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Sun Aug 23, 2015, 11:19 PM

The Leftist Critique and What I Suggest Doing If You're a Lefty

Let me start off by saying I'm not looking to discuss whether or not someone should support the nominee regardless (lesser evil voting, as some call it) or what some call pragmatism, or whether voting for a Green is a wasted vote. That's a separate discussion for a different thread, and I've heard reasonable arguments on all sides. So, please don't venture into those topics. Now, let me get to the point of this thread...

There seems to be a gross misunderstanding (or, frankly, ignorance) of the leftist critique of modern mainstream Democrats (which, by the way, is not Hillary-specific). Over the years, both major political parties have moved to the right...so much so that former Republican presidents are -- in many ways -- to the left of modern mainstream Democrats. It isn't even necessarily that the politicians themselves have moved to the right. It's a systemic thing that arguably has its origins in The Powell Memo (an early 1970s document that pushed for much greater involvement from corporations and multinationals).

Labels are a force to be reckoned with. I suspect it has something to do with our tribal nature. A loved one of mine provides a good example. He was a strong supporter of Eisenhower. Do today's Republicans resemble Eisenhower Republicans? Not really. So, has that loved one ceased being a Republican? No, not at all. He simply followed the party in its move further and further to the right (and now that party has gone completely off the rails). Many people go where the label takes them, never even noticing (or caring) that the label doesn't represent the same values/policies that it once did. That's true for both of the major party labels.

So, what is the dominant ideology of today? It's widely known as neoliberalism (or economic liberalism). You can read an in-depth analysis of neoliberalism here. Or a condensed version here. It's actually the dominant ideology of both parties, but one party tends to be more hawkish (neoconservatives especially) and holds horrifying, inhumane positions on social issues. Reagan and Thatcher were very much neoliberals, which is when that ideology really got off the ground (if you're so inclined, you can read A Brief History of Neoliberalism by David Harvey).

While it's true, of course, that Hillary Clinton is not Bill Clinton, the reason people bring up the many horrific policies from the 1990s Clinton Administration (NAFTA, crime bill, welfare bill, DOMA, etc., etc., etc.) is because those are indicative of why lefties are so frustrated with modern Democrats (and Hillary's record suggests she is another right wing Democrat, even if there are a few other Democrats who are even further to the right). Perhaps some of you have taken the Political Compass test. Well, here's a look at where various political candidates fall on the political compass, based on record and stated positions: https://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2008. And here again: https://www.politicalcompass.org/uselection2012. In other words, we have a right wing party battling a far right wing party. I once heard Dennis Kucinich described as a "European Centrist." Kucinich, of course, was painted as a fringe leftist here in the US. The Republican Party is going to paint just about any Democrat running for president as a radical leftist or extreme liberal. We know they'll do that regardless of the facts, which is why some argue the Democratic Party might as well nominate a genuine progressive (since the opposition will make the "radical leftist" claim either way). But, of course, the Democratic Party establishment is dominated by neoliberalism. Again, it's systemic. It's why Sanders recently said, "And now let me tell you something that no other candidate for president will tell you. And that is no matter who is elected to be president, that person will not be able to address the enormous problems facing the working families of our country. They will not be able to suceed becuase the power of corporate America, the power of Wall Street, the power of campaign donors is so great that no president alone can stand up to them. That is the truth. People may be uncomfortable about hearing it, but that is the reality. And that is why what this campaign is about is saying loudly and clearly: It is not just about electing Bernie Sanders for president, it is about creating a grassroots political movement in this country."

There are going to be "a few bad apples," so to speak in every camp. But the criticism of Hillary and -- more importantly -- modern mainstream Democrats as a whole that is coming from supporters of people like Sanders and Warren (and Jill Stein) is rooted in a genuinely progressive, compassionate position. It's important to acknowledge that many people with strong progressive credentials, including strong proponents of civil rights (such as the late, great Howard Zinn and Cornell West), are/were very critical of modern mainstream Democrats. Because policy positions and values should take precedence over party labels.

All that said, lefties (notice that I don't refer to "The Left" have to take responsibility. As Bernard Chazelle wrote in this article years ago, "America has lefties but no left." Lefties haven't laid the groundwork for someone like Sanders (or Kucinich before him) to become POTUS. Every 4 (or 8) years lefties (at least those who don't just vote Green) get excited about the most leftish Democrat in the race. However, it's clear that not nearly enough work has gone into establishing a climate that is ripe for such a candidate to be viable. You attend a rally, you post on a message board how great you think the candidate is, you get yourself so worked up that you actually think the (relatively) radical candidate can win...newsflash, the groundwork hasn't been laid. You can't just will the environment into being; you have to create it. And accept that it will likely take a long time. This lack of a persistent effort to create an organized Left, combined with impatience (expecting monumental and instantaneous change without the hard work and necessary disruptions of the social order), means Dems must settle for establishment neoliberals when it comes to the federal level.

Julio Huato, in this article, wrote, "I believe that the greatest promise lies, not in national struggles (where, IMO, one way or another, we'll be operating within the strictures imposed by the system), but in smaller scale local battles. Let's go local. Let's work seriously to take over PTAs, unions, municipal governments -- entities charged with managing resources for specific public purposes, even if those resources are meager and shrinking. Let's go after them. If we think we can change the system within our lifetimes, then this certainly will feel like small change. What I envision is taking over a town and turning it around. To the extent possible, converting that town into a small, democratically managed, proto-socialist island. Let's show the world and ourselves how the left can help people manage (and manage well) their public affairs at a local level. Let's go wherever the fruit hangs lowest. That is the kind of work that, sooner than we think, will ripen things at the national level."

In the meantime, national politics is not going to be a vehicle for systemic change. Personally, I think expecting Sanders to win is almost as ridiculous as thinking Trump will be the Republican nominee. Does that mean you're obligated to vote for the Dem nominee? No. But if you want better, guess what? You're going to have to work for it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. Not just when the next election cycle rolls around.

I suggest getting involved in local projects of interest to you. Some examples might include volunteering with civil rights organizations, anti-bullying programs, union organizing, democratic schools or unschooling, co-ops, running for or working in public office, etc. *Note: I'm not talking about mere personal transformation (Gandhi never said "be the change" or promoting new age nonsense that has become popular with lefties. Nor am I suggesting the creation of new organizations. I'm talking about organizing, joining with others to help bring about an environment in which neoliberals and neoconservatives aren't the only options at the national level. Simply expressing opposition to lesser evil voting won't accomplish much.

If you want an organized Left or an environment that can foster a progressive national politics, lefties are going to have to create it from the local outward. And accept that it will take a very long time given our starting position. As opposed to waiting every 4 or 8 years in hopes that this will be the year progressive so-and-so gets elected. Now, some reading this post may already be very active at the local level and I commend you (I sure as heck need to do more myself), but it's quite evident that more needs to be done, that "America has lefties but no left."

I've gone on long enough, so I'll close with this: Depending on your age, you may not see large-scale systemic change in your lifetime. And that can be demoralizing, I know. It's also not easy--you have a job, you have a family, you don't want to do even more work in your spare time. But you have to find a way, because you aren't going to will systemic change into being. You have to help lay the groundwork and - in order to get over the frustration with slow progress - take comfort in planting seeds in the collective consciousness.

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Arrow 21 replies Author Time Post
Reply The Leftist Critique and What I Suggest Doing If You're a Lefty (Original post)
Garrett78 Aug 2015 OP
murielm99 Aug 2015 #1
PowerToThePeople Aug 2015 #2
Catherina Aug 2015 #3
LWolf Aug 2015 #5
lovemydog Aug 2015 #4
MisterP Aug 2015 #6
Garrett78 Aug 2015 #7
MisterP Aug 2015 #8
Garrett78 Aug 2015 #11
MisterP Aug 2015 #12
TBF Aug 2015 #9
Garrett78 Aug 2015 #10
TBF Aug 2015 #14
Zorra Aug 2015 #13
Juicy_Bellows Aug 2015 #21
Warren DeMontague Aug 2015 #15
Garrett78 Aug 2015 #17
Warren DeMontague Aug 2015 #20
Armstead Aug 2015 #16
Garrett78 Aug 2015 #18
Armstead Aug 2015 #19

Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Sun Aug 23, 2015, 11:49 PM

1. Yes to getting involved locally.

Taking over local offices is the best way, and then building from there. In fact, you will find that many state and local Democratic committees are frustrated that more people do not do this. They see people coming out of the woodwork every four years for the national campaigns, and staying away the rest of the time. Most of those people do not know the first thing about how things work.

If those on the left want this to succeed, they have to be willing to work with the people who have been doing this for years. Tearing down a local organization is counterproductive. They might be surprised to find that precinct committeemen, county board members, election judges, etc., are just as progressive as they are.

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Sun Aug 23, 2015, 11:53 PM

2. K&R

 

I do not agree with every aspect of this OP, but I think it is good enough for a rec and a kick.

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Response to PowerToThePeople (Reply #2)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 12:25 AM

3. +1 n/t

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Response to PowerToThePeople (Reply #2)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 12:17 PM

5. +1

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 01:21 AM

4. Local involvement is where it's at.

k & r

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 03:16 PM

6. OT, but that New Age article was stunningly vague and irrelevant

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Response to MisterP (Reply #6)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 03:30 PM

7. Why it's relevant.

I think it's quite relevant in terms of how lefties respond to the systemic crisis we face. There's been somewhat of a personal transformation movement (led by new age nonsense) that disregards the desperate need for lefties to organize politically. As I mentioned, even Gandhi has been dragged into that movement by way of misquoting him, even though Gandhi was a strong advocate of civil disobedience and organizing.

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Response to Garrett78 (Reply #7)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 03:37 PM

8. but has there been an *upswing* in New-Age retardation of left-wing activism recently?

most people left or right don't get into it that deeply so I don't see it as a real obstacle to organizing (and I'm no fan of the movement's watered-down occultism)

though I do know of Quigley's central role in the Reagan WH--in fact she probably gave us the Gorbachev detente!; but in the 70s and 80s there was some worry that New Age and the fundies would get together and that clearly hasn't happened; in the 90s Michael Barkun worried about neo-Templars getting a nuke and that didn't happen; P2 is quite dissolved

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Response to MisterP (Reply #8)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 03:59 PM

11. It's hard to pinpoint something like that.

One can't say with certainty that new ageism has stalled left-wing activism, but it's a pretty credible theory given the upswing in the notion that we simply need to "be the change," and what that would imply about organizing.

But I think the more important point is that lefties haven't organized a Left that's sufficient to prevent a continued slide toward neoliberalism.

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Response to Garrett78 (Reply #11)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 04:13 PM

12. I specialize in foreign-policy history and it just seems super-unlikely

sure we've had Obama's following frittered away into warm feel-good verbiage, an insistence that the only criterion of policy was whether he supported it, and phone-banking

but everything from long working hours to the inbred nature of campus activism is, like 10,000 times more influential than newspaper horoscopes or egocentric interpretations of Gandhi misquotes could be

and recall that the New Age popped up precisely because old-style technocracies had failed to fulfil their promises (this happened with a vengeance in Mexico, India, Africa, etc.)--heck, everything Dow, Lockheed, and the universities could throw at Vietnam didn't make a dent after they'd won WWII on two theaters

the US left can't be rebuilt in the 2010s and 20s with only 1920s or 30s or 50s thinking--it's downright saurian

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 03:39 PM

9. What makes you think activists on DU are not doing this?

We have some very active labor organizers who are members of DU, people active in their local clubs, members of various left groups. I can't even believe this sentence: "promoting new age nonsense that has become popular with lefties".

Maybe if you are just looking around your neighborhood in Marin County ... but frankly this doesn't sound like the socialists/communists I know.

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Response to TBF (Reply #9)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 03:55 PM

10. I didn't say nobody is involved locally.

But the fact that neoliberalism and right wing Democrats continue to dominate suggests quite strongly that Chazelle is correct in suggesting that "America has lefties but no left." Not a sufficient Left at any rate.

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Response to Garrett78 (Reply #10)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 06:46 PM

14. I would agree that we don't have a strong "left" -

as in strong socialist/communist. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. (1) Most serious leftists were deported during the Palmer and McCarthy years - creating a void and (2) our communist party has been co-opted by the democrats - as evidenced by their willingness to endorse Obama for president. Socialists were much stronger in the 1920's-40's than anything we see now.

Many leftists in this country do meet in small local groups, and the mantra is pretty much to "be ready" because we are not going to be able to predict when it's going to blow. They can save capitalism by electing Bernie, at least for awhile, but even supporters agree we are a long-shot on that.

I'm still not sure why you are posting this in "General Discussion: Primaries" however. What is the point? If you are suggesting Bernie Sanders is a communist you aren't even amusing. He's an FDR democrat.

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 04:28 PM

13. I play to win, until either I do, or I don't.

I'm not in this campaign for jollies, and we planted our seeds with Occupy.

Understand this: There is simply not enough time left to deal with another neoliberal president. Long before we're done fucking around with "organizing" for systemic change, neoliberal capitalists will have burned the planet to a toxic crisp.

I think the Green party is awesome, but it's simply too late for the Green party to grow into a large enough political body to effect positive systemic change. We need a POTUS right now who will support us and our agenda to stop neoliberal madness from spreading any further.

I'm sorry, but I personally do not appreciate your eloquent, seemingly but not really pragmatic, defeatist arguments.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." ~ Margaret Mead

peace



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Response to Zorra (Reply #13)

Tue Aug 25, 2015, 10:38 PM

21. Hell yeah Zorra! You said it. Nt.

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 06:59 PM

15. Two big differences between Kucinich in 08 and Sanders in 16: #1: Sanders is a far better candidate

and #2 can be neatly illustrated by this graphic:



"You may not see large-scale systemic change in your lifetime" is boomer beltway conventional widsom that has been neatly ass-upended by the large mass of Millennials moving into voting age. That's why we've got marriage equality ("you'll never see the American people support it in your lifetime" and pot legalization in 4 states with more likely to come ("a non-issue, no one cares about it, stoners don't vote, it will never happen"

In short, you're wrong, and I suspect you've been listening to a lot of authoritative-sounding voices who actually don't know what they're talking about.



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Response to Warren DeMontague (Reply #15)

Tue Aug 25, 2015, 09:59 PM

17. How has it been "ass-upended?"

Do we not still have Big Banks, Big Pharma, Big Ag et al. with far too much influence? Is the top marginal tax rate not much, much lower than it was in the post-WWII era? Do we not still have usury? Do we not still have a military industrial complex and 800 military bases around the world? Do we not still have a well-funded campaign against addressing anthropogenic climate change? And so on and so forth?

Marriage equality and some pot legalization does not constitute large-scale systemic change.

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Response to Garrett78 (Reply #17)

Tue Aug 25, 2015, 10:04 PM

20. Im sure you can always come up with examples of shit that hasnt changed.

Still, the millennials ARE driving changes which self-satisfied baby boomers have said for years "cant happen". That's my point, these tautological axioms of betway conventional wisdom are outdated and wrong.

Things have changed and are changing. If they're not the specific changes you want, take it up with the millennials.

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Response to Garrett78 (Original post)

Mon Aug 24, 2015, 08:54 PM

16. Well yeah....but both levels are needed

 

I'm no disagreeing with you at all about about what is needed. In my own minuscule way, been doing that for 30 years.

But I think the larger national picture is also vital. Especially today.

Because, to put it bluntly, local won't mean Jackshit without a national political/social/economic framework. If the big corps control all the Big Levers, no puny little community can overcome that. The Federal resources, jobs and otehr necessary infrastructure won't be there.



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Response to Armstead (Reply #16)

Tue Aug 25, 2015, 10:00 PM

18. I'm not suggesting we do away with the national framework...

as if that would even be possible. I'm saying that the national framework won't be drastically altered without an organized Left forcing the issue.

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Response to Garrett78 (Reply #18)

Tue Aug 25, 2015, 10:03 PM

19. I know...Just sayin'

 

We basically agree

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