Why the American left will lose

21 07 2010

In a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I found the following phrases either on t-shirts or bumper stickers:

People Eating Tasty Animals (PETA)

Gun control means using both hands

If you want to know if you can trust your government, ask an Indian.

And that was just a selection of numerous other phrases one can find going around the American South. A look into a local Books-A-Million bookstore in Mississippi found about a half a dozen books on why Obama is really a socialist, as well as Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. We also found good deals on children’s books, but that is neither here nor there.

As long time readers of this blog know, I came of age in the San Francisco Bay Area, though I wasn’t raised there. Even so, though I come from a church-going, morally conservative family, growing up both poor and Mexican-American condemned me as an existential pariah in what passes for conservative discourse today. That, coupled with members of my family being card carrying members of Cesar Chavez’ United Farm Workers (I knew the Spanish word for strike, “huelga”, from the age of three) meant that my brain was ripe for the picking of U.C. Berkeley’s leftists and academic departments. One could say that, at least culturally, I was a social democrat from the cradle, and an unconscious Marxist in the sandbox.

Like many things I cannot change, I have made my peace with this. No amount of argumentation, personal influence, or even pounding me with “facts” will get rid of that radically egalitarian categorical imperative. That does not mean that I feel myself to be on the right side of history. One can be on the wrong side of history, but that may mean that history is on the wrong side of the argument. Or, to put it another way, humanity is not guaranteed freedom or even mere existence; it must struggle for both. If it does so poorly, it commits itself to a slow and tragic suicide. And perhaps that is what is happening.

Not for this are my leftist co-ideologues off the hook. It is one thing to make an argument, it is another to make it badly. If there is one problem concerning what a revolutionary Marxist would denominate the “crisis of leadership” of the working class, it is that the agents of the bourgeoisie, in the form of the media, politicians, think-tanks, etc. have co-opted all real critique of the social order and transformed it into overtly pro-capitalist propaganda (i.e. an apologia for the social order carried on by other means). At least in the minds of the people, it is the “left”, the liberals, Obama, and (egads!) the Berkeley liberal arts graduates who “trust” the government, who want to co-opt it to their own purposes, who want to use the institutions of unelected power to transform society, etc. And to a certain extent, they are right. The energy of progressive forces after the demise of the New Left was put into bureaucracies of all sorts, and self-styled former “revolutionaries” got rich off of all of it. And while I will not weigh in on whether Obama is secretly a socialist or not (though ruling as if the country was of, for, and by finance capital seems to serve as a counter-argument for this position), I cannot help but think Obama is the logical conclusion of the New Left coughed up by the Hegelian cunning of reason. They chose not to destroy state power, so state power has destroyed anything progressive in their politics.

Of course, the other side to all of this is that the left in this country hates the American people. I can say this since I catch myself doing this sometimes. As a Marxist, it is easy to love the oppressed indigenous people of Chiapas, the Maoist guerrillas in Nepal, or the Bolsheviks in Russia circa 1920. It is very hard to love the beef-loving redneck, the kid in the ghetto whose only decent hope to get out is to serve in the military, or the pampered white collar worker who thinks he is middle class, though he is but a horribly misguided wage slave. If Marxism makes any sense, however, humankind’s struggle for freedom means that all people, in all aspects of their lives, and in all places, must fight for their own liberation, whatever that might mean in their individual circumstances.

Looking at the people who live in the most powerful and prosperous country on Earth, one cannot help but admire their spirit of independence, their devotion to certain ideals, and obedience to a social order which they believe to be Absolute Right. Perhaps all of this only works in theory, and is based on an ill-gained material prosperity. All the same, this is not a matter of theory but of expectation, not of reality itself, but of a perception of reality. And the Marxist interpretation of history tells us that something will have to give in the near future. Whether or not this ideal is transformed into something that propels humanity forward or buries it depends on how these traits evolve to meet the next stage of the development of humanity.

Personally, I would like to be more comfortable with the outlook of the “average American”, knowing full well that I will never be truly at home with such an outlook. So, for the record, I think that Americans should have the right to bear arms, lots of arms. Like enough arms to overthrow the bourgeoisie with. I don’t trust my government, I don’t care who is in power. Even if revolutionary socialists take control, ones who liquidated the bourgeoisie overnight in a hail of bullets and gave the means of production to the workers, I still would not trust my government (Marx called this, “revolution in permanence”). And I believe in eating tasty animals. Let’s talk about the rights of humans first, and then we can get on about whether my cat has rights.

Whether or not the left in this country can transform these tendencies into a revolutionary consciousness is the task at hand. And so far, it ain’t looking all that good.


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29 responses

23 07 2011
johnfremont67@yahoo.com

Tim Wise gave a speech with similar thoughts last year with
“What If the Tea Party were Black?”

“…Protest is only seen as fundamentally American when those who have long had the luxury of seeing themselves as prototypically American engage in it. When the dangerous and dark “other” does so, however, it isn’t viewed as normal or natural, let alone patriotic. Which is why Rush Limbaugh could say, this past week, that the Tea Parties are the first time since the Civil War that ordinary, common Americans stood up for their rights: a statement that erases the normalcy and “American-ness” of blacks in the civil rights struggle, not to mention women in the fight for suffrage and equality, working people in the fight for better working conditions, and LGBT folks as they struggle to be treated as full and equal human beings.

And this, my friends, is what white privilege is all about. The ability to threaten others, to engage in violent and incendiary rhetoric without consequence, to be viewed as patriotic and normal no matter what you do, and never to be feared and despised as people of color would be, if they tried to get away with half the shit we do, on a daily basis.”
http://thisblksistaspage.wordpress.com/2010/04/25/tim-wise-imagine-if-the-tea-party-were-black/

@ David’s comment below. When I belonged to the NRA, I would get their First Freedom magazine. The only picture of a black person I can recall offhand in that magazine was Martin Luther King. The NRA at the time were trying to fight off an attack that they were harboring racists in the early 2000’s. They wrote an article about Charlton Heston’s support for civil rights among the Hollywood crowd in the early 60’s.

..”basis.

23 07 2011
David

When I was a member of the NRA, I couldn’t help but notice that there was never a picture of a black person in their magazine…

23 07 2011
Carol

Leah commented on Why the American left will lose.

I think the emergence of gay rights and abortion as wedge issues really turned the American political scene upside down. Until the mid-1970s, most radical organizations considered homosexuality to be a sign of capitalist decadence. This is still the policy of the CP parties in China, Cuba, and North Korea. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, abortion was a non-issue until Roe v. Wade and even after that it didn’t become really controversial until the 1980s. Consequently, issues surrounding sex are the political litmus tests of our time. If you go to mainstream liberal sites like Alternet or Slate, a sizable chunk of the articles are about sex, rather than race or class.
******
Sexual behavior became politicized with the entry into national politics of the “Religious Right.”

Christian fundamentalism: the doctrine that there is an absolutely powerful, infinitely knowledgeable, universe spanning entity that is deeply and personally concerned about my sex life.
~Andrew Lias

23 07 2011
FrGregACCA

Can’t reply directly to Arturo’s discussion of various national liberations as the defeat of the left, but I would point out that an alternative understanding would see these liberations as setting the stage for the possibility of socialism in that one cannot go directly to socialism without the requisite material conditions and contradictions.

I have long maintained, vis-a-vis this question (the “national question”), which includes the questions of the civil rights of national minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, etc.), that liberal democratic capitalism is capable of resolving all non-economic contradictions. However, obviously it cannot resolve the latter because without the contradiction between workers and owners/managers, it cannot exist.

23 07 2011
FrGregACCA

The New Left, or what remains of it, for the most part continues to support gay rights and “choice” when it comes to abortion (although, in the last few years, I saw a somewhat bemused statement from a New Left source about the “contradictions” of traditional marriage and basically admitting to tailing others on the question of same-sex marriage because of that); at the same time, the founders of the New Left are now all pushing seventy, and the second generation, those of us who were radicalized in the seventies, are all over fifty, so the partying has mellowed out quite a bit.

From what I understand, even the new SDS is a shadow of its namesake when it comes to partying. These kids are serious!

23 07 2011
owen white

My dad rants against the New Left at least once a week regarding the “infestation” of identity politics and sex issues. He also highlights cultural differences between New and Old Left. Just today he sent me an email talking about how, in the 60s, all the New Leftists wanted to do recreationally was sex and drugs, while the Old Leftists did normal human things – and actually enjoyed each other’s company. So the Cleveland CP had a lot of brat fries and such. The gatherings of Dems in Cleveland back then had large bowls of coke and whores, etc. My father’s thoughts today were spurred on by an announcement he got about the Chicago CP clubs are all going to a White Sox game together this weekend and having a tail gating party. I’m not sure how this all plays out, in terms of political cultures, today.

23 07 2011
Leah

I think the emergence of gay rights and abortion as wedge issues really turned the American political scene upside down. Until the mid-1970s, most radical organizations considered homosexuality to be a sign of capitalist decadence. This is still the policy of the CP parties in China, Cuba, and North Korea. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, abortion was a non-issue until Roe v. Wade and even after that it didn’t become really controversial until the 1980s. Consequently, issues surrounding sex are the political litmus tests of our time. If you go to mainstream liberal sites like Alternet or Slate, a sizable chunk of the articles are about sex, rather than race or class.

22 07 2011
FrGregACCA

And WHAT is your class status again, Bernie?

22 07 2011
owen white

I’ve enjoyed the trajectory of this thread.

I don’t disagree with the main points of Arturo’s gloss on the Stalin franchise system or on CPUSA per se, though I think one might well nuance it. We might remember the complications seen during and after Browder, and so forth. To speak of one time of “when the CPUSA nearly collapsed” begs the question of why one one pick one of those times over another for a point of historical emphasis. There had been a steady decline in numbers prior to The Secret Speech and the fallout afterward was not nearly as dramatic as some suggest, in terms of pure numbers, but existentially it was a huge mess for CPUSA.

I sometimes wonder if Arturo’s view of CPUSA have to do with encounters with CPUSA that may have mostly been in CA, which, as anyone who knows CPUSA history knows, is an anomaly compared to the rest of the US and CPUSA history – that is seen before Browder, during Browder, all the way down to Angela Davis and her crew leaving the Party. Aside from the CA-as-a-deviation-from-the-norm in CPUSA history, one of the repeated themes in CPUSA history has been New York versus middle American Clubs. We see this played out in Hammer & Hoe, and in any number of other studies of CP history. In the 50s into the early 1960s, the state with the highest per capita Party membership was WVA. This was after the UMW had chased out all the CPers as part of their agreement when consolidating coal mining union power. Many coal mine stewards secretly remained CP, and apparently a fair amount of miners continued to pay CP membership dues long after the CP had lost the battle within “mainstream” unions (I’m also told a fair amount of subsistence farmers in WVA were CP members, which causes me to ask WTF??). I guess some of those miners had long memories. But WVA CP members were not the sort of “face of CPUSA” that many would have offered when providing a caricature. My father’s best friend’s parents lead the CP in Ohio, which during the 60s was still replete with Clubs, even if the average age in them was probably somewhere in the 50yrsold range. In Ohio as well, there were still a great deal of union types who were (often secretly) members of CPUSA, as late as the late 60s. The culture of CPUSA in Ohio then was not at all the same as what one encountered in New York.

The “Stalin fucked everything up” thesis with regard to CPUSA is an easy one to defend by simply pointing to this or that bit of data, and I wouldn’t dispute that data, but in fact almost all of the tensions and ideological and “Moscow Control” issues can be seen in CPUSA prior to Stalin. Lawrence Schwartz’s Marxism and Culture: The CPUSA and Aeshteics in the 1930s touches on this – the Stalin Myth exaggerated tendencies that were already there. The same can be said with regard to the fall of the Comintern – it had a real effect on how CPUSA related to the worldwide revolutionary movement and to Moscow, but it really didn’t have as much effect as some suggest on the usual themes operating within CPUSA circles – New York vs. everybody else, and what we might say is the dominant theme within CPUSA from 1919 down to 2011 – Bowderism (or some variant prior to or after Browder) vs. something claiming to be an “orthodox Marxist-Leninism.” The current chairman of CPUSA is decidedly within the Bowderist tradition, and has argued for dropping the name “communist” and exchanging “Marxist-Leninist” for just plain “Marxist.” The current CPUSA leadership maintains a strong anti-Stalinism, even though the trend in worldwide CPs is for the rehabilitation of Stalin (the Party most fervent in this effort is the KKE in Greece, which is the political party behind most of the protests and direct actions going on in Greece right now and one of the most exciting communist parties in the world at the moment).

I was recently reading a Trot critique of the “reformism” found among shop stewards in Britain in the 1950s and 60s (see http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=739&issue=131 ). This article noted that a large number of shop stewards were CP and it noted the difference in their approach to labor struggles in the 20s compared to the 50s. It was quite telling. I agree with the writer of this essay that the change in attitudes among those shop stewards planted some of the seeds that led to the eventual defeat of labor in Britain. I appreciate much in the Trot critique. But I also am weary of some of those Trot notions of reformism writ large. I’ve told the story before of when, after some riots in Cleveland’s ghettos in the 60s, many of the folks doing literacy work in those ghettos (though the program was run by the CP, many of the volunteers had been white middle class SPUSA folks) refused to go, fearing for their safety. So the CPUSA folks asked my dad to ask for volunteers as a meeting of young radicals in Cleveland. When asking for volunteers, the Trots there stood up and gave their usual rubbish about how teaching poor black kids to read only prolongs the time until the revolution. There are plenty of concrete examples of reformism hurting the working classes, but an aversion to all reformism is a fairy tale perpetuated by, from what I can tell, mostly folks who grew up in bourgeois homes and then join tiny group after tiny group seeking a purer and purer ideology. How does one develop class consciousness without some degree of reformism to get things going?

I am, as usual in my life, in an odd position. I belong to a CPUSA Club that is, like most of the active CPUSA Clubs, to the Left of the Party. I am to the Left of the party, though I am also among those who thinks that the idea that there is a discernible “orthodox Marxist-Leninism” something of a ruse, though I am friends with and deeply respect some folks who believe as much. I am not among those who want to fully rehabilitate Stalin, but after reading Geoffrey Roberts’ brilliant revisionist work Stalin’s Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939-1953 I think I understand better some of Stalin’s positions vis-à-vis international revolutionary movements and I increasingly sympathize with the fact that he had to make a choice between bad choices at a time when he and the Soviet state were under constant threat. And he was a sadistic megalomaniac racist and homophobic thug, which didn’t help matters. I sympathize with some of the more moderate Trot groups seen today, but my basic posture is that one has to agitate where one is at, with what one has to work with. I don’t really care about the group – though my dad writes for People’s World and many of the long time friends of my extended family are CPers so it was only natural that I gravitate toward CPUSA when I finally returned from the prodigal nonsense of seeking a “third way.” But I’ll work with anybody and if there is a “charism” to the current CP it seems to be that – folks of varying points on the radical spectrum willing to work with all sorts of people on the progressive through radical spectrums to try to get this or that done. I’ve learned a lot about union organization and labor struggle and am now involved in a political campaign of someone who is running as a progressive Dem in a local race, but the guy is actually a closet commie. It’s been interesting. CPUSA, as a national institution, is a hopelessly lost cause, but hell, I thought In Defense of Lost Causes was an entertaining read….

22 07 2011
Manuel

And yet there is this:

It’s all rather schizophrenic isn’t it?

22 07 2011
Arturo Vasquez

When rightwing people have guns, it’s patriotic. When leftwing people have guns, it’s terrorism, especially if they’re black:

I am not advocating armed violence on the part of the Left. Just sayin’ is all. If self-proclaimed socialists opened a firing range, from the historical record at least, it seems that the police would drop a bomb on it or the owners would mysteriously end up dead somewhere. That makes the bellicose rhetoric of Tea Party types laughable, i.e. armed struggle against the government over taxation, etc. The government would never go that far with them, but with others, they definitely would, and have.

22 07 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I suppose I should not take too much away from the heroism of the Civil Rights Movement. It just goes to show that people will fight regardless of what institutional or ideological tools they have in hand. It is just like someone breaking into your house: you grab whatever you have on hand to defend yourself. In this case, it was non-violent resistance, bourgeois equality, the black church, etc. My only fear is that the next generation won’t even have that, and this situation just didn’t materialize out of thin air. Lots of people had their hand in it.

You mention the “franchise” problem, and that is probably the best analogy that I have heard in terms of the radical betrayals of the Stalinist Communist Parties, pace whatever Owen says. It was not so much that they failed to learn the lessons of the October Revolution and apply them to their own particular situation. It was more that the Comintern, and later Moscow directly, turned the Communist Parties into fan clubs for Stalin and the Soviet system, even to the point of turning on independent workers’ movements that were pushing too hard on the bourgeoisie. The worst example is of course Spain, where the Stalinists openly fought against the POUM and the anarcho-syndicalists, or China, where the Comintern’s policy of reconciliation with the national bourgeoisie in the 1930’s led to massacres of worker-militants. And the most ironic thing of all is that most Stalinists didn’t defect from the Party in this country because of McCarthyism or other persecution; they did so when Khrushchev came out and said that the rumors of the Purges were true, that Stalin wasn’t so much of a hero after all, and so on. That’s when the CPUSA nearly collapsed.

And the fact that it is reformist now, that it has given up on democratic centralism, etc. is too little, too late, and also a logical conclusion of their previous line. I mean, if there is no superstar, what happens to the fan club? Once the Soviet Union dissolves, what happens to the Communist Parties in the West? What are they pointing to? What are they defending? They gave up on worker militancy in the early 1930’s to enter the Popular Front to defend the interests of the Soviet Union, and have been tailing the “progressive” wing of the bourgeoisie ever since. Now they have to keep tailing because that is all they know. And now they have to tail Obama, no matter how bad that tail reeks.

22 07 2011
Leah

I think that it can be difficult to appreciate how radical the Civil Rights Movement actually was. Part of this is due to the name, which I think downplays the movement to make it more palatable for mainstream history textbooks. If you look at articles from the 1950s or 60s, the terms used were either “The Southern Freedom Movement” or “The Negro Revolution.” When the National Guard came into Little Rock to integrate Central High, a lot of Southern whites thought there was going to be another Civil War, and in a way, that’s what happened. The common belief among conservatives back then was that MLK was a communist, and many still think so today.

MLK and SCLC did try to tackle the ghetto problem during the Chicago campaign in 1966. A full explanation of what happened would be too long to fit into a combox, but it was a failure. A march to integrate the Marquette Park neighborhood ended in violence that was reportedly worse than anything seen in Mississippi. The only way to systematically change the economic system would be a multiracial working class movement, which was supposed to be the purpose of the Poor Peoples’ March. Perhaps the Civil Rights Movement was more of a cultural revolution than anything else. I recommend the book “Where Do We Go From Here: Community or Chaos” which was MLK’s last book and is finally back in print.

Going back to the original post, I think the major problem with the various communist parties in the West was that they were working on a franchise model. They were all suppose to follow the same line and have the same internal culture. When some people went off script (i.e, Trotskyites) they were essentially sued for infringing upon the Moscow patented communist name. By the time the New Left came around, few were trying to create or draw upon the indigenous American radical tradition, but were instead aping trends that were going on in Cuba, China, and other countries. There is a legitimate socialist history in the US and we should draw from that rather than look elsewhere for inspiration.

22 07 2011
Arturo Vasquez

This book is on my list of books I need to read along with DuBois’ Black Reconstruction and C.L.R. James’ Black Jacobins.

As an aside, I have been listening to many videos on Youtube and other places recently about the “death of the Left”. One point is that the 1960’s were not a highwater mark of revolutionary consciousness, but rather the last hurrah, or rather, the beginning of the end. In particular, the national liberation movements throughout the world signaled the real defeat of the working class in that what would have brought real liberation, international socialism, was replaced by bourgeois nationalism backed by Stalinism. (Yeah, I blame the CP’s. If the shoe fits…) The defeat of U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, far from ushering in the death of the American Empire, was the speed bump before the neoliberal rout of socialism.

In a similar vein, one could say that the Civil Rights Movement, far from being an unqualified victory, was a defeat deferred. The people who were its predecessors, as seen in the book Hammer and Hoe and radical writers such as Richard Wright and W.E.B. DuBois, wanted what would have really solved the black question in this country: the destruction of capitalism. When that didn’t pan out, what replaced it was a confused if heroic reformism embodied in SNCC, M.L.K., and later, the Black Panthers and the rise of black nationalism. The line between these tendencies and the imperialist presidency of Obama is pretty straight as the crow flies. American capitalism basically abandoned the ghetto and left it to rot (having lived in Oakland, Detroit, and now New Orleans, I have seen this first hand), all the while bringing in the “magical Negro” to do the bidding of imperialist capital. While I would not want to take away from the concrete gains of my wife’s parents generation who were the last to suffer under Jim Crow in the South, at the same time in my opinion a paraphrase from Marx best describes what happened in the 1960’s: a first rate second rate victory.

21 07 2011
David

Awesome! I found this article, on Salon of all places: http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2000/03/14/pistol/index.html?sid=681403

Wonder if the NRA would endorse them?

21 07 2011
owen white

Are you referring to Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression by Robin Kelley? If so, allow me to say it is one of my favorite books concerning radical politics in American history. Among the many gems in the book is Kelley noting that Alabama CPUSA meetings often began with prayer, as a number of their members were clergy and faithful in African American churches. Idiosyncrasies such as that left the comrades back east in NYC really bewildered. Considering that you can get a used copy of the book for less than $10 you should get it right away – everyone I know who has read the book has loved it. I think it might be among the most enjoyable reads I’ve had in the last decade.

21 07 2011
Leah

During the heyday of the CPUSA in the 1920s and 1930s, many members and fellow travellers belonged to groups that were already branded as “un-American” (Russian Jews, trade unionists, black intellectuals). There is an interesting book that I keep meaning to get about the building of a multiracial communist party in rural Alabama that was genuinely working class. I wonder how the American left would have been different if that kind of radical tradition became more widespread. One thing that Woody Guthrie and Pete Singer did really well was mix the folkways and musical traditions of America with radical politics in a way that was palatable to mainstream America. I don’t know if that could be done today, even without the fragmentation of the music industry.

21 07 2011
Andrew P

Pink Pistols is already in existence… “gays with guns don’t get bashed” is one of their mottoes I think.

21 07 2011
Manuel

and you have a cat.
Yes you are definitely a communist according to the beef eating bible thumper discourse.

21 07 2011
David

I think it would be cool to open a gun store & shooting range that catered to the left, with a LGBT rainbow stickers on the front door, pictures of Che Guevarra and other revolutionaries, classes that catered to gays, women, and Spanish speaking people and so forth. Why should the right wingers have all the fun with guns?

21 07 2011
Bernard Brandt

This is perhaps the most honest and thoughtful entry that I have yet read in this weblog, Arturo, and, considering the fact that my experience has been that you have always spoken (or more to the point, written) your mind, both articulately and intelligently, that is saying something.

Having been terribly negligent about selecting my grandparents, and finding among them a good German farmer and grocer, an Irishwoman straight off the boat, a bluff Scots-Irish poor white trash gentleman who followed both the M.O. and the career path of the Joads in the ’30s (and like them, had a heart of gold), and a wise woman right off the Cherokee reservation, and having come from Oklahoma to California in the early ’60s in the Great Aerospace Migration, I am reliably informed that any spoon found in my mouth directly after my birth definitely was not silver.

And having been raised Roman Catholic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I believe I may actually know something of being an oppressed minority myself. At the very least, like the late R.A. Lafferty, I am not unfamiliar with the plight of being an outsider in my own land.

Although my education at U.C.L.A. might perhaps have led to such deleterious results as you seem to have suffered at the People’s Republic of Berkeley, my classical education seems to have had the result of turning me into a Republican–though I would perhaps have preferred Republican Rome to the present corporate fascism and country-club leadership which masquerades under that label.

All that aside, I agree with you that until and unless the Left dissociates itself from the warfare/welfare state that pretends to be the U.S.A., it will be less than effective in the sight of most of the rest of us, who are tired unto death of being sold down the river for the sake of corporate/governmental apparatchiki who wish to consolidate their power on our backs and at our expense.

And from where I’m standing, Owen, there does not seem to be much difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan: both appear to be overpriced, obsolete, ‘roads to serfdom’.

21 07 2011
M.Z.

I went to my first communist bookstore the other day. At least it advertised itself as “The people’s bookstore.” There were maybe a half dozen books by Marx, Engels. There were maybe a dozen solid communist books. The books on globalization were mostly leftist and not really communist. The rest of the store was devoted to bourgeois leftist concerns. This bookstore to a degree reflected being in a university neighborhood. It seems this bookstore and the people that worked there never really encountered the poor and working class. The condescension that says we are here and going to make your life better doesn’t sound any better coming from a leftist than it does from a capitalist apologist. Absent “evil rent controls” and other mechanisms, urban neighborhoods can become just as walled off from the poor as any suburban subdivision.

While not realizing it at the time, I spent about 7 years living with the poor. We were the aspiring middle class during that time. Then I moved to a middle class area and was absolutely miserable. My wife was even more miserable. Today we live in a poor neighborhood. In some cases we end up preferring the sex offender neighbors because they tend to be quiet and don’t cause trouble. It is odd because we still have our aspiring middle class friends, and some friends that are even firmly established middle class. The middle class joys I kind of chuckle about now, because they just aren’t appealing. What can I say, I’ve become a humanist.

I guess I would be a pessimist long term, but I think comparatively speaking we are still better off than most of the human race. If given the opportunity, I would likely dump this place for some other first world country, but I try to keep in mind that the very real sufferings I do have are trifles compared to what people have suffered in the past and internationally. I have support that a lot of people don’t have. But what is going to change it? One set of leaders is convincing people that we are great because we have rich people and need to keep it that way and we’ll be even better if those rich people are richer. We have another set of people debating how many letters should be in LGBT and how many square feet their chicken had to lay eggs.

21 07 2011
Leah

“If Marxism makes any sense, however, humankind’s struggle for freedom means that all people, in all aspects of their lives, and in all places, must fight for their own liberation, whatever that might mean in their individual circumstances.”

I like this statement a lot.

21 07 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I don’t really consider myself a Trotskyist, but keep my anti-Stalinist biases. Besides, most people I suspected of being CP’ers or Maoists were a bunch of snooty liberals who read Marx. Not much of a difference there.

21 07 2011
owen white

Arturo,

Something of a similar observation was found here:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/michele-bachmanns-holy-war-20110622?page=3

“Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can’t tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don’t learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you’re a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they’re even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.”

I agree with your pessimism, and your appreciative sentiments towards the on the ground messy, dumbassed, but sincere perplexities of poor white trash and ghetto cultures.

It’s all very “rub shoulders with the common man” for a Trot….

21 07 2011
Carol

What we need is not a resurgence of the left [or the right]; but the rise of a radical middle.

Politics is a pendulum whose swings between anarchy and
tyranny are fueled by perennially rejuvenated illusions.
–Albert Einstein

21 07 2011
owen white

” Remember when the customer received good service from the business community?” Yeah, there were a hell of a lot more union members then, and the labor movement was much stronger and free trade agreements and the explosion of quickly moving international capital hadn’t yet outsourced many customer service type positions….

21 07 2011
Carol

I think that you are confusing mercantilism with capitialism. There are many overlapping areas but the essential difference is that in mercantilism the business owner is “king” while in capitalism the customer is “king.” Remember when the customer received good service from the business community? In socialism the worker is “king.” Predatory economic demands at the expense of customer health, safety or service on a business venture can come from either owner/investors or workers. In capitalism owner/investors cooperate with labor to compete for the customer providing an incentive to keep expectations within reasonable limits for the survival of the business venture. Wall Street is mercantilist. Main Street is capitalist. Our federal economic policy makers have made the mistake of growing our GDP through the financial services industry and public corporations rather than through manufacturing and the small locally owned and operated entrepreneurial ventures that rewarded the civic virtues [Protestant work ethic] that sustained a stable middleclass economy. The Democratic Party is as dependent on corporate funds for campaign expenses as the Republican Party, although their mercantilist Hobbesian tendencies are mitigated by socialist concerns. Neither Party represents the capitalism of Adam Smith to whom *free trade* meant no tariffs which increased competition for the customer’s business; not unregulated commerce which puts customer health and safety at risk.

Both mercantilism and socialism pit special class interests against one another. Capitalism advantages the customer, which supports a more democratic economy since we are all customers. Unfortunately, neither political Party has a capitalist economic agenda in the classical sense. Only a mercantist committed to Wall Street could imagine a “jobless recovery” from a deep “recession.” No jobs, no customers for Main Street. No customers, no recovery except for those whose business is providing financial services to the wealthy.

21 07 2011
evagrius

Murdoch is beginning to be swallowed up by the behemoth he helped create.

That should give one pause with regards to the demise of the left, whatever that may be.

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