A Review of “The 2004 Elections—A Turning Point for the U.S. Left,” by Eric Mann

(This was written in the early fall of 2004.)

By Ted Glick

Eric Mann, an organizer for 40 years and author of four other books, has written an important and extremely timely booklet putting forward his strategic thinking about what the political Left should be doing about the November 2 Presidential election. The essence of what he puts forward—that the Left should go all out in the next two months to help get Kerry elected—is not a new idea. What is unique is Mann’s elaboration of why this is the right thing to do, his placement of that short-term tactic within a longer-range, revolutionary context, his spelling out of who the Left should be reaching out to, and his concrete ideas of how to do anti-Bush work at the grassroots.

Although I have some differences with what he writes, I urge others to check this initiative out at http://www.ProgressivesAndIndependentsToDefeatBush.org, or write info@progressivesandindependentstodefeatbush.org to get a copy of the book, and do so right away. Time is short, and we have much work to do before November 2.

Mann’s book “argues that building and participating in the broadest possible electoral united front to defeat George W. Bush/Dick Cheney by electing John Kerry/John Edwards on November 2, 2004 is the highest priority for the antiracist, anti-imperialist U.S. Left.” He explicitly argues that, given the Left’s weaknesses, we should accept that this “united front” will be led by Kerry and the Democrats but that we should “exercise independence,” engage in “an on-the-ground get-out-the-vote operation” separate from the Kerry campaign. By doing so, we will be building for the period past November 2 when, if we are successful, we will move into a position of struggling against a Kerry/Edwards administration on many issues.

Mann lays out the “clear and present danger” that a second Bush administration would represent, and he also lays out both the differences and similarities between Kerry and Bush. This analysis leads to his conclusion that Bush’s defeat is a critical objective, while having “no illusions” that Kerry is anything other than “a member of the U.S. ruling class.”

Mann describes a united front as “an alliance of political forces who by nature are often in great contradiction to each other, who share a common enemy who poses such a grave danger to all of their interests that they are willing to temporarily suspend many of their conflicts with each other.”

He identifies the constituencies he believes the Left can have an impact upon: the Black community, other communities of color, the progressive wing of the labor movement and what he describes as “white radical, anti-sweatshop, antiwar, anti-globalization activists and potential Nader voters.”

He projects the work leading up to election day as consisting of a range of activities:

-community debates and discussions
-development of progressive campaign materials for grassroots distribution
-developing leaflets “in Spanish, Korean, Chinese and other languages”
-holding community candidates meetings at which demands are made on candidates -generating stories and op-eds in community newspapers and other media
-leafleting at places where masses of targeted constituencies are to be found
-flyering and education at college campuses and challenging Nader/Camejo to debates

Mann has sharp criticisms of both Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo, while calling Green Party Presidential candidate David Cobb “the only third party alternative.”

Mann supports the right of Nader to run for President on principle, but he goes on to say about Nader and Camejo that, “we need to take on the effective chauvinism, nihilism, and adolescent ultra-leftism of the Nader/Camejo ticket that simultaneously admits it can get no more than 2% or 3% of the vote while it threatens to use that tiny vote to punish Kerry and elect Bush at a time in history when people’s lives are at stake. . . It is irresponsible to use ‘general’ revolutionary rhetoric, which, especially to young and inexperienced people, sounds very ‘radical,’ without any focus on strategy and tactics—which is at the core of revolutionary politics.”

As a supporter of David Cobb, and as someone who has been working since early 2003 in various ways to help get Bush out of office, there was much that I found of value in this book. But I had some questions and disagreements.

At one point Mann says that the only vote that we should encourage, anywhere and everywhere, is a vote for Kerry. I’m in fundamental disagreement here. How is a vote for Kerry by progressives in Texas, or Georgia, or South Carolina, or Massachusetts or New York, all states where either Kerry or Bush will win by a large margin, of any political value at all? In states where past voting history and current polling makes it clear who will win, progressives should vote for David Cobb.

Mann displays a lack of knowledge about and appreciation for what the Green Party of the United States has accomplished over many long years of hard work and struggle. At one point he says, in reference to the Greens, “the question isn’t, can a small group of people on the left call themselves a party?” 44 organized state Green parties, 207 Green Party members elected to office, ballot-qualified parties in 23 states and 10-15,000 grassroots Green activists (maybe more) does not add up to “a small group of people call(ing) themselves a party.”

Throughout the book Mann makes it clear that he questions the importance of independent electoral work. He clearly does not agree with a number of us that the building of an independent political party is very much a key strategic task for the broad political Left, that the winner-take-all, two-party system is a critical component of how the ruling elite has maintained itself in power that must be broken if we are to have any hope for fundamental social transformation here in the belly of the beast.

I have questions about what appears to be an essentially top-down process of creating an organization to advance the anti-Bush work, Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush, although given the urgency of the moment this is a very secondary concern for the next two months.

I also felt throughout my reading of the book that some of the Left language used would make it harder for some people not experienced in Left lingo to fully grasp the points being made.

Finally, while fully in agreement that opposition to racism and support of leadership from people of color is essential to our movement in general and to the next two months’ work in particular, I don’t think Mann devoted enough attention to the importance for those of us who are of European descent to work among the white sector of the working class, especially those of low- and moderate-income, to win them to an anti-Bush perspective, short-term, and a revolutionary perspective, longer-term.

Mann does appreciate what is happening among many such people, referring a couple of times to the need to reach out to “conservative voters who are furious about their personal economic situation, and who feel lied to about Iraq, are suffering the loss of their children in an imperialist war. . . (and whose) lives are deteriorating, materially and spiritually.”

There are many tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of progressive white activists, people with organizational experience and organizing skills, around the country who are deeply concerned about the very real prospect of a second Bush administration. Many of them are connected with the peace movement. These are people who should be actively encouraged and supported to do anti-Bush work at their workplaces and in their communities. To the extent possible they should do this work as part of organized local efforts which consciously target areas to do voter registration and turnout work which has the most potential of yielding positive results, such as among low- and moderate-income people.

In some cases doing this work will be very hard, and it may not yield many results as far as votes for Cobb or Kerry (depending on the state). But it might help to keep some Republicans and conservatively-inclined independents and Democrats from voting for Bush. This is also part of what we need to be doing.

Eric Mann is absolutely right when he concludes, “This is an exciting time in history. The fight to defeat and re-defeat the Bush Administration is one with international consequences and a chance to revitalize not just the Left, but the heart and soul of many great people in the U.S. who have been fighting an uphill battle for decades.”

Ted Glick is the National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network (www.ippn.org) and Co-Coordinator of 2004 Racism Watch (www.racismwatch.org), which is working with a number of other groups to organize a nationally-coordinated “Vote for Racial Justice Week” of local actions October 18-24.