Some left intellectuals fall short on strategy and tactics

BY:Sam Webb| August 7, 2012
Some left intellectuals fall short on strategy and tactics

The left is blessed with a plethora of astute writers and powerful voices against capitalism and its predatory policies.

Their articles get wide circulation and they occasionally pop up on television. Last year they spoke regularly at the Occupy protests.

Like many others in left and progressive circles I look forward to their interventions. They offer both insight and inspiration.

But as good social analysts as they are, some of them – Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges come to mind – come up short at the political level. By that I mean that, other than insisting that people on the left resist the predatory actions of capitalism, they offer little in the way of strategic and tactical thinking on how to build an enduring mass movement.

Or to put it differently, while their critique of capitalism and insistence on resistance to its dehumanizing values and practices are on point, what is missing from their articles, speeches, and interviews is a sense of how to proceed, that is, how to fight in concrete conditions.

They don’t inform their audience about which change agents are critical to the success of any social struggle or to the durability of any social movement.

Nor do they suggest which alliances among which social groups are crucial to political advance.

The reader/listener gets no insight as to what the main political obstacle to social progress, including getting rid of capitalism, is at this moment.

And besides the need to resist capitalism’s outrages, you get no inkling as to what the main political task is at this moment – certainly not the coming elections.

If organized labor enters into their analysis, it is never as a prime-time player whose role is of overriding importance to prospects of any social movement’s durability, advance and victory. In fact, too often labor either comes in for criticism or as an afterthought or as just one among many other agents of change.

Few of these analysts emphatically say that the nation’s working people – the multi-racial working class and its organized sector – have to be in the forefront of the democratic and revolutionary movement for it to succeed.

Much the same could be said about their attitude towards people of color and the struggle against racism. Yes, they vigorously oppose racism, appreciate the struggle role of people of color, and appeal for unity, but one doesn’t get the impression that the participation of people of color is considered strategic to advancing the democratic and class struggle or that the fight against racism is at the center of the struggle for all-people’s unity and victory.

Nor does one get the impression that these writers see women as a strategic force.

As far as divisions in the ruling class, little is mentioned. In fact, the tendency among these commentators is to treat the ruling class (including its two parties) as one undifferentiated mass – quite a different approach than that taken by the prophetic leader Martin Luther King, who was very conscious of splits in the top layers of society and between and within the two parties.

Perhaps more fundamentally, an appreciation of the balance of class and social forces at any given moment doesn’t figure much in their political calculus nor do the mass moods of the overall population – all of which can lead to a sense that either everything is possible or nothing is possible but individual resistance.

What they put a lot of stock in – I would say even go overboard about – is expressions of resistance on the part of radicalized young people. A decade or so ago it was the youth in Seattle who were getting rave reviews from this grouping of left intellectuals and more recently the Occupy movement was at the top of their agenda.

Certainly both these manifestations of youthful upsurge justifiably generated excitement on the left and beyond. Both contributed mightily to recasting the conversation in the country. But neither one constituted by itself a fundamental political challenge to the existing power relations and arrangements nor replaced the main social forces of change.

Now don’t get me wrong. Young people play an absolutely important and necessary role in any social movement. And in many cases their actions set off wider struggles in society. But to note their necessary and catalytic role in any broader social advance is not the same as turning them into a people’s – oops I dare say the word – vanguard.

To be fair, no one on the left has come up with a compelling enough strategic and tactical visualization that reaches and excites millions and moves the country forward in a democratic and socialist direction.

I would like to think the Communist Party’s strategic and tactical policy (which corresponds with the outlook of broad social forces in many ways) merits closer attention. But that is not my decision. In the end, life will decide whose strategic and tactical vision will capture the hopes of tens of millions.

Photo: Occupy Wall Street’s library, Sept. 2011.  Some rights reserved by converseteacher



    Sam Webb is a member of the National Committee of the Communist Paryt USA. He served as the party's national chairperson from 2000 to 2014. Previously he was the state organizer of the Communist Party in Michigan. Earlier, he was active in the labor movement in his home state of Maine.

    He is a public spokesperson for the CPUSA, and travels extensively in the U.S. and abroad, including trips to South Africa, China, Vietnam, and Cuba where he met with leaders of those countries.

    Webb currently resides in New York City, graduated from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and received his MA in economics from the University of Connecticut.


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