain the trust and support of key sectors of the anti-MAGA majority. The more effective we are at our defensive tasks today, the better our prospects for taking the offensive tomorrow.
  5. The experience of radicals in key periods of US history shows that the Left grows when it participates in broad fronts against the main enemy of workers and the oppressed in every given period (the “slave power” in the arc from abolitionism through the Civil War; fascism and corporate despotism in the 1930s; the segregationists’ “mass resistance” to the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s/60s). It is a challenge to navigate the complexities of building the broad front necessary to defeat the center of reaction while contending effectively with backward, anti-Left forces within the broad front. But standing aside from the front is self-marginalizing: “the problem is not, to coalesce or not coalesce, but the character of coalition, and how the Left retains independence and integrity and exerts influence in a coalition” (Al Richmond in this session’s recommended reading).

Competing View

This session draws upon the general strategic points from previous sessions to make a concrete assessment of the current political landscape. The relevant controversy of most interest concerns the range of Left strategies for relating (or not relating) to the Democratic Party. "What Is the Democratic Party, Exactly?" by Luke Elliott-Negri in Jacobin provides a lot of information about what the Democratic Party is and isn’t, and in its final section gives a concise summary of the main approaches that exist on today’s Left.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What is the balance of forces between the MAGA and anti-MAGA blocs in the US today? If it is a “stalemate” as the syllabus argues, what will it take to break that stalemate in the direction of the anti-MAGA coalition?
  2. What do you see as the balance of strength between the progressive and mainstream wings of the Democratic Party? What will it take to shift that balance and increase the clout of the progressive wing?
  3. Is it true that voting for Democrats against Republicans is a necessary (but not sufficient) component of a strategy to keep MAGA out of power in today’s conditions? What light does the experience of radicals in earlier struggle-filled period of US history (build up to the Civil War, the 1930s, the 1950s-1960s) shed on this question?