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Chris Hedges Yet Again Criticized Liberals and Advocated a Civilly Disobedient Politics

Hedges wrote the following in his Monday (1.24.2011) Truthdig article:

The moral outrage of the liberal class, a specialty of MSNBC, groups such as Progressives for Obama and MoveOn.org, is built around the absurd language of personal narrative — as if Barack Obama ever wanted to or could defy the interests of Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase or General Electric. The liberal class refuses to directly confront the dead hand of corporate power that is rapidly transforming America into a brutal feudal state. To name this power, to admit that it has a death grip on our political process, our systems of information, our artistic and religious expression, our education, and has successfully emasculated popular movements, including labor, is to admit that the only weapons we have left are acts of civil disobedience. And civil disobedience is difficult, uncomfortable and lonely. It requires us to step outside the formal systems of power and trust in acts that are marginal, often unrecognized and have no hope of immediate success.

Hedges next focused his attention on “a politics of solidarity”:

The organizers of the Left Forum conference scheduled for this March at Pace University in New York City also communicate in the amorphous, high-blown moral rhetoric that is unmoored from the actual and real. The upcoming Left Forum conference, which has the vacuous title “Towards a Politics of Solidarity,” promises to “focus on the age-old theme of solidarity: the moral act of imagination underpinning working-class victories everywhere. It will undertake to examine the new forms of far-reaching solidarity that are both necessary and possible in an increasingly global world.” The organizers posit that “the potential for transformative struggles in the 21st century depends on new chains of solidarity—between workers in the rich world and workers in the global south, indigenous peasants and more affluent consumers, students and pensioners, villagers in the Niger Delta and environmental campaigners in the Gulf of Mexico, marchers and rioters in Greece and Spain, and unionists in the United States and China.” The conference “will contribute to the intellectual underpinnings of new and tighter forms of world-wide solidarity upon which all successful emancipatory struggles of the future will depend.”

Hedges showed his disdain for such talk-fests when he exclaimed:

The last thing the liberal class intends to do is fight back. Left Forum brings in a few titans, including Noam Chomsky, who is always worth hearing, but it contributes as well to the lethargy and turpitude that have made the liberal class impotent.

Only disruptive action suffices, according to Hedges:

The only gatherings worth attending from now on are acts that organize civil disobedience, which is why I will be at Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., at noon March 19 to protest the eighth anniversary of the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

To my mind, there are problems with Hedges position, problems which reveal his argument to be sloppy and even demagogic. Briefly put, they are:

First, communication, such as those Hedges criticized, is a species of political action. That is, to write and speak about unemployment and the incoherence of Obamanomics, the state of race relations today and white terror in the United States, America’s empire and militarism, its prison population and poverty, personal privacy and public action — that is, to communicate about these issues entails acting politically.

As it turns out, Hedges article denouncing liberal talk-fests counts as a politically communicative act. He thus ensnares himself in a paradox when he makes claims such as these.

Second, the March 19 march Hedges will attend can and ought to be considered an instance of political communication about Iraq and an act of solidarity with the victims of that crime. As a matter of fact and logic, the solidarity revealed on March 19 is itself an instance of political communication. This act of communication manifests itself through the collective action of a group of individuals and though the solidarity expressed for the victims of America’s crimes. The relationship between solidarity and communication does not directly depend on the intentions of those acting. It issues instead from the public and political nature of the action.

Third, I see no reason for America’s small dissident public to limit its political repertoire to forms of civil disobedience and marches. Any movement that wants to endure and, in the end, to be successful must attract members, organize those it attracts, raise monies that fund actions and solve coordination problems which it must solve in order for these actions to succeed. Organizations are forms of communication and solidarity as well as being instruments which serve the interests of their members. They enable like-minded individuals to act collectively. They also tell the public that they have political projects they intend to achieve along with strategies and tactics they will use to achieve their ends. The tactics employed by these organizations include civilly disobedient actions and marches.

As of this moment, the left in the United States is so weak that limiting itself to civilly disobedient acts is both unproductive and unnecessary. For one thing, security forces can easily police these events, turning them into opportunities to jail march leaders and activists. For another, acts of civil disobedience and political marches also suppose organizational support. Organization- and movement-building work thus leads to and provides a necessary condition for engaging in the actions Hedges affirms.

If my conclusion seems wrong, I only ask my reader to consider the fact that the left is weak today because it has not endured as a politically independent entity, one composed of strong movements and viable organizations. That is, it failed to conserve the political and organizational achievements won with the Civil Rights Movement and the New Left, organized movements that left their mark on the federal, state and local governments they touched.

Cross-posted at All Tied Up and Nowhere to Go

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