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Block and Build Against MAGA is the Priority

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Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Hegemonicon - An Investigation Into the Workings of Power
Block and Build Against MAGA is the Priority

This is the first episode in our sequence that will look at “What We Are Building”—the organizations, networks and ideas that have the most currency on the Left in late 2023.

Despite his several criminal indictments, Donald Trump still leads the pack of contenders for the 2024 GOP Presidential nomination, and the Christian-nationalist MAGA movement dominates the party. Leftists in the anti-MAGA front well understand that Trump and this movement stand to be much more dangerous if they claim power in 2025. MAGA in power will not be enlivening or emboldening to the Left, nor will it advantage the Left vis-a-vis liberal and centrist Democrats. Rather, the Left and various oppressed groups will be targeted by state repression, and the cultural climate will likely grow more reactionary.

Max Elbaum is a member of the Convergence Magazine editorial board and co-editor of the book Power Concedes Nothing: How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections (published by Convergence). He joins William in this episode to lay out the importance of a “block and build” strategy against the MAGA Right. They also discuss the need for the anti-MAGA Left to thoughtfully consider and strategically organize around the Biden administration’s support for the Israeli government’s unmitigated violence against Palestinians in Gaza.

For more from Max and tools for organizing against MAGA, we invite you to read and use the following resources:

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[00:00:00] Sound on Tape: This podcast is presented by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights.

[00:00:08] Max Elbaum: Blocking back, it doesn’t mean everybody spends all their time on the presidential election or a few Senate races. It means broad framework within which there’s a division of labor between different groups and different outlets based on their conditions and based on their capacities.

[00:00:27] William Lawrence: Hello, and welcome to The Hegemonicon.

[00:00:32] A podcast from Convergence Magazine. This is a show about social movements and politics, strategy and ideology, the immediate present, and the rapidly onrushing future. I’m your host, William Lawrence. I spent my 20s as a member of grassroots social movements, most prominently as a co founder and national leader of Sunrise Movement, the youth organization that put the Green New Deal on the political map.

[00:00:56] Now I’m in my early 30s, trying to make sense of what we’ve collectively [00:01:00] learned in this last decade plus of social movements and heightening social crises. I talk with activists and researchers on the left, exploring the guiding theme of power. What it is. How it’s exercised. And how it’s distributed.

[00:01:19] Today is our first episode in the forthcoming sequence on what we’re building, the organizations, networks, and ideas that have the most currency on the left today in 2023. My guest today, Max Elbaum, is on the editorial board of Convergence, and he’s a longtime writer and participant in movements on the left.

[00:01:40] Max has been bringing us through his writing some very important clarity about the present moment. He sums up his position in a simple line. We need to block and build. Block and build. Block the far right from claiming full governing power, While building a host of [00:02:00] organizations that can fight for and eventually win a third reconstruction.

[00:02:04] Max argues we need to understand ourselves as simultaneously part of two different fronts. Let me begin by briefly previewing Max’s argument, which he’s written about extensively in Convergence and elaborates on in our interview. He says we on the left need to understand ourselves as simultaneously part of two political fronts, one to block, one to suppress.

[00:02:26] One to build first an anti MAGA front, which includes everybody from socialists and communists to liberal Democrats, even to anti Trump Republicans. The point of this front is to block Trump and his movement from coming to power. Until now, this anti MAGA coalition has been united around tactical electoral support for Biden.

[00:02:49] Though this is now being challenged by Biden’s atrocious handling of Gaza. I’ll come back to this. For the leftists in the anti MAGA front, and I’ll put myself in this [00:03:00] camp, the assessment is that Trump and his Christian rightist movement are dangerous and stand to become much more dangerous if they claim power in 2025.

[00:03:10] MAGA in power will not be enlivening or emboldening to the left, trust me, nor will it advantage the left vis a vis our liberal democratic frenemies. Rather, the left and various depressed groups that we are part of will be those targeted by state repression. And the cultural climate is likely to grow even more reactionary than it has been in the last several years.

[00:03:33] All of these reasons are why I agree that we need to block Trump, his political and social movement, and all of the right wing ghouls who are poised to assume the levers of power, should they win the presidency next year. in 2025. But nobody has claimed that getting liberals elected is a solution to the crises we face.

[00:03:54] So that’s why we also need to be part of a second front, a smaller one, third [00:04:00] reconstructionist front, which seeks historical, economic, and racial justice through some deep seated intervention in the U. S. political order. Max argues, and I think I agree, that this is a big part of what we In the latter half of the interview, we get into a few questions about the leadership and the composition of this third Reconstructionist bloc.

[00:04:21] How should it proclaim itself? How should it identify itself? Should it be a coalition or an organization in itself? We only just scratched the surface of these important questions in this interview, but it gives us a lot of fodder to pick up on in forthcoming episodes about what we’re building and how.

[00:04:39] Now, just a little additional commentary from me on the present moment. We recorded this episode on October 20th, two weeks into the renewed crisis in Israel and Palestine. President Biden’s full backing of Netanyahu after October 7th effectively signed the death warrant for thousands of children in Gaza.[00:05:00] 

[00:05:00] UN officials, Bosnian genocide survivors, and human rights scholars have all since concurred in describing Israel’s intentions as genocidal. Aside from the immediate horror of this situation, this may have permanently broken Biden’s base of support among Arab and Muslim Americans. It has damaged him among young voters, and I anticipate it will prove to be the final straw for many other left and progressive organizations who were previously resigned but committed to supporting him.

[00:05:28] Biden is a bad candidate. He’s a bad candidate. He turned out to be a good enough candidate in 2020, but he’s now a very bad candidate in 2024. People were saying this because of his age long before this crisis in Gaza nuked his remaining credibility among progressives and young people. All Democrats.

[00:05:50] Anybody who wants to block MAGA from assuming power should want a winning candidate on top of the ballot next November. It will be near impossible [00:06:00] for the progressive grassroots to put in the grunt work for Democrats while campaigning for such a tarnished and weakened candidate as Biden is now. I hate to be saying this, I didn’t want us to end up in this place, but this is where we are now.

[00:06:14] This is why some of us have been speculating about, or at least pining for, a revival of Eugene McCarthy from 1968. An anti war presidential candidate who could run Biden out of the race and open up the field for a wider primary in which a popular mainstream Democrat like Gretchen Whitmer or Pritzker or Gavin Newsom would likely carry the day.

[00:06:37] Even though these liberal governors wouldn’t be dramatically different on policy than Biden as president, they are almost unquestionably stronger names against Trump on the ballot, which is something the whole anti MAGA front should be able to get behind. If this Hail Mary scenario doesn’t develop in the next months, and Biden remains the guy on the ballot, the left [00:07:00] and progressives are going to have some very agonizing decisions to make in 2024.

[00:07:05] Without further ado, Here’s my conversation with Max Elbaum.

[00:07:08] Max Elbaum, I’m really glad to have you here. Max Elbaum is a member of the Convergence Magazine editorial board and the author of Revolution in the Air, 60s Radicals Turned to Linen, Mao, and Che, which is a history of the 1970s and 80s New Communist Movement of which he was an active participant. Max is also a journalist, Co editor of Power Concedes Nothing, How Grassroots Organizing Wins Elections, which is a recap of the 2020 election and the many activities that left and progressive organizers around the country undertook to defeat Trump.

[00:07:44] Max, I’m really glad to have you here today. 

[00:07:47] Max Elbaum: Thanks for having me, Will. Look forward to the conversation. 

[00:07:51] William Lawrence: So let’s start with block and build. Lately, you’ve been promoting a strategic line that you and others call block and build. Why [00:08:00] don’t you describe what that means? 

[00:08:02] Max Elbaum: The block side means blocking the threat of authoritarian rule.

[00:08:07] We’re facing an authoritarian bloc, the Make America Great Again is their banner. They have an active fascist component within the broad authoritarian bloc, and we need to block them from achieving more power than they already have. They’ve captured the Supreme Court, they’ve captured the Republican Party, they have a slim majority in the House, and we need to block them from attaining more power in particular states and in the federal government.

[00:08:38] But we need to do more than that. If we are going to achieve the kind of structural change we need to build a robust, multiracial, gender inclusive democracy, an economy that works for all, save the planet, replace warmongering and militarism with peace, we’re going to have to build a lot of political power [00:09:00] for social justice forces, progressive forces.

[00:09:04] We’re going to have to become a driving force and a governing coalition. for real structural change. Those two components, the block side and the build side, are interplay with one another and are complementary. And that’s the broad outline of the block and build framework that we’ve been trying to project before the progressive movement in the United States.

[00:09:27] William Lawrence: So let’s deal with each of these sides in order, beginning with the block side. Why is it that In your view, is blocking MAGA, the authoritarian right wing, which has now basically taken over the GOP. Why is blocking MAGA so important over the next 12 to 15 months as we head into this presidential election cycle?

[00:09:54] And I’ll ask, what happens if we block MAGA? Don’t block. 

[00:09:58] Max Elbaum: Let me start by saying [00:10:00] that there are some deep patterns in U. S. history, and we’re at a crucial moment in a repeat of one of those patterns. That pattern is that there are moments when the oppressed, the exploited, those who’ve been enslaved, those who’ve been excluded.

[00:10:16] It’s exploited, have created movements that have pushed forward, gotten a share of governing power, opened up splits in the elite, and made some real substantive social change in this country. The arc from abolitionism through reconstruction in the 19th century The movement that produced the organizing, the union organizing in the mass industrial industries in the 1930s and the New Deal held off a fascist solution to the problems of the 1930s.

[00:10:50] And then the second reconstruction of the 1960s that broke Jim Crow. And produced end to racist immigration quotas, [00:11:00] ended the Vietnam War, and so on. Each of those periods of gains was followed by an intense backlash. In the 19th century, Klu Klux Klan violence and the end of attack on the black franchise.

[00:11:14] Black voters brought us a hundred years of Jim Crow in the 1950s, the rise of McCarthyism was the backlash against the gains of the 1930s, drove the left out of political life, ruined the lives of many individuals and so on. We are now living through the most intense period of the backlash against the gains of the 1960s.

[00:11:41] There’s a direct line from Nixon’s Southern strategy in 1968 of bringing the supporters of white supremacy into the Republican Party, those who opposed segregation. Desegregation in the Civil Rights Movement is a direct line from that [00:12:00] that Southern strategy to Reaganism and the onset of the neoliberal period, to the Tea Party reaction, to the election of the first black president, to Donald Trump’s election and the capture of the Republican Party.

[00:12:14] So if we want to look at some historical parallels, stopping MAGA from gaining full power is the Contemporary equivalent of stopping the rollback against reconstruction in 100 years of Jim Crow. It’s the equivalent today of stopping the McCarthy period. Where the left could not participate in political life and a tremendous backlash against the labor movement, driving the left out of the labor movement.

[00:12:42] The MAGA block today makes absolutely no secret of their program. The Heritage Foundation has issued a transition report, which is the program for any Republican administration that would come in. It’s very explicit. You can find it online in terms of [00:13:00] what it means a national abortion ban a national right to work law, Jim Crow 2.

[00:13:07] 0, more gerrymandering and voter suppression, an eliminationist program for transgender people and repression in general against the LGBTQ community. A combination of McCarthyism and the COINTELPRO program of the late 1960s and 70s against the left. Trump brags about being, I am your justice, I am your retribution, turning the Justice Department into a political police that would attack the left or anyone who opposes their program.

[00:13:44] These are the kind of things that are explicit, the largest deportation in history. Both Trump and all the other Republicans are talking about deporting millions of people. They’re very explicit. This is an authoritarian program. And they [00:14:00] plan to introduce it by any means necessary, including use of political violence by state and non state actors.

[00:14:07] So that program would be a disaster for the social justice movements. It would be a disaster for the planet since they plan to turn over energy policy to the fossil fuel industry. We need an accelerated transition away from fossil fuels, not more fossil fuels. So on pretty much every level. If MAGA takes full power we’re in for something that’s a combination of McCarthyism, Jim Crow political violence, and a program that threatens the survival of the human species.

[00:14:47] William Lawrence: So based on this assessment, what do you argue are the concrete activities that leftists and progressives ought to be doing? undertaking and not undertaking, avoiding over [00:15:00] the next 15 months in order to prevent MAGA from assuming full power. 

[00:15:05] Max Elbaum: MAGA has studied the history of the rise of authoritarian movements.

[00:15:10] Their key strategists have looked at the rise of fascism in the 1930s and learned some lessons from that. And one of the lessons they learned is that in Germany and Italy, The fascists came to power through constitutional means and once they held power, they transformed the political structure so they couldn’t be kicked out of power through anything domestic.

[00:15:36] It took a world war to throw the fascists out of power in Italy and Germany. So their plan, a very sophisticated plan, is to come to power through constitutional means. Using the vi, the vulnerabilities of the US political system in order to come to power in a way that is technically legal.

[00:15:57] According to the Constitution, we [00:16:00] have a federal system. It devolves a lot of power to the states. There’s no ban, there’s no right to work a right to vote guarantee in the Constitution. There’s no right to have every vote counted equally. So gerrymandering, the use of money, essentially rigging elections not in the way of, uh, in taking advantage of the electoral college system, which gives tremendous power to smaller, mainly white states.

[00:16:30] You have Wyoming have as many senators in the Senate as California. And the judicial system a system where the Supreme Court. is empowered or to determine what is the bottom line in the legal system. MAGA developed a strategy to use the electoral system and the judicial system to take full political power.

[00:16:57] So we have to fight back on that [00:17:00] terrain, even in a system that’s rigged against us structurally. There are opportunities to fight on the electoral arena. We can’t cede that arena to MAGA. So one part of our fight back has to be electoral. They have to be beaten in elections the way they were in 2020.

[00:17:20] Up and down the line, not simply in the White House, but in the Congress as well as local, state municipal elections. At every level, MAGA has to be defeated electorally. That’s a necessary aspect. And it will take a broad front of all those who are opposed to MAGA. on the electoral side in order to defeat to hold them back.

[00:17:45] As a number of people have quipped, from Cheney to Chomsky, a broad front. That’s not sufficient, however. If we only do that, we’ll be fighting one defensive election after the next, and all we have to do is [00:18:00] lose one time. So we have to, this is where it intersects with the build side. There’s also a question of projecting before the broad population, a program that meets the needs of a vast majority of people, workers, oppressed minorities, peoples of color, youth, women, LGBTQ, the majority of the population has to become one to a progressive vision where they’re not only thinking about the defense of their political rights that have been won through struggle, blood, sweat, and tears over the last 200 years, but means material improvements in their lives a different sense of belonging to a broader and more inclusive political coalition, political life, community we have to project that, and that fight has to go on on every level, workplaces, communities, in the media, messaging it [00:19:00] has to involve building organizations and institutions at the grassroots that people connect to.

[00:19:06] We are the majority, but the majority can only make its voice felt through collective action, through organization and institution building. So all those things are part of the defense against MAGA. The decisive moment in the current political system where the rubber meets the road is the electoral result.

[00:19:27] But you can’t win those elections, and you can’t go on. To use elections to build a coalition that can govern the country, unless you’re also base building, institution building, community building, changing people’s minds on issues and all kind of deep organizing that the left has been involved in for decades.

[00:19:51] William Lawrence: So you’re talking about this broad front that is necessary to the broad anti MAGA front is the highest level of unity or the [00:20:00] broadest and largest form of the struggle that we need to be undertaking now. I wonder what are the left and progressive tendencies that you locate within that front?

[00:20:14] You just named some, but I’m curious to hear you elaborate a bit. And I’m also curious, are there notable. self identified left or progressive tendencies that you would place Outside this front, people who you think either shouldn’t be or ought to be, but as a practical matter, are not currently following this line.

[00:20:38] And what would you say about that? 

[00:20:42] Max Elbaum: From the late 1980s, when the Rainbow Coalition essentially was collapsed until, 2015 2016. The left, most of the broad progressive movement, didn’t see a lot of openings or opportunities within the [00:21:00] electoral system. And basically people built mass movements to protest around one or another issue and injustice.

[00:21:09] And that was appropriate for the time. It, there weren’t that many openings in the electoral field and people built resistance and the anti globalization movement, movements against the Iraq war and so on movements were, equal rights for LGBTQ community all these kinds of things.

[00:21:27] 2015, 2016, the combination of Trump capturing the Republican nomination and Bernie’s decision to run as a Democrat and challenge for the nomination in the Democratic Party. Those two things changed thinking on the left. The question of political power, And governing power came back onto the agenda.

[00:21:49] People saw it made a big difference which party controlled political power, which coalition, which social base of the different coalitions. [00:22:00] And it also showed the opportunity for the left. Bernie showed tremendous enthusiasm and gathered what at the time, for a brief moment, was called the Berniecrats, the Bernie trend.

[00:22:11] who functioned within the Democratic Party and fought for influence within the Democratic Party, but weren’t primarily identified as Democrats, were primarily identified as Bernie’s supporters. So that was the origins of the immediate political trend, the progressive political trend in American politics.

[00:22:33] Those who supported Bernie, some people supported Elizabeth Warren in the primaries, and when she dropped out, supported Bernie. And that pulled in people from both what previously, if you want to use the shorthand, had been to its right or to its left. People who had functioned only in the inside game in the Democratic Party and had looked askance at mass movements and at someone who identified as a Democratic Socialist [00:23:00] like Bernie got behind Bernie’s campaign because he ran as an anti corporate.

[00:23:04] campaign against the billionaire class, opposed to the far right, and with messaging that talked about the need to support political democracy, his notion of political revolution, as well as a pro working class program. It also pulled in people who previously wouldn’t have had anything to do with either electoral politics or with working in the Democratic Party.

[00:23:29] For voting for a candidate who was running as a Democrat. Some of the small groups on the left who held those points of view ended up being splitting or collapsing as a lot of their members saw what energy Bernie was creating. There isn’t Bernie did not do what Jesse Jackson did. Coming off Jesse’s 1984 campaign, he didn’t try to build a vehicle like the Rainbow Coalition, which would coalesce that entire trend into one sort of ongoing body with some [00:24:00] kind of coherent official goal.

[00:24:02] coalition relationship. So instead we have a whole range of different groups that are in that political space. There’s ones that engage mainly in electoral work Working Families Party, Progressive Democrats of America, Our Revolution, Justice Democrats. You have groups like Move On and Indivisible.

[00:24:21] That either originated or came to the fore in that period. You have the National Community Organizing Networks, the different groups you mentioned the Power Concedes Nothing book, which a lot of the attention there is to various state based formations that have a power building strategy using electoral and non electoral means fighting in their particular states like Lucha in Arizona, Texas Organizing Project, New Virginia Majority, Florida Rising New Georgia Project, those kinds of groups, and a whole range of groups rooted in particular sectors you have the labor [00:25:00] left, which for the most part is in that progressive turn, some straddle also supporting mainstream Democrats.

[00:25:07] You have the climate justice movements, groups like Sunrise, Then there’s different groups rooted in particular communities and movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Project Mete A-P-I-A-A-P-I force in the Asian American community, the Native Organizing Alliance, and other groups in the indigenous communities.

[00:25:30] So there’s a whole. Ecosystem of progressive groups that to varying degrees they’re all opposed to the right. They’re all for building the social justice movement. They have differences over strategy and over different candidates and who they get involved with, but they’re broadly in that place.

[00:25:48] There is a wing in the left that is still in third party mode, Cornell West’s campaign. For example, there’s the people who are involved in that. And then [00:26:00] there’s tendencies on the left that even if they concede that it’s okay to run on the democratic party ballot line, if you’re a socialist or a revolutionary, no other involvement in, with the Democrats or in fighting MAGA should be allowed in other words.

[00:26:19] The extent of your electoral work is to support socialists or revolutionaries who can run on the Democratic Party ballot, but everything else is strictly outside of that coalition. That doesn’t command a large number of votes, but it does command the allegiance of many dedicated activists on the left who hold those politics.

[00:26:42] William Lawrence: Thanks, Max. I’m remembering In 2020, as you write about in your book, a lot of people who really didn’t like Biden, nevertheless, worked really hard to get him elected. This is something we did in Sunrise. Sunrise was all in for Bernie. From the moment of our founding [00:27:00] in 2017, we were in Bernie world all the way.

[00:27:03] We endorsed him early in the 2020 primary. We put a huge amount of human energy and time into campaigning for him in Iowa, New Hampshire and all around the country. And, we thought we were going to write his climate platform in the White House and do whatever we could to put it through the legislature.

[00:27:21] And if it had he won we would have been doing that, but nevertheless we believed on a principled and strategic basis that Biden would be superior to Trump as a president that our champions in Congress in the squad and the Congressional Progressive Caucus could negotiate with to be able to get certain things done that were our priorities, though we were under no illusions that it would be all of them.

[00:27:44] Actually, Sunrise never officially said the words, we endorse Biden, but we did do work to de facto support him. We were turning out Democratic voters in swing states to vote for Democrats. And a lot of people did their own version of that dance in the [00:28:00] way that felt the most principled to them.

[00:28:02] You’d lay that out and power concedes nothing that in some of these swing states like Georgia, Michigan, and others that were decisive, you had folks who were members of the organized left who were some of the ones delivering margins of victory for the Biden candidacy. Headed into 2024, do you think our capacities and appetite to undertake this project once again are increased?

[00:28:29] Decreased, or about the same as last round. 

[00:28:35] Max Elbaum: I think capacities of the core organizers who were somewhere in that spectrum that you just described in terms of level of sophistication, lessons learned, and so on. I think those are greater than they were in 2020. But I think we’re facing a tougher a tougher overall picture.

[00:28:58] In 2024. [00:29:00] Partly it’s because that Trump was front and center 2020. He was in office. All kinds of things that had happened were fresh in people’s minds. The degree of threat of a second Trump term was right in front of people. And by that point, the country’s majority is opposed to that agenda.

[00:29:21] When that agenda is put right in front of them especially, but not exclusively under a personality like Donald Trump, people are going to oppose it. We’re not facing that same landscape today. We did not get as much. Many constituencies are disappointed and rightfully so by what they got out of defeating Trump.

[00:29:44] There were some important changes. The Biden administration doesn’t get some of the credit that it deserves for some of the legislation that it managed to get through in the Inflation Reduction Act. And certain executive orders, [00:30:00] especially important is the National Labor Relations Board composition and some of the rulings of the NLRB which are contributing factor to the great assistance to the new upsurge in labor.

[00:30:13] But let’s face it we didn’t get the kind of structural change that groups like Sunrise were arguing for. The progressives had some influence, but we didn’t. get the level of influence we wanted. A lot of the structural crises that existed because of how capitalism in the United States has evolved, are still in play.

[00:30:34] And now they can be easily blamed on the Biden administration even if their roots are much deeper. And the Biden administration has a tremendous amount to answer for. Our biggest disagreements with the Biden administration, the progressive wings are on foreign policy. We’re dealing with an immigration issue, which the Republicans are using in a racist way as a wedge.

[00:30:58] And there’s a direct line between U. S. [00:31:00] foreign policy, especially in Latin America, but also in Africa and the Middle East. And immigrant, the issue of immigration, people don’t want to leave their homes. But when but when the when they’re, Areas are being destroyed through war, violence, exploitation, there’s no opportunities, a direct result of imperial bullying and policies and people feel they have to flee, all exacerbated by climate change.

[00:31:28] So the Biden administration hasn’t done much on that, that the progressives and ordinary people can feel excited about. Done very little, quite the contrary. And most recently in the Israel Palestine conflict, Biden’s gone way beyond what any U. S. president had to do. It’s going to take a while before we can with the demand for the U.

[00:31:50] S. to end its complicity with Israeli apartheid. But Biden went beyond that. And there’s huge conflict between the progressive [00:32:00] movement and Biden on that. The Biden administration’s, one sided relationship. With Israel, it’s one thing to vote for somebody you don’t like and have big policy disagreements with.

[00:32:12] And it’s another thing to vote for a war criminal like Biden. Right now I woke up this morning dreaming of Albert Loewenstein you may not know who Albert Loewenstein was, but he was the person in early 1968 who found a candidate who was dead. beat the bushes until he got Eugene McCarthy to run against Lyndon Johnson as an anti war candidate, which played an important role in building opposition to the Vietnam War and driving Lyndon Johnson out of office when he was about to leave about to lose the Wisconsin, the second primary to McCarthy.

[00:32:47] So we need somebody in the Democratic Party progressive wing to challenge Biden, whether they win or not. to move politics within the Democratic Party. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but to win [00:33:00] it’s, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble motivating people to vote against MAGA given the, what’s gone on in the last few months.

[00:33:09] So we’re facing a tougher landscape. I still think going back to what I said earlier we have to look beyond every particular policy issue. And see the broad trajectory here of the Republican Party. Even on the issue of Israel Palestine, there isn’t there isn’t an iota of sympathy for the Palestinians in the Republican Party.

[00:33:32] Every bit of Palestine’s solidarity is somewhere in the anti MAGA front right now. Republicans are openly genocidal on that issue, and worse on every other issue. So it’s still urgent to keep them out of power, but let’s face it, it’s going to be a very difficult. It’s going to be a very difficult landscape within which to motivate people and to build influence for the progressives, which we not only have [00:34:00] to defeat manga, but we have to build a stronger progressive block to be able to influence policy.

[00:34:06] If we’re going to move forward into, if we’re going to win in 2024 and get anything done afterwards. 

[00:34:12] William Lawrence: Yeah. For our listeners, you should know that we’re recording this on October 20th and we’re in the second week of the siege and bombardment of Gaza. And as Max is saying, Biden has I behaved disgracefully.

[00:34:27] He gave his address to the nation last night. I was having flashbacks not to Allard Loewenstein, but my flashbacks were to George W. Bush during the early years of the war on terror. And that’s how Biden sounded last night. I’ve almost thought he was going to be speaking about a new axis of evil of Hamas and China and Russia.

[00:34:45] And I, I agree that I’ve, I see a lot of people who. Our pragmatic broad front block and build oriented leftists who grudgingly campaigned for Biden in the last general election. And now this is just a bridge way too far for [00:35:00] them. And I’m harboring these feelings myself. Maybe I could vote for him against a Trump, but the idea of saying a single nice word about about Joe Biden is I think that’s in the past.

[00:35:11] As you said, this is war criminal stuff that he’s doing. Would you have said before the last two weeks that we need a primary challenger to Joe Biden, an anti war primary challenger, or is that a changing analysis in your view hinging on his response to Gaza? 

[00:35:27] Max Elbaum: I would have said it would be a good thing if it was done in the right way.

[00:35:32] I think the right kind of progressive challenge. Bernie’s challenge to Biden at 20. I was all for defeating Trump, no matter whatever happened, but Bernie’s challenge mobilized progressives. Bernie took the kind of stance that was necessary. I think his messaging was excellent about Trump being the most dangerous Potent president or potential president in modern times.

[00:35:58] And I think [00:36:00] Bernie’s all out campaign in 2020 contributed both to defeating Biden, to defeating Trump to improving the policies of the Biden administration, and to helping elect all kinds of progressives at different levels of government, and to gen overall, in general, inspiring hope and Policy change in grassroots progressive movement.

[00:36:22] So I would have been for the right kind of progressive challenge to Biden in 2024. No, I don’t have, I would have thought that was a good thing. I don’t think RFK would have been, is the right one. He’s not challenging him from a progressive point of view. As shown by the latest polls, where he gets more support from Republicans than from Democrats.

[00:36:44] So I think the right kind of progressive challenge to Biden would have been a good thing. Two weeks ago I didn’t see that on the horizon. It didn’t look like a real possibility. I think that the potential of it has changed. The potential for it to happening. [00:37:00] So I’m more I’m more inclined to try to see if that, to explore that.

[00:37:05] Not that I personally can do anything about it, but I do think there are some progressives. Up there in the boundary between the progressive wing and the mainstream Democrats. It’s not a hard wall. It’s not a firewall the way some people think about it. There’s a lot of blurry edges there.

[00:37:23] Of people whose opinion shifts as things shift the last few days, there have been resignations or at least one major resignation from the State Department. You’ve gotten other people I think there was a major article in Foreign Affairs although it argued it from the point of view of what’s good for the United States and what’s good for Israel.

[00:37:43] The main point was that they should have, the United States should pressure Israel not to invade Gaza. and to begin again trying to figure out a way to have a just solution to the Israel Palestine crisis. So I think there’s some [00:38:00] voices up there that will change, and unfortunately, it looks like the situation is going to get more grim over the next couple days and weeks.

[00:38:09] The Israelis are using nakedly genocidal language. There’s not even the slightest its slightest nuance. The president of Israel, who was been an anti Netanyahu force said there’s no distinction between civilians in Gaza and Hamas, so they’re openly calling for collective punishment and so on. I don’t think that I think that the policy, the U us duration.

[00:38:36] It’s not only morally wrong and, but I think it’s within a week or two, it’s going to be seen to have been disastrous. So there will be different possibilities for the ant, the anti MAGA front will go through some changes no matter what, I just don’t know what those changes would be, but I think the potential for a primary challenge to Biden [00:39:00] is, much greater than it was two weeks ago.

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[00:39:53] William Lawrence: I’m wondering what you would say to those leftists who wouldn’t necessarily disagree with the premises of this [00:40:00] conversation. They would want to see Trump defeated. They would tolerate seeing Biden reelected if he’s the guy. But they are can’t get worked up to, to see Trump defeated. get invested in this presidential politics because they’re burnt on it or because they just believe that some kind of local power building is the more important use of their time.

[00:40:22] So they’re planning to sit 2024 out when it comes to the presidential. 

[00:40:28] Max Elbaum: I guess I that’s a question that would get into a little more what the, what their specific conditions are and where they’re located. I think it, The presidential election is going to be decided in five or six states, Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, possibly North Carolina or one or two others Nevada.

[00:40:53] I think if you’re in that state it’s very tough to sit out the presidential election. It [00:41:00] doesn’t mean you spend all your time working on it. If you’re a local power building group or you’re working around issue, I think that’s what you should do. Makes complete sense to keep working around that.

[00:41:10] I don’t think it’s a much extra to lock, to tag onto that with the base that you’re working that, when it comes to the voting time, they should vote against the MAGA candidate. It’s just part of building local power. They’ll be able to build local power or win their issue. a lot better if there’s a Democratic majority in the House and Senate or in the Democrat in the White House than a Republican.

[00:41:36] But I certainly wouldn’t advise anybody to, stop doing that kind of campaigning and throw everything down into the in, in the presidential campaigning. I think if you’re in a solidly blue state, There’s an argument to be made for assisting some of the battleground states with some of your resources, depending on what the balance of forces [00:42:00] is, to see the vote project.

[00:42:02] 2020 and in 2022 mobilized a lot of volunteers to go from California, New York to Pennsylvania, Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, to work not with the Democratic Party, but with the grassroots power building groups in those states to strengthen those groups. In relation to the mainstream wing while fighting against canvassing and working against Trump.

[00:42:27] So I think people in blue states might consider that. I think if you’re in red state, if you’re not spending a lot of time on arguing about Getting your people to vote against the mega for president might not is probably not the wisest course to take. But you can incorporate the critique of Magga into your work.

[00:42:50] I think there’s a lot of room in terms of allotment of energy and time for flexibility, depending on where a group is, what its [00:43:00] resources are, what its skill set is, what its capacities are. Blocking bank, it doesn’t mean everybody spends all their time on the presidential election or a few Senate races.

[00:43:11] It means broad framework within which there’s a division of labor between different groups and different outlets based on their conditions and based on their capacities. 

[00:43:23] William Lawrence: So let’s move now into the question of the build side, what we’re building while we’re also blocking. What would you say are the major trends and perhaps some of the disagreements among them within the broad anti MAGA front about what we’re building and pushing for over the long run.

[00:43:46] Or really not the long run, but more like the mid run. 

[00:43:50] Max Elbaum: Yeah. The long run is hard to see from here. I think the progressive wing, let’s start there. The progressive wing, I think [00:44:00] there’s become a rough consensus that a robust democracy, an inclusive democracy, a big shift in economics in economic priorities, peace, environmental protection some governing coalition that would take those seriously.

[00:44:21] And implement concrete policy steps in that direction, a measure of governing power where we would, where the progressives would either hold governing power or be able to crucially influence the coalition. With mainstream wing of the Democratic Party something modeled on the Reconstruction governments, the New Deal the years of the Lyndon Johnson administration before the war in Vietnam that passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act.

[00:44:53] That kind of situation is an intermediate goal for people on the left. That’s not the end of [00:45:00] capitalism, but it would be a major shift. I think the best labeled for it is the third reconstruction. It tapped that concept taps into U. S. history, but I don’t care if people want to call it, a progressive government, social justice government social democracy, whatever terminology people use.

[00:45:21] That kind of governing coalition. Would require at the grassroots level, a whole bunch of participatory engaged militant organizations that were supportive of that kind of government, but exercise their own initiative. The labor movement, the black church environmental movement, women’s movement, all those things, all those movements would need to be strengthened and play active roles and being a, people have started to use this term co governance meaning real consultations between the elected officials and the grassroots movements.

[00:45:55] That’s most effective if it’s done through a vehicle, something like the Rainbow Coalition [00:46:00] at its time or the kind of coalition that the CIO was at the center up in the 1930s, or the Radical Republicans and the abolitionist movement drove through the. passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th, the Reconstruction Amendments.

[00:46:16] So you want that to be as thick, as organized, and as collective as possible. So that’s what I think the progressive wing is building for. And there’s people in that wing that see that as a stepping stone toward socialism, as they might define it. There’s people in that coalition who think that that kind of don’t think in terms of categories of socialism and capitalism, or if they do have only the vaguest conception of what might be after what an anti capitalist society would look like.

[00:46:47] I think there’s a lot of questions about that given the experience of the 20th century, but that has some kind of program for a governing coalition in the United States in the medium term with the [00:47:00] intermediate term. I think that’s what we’re building toward. There’s two other forces. Major forces, broadly speaking, in the anti MEGA camp.

[00:47:10] One is the neocon, the anti Trump conservatives, the anti Trump Republicans. Liz Cheney Bill Kristol, those kinds of folks. Basically they believe the United States was the greatest country in the world up until the time that, a few lunatics came along and ruined it Donald Trump.

[00:47:31] They believe in that the country, the United States should be the global leader. hegemonic in the world. They believe that in a certain conservative and conservative, not MAGA, the traditional conservatism of values and restraints and all of that. And they want to go back essentially to the Reagan years.

[00:47:55] And they think that the Trump coalition and the MAGA people are Right [00:48:00] wing populists who threaten America’s global leadership and have no respect for the kind of conservative institutions in U. S. society that ensure that long term These 

[00:48:15] William Lawrence: are the people that Biden thinks he’s really sealing in probably with whatever the heck he’s doing this these last two weeks.

[00:48:22] I think he if he’s thinking at all, other than purely emotional, he thinks he’s winning the broad center and some of these national security Republicans by being so stridently pro Israel and anti Palestinian. 

[00:48:37] Max Elbaum: Them in the wing of the Democratic Party, which is the third major force and the one that’s controlling the federal government.

[00:48:45] Now the foreign policy establishment in the Democratic Party is also for U. S. hegemony. And Biden is part and parcel of that therefore a somewhat different a little bit different [00:49:00] way of U. S. hegemony than the neocons in the Republican Party. They have some more realistic sense of the balance of forces in the world and some more appreciation for soft power as opposed to hard power.

[00:49:16] But those people, and then in that, in the centrist wing, is in a lot of fluidity right now. Both, even aside from the foreign policy issue, there are a lot of people in the centrist wing who do think that a society with massive racial and economic inequality is not stable. It’s not stable for capitalist profitability.

[00:49:39] And they want to see that they think of redistributive is better. It creates more stability for. What they regard as important in terms of the business classes. Some of them do have moral objections to the various programs of MAGA. They have [00:50:00] family members who are LGBTQ.

[00:50:02] They have a different attitude. They’ve been affected by the last 50 years struggles against white supremacy. And they genuinely oppose it. Post white supremacy, even if in policy, they’re unwilling to face what it would take to eliminate the structures of white supremacy in US society. So the center swing of the Democratic Party in turmoil right now, and they have they by and large decided that the neoliberal model is not workable.

[00:50:31] They haven’t found another model. They’re flailing around. This is one of the reasons Bernie and the progressives have been able to have some influence. Biden’s talk about building the economy from this middle out or something like that. I forget the exact phrase. Very different from the kind of rhetoric.

[00:50:49] During the neoliberal period and much better than the kind of rhetoric on the economy when he was vice president of Obama. I think they’re trying to build something that would [00:51:00] be Edging toward what not where not all the way, not as far as the New Deal. They’re not as radical as Roosevelt.

[00:51:07] What is at its height, but something with a little bit more of a safety net, less inequality. less blatant racism and so on. They’re certainly for women’s rights and abortion rights and so on. So they’re shooting, they think that capitalism can be stabilized at something a little better than it is today, 20 just before the financial crisis in 2008.

[00:51:33] A little, back to something like that. And the progressives, we think they’re wrong. That’s not stable. And it’s, even if they could get there for a hot moment, it wouldn’t meet people’s needs and it would be economically and otherwise politically unstable. So we have a fight with them, but it’s a different kind of fight than our fight with them on foreign policy and our fight with MAGA.

[00:51:57] William Lawrence: Mm hmm. I think it’ll be [00:52:00] interesting to see, I imagine you would say something like, okay, we disagree and on the domestic policy, the task of a third reconstructionist block is to say no to that going back to 2008 isn’t good enough, even doing the renew the New Deal or social democracy again.

[00:52:22] Isn’t gonna be good enough. We really truly need a third reconstruction that gets to the root of the undemocratic nature of our society and does racial and economic justice and democracy in a holistic sort of sense. And I hear you saying, there may be a chance of the left wing. Putting that question to the center and ultimately maneuvering into a position where the left wing could lead that project as part of a governing majority.

[00:52:53] Now, I think you point out that our struggle with them over foreign policy is qualitatively different. [00:53:00] And imagining a left wing bloc truly being able to come into the fore and set American foreign policy would be something unlike we’ve we’ve seen probably since the Civil War, if you want to think about it in those terms.

[00:53:15] It certainly feels far away based on the balance of forces that we’re witnessing over the last two weeks, although things are changing. Would you generally agree with that or qualify? Okay. Any of that. And then I have one final question before we close up.

[00:53:30] Max Elbaum: I would generally agree with that. I think it’s very hard. This is a tough country to change. We’re facing a ruling class. That’s one of the most powerful ruling classes in history, and they’re used to being on top. And besides everything else, there’s a force of habit in their thinking. And they command tremendous resources.

[00:53:55] For a glimpse, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, for [00:54:00] a brief period, there was very interesting political dynamics. Henry Kissinger wanted to make sure that the United States went into Angola and supported the South Africans against the movement for popular liberation. In Africa he saw that as a threat to South Africa and overall western domination in Africa.

[00:54:26] At that time, he couldn’t get it through. Congress passed a bill denying USA to anybody supporting the overthrow of the Angola government, which was left led government supported by Cuba and the Soviet Union in 19 75, 76. And that was the coalition of the anti-Vietnam War forces, the progressives, the anti imperialists to left and forces, at least for a brief moment in in the mainstream.

[00:54:59] [00:55:00] Frank Church was a senator from Idaho who was part of that today. The idea of anyone from in common senate, from Idaho taking that point of view. It was an interesting moment because the country was traumatized by and was in a different mood in the wake of its defeat in Vietnam and its moral defeat as well as its political defeat.

[00:55:27] And there was a whole layers of society that were willing to look at U. S. foreign policy in a different way. And that was one of the reasons for the fierceness of the Reagan. Counter attack on that. And so on. And we weren’t strong enough to beat that back. I’m just raising that because I don’t think people should give up hope that this is something completely impossible.

[00:55:52] Politics creates a lot of changes and it creates certain opportunities. And if [00:56:00] you can seize those opportunities and if you have the institutional strength to then turn them into lasting gains, you can make a difference. And, uh, we’re in a very tough spot. I came up politically at a time when there was a global anti imperialist front.

[00:56:23] Where the, the world, there was, you were a contingent of a movement, even with its many differences, including the Sino Soviet split and all kinds of differences within the left. You were part of a global surge against Western imperialism and white supremacy. That global front doesn’t exist today.

[00:56:47] There are still movements in different places that are either leftovers from that period or new movements for the most part that have arisen, that have those politics, but there isn’t that kind of global [00:57:00] alignment. And that makes everything more difficult. And we need to face up to that. We may have a global anti imperialist front in our minds, but it doesn’t exist in the same way out there in the world.

[00:57:13] It’s an ideological creation in the way we think about things. I think though we have to take the glimmers of what we have to nurture the seeds where they’re there. And look for openings and possibilities to do our part. It’s not going to be created mainly by the U. S. left, but we have a particular role to play.

[00:57:36] The United States is still the most powerful imperial country in the world. And what happens here makes a hell of a difference everywhere else. Thanks, Max. 

[00:57:47] William Lawrence: Just to, Sum this up here and maybe gesture towards some future episodes I’m hoping to do. We asked, we talked about blocking and building. We asked, what are we blocking?[00:58:00] 

[00:58:00] And you said this force you’ve identified as MAGA. What are we building? It sounds like you’re saying a third Reconstructivist governing block is what we would hope to be building. I want to ask, in your view, what kind of political instrument is required to organize that third Reconstructivist governing bloc and get it all pointed in the same direction?

[00:58:32] Because I think this is actually at the heart of some serious questions and disagreements that exist on the left today. There are those who believe that The political instrument needs to be coalitional in nature, but formed out of strengthening and robustening of various coalitional forces and formations that exist.

[00:58:53] And then there are those who believe that the political instrument needs to be A [00:59:00] mass party or a party like instrument. And there are many particularly in DSA who see DSA as the political instrument in waiting and are quite critical of the more coalitional types of formations. That’s oversimplifying it a bit but these debates are definitely hot and live out there.

[00:59:20] So I, I wonder what you’d say about, the form of the political instrument that moves us in the direction of this third reconstruction. 

[00:59:31] Max Elbaum: Okay. The first thing I would say is what’s the political program of the instrument? And there’s a debate on the left about that. The first debate is whether that instrument has to be exclusively socialist.

[00:59:46] Or whether that is more, as we’ve been talking about here, third reconstructionist or progressive or social justice. And I’m in the latter camp. I do think that we need socialists, I’ll get to that in a [01:00:00] minute. We need people who have an anti capitalist view, and the more organized they are, the better.

[01:00:05] But I don’t think that’s a viable. I don’t think that’s the main political instrument for the next phase of struggle. If by political instrument, we mean, people mean all kinds of things by that, but if we’re talking about a force that’s going to continue. tend in the structures of U. S. politics, an electoral force, build an electoral force that is the expression of the social movements, then I think that has to be at the level of the third reconstruction or the broad progressive thing.

[01:00:35] I think it’s too narrow to exclude people like who are like the squad members who don’t self identify as socialists and their allies. I think that’s too narrow. So on that front I think the Working Families Party is playing a bit of a role. I think there’s a lot of state based formations that I think that the United Working Families Party group in [01:01:00] Chicago which Drogue, Brandon Johnson’s recent election.

[01:01:05] I think that’s the right political level. And it can attract labor can attract different forces from other social movements. To take the labor movement in particular, I don’t think there’s a single national labor union that would sign on to a specifically socialist party. at this point, even ones where the leadership probably individually is privately socialist or believes in socialism.

[01:01:28] And that’s been true of the different efforts to form a progressive party, a citizen’s party, a labor party advocates in the labor party effort led by Mazzocchi. a while back. So that’s the political level. Then the organizational level that flows from that I think that there are two points about it.

[01:01:48] The first one is, I don’t think it’s going to be possible in the near term to function outside of using the Democratic Party ballot line and fighting for influence within the Democratic Party. I think [01:02:00] Maurice Mitchell, the head of the Working Families Party said in some speech a while back, that phrase stuck in my mind.

[01:02:05] We need to build enough power in a rigged system to unrig it. And I think that’s the correct way of thinking about it. Yes, we need to unrig the political system. We could use proportional representation. We need to abolish the electrical college. There’s a whole bunch of other reforms that are absolutely crucial if we’re going to have a serious, genuine, or robust democracy in the United States.

[01:02:31] States. But I don’t think you can get there until you have a whole chunk of power within the system as it currently exists. So I think that we’re going to end up being a left wing of the Democratic Party for some time to come. Then the third level is what kind of formation you would actually have.

[01:02:50] I, I don’t I, the more organized and coherent, the better. Something that would be able to endorse and [01:03:00] prioritize figure out where it would throw its resources, when it would throw its resources into a presidential election, when it, which congressional districts, which states the question, the MADDA people, Are turning the red states and some in particular as lab, you know what called authoritarian enclaves or some people have called laboratories for fascism or laboratories for for autocracy.

[01:03:24] We need to turn some states into models of what a progressive governing coalition would look like. Minnesota and Michigan are doing some interesting things when they got Democratic trifectas. California is the big prize because it has a progressive voting bloc, and it’s so big in terms of its potential influence on the country.

[01:03:47] We’re not there yet. It’s, but So we need to do that on certain states. And the more coherent a national formation you have, I don’t have any objection if people want to call [01:04:00] it a party in waiting or something like that. I’m not that hung up on it. My worry about some of those terminology about is that when you talk about a party, people tend to think in terms of pretty clear boundaries.

[01:04:16] And I think the situation is going to be very blurry until there’s a moment when the system is such that there’d be a shake up in American politics where there might be possibilities for more than two parties or something like that. The Republican Party formed out of a very blurry period beforehand with the anti slavery Whigs, the Liberty Party, there were, a whole range of things.

[01:04:41] And I worry that they’re looking for things that are a little too neat in terms of how you get from where we are. To a coherent political party or political force, where if you do that too soon, you close off the blurriness, you close off the boundaries and you start to fall [01:05:00] into a certain kind of organizational sectarianism, which I think has afflicted the left globally and in the United States way, way too much.

[01:05:10] But I’m out. I’m not like in principle opposed to calling it a party and waiting or something as long as that sense of flexibility and blurriness is there. I prefer something like the Rainbow Coalition. Because even though it used the term coalition, when it existed nationally, it did to the extent it had capacity, it made endorsements, and it allotted resources and personnel and energy in Jesse Jackson’s time of where he would can based upon some kind of National coordinated, um, assessment.

[01:05:46] No, there were all kinds of problems in that in terms of how democratic that assessment was arrived at and the outsized way to Jesse had relative to other forces within the party. I don’t want to just duplicate [01:06:00] that. But I do think that something along that model if that could be created in the next Few years going into and coming out of 2024 would give us the best chance.

[01:06:13] I think Bernie’s been a model of how he’s functioned politically, but he’s not an organization builder. He’s had that weakness and that has cost us, but overall he’s made a tremendous contribution and shaping the political. milieu within which some other people are going to have to come along and turn it into the kind of institutional force that can take us through the next stage of American politics.

[01:06:41] William Lawrence: Let’s try to do that. Max Albom. Thank you so much. It’s been really great chatting with you as always. Thank you for being here. 

[01:06:49] Max Elbaum: Thank you.

[01:06:57] William Lawrence: This podcast is written and hosted by me, [01:07:00] William Lawrence. Our producer is Josh Elstro, and it is published by Convergence, a magazine for radical insights. You can help support this show and others like it by becoming a Patreon subscriber of Convergence for as low as 2 per month at patreon. com slash convergence mag.

[01:07:16] You can find a direct link in the show notes. This has been the hegemonic con. Let’s talk again soon.

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