Leftists and Popular Movements

Ted Glick


are a number of reasons why some of those who are left of center in the United

States have not yet decided to support the Ralph Nader/Winona LaDuke Green Party

independent Presidential campaign. Some have the usual "lesser of two

evils" arguments, with the fear of Attila the Hun-like Supreme Court

nominations often being at the top of the list. Others have problems with Nader

because he has a poor track record when it comes to speaking out in the past on

certain issues; e.g., police brutality, affirmative action, reproductive rights,

lesbian/gay rights and peace issues. Although he is now speaking to them during

his Green Party Presidential campaign, some activists still question the depth

of his commitment to "doing the right thing" on these issues.


there are those who don’t support Nader because he’s not a socialist, or is not

radical enough.


the risk of offending some friends, I have to take issue with those in this

latter category. I think that this approach is reflective of a larger problem

among some sections of the political Left.


has the Left in this country been so relatively small and ineffective? There are

many reasons, among them: the strength of individualism and competitive

ideology, racism and racial divisions, a winner-take-all electoral system, a

population with a large percentage of middle-income people, and repression

and/or cooption of union organizing efforts, anti-racist activism and leftists.

Also significant, however, has been a long history of sectarianism and



many leftists have not grasped one of the most fundamental, most basic lessons

from history when it comes to major social transformation: masses of people in

motion make history. Relatively small groups of organizers, no matter how

dedicated or skillful, cannot by themselves overturn structures of injustice and



role as organizers, more than anything else, is to play a connecting and

leavening role, helping broader and broader numbers of people become active with

others as they learn through experience that only by doing so can their

conditions improve.


do I mean by "masses of people?" If we are talking about something as

big as an actual struggle for power, for control of the government, which is

ultimately what those of us who are serious about change have to see as our

objective down the road, then we have to be talking millions, eventually tens of

millions of people involved or supportive. Nothing else stands a chance against

a ruling group as powerful as the tiny minority of ultra-rich individuals who

stand astride the commanding heights of the corporate economy and the

corporate-controlled government.


United States is not a country with a history of mass socialist or communist

parties as is true in western Europe, Japan and other parts of the world.

Movements of opposition to the rule of corporate capital in this country have

been programmatic and issue-based and not ideologically-driven, even when there

are those within them whose work is ideologically-based. There is a relative

paucity of knowledge within the U.S. population about Marxism, socialism,

communism, anarchism and other historic Left ideological traditions, primarily

due to government repression and mass media distortions of those ideologies.


this political context, it is unrealistic in the extreme to think that the way

in which a broadly-based, popular movement for fundamental change is going to

emerge is through an emphasis on socialist education, or the building of an

ideologically-based political organization. It is not that these cannot be of

value and even of significant value, long-term. But that value, that political

impact, will only come to pass if a politically less radical, more populist,

more issue-driven and program-based alternative emerges, grows and eventually

succeeds in its objective of winning political power.


who are ideologically-driven need to swim in that people’s ocean, interact

personally and politically with "the masses." They need to learn how

to talk to, influence and learn from working people from a wide range of

backgrounds and with a mix of different ideas, some progressive, some

conservative, some confused and some just plain common sense.


electoral campaigns, with candidates who are articulate and democratic in their

approach to the campaign, can be one of the most effective ways to put forward a

comprehensive, alternative vision of change. Such campaigns can plant the seeds

to help increasing numbers of people grow in their understanding of our

political/economic reality and their commitment to being part of the process of

altering it.


can also be an important arena for ideologically-based leftists to test their

ideas in practice, gather signatures, ask for money, motivate people to come out

and vote. In this way they can discover the extent to which their ideas match

with reality. And as a result, the two can become more closely aligned.


then we’ll see the emergence of a 21st century organized Left in this country

that is unlike any we’ve seen for decades: playing a significant role in a

broadly-based, popular movement to take back our government from the corporate

criminals who control it now. Let’s speed the day!


Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics

Network (www.ippn.org). His first book, Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a

Just Society, has just been published. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 1132,

Bloomfield, N.J. 07003 or [email protected]




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