Archive | Politics

Why I’m saying Yes to Scottish independence

yes-scotland

“1% of the world has 90% of the wealth
And the system says to step on folk

why helping yourself
I hope you’re hearing these thoughts
with amazement
And inequity is consigned to the
history pages
I don’t want to see another lost generation”
-Stanley Odd, Son I Voted Yes

I was always going to vote Yes. Ever since my Scottish wife explained the situation of Scotland within the UK to me some twenty years ago, I’ve supported the principle of Scottish independence. And when we moved to Scotland from the USA in 1996, I saw the practical realities of the “United Kingdom” and realised independence was less of a pipedream and more a matter of necessity.

Now, I fully recognise the faults of the country I was born in. The United States is dominated by a powerful, distant elite that maintains its power through a system of reckless, brutal violence. The wealth which is created socially is held in very few hands, and those hands have been extremely successful in using that wealth to construct a world that suffocates alternatives.

However, while the political system has always served the interests of the powerful, at least it can be understood and that’s because there is a written Constitution. And if it can be understood, it can be changed.

In the UK, on the other hand, there is an “unwritten Constitution” – basically all the laws that have accumulated over time. Apparently, once upon a time, British legal scholars found the USA”s constitution a joke – “they need to write it down, they can’t remember it!” But any “unwritten” agreement suffers from the problem that you will inevitably end up making it up as you go along and that is the strikingly odd thing about how Britain “works”.

The Scotland I came to in 1996 seemed like a bleak, beaten down place. Fashions seemed subdued, and while people were more openly progressive in their views than most Americans I had ever encountered, no one seemed particularly hopeful.

One of the strangest experiences I had as a new immigrant was hearing the Prime Minister of the time, John Major, making a statement on the tv imploring the population to spend money on stuff they didn’t necessarily need, in order to create a “feelgood factor.” And then I learned that some people were making £1 an hour in Glasgow, because there was no minimum wage.

I could see the logic in Scottish independence – the way the Westminster government was set up served the interests of the people who owned it, while most people in Scotland expressed progressive political views and voted that way.

So, like I say, if the opportunity had ever come up to vote for Scottish independence, I would have done it.

I didn’t become a UK citizen until 2005, so I wasn’t able to vote for the Scottish Parliament in 1997 but I was pleasantly surprised when a majority not only voted for it, but also the tax varying powers on offer.

And while it has been no revolution, the Scottish Parliament has been a improvement and a different set of values to those dominant in neoliberal governments has become established here: free prescriptions, free personal care for the elderly as well as free public transport for over 60s, no tuition fees for higher education. And all limited by the “make it up as you go along” Barnett formula in which “regions” like Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receive funding from the Westminster kitty.

I was as critical of the SNP governments as I was of the Labour-Liberal Democrat governments before them, though I had to admit that once the SNP got a majority, they were generally competent, which is a rare thing to see in governments. They only tinkered around the edges of neoliberalism, they did not take it head on; but to be fair had they attempted to do so, the “make it up as you go along” system would probably have been there to stop them.

Anyway, even though I would always have voted Yes, I never thought it was a possibility. And I definitely never thought I would come to see it as something exciting and inspiring.

When it was announced two years ago that Scotland would have a referendum I was surprised that the Scottish Government had actually gotten it agreed with Westminster. I figured it would go nowhere, result in a No vote and a period of smugness from elites – “see, we told you no one was interested.”

But gradually, I became aware that something new happening. Groups like the Radical Independence Convention were making articulate arguments for a progressive case for independence, and a multitude of organisers were making this case in working class constituencies that have been ignored by mainstream politics for decades. People were able to bypass the mainstream media and get information from alternative news sources like Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland.

The countering arguments from the anti-independence “Better Together” campaign ran the spectrum of fear mongering and duplicity – you won’t be able to use the pound, you will be a poor country and nothing will work. Instead of focusing on why it is better to stay in the Union, the focus has been on Scotland not being able to survive without help from Westminster, help which most people in the UK are less than enthusiastic about. Austerity, following on from bank bailouts, does not seem like much help in a country with foodbanks. Being told that Trident nuclear missiles can’t leave Faslane military base (which is 40 miles from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city) because the only other possible base, in Plymouth, England, is near a “densely populated area” does not inspire the feeling that we are “Better Together”.

In 2012, after David Cameron announced the Scottish Parliament would be allowed to hold a referendum, Scottish Labour MP Alistair Darling made a rambling speech in which he warned:

“British music will no longer be our music. British art, dance and drama will no longer be ours. British sporting success will be someone else’s to celebrate.”

This statement sums up the level of thinking that has dominated the Better Together campaign. It speaks for itself.

There have been last minute attempts by elites in London, such as historian Tom Holland who organised the celebrity “Let’s Stay Together” letter (signed by the likes of Mick Jagger and journalist Rod Liddle who has said “The only reason any people remain in Scotland is on account of the extremely cheap alcohol…plus a ready supply of heroin for when the alcohol runs out”). Tom has stated that he “enjoys the tension and the sense of irony of being British” and adds, with no sense of irony, that the role of Scots is to “re-energise and revitalise the UK”, which presumably was what happened when oil was discovered, its value hidden from the people of the UK, and used during the 80s to fund Thatcher’s de-industrialisation, which broke the back of organised labour (as Alan Budd, Thatcher adviser recalled “what was engineered…in Marxist terms was a crisis of capitalism which re-created a reserve army of labour and has allowed the capitalists to make high profits ever since.”)

Another approach was that of right-winger Niall Ferguson who explained to eminent Scottish historian Tom Devine (and recent Yes supporter) that an independent Scotland would be like Belarus and “should be wound up, its assets offloaded and re-named North Britain”.  And after a poll emerged showing Yes in the lead, the “love bombing” was quickly ditched in favour of good old fashioned threats, which may now have “jumped the shark” with DeutscheBank forecasting that Scottish Independence  would bring about another Great Depression. Amazingly, Scotland – this “minor entity on the North of Britain” could somehow wreak  economic havoc, all the while being in possession of 60% of Europe’s oil reserves. Perhaps DeutscheBank’s analysts are merely finding it hard to make sense of things, due to their recent slump, as well as all the fines and threats of litigation. Maybe they still haven’t gotten over losing €4 billion in 2008 (they had forecasted “a record profit” of more than €8 billion).

While the Better Together campaign continued to push their “Project Fear” (according the Sunday Herald this was what BT was privately referring to itself as) and their “Love Bombs”, something different was happening among Yes supporters. While BT is a top down organisation with little grassroots support, the Yes campaign has energised people who would not normally be involved in politics. Groups like RIC saw the potential for organising amongst previously ignored working class communities, getting people to register to vote who had never voted before. Women for Independence was formed because, in the words of former MSP Carolyn Leckiethere was no other way I could see how my voice, as a woman, would be heard. And I was fed up watching ‘independence’ being debated by men in grey suits, through a very narrow lens of party rhetoric.” And as in the popular rebellions in Tunisia and Egypt, social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook became organising and educating tools that were accessible to many people not usually involved in political activism (though it is important to remember that about 40% of Glaswegians do not have regular access to the internet).

A new cultural confidence emerged, much of it disseminated through the internet. The group National Collective brought together artists and creatives to argue the case for Yes. The satirical news programme Dateline Scotland captured not just the superior tone of tv journalists but the ridiculous content. The Twitter account @AngrySalmond, with over 13,000 followers, has popularised the hashtag “SexySocialism”. Lady Alba’s parody of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, in which she outlines her case for voting No (“I want your weapons, I want student fees. I want a country run by Tory MPs, I’m voting no”) has had over 100,000 views. Stanley Odd’s raps have also gone viral and he has outlined the situation of Scotland within the UK and the reasons for a Yes vote more articulately than most politicians on either side of the debate. In his rap “Marriage Counselling“, “Caledonia” argues its case to a dismissive “Britannia”:

“This is hardly blissful matrimony.
I’ve got resources so I shouldn’t have to ask for money.
I support ma self so don’t even mention alimony.
And I don’t need you to fight ma battles for me.
So tell yir mates in Faslane they need a new address
I see the truth with my new clear head.
Ma pal Alex says that you’re blind to the facts
And that it’s time for me to stand and draw a line in the sand
Everybody’s got an opinion and I’m sick of it
I’m getting pulled in all directions with this constant bickering
It’s like a smokescreen I’m struggling to see through
PS. Half of me doesn’t want to leave you”

This is not a vote for “nationalism”. Despite the decades of lies of Scotland being a land of subsidy junkies (a slur used by the press from the Times of London to the tabloid papers), this isn’t even a vote for Scotland to get rich from its North Sea oil reserves (which help cover up the rest of the UK’s massive deficit). This is a vote against austerity, against Trident nuclear missiles and for a fairer society. This is a vote to make use of a massive resource – instead of creating another “lost generation” of young people, instead of the traditional Scottish export of people, we can create a country where they will want to stay. We will need them to, in order to build a better society.

Posted in News, Politics1 Comment

Obama’s job approval rating plummets in California

field-poll

Obama has his worst job rating ever in California and most of the decline comes from previous supporters. The respected Field Poll shows nearly as many Californians now disapprove of Obama’s performance as approve (43% vs 45%), a sharp drop from his 62% approval at the beginning of his second term.

This reading is the poorest appraisal of the job performance that Obama has received of his presidency and is in sharp contrast to the 62% favorable perception that California voters had of him at the beginning of his second term. Most of the recent decline in the President’s approval ratings has occurred among subgroups of voters who had been among Obama’s strongest supporters in prior polls.

Further, a majority of Californians (51%) now think the country is seriously off track. These results in a previous bastion of support for Obama do not bode well for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections. Yes, we are living in turbulent times. However Obama lately seems disinterested and asleep at the wheel. Even California Senator Dianne Feinstein is criticizing him, saying he is “too cautious” about ISIS. I’d call it being “comatose.” In times of turmoil and peril, political leaders should attempt to lead or at least pretend they care about what’s happening. Obama instead makes bland comments and does little.

Asked by NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell if Obama’s statement that the U.S. did not yet have a strategy to deal with ISIS projected weakness, Feinstein replied, “I think I’ve learned one thing about this president, and that is he’s very cautious. Maybe in this instance, too cautious.”

Posted in Politics

Death of expertise. America, governed by corrupt chimps, dumbs down?

expert

Our country (for quite good reasons) has vanishing respect for authority.’Authority is respected when authority is respectable’. Our leaders and authorities too often are compromised, venal, sociopaths primarily interested in enriching themselves. Most people now assume government and business lie to them continually, and they are mostly correct.

So, it should be no surprise that authorities and experts are increasingly attacked or ignored, while anyone who can post on social media is assumed to have a equal authority to experts who has studied the subject at hand for twenty years. This is dangerous and leads to idiocies like mothers not vaccinating their children, putting the health of others in the area at risk.

This mindset leads to ideological entrenchments like Obamabots and Tea Party members trading insults and refusing to listen to anyone but themselves. It also leads to stupidities like the “check your privilege” rubbish where anyone born above a poverty level is presumed to be untrustworthy and captive to their class. History shows otherwise. Leaders of revolutions are almost always from wealthy families. Their privilege gave them the time to understand what was wrong with their society. Plus, they had an insider’s view of how it operates. Lenin, Fidel Castro, Che, Mao, Karl Marx all came from prosperous families. The problem isn’t about privilege per se, it’s about what one does with it.

In a society that no longer has trustworthy leaders, people start searching for new answers and solutions. That’s a primary reason for the Tower of Babel that passes for social and political discourse now. This doesn’t mean the American people are dumb, quite the opposite. They know something has gone badly wrong.

The death of expertise

Having equal rights does not mean having equal talents, equal abilities, or equal knowledge. It assuredly does not mean that “everyone’s opinion about anything is as good as anyone else’s.” And yet, this is now enshrined as the credo of a fair number of people despite being obvious nonsense.

America dumbs down

The U.S. is being overrun by a wave of anti-science, anti-intellectual thinking. Has the most powerful nation on Earth lost its mind?

No, maybe it hasn’t. Maybe Americans are trying to figure out what to do in a time when traditional institutions are collapsing.

Ideology is making America stupid

But I also worry about the tendency to dismiss the American people as a bunch of idiots. In truth, I find that average Americans are often more aware of what’s wrong with our country than the better educated are, though they are frequently unable to exactly articulate our national problems. But they get, deeply, that something just ain’t right here, and it hardly furthers debate to portray such common people, who unlike our cautious-lipped elites are often willing to state obvious truths fearlessly, as idiots. Which is exactly what both Left and Right do. There has developed a near-universal hunt for false consciousness among one’s political opponents, and it is cancerous.

Posted in Politics

Being doctrinaire leftwing leads to weakness and inaction

antiwar protest

Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb writing in the Guardian, dissects why the hard left is currently so weak and inept.

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.

Posted in Politics

Obama now least popular president since Nixon

Credit: WaPo/ABC

Credit: WaPo/ABC

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.

Posted in Politics

A revolution led by Russell Brand?

Russell-Brand
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.

But Paxman has a repitation for being good at his job.  Business Insider calls him “Britain’s toughest journalist,” adding that he’s “a journalist known for his incredibly combative style of interviewing (he once asked a government minister the same question 12 times in succession).”

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.    

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.

Posted in Politics, populism, Socialism

Why the progressive blog movement failed

house-falling-down

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.

The Avocado Declaration remains completely relevant.

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.

Posted in Blogging, News, Politics

Japan nuclear agency: Fukushima now an “emergency”. TEPCO negligent

Fukushima_Nuclear_Power_Plant

The world can’t wait while negligent idiots at TEPCO dither about how to stop highly radioactive groundwater from Fukushima leaking into the ocean.

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.

“Right now, we have an emergency,” he said.

Posted in Politics, Water

Party in the U.S.A. — Changing Prospects for A New Mass Party of the Left

By Tim Horras. First published by The North Star.

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.

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 Stone reported:

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.

The increasing lack of trust in government and bourgeois political parties could lead to this demographic toward a cynical disengagement with politics, or alternatively, it could prove to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Left. It’s the responsibility of the Left to humbly yet earnestly offer another way forward.

Seize the Time: Towards a New Mass Party

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.

Tim Horras is Chair of the Philly Socialists.

Posted in Politics

Labour Party promises, if elected, to do what current government does

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I’m thinking the Democratic Party in the US and the Labour Party in Britain are executing the same dimbulb political strategy. Mimic the right-wing while pretending to be different.

From The Independent:

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?)

Posted in Politics

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