LEFT FORUM 2017: THE RESISTANCE
A powerful resistance is taking shape in the U.S. Mass spontaneous protests fill the streets and the opposition to the Trump regime heralds an era of civil unrest the likes of which America has not seen for decades. The protesters’ immediate object is the new president and the singularly dangerous and reactionary regime he leads, but it has the potential to move beyond Trump to address the system that produced him. Most important of all, the budding resistance is thinking through questions of power, strategy, and tactics. We find ourselves faced with unprecedented dangers and disorienting shocks but also with massive opportunities – openings for building the movements for justice and liberation and pressing for fundamental transformations.
The dangers are easy to name – the ascendance of the highly organized, racist, misogynist right to an office in the White House; Republicans in lockstep, ready to fulfill their dream of the final dismantling of the public sector and the welfare state; an authoritarian American president looking to find like-minded thug cronies across the globe to make deals to vacuum out the last iotas of resources and profit from a planet in deep crisis. Sadly, Trump’s most institutionally powerful opponents are those who desire a return to the glory days of cold war with Russia, not to mention the military manufacturers, contractors, and press operations for whom war and conflict remains the most profitable racket. Other opponents are the Democrats, useless even when they haven’t just totally ignored a populist moment to ensure the nomination of probably their least popular, most militaristic, and big-money friendly candidate over a popular socialist who could, no doubt, have beaten Trump at his own game.
It goes without saying that none of these institutional forces favors labor, communal ownership, race freedom, or ecological healing. As rival powers tear themselves apart fighting over the last remaining wealth of a broken system, we must find our leverage and build our power in this new, unstable situation.
These past few years have seen the rise of major protest movements, and America’s decades-long slide to the right has been arrested. The population is polarized, but more radical on both sides than we’ve seen in a very long time. On our side, direct action, especially among the brave fighters at Standing Rock, garners wide support. A democratic socialist got very close to the White House. Young Americans favor socialism over capitalism. The Black Lives Matter movement has forged an interracial coalition against police brutality and state sanctioned race murder. And millions of formerly docile centrists and liberals are being radicalized by the regime’s newly bold expression of power and profit politics – without even the ideological patina of the “free market” or “democracy” to paper over anti-worker and militaristic policies at home and abroad. Perhaps most important, people are talking general strike.
In short, the old “reasonable, responsible” regime of exploitation has broken down. These are radical times. Which means they are times with great possibilities for real radicalism. Still, the left forces are inchoate, without mass mobilization organizations and searching for strategies that can build raw power and generate victories. Our task is to help organize, nurture, and shape the raw resistance that is exploding across America – and help to build what may come in its wake.
What lessons have we learned from the last year or so? What is the status of the strategy of working within the Democratic Party rather than forming a new party organized to represent the interests of the working class? Where is rank and file – and especially international – labor organizing today? Do the social identities that structure the everyday life of workers impede class organization – or do they point the way to the most militant varieties of it? Where can we find the leverage for our movements when great powers battle? How do we engage in the kind of robust international labor organizing that we know is both the key to workers’ power and the antidote to the anti-immigrant right ascendant in so many places today? Most important, how will we build the three structures that we know we need – radical cultural interventions that craft a lefty common sense; a political party for working class people, and, most important, the economic ability to bring production and reproduction to a halt through mass coordinated strike action.
This is where Left Forum 2017 comes in. The strength of LF has always been its ecumenical inclusion of many perspectives, many groups, fighting on many fronts. Together, we will craft a united front moving in diverse but coordinated ways toward what we all know we need – international, multiracial, non-gendered working class power. As the largest gathering of the U.S. left, we come together this year to debate, to plan, to strategize, to build. We will engage the key questions – historical, analytical, theoretical, strategic – and forge the path ahead together. Our work has never been more important.
To this end, Left Forum will be organized from the start around the key substantive issues in shaping the resistance. We are calling for all panels to submit to particular panel tracks. Each track will have a number of panels and should end either with a concrete organizing session or with a more informal social gathering where people can strategize, enjoy each other’s company, and craft explicit next steps. This year, it is more important than ever that when we gather as a thousands-strong, non-sectarian left convergence, the conference helps us move as a broad front to the next crucial steps. We expect to have a record number of panel submissions and the truth is, there are only so many available rooms. Panel track organizing will be decentered but discriminating. The moment demands nothing less from all of us.
We have no choice but to organize now to fight the reactionary assault on hard-won rights and freedoms, from unionization to civil rights to abortion. We must move from symbolic protest to materially effective resistance. We need to identify pressure points in the system and push them. We must think seriously about crafting a new political party in the United States. But we must also simultaneously be working toward the broader set of changes – from a system based on alienation, abstraction, and exploitation to one based on human freedom and possibility – that animates all our struggles and that unites us as a left.