The doctrinaire Left insists upon doing things and organizing the way it was done 80 years ago. However, the world has changed. The old ways no longer work. Anarchists get this. That’s why Occupy primarily came from and was encouraged by anarchists. They’ve changed with the times. The Marxist Left was just as gobsmacked by Occupy as neoliberals were. They never saw it coming and their usual tactic of trying to jack incipient movements didn’t work. The anarchists wouldn’t allow it.
If you’re so stereotypically ‘leftwing’ that it impedes the achievement of your goals, perhaps you’ve gone wrong.
Why, in more than five years of turmoil for the global capitalist system, has the left made such a practically negligible impact?
A third manifestation is the commitment to sustaining old methods of organising and old organisational divisions, no matter how thoroughly inadequate to today’s situation they are. Whether one is in the Labour party or in a groupuscule of some kind, it should be evident by now that the institutional formats that worked in the 20th century no longer do.
All too often these positions are conveyed as ostentatiously leftist, safeguarded against revisionism and betrayal. But if the result is that little is achieved, such positions are not leftist; they are useless.
Obama’s approval rating is 43%, with disapproval at 55%, worse than any president since Nixon. Congressional approval is way worse, at an abysmal 16%. However, a genuine budget is about to pass for the first time in years and healthcare.gov appears to finally be functioning as it should. So maybe this is a low point for Obama. Or not.
The economy is still mostly dismal and it looks like housing and real estate is set for another tumble. Obama has been relentlessly bailing out Wall Street but has yet to do much for Main Street.
Taking No Chances, The Empire Strikes Back With the BBC
“Russell Brand, who are you to edit a political magazine?” asks BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.) interviewer Jeremy Paxman with all the arrogant irrelevance required of an establishment shill at the beginning of an eleven-minute interview on the BBC’s October 23 edition of Newsnight. Posted on the BBC Newsnight channel on Youtube, the interview had almost 6 million views in its first three days
Disappointingly, Brand does not immediately respond to the insult with something like, “Well who are you to decide who does or doesn’t get to edit anything in a country that more or less claims to have a free press?”
This segment of Newsnight isn’t exactly for serious news. It’s also a promotional appearance by Brand, whose primary work is as a comedian and actor, currently on a world tour of his stand-up show, Messiah Complex. It opened in June, but doesn’t get even a mention in the interview. Brand is on the program now because one of Britain’s more successful political magazines, New Statesman, has just published its October 24 issue for which Brand served as guest editor, organizing the content around the present need for global revolution. He explained his appearance in New Statesman in a 4,500-word editorial that began:
“When I was asked to edit an issue of the New Statesman I said yes because it was a beautiful woman asking me. I chose the subject of revolution because the New Statesman is a political magazine and imagining the overthrow of the current political system is the only way I can be enthused about politics.”
So when the over-dressed, neatly bearded Paxman challenges the under-dressed, shaggy Brand about his “credentials,” Paxman is both quietly bullying, and is committing a basic logical fallacy: basing his argument on authority, rather than facts. Instead of pointing this out, Brand answers with a variation on the opening paragraph of his editorial, with an added joke about being “a person of crazy hair, quite a good sense of humor, don’t know much about politics – I’m ideal!”
“But is it true you don’t even vote?” Paxman immediately asks next, already knowing the answer. Brand confirms this, he’s never voted. Then, not even thirty seconds into the interview, Paxman seems to go gently for the jugular: “Well, how do you have any authority to talk about politics then?”
Can we then assume that, if you don’t vote, you don’t really exist?
Brand takes the bait without missing a beat. He doesn’t challenge the presumptuous premise of the question – that you have to participate in a system in order to earn the right to criticize that system (a standard by which there was no authority for the Cold War). But Brand takes the question at face value and offers a perfectly coherent, brief answer about deriving his authority from looking for alternatives “that might be of service to humanity – alternate means, alternate political systems.”
Still on the attack, the BBC interviewer presses the comic for a blueprint of his alternate systems, but this time Brand ridicules the ridiculous question. He points out some of the worst abuses by the current system, noting that the world would be improved merely by stopping these abuses (such as destroying the planet, creating massive economic disparity, or ignoring the needs of the people) – “the burden of proof is on the people with the power.”
Paxman pounces on the mention of power and tries to argue that people “get power by being voted in…. in a democracy, that’s how it works.” This is just another paraphrase of the traditional establishment defense, that you have to be part of the system if you want to change the system. It’s so patently false, it’s hard to imagine Paxman actually believes it. But it’s an argument he’s tacitly expected to make as part of his job.
So Paxman presses on with the same rutted irrelevance, in an ad hominem form: “If you can’t be asked to vote, why should we be asked to listen to your political point of view.” When Brand bats that away with more sharp criticism of the system, Paxman tries a guilt inflection, asking Brand, “Well why don’t you change it then?”
Challenging the powerless to change things is what the powerful do
When Paxman learns that Brand has never voted, he tries to make the issue completely personal, saying to Brand: “so you struck an attitude, what, before the age of eighteen.” This is tantamount to calling Brand’s politics nothing more that an adolescent pose, rhetoric without substance. Just over two minutes into the exchange, Paxman seems to be on top when Brand says:
“Well, I’d really been a drug addict at that point, because I come from the kind of social conditions that are exacerbated by an indifferent system that really just administrates for large corporations and ignores the population that –“
Paxman interrupts with a desperate ploy: “You’re blaming the political class for the fact that you had a drug problem?” But Brand keeps on with an articulate critique of the present moment that reduces Paxman to accusing Brand of not believing in democracy and wanting a revolution. Something is happening here, and he doesn’t seem to know what it is.
Now, in response to Brand’s articulate litany, Paxman goes in a completely different direction: “All of those things may be true –“ They are true!” says Brand. “I wouldn’t argue with you about many of them,” Paxman responds, at which point the interview appears to be edited and what follows is some nonsense about Paxman’s beard.
Paxman shifts back to the inquiry mode, asking Brand for details again about what me means by revolution and what are the specifics of the new system he wants, but his tone now is less confrontational. Even so, when Brand says voting makes no difference, Paxman responds, “It does make a difference,” without offering any evidence that it does. And he’s already agreed with Brand that in many important ways, voting hasn’t made a difference.
After six minutes, Paxman seems more hesitant, the exchange becomes more of a conversation. Having conceded most of the problems facing the world, Paxman tries yet another tack in defense of the powerful: “It’s possible that human beings are just overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.”
That seems desperate and improbable, since he’s defending people who, rather than appearing overwhelmed, are actively making the problems worse. When Brand lucidly says as much, Paxson, without looking Brand in the eye, says, “You don’t really believe that.” But he’s quiet almost to the point of inarticulateness at this point and offers no rebuttal. Brand by now is energized and needs no questions to continue his hyperactive analysis than ends with, “why pretend, why be complicit in this ridiculous illusion?”
Lacking a relevant response, he tries irrelevance, and then silence
Paxman, defender of the status quo, answers only: “Because by the time somebody comes along that you might think it worth voting for, it may be too late.” In other words, Paxman is suggesting, your analysis of the crisis is essentially correct, but the only way to fix it is to work within the system. At this point, after almost nine minutes, Paxman even looks as hopeless as he sounds, and Brands spins on.
After another minute of saying nothing, Paxman asks quietly, “Do you see any hope?”
“Yes, totally, there’s going to be revolution, it’s totally going to happen,” Brand snaps back. And then he gets personal with Paxman in a startling way. Brand says:
“I remember seeing you on that program where you look at your ancestors and you saw that your grandmother had to brass herself or else get f**ked over by the aristocrats that ran her gaff and you cried – because you knew that it was unfair, and unjust. And that, what was that, a century ago?
“That’s happening to people now. I’ve just come from a woman who’s being treated like that, I’ve just been talking to a woman, today, who’s being treated like that. So if we can engage that feeling, instead of some lachrymose sentimentality trotted out on TV for people to pore over, emotional porn – if we can engage that feeling and change things, why wouldn’t we? Why is that naive? Why is that not my right because I’m an ‘actor’? I’ve taken the right. I don’t need the right from you. I don’t need the right from anybody. I’m taking it.”
The segment ends and Paxman hasn’t said another word.
Ian Welsh. The liberal / progressive blogs movement failed because of a lack of core beliefs and obsequiousness to the Democratic Party, which mostly co-opted them. I never expected them to succeed since they had no real plan for how they would take over the Democratic Party or how they expected not to be corrupted and co-opted while trying. To me, they seemed earnest, well-meaning, and naive. My politics were forged during the radicalism of the 1960′s and I’ve never believed voting will accomplish much.
Unlike the Tea Party, most left wingers don’t really believe their own ideology. They put partisanship first, or they put the color of a candidate’s skin or the shape of their genitals over the candidate’s policy. Identity is more important to them than how many brown children that politician is killing.
Tea Party members are partisan too. The big difference is the Tea Party will stand and fight. Quick, tell me, what does the Democratic Party stand for? Not much, far as I can tell. The prog blog movement too often got caught up in championing vaguely progressive candidates then collapsing into supporting the establishment candidate because of the “lesser of two evils” theory. Nader got that quite right when he called it the “evils of two lessers.” And of course netroots was almost completely opposed to third party runs or anything that seriously questions the existing system or capitalism.
So progressives have no power, because they have no principles: they cannot be expected to actually vote for the most progressive candidate, to successfully primary candidates, to care about policy first and identity second, to not take scraps from the table and sell out other progressive’s interests.
Liberals and progs wanted to reform the Democratic Party from within. This can’t be done. It, like the Republican Party, is corrupt and utterly beholden to special interests.
Peter Camejo wrote The Avocado Declaration in 2004. It details how a prime function of the Democratic Party is to siphon real protest into itself, where it then renders it inert. This has been going on for quite some time. After all, the Democratic Party backstabbed the Populist Party in the 1890′s.
He wrote this from a Green Party perspective as a vice presidential candidate on the Nader ticket. However, his analysis of how the Democratic Party pretends to be the friend of social movements before attempting to co-opt or neutralize them, remains on target and cogent. Both parties are corporatist and do not serve the people. That’s his primary point.
Interestingly, mainstream Republicans though they could co-opt the Tea Party and instead almost got jacked by them, with the result that their party is now fracturing.
Jerome Armstrong has a long comment to Welch’s post with detailed history, a must-read, about how and why netroots imploded.
When Democrats sided with the banks in 2008, and the progressive movement balked at primary challenges against those bankster-sponsored incumbents in 2010, it was all over.
TEPCO, as always, is comatose, uncaring, and criminally irresponsible. If Fukushima continues poisoning the ocean, then this will become a worldwide problem. The government of Japan needs to act fast and immediately. Replacing Tepco management with competent personnel who don’t lie continually would be a hugely needed first step. If they balk about being fired, put them in prison.
Even Japan’s nuclear regulatory agency says Tepco is unwilling or unable to deal with the problem.
Tepco’s “sense of crisis is weak,” Kinjo said. “This is why you can’t just leave it up to Tepco alone” to grapple with the ongoing disaster.
The U.S. two-party system is a reality. Socialists active in the U.S. have to acknowledge the unique character of the U.S. government and Constitution. We cannot import ready-made foreign organizational models more salutary to parliamentary systems with proportional representation and must instead find ways of organizing consonant with American traditions.
A more democratic political system can only be brought into being as the result of revolutionary changes in which the U.S. Constitution was altered to make government more representative in character and thereby less prone to corruption. There is historical precedence for this (see the 17th Amendment). But as the government is currently in the hands not only of the wealthiest 1% of Americans but the wealthiest 1% of the 1%, we cannot expect that electoral reform will be on the agenda anytime soon. For this reason, electoral reform should be seen as an ends, not a means. The means, if history is any indicator, will be a militant mass movement directly challenging the power and privilege of the most powerful Americans.
Where We’ve Been: Theoretical and Historical Considerations
Objective characteristics of the U.S.’s 18th-century election model have been a major factor in preserving the two-party system but have not prevented the formation and growth of robust new party formations in periods of acute class conflict at both the local and national levels. The rise of the Republican Party in the 1850s, which replaced the then-dominant Whig Party, is the most successful example of a new party formation in U.S. history. Its rise, although in very different conditions, can serve as a model and an inspiration to party-builders today.
Socialists should also look to the robust tradition of regional parties. There are numerous historical cases of third parties that found great success at the local level. Examples would include the Socialist Party of Eugene Debs’s day and more recently the modest successes of Vermont’s Progressive Party.
Many party “brands” often need to be attempted before one finally finds success. For instance, before the Republican Party caught on there was the Free Soil Party, which itself came out of the failure of the Liberty Party. Similarly, the Progressive Party of Vermont was preceded by the Citizen’s Party and the Liberty Union (for more on this story, take a look at Eric Leif Davin’s excellent book Radicals in Power).
The lesson here is that even these apparent “failures” in fact laid the groundwork for a larger mass party came later, when conditions were better suited for masses of people to join. And like the progressives and abolitionists of the time, we too shouldn’t get overly tied down to one or another party vehicle.
Reshuffling the Deck: Is the U.S. Party System Nearing an Inflection Point?
Considering the failures of third parties over the past several decades, have the prospects for third parties become more favorable now as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago? This can only be determined in practice, but there are several important trends worth considering that bear on this question: the rise of generalized dissatisfaction with government, the global financial crisis, the likelihood of further stagnation or deterioration of economic conditions for the U.S. working class, the increasing impact of climate change, among others.
One important trend is the changing demographics of the U.S. electorate. These changes present a number of opportunities that have been unavailable to left political interventions previously both at the local and the national levels. I will only briefly touch on two demographic blocs whose emergence onto the political scene has the potential to upset the two-party status quo.
U.S. electoral map adjusted by population density.
Firstly, consider the uneven emergence of a Latino voting bloc. While the number of Latino voters rose between 2008 and 2012 by 1.4 million, turnout was lower in 2012 than in 2008. Latino turnout dropped 2% and the number of Latino nonvoters grew by 2.3 million. As Paul Taylor, executive vice president of Pew Research Center put it: “Given what we know about the youth bulge in the population, Millennials and Hispanics will become ever-more important voting blocs in upcoming presidential elections. But in 2012, both groups left a lot of votes on the table.”
How can the left capitalize on the growing power of a Latino voting bloc? This question is well beyond the scope of this short article, but there are many lessons which should be studied more seriously on the left — for instance, the experience of La Raza Unida Party in the 1970s and early 1980s.
As mentioned above, another key emerging demographic is Millennials, a demographic bulge larger numerically than the famous “Baby Boom.” Millennials constitute the core cadre of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Arab Spring, and the uprisings in Turkey, Brazil, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, too many on the left are dismissive of the revolutionary potential of college-educated youth because they are “privileged” or “middle class.” This is an unscientific and moralistic reading of both the immiseration thesis and revolutionary history. A revolutionary class is no less revolutionary because it does not conform to theoretical precepts; more likely, the theory needs to be adjusted in light of new evidence.
Positive indicators for this demographic — besides a penchant for mass grassroots street protest after a decades-long lull — might include a decline in partisan identification, especially among progressive youth. As Rolling Stonereported:
The turn away from party identification has been a long-term American trend: According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans don’t consider themselves members of a political party, compared to 36 percent in 2002 and 33 percent in 1988. But that trend has been all the more accelerated among young people — and even more so among young progressives.
None of this is to say a transition toward a new mass party of the Left is inevitable. Politics is struggle, and the emergence of a new alternative to the status quo will mean conscious action by individuals, organizations, and masses of people over a protracted period of time. As Bill Fletcher Jr. rightly reminds us:
There are rare moments in US history where there is a reshuffling of the deck that may result in either the transformation of an existing political party or the emergence of another. The emergence of a new mass party is not the result of a founding convention but on the basis of an adjustment and repositioning of political constituencies. This is a matter of mass politics, including but not limited to electoral action.
New possibilities exist today which suggest a mass party of the left can be built within our lifetimes. Now we must begin an urgent conversation on how to seize the time.
However, conversation is only the first step; it must culminate in action, in real-world organizing. If we succeed, the working class in this country will face its enemies — for the first time in many decades — with a great powerhouse of organization: a political party of the people, by the people, and for the people.
At last, the Labour Party leaders are revealing their election strategy. They’ve announced they’ll stick to the current Government’s spending plans, and the current Government’s welfare cap. Next week, Ed Miliband will announce:“The British people are sick and tired of the way this Government runs the country, and that’s why we promise to do everything exactly the same. There are so many things they’ve ruined, which is why I assure you categorically we will keep ruining the same things. THAT is the exciting prospect we will be putting to the British people in 2015.”
(Ok, this Independent article is satirical but I bet you weren’t sure, right?)
Tablet, a magazine of Jewish news and politics, is singularly unimpressed with the political posturings of Secretary of State John Kerry and opines his insistence of Israeli – Palestinian peace talks are geared solely for the inbred DC Beltway audience and only makes him look ridiculous in the Middle East.
Kerry’s public statements have little connection to workable diplomacy. Rather, the secretary of state is the leading man in a theatrical production about American Middle East policy whose only audience members, at this point, are Beltway pundits.
George Orwell has a way of saying in one sentence what others struggle to say in entire books. Here are a few of his quotes about politics.
The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.
Indeed, the two main currents on the hard left are Marxism and Anarchism (and their many offshoots and currents.) Yet the anti-authoritarian anarchist left has more in common with supposed right-wing libertarians than it does with Marxists. And for good reason. Both oppose strong state control.
In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.
You can’t avoid politics, as Hitchens said, because it will find you.
One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.
And I thought I was cynical… Yet there is much truth in what he says. Somehow the dictatorship of the proletariat, which was only supposed to be used against the bourgeoise and then wither away, gets used against everyone and gains power instead of shedding it.
Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Wes Messamore just updated his comprehensive list of libertarian blogs and websites at The Humble Libertarian. Check it out! I knew Wes a bit from when we both wrote for IVN. He’s a right libertarian and I’m a left populist. Yet we have plenty of agreement on some issues, like fighting for civil liberties, legalizing drugs, same sex marriage, and opposing our insane wars.