What are the chances for a broad party of American leftists and progressives?

I consider myself a left-progressive (I usually call myself a socialist, even though I’m not a Marxist and I’m really more of a social democrat by European standards). Consequently, I think about politics a lot, and I get frustrated whenever I think about it. I supported Dennis Kucinich during the Democratic primary season, but that was just to help get out his view; I never thought he could win the nomination, let alone the election. And the Nader candidacy just makes me mad, considering what’s at stake this year.

One problem is that the American electoral systems are structured to freeze out minority viewpoints (left and right). I’ve started several GD threads supporting instant-runoff voting, proportional representation, and other voting reforms that would make it possible for minor parties to compete in elections without “spoiling” things for the major-party candidates, and to win at least some representation in government without winning local majorities.

But another problem is that the American left (even cpmpared to leftist movements in other countries) has always been too prone to fragmentation, faction fights, and fierce disagreements over even minor differences of doctrine and tactics. A bunch of fucking splitters. And the less actual public influence we have, the more we split and squabble. I recently read a book, forget its title, by a Canadian journalist taking a look at American culture. He visited a socialist convention in New York, and noted that in the U.S. – unlike practically every other industrialized nation – the socialist movement is like an army of generals (intellectuals) with no foot soldiers, who have nothing to do but get together and talk and expound theories.

At its 2003 Convention, the Socialist Party USA approved a resolution calling for the formation of a “United Left Front”:

I say, why stop there? If we really want to make a difference, how about a broader party or multipartisan alliance, encompassing all American leftists and progressives, socialist and non-socialist? A party that might eventually shave off the left and center-left wings of the Democratic party – say, the Deaniacs and everybody to their left? Is that a plan or what?

Here’s a fairly complete list of all the leftist and progressive parties that still have some life left in them (descriptions in quote boxes are from www.politics1.com):

The Communist Party USA – http://www.cpusa.org/

The Democratic Socialists of America – http://www.dsausa.org/

The Green Party of the United States – http://www.gp.org/

The Greens/Green Party USA – http://www.greenparty.org/

The Labor Party – http://www.thelaborparty.org/

The New Party – http://www.newparty.org/

NOTE: The New Party banked all its hopes on the strategy of “ballot fusion” or “cross-endorsement” – nominating one person as the candidate of more than one party. (I started a GD thread on fusion recently – http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...ad.php?t=262650.) Unfortunately, this kind of “combination ticket” was outlawed in most states in the late 19th Century for the express purpose of shutting down third parties; at present, it is legal in only ten states. The New Party filed a lawsuit in Minnesota to force the state to allow fusion based on the “freedom of association” clause of the First Amendment. It went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected the argument in Timmons v. Twin Cities Area New Party, April 28, 1997. After the Timmons decision, the New Party gradually faded away as a national organization. (There’s still a New Party website, at http://www.newparty.org/, but it hasn’t been updated in years.) But some state-level branches of it survived:
The Working Families Party of New York – http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org/
The Connecticut Working Families Party – http://www.ctworkingfamilies.org/main.htm
Progressive Minnesota – http://www.progressivemn.org/.
The national-level leadership of the NP decided to channel their energies into creating a new organization dedicated to fighting for fusion as an electoral reform: The New Majority Education Fund: http://www.nmef.org/

Peace and Freedom Party – http://www.peaceandfreedom.org/

The Progressive Party of Vermont – http://www.progressiveparty.org/
This is the party of Bernie Sanders – the only independent in the U.S. House of Representatives. Its policies are similar to those of the New Party organizations mentioned above.

The Social Democrats, USA – http://www.socialdemocrats.org/

NOTE: Based on materials from their website, the SDs supported the Iraq War, and their foreign policy generally is not much different from the neoconservatives’. They appear to be hardly leftist at all any more, except in the sense of supporting organized labor.

The Socialist Party USA – http://www.sp-usa.org/

The Socialist Workers Party – http://www.themilitant.com/

Zip. Zero. Go home.
If the factional problems weren’t unresolvable, they would have been resolved years ago.

Not a chance in Hell.

But don’t let me put a damper on your fantasies.

The likelihood of creating a viable party in the near future (say in the next twenty years) is rather low (as in, next to zero). However, it is a fight that is worth the effort. The views espoused by the left (as I see it) truly are not represented by either of the major parties, and therefore, are not considered in American politics at all - or at least not seriously.

For you (being the plural you, as the OP has already self-identified with the left) to have your voice heard, you must continue to support leftist candidates. This means more than continuing in the lesser-of-two-evils voting strategy and actually putting forth and uniting behind a leftist candidate for all levels of offices.

If you do this, even when you do not win, you will have an effect on the platforms and goals of the two parties, and you will, umltimately affect the policies of the government. The biggest historical example of this effect in American history is that of the Progressive movement of the late nineteenth - early twentieth centuries. The most likely outcome is that the Democrats, as the slightly more (but not even close to really being) leftist party will move its goals and platforms further toward the left.
N.B. The preceeding comes from one who is a far cry from the poltical left as it is commonly defined. Not to worry, though, as I am just as far from the right…and the center for that matter. I’m in my own little world sometimes, so take my thoughts with the appropriately sized grain of salt.

Any particular reason you omitted the Socialist Equality Party (Web site, http://www.wsws.org )?

I like these guys alot but they are also among the fiercest “left-eat-left” hotheads. They just finished a seven-part series taking apart the “radical left” in France (and not putting it back together). They are pretty irreconcilable.

Unfortunately, the subject of political tactics (alliances, compromise, opportunism), is precisely one of the most contentious issues over which these groups disagree with each other. As opposed to their actual policies, which sometimes have many similarities.

Would there a way to achieve what you’re proposing, but in the opposite way? I.e., have mainstream policy shift in a generally progressive direction without these groups having to form alliances or compromises?

I wish I could believe that – but Ralph Nader’s campaigns in 1996 and 2000 haven’t pulled the Dems one degree to the left, and this year’s campaign appears unlikely to do so either.

Space. I originally included them but the program said my OP was too long by 1000 characters. I also omitted several other socialist parties listed on www.politics1.com, on the grounds that they appear too small and marginal to merit discussion even in this thread. The Socialist Labor Party, for instance, was founded in 1877 and is the oldest socialist party in America; but it no longer runs any candidates outside New Jersey, and few there. Some other parties I mentioned also are limited to one state – e.g., the Progressive Party of Vermont – but they appear to be on the rise, not the decline.

The New Party’s strategy was to pull the Democrats leftwards by means of “ballot fusion” – i.e., the New Party would nominate any acceptably progressive Democrat (or even Republican) as its own NP candidate (and in races where no progressive major-party candidate was running, the NP might field its own NP-only candidate, but only if it appeared to have a fair chance of winning). But this ran up against a barrier: Ballot fusion, as explained above, is illegal in 40 states; and the NP lost its lawsuit trying to get the Supreme Court to declare anti-fusion laws unconstitutional.

By make a difference you mean completely guarantee Republican control of the presidency and Congress for the forseeable future?

That sure would make a difference alright.

By “make a difference” I mean establish a permanent and substantial left-progressive presence (albeit still a minority presence) in Congress and all the state legislatures. There are enough leftist and near-leftist and progressive voters to achieve that (look at the grassroots movement for Dean this year!), if only we could get it together.

I won’t repeat the WSWS’s own answer to the issues you raise in your OP - I guess you know that type of reasoning already.

Here is one of their more recent articles arguing their case. In short, absolutely reject the current big political parties and build a new political movement from the ground up.

Here is Billmon passionately arguing the opposite.

Seeing the substantial political differences among groups, any significant alliance seems to be a bridge too far right now.

I think the way to go is to work on the grass roots. Try to get people involved. Basically, what all these groups (e.g. MoveOn) are already doing. Part of it is education. But a more important part - one I think many “generals” are missing - is listening to the foot soldiers and, in some cases, lightening up on the ideology. Just IMHO, of course.

I do believe in democracy and I do believe that people’s opinions will always differ and that an eventual “progressive” society will need to accommodate a range of conservative opinion, too. This realization also seems sometimes underrepresented in progressive critiques.

The most likely outcome of a unified left wing would Nader on a grander scale. You’d basically be dooming the Democrat party by splitting its vote by maybe 60-70%. So, what you’d end up with would be an new unified party getting 60-70% of the current vote the Democrats can expect to haul, a shadow Democrat party getting maybe 30-40% of its former vote, and an intact Republican party getting pretty much what they get now…and perhaps even a bit more from the center. If you rallied ALL the left vote (with your cut left of Dean) you wouldn’t have anything close to a majority. So, unless you ALSO change our voting and election system to provide for coalition type governments, you’d be SOL in any election…you’d be giving the country to the Republicans basically.

I won’t get into how likely (not very IMHO) it is that the various left wing factions could or would unify. Like it or not we are a two party system for the forseeable future, unless something radical changes in our election process. Of course, it doesn’t have to necessarily be the two parties we have right now…its always possible that one or both will so discredit themselves that a new dominant party emerges. Its happened before after all.

Face it BG…the US isn’t oriented towards the left wing, nor is it ever likely to be. Neither is it oriented towards the right. The majority in the US hang out somewhere around the middle, perhaps slightly to the left on some issues, to the right on others. Of course, I’m talking about OUR center here, not with respect to Europe.


You are assuming the Republican Party will remain intact. I think there’s a chance that within the next decade, its internal fault-lines will become more evident and more important.

I’ve got to guess along with Bosda that the chances for success are slim. Plus, the worst thing that could happen now is to split the Left in two (with the democrats) and let the fascists (Bush and Co.) rule forever.

Well put. You have to remember that there are Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. The only chance that the far left has to be heard at all under our system is to align itself with a major party as it has done with the Democrats. And even then, they are kept at arms length. Americans are too independent and capitalistic to be open to be any more open to Socialism than they already are.

Actually, I don’t think the Republican party will remain intact…at least I don’t think its a sure thing. It will all depend on how things fall out in the next few years. The Republicans have walked out on thin ice here, and it remains to be seen whether they will walk back…or fall through. The Republicans (at least prior to Bush) were very successful at appealing to the center while still keeping much of their paleo-con faction in line…much more successful than the Democrats have been either appealing to the center OR keeping their own left wingnuts in line and voting for the party.

However, the problem remains for your left-wing coalition super party. Say the 'pubs fall. Some new party will most certainly rise to fill the vaccum…and that party will again take the center (and perhaps the right) you are vacating by going left. Hell, it could work out that your coalition left wing would be competing against the Democrats if the Republicans folded…since you would be swiping their left wing support they would have no choice but to appeal to the center/right. And if they manage to capture the center, you are done in our current system…winner takes all.

Again, in US politics a party oriented solely either left or right is always going to lose IMO. Successful races are won by those who appeal and get a response from the US center.


Perhaps, but the spectrum of left-progressive opinion in America is much broader than “socialism.” Howard Dean is no socialist, he is far to the left of the Clinton-DLC wing of the party, and look how much support he rallied this year. The Greens are not socialists (well, those of the larger Green Party of the United States aren’t) – in fact, they are arguably more individualistic and libertarian than most “conservatives.” The Labor Party is no socialist, it’s just pro-union and pro-labor.

Not true, x. We get that impression because successful politicians are usually the “center-seeking” ones who can win the votes of the “swing voters” in the center – but that’s because, in our two-party system, the “swing voters” are the only ones who are really up for grabs; all the rest are (usually) pretty much in the bag for one party or the other. It is not because the range of American political opinions forms a kind of “bell curve” bulging up in the center. See this link for a pie-graph I made of the Political Typology of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:


You will see that this pie is divided into ten slices of roughly equal size. There are about as many “Staunch Conservatives” as there are “Liberal Democrats.”

The big problem you’re going to have is simply that there aren’t enough people out on the left. The kind of people who would find common cause with the Communists and the Socialist Worker’s party can’t be more than a few percent of the total electorate. Even widening that out to include a coalition of greens, social democrats, and other ‘progressives’ would almost certainly not get you to 20% of the electorate, and probably much less.

Hell, Canada is quite a bit further to the left than the U.S., and even here our ‘progressives’ can’t manage to muster more than 20 seats out of 358.

In North America, the vast preponderance of the electorate is firmly in the center. Those slightly to the right are Republican, and those slightly to the left are Democrats. The fringes are very small.

The internet and message boards tend to be grossly skewed towards the fringes, giving you the perception that the fringes are much more popular than they really are. In the last election, Harry Browne of the Libertarians got a significant percentage of ‘votes’ in internet polling. In the real election, the libertarians got something like 1.5% of the vote. The same goes for the left.

If the truly extreme left started having a say in party policy, the net effect would be to drive the indepenents and moderate Democrats into the Republican party. I don’t think you want that.

Check out my above link to the Pew Typology, Sam. Read the descriptions, not just the pie chart. You’ll see that the “Liberal Democrats” – a grouping that includes the socialists, Greens, etc., and a great many others – is larger than you might think; and the Libertarians could find a massive voter base in the “New Prosperity Independents.” Provided the artificial barriers to multi-party politics in America were brought down, but that’s for another thread.

What the Left needs to do right now is communicate & build up the idea of what Liberalism is.

And why it hasn’t tried to do this baffles me.

Most young people have no concept of what Liberalism is !

They only know the word as a Boogeyman that Rush Limbaugh tosses up in the air every now and then.

And Liberals sit back, and do not even try to communicate with young people who cannot connect to them at all.

Nice link. So, I’m a “New Prosperity Independant”. Huh. Who’d a thunk it?