The Need for Independent Left Leadership / by Sudip Bhattacharya

Photo: Communist Party USA Archives

Originally published in Black Agenda Report on April 5, 2023

Leftists in the U.S. must forge independent formations. Electoral politics are still a dead end.

In March, it was reported that the Biden administration is planning to re-introduce a Trump-era measure on immigration detention policy along the U.S.-Mexico border. This policy would mean the detainment of families crossing the border in overcrowded ICE detention facilities rather than the current policy of allowing them to wait for their asylum trial while staying with family and friends or in some other location, albeit wearing a monitor.

“Children should be released from ICE detention with their parents immediately,” Biden had said when condemning the same hideous policy when it had been introduced by the explicitly racist Trump administration. Somehow, now, it’s okay to traumatize migrants fleeing from countries ruined by far-right regimes our politicians have often propped up, not to mention escaping from ruinous neoliberal policies that have spread to all corners of the globe.

If this were to go through, this would be yet another broken promise by Biden and his acolytes inside the White House. From increasing funding for the police, to ending a possible strike among railway workers desperate for a day off, the Biden administration has been a laundry list of failed stances on policies that would have improved the living and working conditions of many of its alleged constituents.

“Election seasons are reality-creation festivals, during which the two corporate parties pretend to put forward different visions of the national and global destiny,” the imitable Glen Ford once wrote, “When, in fact, they answer to the same master and must pursue the same general strategy.”

Grace Dean at Bloomberg writes, “The financial-services sector gave $982.8 million in party-coded contributions across 2019 and 2020 through both individual employee donations and PACs, the report said. Of this, 47% went to Republicans and 53% went to Democrats.”

The GOP is the blunter interpretation of capitalist greed and id. It is a party now of white nationalists, and nihilism to a degree, a party of crass businessmen and white resentment that had been allowed to fester since Reagan’s rise to political infamy. That said, the Democrat party leadership itself, along with Biden, who has a long illustrious career of being a conservative pro-segregation type, are beholden to financial and other business interests. Because of such interests and their support for the party’s top-tier, progressive policies on labor, on empire, on issues surrounding migration and reproductive rights will never come about, let alone see the light of day when it comes to some reform in Congress, the so-called house of the people.

Massive changes in government policy won’t happen so long as the U.S. left works within the party system, thus allowing the masses to do the same, voting in candidates all the while private enterprise and industry amasses more and more power for itself. Instead, if the left is serious about improving the lives of the masses, especially black and brown, there is no other avenue towards that end apart from disrupting the daily churn of major corporations and businesses and those government agencies that prioritize their interests.

“The best way to counter the political power of those institutions is to disrupt their profits or their functioning,” write Kevin Young, Tarun Banerjee and Michael Schwartz in Levers of Power: How the 1% Rules and What the 99% Can Do About It ,” adding, “The route to real progressive reform goes through the corporations and the state agencies that exercise power over the politicians.”

When large masses of people stop the money from flowing, that’s when the major institutions, especially private ones, start to panic and fold.

But this won’t naturally occur. Immiseration and economic crises do not inevitably lead people into organizing strikes and occupations and other actions that weakens capitalism’s hold. In fact, as evidenced in recent polling, people can become politically confused on what to believe. In recent surveys, while many African Americans desire dramatic changes to the so-called justice system, a significant number also want the same level or more of funding for the police. Among Asian Americans and Latinx populations in the U.S., there has been a rightward political shift, with others caring less and less about mainstream politics itself.

“The strikes and organizing drives that lit up the industrial landscape beginning in 1934 were not spontaneous eruptions, popular folklore notwithstanding,” historian Steve Fraser writes in Mongrel Firebugs and Men of Property , “In virtually every case, they were prepared for and led by a menagerie of radicals: socialists, communists, Trotskyists, remnants of the Industrial Workers of the World (the ‘Wobblies’), anarcho-syndicalists, and others.”

Oppressed and exploited peoples in the U.S. need a leftwing political party/organization independent of the two-party system. We need leftwing groups that are willing to organize strikes, occupations, as well as other effective modes of resistance that would truly help in shifting power from the capitalist elites over to the masses. We need a politicized constituency who recognize the objective need for socialism rather than for some bastardized form of regulated capitalism.

The Democrat party won’t allow for this type of organizing to occur, especially from within its ranks. Of course, the GOP would be salivating at the chance of murdering and disappearing more activists. Both parties serve to obscure and deflect from the true power sources in this country, the capitalist elites and the monsters that they create to protect them, from white racist mobs to police.

“You put them first and they put you last,” Malcolm X had stated decades ago about the Democrats when they championed themselves as civil rights fighters while wielding the FBI to suppress a burgeoning leftwing opposition.

A failure to develop a constituency of people willing to leverage their power as workers, as tenants, as masses against the GOP, against Democrat leadership, against the corporations that fuel them will always lead us down a path of political impotence and wandering. A failure to develop a constituency of people willing to agitate beyond the bounds of voting booths and public relations will mean policies like Biden’s immigration detention policy, and the continued financial support for the U.S military complex, for the police, for the corporatized state shall persist, regardless of whom the people claim to elect and believe in.

This is going to be difficult work and will require dedication and leadership. But it’s either developing true leftwing and socialist power, or remain trapped in this loop, where elected officials like Biden promise the people some reforms, and in the midst of those promises, more and more people are hurt, left in overcrowded prisons and detainment facilities.

Sudip Bhattacharya is a doctoral candidate in political science at Rutgers University. He also has a background as a reporter, having gotten his Master’s in journalism at Georgetown University. You can find his work at outlets like Reappropriate, The Aerogram, Protean Magazine and Current Affairs, among others.