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Left Over Politics

Picketers encourage the workers of Vargish to join the ILGWU. – Kheel Center, Cornell / flickr

I have written about my feelings concerning the so called political left these days – the Late’ Liberals and Pretentious Progressives. Sam Smith has a good summation of it.

Liberalism collapsed because:

It became an elite demographic rather than a grassroots movement.

It lost interest in the economic issues that had made it relevant.

It came to prefer fake icons like Obama and the Clintons rather than real programs.

It dissed the folks it should have been converting. The working class just became Rush Limbaugh listeners not worth the time of day. Liberals condemned instead of connecting.

It made the federal the enemy of the local rather then an ally as it had been under the New Deal and Great Society. Instead of sharing decisions and money with the states and cities as the New Deal did, Washington became the boss who knew it all.

Well that’s close but maybe a bit simplistic. Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism goes a bit deeper though. Initially referencing a previous post by Bill McKibben on Leaderless Movements. As Yves says at the beginning.

The problem with non-corporate loose organizations is how to maintain consistency of vision, messaging, and tactics. One of the complaints about Occupy Wall Street was its lack of a message, which struck me as a straw man (isn’t being opposed to predatory banking and excess wealth accumulation by the 1% a clear position?). Even in its short life as a national movement, Occupy Wall Street also suffered from divisions over tactics, with a black bloc favoring violence while the majority of demonstrators were firmly opposed to that approach.

And if you’ve been involved in any of the OWS groups, the process of achieving agreement, even with some streamlining of processes, is painfully slow and can easily be hijacked by aggressive special interest groups. It can drive out busy and high functioning people who simply don’t have the time to participate in protracted debates. There’s also a huge problem in accountability: of getting specific people to take ownership of pieces of initiatives and bring them through to completion. But perhaps this reflects my dislike of politicking rather than the weakness of this sort of approach per se.

Now your humble blogger must make clear that he is not fond of strong leaders. The reason being that far too often the personality traits associated with strong leadership are the same as those of a sociopathic ego maniacal serial killer. And I don’t think I need to list examples here.

The remainder of Yves post on progressives contrasts the differences in goals and methods embraced by them and those she terms as radicals. (I would put myself in the radical camp, though it would depend on the situation.) To wit:

The first key point is that the tradition of progressive dissent is integrally a religious one. The goal isn’t usually power but ‘truth;’ that those in the right stand up for what is right, and those in the wrong repent. The City on the Hill and all that, but that is the intrinsic value. This is a tradition of ideas, many of them good, many of them implemented—by others, a point to which I’ll return. Coming forward to a recent and then present American context, consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as progressive:

Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights

Consider as well notable progressives who have held executive or even power positions in national governance. I struggle to name one. Progressives largely worked in voluntary organizations and reform societies outside of the notoriously corrupt political parties of America. (It is interesting and relevant to note that as a society we recapitulate that endemic historical venality once again c. 2011.)  – Richard Kline: Progressively Losing

As apposed to radicals who have done the real work of getting the action. Referencing Kline again.

The key point is that the tradition of radical activism is integrally an economic one, and secondarily one of social justice. It was pursued by those both poor and ‘out castes,’ who often had communal solidarity as their only asset. It was resisted by force, and thus pursued by those inured to force who understood that power was necessary to victory, and that defeat entailed destitution, imprisonment, and being cut down by live fire from those acting under color of authority with impunity. This was a tradition of demands, many of them quite pragmatic. Few were wholly implemented, but the struggle to gain them forced the door open for narrower reforms, often implemented by the powers that be to de-fuse as much as diffuse radical agitation. Consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as radical:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate

While few radicals have made it into public executive positions either, they are numerous in politics, especially at the local level where communal ties can predominate. Radicals have always worked in organized groups—‘societies,’ unions, and parties—which have been a multiplier for their demands.

So what has changed since the days of Eisenhower — who embraced a high tax rate and the cementing of the New Deal reforms of FDR ?

First of all the unions — as Yves point out – got sucked into and suckered by the Democratic Party. Embracing the cold war and all the little wars that followed. Secondly the movements that followed — Civil Rights and the Anti War movements — alienated and were alienated by these old guard unionists. Later to completely reject any radicalism. The same radicalism that help the old guard acquire the gains they had made.

As Sam Smith pointed out above, they became the intellectual elites themselves. And as Kline stated in a comment to Yves entry.

Centrist bourgeois in American history have _never_ been predisposed to confront the state. They want to make money off the state, and often ARE the state at its margins. The Centrist bourgeois have seldom been inclined to confront the wealthy, being far more disposed to hang at the heel of the wealthy and hope for a good job when noticed. This orientations has typically worked for the bourgeois when the economy was, in various ways, expanding, as it has for most of American history. There was always a little more to go around, and being upstream of the poor and rural subsistence farmers, the bourgeois could typically get a plateful of expansion every time around. Bourgeois America does have a strong view of its own legal standing, and will push back against the wealthy if they perceive themselves to be abused. ‘Sharing the wealth’ was usually a pragmatic accommodation to economic and social grievances, however, rather than something done from any conviction.

These same people no only do not want to fight with TPTB and elites but identify with them and without a radicalized base have no reason to change the status quo. As it has always been the radicals that push for change and not the so called progressives, who a content with appeasement.

We need the radicals to really push for change.

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