I came across the following passage in a Slate piece about the failure of gun control legislation to pass the Senate. The question was whether it was Obama's fault, his failure to lead, or whether it was the fault of partisan politics.
In fact, the type of president who could work or cajole the Senate in this political environment would probably never have been elected in the first place.The passage made me think about dilemmas on the left. The kind of left that we need for successful communist struggle today is the kind that can't appear. The conditions that make it necessary are the conditions that make it impossible.
If leaders emerge, they are slapped down. If they don't emerge we are stagnant. When some try to unify our struggles, they are treated with suspicion, resisted and rejected -- even as the multiplicity of singular struggles fail to make any substantial headway. The automatic reflex in the face of any appeals to unity is to criticize: there isn't a strong working class movement, so there is no ground for unity; any unity is or will be exclusionary; any success will only result in another form of domination.
It also seems as if people don't know how to follow. Instead, we are enjoined to have our own opinions, be independent, be winners. Among intellectuals this is a particular hazard -- especially for academics who are paid to judge, evaluate, and grade, who function in reputation economies that value criticism, pedantry, and iconoclasm, who construe disagreement as the sine qua non of independent thinking, especially when it is accompanied by an injunction to historicize and compare. It's odd, this way of thinking that considers itself so willing take risks even as it criticizes ideas and suggestions because they risk X, Y, or whatever.
The only ideas that seem to escape unscathed are those that conform to the expectations of communicative capitalism: do it yourself, rely on technology, go local (small is beautiful), smash and hack (as if nobody learned that the capitalist economy can eliminate trillions of dollars of wealth and still keep going).
I'm looking forward to Historical Materialism (and Left Forum) because it seems like we may be building the critical mass necessary to break free of this deadening individualism and figure out what pulling together will entail and how to go about it. I'm going to listen for organizing ideas (not because I am an organizer, I am not, but because I would like to be able to do my part in building support for them).
After talking to a friend who spent a lot of time with the Sandinistas, I started wondering about what it would look like to organize young women, single mothers in communist struggle. What would that look like? It seems a good place for unifying with teachers and nurses (who have been highly visible in their organized struggles). It would probably make health care, nutrition, education, and housing into core issues (and so look for protest opportunities on these fronts). And it could suggest the development of a communist infrastructure of clinics, farms, schools, and anti-eviction alliances/public housing/rent controlled apartments. A cool advantage here is that recognizing that women's politics are about a lot more than sex (birth control, abortion, etc) can attract and radicalize a lot of women who are considered so narrowly in mainstream Democratic politics.
Saturday, April 27, 2013
Quotable: The left we are. The left we need.
I'm going to quote Jodi Dean's post in I cite in its entirety because it makes some useful points with regard to where we're at and how we might emerge in a better place. Please read, and please ponder.