From June 1-3, at the John Jay College of New York University, the Left Forum of American left-wing organizations held a discussion on their political prospects (“Towards a winning strategy for the left”). This is a periodic meetup of the forces which are mostly located to the left of the Democratic Party, featuring political groups, cultural and social intervention collectives, publishing houses and magazines. The only notable absence is the trade unions.
The theme of the meeting this year was building up an opposition to Trump. His victory should not be classified as a one-time phenomenon but should be understood as a possible beachhead for a reactionary response to social unrest and fear of the future. Consequently, the Forum opened a debate on the errors of the left and of the movements, including both their ordinary mistakes and their failures in diligence and political practices that have left significant openings for the reactionary right.
The debate in New York took on the theme—albeit with different levels of insight and depth of analysis—of an overall rethinking of what movements, associations, political organizations and trade unions have been accomplishing and thinking during the recent decades. This itself seems very important, not so much due to the depth of analysis reached during the Forum—which varied significantly—but on account of the purpose this reflection is moving towards. This is indeed a mature way of questioning the issue of political effectiveness, avoiding the tired modes of analysis that still mark this debate in Italy, where errors by the political forces are discussed in a fully Manichean way, as if they represented the whole of the problem and as if everything else in terms of experiences, practices and analysis was going perfectly.
One of the themes discussed was also the organizations’ political and cultural autonomy from the Democratic Party, a notion that had widespread acceptance among the participants. Starting from this common and important acknowledgment, the theme of the effectiveness of political action could be debated in a more sober fashion.
I participated in discussions where some of the speakers were people who had been elected after participating in the Democratic Party primaries as outsiders, as well as some who were elected in independent coalitions, running against both the Democratic Party and the Republicans. The fact that the discussion focused on the effectiveness of building “progressive” coalitions against the local and national powers-that-be—of which, as everyone participating was aware, the Democratic Party is also a part—seemed to me to signal an important element of political maturity, able to judge in each particular context the choice of either taking part in the Democratic primaries or building up a direct political coalition.
The only European political force represented at the Left Forum was the Party of the European Left. Today, there are powerful objective elements that are pushing the movements and the Left on both sides of the Atlantic toward unity. In both the US and in Europe, widespread insecurity and a strong fear of the future have become popular themes. In both cases, the risk is that the response to this unease might be monopolized by xenophobic, patriarchal and fascist-like right-wing parties, with reactionary and fiercely nationalistic proposals.
The task is therefore to start a common process of joint analysis in order to build an effective left-wing political offering. To put it in slogan form: egalitarian, environmentalist humanism and against the futile wars among the poor.
Paolo Ferrero is vice president of the Party of the European Left.
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