After his failed attempt to bring revolution to the Congo, Che Guevara remarked that “there was nothing to do.” A partnership between the CIA and far-right Cuban exiles had disrupted many of Che’s plans while training and fighting with the Congolese, but in the end, he blamed a high level of in-fighting, and a lack of clear direction as the reason for the military failure. It’d be overly simplistic to draw specific parallels to the situation the contemporary left finds itself in, but useful enough to use this framing question as a broad starting point: what is there for the left to do?


This isn’t really an existential question; in a literal sense, it feels like there is little for the left to actually do. The core of the problem seems to be a fervent division between left leaning groups that share little in the way of ideology and less in the term of desired praxis. There are so many brands of leftism right now, each defended passionately, but all ultimately achieving nothing.

The Democrats, who remain a party that doesn’t seem fit to be described as “left” or even as centrist these days, are in firm control of the little political infrastructure not dominated by the right; they don’t run strong candidates, at the state, local, or presidential level, and they’re continually losing ground in the form of gerrymandering and voter identification laws to the right. They’ve begun to cling heavily to identity politics and conspiracy theories as a means to both explain away their several defeats, and hold the third way line from intruding ideologies on the left. They offer the most tangible form of political participation, something to do, in voting, but only as an alternative to the right.


To the immediate left of the Democrats are the softy leftists: groups like Communist Party United States of America, and the growing Democratic Socialists of America that do a lot of organizing and hold a lot of meetings and caucuses, but seemingly little else. Many of these groups claimed to have grown in number immediately after the election of Trump (in the case of the DSA, they claim to have increased by more than twenty-thousand members after November of 2016), but that hasn’t seemed to change a direction in what is actually done, which seems to still be mostly limited to organizing. Organizing can be extremely effective, but for groups that on the whole seem to believe in electoral politics, they’ve never action run any candidate at the local level. They’ve done nothing to build a bench, and their organizing and on the ground activism (the latter of which is mostly done in response as counter protest, not as a means to build or rally a base), isn’t accessible to most people. Someone new to the left looking for ways to participate is likely to find little to do with these sorts of groups.


To the left of these groups are the Marxist-Leninist groups, headed in claimed-membership by the Party for Socialism and Liberation. ML groups tend to really care about ideological purity; unlike the DSA or CPUSA or other softer left groups, they would never endorse someone like Bernie Sanders, and certainly not Hillary Clinton. In the case of the PSL, they do run their own presidential candidate, the staunch leftist Gloria La Riva, but they do it without expectation of success. While the PSL in particular deserves some credit for it’s activist work with the Answer Coalition, ultimately them, and all the ML groups, still offer little that isn’t in direct reaction to threats from either the center left or right.


The theme here among all these sectors of the left is that none of these offer much in the way of clear action new and engaged leftists can take to further their cause. The Democrats fail primarily by not being a left leaning organization, and the rest fail due to a lack of political infrastructure, and an apparent lack of interest in building any. This isn’t to say the people who make up any of these groups are inherently bad or wrong, but if the goal is to build a true leftist base, who is accomplishing that? Who is even really trying? What is there to do?

Dylan James Harper is the Chief Political Editor for
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