Friday, January 21, 2011

What does collapse look like?

Depending on whom you read, we are in the midst of a long slow collapse as this is being read. Don't expect your world to look like a scene out of a Mad Max film this summer, but don't expect to go back to the way things were in the "good old days" of the 1990s either.

The American Myth


About those "precision" weapons....

Yeah.......Well.....Yeah....That. See, the thing is, they aren't all that precise, as it turns out. And there's a little problem that the folks who make them and the folks who order their use seem to want ignored: if you use these weapons where there are a lot of civilians, a lot of civilians get killed. Yeah, I know, there's this whole bit about "terrorists" and whatnot. But look, no one wants their generally quiet neighborhood wrecked by imprecise "precision" weapons.

Just so we're clear: These weapons are not at all precises, no matter how they are billed, and no matter how much hopeyness is used in their billing. A lot of folks are aware of this inconvenient fact, too.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

About eight years ago....

About eight years ago, we got to experience the largest popular gatherings ever held. No: these weren't Tea Party rallies. Rather, they were rallies against the then-impending expansion of the Iraq War as they occurred across the globe. For a brief period then and right after, I remember holding some (albeit tentative) optimism that a great calamity would be averted. Those hopes would be quickly dashed within weeks. However, what was made clear then still holds true - there are plenty of ordinary people who can and will stand up demonstrate the better qualities of humanity.

Left? What Left? (Second Verse, Same As The First)

A few years ago, it seemed that every so often we would see one of these rants over that the Big Box Blogs complaining about attacks from the so-called "centrists" within the Democratic Party. Certainly I found myself in agreement with the absurdity of referring to someone like Jack Murtha or Howard Dean as on the "far left" to the extent that such a term is meaningful. The commentary started with a very extensive and well-written post at L'Hôte, the blindspot, with some relevant follow-up commentary by Yves Smith (naked capitalism), and emptywheel and Steve Hynd of FDL brings me back to a different but related question that has continued to vex me: where would I go in the US to find a viable, organized leftist party - one that could field candidates and/or play a role in national politics? Where might I go in the US to find viable, organized leftist organizations that can organize workers and activists on a mass scale in times of crisis? We can, I suppose, find the occasional prominent nominally socialist politician either in the House or in the Senate, but in order to function, that individual must caucus with one of the two parties that rule DC with an iron fist. Otherwise, leftist sightings seem to be rarer than Big Foot sightings in Death Valley. But I digress.

A lot of us call ourselves "leftists". I wonder sometimes how we're defining the term, and I wonder more about what exactly we do have in American politics. When I think of a "leftist" I'm likely to think along the lines of the myriad forms of anarchism, to the various forms of communism, (ranging from classical Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyite, Maoist, etc.), socialism (be it the populist socialism advocated and practiced by Hugo Chavez to the sort adhered to by European Social Democrat parties). Although these various "leftisms" diverge in terms of the relationship between person and state (e.g., for the anarchists there is ideally no state), there is as I see it a great deal of overlap in terms of their shared views of the relation between people (cooperative rather than competitive) and in their shared distrust of capitalism in its numerous forms (from "pure" laissez-faire capitalism, to fascist capitalism, to neo-liberal globalism).

If we take the above as a decent quick-and-dirty description of "leftism" that leads to the question of where this "leftism" resides in the US. My short answer, as I've stated on other occasions: nowhere any more. There really hasn't been much of an organized left that would be recognizable as such anywhere outside of the US - we can call it the fruits of two "red scares" plus COINTELPRO. I'm definitely not alone in my assessment (and those are just the comments on the margins of the Big Box Blogs - go outside the big boxes, and one will surely find more).

So what are we left with? One major party that currently controls the House of Representatives that looks strikingly like the UK's British National Party or Germany's National Democratic Party and another major party controlling the White House and Senate that looks strikingly like the UK's Conservative Party (i.e., Tories) or Germany's Christian Democratic Union. In other words, our politics nationally is distinctively right-wing, with a range of choices limited to right-wing hardliners (GOP/Tea Party) to somewhat more moderate populists and neoliberal globalists (Democrats). Our "center" in the US seems to be those Democrats who have bought into the whole neoliberalism theory and practice hook, line, and sinker; those espousing somewhat more populist - albeit capitalist - approaches to governing and economy tend to get labeled as "left-wing extremists" by Serious pundits. No one from either party dares question the wisdom of corporate capitalism, varying only in flavor: Neoliberal globalism is the favorite of the DLC crowd and the some of the GOP crowd; some form of populist capitalism is espoused by some elements of both the Dem and Republican parties, usually in the latter tied to taking a hard line on immigration and ethnic minorities; still others would like a Mussoliniesque fascist capitalism, which to a degree fits the neocons and assorted others mainly in the GOP; and of course there are still a few good old fashioned laissez-faire capitalists who comprise the libertarian element within the GOP. Some might be a bit more favorable to organized labor or to providing some sort of financial safety net for those in need, but regardless, capitalism is a sacred cow.

Nor is there any real question about the "necessity" of a vast military in order to pursue the building of empire (some may voice uneasiness about that word) as "we" continue to take on "the white man's burden" of bringing "democracy" to the "uncivilized" dark corners of the planet. Some may vary in the degree to which military force should be actually used in the process of maintaining and expanding hegemony, but there is little quibbling over the "exceptional" character of our nation as the government to varying degrees bombs and starves others competing for whatever resources "we" covet.

As for the Big Box Blogs, my short take is that they could be considered "leftist" only if one thinks within the framework of Beltway elites. DK, BT, MLW, Political Animal, etc. are best thought of one a broader level as Tory blogs in which there may be a bit more room for populism and a bit less preference for corporate swindling and bombs. But "leftist"? If anything, as many of us have learned the hard way, the left is, well, left out. Given these blogs' role as providing support for the Democratic Party, it's not too surprising that these blogs, their owners, and moderators, have little use for or tolerance of actual leftists. The rest of us simply remain isolated.

But I suppose ultimately, I look at blogtopia as a microcosm of our own highly dysfunctional political discourse in the US, which having essentially excised its left wing many moons ago, is woefully out of balance. Although I think the clarion call to genuinely include leftist voices within the confines of blogtopia is necessary, I think the more important and pressing need is for the rebuilding of genuine leftist organizations within the US. The forces against such an effort would undoubtedly be enormous and considerably more entrenched than a generation or more ago, and our culture has changed to one in which necessary concepts such as collective action and solidarity have been lost and would need to be relearned. Although I'm hardly optimistic in my expectation that something that the rest of the planet would recognize as "leftist" will somehow arise from the ashes, I am convinced that our ability to survive the turbulence of the next decade or two will depend upon it.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Left? What Left?

I've occasionally noted that there is no "left wing" left in American politics. By "left wing" let's be very clear: I'm talking socialists of various sorts, anti-capitalists, etc. In other words, I use the terms "left wing" and "leftist" in much the same way that these terms would be used in much of the rest of the world. The notion that those speaking for the Democratic Party in the US are "leftist" in any meaningful sense of the term is, to me, ludicrous. Now that's not to say that there aren't isolated leftists out and about in the US, but that there isn't any functional organized left wing. One consequence of the present situation is that our discourse is distorted, such that any writing that does not adhere to some sort of neoliberal or nationalist party line is vilified (if acknowledged at all) or more likely ignored altogether.

I see no reason why the US blogosphere would be any different. I'm sure I've said something to that effect before. However, I do take some cold comfort in reading other bloggers who acknowledge this as well. See, for example, this post called the blindspot. Yves Smith, who is certainly no lefty (by either contemporary European standards or by US standards perhaps about 30 or 40 years ago) offers some well-thought out commentary. The bottom line is we have a discourse out of balance, and it's difficult to imagine that changing for the better any time in the foreseeable future.

Blast from the past: Commemorating MLK, Jr.

Since some things bear repeating:
When Dr. King spoke out against the war in 1968, and when he called out the US as a malignant and imperial power, and when he connected the racism that underwrote Jim Crow and its de facto correlatives in the oh-so-innocent North to the racism that allowed America to sleep soundly while Vietnamese men, women, and children were being slaughtered wholesale... then he was beyond the pale. The mainstream press -- far from embracing King -- fell all over themselves to denounce and marginalize him. [This] includes all the so-called "liberal" sheets that still tell the rest of the media what is and is not "news."

Dr. King had the courage to tell us then that every bomb dropped in Vietnam exploded over Harlem. When I hear that kind of truth-telling from either of the pre-anointed Democrats, instead of their relentless phrase-mongering and dressed-up equivocations, then we can take them seriously. Right now all we see are smooth-talking politicians.

With Martin Luther King Day right around the corner, expect plenty more of this disgusting mis-attribution to promote political careers.
Nerdified link; tip o' the hat to Marisacat.

On a related note, from Ahmed Shawki's excellent book Black Liberation and Socialism(pp. 200-204):

King began to see the connections much more clearly between racism at home and racism abroad, in particular between the economic inequities at home and the war budget. King also started to rethink his understanding of violence. He was keenly aware that the growing urban unrest in the North was an expression of the frustration and impatience that existed among Blacks - and a corresponding sympathy and openness to more radical solutions. After the Watts riots, King declared, "It was a class revolt of the under-privileged against the privileged." In 1967, he concluded, "after Selma and the voting rights bill we moved into an era which must be an era of revolution.... The whole structure of American life must be changed."

King now made clear that there was a great deal of difference between the violence of the U.S. state and the violence of those rioting in urban centers across the country, and he began to use a different vocabulary to describe his tactics, referring to "massive nonviolence," "aggressive nonviolence," and even "nonviolent sabotage."

Trying to overcome the collapse of the coalition he built to challenge Southern segregation, the apparent failure of the movement in the North, and the growing impatience among Black activists and Blacks more generally, King formulated a new strategy:
Nonviolence must be adapted to urban conditions and urban moods. Non-violent protest must now mature to a new level, to correspond to heightened Black impatience and stiffened white resistance. This high level is mass civil disobedience. There must be more than a statement to the larger society, there must be a force that interrupts its functioning at some key point.... To dislocate the functioning of a city without destroying it can be more effective than a riot because it can be longer lasting, costly to the larger society, but not wantonly destructive. It is a device of social action that is more difficult for a government to quell by superior force.... It is militant and defiant, not destructive.
King's most powerful indictment of the war came on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before he was murdered. In a speech at New York City's Riverside Church, aptly titled "A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam," King declared:
Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would never live on the same block in Detroit. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years, especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they asked, and rightly so, what about Vietnam? They asked if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.
These kinds of views were not welcome by many of the liberals who had previously praised King in the struggle to end Jim Crow. As [Michael Eric] Dyson observes:
King's assault on America as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today" elicited a predictably furious reaction from the White House. The news media was even harsher.... Richard Lentz notes that Time magazine had, early in King's opposition to the war, characterized him as a "drawling bumpkin, so ignorant that he had not read a newspaper in years, who had wandered out of his native haunts and away from his natural calling." Newsweek columnist Kenneth Crawford attacked King for his "demagoguery" and "reckless distortion of the facts." The Washington Post said that King's Riverside speech was a "grave injury" to the civil rights struggle and that King had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, to his country, and to his people." The New York Times editorialized that King's speech was a "fusing of two public problems that are distinct and separate" and that King had done a "disservice to both."
As I remarked in April 2007, once King began to attack a war that many "respectable" liberals had deemed necessary, he became public enemy number one among the establishment PC police of the day. Not too surprisingly, the White House, along with the elite media organs of the day began a smear campaign against their former ally.

Some relevant audiovisual info:

The full text of the above speech can be read here.

Also check out the text to his speech, Beyond Vietnam. A portion of that speech, juxtaposed with some very contemporary imagery, is available on Youtube:

Finally, check out Dr. MLK Jr.: Struggling Not To Lose Him (h/t Mickey Z):