By Party or By Formation

What would happen if the concept of a political formation were turned into a party building strategy? A map and a metaphorical excursion through two of today’s emerging democratic left forces may lead to an answer.

This excursion starts by outlining the descriptive and strategic dynamics of the notion of the political formation, as articulated by one of its most creative expositors, Stanley Aronowitz. After more than half a century of political organizing, teaching, and producing upwards of twenty books, Aronowitz devoted an entire work to the challenge of party building on the left. The concept of the political formation was central to his 2006 book, Left Turn: Forging a New Political Future. Aronowitz applied it to the challenge of party building in ways that resonate with conditions today:

“Before us is the urgent necessity of launching the anti-capitalist project in the United States and, with great specificity, making plain what we may mean by an alternative to the authoritarian present. We are faced with the urgent need to reignite the radical imagination. We simply have no vehicle to undertake this work – a party that can express the standpoint of the exploited and oppressed that, in the current historical conjuncture, must extend far beyond the poor and the workers, since capital and the state have launched a major assault on the middle classes. In short, we need a political formation capable of articulating the content of the ‘not-yet’ – that which is immanent in the present but remains unrealized” (p. 160).

While the concept of a political formation in its descriptive dimensions, implicates a vast complex of social processes (not unlike the concept of a social formation), it can also be used strategically, as Aronowitz does, in partisan politics and analysis. A key starting point is to conceive of it as describing political forces that cohere within – and between – movements and parties. Accompanying this starting point, is the partisan strategic challenge, that building an effective left party today cannot be accomplished without a mediating organizational form or forms, which by Aronowitz’s account, can be developed using the formation concept.

Right and Left Formations

Seen in this way, it might strike one that only the right has realized what Aronowitz alludes to, which is to say, the Tea Party and Trump’s election campaign cohered between movement and party in ways that enabled this force to build independent, interconnecting political forms, to triumph in the Republican Party, and to win the executive power of the nation. And yet the 2016 election and the current period witnessed the expansion of a state power-seeking politics on the left that also coalesce between movements and parties. These relationships however, are more deleteriously riven.

Notable on this political spectrum is the division between the Bernie Sanders’ aligned activists, organizations, and parties who insist on transforming the Democratic Party leftward (such that it will become stronger than the Republicans and the neoliberal democrats), and those activists, organizations, and parties who insist that all electoral action must be independent of the Democratic Party.

Despite this rather territorial division, many in the Democratic and Independent left groupings believe that majoritarian state power must be won in all 50 states. They also believe this must be done by waging a (social and/or socialist) democratic political revolution.

The Tea Party and the Trump Campaign:
The Chicken and Egg Formation

Mapping this fractured left terrain can highlight what a political formation
strategy might offer party builders. Examining the Tea Party and the Trump mobilization, as guiding forces of a right-wing (or alternatively, an alt-right or far-right) political formation, may also help.

Starting in the wake of Obama’s first election and swelling to over 900 local groups in 2010/2011, the Tea Party formed a populist right-wing like-minded, activist-attracting magnetic field, running around and through the Republican Party.

Even in its heyday, the Tea Party was not a formal party. Nor was it just a movement. As Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson have detailed, Tea party localized groups are decentralized (yet appreciably ideologically synched between power-elite and grassroots base); its activists were and remain overwhelmingly white and skew older; there are candidates and national groups that use the name and/or associated politics, such as the now defunct, Tea Party Caucus in congress and the currently functioning House Freedom Caucus; media and political personalities such as Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh helped organize Tea Party related rallies, conventions, town hall turnouts, and inspired local chapters; billionaire-capitalist funders directly and indirectly supported and still support – Tea Party identified politicians, think tanks, political action committees, and legislation-influencing organizations, such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.

As to its scope, Rasmussen Reports’ polling results indicated that in 2010, 34% of voters said, “they or someone close to them [was] part of the Tea Party movement” (the Pew Research Center put that number at 41%). This suggests the easily accessible, widely engageable qualities of a movement that also, like a party, finds many of its polities focusing on winning majoritarian control over the state; that goal has been effectively engaged moreover, in the ways that Tea Party activists have triangulated the Republican Party establishment against its voting base (e.g., using inside-outside the Republican Party, wedge creating politics and Tea Party identifying candidate tendering strategies).

The Tea Party paved the way for the Trump campaign and victory. Conversely, the influence of Trump on the Tea Party developed over many years (manifest for
instance, in Trump’s championing of the Obama birth-certificate conspiracy, and, before the Tea Party, in bigotry-stoking populist politics, such as his newspaper ad purchasing, death-penalty advocating, campaign against the Central Park Five). In respect to reciprocal influences of these formation-guiding forces, Tea Party polities were more influentially guided during the 2016 elections by Trump and his campaign and organizers (funders, etc.).

These activist, state-power winning politics could be called a united front. That term generally connotes too great a likeness of demands and action among participants (while the concept of the popular front doesn’t imply enough ideological-sync or strategic/tactical depth). This suggests that the notion of a political formation, and the way it coheres between movement and party provides a useful strategic and descriptive frame.

Setting up the Map:
A Metaphor and Schematic for Left Party Builders

Mapping the electoral-engaging terrain of left state-power seeking politics, can clarify how one, and more imminently, two left formations can be said to be developing. Because of the extent of the – Democratic-Party, independent-party split, this base will be mapped with the help of the metaphor of two magnetic poles (North and South) and its magnetic field (or it could almost as well have been two magnets, where the mutually repelling, like poles are continuously trying to occupy same space, only to continuously repel each other; this, despite that smallest bit of magnetic urge of one or the other to turn around and pull together). The metaphor is also employed to evince something of what these activists’ political practices might feel like, located as they are at the crossroads of the power-elite’s efforts to advantage capitalist wealth holders and their allies – in the nation’s electoral and state power-accessing institutions.

In this respect, the party-based poles are populated by the most electorally-institutionally fortified political activists and polities in the left democratic arena. These would be Green Party activists on one side (who are in the fourth largest electoral party in the country, with ballot access in 21 states; they placed Jill Stein on the ballot in 43 states in 2016); and Bernie Sanders’ in-party active allies, along with Sanders himself, on the other side (whose nationwide candidacies are based in the Democratic Party, which blankets the 519,682 elective offices in the U.S.). Just as the magnetic poles are the strongest forces in a magnetic field, these in-party polities are the strongest, and most mutually institutionally polarized, stage left, as to their “work through our party only/make our party the party of the country” politics.

In, around, and between the pole areas are organizations and activists – in the field – that have joined, to one degree or another, in allied action with the Sanders in-party activists or the Green activists. Those more toward the middle, are generally less pulled, and/or pull themselves less, in either direction (and exert more electoral-engaging party-orienting independence from the two pole parties); this is to also suggest that the closer a field polity is to one or the other party-based pole, the more likely they are drawn to it.

Given this schematic of the basic structure and power-cooperation relationships, the strategic details can now be mapped onto this foundation. The schematic moreover, suggests the rough outlines of the form and organizational shape of two (repelling, attracting, and interrelating) left formations, in contrast moreover to the more tightly-singularly constructed party form and the more diffuse form of the movement.

In, Around, and Between the Poles:
Field Mapping Large Electoral-Left Oriented Groups

Starting with the “work through the Democratic Party only” – and Sanders-in-party allies located – party-based pole position, and moving toward the Green/independent party only pole position of the Green Party – some of the organizations and parties in the field that have activist bases of thousands of people in multiple states, are:

  • and the Working Families Party: both organizations support Democratic Party candidates; and while they support some candidates that align with the Democratic Party’s neoliberal power-elite, as with the Working Families endorsement of Cuomo or MoveOn’s funding of “blue-dog” congressional representative Melissa Bean, they at times align with the Sanders’ pole: both organizations endorsed him;
  • Our Revolution was inspired by Sanders and initiated by Sanders’ leadership and campaign staff; it works inside and outside the Democratic Party pushing it to the left, while supporting left Democratic candidates; some of its hundreds of chapters overlap with progressive and democratic socialist groupings: it is comparatively more focused however, on raising money for, and supporting allied, progressive-left Democratic candidates;
    • Labor for Our Revolution is part of Our Revolution. It includes the Amalgamated Transit Union, the American Postal Workers Union, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the Communications Workers of America, International Longshore and Warehouse Union, National Nurses United, and United Electrical Workers;
      • Nurses United pushed Our Revolution further toward a middle field position when their president, RoseAnn DeMoro took the stage with Sanders at the People’s Summit in 2017 and called on him to leave the Democrats and join the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party effort; the AFL-CIO stirred in this direction at their 2017 convention, passing Resolution 48, committing them to study “independent and third-party politics”);
  • Toward the middle area, but nearer to the Democratic pole, is the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). DSA engages socialist and left social movement and electoral politics; it’s candidates almost always engage the Democratic ballot line and prioritize pushing the Party to the left (their radical caucus called on DSA to break from the Democratic Party; this indicates a toward-the-middlemoving position);
  • Also toward the middle is People’s Action (PA). PA describes itself as, “a national organization of more than a million people.” It supports progressive candidates (mostly Democrats and occasionally Independents) and programs that are often aligned with Sanders’ politics (formerly National People’s Action, it has a community organizational structure that is independent of political parties, and focuses on social, economic, racial, and climate justice);
  • In the middle area, shaded toward the Democratic Party, are electorally-engaged supporters of the Movement for Black Lives (a united front of one hundred groups, it also builds upon the Black Lives Matter groundswells); the Movement’s political platform includes a position supported by the Greens more so than Sanders (i.e., he is against reparations). As to why allied electoral activists constitute a diffused middle-field position, the mayoral victory of Chokwe Antar Lumumba in Jackson Mississippi was waged through the Democratic ballot-line, supported by Sanders and allied organizations, and steeped in some of the Black Freedom and independence traditions shared by the Movement’s activists; Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Jobs with Justice activist Attica Scott won a state house position in Kentucky and BLM and Democratic Socialist activist Khalid Kamau won a city council seat in South Fulton, Georgia: both ran as Democrats;
  • Moving closer to the Greens is Socialist Alternative (SA); also in that general area, but more engaged with the Greens is the International Socialist Organization (ISO): both organizations engaged the Sanders election groundswell and called on him to run as a Green after he lost to Clinton; SA runs and wins candidacies independently of the Democrats and the
    Greens, while sometimes endorsing democrats; ISO has utilized the Green
    ballot line
    for their candidate work.
2017 Women’s March on DC the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. [Photo: Ted Eytan]

Resistance and/or defeat-Republicans focused organizations: Indivisible (which claims thousands of chapters), Sister District, the Women’s March, and ActBlue are not placed in field positions. By focusing on resisting Trump and/or electing Democrats, these organizations resist internal tendencies to oppose neoliberal capitalist-collaborating Democratic candidates, office holders, and strategies (e.g., by drawing on the “pragmatic” and neoliberal-capitalist inclusive identity-politics positions of supporting those Democrats who will ostensibly beat Republicans). This focus opens up opportunities however, for leading activists in those organizations, as well as for Sanders and independent-aligned activists, to move people in these groups past this so-called pragmatism/inclusivism. When and if these groups programmatically justify, endorse, and organize for leftward candidacies, they would be more strategically identifiable in field positioned relationships.

Smaller, National-Office, Digital, and/or
Political Action Committee Oriented Field Polities

As to mapping some of these polities: Starting inside and close to the
Sanders-aligned, Democratic Party pole is Democracy for America (a liberal-progressive organization initiated by Howard Dean, they endorsed Sanders); next is Justice Democrats (arising out of the Sanders groundswell via leaders of the Young Turks Network and Secular Talk; recently, the “youth driven social activism” group #AllOfUs merged with Justice Democrats); and there’s Brand New Congress (with a Sanders’ influenced platform, they support candidates, including Republicans, who commit to their platform): these organizations are nationally centered, appreciably digitally-engaged, money-raising and/or candidate campaign-supporting projects. Next is Swing Left (they focus on “turning” swing districts): they combine online and grassroots fundraising with progressive-left candidate campaigning/supporting, and on-the-ground group-organizing work. Moving toward the middle, three socialist or communist groups that support left Democrats and/or work to push the Party leftward are the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, the Communist Party, USA, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization.

In the middle area, and closer to Sanders’ pole is the Vermont Progressive Party (the original Sanders-supporting party, they run against Democrats, and sometimes coordinate candidate campaigns with them). Around the same area is the Justice Party. It is a national party with a ballot line in Mississippi (its 2012 presidential candidate was on the ballot in 15 states). It is small, and comparatively thinner in its activist, organizational, and candidate base (it was founded by former Mayor of Salt Lake City, Rocky Anderson, who ran as its presidential candidate in 2012). Like the Vermont Progressives, the Justice Party endorsed Sanders.

In the middle area is the Peace and Freedom Party (PFP): with ballot access in California, its candidates run against both Democrats and Greens; left parties utilize its ballot line (the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s candidate for example, won PFP’s 2016 presidential nomination). Also in the middle area is the Socialist Equality Party (they run independent candidates) and the League of Revolutionaries for a New America: they have been active within the Green pole polities (if not also within the Democratic pole). Occupying a similar location to Peace and Freedom, the Socialist Party runs candidates in several states.

Moving closer to the Green pole is the socialist organization, Solidarity; they have utilized the Green ballot line for candidacies.

Last but not least, are three relatively smaller political formation insinuating groupings:

First: the Draft Bernie for a People’s Party project would be located in the middle of the field. It was designed for Sanders to lead a huge party that is independent of, and/or a breakaway from the Democrats. When challenged in 2017 by the Greens to make their party the basis of the effort, Draft Bernie organizers encouraged the Greens to move toward the Sanders’ polities by melding into the project. In November 2017, they moved beyond the “waiting for Sanders” stance, to become the chapter building – Movement for a People’s Party. As its name implies, it proposes an independent left formation-like, strategy that develops between movement and party.

Second: Left Elect is a national, electoral-engaging, political formation-insinuating
project that is fairly inclusive of the larger field and pole polities on the Green side. It periodically brings together hundreds of the field and pole activists aligned with the independent/Greens’ orientation against Democratic Party-based electoral politics. It is significantly smaller and less consistently organized than like convergence projects in the Sanders’ orbit (such as the People’s Summit). However, it is also comparatively more formalized and legitimated in its inter-organizational and group-connecting work (as indicated by its prominent left-independent cross-partisan activist Board makeup).

Third: spanning both sides, the Richmond (CA) Progressive Alliance is an example of a local united front-like coalition that also evinces something of a conscious left political formation building position. This coalition extolls its left-progressive multi-party and organizational makeup, and includes Green and Democratic party identifying office holders, (dues paying) members, and activist participants.

Comparative Party-Building Capacities

How can this list and metaphor-schematized, power/cooperation relationships model be read as mapping not one, but two political formations? And what does this have to do with party building?

Examining how the pole polities relate to each other and to the organizations in the field (e.g., in power relationships), may offer some answers. This in turn will suggest that there is more at play than any one party could currently bring together/unify (e.g., in terms of oppositions, autonomies, differences, and alliances between field and pole polities); this is so, even as such a unity-making accomplishment would seem efficacious, and widely understood as such, vis-à-vis realizing all the “parties” similar hopes for winning majoritarian power.

This leads to a political formation-implicating question: what renders the pole as compared to the field polities, the most electorally resistant – and powerful as such – to doing what they generally hope to do, namely, uniting the pole and field polities in just one, rather than two party-engaging forms?

One answer is that the pole as compared to the field polities are more institutionally advantaged and fortified in staying their mutually polarized, party-located, party-building course. Such fortifying advantages and factors include:

  • Substantially greater numbers of state ballot lines and state presidential ballot listings;
  • electoral state-power accessing rights, laws, and privileges (including candidate funding grants; adherent poll workers, vote-accounting officials, and other administrators of electoral democracy; and state power access-engaging coverage in governmental ballot materials, which reach into many national households);
  • democratic mass-participation legitimating factors (e.g., more people are currently willing to publicly connect with and put sustained volunteer time into something that’s called a political revolution, if it is ensconced in democratic-electoral campaigns compared to if it is only outside of electoral politics);
  • corporate mass media political coverage predilections (which Sanders, e.g., eventually made some headway with).

Opponents, Despite Political Agreements

As consequential as those comparative, polar-fortifying strengths might be (to building two polar parties rather than one), the pole polities, are comparatively more capaciously subject to state-by-state legal and partisan, Democratic-Republican party hegemony-seeking dynamics. These factors counter both pole polities’ ability to build the preeminent electorally-engaged left-leaning party. This situation speaks of how pole, as compared to field polities’ positions, more intensely repulse each other. This is indicative moreover, of a winner-take-all, representative-republican system, where government and party power-elites have long imposed “soft-authoritarian” state power-acquiring restrictions on third parties and marginalization of left electoral activism within the major parties. This is a system where ironically, if party-building leftists do not cohere into one party, the more races they run in together, the more times they feel compelled to defeat each other’s candidates; this, despite holding some similar political positions (and despite the polarization-ameliorating cross-endorsement, ranked-choice-voting, and proportional representation-voting options in the few states and municipalities that empower them).

These comparatively more intensified pole oppositions are evinced through perennial battle-wearying inter-pole broadsides – about selling out to the lesser-of-two-evils (as per Sanders’ endorsement of Clinton), or harming the Democrat’s ability to prevent authoritarian candidates (e.g., Republicans) from taking power (a.k.a. the Nader/spoiler effect).

From Poles to Formations

A quick perusal of the field and pole polities shows that the Sanders’ pole and allied field activists and organizations outnumber the Green and Independent left activists. Nevertheless, the power/influence balance between the two pole polities change cyclically. Compared to the 2016 election-cycle, Sanders’-aligned post-election forces are smaller. Despite hard-fought battles moreover, the neoliberal Democratic elite defeated the pro-Sanders forces and won majority power in post-election, national political bodies.

This situation raises a strategic question: Without bringing together more of the field and pole polities, how will they, like the Greens, avoid falling perennially short of winning majorities in 50 states?

This suggests two related questions: How has the revolution that Sanders popularized in mass democratic activism, been met with the rise, of two formations, and how might they cohere into one?

Brass Tacks

In respect to these questions, what does it mean that Sanders and allies are working in a party that blankets 519,682 elected offices (tallied in 2012)?

What does it mean for both political bodies, that those who vote leftward, and whom the left wants to represent and register – including people ascribed as oppressed and working-class – extensively vote Democratic?

Over 500 thousand offices poses quite a challenge moreover, considering that at any one time, only one left party held more than a few dozen positions: that was in 1912 (when the Socialist Party held an estimated 1,200 seats).

Ebbs in Sanders-aligned and Independent Left Formations

These matters suggest additional challenges to building a sustained 50-state power winning force: Sanders’ post-2016 in-party allies and organizing work, focuses on defeating the Party’s neoliberal elite; this is not a priority that many field organizations’ participants can engage (although Sanders’ “Medicare for All” Bill/campaign might generate comparatively greater between-elections field/pole involvement). This priority brings their numbers downward, toward the size of the Green pole activists (in part, because Greens are more expansion-oriented year-round due for example to engaging ballot-status drives).

Apropos of building an effective 50-state power-seeking mobilization via a combined Green Party and Independent field polity-based force: if the Tea Party can serve as a strategic exemplar of an effective guiding influence of a political formation, then the outside-inside strategy vis-à-vis the Republicans that is their hallmark, might help explain why a Democratic left, comparatively speaking, has developed more capaciously in state power-seeking and mass formation building. Going for the power elite’s jugular moreover, by battling the Democratic or Republican elite inside their body politic, rather than politicking just outside/independent of it, has become an effective, mass support-winning strategy (it is in these gilded bunkers as well, where popular left and alt-right candidates consequently appear – and, via corporate media, have been rendered to appear – more threatening to a widely detested establishment; more politically leveraged; and more legitimate to many people: both Trump and Sanders manifest such “threats” and legitimacies).

Logics of (de)Polarization

While such challenges to creating one preeminent left party are sometimes addressed by left party-building activists, arguments that also garner attention focus on why only one of the polar party-building options is correct.

One persuasive line of reasoning of Independents, as to this latter position, is that when it comes to the Democratic Party, their power-elite’s capitalist-collaborating, hegemony-drawing power has never been defeated (since the Party’s founding). To the extent that argument is persuasive, it can lead to the left alternative of engaging/building a party that will never have such elites in the first place.

These arguments aren’t as persuasive when considered in a different light, vis-à-vis answering the 50-state, party-building questions. Independents do not adequately address the scope issues (e.g., number of races to access and offices to win); the locational issues (e.g., going for the jugular inside the national Democratic body politic, while waging local and state battles where the Party is more porous and decentralized, and/or what parties the vast majority of people vote in/for); or the mercurial yet pressing “time left” issues (e.g., how much longer until it’s too late to attain egalitarian-establishing social democracy, let alone, ecological-sustainability and peace). Overall, they do not roundly engage their anti-Democratic-Party left-position – with the revolutionary electoral challenge issues, that is – including how to move from fragmented organizations and formations, to build and/or merge into one formation, if not also one party.

Listing To and Fro with Somewhere to Go

Given these factors, plus the larger scope of the Sanders-aligned election-cycle forces, it would behoove Independents to move toward the Democratic left, rather than demand that these polities only come to their independent politics.

Similarly, it would behoove Democratic leftists to redress practices of filtering-out appreciable portions of the Independent left (as witnessed, e.g., in debates on reparations, identity politics, and in the People’s Summit opposition to grant main-stage time let alone a workshop to presidential candidate, Jill Stein).

And if Sanders (and/or Democratic left-progressive office holders) assented to the Draft Bernie call, say after a bad 2020 election, might that ignite a massive Party break-away, and grassroots democratic-revolutionary groundswell (future puzzle: compel 80 million to vote, if not to register for this party)?

Applying a Left Formation Strategy to Party Building

The Movement for a People’s Party is small at present. This suggests that, if this movement were to build the pre-eminent party of the left, its organizers would have to engage massive recruiting and outside-inside organizing, with and beyond all the field and pole organizations of the Independent left.

This challenge suggests something similar for the illuminating party-building proposal of Seth Ackerman. His proposal, entitled, “A Blueprint for a New Party,” calls for a working-class oriented and electoral-engaging organizational form (there’s some ambiguity as to what it means to call it a party; this may be intentional). This suggests that not unlike the Movement for a People’s Party, Ackerman’s proposed organization integrates movement and party (with the labor movement, and a mass democratic base of members, for example, playing key roles; and it also does this, because of its candidate supporting strategy, which proposes an independent-of-the-Democrats position on supporting independent and Democratic candidates).

The proposal however, barely deals with existing parties, organizations, and movements; of those, it engages just one in detail, i.e., the defunct Labor Party. This raises the concern of what activists who take up the Blueprint’s proposal, would actually do – about, with, apart from, etc., – the thousands of large and small active organizations and parties (that for example, endorsed and formed bases of activism for Sanders or Stein). This is also to say that to the degree the Blueprint proposes a new organizational entity or party, how will its activists deal with the competitive (electoral-institutional, if not partisan/sectarian) relationships between their – projected, pre-eminent working-class/left-inflecting party-to-be – and all those other organizations, parties, and polities, who are actively working to become a similar uniting force (no too few of whom moreover, have long been working through alliance-making processes in order to advance such developments)?

Overall, what are the proposal’s chances for success when it seems preponderantly developed in the absence of exploring how these many currently active left polities, organizations, parties, movements, and activists can better work together?

Building Left Unity via Party and/or Formation?

What are the possibilities of further building the political formation dynamics of the Democratic and Independent lefts, even if separately at first?

Like Left Elect, Our Revolution curries a cross-organization legitimacy amongst a spectrum of field and pole polities (albeit, less formally produced). This is because of its ongoing and founding connection to Sanders; the way its leading activists carry out similar politics in outside, inside strategies (e.g., fighting-the-Party-elite); its expanding grassroots chapters, that overlap with other like-minded organizations; its candidate-supporting practices, which monetarily support field organization’s candidate work and candidates; and, it “wears the name” associated with Sanders.

While the in-party political grouping of the Progressive Caucus can be strategically explored as constituting one nodal point of an incipient, more consciously uniting, Democratic left formation, Our Revolution can be seen as constituting another. The latter project is more independent, organizationally deep, and large scale, as to the way for instance, it engages an outside-inside strategy, from an incipiently independent outside. As one example, the initiator of the People’s Summit, Nurses United, which is part of Our Revolution, could be considered as extending such a formation-building capacity outward via the People’s Summit; this convergence space enabled 4,000 people to better connect, coordinate, network, and consolidate their Sanders-allying politics and candidacies; while smaller in scale, Left Elect’s utilization of convergence spaces such as Left Forum can be similarly parsed.

As to the Movement for a People’s Party, because it is independent of the Democrats (and spurns an outside-inside strategy), and yet would need massive numbers of Democratic leftists to be successful (as called for in the Draft Bernie proposal), it will likely continue to disenchant many in the Democratic left. This strategy moreover, rejects what helped make the Tea Party successful (and what the incipient Democratic left is doing), namely taking the fight to the elites’ power-center.

From Two Formations to One

One strategic unity-building route for the Democratic and Independent lefts might be to play to their compatibilities, while working to reconcile areas of (lesser and greater/polar) opposition. This suggests that:

  • For any formation-building, organization-making step to gel between formations, they would do well to produce a trustable body and strategies that attend to single formation-cohering matters (e.g., creating proposal-floating processes – regarding what they might jointly do).

Cross-Partisan Revolutionary Democratic Practice

In addition to developing conscious formation-building dialogues among field and pole polities, cross-partisan projects would seem efficacious for developing the formation more cohesively. Updating Cloward and Piven’s voter-empowering projects combined with like projects that The Reverend Dr. William J. Barber, II is developing today, might present a non-internally-divisive focus (well-suited for non-election cycle “down” periods). This speaks of a rebellion-tinged (and morally fortified) politics to overturn state and party elite authoritarian-inflecting voter-purging systems (targeting people of color and the poor), their legal-partisan strangulation of voting and third parties, and big-money-led hijacking of democracy.

This project offers political-electoral wedge strategies to draw state democracy-administering authority, and alt-Right and extreme center elites out of their democracy-tampering holes. Targets of this strategy would be capacious including, office holders, candidates, court houses (as places of protest and remediation), party elites, prominent alt-right bigotry fomenting/dissembling pundits, registrars’ offices, state houses, city halls, and motor vehicle voter registration programs (and many other state programs). It’s relatively less divisive because it doesn’t require left parties and electoral-engaging organizations to abandon their candidate supporting practices.

Other formation-building strategies might be developed based on how they enhanced cross-partisan, formation-cohering politics. Strategies might include shared funding/fundraising projects (e.g., including transparent/accountable, in-kind or monetary support from the cooperative business sector and unions); developing mutual aid and participatory-democratic projects like Occupy produced; creating education and food programs via local chapters of formation-participating groups. Compared to voter-expanding campaigns, such projects might be less electoral-wedge-politics focused.

Trust-Building in Leadership-Soaked Politics

The neoliberal power-elite have long marginalized the left-egalitarian presence, bona fides, and confidence throughout public culture. It’s not coincidental that leftists find few like-minded individuals who can easily/quickly generate mass political draw and trust.

This hints at why it would take prominent leading-figures and activists to draw the widest number of progressives, social movement activists, and leftists to a national cross-partisan focused, formation-cohering organization-developing strategy. Whether Sanders or someone representing him would participate is hard to say; suffice to say that net and pole polities would do well to proffer representatives.

On the question of calling together selectors (to pick the members) of such a trust-building body – possibly four (or more) initiators, two from each side of the field – might come from the formation-engaging groups of Our Revolution (two) on the one side, and Movement for a People’s Party and Left Elect (one each) on the other.

Formation and Party

Another challenge is how cross-partisan formation-cohering projects could be part of building a party (more powerful than the Republicans). Whether it was a new party or a transformed Democratic Party (and because cross-partisan work could be conducive to both strategies in the early stages), that issue would likely be evaluated at various benchmark points, e.g., after the 2020 elections.

Strategy-engaging questions can be addressed first to the Independent left:

  1. How can the Independent left (or, who among them might) participate in outside-inside strategies to turn the Democratic Party leftward via a single political formation/organization building process?
  2. How might this be done while engaging a Draft Bernie/win-over-Democratic-progressives party-building proposal, with (say agreed upon) benchmark-achieving objectives set to certain times?
  3. What would happen to the priority of winning their parties’ independent candidacies (including the U.S. presidential candidacy) and platform positions, and how might they change these, if they also prioritized turning the Democratic Party leftward?

Some thoughts on these matters:

Because the Democratic left is larger, it would likely have more influence in decision-making in any singularly cohering organizational form of the formation; such influence would be concretized moreover, if proportional voting was set up. Their greater influence would consequently, likely be asserted vis-à-vis supporting inside-outside Democratic Party strategies.

Conversely, because influential Democratic left forces, such as within DSA and Our Revolution allied unions, are pushing to build an independent party (and can be seen as pushing the politics of Sanders, left Democrats, and Independents to the left), the Independent left would be strengthened in this basic position and would find more allies and opportunities across a broader range of polities.

Joint Action

By working together, Independent and Democratic left polities could coordinate their respective candidacies (which is already being done in a few instances). Coordination might first apply to (eventually many non-presidential) races where the Democratic left had no candidates, but the Independents did, and vice versa (the left/electoral map above, can be expanded, and consulted to find or develop such multi-party candidate models; what might have happened with the Greens’ ability to build southern alliances moreover, if they, like some Sanders-aligned organizations, went much further in supporting the Democratic ticket-engaging polities active in Lumumba’s successful race in Jackson).

If polarization vis-à-vis engaging an outside-inside Democratic Party strategy gave way to common strategy-making – scenarios like the following could conceivably be possible: imagine Green and independent activists allying with the Sanders forces to win battles in the Party’s power centers and localities (on wedge demands such as banning all capitalist-corporate/large-capitalist-personal donations, committing the party and candidates it supports to single-payer, zero tuition, a $15 minimum wage, and winning key committee majorities). Would they not, together, likely win more victories than the Sanders’ forces have realized (Sanders is an independent: why not imagine what it might take to have independents such as, Jill Stein, Cynthia McKinney, Kshama Sawant, Lawrence Lessig, Brian Jones, and Ralph Nader stoking these fires)?

If cross-partisan strategies are eventually reduced in scope, in favor of developing one platform and one independent party (or taking over the Democrats), the formation-cohering process might become more strenuous. The experience however of collaborating in sizable cross-partisan formation-cohering campaigns and candidacies, plus whatever the political tensions of the time would inspire in greater solidarity, could place participating polities in a better position to succeed, than if no such organizational guiding force in a formation were developed. Eventually, they might get to a mutually trusting place where they could vote on which single presidential candidate to back/run.

The prospect of a left formation rising, and helping build a unified party, might be met with the retort: because the Independent and Democratic lefts have incorrigible (north-south-pole-like) differences, it’ll never happen. Does that mean it should not be pursued, even as it is already happening? •

Seth Adler most recently coordinated the Left Forum for almost a decade. He was one of the founders of the national Jobs with Peace campaign; as a sociologist, he has taught community studies, political economics, and sociology in universities in California and New York City.