That’s what neighbors do

Lift the Blockade on Cuba and send humanitarian aid, Joe. That’s what neighbors do (or should do). Don’t embrace the sound bites of your right wing opponents or voices in your own party that would like you to tighten the screws on Cuba, not to mention China. A majoritarian audience awaits a new foreign policy that accents peace, diplomacy, mutuality, and the imperative of a global response to the existential threats – climate disruption, pandemics, nuclear proliferation and war – of our times. Do the right thing!

My take on strategy

I’ve read a few different takes on strategy recently. Here’s mine. Strategy, as I learned it in the Communist Party and from reading Lenin is wide angled and dynamic. Never narrowly focused, Its field of vision is the larger political landscape on which competing coalitions (or, in Gramsci’s language, blocs) collide and compete for advantage (war of position), and power (war of maneuver). It brings into focus the main class and social constituencies in that field of struggle, clarifies where they stand in relation to each other and the main issues of struggle, and, above all, takes into account the distribution of power – the balance of power – in the moment between/among the contending coalitions.

A strategic excavation doesn’t stop here though. It goes on to specify the key alliances that are crucial to each side’s success, the key constituencies to be won, and the key democratic and class issues that, if settled in favor of one or another coalition, will either move the whole chain of struggle to a new, higher stage or in a backward direction. And of course, any strategic rendering is set within and deeply informed by a particular economic and political conjuncture.

In today’s circumstances, the main clash is between two competing cross class coalitions, each with its own distinct class and social makeup and politics.  One is right wing, white nationalist, authoritarian, and if need be, fascistic. While socially diverse, it skews toward white billionaires, millionaires, and middle income Americans. The other is  democratic minded and leans in a progressive direction. Unlike its rival, it can claim a majoritarian status and skews toward working people, people of color, women, and young people. While it scored victories last fall at the ballot box – the biggest the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris – and legislative breakthroughs this spring, the outcome of what can fairly be described as an existential clash of these two grand coalitions is still to be decided.

Adjustments in order

To see economic and political processes in the present and future as simply a continuation, with slight modifications, of the past is analytically mistaken and politically counterproductive. A vibrant, open ended Marxism should take into account discontinuities, changing conjunctures, and new phenomena at the national and global level that emerge in the course of capitalist development and modify, not only the conditions for the production and realization of surplus value, but also class and democratic struggles at the national and global level. When these modifications are deep going and thus possess potential for far reaching economic, social, and political change, adjustments in strategy and tactics in an expansive and flexible direction are usually in order.

More an art than a science

The political coalition that scored victories last fall at the ballot box and this spring in the halls of Congress stretches from conservative William Kristol to CEO JPMorgan Chase Jamie Dimon to President Biden to AFL-CIO leader Richard Trumka to Senator Bernie Sanders to AOC to long time radical Black activist Angela Davis. Like any coalition that is politically and socially diverse, it possesses, seldom in equal measure and rarely in a static state, cooperative and contested relations that structure and animate its interactions and policies.
 
Setting the agenda and defining the terms of engagement in this far flung coalition is the Biden administration. This isn’t to say that others in this coalition are voiceless or passive actors. Not at all.
 
Each presses its demands and priorities. Where differences and tensions arise (and they are inevitable), they usually pivot not around the direction, but the pace, scale, and scope of the reform process. Only on matters of foreign policy where the administration’s approach fits into the old Washington consensus are the differences of a more fundamental nature.
 
In these circumstances, politics becomes more an art than a science, in which differences are articulated and pressed, but not in such a way that they shred the threads of unity and cooperation on a wide range of issues. After all, unity was the template of last year’s victory at the ballot box and this year’s legislative successes, not to mention the main requirement to carry this coalition across the finish line victoriously in next year’s elections.
 
This coalition, to say the obvious, is locked into a titanic battle against another coalition that is its mirror opposite – white nationalist, authoritarian, and revanchist. And, without any sense of exaggeration, its outcome will position the country to either address the great challenges that it faces or throw it on a long, downward, and chaotic trajectory. If the latter, It may not end in “barbarism,” but the resemblance will be unmistakable and no exit will be in sight. 

A new look at old understandings

If the review is a fair representation of Bhaskar’s Sunkara’s new book, “The Socialist Manifesto,” I like the questions that Sunkara is exploring and the direction that he is suggesting. I’m impressed that he has the temerity to mention, according to the reviewer, the “counterrevolutionary” Kautsky in a favorable light.

Against the background of a left in the U.S. that hasn’t come close to “storming heaven” on the one hand and the experience of existing socialism in the 20th century – much of it went belly up – on the other, you would think that new thinking about socialism – what it looks like, who its protagonists are, and how to get there, not to mention the causes of its crisis and collapse in the first place (simply blaming “imperialism” is insufficient to say the least) – would be in high demand. But that isn’t the case. Old ideas, even when evidence isn’t on their side, resist burial, thanks to their zealous defenders of the faith who are captives of what my old friend Fred Gaboury called, the “politics of assertion,” while new ideas that challenge old understandings are quick to meet resistance by the same crowd.

I have said before that if anyone worries too much about defending yourself from criticism from the defenders of the faith on the left, they will probably serve up nothing but old bromides and formulas, dressed in a slightly different clothing and tone deaf to actual experience. The pressure to be “right” on the left militates against thinking that goes against the grain, as it applauds at the same time the repetition of received wisdom. And who needs that? Anyway, I look forward to reading Sunkara’s new book.

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