Wednesday, March 26, 2008

No Enemies on the Left? Progressives for Barack Obama

I've been having a debate with Repsac 3, a far-left partisan who blogs over at Wingnuts & Moonbats, over the degree of radical support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign.

Sure, I no doubt throw out terms like nihilist and Stalinist quite frequently, perhaps imprecisely. But one point I suggest has been that folks like this - however defined - are prominent members of the Obama coalition. In response, Repsac 3 claims that there's no evidence that hardline activists of this sort back Obama (for the debate thread see, "
Where's the Revolution? Wait Until November").

I generally know what I'm talking about, so radical support for Obama's presidential bid's really just a matter of common sense to me. But Repsac's one to demand concrete evidence for claims (as are others,
no doubt), and that's fine, so in that spirit I'll be documenting the degree of hardline radical support for the Obama campaign in my writing, beginning with this post.

First, let me be specific in what I'm referring to when I say "hardline left-wing radicals." A good definition is found in Leon Baradat's Political Ideologies, where he notes:

...a radical may defined as a person who is extremely dissastified with the society as it is and therefore is impatient with less than extreme proposals for changing it. Hence, all radicals favor an immediate and fundamental change in the society. In other words, all radicals favor revolutionary change.
Baradat also notes that the criteria to distinuish one type of radical from another is by examining the methods they advocate to bring about transformation.

Also, a good brief definition is also available from

The Radical Left, an umbrella term to describe those who adhere explicitly and openly to revolutionary socialism, communism or anarchism — the "radical" qualifier tends in this case to denote a revolutionary fervor, and is a subset of, but should not be confused with, the far left.
Note Wikipedia's reference to the "far left," which is a term used more commonly with reference to political competition in European parliamentary democracies (with the extreme left being represented by neo-Stalinism), but is still valid in U.S. political discourse when discussing extreme left-wing partisans.

Now, it's frankly not common in mainstream media commentary to note how substantial is radical left influence on today's Democratic Party. Yet there's considerable evidence that after the Clinton years of
DLC centrism, a far-left wing version of Democratic Party liberalism has definitely made a comeback (a good case can be made that Ned Lamont's defeat of Senator Joseph Lieberman in the 2006 Connecticut Senate primary was based in the radical politics of the online netroots faction).

It's hard to deny the degree of essentially radical mobilization taking place today in American electoral politics, especially in the netroots, which I contend is replacing more traditional street mobilization as the main channel for fundamental change.

In any case, Tom Hayden, a prominent social and political activist and politician, who's still known for radical advocacy, has issued a major statement of far-left political support for Barack Obama's presidential campaign, "
Progressives for Obama":

This call has been drafted for immediate circulation, discussion, and action.

All American progressives should unite for Barack Obama. We descend from the proud tradition of independent social movements that have made America a more just and democratic country. We believe that the movement today supporting Barack Obama continues this great tradition of grass-roots participation drawing millions of people out of apathy and into participation in the decisions that affect all our lives. We believe that Barack Obama's very biography reflects the positive potential of the globalization process that also contains such grave threats to our democracy when shaped only by the narrow interests of private corporations in an unregulated global marketplace. We should instead be globalizing the values of equality, a living wage and environmental sustainability in the new world order, not hoping our deepest concerns will be protected by trickle down economics or charitable billionaires. By its very existence, the Obama campaign will stimulate a vision of globalization from below.

As progressives we believe this sudden and unexpected new movement is just what America needs. The future has arrived. The alternative would mean a return to the dismal status quo party politics that have failed so far to deliver peace, health care, full employment and effective answers to crises like global warming.

During past progressive peaks in our political history - the late Thirties, the early Sixties - social movements have provided the relentless pressure and innovative ideas that allowed centrist leaders to embrace visionary solutions. We find ourselves in just such a situation today.

We intend to join and engage with our brothers and sisters in the vast rainbow of social movements to come together in support of Obama's unprecedented campaign and candidacy. Even though it is candidate-centered, there is no doubt that the campaign is a social movement, one greater than the candidate himself ever imagined.
Now some might argue that Hayden's mellowed from his prominent 1960-era radicalism - for example, when he was a member of the Chicago Seven - and, well, he may have to some degree.

But he maintains today, on his personal website, the full-text version of "
The Port Huron Statement," which is widely considered the most important political document of new left revolutionary socialism of the 1960s era, and Hayden was the statement's primary author.

The document's worth a good read, especially for people wondering what the progressive movement would do today, should they gain power (the term "
progressive" has been appropriated by far-left activists in order to make their radical policies appear more mainstream, and hence politically acceptable).

But note this passage, near the conclusion of
The Port Huron Statement outlining an agenda for dramatic social transformation:

A new left must transform modern complexity into issues that can be understood and felt close-up by every human being. It must give form to the feelings of helplessness and indifference, so that people may see the political, social and economic sources of their private troubles and organize to change society. In a time of supposed prosperity, moral complacency and political manipulation, a new left cannot rely on only aching stomachs to be the engine force of social reform. The case for change, for alternatives that will involve uncomfortable personal efforts, must be argued as never before. The university is a relevant place for all of these activities.
We see striking similarities when comparing Hayden's positions in his current essay, "Progressives for Obama," to those in "The Port Huron Statement."

Of course, Hayden's not a spokesman for any major political advocacy group or political party, but his essay is going out as a general call to action among all left-wing progressive forces. Indeed, the language of his essay seeks complete mobilization, which we can infer as including the various left-wing factions that would normally be considered under the notion of the "radical left" as identified by Baradat.

So, whereas while some progressives would abjure revolutionary violence (and I assume Hayden's does), some would not. Indeed, some of the most prominent antiwar progressive organizations today, like
World Can't Wait, are indeed revolutionary hard-left organzations, implacably committed to "driving out the Bush regime."

The World Can't Wait
list of endorsers includes everyone from prominent left-wing actors like Susan Sarandon and Marin Sheen to neo-Stalinist organizations such as International ANSWER (a review of the listing gives some credence to the notion of "no enemies on the left").

So, while the exact degree and nature of Obama's support among the various hardline organizations is uncertain, we know without a doubt, from Hayden's essay, that many on the contemporary left see the Obama campaign as the electoral vehicle to operationalize their program for radical, revolutionary change.

I'll have more on this in upcoming posts.


Also see the follow-up entries in the "No Enemies on the Left" series," starting with the most recent:

* "Left-Wing Establishment Cheers Wright's "Brilliance."

* "Responsible Plan? Antiwar Groups Endorse Unconditional Iraq Surrender."

* "Ecoterrorism and the Democrats: More on the Radical Left."

* "Democrats Hijacked by Hard-Left Base, Lieberman Says."

* "Muslim Students Association Seeks U.S. Destruction."

* "Imagine, Obama a Liberal: It's Easy If You Try."

* "Barack Obama's Antiwar Coalition."

* "What's a Radical?"

* "Palestinians See Obama as Close Ally."

* "Anti-McCain Mobilization Rooted in Hardline Anti-Iraq Constituencies."

* "Obama's Circle of Friends: The America-Hating Left."

* "Code Pink Bundling Contributions for Obama."