What is Wrong with the US Left? A Perspective From Iraq

Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a’ that,)

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

It’s coming yet for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the world o’er,

Shall brothers be for a’ that

– Robert Burns


I have been asked by my American friends to give an opinion of how an ordinary person from the outside sees the American left. I am far from presuming to have the knowledge to state a qualified opinion; it is more of a sharing of thoughts and reflecting aloud. The interest that the people of the world have in the affairs of the U.S. is due to the role that it plays in their lives. When the U.S. catches a cold, the whole world starts sneezing. When I read the press, or watch the news regarding protest movements in the U.S. for the last decade the following thoughts assail my mind.


Mass movements of the politically active segment of the population come and go without leaving a lasting trace because there is no “skeleton” organization holding the masses after the event that has brought them together passes away. These organizations need to have a clear strategic agenda and a permanent structure.

During 1954 the Iraqi Communist Party was a Marxist-Leninist type of organization with a hard, underground core bound by party discipline whose influence spread out through various unions, student, youth and women’s associations. Would this be valid in the 21st century where movements have organic amoeba-like characteristics? Is there a need for professional revolutionaries whose lives would be solely dedicated to the cause?

In my opinion, the great mass movements in the U.S. come and go without a lasting effect. This clearly indicates that the tools used by the movements, in spite of their modernity, do not in the end achieve their purpose for a lasting, meaningful change. Therefore, we have to come up with other tools or maybe invent some new ones. What is required is a permanent movement that would not fade away once the event has passed. Rather the event needs to be registered and kept as an experience that should be transformed into a revolutionary tradition – a tool to be used in future events. This movement would be the keeper and developer of these experiences. They should have a constant presence on the political scene, however slight.

The organizational side of this movement would be the most difficult problem it would face. There must be a structure with certain laws ruling its members. We also should not exclude the possibility of having people who would dedicate all their time to the movement. There would be the eternal problem of financial support. This would mean asking for donations from the members at regular intervals. But unless we come up with this hard-core skeleton to hold the muscles of our experiences and traditions, it will be hard to move forward. Passion and spontaneous movements of the masses are not sufficient without an organization. Insurrections such as John Brown and most riots fail to achieve their ends unless they are connected to movements. The riots in Watts in 1967 helped to gain blacks civil rights because the riots were connected to a social movement. This leads us to considering the appearance of a third force besides the Democratic and Republican parties – a third party.


It seems to me that most of the protest movements are very roughly concentrated on the two coasts, leaving the central states and, surprisingly, the Great Lakes region devoid of action. The difficulty of trying to agitate in smaller communities and rural environments is understandable. But leaving large parts of the middle section of the country empty opens the door to supporters of the far right. People in the central states are working class people and according to Marx, the people who are going to make the revolution. Why are they abandoned?

This “localism” of the revolutionary and left movements on the two coasts and in universities is embedded in the American psyche. If it had its objective reasons from the 19th to half of the 20th century, these objective reasons of class have gradually been eroded. However, the psychological effect remains, and is often heated up by the mainstream media. They are divided into rednecks and snobs and this fault line unfortunately divides the people. This is embedded in films, books, songs, Hollywood, social media and more. My experience in Iraq has been similar, where people from different regions of Iraq were pitted against each other – south against north, east against west. We also had academics and historians disparaging each other’s identities. The imperialists for their own purposes and profited from all this.

The ICP from the very start took a clear, unambiguous stand against such notions, which was clearly manifested in their program and leaflets. In my opinion the movement in America must unequivocally state its position against any attempts to divide the working people from each other, and the working people from the intellectuals.


There has been no movement similar to the Russian 19th century Narodniki, where the intelligentsia went by the hundreds to the peasants and a bond was established. In the so-called third world, students are looked up to and the people turn to them for revolutionary action and vision. In the struggle against colonialism this bond was forged. Therefore, in order to bridge the gap there must be action on part of the intelligentsia in the U.S. to reach out to the working people.


The enormity of the crimes committed against people of color is so great that a progressive movement’s stance would seem to be obvious. While the left should be the leading force in the struggle against racism, it has not managed to gain the hearts of the African American people, many of whom turned to religion, whether Christian or Muslim. If the justified anger of this segment is properly channeled it would serve as a strong and constant support for the movement.

There are numerous examples of African American intellectuals becoming disillusioned with the left. The same can be said more or less with various nuances for other minorities such as Latin American, Asian and Middle Eastern. Why is this? Claiming that racism is exploitive and unfair is easy. But appealing to minorities to join the socialist movement is a whole other problem. What is the European-American left doing wrong? The left will fail to achieve the moral high ground and be caught in a circle of hypocrisy. At the same time the people of color will have distorted concepts of protest and how to liberate themselves. They will feel that protests are for ‘white people”.

As long as you have the working people divided along these various lines there will be no movement. People must learn that they are not some god-chosen exclusive set, and to respect each other’s living habits, food, fertility or the lack of it, music, noise – all the small things that make daily life.


Being part of a movement is a lifelong vocation. We must convince people to keep their convictions throughout their adult lives and not just in youth. As long as we participate in the activity of a society that thrives on oppression and exploitation without trying to change it for the better, we should feel guilty. This feeling should never leave us and it should be cultivated. Being an activist or an organizer should not be something that you do when you feel like it. It is not a voluntary contract, like all other forms of individualism. Being a revolutionary is a necessity and something we embrace with love.

At the same time this should be accompanied by a firm understanding that your enemy is ruthless and will show no mercy. It should be clear to any movement or individual that once a decision has been taken to resist the system that they will be the target of constant relentless attacks from which there is no respite, from subtle ideological distortions to brutal physical punishment. There are no rules, no “gentlemanly” conduct – it’s tooth and claw to the death. This is not an over-dramatically description if you are really and truly in the struggle. The art of destroying human beings without killing them has been brought up to a high level in the US. Therefore, the movement should have the resilience and skills to protect itself. Part of its activity should be the maintenance of a group dedicated to answering to attacks in the press and other media sources.


Since the end of the Second World War up to the present, the US has launched or been part of multiple imperialist wars. The media glorifies them when sending them to die and ignores them and their needs when they come back. The left has not been successful in having anything to offer working class people in the way of work they can do as an alternative to joining the military. The left needs to work hard to educate the people and relentlessly oppose the luring of young people to military establishments and the waging of endless wars.


A constant flow of diversions is kept like a stream inundating the minds and conscious of people. Pseudo cultural events, books, films, never ending soap operas, the lives of celebrities…… and a thousand other ways keep the minds of the majority occupied with irrelevant matters or, even worse, serve at the best to ruin their tastes. The malady bred in Hollywood is so contagious that it takes a couple of hours for it to cover the globe. The left in the US has on numerous occasions been caught up and unaware while becoming part of it. It is indeed hard to differentiate between what is real and what is false in this environment of smoke and mirrors. So as the Three Witches said:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:

Hover through the fog and filthy air

We should stop striking poses and falling in love with the sound of our own voices.

The task of the left is to explain the meaning of this stream and on a daily basis show its poisonous effect. This is especially true for the impressionable and vulnerable youth. This is true not only for the American left but the global left in general.

The theoretical differences that separate the left are real and I don’t mean to minimize them. However, they should be addressed as part of an overall program where all the issues are prioritized. The American left fights over theoretical issues before they have done the hard work of expanding and connecting the issues across time and space.

We have been beaten by the fascists again and again in spite of the superiority of our principles and even sometimes our numbers. We have let them take over the interpretation of how to make sense of the decline of capitalism. Right now, the fascist parties in Europe are stronger than the forces of the left. In the United States, fascists helped to elect Trump, while the left has union representation of less than 10%, and a Green Party that got 1% of the vote and fifty-seven varieties of Trotskyist, Maoist, anarchists and social democrats. Splitting tiny parties even further is the worst in individualism. It is also very American.


The Iraq Communist Party It had suffered a major blow when three of its leaders had been executed in 1949 and it splintered into several factions. By 1954 the party overcame organizational and ideological fragmentation and haziness in its strategic goals. The reputation the party had built for itself through the dedication and sacrifices of its rank and file were the sole really anti-imperialist force which kept the base more or less intact. From this base a new more modern interpretation of how to carry on the struggle led by Husain Ahmed Al-Radi (Salam Adil) was developed.

It included a policy that was realistic with a broad national front that would include all anti-war and anti-imperialist forces. Although I see the advantages of a united front and consider that it is the correct path, I have no illusions whatsoever about the forces we need to bring to our fold. The experiences of Communist parties in the world has shown that being on guard is critical.


I have specifically concentrated our attention to this period in order to find similarities with the current situation in the U.S. The guidelines that can be drawn are that a hard-core organization gathers around it at this stage of its historical development the widest base possible while keeping the strategic aims and the “skeleton” intact in mind. This calls for very dynamic and interactive relations with different groups (ethnic and /or racial groups). it involves a life-time commitment (playing for keeps). Whenever we see that any of the partners in such a front commit a mistake or drags their legs, a friendly criticism should be offered. The danger in such an environment is being led astray in pursuit of goals or aims that have little or nothing to do with our own agenda. For example, in the United States, leftists getting involved with legislation, writing petitions to Congress, or campaigning for “Progressive” Democrats.

In my opinion there is a necessity of finding a social democratic party with strong left leanings independent and not part of the established two parties, able to defend the rights of the working people and minorities and be the platform for a broader united front. It should benefit from previous historical experiences but be always looking forward and in our digital times seeking solutions and not being afraid of experimenting. The young generation should be our main goal. They have the passion and necessary skills and it is to them that the task of bringing about meaningful and significant changes should be given.

Image of Bonus Army members protesting in the summer of 1932 to demand cash-payment redemption of their service certificates. Image from Wikipedia


About Jamal Al-Tahir

Jamal was Born in Basra/Iraq and spent his early school years with his parents who were studying in France and the US. He graduated from high school in Iraq and studied in the USSR, graduating from Moscow Power Institute (now technical university). He returned to Iraq and worked as a geophysicist from 1968 till 1996, mainly in the field and field-related activities. He currently resides in Moscow.

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