Tom Hayden Replies: The Left Has Not Lost Its Nerve

by on May 1, 2008 · 2 comments

in Election, Organizing, Peace Movement

Editor’s note: recently we reposted Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges’ essay that leftists such as Tom Hayden had lost their nerve. Hayden replies.

by Tom Hayden

John MacArthur, the publisher of Harper’s, should know better than to claim that some like myself have spent our lives wanting to be “players” in the Democratic Party instead of being “outside the system.” In most countries, most activists move between social movements and political parties as the need arises. I have spent 50 years in social movements, 20 of them as an elected legislator who was opposed by the party establishment, which is far from being a “player.” I believe that change always begins with independent social movements, but movements can be expanded by political representation at certain stages. Who, for example, can forget the willingness of Sen. Mike Gravel to read the Pentagon Papers into the congressional record at great legal and political risk to himself?

I am saddened by the strange argument of Chris Hedges, who cites MacArthur in his essay “The Left Has Lost Its Way.” Chris says we should “walk away from the Democratic Party even if Barack Obama is the nominee,” and vote for Ralph Nader. If not, “we become slaves,” a truly unfortunate analogy. What Chris misses is that millions of African-Americans and young people generally are throwing themselves into the Barack Obama campaign, and will not take seriously a white writer who preaches that they are marching in the wrong direction. The analogy to slavery is absolutely inappropriate.

My view is to be humbled and appreciative of this unpredicted upsurge of idealistic and fervent activism created in the Obama movement, and to be supportive of the candidacy while remaining independent and critical of the candidate’s moderate views on Iraq and NAFTA. It’s my sense as an organizer for 50 years that we should stand with spontaneous new waves of activism, not demand that they call off their campaigns at the most critical moment. It is possible to do so without having to surrender our independence on the issues we care most about.

For that reason, some of us have created a Web site called Progressives for Obama, including myself, Bill Fletcher, Barbara Ehrenreich, Danny Glover, Cornel West, Jane Fonda, Jim Hightower, Jean Stein, Andy Stern, Anna Burger, and 300 more.

The social movements have not disappeared in 2008 but follow a logic of their own, like a river cutting its path. If the Clintons steal the nomination, the social movements will return in force. If Obama wins the presidency, the social movements will rise with higher expectations to demand that President Obama end the Iraq war and focus on race, poverty and environmental issues at home and around the world. The left should not be a small elite outside this process. [For the original article, go here.]

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Quate May 2, 2008 at 9:17 am

I have been following the discussions here about the left by Nadeau, F. Gormlie, jettyboy, Molly, Greg Robinson and others. All have interesting comments, some more than others of course, but such is life. While Hayden and others continue to preach “change from within” using the Democratic Party as the vehicle for change, and it might well be, it must be a very, very long term strategy to say the least. As far as I can tell in this country it hasn’t worked to well has it? This strategy is bankrupt. The last twenty or thirty years with this strategy has produced only more dominance by the right in all arenas in the US, from the media to foreign policy. Yes, sometimes a progressive is actually elected, but what has that accomplished in the larger picture? Perhaps it is time for the left and “progressives” to re-evaluate, and come up with something that actually might force the changes I think we all would want. Just my opinion, and hopefully food for thought for those stuck in that way of thinking.


Richard Nadeau May 2, 2008 at 9:47 am

It is hard to disagree with much of what Quate says here. I share his frustration and negativity regarding the pathetic rightward toxic universe of discourse that we all swim in when we turn on Network News.

The current state of affairs is both dismal and intolerable, and the international situation potentially explosive. An expanded war in the Middle East is not out of the realm of possibility amid dismal economic

But one can vote for Obama in November 2008 and still work for more serious social and structural change -and be a force of criticism of the Democrats (if they are in power) as well.

An either or position which allows no mediation is what’s bankrupted. I know people I respect who cannot vote for Obama because of his politics. Because of the specific conjunctural historical moment, I disagree with them even if i sympathize with their position. All,choices today are dismal.

Of course, much of this discussion is all predicated on the assumption that Obama, not Clinton, will be the Democratic Party nominee.

How does President John McCain sound?


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