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Est. April 5, 2002
 
           
June 18, 2015 - Issue 611

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The Audacity to Win
 A Call for Strategy
for the US Left

By Left Strategy Collective Members
 Portside



"The strategy we are referring to relates to  a
struggle for power between those who own
and control the economy and politics of this
country, on the one hand, and the working class
and vast majority of the U.S. people, on the other.
For many of us, this is a struggle for our very
survival and for some, a matter of life and death."

There is something bubbling beneath the surface in the US. Everyone can feel it. Everywhere there are mass actions – on issues ranging from fast food workers’ rights, to deportations, from the latest police killing, to community displacement, from defending collective bargaining, to getting clean water, from getting the water turned back on, to ending the occupation of Gaza. There is something bubbling, but the question remains whether it will evaporate into steam or explode like a volcano. Capitalism confronts people all over the world, including the US, and its crises implicate the very survival of humankind. Yes, there are sprinkled victories, hopeful uprisings, and electoral surprises, but we know in our hearts it is not enough. We go to sleep with the question, “When and how?” When and how will the tables turn? When and how will we become a force in US politics and win power? When and how are we going to be able to change the nature of the field we are forced to play on? In order to address these questions, we need a strategy for the left. We will refer to “the left” here as those forces that oppose the capitalist, white supremacist, hetero-patriarchal system and seek to build an alternative society.

In this paper, we will make the case for the importance of strategy, we will lay out our definition of strategy and the components we believe are necessary for the building a game- changing strategy for the left. We would like to see the development and implementation of a strategy for power - where the oppressed are able to determine their own livelihood and how society functions. This strategy would necessarily be aimed at an emancipatory transition from capitalism. This paper will not be the strategy. It is a contribution to the many left voices that are calling for the need for strategy, and to begin to build a shared language of what strategy is. We are a small core of leftists from different sectors of the movement. We do not believe that we alone can build this strategy. However we have some thoughts about what is to be done and we have a commitment to building the space to develop this strategy with like-minded leftists. Our hope is that the process of engaging in this level of strategy development will promote a new movement culture of more intentional, collective, and focused movement development that will bring us to game-changing victories and power that will transform this country.

WHAT IS STRATEGY?

The act of developing strategy should result in more than a political line, a political program, or a new organization. It will not be enough to have a clever slogan. It will not be enough to focus on a single task, tactic, or campaign. The type of strategy that is necessary to build among leftists would:

1) imagine and formulate a vision of an alternative to capitalism;

2) analyze the current conditions both on our side (the working class, organized forces, and the left overall) as well as the opposition (the ruling class and the capitalist state); and

3) work toward that vision through devising a continually evolving program that would strengthen the forces for liberation and weaken the capitalist forces on an economic, political, and ideological scale to the point of “putting it out of business” all together.

Tactics are different from strategy. Tactics are the specific types of actions we take to execute our strategy. The series of actions may make up a particular program, but they are not the entirety of our strategy. The strategy will determine plans, to be put into action, evaluated and summed-up. It will not be based on what worked in one city and then applied to a different city with completely different conditions. It will not be based on our personal moods, whims, or the flavor of the month. It will not be a mere goal with no way to achieve it. Goals are the aims that our strategy is built around. It will be a comprehensive approach that includes our analysis of conditions, our hypothesis of how we will build power and win. This strategy becomes a living course of action that is implemented, tested, summed-up, evaluated, and reworked.

A football team has a strategy. (We are not pretending here that the NFL with all its contradictions is the extent of the totality of the strategy that the left needs, but it offers some helpful analogies.) A football team knows their players very well - their strengths and their weaknesses. They know how the overall the team works together. After a game they look at reel footage of their previous games, where mistakes were made, and successes were gained. They work to strengthen their team and play to its strengths. Likewise we need a full assessment of our social forces for change. Maybe there are communities who have not been organized yet. We may need to “draft them” (or rather organize them).

In preparation for an upcoming game, the team studies their future opponents, the weaknesses that they can take advantage of, the capabilities of that team that maybe our team cannot match but can out-maneuver. They come up with plays to defeat their opponents that are both offensive and defensive. We need that playbook for the left. We need to be looking for and identifying opportunities to shift the correlation of forces, that is, the social forces for change as well as the opposing forces that maintain the current state of affairs. Understanding the correlation of forces allows us to interpret why our forces are losing and why the opposing forces are winning, and maneuver accordingly. In Marta Harnecker’s paper, Instruments for Doing Politics, she explains that what we are pinpointing in this process is, “the relationship between the capacity that one force has to impose its interests on an opposing force and the capacity that the opposing force has to do the same.” Knowing who’s on the opposing team, what they are capable of, what their weaknesses are, and the same of our team, aids us in our planning.

Football players and coaches must understand the objective conditions. Objective conditions are the reality of the situation we are in, and the realities of the actors in play. If they are playing at the Lambeau Field, the Green Bay Packers’ outdoor stadium in Wisconsin, they will be in extreme cold and it’s likely that it will snow. The team must prepare for how these conditions will affect their performance. A coach can also look objectively at their stats of players and determine their strengths and weaknesses. We can also look at our stats, where we have had wins and defeats, and what were the conditions we played in.

But this metaphor only takes us so far. The process of developing our strategy ultimately needs to identify what “game” we are going to play. What is our theory of transition? How do we believe we can defeat capitalism given the conditions, and forces we face? What is our alternative vision for society? Knowing where we are headed will help us determine this path. Toward that end and with the analysis of the correlation of forces in mind, we are also analyzing and identifying what the primary issue or contradiction we must address in a given time, place and conditions and the vision of the transformative change we want to see in this area, as well as to shift the balance of forces and win more power. It is identifying what type of formations and tactics will allow us to wield the most power to win and implement our plan. Then we will go back and look at the “reel” – constantly summing up and evaluating.

We therefore propose the creation and implementation of left strategy aimed at building power and ultimately ending capitalism and winning a just, sustainable, and emancipatory future. This process of building strategy must take on developing a rigorous analysis, with hard numbers and an honest assessment of the correlation of forces. The strategy will identify primary contradictions that in the process of struggle will move us to gain more power, and win transformative changes in society. It identifies the formations and tactics based on analysis that will get us to victory. Strategy is a continuous process. Once a developed strategy is employed, we are continuously evaluating and taking what we have learned in action, towards modifying the strategy and applying these lessons toward the development of future plans. To borrow from Harnecker, “Strategy is the way that diverse battles are planned, organized and directed to achieve our goal.”

WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO TO DEVELOP STRATEGY?

Strategy for what? Defining Our Goals

The strategy we are referring to relates to a struggle for power between those who own and control the economy and politics of this country, on the one hand, and the working class and vast majority of the U.S. people, on the other. For many of us, this is a struggle for our very survival and for some, a matter of life and death. The struggle for power against such a formidable adversary requires precision and clarity at each stage along with meticulous definition of what our goals are.

A vision of a new society will inform how we approach developing strategy.

While a full elaboration of such a vision is outside of the scope of this paper, we offer some thoughts about a new society. We need a vision of an alternative to capitalism which will 1) develop the capacities of human beings to live full, creative, healthy lives, and 2) achieve social ownership of the means of production focused on production for human need rather than profit, 3) reorient production towards meeting social needs and protecting the earth, 4) free workers to guide and plan their own productive work.

Human development must be the enduring measure of a socialist alternative to capitalism. A socialist government would facilitate planning the production and distribution of socially necessary goods with the active participation of the working and popular classes through a framework centered around solidarity, efficiency, internationalism, environmentalism, engaged protagonism and human rights. Human development must be understood as development which respects and protects our planet’s ecology. Considering the repair and survival of the planet’s health in constraining methods of production and use of natural resources as a means of achieving human development, allows us to ensure longevity of the planet and human survival.

In summary, we have argued that strategy building is a critical aspect of left work. We defined and characterized what strategy is, and identified elements of a strategy building process. These elements of strategy building include the identification of the social forces at play, the contradictions between such forces, the correlation or balance of forces, and the objective conditions under which the strategy has to be crafted so as to shift power towards a new society envisioned by the left.

We also wish to raise a few flags that are important to keep in mind as we undertake the strategy building project. For one, this work must be undertaken alongside bringing together a range of concrete data - demographic and social - that will give us a grip over the real nature of the objective conditions. Further, such work must not be individual driven and will involve the bringing together of meaningful collective(s) of movement activists and socially grounded intellectuals as also a clear understanding of the scale and scope of the work. Finally, the strategy building process must be seen as organically connected to consciousness raising and the dynamic articulation of our vision.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

As activists working inside the United States, we know that the lead role that the U.S. has played and continues to play in advancing imperialism means that any viable left alternative must not further the subjugation and exploitation of the peoples of the global south, but rather must be built in collaboration with revolutionary forces organizing against U.S. imperialism around the world and must be thoroughly anti-imperialist, internationalist and act at all times in solidarity with the world’s peoples.

In this paper, we of Left Strategies argue that developing strategy is crucial to achieving both short-term reforms and revolutionary transformation of our society. We have sketched out an initial approach (or methodology) and raised some of the questions around strategy theory and development that are necessary to move forward. Strategies that we develop don’t have to (and won’t be) perfect. As we work together to develop and test strategies, the lessons we will learn and the progress we make will encourage us. We want all of us to engage in a movement- wide discussion and debate on the importance of strategy and how we can work together to develop it. This is a call to action. Developing left strategy is not an academic exercise. It is a way to enhance our ability to win. Successful left strategy will make our organizing more effective and build the leadership of the masses in struggle. We all must be in the streets to support the struggles of all those who are under attack. But we cannot fall prey to pragmatism which would limit our ability to strategize and take maximum advantage of the more favorable balance of forces our organizing is producing. It is up to us have the “audacity to win” a new society for the majority of people in the U.S.

• A longer version of this paper will be forthcoming.

Feedback: Left Strategies Collective looks forward to hearing your feedback. If you agree with us, please give us your suggestions on how can we move forward on strategy work. If you disagree, please tell us why and how you would approach the situation in which our movements find themselves.

In either case, we’d like to hear about any strategies your movement has tried and what you have learned from implementing them.


This commentary was originally submitted to and published by Portside by the Left Strategy Collective Members: Rishi Awatramani, Jake Carlson, Bill Fletcher Jr., Jon Liss, Garry Owens, Biju Mathew, Merle Ratner, Claire Tran, Helena Wong.   Email Left Strategy Collective: leftstrategies@gmail.com.  Left Strategies Collective was founded to create conversation within the Left around strategy development. Between 2013-2014, the Left Strategies Collective conducted a number of national calls bringing people together to talk about issues such as Worker Organizing in the 21st century, and Lessons from the Moral Mondays movement..

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