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.
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?
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
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.
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.