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.
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. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

And you people are surprised why?

I've been watching the liberal/progressive (or whatever they are called in the parlance of our times) bloggers having a bit of a freakout over the end of the Sequester for airline travelers while keeping Sequester firmly in place for the poor, the unemployed, university students on financial assistance, the elderly, etc. (for just one of many examples, see this post). Look, I'm sure a few will even try to spin this to be a positive (you know, all that brilliant 11 dimensional chess malarkey), but the reality is that austerity will remain in place for the vast majority of us with regard to the vast majority of basic services, and that we will be dealing with that austerity for some time to come. If you didn't believe Gil Scott-Heron back in the 1970s when he proclaimed it "Winter in America", well, what can I say? There is a chill in the air, my friends. Winter's going to be with us. You know which way the wind is blowing.

Why those most loyal to the Democratic Party get surprised by any of this is quite frankly surprising to me. The party has always been a capitalist party, although up until about the 1980s was one that acknowledged a need to keep capitalism on a fairly short leash. However, since the 1980s, the party's loyalties have become split between its labor base on the one hand and its corporate sponsors on the other hand. A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey provides a reasonably good treatment of the Democratic Party's transformation during that period to the present, and the implication of that transformation for those who value the New Deal and Great Society programs that the current party had inherited. In essence, the neoliberal incarnation of the Democratic Party is one that will perpetually disappoint it liberal base. If it weren't for the GOP's fixation with the most backward elements of American society, we'd be in an era of "permanent" GOP majorities. It appears we'll be spared that particular fate, but instead will be dealt one in which the Dems carry the GOP's water on economic matters while throwing us a few bones on matters of social issues (and then rather reluctantly).

And as I write this, many continue to silently suffer. I suppose it would be too much to ask for something resembling an organized and disciplined Left. The timing would be perfect for such an entity. But hey, those business travelers won't have to deal with inconvenient delays as they do the bidding of their various and sundry corporate masters - and that's all that matters. Let's pop open the bubbly. Might as well get tanked. It's going to be a long winter, indeed.