Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Left? What Left?

Every so often we see one of these rants over that the Big Box Blogs complaining about attacks from the so-called "centrists" within the Democrat Party. Certainly I am an agreement with the absurdity of referring to someone like Jack Murtha or Howard Dean as on the "far left" to the extent that such a term is meaningful. That gets me thinking though of a different but related question: where would I go to find a viable, organized leftist party - one that could field candidates and/or play a role in national politics? We can find the occasional prominent nominally socialist politician either in the House or soon-to-be in the Senate, but in order to function, that individual must caucus with one of the two parties that rule DC with an iron fist. Otherwise, leftist sightings seem to be rarer than Big Foot sightings in Death Valley. But I digress.

A lot of us call ourselves "leftists". I wonder sometimes how we're defining the term, and I wonder more about what exactly we do have in American politics. When I think of a "leftist" I'm likely to think along the lines of the myriad forms of anarchism, to the various forms of communism, (ranging from classical Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyite, Maoist, etc.), socialism (be it the populist socialism advocated and practiced by Hugo Chavez to the sort adhered to by European Social Democrat parties). Although these various "leftisms" diverge in terms of the relationship between person and state (e.g., for the anarchists there is ideally no state), there is as I see it a great deal of overlap in terms of their shared views of the relation between people (cooperative rather than competitive) and in their shared distrust of capitalism in its numerous forms (from "pure" laissez-faire capitalism, to fascist capitalism, to neo-liberal globalism).

If we take the above as a decent quick-and-dirty description of "leftism" that leads to the question of where this "leftism" resides in the US. My short answer, as I've stated elsewhere: nowhere any more. I'm definitely not alone in my assessment (and those are just the comments on the margins of the Big Box Blogs - go outside the big boxes, and one will surely find more).

So what are we left with? One major party that currently controls the White House (and until January both Congressional chambers) that looks strikingly like the UK's British National Party or Germany's National Democratic Party and another major party that looks strikingly like the UK's Conservative Party (i.e., Tories) or Germany's Christian Democratic Union. In other words, our politics nationally is distinctively right-wing, with a range of choices limited to right-wing hardliners (GOP) to somewhat more moderate populists and globalists (Democrats). Our "center" in the US seems to be those Democrats who have bought into the whole neoliberalism theory and practice hook, line, and sinker; those espousing somewhat more populist approaches to governing and economy tend to get labeled as "left-wing extremists" by respectable pundits. No one from either party dares question the wisdom of corporate capitalism, varying only in flavor (neoliberal globalism is the favorite of the DLC crowd and the some of the GOP crowd; some form of populist capitalism is espoused by some elements of both the Dem and Republican parties, usually in the latter tied to taking a hard line on immigration and ethnic minorities; still others would like a Mussoliniesque fascist capitalism, which to a degree fits the neocons and assorted others mainly in the GOP; and of course there are still a few good old fashioned laissez-faire capitalists who comprise the libertarian element within the GOP). Some might be a bit more favorable to organized labor or to providing some sort of financial safety net for those in need, but regardless, capitalism is a sacred cow.

Nor is there any real question about the "necessity" of a vast military in order to pursue the building of empire (some may voice uneasiness about that word) as "we" continue to take on "the white man's burden" of bringing "democracy" to the "uncivilized" dark corners of the planet. Some may vary in the degree to which military force should be actually used in the process of maintaining and expanding hegemony, but there is little quibbling over the "exceptional" character of our nation as the government to varying degrees bombs and starves others competing for whatever resources "we" covet.

As for the Big Box Blogs, my short take is that they could be considered "leftist" only if one thinks within the framework of Beltway elites. DK, BT, MLW, etc. are best thought of one a broader level as Tory blogs in which there may be a bit more room for populism and a bit less preference for bombs. But "leftist"? If anything, as many of us have learned the hard way, the left is, well, left out.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Footnote to "What is 'progressive' politics anyway?"

I've been increasingly uncomfortable with the terms "progressive" and "progressivism" over the last few years, and thought I'd share with you all some of the intellectual basis of my discomfort. Following is a quote from a Ward Churchill essay "The New Face of Liberation" which appeared in a book called Acts of Rebellion: The Ward Churchill Reader. The essay was originally given as a talk in 1998:
Most of us here identify ourselves as "progressives", so let's start with the term "progressivism" itself. We don't really have time available to go into this very deeply, but I'll just observe that it comes from the word "progress," and that the progression involved is basically to start with what is already here and carry it forward.

The underlying premise is that the social order we were born into results from the working of "iron laws" of evolution and, however unpalatable, is therefore both necessary and inevitable. By the same token, these same deterministic forces make it equally unavoidable that what we've inherited can and will be improved upon. The task of progressives, having apprehended the nature of the progression, is to use their insights to hurry things along.

This isn't a "liberal" articulation. It's what's been passing itself off as a radical left alternative to the status quo for well over a century. It forms the very core of Marx's notion of historical materialism, as when he observes that feudalism was the social precondition for the emergence of capitalism and that capitalism is itself the essential precondition for what he conceives as socialism. Each historical phases creates the conditions for the next; that's the crux of the progressive proposition.

Now you tell me, how is that fundamentally different from what Bush and Clinton have been advocating? Oh, I see. You want to "move forward" in pursuance of another set of goals and objectives than those espoused by these self-styled "centrists." Alright. I'll accept that as true. Let me also state that I tend to find the goals and objectives advanced by progressives immensely preferable to anything advocated by Bush or Clinton. Fair enough?

However, I must go on to observe that the differences at issue are not fundamental. They are not, as Marx would have put it, of "the base." Instead, they are superstructural. They represent remedies to symptoms rather than causes. In other words, they do not derive from a genuinely radical critique of our situation - remember, radical means to go to the root of any phenomenon in order to understand it - and thus cannot offer a genuinely radical solution. This will remain true regardles of the fervor with which progressive goals and objectives are embraced, or the extremity by which they are pursued. Radicalism and extremism are, after all, not really synonyms.

Maybe I can explain what I'm getting at here by way of indulging in a sort of grand fantasy. Close your eyes for a moment and dream along with me that the current progressive agenda has been realized. Never mind how, let's just dream that it's been fulfilled. Things like racism, sexism, ageism, militarism, classism, and the sorts of corporatism with which we are now afflicted have been abolished. The police have been leashed and the prison-industrial complex dismantled. Income disparities have been eliminated across the board, decent housing and healthcare are available to all, an amply endowed educational system is actually devoted to teaching rather than indoctrinating our children. The whole nine yards.

Sound good? You bet. Nonetheless, there's still a very basic - and I daresay uncomfortable - question which must be posed: In this seemingly rosy scenario, what, exactly, happens to the rights of native peoples? Face it, to envision the progressive transformation of "American society" is to presuppose that "America" - that is, the United States - will continue to exist. And, self-evidently, the existence of the United States is, as it has always been and must always be, predicated first and foremost on the denial of the right of self-determining existence to every indigenous nation within its purported borders.

Absent this denial, the very society progressives seek to transform would never have had a landbase upon wich to constitute itself in any form at all. So, it would have had no resources with whcih to actualize a mode of production, and there would be no basis for arranging or rearranging the relations of production. All the dominoes fall from there, don't they? In effect, the progressive agenda is no less contingent upon the continuing internal colonial domination of indigenous nations than that advocated by Bill Clinton.

Perhaps we can agree to a truism on this score: Insofar as progressivism shares with the status quo a need to maintain the structure of colonial dominance over native peoples, it is at base no more than a variation on a common theme, intrinsically a part of the very order it claims to oppose. As Vine Deloria once observed in a related connection, "these guys just keep right on circling the same old rock while calling it by different names."

Since, for all its liberatory rhetoric and sentiment, even the self-sacrifice of its proponents, progressivism replicates the bedrock relations with indigenous nations marking the present status quo, its agenda can be seen as serving mainly to increase the degree of comfort experienced by those who benefit from such relations. Any such outcome represents a continuation and reinforcement of the existing order, not its repeal. Progressivism is thus one possible means of consummating that which is, not its negation.
Some food for thought as the latest discussion, if you will, on what is or isn't progressivism unfolds at BT and MLW.

Monday, November 06, 2006

What is 'progressive' politics anyway?

Ever since I jumped on board the Daily Kos online ship a couple of years ago, the biggest site for 'progressives', I've been asking myself that question. And I have yet to find an answer.

I erroneously thought the 'progressive' Democrats or lefties were liberals like me. Even Daily Kos is often referred to a 'liberal' site in the MSM, despite the fact that kos has self-identified as a 'Libertarian Democrat' - which is the topic of his next book. As for the rest of the kossacks, my perception is that the majority are far more centrist than liberal.

On Sunday, Booman wrote about embracing conservatives under the big tent of the Democratic party (and I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong in that summary):

In the long run we need the Democratic Party to be huge. But in order for it to be huge, it cannot be as ideologically pure as it is now. It has to be more nebulous and its appeal has to be populist. That's what I meant when I said I'd like to see a Congress more like the ones under LBJ. No, I don't want to welcome back segregationists. I want to win back conservative values voters by improving their wages, their education, their health care, their pensions, and their environment.

He also hopes for more moderate Republicans so there can be more bipartisan middle ground. That may be ideal (for some) but in the current political climate, it doesn't appear to be very attainable and liberals don't necessarily find that desirable since they'll be stuck with representatives in Centrist Land which invites more Joe Liebermans - not less of them.

Last week, pyrrho wrote a diary about this phenomenon. Here's what he thinks about luring conservatives into the Democratic party:

That is a goal that will fail, again, know why? Because the problem is people like Webb... the problem is conservative ideas themselves. They suck. They are not good for the nation. They claim to be about XYZ, but are really about death, self-destruction, and potholes. It wasn't really just that Stalin didn't get a chance to really try his ideas, Stalinism was bad! It isn't that the Republicans have fallen off the golden path illuminated by the glowing footsteps of Reagan, it's that it FOLLOWED that path, and it leads to ruin, emotional and material.

Of course, since I am a liberal, I agree wholeheartedly.

Which brings me back to my original question: what is 'progressive' politics anyway? Is it the big tent, 'grab 'em where you find 'em' type of ideology to broaden the base of the Democratic party? Is it a movement towards more widespread liberalism? Is it somewhere in between in Centrist Land?

Is Red Dan right when he says:

The views held by liberals are actually MORE popular in this nation than the views held by conservatives or moderates.

It is about time that ONE of the political parties reflected that.

If we do so effectively, we will win MORE seats.

I know that's true in Canada...

So what is 'progressive' politics?

Sunday, November 05, 2006


I must say that when I was a regular reader and participant at Daily Kos during the 2004 election, I was somewhat amazed by the SYFPH (Shut Your Fucking Pie Hole) phenomenon. Once John Kerry was the presidential candidate, discussion of any of his faults was severely criticized by those who believed that any complaints about him should be withheld until after the election.

That atmosphere, of course, brought with it some SYFPH wars between those who wanted to practice their right to free speech - no matter how close to election time it was - and those who preferred the happy cheerleader routine. So, I just watched from the sidelines and SMFPH about the whole scenario even though I believed anyone should be able to write about whatever they wanted to - positive or negative. I'm not one of those who reacts well to authoritarian-type discipline. Quel surprise.

Anyway, the past fews days have seen quite the revolt on Daily Kos - against kos - whose has been the victim of more SYFPH demands than I've seen there in a while. (I'm not a regular reader there anymore, so I may have missed one or more SYFPH wars in the recent past). I won't post links to all of the relevant diaries but this one and the attached comments sums up what happened. Kos gave up on Ford. Kossacks got mad and told him to SHFPH. Some believed that maybe kos was using reverse psychology when he said that the Ford race was all but lost (that justification is known as 'denial') and many others accused kos of abandoning what he'd written about in his book Crashing The Gates.

On and on it went. And on and on it still goes. Oh, the anxiety.

Maybe it's just me - and it's true that Daily Kos isn't my site - but it would seem that this whole SYFPH belief is causing a wee bit of a problem. While I'm of the opinion that kos still doesn't seem to understand the political clout he has and thus perhaps shouldn't have voiced his opinion against Ford so close to election time, I also believe in being honest. It's a fine line but, in this case, I'm not exactly with the SYFPH crowd who throughout the year write kos off as 'just the guy who owns the site, so he doesn't really matter because it's the rest of us who count' and then have a complete blowout when he writes something that pisses them off because they believe he may have caused the death knell in Ford's run. I'm probably more on the side who are fighting hard to get Ford elected (regardless of what I think about Ford) who feel like they've been slapped in the face by kos's remarks. That's personal and I don't blame them for feeling let down.

Since Daily Kos came into existence, the site members and kos still haven't been able to measure its political impact. Sometimes, members give the site far more credit than it deserves as far as its influence goes. Other times, they minimize it. Sometimes, kos is just that guy who owns the site. Other times, when he appears in the MSM, he is their dear hero of a leader. It's an odd dynamic.

And then there are the fights over topics - thou shalt not write about election fraud lest thou be labeled a 'fraudster'. Yet, the most crucial concern of people who live in a democracy ought to be to ensure that every vote is counted. And anything that comes near to the definition of conspiracy is definitely out, even though many such conspiracies actually do have some truth to them. Wasn't the Jeff Gannon affair a conspiracy type of topic to begin with? A gay hooker in the WH press corps? Who would have believed that?

In the end though, Daily Kos is what it is and if people want to participate there, they know they do so under limited parameters. It's unfortunate, however, that so much time is wasted with things like SYFPH wars and other meta issues but that is the direct result of the attempts to strictly control the environment. There will always be rebels but we don't last very long in places where our minority opinions are attacked by a loud majority who prefer strict discipline to freedom of expression.

P.S.: Anyone who disagrees with what I've written in this post can just SYFPH. :)