For a People's United States
Progressives vs Reactionaries and Liberals
by Paul Robeson, Jr.
I am for the tradition defined by the progressive credo - the people, the United States, freedom. I am opposed to the reactionary credo of God, America, liberty. Freedom empowers the people; liberty empowers the rich and powerful.
The progressive tradition of Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy is based on the mandate of the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States, which stipulates the sovereignty of "the People," the goal of "a more perfect Union," and the guarantee of "the general welfare." Today this patriotic tradition is upheld by progressive Democrats and independents who cite the Preamble of the Constitution and Roosevelt's New Deal as their guiding principles. Reactionary Republicans oppose these principles.
The reactionary tradition of Jefferson Davis, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush stems from the mandate of the Confederacy which tried to overthrow the Constitution of the United States by armed rebellion. In the present political conflict, this treasonous tradition has been revived by the Republican Party which has become a 21st century version of the Confederate Party.
In 1861-1865, the conflict between the Union and the Confederacy, between loyalty to the U.S. Constitution and a treasonous slave-owner rebellion, was settled by the Civil War - a people's war that ended in the unconditional surrender and military occupation of the Confederacy. The war cost 630,000 military deaths in a total population of 32 million. In today's United States, with its total population of 291 million, the comparable number of military deaths would add up to a staggering 5.7 million.
The False Liberal "Third Way"
Since the ratification of the U. S. Constitution in 1788, there has always been a centrist liberal tradition that has brokered compromises between the progressive and reactionary camps - the well-known "swing vote." Thomas Jefferson, a slave owner, was the patron saint of U.S. liberalism, and it was he who engineered the compromise of 1788 by which the U.S Constitution failed to abolish slavery, denied human status to Native Americans, and denied the right to vote to women and the propertyless.
The key to that failure was the insertion of the words "secure the blessings of liberty" into the Preamble of the Constitution. If the word "freedom" had been used instead of "liberty," then slavery would have been abolished and absolute human rights would have superseded mere civil rights under changeable laws. On this crucial issue, the progressives were outvoted by a coalition of liberals and reactionaries.
FREEDOM means that the rights of the people are superior to those of a privileged elite, and that the "general welfare" of the people is more important than the property rights of a wealthy elite. LIBERTY refers to the privileges of the rich and powerful. Consequently, "securing the blessings of liberty" includes guaranteeing the right of slave owners to own slaves and enshrining property rights above human rights.
Freedom vs Liberty
The current political conflict throughout the United States reflects the same progressive versus reactionary, Union versus Confederacy struggles that culminated in the Civil War. Liberals are playing the same cowardly, compromising role they have always played. Today, we African-Americans have the same friends and enemies we had then. Progressives are our friends; reactionaries are our enemies; liberals are neither. Today, progressives include all those who are willing to fight against the Republican Party and oppose its policies. Reactionaries are all those who support the Republican Party and its program. Liberals are all those who do not oppose the Republicans politically, ideologically and organizationally.
We, as a people, must unite and join in a coalition with all progressives to defeat our common reactionary enemy symbolized by the Bush Administration and its supporters. Defined in terms of people, the core of this progressive political coalition consists of African-Americans, Latinos, the progressive wing of the labor movement, and progressive whites.
The modern liberals, who call themselves New Democrats, boast that they are social liberals and fiscal conservatives, and talk endlessly about their concern for the middle class but hardly ever mention the working class or poor, are not our friends. On the contrary, they make a political living by compromising with our enemies. Therefore we should exclude them from our progressive coalition and refrain from voting for their candidates.
Henceforth, we should vote for progressive candidates only. If none are going to appear on a ballot, we should run our own Black progressive candidate. As for the Democratic Party, if it doesn't replace its current liberal leadership with a progressive one, the progressive coalition should form its own independent Progressive Party.
A Progressive Mayor, or a Liberal One?
There are two New Yorks - the New York of the 80 percent with an annual income below $75,000, and the New York of the 20 percent with an annual income above $75,000. The overriding issue in the upcoming Mayorality election is which of these New Yorks the new Mayor will represent.
Fernando Ferrer is running on a progressive platform of promoting the general welfare with primary emphasis on the needs of the working class and poor who have sufferred the "benign neglect" of one Bloomberg Administration, two Giuliani Administrations, and one Dinkins Administration. He has indicated his opposition to Bush's Iraq war, as well as a willingness to address two vital issues shunned by liberal Democrats - the unsustainable and growing economic divide between the rich and everybody else, and the out-of-control corporate domination of New York politics.
By contrast, Michael Bloomberg is running on a liberal platform of fiscal conservatism combined with social liberalism, which is virtually indistinguishable from the platforms on which David Dinkins and Carl McCall ran. A former Democrat, he has also distanced himself, just as liberal Democrats have, from the most reactionary stands of the Bush Administration.
Bloomberg is the billionaire candidate of the liberal corporate elite that controls the New York City's economy. He is also the "great white hope" of white liberal Democrats who vemently prefer a liberal Republican to a Latino progressive Democrat. In this context, it is clearly in our interest to back Ferrer against Bloomberg.
As part of a progressive coalition, we can elect a progressive Mayor and simultaneously send a clear message to liberal Democrats in general and Senator Hillary Clinton in particular: if you don't campaign on a progressive platform, you won't get our votes and you won't be reelected.