Why Progressives Are Lame

Yesterday, we ran a post by Bill McKibben on leadership in social change movements. McKibben argued for a “small l” leader model versus a “big L” leader, which readers debated. Some argued that the Leader model was really code for “Great Man” that was a less viable approach than it once was due to assassinations. Others were struck by the emphasis on distributed leadership, which is an obvious analogy to modern computer and communications networks, and how political commentators to frame their ideas of social order in terms of the technology of the day. Some pointed out that the idea of minimal oversight and control of communities was a long-stading Utopian line of thought, often espoused by people who wound up implementing the exact opposite.

However, I was particularly struck by Dan Kervick’s remark, which came late in the thread:

Others have already touched on this, but I think McKibben’s piece focuses too much on the question of whether or not it is important to have the single charismatic leader, and not enough on equally important questions about whether or not it is important to have organization, long-term plans and a grand political strategy. The picture I get from reading McKibben and many others is of a movement that consists in the spontaneous generation of organized resistance here and there to some of the projects of the powerful. The movement is successful in that instance if the project is thwarted, and fails if the project is carried through.

But resistance is what you have to do when you don’t have political power yourself. Isn’t there any left remaining out there that actually wants to achieve political power? It doesn’t seem so. Rather, it seems to me the contemporary left prefers to be powerless and prefers to be permanently on the side of the rebels and resistors, opportunistically throwing monkey wrenches into the inexorable progress of some alien Leviathan.

That can certainly be a useful orientation. But in some way it is not very ambitious. On the one hand there is a great deal of admirable energy and sweat going into such a movement, and there will be some successes here and there. But on the other hand the orientation of the permanent resistor defines itself by a kind of long-term surrender to the inexorable control by The Powers That Be. There is something fearful and weak in this attitude, an unhealthy embrace of outlook of the subordinated peasant.

“Resiliency” and “adaptability” are nice buzz words. I hear them all the time in the corporate world.

Andrew Watts concurred:

The contemporary left believes that achieving power would taint their moral purity. They would rather be powerless, ineffectual, and pure rather than achieve their goals. What they don’t understand is that every endeavor is tainted by human imperfection. This is one of the reasons why they’ve made so little difference over the last few decades.

Now there are readers who can legitimately disagree with the idea that the left does not want power, simply because the the “the left” in the US has become so debased and meaningless as to be considered in many quarters to include Obama and the mainstream Democratic party, which from a policy standpoint, is solidly center-right except on some social issues. The folks in the political-industrial complex who drape themselves in the “left” brand when it suits them most certainly want influence and all the goodies that go with it.

“Progressive” is in danger of becoming similarly debased, but we’ll use it to mean “progressive” in the traditional sense, as opposed to the MSNBC meaning of “the new improved corporate left”. And I regularly hear comments from Beltway insiders that are consistent with what Kervick and Watts say. For instance, one colleague says simply, “Progressives don’t want to govern.” He’s occasionally found issues where he can collaborate with the right, and finds working with them refreshing. Why? They are serious, they want to get things done, they don’t mess around. This can-do attitude is apparently sorely wanting on his side of the aisle.

Richard Kline, in a 2011 post, Progressively Losing, gave a longer-form overview of why progressives have had so little impact:

The first key point is that the tradition of progressive dissent is integrally a religious one. The goal isn’t usually power but ‘truth;’ that those in the right stand up for what is right, and those in the wrong repent. The City on the Hill and all that, but that is the intrinsic value. This is a tradition of ideas, many of them good, many of them implemented—by others, a point to which I’ll return. Coming forward to a recent and then present American context, consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as progressive:

Universal, secular education
End to child labor
Universal suffrage
Female legal equality
Consumer protections
Civil rights

Consider as well notable progressives who have held executive or even power positions in national governance. I struggle to name one. Progressives largely worked in voluntary organizations and reform societies outside of the notoriously corrupt political parties of America. (It is interesting and relevant to note that as a society we recapitulate that endemic historical venality once again c. 2011.)

A most relevant point is that these are value-driven policies. Notably absent are economic policies. I wouldn’t say that progressives are disinterested in economic well-being, but employment and money are never what has driven them. A right-living society, self-improvement, and justice: these are progressive goals. Recall again that many of them were already bourgeois; that most of historical notice had significant education; that their organizational backbone was women of such background. These conditions apply as much now as ever. Some progressives, many of them women, were radicalized by their experience of social work among the abused poor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Consider Beatrice Potter Webb or Upton Sinclair. Some progressives will fight if backed into a corner; many won’t even then, as there is a strong value placed on pacifism in this socio-community. Think John Woolman and Dorothy Day.

Reviewing the summary above, it will be evident that progressives are ill-equipped by objective and inclination both to succeed in bare-knuckle political strife. One could say unflatteringly that the goal of ‘progressives’ in activism is to raise their personal karma by standing up for what is right. “Sinners repent,” is the substance of their message, and their best dream would be to have those in the wrong do just that, to embrace progressive issues and implement them. More cynically, one wonders whether progressives would be entirely pleased if all of their reforms were implemented, leaving nothing to inveigh against.

Progressives are at their best educating, advocating, and validating those in need well apart from the fray. There are few cases that readily come to mind where progressives have implemented any contested policy on their own initiative without others of different goals involved. Somebody else has to carry the can for their water to get drawn.

And who has carried the can for progressives? Kline contends it has been radicals, who came from different social backgrounds and have different priorities:

The origins of Anglo-American radicalism are far less tidy to summarize…‘Poor or oppressed communities’: these are the fuel for radicalism, and one finds them far more in Continental Europe than in England. Serfdom was far more advanced there than it ever was in Medieval Britain or Scandinavia (for complex local reasons). Furthermore, social and economic radicalism often only catalyzed in the presence of communal cum national revolts against subjugation…

The key point is that the tradition of radical activism is integrally an economic one, and secondarily one of social justice. It was pursued by those both poor and ‘out castes,’ who often had communal solidarity as their only asset. It was resisted by force, and thus pursued by those inured to force who understood that power was necessary to victory, and that defeat entailed destitution, imprisonment, and being cut down by live fire from those acting under color of authority with impunity. This was a tradition of demands, many of them quite pragmatic. Few were wholly implemented, but the struggle to gain them forced the door open for narrower reforms, often implemented by the powers that be to de-fuse as much as diffuse radical agitation. Consider these policies, all of which still hold for most who would define themselves as radical:

Call off the cops (and thugs)
Eight hour day and work place safety
Right to organize
Anti-discrimination in housing and hiring
Unemployment dole
Public pensions
Public educational scholarships
Tax the rich
Anti-trust and anti-corporate

While few radicals have made it into public executive positions either, they are numerous in politics, especially at the local level where communal ties can predominate. Radicals have always worked in organized groups—‘societies,’ unions, and parties—which have been a multiplier for their demands.

Critically, these are grievance-driven policies. One could say that the goal of radicals is to force an end to exploitation, particularly economic exploitation since most radicals come from those on the bitter end of such equations. As such, many of them have specific remedies or end states. Notably absent are ‘moral uplift,’ better society objectives other than in the abstract sense. Further, since so much of radicalism is communally based it has often been difficult for radicals to form inter-communal alliances.

Secondarily, since the goals are highly specific to individual groups, factionalism is endemic. Radicals have disproportionately been drawn from the poor, and from minority communities; groups who have had little to lose, and for whom even small gains loom large, especially economic ones. These have been disproportionately non-Anglo American, many of whom brought their radicalism with them from prior experiences in Europe, though occasionally their message has radicalized contemporary indigenés, for example ‘Big Bill’ Haywood or John Reed (or Chris Hedges). Radicals have always had to ‘struggle,’ not least since they have consistently been assaulted by other factions and the state: militancy was their real party card. If this wasn’t necessarily violent, it was confrontational, as in boycotts and occupations (sit-downs). While radical women have always been visible, the backbone of radicals always was minority community men. Think Joe Hill and Sam Gompers.

Look carefully at those two lists of goals. What is striking about the second is that these demands of poor immigrants of the early 20th century are rapidly become high priorities for the increasingly downtrodden middle class (to the extent we can still pretend to have one; a big news from the end of last week is that the US now has the greatest income inequality of any advanced economy).

How did a great swathe of Americans sit back and let these hard-gotten gains be rescinded? While there are no doubt many causes, let me posit a few. One was that the middle class chose not to identify much with radical goals. The whole point of being middle class was to leave all of that behind, not just the poverty but the opposition to authority. Another was that it seemed inconceivable, at least for the post-war and Boomer generations, that these economics rights would be withdrawn. As we wrote in 2011:

Dial the clock back to the Eisenhower era. The highest marginal income tax rate was 91%. Ike, a Republican, was firmly of the view that New Deal programs were a permanent feature of the political landscape. From a 1954 letter to his brother Ed:

Now it is true that I believe this country is following a dangerous trend when it permits too great a degree of centralization of governmental function….But to attain any success it is quite clear that the Federal government cannot avoid or escape responsibilities which the mass of the people firmly believe should be undertaken by it. The political processes of our country are such that if a rule of reason is not applied in this effort, we will lose everything–even to a possible and drastic change in the Constitution. This is what I mean by my constant insistence upon “moderation” in government. Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Why policies that Eisenhower deemed inconceivable and reckless became mainstream? Let’s list some of the major causes. First is that unions were brought firmly into the Democratic party fold and kept playing nice even as the Dems repeatedly sold them out (my union-member brother refuses to vote Democrat for that reason). Second is that the Democrats discredited interventionist economic policies by failing to demand that taxes be increased when the US was running large fiscal deficits in the later 1960s when unemployment was already low (the result of simultaneously trying to fund the Cold War, the War in Vietnam, the war on poverty, and the space program; Johnson did not want to increase taxes to fund the unpopular Vietnam war). Mainstream Keynesians destroyed any remaining credibility by relying on the Phillips curve, that you couldn’t have high inflation and high unemployment at the same time (meaning a recession would pretty much stamp out inflation).*

The resulting stagflation of the 1970s helped legitimate Chicago School “free market” thinking (which was aggressively promoted by well-funded right wing think tanks eager to roll back the 1960s expansion of social programs). Third was the continued erosion in the Clinton era, when the fall of the USSR (eliminating the need to placate the far left) and the embrace of Rubinomics meant the Democrats had effectively abandoned traditional leftist economic policies (for instance, the “end of welfare as we know it”). I’m sure readers can add to this list.

To vary the old Yankee cliche, I’m not sure how you get there from here. As Kervick, Watts, and Kline argue, progressives simply don’t have the stomach for political trench warfare. They’ll write letters, sign petitions, man soup kitchens, but their appetite for bare knuckle confrontations is limited. And that was before our surveillance state and increasingly militarized police increased the riskiness of demonstrations. But even though the fallen middle class should come to recognize that its only recourse may be more radical strategies, that stance is so at odds with good American bourgeois identities that I’m not sure many are prepared to take that plunge.

So that takes us full circle to McKibben’s post, on leadership. I’d hazard that he’s wrong, that the only thing that might rouse downtrodden formerly-middle-class-in-denial Americans from their stupor is in fact the sort of charismatic leader he renounces as anachronistic and outré, say 21st century Huey Long or Jean Jaurès (or less ill-starred, David Lloyd George). The sort of distributed leadership that has become fashionable of late is well suited for local action or loosely coordinated movements. But the entrenched elites will require a visible show of force for them to cede any ground. That means key figures need to serve as lenses to concentrate the energy of ordinary citizens who no longer have outlets for their grievances.

* Note that this was a simplification of the Phillips curve, but as John Quiggin pointed out:

In an influential article, Samuelson and Solow estimated a Phillips curve for the United States, and drew the conclusion that society faced a trade-off between unemployment and inflation. That is, society could choose between lower inflation and higher unemployment or lower unemployment and higher inflation. Although the article qualified this point with reference to possible effects on inflationary expectations, this qualification tended to get lost in discussion of the policy implications of the Phillips curve.

The trade-off between unemployment and inflation was spelt out in successive editions of Samuelson’s textbook, simply entitled Economics, which dominated the market from its initial publication in 1948 until the mid-1970s. Given a menu of choices involving different rates of unemployment and inflation, it seemed obvious enough that, since unemployment was the greater evil, a moderate increase in inflation could be socially beneficial…

The general assumption among Keynesians in the 1960s was that there was a trade-off that could be exploited.

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    1. Richard Kline

      So Yves, I stand by my assertions in those remarks from 2011 regarding the activist positions of progressives and radicals which you cite. In them, I further argued that the decline of the radicalized immigrant community in the USA damped momentum for militant radicalism necessary to force economic and social grievances onto the national agenda. I still hold that assertion to be true, that without a radicalized base, even if one small, there’s little steel in the jimmy for social change or confrontation with state abuses. That is a nagging problem which those committed social activism will have to contend.

      I would stress a different point here now, however. If neither the progressive community in the USA nor the radical community here were ever large enough to achieve even plurality political power, how did any socially advancing policy ever become enacted into law and institutional arrangement? The centrist bourgeois got behind it, or let it go by on a trade off, that’s how. The present stagnation of the centrist bourgeois in the US makes this impossible at present, and for the foreseeable future. This is the main problem for social change in the US in my view (as the latter has developed): the fulcrum has gone spongy. Even if the missing ‘radical force’ was active, there is no ‘multiplier’ for it.

      Centrist bourgeois in American history have _never_ been predisposed to confront the state. They want to make money off the state, and often ARE the state at its margins. The Centrist bourgeois have seldom been inclined to confront the wealthy, being far more disposed to hang at the heel of the wealthy and hope for a good job when noticed. This orientations has typically worked for the bourgeois when the economy was, in various ways, expanding, as it has for most of American history. There was always a little more to go around, and being upstream of the poor and rural subsistence farmers, the bourgeois could typically get a plateful of expansion every time around. Bourgeois America does have a strong view of its own legal standing, and will push back against the wealthy if they perceive themselves to be abused. ‘Sharing the wealth’ was usually a pragmatic accommodation to economic and social grievances, however, rather than something done from any conviction. The industrial wealthy in the USA have a history of extreme abuses which are easy to document, and pragmatically setting them back a notch, pragmatically buying off militant dissidents with a few, basic concessions together served as the path of least resistance for the bourgeois. It is not remembered in historically illiterate America that in England and, yes, the USA there have been civil wars over how the wealth was to be shared and who got to run the state. Bourgeois America has been conditioned to shun confrontation in favor of modest, tactical concessions. So long as the pie kept expanding.

      And there’s the rub: the American economy not only is NOT expanding, but very likely will not do so to any large degree for the remainder of our lives. The bourgeois abandon pragmatic distribution for tacit collaboration with wealth when their own pie starts coming short: they are liberals after all. When things get a little tight economically in American history, the bourgeois steps a little aside while the poor get pushed off the back of the wagon. Well, that was done in the 1980s and 1990s. When things get middling iffy, the centrist bourgeois snuffle up to the palm of the wealthy, hoping for a thin little slice of cake while the least or the least well placed of their own number get kicked out of the wagon in turn. That’s been going on since the planes hit the Towers. Things have to get really dicey before the centrist bourgeois start to talk loudly about reform like they mean it. We’re not there yet, and the handmaidens of the 1% like Obama very well understand that it is essential to their interests to stave off ‘really dicey’ by any means necessary. We could well have a generation of stagnant, gradual decline wherein the bourgeois scuttle away from all chat about reform, still hoping that property values will turn around and promotions for brown nosers start to include pay rises of significance. (They won’t.) No amount of breastbeating and self-doubt on the left of center will change the fact that liberal bourgeois are too cautious to reform in tight times and too niggardly to share unless it comes out of the pocket of ‘expansion.’ That lack of downward solidarity is a ‘diffuser’ in the equation of change at present which is _not_ the fault of the either progressive or radical.

      I have some further gloomy remarks, coming round to a ray of optimism at the end. I wasn’t involved in the Charismatic Leader vs. distributed web discussion in comments here at NC. I’ll weigh in now for ‘neither.’ Neither position will achieve substantive change since, in my view, as neither engages with what actually activates change: organization.

      The entire view on the value of charismatic leaders is wildly overstated, in my view. Issues makes leaders, not the other way around. Yes, incompetent leadership will kill you and your issue both, but genius leaders often fail as well. Charismatic figures propagate ideas and lend hope; I do not underestimate the value of such outcomes. However, ‘leadership’ is wildly overvalued since it is ‘participation’ which gives the push. And leaders, even great ones, make tactical errors. Gandhi was one of the best, and he more than readily admitted his tactical mistakes, and made strategic ones as well (such as going quietest for a gradualist solution in the 1930s). Nelson Mandela, the archetype of a Charismatic Leader . . . spent 27 years on Robbin Island with no contact with the hundreds of nonviolent activists in the ANC and alongside it who strangled the economy in the RSA in the 1980s and wore the racist-fascists down. I’ll wager not a single person reading these remarks could name more than a single one if so many of the 100 most effective anti-apartheid activists on the ground in South Africa in the 1980s. Yet the victory was through them, not the Charismatic Leader. What the anti-apartheid activists had was a diverse but highly developed protest network on the ground in South Africa that survived repeated mass arrests of ‘known leaders’ who were often in fact talented and essential, because the hundreds more ‘unknown leaders’ experienced in the ranks stepped up to fill their place and keep the pressure on.

      Which highlights the chimera of ‘boneless networks.’ To be sure, distributed networks can self-organize quickly, and have flexibility. They also disband as fast (or faster), have no accountability, develop no resource bases, and have no demonstrated staying power. Reform, let along revolution, takes YEARS of sustained effort. The 2011 Revolution in Egypt had precursors in labor and electoral activism going back a dozen years, with more than five years of sustained effort to the tipping point. There is no evidence that distributed activist networks are, or will ever, be capable of that kind of long pressure build, and cultivation of trust and mutual support with parallel activism. I’ll make a further observation, not one I can sustain with evidence, but which I suspect will come to have more prominence over time. Leaderless, near-anonymous activist networks are cowardly. They do not display belief. They do not show individuals who will commit themselves to an effort (regardless of the views of those involved). For many in society to take courage and stand up or hold on for the right thing, it takes seeing others doing so. That is one real function of a charismatic leader, but an essential feature of material organization: visible solidarity in struggle with others. Flitter squawks will never achieve this, and in fact are a display of weakness rather than strength. As a tactic, distributed activism has real promise, to me; as primary a modality of activism, it would be froth, equivalent to slapping up posters in the dark of night. Interesting optics, little substance. I could say more, but that is harsh enough.

      That all said, this is a very promising time for _activist organizing_. The utter corruption of the top of governance in the US, the grotesque skewness of the economy, the sheer unproductive venality of the ultra-rich, the floundering incompetence (at best) of foreign policy: these are all nightly on display. No amount of propaganda by the media of the 1% can cut the stink, can blot out the image of pallets of wealth heisted out the door, can erase the sound of billet pounding bone, can disappear the feeling of the no-money week at month’s end—even for many who believe themselves to be centrist bourgeois. The 1% counters by a cacophony of blather and misdirection, but that only goes so far. So there is traction for organizing. . . . Maybe that organizing is getting done. I can’t say that I see it. The upside is, once a precipitating event occurs, organizing can _begin_ very quickly. At which point, those with a talent to lead, lead.

      And I can add the observation that a reformist agenda is patently obvious and evident. Not necessarily a radical one, but a reformist agenda. Any of you could sketch a decent one, the main points are readily apparent; many were discussed during the Season of the Occupation. At any time reformist activism gets rolling, it may move quickly. And has. But for reformist activism to go anywhere, there needs to be organization. The 1% and Permanent Washington are committed sprinkling just enough ‘holy money’ on the centrist bourgeois huddled around them to keep any spark from spreading, so committed activists are going to have to collect a little powder and keep it dry. For fireworks and sound effects to start the organizing campaign, natch; bombs are for gonzos.

        1. Nathanael

          Richard: I think you’re mistaken about this specific assertion:

          “We’re not there yet, and the handmaidens of the 1% like Obama very well understand that it is essential to their interests to stave off ‘really dicey’ by any means necessary.”

          We are pretty much there; we are at the “middle class is ready to become radical” point. Maybe not literally this year, but we’re to the point where it could happen any time now, and I would really not want to predict that it *won’t* happen tomorrow.

          Student loan debt is the biggest of the engines which took us there, and has changed the views of the entire “bourgeois” class under the age of 30. There are others: the retirees who had their pensions stripped, the university professors watching the corporatization of their universities, I could rattle off long lists of such things.

          The Congress is occupied almost entirely by actual 1%ers. The “centrist bourgeois”, as you call them, have been cut out completely, and they are beginning to notice.

          The handmaidens of the 1% don’t have a fucking clue what they’re doing; you’re making the classic conspiracy theorist’s mistake of assuming *intentionality* among people who are really quite stupid, in their own way.

          The handmaidens of the 1% are acting on habit and rubrics. They have no real plan and no real understanding of what is going on. They are sufficiently poorly educated that they do not recognize the threat which comes from their behavior (failing to provide bread to the masses, impoverishing the middle classes, etc.) Part of this is that they have *bought into their own propaganda* — a previous generation might have known that that propaganda was just for the rubes; this generation actually believes it.

          This is the sort of stuff which happened before the French Revolution. It’s really poor practice on the part of the elites. A sensible Earl Grey type elitist knew that he needed to “cut in” the middle classes in order to maintain the position of the elite — whether the pie was growing or shrinking. We, by contrast, have STUPID elites.

          1. Moneta

            Louis XVI succeeded to the throne in 1774 with a government deeply in debt… so this situation festered for 15 years before the revolution took hold.

            In the late 70, Turgot and Malesherbes tried to implement radical financial reforms to straighten up the finances but these angered the nobles… higher taxes, austerity, forced relief of the poor by penalizing landowners.

            They tried to help poor yet their heads ended up on the chopping block.

            Everyone is so used to short-termism, they think that because no big movement has occurred yet that something might be wrong.

            1. Newtownian

              Worse still there is also a theory the revolution was precipitated by famine induced in turn by El Nino Richard H. Grove, “Global Impact of the 1789–93 El Niño,” Nature393 (1998), 318-319. Maybe this is what we are looking at as a trigger?

            2. Nathanael

              Thanks for presenting the history details.

              I really do not know what the timing is going to be — it could be another 20 years, it could be tomorrow. But we face an elite which is stubbornly resistant to the very changes which would *save their necks* — just like the nobility refused Turgot’s plans and refused Necker’s plans.

              That is why I see the revolutionary outcome as most likely.

            1. Nathanael

              So? They don’t know how to target, because they’re stupid.

              Random innocent people who attempted to conform in every way are getting harassed, blacklisted, imprisoned, or even shot and killed — I’m sure you can dredge this stuff up from the Naked Capitalism archives.

              If conforming *does not make you safe* — and it doesn’t — then the “might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb” effect kicks in.

              If they were violent and smart, their tactics might actually work. But they are stupid.

      1. Moneta

        Developed countries have been exploiting emerging countries to keep on living their energy intensive lifestyles.

        So the rot is not only at the top as the entire population has been feeding on a free lunch.

        1. nonclassical

          ..true, Moneta,

          all completely documented in William Blum’s, “Killing Hope”, and Perkins’, “Confessions of An Economic Hit Man”…more recently, and despite U.S.-Israeli
          propaganda, in Robert Fisk’s, “The Great War for Civilization” (history of middle east, from insider foreign correspondent who lived there most of his life=Beirut)

      2. Danb

        Excellent comments, especially regarding the processes set in motion by a contracting economy. I’d only add that Nature plays an increasingly significant role in the social construction of reality. If Egypt had a surfeit or even sufficient water and oil there’d be no unrest. Greece has been thrown back to the 19th century by oil prices and the subsequent related depredations of neoliberalism.

      3. bobw

        Is there any way to organize if any “dangerous” organization will be infiltrated – and either co-opted or radicalized / marginalized by agents provocateurs?

        1. Yalt

          That we use a French term for the phenomenon should be a tell: agents provocateurs are not new. Organizing has never been safe.

        2. charles sereno

          @ bobw: As you say, any organization dangerous to the current elite, whether under distributed or charismatic leadership, with certainty will be disrupted at least cost. The question is whether “organization” itself, as presently conceived, has been productive in advancing beneficial social change. To pluck an odd example out of the hat, consider the recent history of Chile. Prior to the ascendance of Allende, Chile had been a dull, but Constitutionally respectful, bourgeois democracy. With the victory of Allende, the Colossus of the North snuffed out this infection with even longer lasting results than a previous success story in Iran. I’m definitely not against organization. I think the best hope, as might be happening, is to make it even more distributive — Snowden, as No One (Homer).

        3. Richard Kline

          So bobw, yes, there is a way to reliably organize despite the probability of provocateurs and the certainty of infiltration: do all in plain view. Sunshine is the disinfectant.

          There is no need for secrecy in organizing in the US; individuals are not in immediate threat of their lives, or of being disappeared. So the inverse is the best situation: being public creates a personal track record for individuals. Visibility for individuals and groups can insulate to a degree against arbitrary harrassment and frame ups. Visibility builds the credibility of committment. Visibility encourages participation of others, or at least their tacit support. Visibility also can improve the prospect for internal accountability.

          Thinks about the American civil rights movement. The organizers were all known. They met in public places. They talked to the media, and did frequent trainings of large numbers of participants. They were often arrested, and not infrequently beaten, yet the forces of ‘law and order [sic]’ assaulting them were the ones who looked bad. Their phones were all tapped (and they knew it), they were tailed everywhere; black propaganda was put out on them and immediately fell apart most of the time as readily disconfirmable. They were _most_ at risk when out of sight, or operating in isolation. And they won. Secrecy wasn’t their friend, it was their foe. Openness confirmed to others their belief that their cause was just and necessary.

          One learns to sport the infiltrators and informants because they are the ones suggesting illegal, dangerous, and secret activities; they are the ones who break organizational discipline. It doesn’t _matter_ if the powers that be know what you are going to do if your goal is to assemble, sit down, and not be moved. Or to testify. And etc.

          The powers that be at present are grossly corrupt, and that is readily provable. Confronting them openly is the best tactic since they have no truth with which to answer back, provide no justice, and serve no public interest.

          1. proximity1

            RE: “There is no need for secrecy in organizing in the US; individuals are not in immediate threat of their lives, or of being disappeared. So the inverse is the best situation: being public creates a personal track record for individuals. Visibility for individuals and groups can insulate to a degree against arbitrary harrassment and frame ups.” Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/why-progressives-are-lame.html#qJz6msH8Qi8yC3E8.99

            Where is Julian Assange today? And where are Martin Luther King Jr, or Malcolm X or Salavdor Allende or Karen Silkwood? What happened to C.I.A. agent Frank Olson, whose body was found on a street sidewalk below his tenth-floor room at the Hotel Pennsylvania in the middle of the night one night in November of 1953? What does a book entitled A Game as Old as Empire: the Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption suggest is the case concerning the actual facts about the personal safety of those who take effective direct open action in protest and resistance efforts?

            I think considerable history refutes your claim–or qualifies it in this way: “Individuals –i.e. People who remain and who are seen as remaining essentially ineffective in their political resistance efforts— are not in immediate threat of their lives” —that is, their lives are not in immediate danger of being taken, ‘lost’.

            If and when they do become seriously effective, then their lives are in immediate danger–even, yes, in the U.S.

            While it may be arguably true that “there is no need for secrecy,” it seems to me demonstratbly false that individuals’ lives, when they are actually effective, are not immediately at risk.

            1. sarastro

              Correct Proximity… that’s not even considering the disappearances of the Kennedy Brothers; ML King and critically, Walter Reuther in the Sixties.

              But in any case the Patriot Act brands any aggressive protest as “ter++r”; and successive legislation such as the NDAA; and repeal of Posse Comitatus really opens the door to legitimize military dictatorship/ martial law to quell “civil unrest”.

              Layer on the NSA, Homeland Security and militarization of lacal police forces and it is clear what’s in store for activists in years to come. The Establishment clearly anticipates pushback as economic collapse intensifies and has done so for quite some time.

              9/11 was the accelerant. An encore performance will shit down remaining vestiges of an Open Society.

            2. Nathanael

              The “insecurity forces” have created a situation where the public as a whole recognizes when the government is imprisoning political prisoners, like Manning.

              This is a change and an important one.

      4. nonclassical

        …agree with Richard’s economic reality view…but…when returning to live in states from Europe, there appeared article in “The Guardian” on U.S. media attempt to marginalize GREEN PARTY political victory in Toronto, Canada….

        U.S. “powers” don’t desire any messy alternative political scenario…view how
        alternatives within parties (Kucinich for example) have had new “rules” implaced
        to shut them out of primary candidacies…

        those who DO have gravitas to step out are stepped on…Ross Perot, or Anderson candidacies, anyone? Perot’s theme has come to pass…Clinton implemented it…”giant sucking sound”…

      5. Lexington

        Insightful comments Richard, but I have a bad feeling about this:

        If neither the progressive community in the USA nor the radical community here were ever large enough to achieve even plurality political power, how did any socially advancing policy ever become enacted into law and institutional arrangement? The centrist bourgeois got behind it, or let it go by on a trade off, that’s how. The present stagnation of the centrist bourgeois in the US makes this impossible at present, and for the foreseeable future. This is the main problem for social change in the US in my view (as the latter has developed): the fulcrum has gone spongy. Even if the missing ‘radical force’ was active, there is no ‘multiplier’ for it.

        While this might be historically true, I think we need to be cautious about projecting past experience into the future. Specifically, it is not apparent to me that even if we had the radical force and the multiplier that it could effectuate major change, because the political process is simply less responsive to pressure from below than it was in, for example, the 1930s. The American elite is more ingrown and insular today than probably any time in the country’s history save for the very early days of the republic. Many aspects of the American political system, including the open and routine gerrymandering of electoral districts, abolition of campaign spending limits, and voter ID laws intended to disenfranchise disadvantaged groups, are explicitly designed to reduce the power those at the bottom of the socio economic pyramid can exercise over those at the top.

        And finally the elite has the ultimate trump card: since 9/11 they have constructed a turnkey police state so that if all else fails they can resort to open repression to defeat any threat to their status and priviledges.

        1. Yalt

          “The American elite is more ingrown and insular today than probably any time in the country’s history save for the very early days of the republic.”

          Or, put differently, the American elite is more fragile today than probably any time in the country’s history.

          It’s this very fact that gives me hope. They are no longer responsive to dissent, no longer willing to buy it off with crumbs. That makes fundamental change more likely this time.

          Of course, if what you want is to work through the existing system to get the crumbs, it’s discouraging. I’m hoping for something more.

          1. Nathanael

            I agree with you 100%.

            Because I have a different goal, this is what *upsets* me. I am all for incremental, Earl Grey style change. I am fundamentally conservative by nature.

            The fragility and brittleness of our current elites — their absolute refusal to adapt to the needs of the people — means that we aren’t going to get that. As a result, we’re going to get a revolution, and quite likely a rather bloody and nasty one, since they usually are. (Maybe if we really work at it we can get something closer to the Carnation Revolution in Portugal.)

              1. anon y'mouse

                perhaps he thinks he can be the Jean Luc Peeeecard and captain this ship to the stars & beyond.

                sorry, all this is getting to me.

                1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

                  I think it’s a mistake to plan for the unplannable, say year 22 of the 2nd republic. Even the soviets/chinese maoists only had 5-year plans. Maybe the absence of a clear way on the long march reveals how relatively implacable and robust the System is …

              2. Nathanael

                He is now most famous for his favorite tea mix (which featured Bergamot), but the man I refer to is the author of the Great Reform Bill of 1832:


                Read through the history leading up to the passage of the Great Reform Bill and you’ll begin to understand what I’m talking about.

                Short summary: Earl Grey warned the Lords and the King that he could not be responsible for their personal safety if they did not pass the Reform Bill. They didn’t. Nationwide riots and a run on the Bank of England erupted, among other things.

                Then they did pass it. Everything calmed down…

                1. Nathanael

                  The Great Reform Bill is often held up as the very epitome of incremental, elite-driven, “liberal not radical” reform. It was really a very modest bill in many ways.

                  I prefer a country which passes such bills. The UK followed the “incremental reform” procedure for the next 150 years or so, with great success at maintaining social stability.

                  The descendents of the noblemen of 1800 are still noblemen in the UK — can you think of another country where this is true? Incremental reform was the correct choice for the elites. And still, a huge number of them fought against it, with Earl Grey being one of the few fighting for reform.

        2. Nathanael

          “since 9/11 they have constructed a turnkey police state so that if all else fails they can resort to open repression to defeat any threat to their status and priviledges.”

          If they really try to rely entirely on open repression, they will die and their estates will be destroyed or redistributed. French Revolution style.

          Relying entirely on “police state” apparatus for power simply does not work. Never has, never will.

          The classic formula is to rely primarily on religious brainwashing and propaganda, with a side order of bread and circuses, with the police state merely used to clean up the leftover dissenters. Our idiot elites are getting very bad at the propaganda, and seem to be congenitally unwilling to supply the bread.

          1. nonclassical


            think “revolution” through-after initial run on grocery stores, they won’t be re-stocked…and people will get their food where, exactly??

            1. Nathanael

              (1) By looting the houses of the rich, in the short term.
              (2) From farmers, where it usually comes from, in the longer term.

        3. Richard Kline

          So Lexington, it is true that we cannot necessarily project the future into the past; a reprise isn’t a given. Having said that, I’ve spent some time looking at the phenomenon of historical recurrence, and the continuity of social gestalts in trajectories over time. My point there is that there is more continuity than we tend to reckon with, since the spume of circumstance makes ‘change’ seem more pervasive and less shallow than is in fact the case.

          Regarding ‘the solidity of present elites,’ you have that entirely backward, in large part because the social place and position of the elites in America and in the political parties of 100 and 150 years ago are essentially forgotten. There was a lot of splashy activity at the local level which masked the entrenched position of economic elites behind the ‘sound and the fury’ of parties. Socially undesirable polticis were red-baited, and if necessarily death squaded out of the voting booth—or the results were simply bought.

          Yalt has a firmer perspective: the present elites are far weaker than we really consider. The middle and especially the poor have no love for them. Those at the top had a chokehold on ‘the process,’ but have lost the hearts and minds, so to speak. The elites do NOT have a control on the institutions of governance, in that those ‘on the line’ are not personally persuaded to the program of the elite. Their bosses have to be suborned, bought off, or replaced one at a time, season by season. That’s hard, slow, dirty work, that brings them no institutional allegience. The elite is isolated by their obvious hogging of wealth and gross ‘let them eat pixels’ indifference to the social economic reality of 90% of the population and more. You may not notice, but most of the domestic propaganda we here are factions of the elite arguing with each other, NOT with the populace at large. Yes, current political parties are corrupt. There is ample room to start another, supposing that centrist liberals decide that the Two-headed One Party System is hostile to them—which it is. One can’t get a party rolling if the center shuns it; that has been the experience of the Greens. You CAN get a party going if liberal bourgeois are hungry for another choice.

          The elites are weak. Open repression has NEVER been the American way, except against ‘racial undesirables.’ There is no stomach for that against ‘ordinary citizens.’ A journalist here and there can be red-baited or framed, as now. But the powers that be couldn’t figure out WHAT to do with a genuine popular movement like Occupy, however dis-coordinated.

          1. Lambert Strether

            “The elites are weak.” I agree th e Bearcat nonsense and the crazy pants NSA stuff is a sign of weakness not strength. (You might look at tge class signifiers as an attempt to classify my enemies by function with a view toward splitting them based on their work life/income streams/matreial interest; I would like to see how signifiers like centrist bourgeios and liberal bougeios can be adapted for that purpose. They see m to me to be entirley too close to the up-its-own orifice legacy party self identification for comfort.

          2. Lexington

            The elites are weak? Then we must respectfully disagree. I see no evidence of such “weakness”, however congenital it might be to imagine it.

            Since you bring it up: “But the powers that be couldn’t figure out WHAT to do with a genuine popular movement like Occupy, however dis-coordinated.”


            To the best of my recollection the powers that be sicked their paramilitarized police on OWS, after doing a thorough recce through the elaborate surveillance mechanisms they had put in place, and completely routed it as a movenment. What pray tell do you recall occuring?

            Having said that, I’ve spent some time looking at the phenomenon of historical recurrence, and the continuity of social gestalts in trajectories over time.

            Yeah, I’m totally impressed by your referencing Hegelian philosophy.

            Anyway, it seems clear to me your research is incomplete: I would suggest that the study of the careers of, say, Mikhail Bakunin, Imre Nagy Rosa Luxemburg or Salvatore Allende will provide a useful corrective.

      6. Lambert Strether

        I don’t know what “Centrist Bourgeois” means. I don’t think you mean “owners,” because “wealthy” describes the Walmarts and Buffets of this world, no?

        I think you mean people with “bourgeois values,” and that they are Centrist with respect to the Overton Window. You say they live off the state, so I think they take a percentage of the rental extraction streams owned by others.

        I prefer to try to think about classes functionally, so I’m guessing you’re classifying the same people I would classify this way (with the caveat that people can belong to more than one class; that is, they can have multiple income streams).

        * Creative class: Programmers, designers, techies, PR people, academics … Key part of Obama’s base. ObamaCare is, among other things, welfare for them.

        * Political class: Strategists, opinion shapers, “thought collectives, pollsters, trolls …

        * National security class: People designing and maintaining the self-licking ice cream cone of the national security state; anybody with a clearance. Military brass, spooks, hasbara types….

        Snowden, for example, is in the Creative class (sysadmin) and the National Security class (clearance).

        Colin Powell rose through the National security class and the political class to the ruling class… And thence to well-deserved but lucrative obscurity….

        People can fall out of these classes into the working class at any time; or they can rise to the ruling class or the ownership class.

        I don’t hold any particular brief for these particular slices, but I do think we should have classification systems that are functional (describe political economy role played by class), adaptive (take account of how class functions change over time), and allow overlap (person can put together income streams as a member of more than one class — as along as they’re not working class!) Note that generational classification (Boomers, Gen X) is not functional or adaptive and does not allow overlap. The same goes for classes derived from identity politics. “Middle class” is a powerful distraction* because it’s a static ideal** and isn’t functional (“middle” of what?)

        Anyhow, off the top of my head and based on lots of blogging. More serious analysis welcome.

        NOTE * That I also hate because of its implicit “suck up, kick down” morality.

        NOTE ** A good definition I heard is that the essence of being middle class is being able to “provide” for one’s children, in the sense of educating them for a better life, and passing along an inheritance of some sort, usually a house. There’s also the idea of being able to retire in something other than squalor.

        Adding… This sketch is based on Braudel’s idea of society as “a set of sets.”

        And adding… “Downward mobility” means falling out of the political, creative, or national security classes into the working class. Nice litmus test for that: It doesn’t matter who you are.

        And adding… I’ve left out small business owners delivering tangible services, like plumbers and electricans, and “skilled labor,” mostly unionized. It’s a big, complicated country….

        1. Malmo

          “..It’s a big, complicated country….”

          Accurately stated, which in part explains why I am so damn pessimistic regarding meaningful, preemptive change. We’ll go marching blindly on to our demise. Except for the few, lemmings all.

        2. Nathanael

          OK sketch.

          The important point, from my POV, is that the elites have done their damndest to severely worsen the situation for every last one of these classes — they’re trying to impoverish most of them, and they’re removing “job security” from *all* of them. The elites have zero loyalty to any of the people helping them.

          I think this is grossly unsustainable and will stop one way or another. The current elites seem absolutely unwilling to show any loyalty to decent people within their organizations; the result is that I see great opportunities for would-be feudal/manorial warlords who understand loyalty.

        3. nonclassical


          ..to answer your “middle of what” question, the great middle is “mediocrity”, and by design. We intend (goals) to create a few “winners”, a few “losers”, and a majority “mediocrity” (education-which is then scapegoated as provider of “opportunity”) populace, which is actually (goal) a cheap labor force.

          Having taught Europe, secondary, I can inform their goal is taxpayers…which is reason ALL are afforded either 4 year university or vocational equivalent FREE..

          The only political rationale for “middle-class” has always been as “buffer” between winners-losers..

        4. Richard Kline

          So Lambert, I use ‘class’ in exactly the way the term has been used in sociological discussion for the past two centuries. I’m speaking of a strata of the population whose members are known to each other by common factors of identity; with common societal experience in daily life; of broadly similar economic means if from somewhat diverse sources; of similar expectations of their interactions with the legal system and political process where they are even if potentially of divergent convictions on a progressive-conservative spectrum. In the strong case, a class has a shared religious persuasion and common dialect separate from those of other classes. In the spare case, their commonality is shaped more by a similar experience interacting with social and political institutions.

          It is true that in these 2000s CE, class is a looser descriptive than at any time in recent millennia. Education is more widely shared. Geograhical mobility is very high by historical norms. In most liberal institional polities, individuals are free to marry outside of class and to consort with whom they please. Individuals can even secede from their class personally and live with others in many cases without paying huge social penalties. Classes are more permeable than they have typically been—but still there, and still VERY important in political behavior. That is because classes share an expectation of ‘the way things work’ even if they hope for somewhat different outcomes.

          I wouldn’t attempt a thorough discussion of what I mean by bourgeois centrist, and anyway someone else might use somewhat different criteria. Most bourgeois own very few financial instruments outside of a pension portfolio for some which they do not personally manage. Most own and use a car as long as they are able to drive. Many have equity in a home, and that is their largest financial asset. The great majority will have completed high school, and a plurality at least have some college or technical education beyond that. Most do _not_ have a professional certification outside of nursing or accounting. Few have a graduate degree outside of a Masters in their field if that proved useful to their employment. Most think of themselves as having ‘a career’ regardless of what that is, rather than ‘a job.’ It used to be, centrist bourgeois would be reliably Protestant in the US, but many (if not most) Catholics now would see themselves here. Liberal bourgeois would hope to personaly avoid time lost to routine military service but see participation as an expectation in a crisis. Bourgeois view the police as useful first responders as the first thing they think about them. Bourgeois see superior levels of government as neutral to beneficial abstractions: such institutions are operated by others, but not perceived to be hostile. Bourgeois may own a family business, but have no expectation of becoming a director of an enterprise. Bourgeois used to belong en masse to civic and fraternal organizations, and do keep functioning such of those as still function. Bourgeois would be shocked to experience any kind of discrimination, because ‘that only happens to people who get out of line.’ And so on.

          Refering to ‘Creative,’ ‘Political,’ ‘Security,’ these are not signifiers which in any respect define ‘classes.’ I know that is a popular labeling device over the last twenty years, but I have to say I see no merit in it. Indeed, the labels were coined _specifically to disappear class backgrounds from view_. You’ll want to notice that none of the ‘classes’ you mentioned included anyone of working class _activity_. It would be gauche to speak of a ‘Laboring class,’ even though anyone using your borrowed labels will THINK EXACTLY THAT seeming somebody with dirt on their work clothes at days end. Similarly, ‘political class’ is a handy applique to make the ‘Ruling class’ within and behind it disappear from view. The labels you describe have been, in my view of same, handy gold stars available on exit to college grads they get to put on their foreheads as the sign that they have ‘graduated from the class system to become well-adjusted spear carriers.’ Somebody who doesn’t want to be Jewish from Hoboken, or an Evangelical Latino who studied their way out of the hood would looovvve to be part of the new, acceptable-anywhere Creative ‘Class.’ Somebody employed, and enjoying, being a acceptably racist colonial policeman would, I suspect, far rather be a known as ‘trained para-professional contributor to the Security Class.’ Sounds a lot better somehow, it seems the thinking goes . . . .

          There are no common parameters for a ‘creative class,’ for example, Lambert. A journalist, a chef de cuisine, a tech coder for a video game developer: what do they conceivably have in common? There is no shared identity, either, nor mobility between perchs in such an assemblage. There may be little little shared educational experience. Pay scales, and even pay modalities, may differ widely. Are that tech coder and a choreographer going to know how to make small talk and what about? Is a tech coder even ‘creative?’ (No, is my short answer, which is why so many are going to be replaced by machines. That coder is a digital lather operator, and fits in the same place in present society.) Is a journalist ‘creative’ relative to, say, a biogenticist trying to clone a virus to secrete a highly targeted drug? Would that biogeneticist even see themselves as ‘a creator’ as opposed to a degreed professional? Is the LOLcat guy a ‘creator,’ or an entertaiment producer? Well, the former sounds a lot nobler, doesn’t it—which to me is the real point, to move up-status while hiding ones class origin as’archaic.’

          I do think, by contrast, there is some argument for a nascent Security ‘Caste.’ Those who presently routinely join the military are increasingly from families who did the same for a generation or two (or three) before. They are often conservative Christians, regardless of denomination. They take a dim view of ‘the Other,’ regardless who is designated for that position at the moment. They are convinced, accurately, that the rest of teh populaton doesn’t understand their experience, or, slightly less accurately, value it. Now, there remain significant class divisions in this group between the rankers and those pursuing careers as middle to upper officers and ‘senior managment’ positions in the security-industrial complex. There is a shared worldview even despite that. I would say that such a Security caste is worrisome, and a real departure for American history. That is a subject for another day.

          I don’t say all this as an _endorsement_ of class. But ones background and self-identified peers form an experience space that shapes ones, well, _experiences_. It is an analytical mistake of the first order to proceed as if mass patterns of experience don’t function. The evidence seems mountainous to me that they do. They aren’t the only social reality in play, Lambert, but they haven’t gone away.

          1. Roland

            If they don’t control their means of production, then they’re not bourgeois.

            Post-WWII West had large numbers of well-paid proletarians. They had the consumption levels traditionally associated with the bourgeoisie, i.e. they owned their residence, they could occasionally travel abroad, they could send their kids to college, etc.

            But that elevated consumption level didn’t mean they stopped being proletarians. A high consumption level is not the same thing as having control over means of production.

            Too many of those high-paid proletarians let themselves get conned into thinking they were “middle class,” when they were never anything of the kind. They were nothing but proletarians enjoying a period of historically high wages.

            It’s going to take at least a couple of generations for the proletarians in most of the Western countries to really clue in to the reality of their capitalist society. They won’t face the reality until it really gets beaten into their faces. After all, nobody wants to admit that they’re a prole.

            My guess is that major political changes will only start to occur when the generations who have first-hand recollection of the post-WWII prosperity have died off. By the mid-21st century things might start looking pretty Red, though.

            1. Lambert Strether

              Yep. In the sketch I proposed, I hope it was clear that creative class for example did not control the means of production. Still curious if there’s a “left bourgeios” at the other end of the 2d spectrum proposed by centrist, and wh’s in it. Soros?

          2. Lambert Strether

            You don’t feel “centrist” disappears class from view? I certainly do. In fact, that could be said to be the point of my comment in short form. As I said, I hold no particular brief for these signifiers — nor do I make the claim that this is an exhaustive list. However, I do think class signifiers should be functional, unlike “middle” or “centrist.” And I’d be more interested in the class analysis you propse, rather than why my sketch is wrong. For example, “centrist” with respect to what? “Left bougeios” and rght bougeios”?

          3. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

            Richard, your deep extensive, analytical thinking is most instructive to me. On the topic of class signifiers, whether as adjectives or nouns, viz. (pink vs. pinko), is it better the put the most informative, powerful, signifier in first place or in second place when con-joining two signifiers? Say, “The little white man went fishing last Saturday.” and “The white little man went fishing last Saturday.” As a trained mathematician, I get used to back-to-front and front-to-back co-existing notations in symbolic mathematics. Yet, getting it right the first time is better than co-existing back-to-front and front-to-back denotations for the same mathematical objects in the math. litterature. So, to me, “little white” and “white little” are hard to figure out how they sound for native English-regular (as opposed to a Frenchy like me) speaker . So,anyway, that’s it for now.

        5. cripes

          Good sketch of class realtions. As Marx said, it’s the relationship to the means of production, and all the supporting (or dependant) layers that are wrapped around that essential core. Too many American see just a three tiered “upper-middle-lower” class thing that only vaguely attaches to income percentages.

          I used to make a simple illustration for the historically-impaired to help them visualize how complex class relations are beyond simple income measures.

          Imagine a small businessman owning a string of car washes or laundromats, profits maybe 250,000-500,000 annually, owning property or mortages on them, employing minimum-wage workers and hobnobbing with garage owners and aldermen. Then take an elite academic from an ivy league school, tracked into economics, politics or foreign service, making 100,000, living in a mortgaged condo, no equity and mingling with top tier foundation, corporate and political kingmakers–which is Obama prior to his ascension to ignominy.

          There you have it, the relation to class power is more important than simple property or income. And it is multifacted, especially at the top.

      7. Doug Terpstra

        Thanks for this Richard:

        Leaderless, near-anonymous activist networks are cowardly. They do not display belief. They do not show individuals who will commit themselves to an effort (regardless of the views of those involved). For many in society to take courage and stand up or hold on for the right thing, it takes seeing others doing so. That is one real function of a charismatic leader, but an essential feature of material organization: visible solidarity in struggle with others. Flitter squawks will never achieve this, and in fact are a display of weakness rather than strength. As a tactic, distributed activism has real promise, to me; as primary a modality of activism, it would be froth, equivalent to slapping up posters in the dark of night. Interesting optics, little substance. I could say more, but that is harsh enough.

        Maybe not harsh enough. And thanks for using your real name. Always nagging me is that fact that at most sites, including NC, almost everyone hides behind a pseudonym (from everyone but the NSA). I can understand that. I’m sure I’ve lost project work as a consequence of using my real name, but at some point people are going to have to stand up, say who they are and what they believe in. Until then, it is as you say, the left remains a flock of ineffective flitter squawks.

        1. anon y'mouse

          some of us have been stalked in real life by people who knew us by our real names and faces.

          sorry, that was risky enough!

        2. Richard Kline

          So Doug, there can be real reasons folks choose to use pseudonyms online, and I understand this. But you see exactly my reasons for using my real name . I often take a political perspective in my commentary, and I do think it’s necessary to take some personal responsibility for that. And yes, I have no doubt that the security-industrial complex knows who I am and what I do, not that anyone there much cares for a little gear wheel missing a few teeth on the edge of the continent, so ‘pretending I’m invisibile’ has always seemed pointless. The securecrats have been able to trackback electronic activity with high precision for at least 20 years, and I haven’t been doing anything that warrants pestering them with using server transfers and encryption to stay one step ahead of the snifferbots.

  1. psychohistorian

    Another insightful post Yves but it still rings hollow to me in a sense because it does not discuss the historical import of inheritance and ongoing accumulation of private ownership of property on our social organization and capital allocation.

    To me it seems to come down to whether or not, and to what degree, one believes in true self actualization. Are we a society that builds on the shoulders of giants that come before us or an aggregation of atomistic individuals competing for survival within a tight class structure based on centuries of inheritance and accumulation of property and led by the linage of the families in the top societal class?

    Assuming the former, why are we stuck in an ( immoral inheritance=social inequality) compact based totally on “faith” in the 0.01% ability to lead humanity “best”?

    Since the “best” that the 0.01% is providing to the rest of us seems to not be measuring up in terms of long/short term livability, maybe we should rethink continuing to empower these Bush/Koch/etc. dynasties to rule our future through immoral ongoing inheritance.

    I would like to believe that we can build a equitable, just and future supporting society but to do so we need to wake up to a more anthropological view of history and adjust our social organizations accordingly.

    1. zygmuntNICEbernier

      You mention anthropology. I got a bit interested in sociology, thinking in terms of groups, clans, families, fraternities, communities and so on… So, who are the famous American heros, who are the famous American anti-heros, what in “the American psyche” or values made them heroic (respectively, anti-heroic)? Here in Canada, people will tend to see Canadian bank profits of $2 billion in a quarter as verging on “crass capitalism”. Why? I dunno.

      1. PaulW

        Really? From what I’ve heard most Canadians are happy about record bank profits. It indicates how sound our banking system is. Remarkable what a motivator fear can be. The Canadians banks might crash! To protect them from crashing we allow them record profits. Then everyone can sleep soundly at night again. Never mind these profits are made by exploiting average Canadians. Oh the wonders of propaganda!

      2. Lambert Strether

        Braudel’s notion of society as “a set of sets” is very flexible and powerful. One names the sets and sets up criteria for membership. Clans, families, factions are part of this. So, dare I say it, are working class, ownership class, ruling class, all right now subsumed under the misleading issues of “economic issues” and the misleading constructs of “rescuing” the “middle class.”

        Politics is about values and interests IMNSHO. We need to pay careful attention to interests. Was it Debs who said: “Everything for the workers”? Not a bad place to start.

            1. susan the other

              the fiat model we now have is based on the deep suffering of most people… we need to send the 1% a bill for damages, back pay; disenfranchisement; and all the injustices we have suffered. Let’s put it in dollars. Say 50 trillion at 7% interest compounded annually? That’s just the US.

            2. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

              I think in some sense a lot of political reality is a social construction, and dogs probably haven’t caught on to politics. I wonder if alien anthropologists would make better anthropologists than their human counterparts.

        1. Nathanael

          I don’t care about the workers, bluntly — my utopia is the post-work robot utopia.

          I want to destroy Veblen’s “leisure class” of thieves who measure success by how much they steal. That’s my agenda.

          I want those kleptomaniacs suppressed, because they are a danger to the survival of humanity. Currently they are in charge.

          1. Malmo

            “I don’t care about the workers, bluntly — my utopia is the post-work robot utopia.”

            Bring it on. That’s my utopia too. However, I’d settle for a 20 hr work week on our journey there. In the end, fuck anything that resembles the rat race.

            1. Lambert Strether

              I’m basically there too. I don’t want to stop working, because shuffleboard is a death sentence, but I don’t want to be forced to and I don’t see why some people should have to work like slaves when others don’t have to work at all, and some can’t get work and suffer.

              And the political class seems to have rejected a humane, centrist, well-thought-out solution like the Jobs Guarantee, so what the heck? I’m going to up the ante. I’m building a helipad in my yard right now so when the mini-helicopter drops start coming, I’m ready. Heck, the guys who destroy $7 of value for every $1 of value they make got a helicopter drop, so where’s mine?

              1. anon y'mouse

                people who want the post-work robot utopia are, in my limited experience, technocrats. they are part of the creative class.

                in other words, they say “fuck the workers” because they want to be the new ruling class. (thanks for admitting that, by the way. now the mask comes off)

                unless you have a plan for full equality regardless of technical knowledge, and free availability to all who desire the right and ability to obtain such technical training, you basically want to be the top dogs.

                what if someone told you tomorrow that the future was not robots run by the IpadLXXVIII/tablets, but a return to the fields or subsistence agriculture?

                I think both are equally likely. also, at least one of them is probably better able to accept the human condition as it is and seeks to accommodate it in a humble and philosophical way.

                1. Nathanael

                  “unless you have a plan for full equality regardless of technical knowledge, and free availability to all who desire the right and ability to obtain such technical training,”

                  Well, yes, of course I do. For one thing, I support a guaranteed living income; for another I support free education for anyone who can hack it; for another I support free access to technical knowledge. Very socialist, I know.

                  I agree with you that I see no way whatsoever to even head in the direction of this utopia right now. The kleptocrats are making it totally impossible.

                  We can only get anywhere close to this utopia if we get rid of the people whose goal is having *more* than their neighbor; people who judge success in relative rather than absolute terms. There is no room for those people.

                2. Nathanael

                  “what if someone told you tomorrow that the future was not robots run by the IpadLXXVIII/tablets, but a return to the fields or subsistence agriculture?”

                  It’s quite likely. It sucks though; I’d call it a dystopia. Subsistence agriculture is a miserable way to live. Herding is better in many ways, and hunting & gathering is definitively better.

              2. nonclassical

                ..people are going to be very, very disappointed…we should all KNOW what’s coming next-“CONTRACT WORKERS”…no designation of “employee” at all…thereby, only $$$$ to “worker” will be % of sales or “earnings”…AND this eliminates Obama healthcare entirely…no employees to count…

                appears to me we all need to get out in front of what is happening, rather than
                wait for it to happen…

                yet again-#1 problem in U.S. is wealthy influence of “the people’s representative government”…campaign contribution influence must be ended…interestingly, people here hesitate to compare to other countries…in so many areas of issues..

        2. Richard Kline

          So Lambert, that concept of Braudel’s is generative, yes. It’s worth recalling that we often are included in many of those sets by default, not by decision either passive or active.

          I question whether ‘values’ are a primary operator in politics. I do see politics about constituencies; about access; about payouts; about who is persecuted and who persecutes. In my view looking at history, values are often _the excuses used to justify decisions_ with regard to the preceding agendas. That’s not to say people can’t have political disagreements regarding their values. But people usually have _value disagreements_ about their values, and political disagreements about who becomes advantaged and disadvantaged.

          I’m quite serious about this. Particulary in the present American context, the hired mediaots want to _talk_ as if it is values which are dividing the electorate when really the arguments are about getting handouts, shutting out other constituencies, and shedding liability. Our present political discourse does NOT strike me as value driven, but as value-pretended to hide economic and class agendas. This is a large part of why there is so little compromise: folks keep pretending to be talking about one thing when they are operating for another.

          1. Lambert Strether

            I think politics is about values and interests, and interest is about concrete material benefits. That’s way too schematic and mechanical, though. No question Abolition was values driven. You might even argue that the Slave Power was vales driven; see the positive good theorists. That said, the Civil War also destroyed an immense amount of capital: that invested in the bodies/persons of the slaves. So clearly intreset was in play.

    2. okie farmer

      psycho, you’re working around the edges when you talk about inheritance , but Kline’s – “Recall again that many of them were already bourgeois” – statement really sums it up. Progressives are all middle class, and as Kline alludes, shuns the ‘radical’, ie shuns that which is required. Being middle class won’t get you to ‘radical’, middle class is the wrong class to wage what is really a class war. The only possibility for change from this present paradigm is to change it from within. And that can only be done by radicalizing the voting base, ie registering and voting the poor – something Occupy had no interest in, nor any other of the so-called ‘progressive’ organizations out there; they’re too middle class. A year ago last Spring a candidate in NJ did exactly that, to wit:

      …look at the congressional race in NJ on Tuesday.

      “…thrust into a district where just over half of voters were represented by Rothman — making him the underdog, Pascrell registered thousands of new voters in Passaic County and ran up his margin so high there Rothman could not overcome it in his native Bergen County. Pascrell had 61.3 percent of the vote with 99 percent of the precincts reporting.” http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/06/bill_pascrell_donald_payne_jr.html

    3. diptherio

      I think you’re missing the point. Whatever we think needs to change in our society (inheritance, banking regs, income guarantee, etc.), the question that needs answering is how to accomplish that. Plenty of people agree with you about ungodly-large inheritances, but how do we actually do anything about them? What’s the strategy? What are our tactics?

      1. nonclassical

        ..this ex”Okie’s” grandfather helped implement food stamps…during depression…our Oklahoma City’s house marked by “vagrants” riding rails, for yardwork= dinner…remember sitting around kitchen table when hobos would
        sit down for dinner with us.

        Look folks, it is the $$$$ in politics…we all KNOW this is TRUE-emphasis-what is TRUE?? The PEOPLE need to address the $$$$ in politics…John Roberts came to office claiming not to upset “settled law”>..while campaign financing was in no way “settled”, the INFLUENCE of $$$$ upon “the people’s representative government” was certainly obvious…and becoming more and more of a threat.

        Canada some years ago now ENDED ALL political contribution…it will never be “perfect”, and there are scandals…but look at the SCALE of…(scales appear appropriate)

      2. peace

        Yves has complimented the Occupy Banking group for their judicial and legislative activism. Hedges and others have initiated lawsuits. Activism can be small and unacknowledged but significant. FairTrade is decent.

        Re: Kline’s anti-UK. Oxfam and Amnesty Intl are UK originated and based and they are organized, active and somewhat successful in terms of their decided goals.

        1. peace

          Whistleblowers can succeed yet remain unacknowledged change agents. These radicals’ efforts at disclosing truth or hypocrisy (i.e., lying, but also cheating and stealing) can shift the narrative as well as delegitimize practices, policies and procedures. Legitimization and delegitimisation are powerful social forces. Adam Curtis focuses more on the novelty of PR in the 20th century and its illegitimate use. PR is often used hypocritically to knowingly create false narratives to disempower irreverent individuals and groups. Whistleblowers can pierce the veil; inviting skepticism and change.

          My dialectical worldview is skeptical with a dose of hope in progress; so, I perceive dilemmas through this shade of colored glasses — hopefully not blinders!

      3. from Mexico

        @ diptherio

        It seems to me the Left is entwined in an antimony from which perhaps there is no escape. Here’s how Lawrence Goodwyn put it:

        On the available evidence, twentieth-century people arund the globe are paying a high price for their submission to the hierarchical languages of political analysis that have grown out of the visions of Adam Smith and Karl Marx.


        [Socialism] remained in intellectual servitude to sundry “correct” interpretations by sundry theorists — mostly dead theorists — even as the unfolding history of the twentieth century raised compelling new questions about the most difficult political problem facing manking: the centralization of power in highly technological societies. If it requirs an army responsive to a central political commttee to domesticat the corporate state, socialism has overwhelmingly failed to deal with the question of who, in the name of democratic values, would domesticate the party and the army.

        –LAWRENCE GOODWYN, The Populist Moment

        I wonder if there is a solution to the problem. Could it be that we’re hung on the horns of Kant’s antimony of freedom and nature?

        But there’s always hope, and the indominable spirit of mankind. As David Sloan Wilson puts it:

        Confront a human group with a novel problem, even one that never existed in the so-called ancestral environment, and its members may well come up with a workable solution.

        –DAVID SLOAN WILSON, Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion, and the Nature of Society

          1. from Mexico

            So then where’s the theory from the Marxist or any other socialist school that solves the dilemma which Goodwyn speaks of?

            Enlighten me. I’m all ears.

            1. Lambert Strether

              To answer your distraction: Darwin’s dead, too. He died two generations before DNA provided the biological substrate for the process of adaptation he described. (Real biologists please correct me.) I’d suggest that we’re in a similar process of discovery now. The Watson-Crick for Marxist-inflected analysis has not appeared. Yet.

              To return to the orginal point: A theory is valid whether or not its creator is dead. I’m sure you accept this, and its that claim that makes the quote you provide silly.

              1. from Mexico

                Well I don’t know who is “distracting” here. But whatever the case may be, the more important issue is the dilemma which Goodwyn articulates.

                So again, where’s the theory from a Marxist or socialist thinker — dead or alive — that solves the dilemma which Goodwyn speaks of?

                The existing theories, when applied to real-world situations, don’t seem to produce the outcomes they predict. If they did, we wouldn’t find ourselves in our current dilemma.

                1. Lambert Strether

                  Goodwyn doesn’t pose a dilemma; I read it three times, so show me where Goodwyn, in his own words, poses a dilemma.* I think you mean the dilemma you yourself posed:

                  Could it be that we’re hung on the horns of Kant’s antimony of freedom and nature?

                  Sure, it could be. Or maybe not. Next question?

                  NOTE * He’s got issues with the “problems of Socialism in the 19th and 20th centuries” permathread. Well, we all do. No dilemma expressed.

            2. charles sereno

              Can I squeeze in here with a couple Goodwynian pronouncements from October 2010?

              “For me, Barack Obama remains a president for the ages. Larger than FDR. Larger, by far, than Teddy Roosevelt. And larger than Jefferson. He has infinite patience, far beyond his years, patience almost beyond imagining…”

              “Having suggested such sweeping potential, I can add that Obama is not yet larger than Lincoln, but capable of growth on a scale attained, among our presidents, only by Lincoln.”

              1. from Mexico

                So you attack the messenger instead of the message?

                Nice try, but it still provides no answers to the question which Goodwyn asks.

                1. charles sereno

                  Thank you. The more you speak in your own words, the better I like it. Did I attack the messenger? Did I try to distract from some important message Goldwyn was bringing to light? You’re right though in this respect. I didn’t answer what Goldwyn was asking. Why? Because in the talking point you chose, Goldwyn didn’t ask a question. Repeat, he didn’t ask a question. He was just spouting off like you do. Most NC readers are not that acquainted with Goldwyn. I tried to give them a heads up on his views about something they’re familiar with as a balance.

    4. Crazy Horse

      After the Revolution:

      1- 100% tax on all inherited wealth and property. You can’t take it with you or start a dynasty.
      At age 25 everybody receives an equal start-up nest egg. The high school drop-out crack dealer and Bill Gates’ kid receive an equal inheritance and an equal chance to do something great in life. That is called economic democracy.
      2- All higher education is free. Medical and science education receive additional public assistance. Harvard costs the same as East Podunk Community College. All admissions determined only by competitive testing, not by how much daddy contributes to the endowment fund.

      3- All elections are publicly funded. Private contributions to public officials are a capital offense with mandatory life sentences for both parties involved.

      4- Usury— charging interest for debt— is a capital crime. Universal digital public currency like Bitcoin replaces private bankster fiat currency like Federal Reserve Notes as the medium of exchange.

      Change We Can Believe In:

      1. Montanamaven

        Excellent ideas. Thomas Paine came up with most of this in his books. Everybody was to receive a certain amount (in his day) at age 18 to go to school or build a blacksmith shop or buy a house. Everybody was taken care of from cradle to grave. No one was left behind. David Graeber mentions debt cancellation as the first big demand that we should make towards a more workable and just society in his latest book. Excerpt at http://www.thebaffler.com/past/practical_utopians_guide
        Until the collapse, it is difficult to implement these ideas. First thing is to change the story and present alternatives to progressives who want to reform the system to those who want to throw away the system.

        1. Lambert Strether

          Ha. Thomas Paine needs a post; I bet his platform would look pretty modern! I’m also connecting the title of his book, “Common Sense,” to Graeber’s idea (too lazy to find the quote) that revolutions are about changing the definition of common sense.

      2. susan the other

        Crazy Horse: +100. That list can include many items which become a new social contract. Explicitly, universal health care, universal housing, verified food supply, guaranteed clean water, paid education, guaranteed job or guaranteed stipend, and on and on.

      3. Jess

        I’m sort of wondering how this would work. For example:

        No inherited wealth or property. None at all. Not ONE DIME to anyone. So the guy who runs the local dry cleaners can’t pass it on to his kids? The business has to be sold. And where, exactly, does the buyer get the money to purchase the business, or must the business cease to exist, the employees now unemployed, and loyal customers forced to shop for another dry cleaners?

        What, you say that the buyer will borrow the money to buy the business? So, absent the ability to charge interest on that loan, who will make that loan? Why in the world would someone give up current use of their own money just to get it paid back a little at a time with no profit (interest)?

        Okay, I see, the buyer has already accumulated the money necessary to buy the business. If he/she is successful at something else, why buy this business? To get richer? Okay, I’ll buy that.

        And then there’s the family home. Must be sold, but kids cannot inherit ONE DIME. Money must go to the state or federal government — which does, exactly what, with it? I know! The profit from the sale of the dry cleaning business you spent your entire life building can go to GE or General Dynamics to perpetuate the MIC! Awesome!

        And then there’s strictly — ABSOLUTELY — STANDARDIZED testing for college admission. So what about the kid who does not test well but is a serious, diligent student? My niece did not get into the school of her choice because she only scored 1800 on her SAT. Didn’t matter that she had a 3.8 GPA in an honors program WITHIN the International Baccalaureate System that her school (one of the best in New York state) offers. No matter that she’s fluent in four languages. Nope. Pure grade scores. (Which, BTW, means NO ADJUSTMENTS for English as a second language or coming from a crappy public school in a low-income area.) Yep, that’ll help level the playing field.

        1. Malmo

          Jess, Thanks for drilling holes in some of these proposals. Sure there’s more to be drilled too. There obviously needs to be more thought regarding them. Absolutism regarding them (at least like Crazy Horse articulates) will never get them realized in their present form anywhere absent aggressive coercion, and for good reason. America is too big, too complicated and too ideolically diverse to even contemplate their universal application anyways–at least in any of our lifetimes.

        2. Nathanael

          “So the guy who runs the local dry cleaners can’t pass it on to his kids? ”

          Yep! Unless, of course, *the kids are working there* and being paid enough that they can buy it. (Their automatic nest eggs would help.) Existing employees should get first refusal on purchase of any business.

          Not popular, I’m sure, but it would work fine.

          1. Jess

            Your solution still does not work. The kids working there? The problem is, they would have to buy the business for the FULL VALUE of the business. That would mean getting a loan. And again, who would loan money to anybody without being able to earn a return on it in the form of interest? You really think someone — anyone — is going to sacrifice current use of their money PLUS the risk of losing all or part of it, without some compensatory reward (interest)? If you know that guy, lemme have his contact info, cause I’ve got several ventures I’d like to fund and he sounds just like the guy to do that.

            1. F. Beard

              And why would anyone rent your money when they might create their own money interest-free?

              Oh, I forgot. Debt-money creation is subsidized by government while shares in Equity (common stock) is penalized.

        3. Crazy Horse

          Hi Jess,
          I’d be the last to say that single sentence sound bites constitute the complete outline for a new society!

          Let’s look at the relationship of debt to the money system for a moment. First understand that in our current financial system money (the symbolic tokens we use for exchange) only comes into existence through the creation of debt. Banks lend money into existence, and then go to the central bank and borrow the necessary funds which the central bank creates by keystroke. Depositors funds are systemically unnecessary to the transaction and may be mere token amounts. And competition for yield drives exponential growth in the money supply. If one doesn’t grasp this process they can never understand fiat monetary systems.

          It follows that in a private debt money system a master-(debt)slave class relationship inevitably arises. If you don’t want a master-slave class relationship to dominate a future society it is time to start thinking about how to organize a radically different monetary system.

          Alternative models do exist from pure exchange systems to precious metals used as money. To point to a contemporary one, look at the way Bitcoin is structured. No central bank with the power to debase the currency, free and open public access, designed to preserve complete anonymity for transactions, and exchange value determined by free market forces. Unlike debt money there is no inherent creation of a rentier class and no systemic need for the collection of interest.

          But to return to one of your points– why would anyone lend money if they couldn’t earn interest from the loan? Of course that is a straw man argument. Societies where usury is prohibited by religious creed have functioned for centuries. A lender can be rewarded in a number of ways other than by receiving an interest payment. He can receive ownership options, participate in profits, or increase his prestige in a community that values lending.

          If we don’t want to have a system where inheritance creates oligarchy I’m sure we can devise a way for a farmer’s sons and daughters to continue stewardship of the farm without having to saddle it with a high interest loan from Monsanto to buy custom GM seeds and Roundup poisons to put in that year’s crop. Or a way for Bill Gates’ hypothetical offspring to compete on a level playing field with an inner city geek instead of automatically becoming the third richest person in the world. But the first thing we have to do is eliminate the unsustainable mandate for exponential growth and class stratification that is built into a debt money system. Then we can consider how to facilitate lending for socially productive endeavors instead of enrichment of oligarchs.

        4. Crazy Horse

          About that Chinese laundry down the street that you are worried won’t be able to press your shirts properly when the owners pass away, last time I looked the kids that grew up in that business all wanted to go to university and become software engineers or brain surgeons. Receiving their equal share of the money that didn’t get inherited by Bill Gates’, Larry Elsworth’s, or Jaime Dimon’s kids (along with all the other yearly inheritance turnover) might go a long way toward their becoming a more successful scientist or entrepreneur as they enter into their prime productive years.

        5. Crazy Horse

          Standardized testing as the only criteria for college admission sucks. Under our present system the one single best predictive metric for admission to and graduation from university is the wealth of the parents. That gives us George Bush with a degree from Yale.

          Invent a better set of admissions criteria.

      4. Crazy Horse

        Why are Progressives/Liberals/Democrats lame? Because they are liberals.

        “Radical” = “go to the Source.”

    5. nonclassical

      psycho historian…

      “why” is an ABstrACTION…

      you are an “historian”…following history, we see HOW…

      scientific method=who, what, when, where, how…

      Had long conversation with educator last evening on difference between language in which pictures of an ACTion (calligraphy) allows much less ABstract
      proceding, than language (can we THINK without words??) with words representing “meaning”…

      Asian language represents ACTion…rather than ABstrACTION….no past, future tense to confuse…of course some of us prACTice “confusion”….(in real world, with intent to be able to ACT…”conflict”)

    6. nonclassical

      psycho historian…

      “why” is an ABstrACTION…

      you are an “historian”…following history, we see HOW…

      scientific method=who, what, when, where, how…

      Had long conversation with educator last evening on difference between language in which pictures of an ACTion (calligraphy) allows much less ABstract
      proceding, than language (can we THINK without words??) with words representing “meaning”…

      Asian language represents ACTion…rather than ABstrACTION….no past, future tense to confuse…of course some of us prACTice “confusion”….(in real world, with intent to be able to ACT…”conflict”)

    7. from Mexico

      psychohistorian says:

      …we need to wake up to a more anthropological view of history and adjust our social organizations accordingly.

      I wish I knew what “a more anthropological view of history” is. I say this because it seems like anthropologist have this nasty habit of creating whatever history is needed to justify their political ideologies and predelections.

      An excellent example of this are the cultures of ancient west Mexico. As Richard F. Townsend notes in Ancient West Mexico: Art and Archeology of the Unknown Past:

      While made in a variety of styles and substyles in seemingly endless permutations, these ceramic sculptures share a predelection for the representation of figures with lively, naturalistic gestures and expression…. [T]he figures are never inert mannequins, but are invested with a strong sense of motion, immediacy, and emotion.

      It was this warm, expressive appeal that made these earthenware figures so attractive to the artists and intellectuals of the Left who found them to be ideologically significant because they seemed to speak of an ideal, communal way of life, far from the regimented coercion and economic exploitation of warlike fascist or imperialistic states.

      As Peter t. Furst continues:

      Free from domination by priests and the demands of complex rituals, according to another authority, the ancient West Mexicans had had time to conentrate on “the little things in life.”

      Apparently alone among their pre-Hispanic contemporaries, then, the people of ancient West Mexico, who went to so much trouble to inter many of their dead in shaft tombs and to fill the tombs with mortuary offerings were, it was conceived, a people virtually without gods, or at least without much thought given to their relationship to unseen powers, the sphere we call, for want of a term more accurately reflecting the indigenous worldview, “supernatural.” Had this been true, it would have made them unique among all First Americans, from the Arctic to the Tierra del Fuego.

      Anthropologists and Archeologists now believe, however, that this sublime view of Ancient West Mexican societies was not true. Two other theories of hierachical societies which did believe in supernnatural entiteies have emerged — “Shamanism” and “Complex Society.” As Mark Miller Graham goes on to explain:

      The Daily Life model describes ancient West Mexico as a kind of developmental cul-de-sac or dead end, where the village ways of life of early agriculturalists remained unchanged…. By the 1960s West Mexico seemed to be securely defined as a kind of frontier Eden, a place that had avoided the authoritarian states and empires of Mesoamerica proper. The romanticized rural way of life imagined for West Mexico may have appealed to urban intellectuals, especially leftists….

      But in the mid-1960s, this tranquil image of ancient West Mexico was disturbed by events in Los Angeles, at the University of California, where anthropology faculty…were actually excavating West Mexican sites pertaining to the “shaft-tomb cultures” and their hoards of ceramic figures. It was in the particularly fertile setting of the UCLA Department of Anthropology that the new model, Shamanism, eruped…

      In 1985 Phil Weigand published the first synthetic statement based on his previous decade of survey and excavation in Jalisco…. In Weigland’s “Evidence for Complex Societies during the Western Mesoamerican Classic Periods,” he trenchantly criticized what he called the “simplicty complex” in the study of West Mexico… [T]his article marked a watershed in studies of ancient West Mexico. In settlements that were not simple farming villages but central places in a regional settlement hierarchy, Weigland found and recorded architectural remains that incorporated the famed shaft tombs…. For the first time, scholars had the outlines of a temporal and spatial model of pre-Tarascan West Mexico based on controlled archaeology and settlment studies.

  2. JaaaaayCeeeee

    Despite news media’s effective blocking of it, the House Progressive Caucus’s “Back to Work” budget is one of the few examples of progressive policy they may have heard of. You do need key figures who can not only concentrate the aggreived, but make demands viral.

    I don’t know if you think that budget is even a yardstick, let alone a starting point, and it doesn’t seem to have viral popularity, nor champions. But you have to have something like a budget proposal, and figure out how to prevent it from getting ignored? http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/back-to-work-budget/

  3. vlade


    Absolutely agree, and has been pointing it to people for a while.

    There’s a problem in our society, that the word “power” is shaded with “evil” (or at least “wrong”) – when in fact, power is neutral. We’re conditioned not to seek power, and told that to do so is immoral. Well, guess what – if you tell people that power is immoral, only immoral people will seek it out. And then, of course, use it. We also teach (implicitly) people that they are powerless, when nothing could be further from truth. You always have power – just at most of the time you decide to delegate it to someone else. Willingly or unwiliingly. But there’s almost always a way to take that power back. That’s all the “people have gov’t they deserve” is about – it doesn’t say the gov’t you have is fate, it says you have to work to have a good gov’t (and even that may not help, it’s a necessary, but not sufficient precondition), you have to invest your time and effort (exercise your power directly, not just give it to someone and hope for the best).

    Incidentally, this means that there are some ends that justify means (which is why you need checks and balances, to make sure it doesn’t get out of hand). It can be very nicely seen in the science community, which often loses a fight because “we won’t stoop to fighting dirty”, when by “fighting dirty” means running a professional medial campaign which on purpose targets and/or uses known psychological biases to get the message across. Guess what – the opposition does it (funny how the anti-science people are happy to be pragmatic in using science when it gets it to their goal), and it may well make your point near impossible to get across given human limitations.

    But some people think fighting a loosing fight while keeping to your standards is better than getting things done while propagating your standards.

    Fine – but selfish (note on Gandhi as it’s sure it will come up. a) time was right, and there was no popular support at home to keep India, so it actually was the optimal strategy – but still very pragmatic b) if Gandhi thought violence would have been better, he would have used it. After all, he’s the author of “it’s better to be violent than impotent”.)

    On a final note – look at how much Tea Party achieved (when now it to all terms and purposes controls Republicans), compared to Occupy. And I’d bet Occupy had more popular support than TP.

    1. LucyLulu

      Vlade wrote:

      “On a final note – look at how much Tea Party achieved (when now it to all terms and purposes controls Republicans), compared to Occupy. And I’d bet Occupy had more popular support than TP.”

      Exactly what I was thinking about. The extreme right is better at organizing and messaging, and they tend to be uncompromising. They’ll push the outer limits to get their policies implemented, e.g. refusing to raise the debt ceiling, shutting down the government, defunding or otherwise blocking implementation of unwanted legislation that manages to make it through Congress (or is Constitutionally protected).

      But there’s another piece that is, if anything, contradictory. The Tea Party is small-government, even anti-government, whereas Occupy was pro-big government in terms of regulation, provisions of safety nets, services for a fair and just society. Yet as the Tea Party movement has grown from a small faction to an ever larger faction, it has faced no opposition from the government it attempts to drown in a bathtub. In contrast, progressive movements, such as Occupy, which are generally pro-government, favoring the maintenance and/or re-establishment of government institutions, were immediately labelled as terrorists and subject to surveillance, intimidation, infiltrations, and military-type disbandments.

      The most apparent explanation is that our government places the interests of the business sector over its own self-preservation, or that the former has become dependent upon the latter. More precisely, those in government who are in charge of policy decisions depend on big business for their survival, and progressive policies don’t favor big business. Implementing progressive policies would be career suicide in an era where winning presidential campaigns require a billion dollars, and chairs of Congressional committees are bought by those who make the largest contributions to their national party.

      1. Moneta

        We have just gone through a few decades of countries levering up their once clean enough balances sheets.

        We let emerging markets use some resources because they were producing stuff for us. So we essentially let them grow for a couple of decades. But if we have to tighten our belts, will we let emerging markets burn the oil we will need to keep on going?

        War has always been about the distribution of resources. Balance sheets are getting ugly. We are in the midst of a world redistribution of resources.

        Tensions are growing in emerging markets…

        Follow the hard assets, and you will better understand how the world will evolve over the next 2 decades.

      2. Moneta

        The right tends to control resources and the left tends to be in services.

        Our monetary system tends to fund hard assets first and the money trickles down to the services.

        If we are in a world redistribution of resources, the left is going to have leadership problems for a while unless it understands what it going on… if not it will keep on barking up the wrong tree.

      3. Lexington

        First of all the Tea Party was right from the begining largely created and funded by right wing billionaires. It wasn’t legitimately a grass roots organization like Occupy.

        Second, exactly because it was a creature of the country’s elite and supports elite interests it was never perceived as a threat by that elite the way Occupy was and therefore was never targeted for surpression.

        Finally, the Tea Party is not really “anti government”. It’s very pro government when it comes to funding the defence industrial complex, or providing subsidies to big agra and big energy. It’s only “anti government” when the government tries to do anything to help the less priviledged.

        1. Montanamaven

          Right on. It’s not about “better organizing”. The Tea Party grass roots cannot distinquish between small business regulations and using the power of the state to regulate the big fish. They are right to rail against gd gubmint regulations. Those thousands of state regulations that make a manicurist have three different licenses. Dozens of retail businesses are started and ended every year. They are burdened by all kinds of little things. So they are gobbled up. Big fish eat up the small fish. The big fish are clever and they control the state. And they fueled this grass roots anger at big government. Occupy was a genuine non-hierarchical movement fueled by debt. They pointed a finger straight at the big fish elite and cried “Vampire Squid!” They pointed to the cause not the symptoms. It is the fractional banking system. Reformist progressives just address the system not the causes.

          1. susan the other

            I like Yves’ quote of Eisenhower to his brother on how looney the Hunts and other extreme right-wingers were at the time. The issues have become blended in the present mass confusion of the times. Capitalism is an anachronism. It is still trying not to change! Only fools. It no longer makes sense. But still a budget is demanded. Eisenhower called these emergent austerians “stupid.” He was right. What good is an inequitable budget?

    2. Richard Kline

      Vlade: ” . . . [I]f Gandhi thought violence would have been better, he would have used it.” You understand absolutely nothing about Gandhi’s thought in making that assertion, vlade, and thereby demonstrate the vapidity of your own.

      Grounds for your saying that? Any? In fact, Gandhi discussed _this specific point_ in his writings. Go and find his answer. A little time as a student would clearly do you some good. For a change.

      “Look at what the Tea Party—” Gawd, brother. The things you have to ignore to even bleat that statement. You seem to have forgotten the billionaires standing behind and pulling strings on large parts of the ‘Turf Party.’ That’s had a little to do with the prominence of that faction. And then again, what _have_ they achieved? You see, what you see of the Republican Party now is who they have been through twenty years. The only difference is that the ‘get things done’ Republican leadership is increasingly sidelined. When that Party finishes blowing itself up, tell me again then what they have all done. What we see in the meantime is a ‘media moment,’ put in motion by billionaires, to work their own ends on the margins. But hey, that’s not what _you_ want to see, so you look right at it and see something else . . . .

      1. vlade

        “If we had the atom bomb, we would have used it against the British”
        “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”

        While on the first one you can aruge what “we” means, the second one is fairly clear. Violence > impotence (should you be willing to use it). 100 years earlier Gandhi would have been shot before anyone but few could have heard of him. Tibet is essentially non-violent, but I doubt it will get it far. Europe tried non-violence few times, and it backfired as often as not, sometimes spectacularly. BTW, I’m not making an argument for violence – but if we do want to achieve something, we have to find the ways. Violence can be a lazier, faster and less stable option, but sometimes it also can be the only one.

        On TP – TP provided people who wanted (which includes the various moneyed interest) an easy platform to get more radicalised. If you think that sidelining of “get things done” moderates is a trivial issue, well, that’s up to you.

        As for what they will achieve in real terms (as in consequences of their actions), that’s, to an extent, irrelevant to them, compared to what they set up as their goals. If they say achieve fixing of the debt ceiling, from TP’s supporter perspective bringing on the default of US is “we told you it would happen” scenario (happily ignoring what caused it). Any bad consequences of their actions irrelevant, since they either believe they are inevitable anyways, or will happily rationalize them away as due to actions of the leftie gov’t or gov’t in general.

        Thus, ability to control Republican agenda is a non-trivial achievment for TP.

    3. Richard Kline

      Regarding power is neutral . . . no. Although there is validity in that perspective, I wouldn’t deny that [was that a pun?]. Power can be deployed to outcomes which are valuable, and at times even good. I won’t defend that, but yes, I think one can sustain that argument, to a point.

      Power is always problematic for those of limited ability, or the weak, or those judged to be ‘undesirables.’ Power doesn’t have to ask, or solicit consent. Power is best when it does. Conceptually, power can be neutral, but functionally power is always ‘much against few,’ however one fills in those variables. I can see you haven’t been amongst the ‘few’ often if at all in your life, vlade. It’s not a pretty place.

      Suasion, or acceptance can maintain tolerance and/or cooperation after the fact. And this can really matter. One may make the argument that you can’t make change without stepping on somebody’s toes somewhere, but that does not alleviate the fact that somebody gets stepped on. Accumulated grievance, grinding petty injustice: these things have costs. Even ‘benevolent power’ typically inflicts those costs. And I’ll say benevolent power is exceedingly rare, and ever brief in history. And those who think they will remain ‘purely’ neutral once having power are more dangerous than those who think they’ll punish a few culprits (since the latter understand that there’s an obligation to find ‘culprits’ and that the number selected will be ‘few’). In both the French and the Russian Revolutions, for instance, the greatest damage was done by radical economic reformists who set out to hurt no one and help everyone.

      A culture of consent and participation is wearying, but it inculcates consent. the obligation to compromise by those on the short end, and tolerance. Power hurts those in the way, no matter what the agenda of the power actor is: this and that pain isn’t neutral, it’s highly specific. This is the first essential to understand about power. It’s something to accept, I think, but not to approach naively or with a wilful blindness to that reality.

      1. Nathanael

        Power is unavoidable.

        A “culture of consent and participation” is a fabrication, a phony, a lie. Just ask the people in Quaker meetings who have been subjected to intense psychological abuse for the purpose of creating “consensus” where there is none.

        I’m not going to get into abstract arguments about whether “power” is bad, because power genuinely is not optional. Power will exist in any situation and it will be wielded. The goal is to design a system where power is generally wielded for the overall good and where attempts to wield power wielded for evil purposes fail.

        This is why the types of available power are so important. Brute force is particularly prone to being used for evil purposes and particularly hard to use for good purposes and so it should be societally shunned as much as possible.

      2. vlade

        As Nathaneal below says, power is unavoidable. We do not live in a society of angels, but of humans. To ignore the fact is a step to create a society of devils IMO.

        Power is ability to do things. If you say doing is always bad – well, yes, then power is evil in your view. We should make distinction of power and people who get to handle it – and my point is that the way our society is set up right now is that we actually actively encourage the wrong people to get it. I don’t believe it needs to be so (althought “the wrong people” will always try to get power – but as often as not it’s the abdication of power by the other side that actually lets them win).

        I’m a bit amused how you say “you never was one of the few”. First, you know very little about me except from what can be gleaned from the comments. Second, I’m not sure what you mean by “few” – if, by implication, you mean being by the other side of the receiving power, I have been quite often. Incidentally, more often than not it’s the few who have the power (for the many fail to exercise it, or even realise they have it).

    4. Lambert Strether

      “But some people think fighting a losing fight while keeping to your standards is better than getting things done while propagating your standards.”

      OK, but how do we avoid “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” in this analysis?

      Suppose the left manages to master all the Big Lie and strategic hate management techniques that our current elite commissions from the political class, and wins power using those tools. Don’t we become what we oppose? Was Lenin really better than the Czar? Was Mao really better than the emperors? I realize these are counterfactuals with no clear answer, but isn’t it worth asking the questions?

      Personally, I’m for truth-telling both as branding and on the pragmatic grounds that maintaining the present archictecture of “deep bullshit” takes hordes of expensive skilled practitioners, and we don’t have, and will never have, the budget for it.

      1. Nathanael

        “maintaining the present archictecture of “deep bullshit” takes hordes of expensive skilled practitioners, and we don’t have, and will never have, the budget for it.”

        I agree, and furthermore, there are several other very serious risks with “deep bullshit” policies:

        1) The people in charge may start to believe the bullshit, as generations pass, and this will lead to demonstrably insane policy.

        This is what one of the Republican scam-masters from the Reagan era (I forget which one) was horrified by, recently: he knew all the “no new taxes” stuff was just bullshit for the rubes, but the junior Republican House members *didn’t* realize.

        2) The skilled practicioners of the “deep bullshit” policy are quite likely to have their own agenda which has nothing to do with yours, and may be very narrow-minded, stupid, or even insane.

        This appears to be what happened with the NSA, which is behaving, as Bruce Schneier said, “like little old ladies collecting newspapers because they might be useful some day”. They are severely damaging the interests of the military-industrial complex as a whole, but it pleases their packrat agenda, so they do it….

      2. vlade

        I hear you Lambert, and it’s really a problem. I never said it’s going to be easy – and this is just one of the choices. Is it better to get somewhere to find “new same as old”, or not to achieve anything at all?

        The fact with _just_ telling the truth is, that unfortunately we’re human. We don’t really take to the truth as such. Look at science. They (well, most of them, anyways) have been trying to tell the truth for ages (or, I’d say – trying to tell what isn’t truth as confirmed by experiments), and it still makes little to no difference to beliefs of majority of the people living on the planet. The problem is that people most of the time don’t want to hear truth (for they may find that they were wrong), they want to hear something comforting, something that confirms them being right.

        So if you want to tell the truth, you have to overcome that first. It’s possible, but that’s where all the panoply of human psychology and biases comes handy. I have never advocated that the progressives should do Big Lie. But if a well run and efficient (because of using some bias) media campaign is run to improve vaccination rates (for a moment forgetting big pharma, so let’s say somewhere in Europe, not US), is it bad that human biases were used to do so?

        I’m not saying you’d compromise on the message. I’m saying that there are much more efficient delivery methods than “just telling as it is”. Of course, most people will tell you that “just telling as it is” is the best strategy – but that’s throughly disapproved by actual controlled experiments.

        I am saying that both left and right make the same mistake in assuming perfectly rational humans (although they approach it differently). It doesn’t surprise me, because we like to see ourselves as rational (it separates us from animals if nothing else, and gives a nice and warm fuzzy feeling of superiority).

        The right though, has managed to ideologically assume homo economicus while using the actual human nature to prepare the message. Call it the ultimate pragmatism. The left didn’t so far – it seems to be much more naive and romaticising not only in the ideology but in the execution. For the record, so is science, although say BBC with some of its science programmes now figured out how to change it (bring on sexy prof. Brian Cox explaining astrophysics to the masses accessibly!).

        1. Lambert Strether

          I agree that rhetoric* is incredibly important. Telling the truth is not a simple act because if your telling cannot be heard, there’s no point.

          Adding I don’t think there is any such thing as telling the truth “as such.” Words matter.

          1. vlade

            I believe it’s more than just rethoric – it’s the whole “communication strategy”. I know how it sounds, but that’s the part of the problem again. If you say “communication strategy”, it’s immediately shaded as bad – because of association with corporates, media, etc. etc. etc. Yet, all it says is that we have to get the message across efficiently, which means thinking about how we do it.

            Yes, you can get dangerous messages across with that. But you can get great ones too. It’s like saying “thinking may create dangerous ideas, let’s not do it”.

            People thought tend to feel uncomfortable around “misusing” biases to get the message across. But if I know what are the problems of getting message across – say that if my speaker looks good and confident, people will take that into effect and listen to him more than if he’s weird and stumbles which distracts from the message, is it really misusing people?

            That’s my problem. There are tools that we refuse to even consider – often based on a vague feeling of it being wrong to use them, or because we think that we should need them “because every reasonable person will understand”, rather than on actually looking and understanding them.

    5. nobody

      “…how the corporate-funded government turned the pre-Presidential election tea party movement into the joke it is now. We were anarchists and ultra-libertarians, but above all we were peaceful. So, the media tried painting us as racists. But when that didn’t work they tried to goad us into violence. When that failed, they killed our movement with money and false kindness from the theocratic arm of the Republican party. That killed our popular support.

      “I am sharing these observations, so you guys know what’s going on and can prevent the media from succeeding in painting you as violent slacker hippies rebelling without a cause, or from having the movement be hijacked by a bunch of corporatists seeking to twist the movement’s original intentions. If you think this can’t happen, it happened to the Independence Party and the tea party movement. Don’t let it happen to your movement as well.

      “Here’s how they turned our movement into a bunch of pro-corporate Republican Party rebranding astroturf…”

      “An open letter and warning from a former tea party movement adherent to the Occupy Wall Street movement.”


  4. Eddie Torres

    Consider the value of identifiable resistance Leaders and centralized dissent structures to entrenched power elites. They can be systematically targeted for destruction by internal security forces, agents provocateurs, and surveillance state contractors at attractive revenue-generating rates.

    To wit: JTTF, Black Bloc, and Team Themis.

    It doesn’t appear plausible that Boomers are capable of simultaneously hoarding 401(k) dreams and OWS sympathies.

    Try harder next time.

    1. from Mexico

      Eddie Torres says:

      It doesn’t appear plausible that Boomers are capable of simultaneously hoarding 401(k) dreams and OWS sympathies.

      Yep. It seems things are a lot more complicated now than they were in previous eras. As Stephan Schulmeister has noted:

      One cannot identify “classes” of “real capitalists” and “finance capitalists” in modern society: Non-financial corporations as well as employees own financial assets and have therefore also finance capital interests.


      And maybe this didn’t happen by accident:

      These workers, of course, represent the core of the Democrats’ base that Republican strategists want to win over in future elections, and they believe that moving them into the investor class is the way to do it.

      This was the underlying political strategy at the center of the president’s [Bush II’s] ill-fated Social Security investment-account reforms that crashed in 2005. But expansion of the 401(k) ownership universe would breathe new life into his plan to turn working-class investors into conservative tax-cut voters.


      1. Lambert Strether

        I could not disagree more vehemently with this quote:

        One cannot identify “classes” of “real capitalists” and “finance capitalists” in modern society: Non-financial corporations as well as employees own financial assets and have therefore also finance capital interests.

        Let me translate: Truly successful capitalists obfuscate their ownership with a maze of paper entities. After all the obfuscation is removed, there are real people with real values and interests, not modern day thrones and dominions. They are people and we are not helpless to confront them.

        I mean, that’s what Bill Black’s accounting control fraud construct is all about, right? Real people, named executives who could be served with a subpoena, collecting real loot.

        Start with the Forbes 400 as a proxy for “the capitalist class.” 400 is small. So, back of the envelope, make it two orders of magnitude more, that’s 40,000 worldwide. “There are not very many of the Shing,” says Ursula Leguin.

        1. from Mexico

          The problem with your analysis, however, is that it ignores the fact that many workers are now vested in the debt structure, as Michael Hudson explains:

          Class: Classical political economy defined classes by their relationship to the means of production – land, labor and capital. Landlords charged rent, workers earned wages, and capitalists employed wage-labor to produce commodities to sell at a profit. The implication was that each form of income was a payment to a factor of production…

          A class approach thus relates only to one part of the overall economy… Meanwhile, creditors supply money in exchange for interest; but money is not a means of production. One cannot really speak of a “saver” or “creditor” class as such, because all classes are savers, and most also are debtors….

          Class warfare: The 19th century’s most characteristic economic warfare saw industrialists fight to keep profits high by minimizing labor’s wages….

          Today, financial managers have taken control of industry, using its profits to pay interest and other financial charges…

          Labor has won concessions from industry, but still has not come to terms with the role of finance in squeezing an economic surplus out of companies that are “financialized.” Having transmuted industrial capital into finance capital, the latter is now moving to take over governments to promote its interests (see Moral Hazard and Washington Consensus). In colloquial language, however, the term “class warfare” is applied only to debtors and employees seeking to protect their position as wealth is increasingly concentrated at the top of the economic pyramid. (See Compound Interest.)

          Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/michael-hudson-c-is-for-camouflage.html#8KVD0jGU1TDQjdsI.99

          1. Lambert Strether

            I liked that Hudson piece; that’s why I cross-posted it. You’re saying that being vested in a debt structure isn’t a matter for class analysis? I’d say it’s precisely that, in fact provides an account for dynamism (down, or up). If one proxy for class membership is income streams, the way that portions of that stream are diverted to usury is surely something to look at. To put this another way, “One cannot really speak of a “saver” or “creditor” class as such, because all classes are savers, and most also are debtors….” speaks to an incorrect class analysis (says Hudson), not to the possibility of class analysis.

            1. susan the other

              Lambert. You are so good today. Debt and equity are totally interchangeable for the rich. Why not for the rest of us? Huh? The divide between debt and equity is an illusion, like a mirror image. No?

              1. nonclassical



                because debt and equity and assets are possible to be “financialized” by corporate structure…moved around on paper, to NOT reflect truth…

              2. psychohistorian

                The rich own the money supply in the sense that they have all the equity and since they own the banking system the world of debt makes them more money coming and going…..hence why we need a sovereign banking utility and sovereign commons to hold and manage public stores of value.

            2. from Mexico

              Lambert Strether says:

              You’re saying that being vested in a debt structure isn’t a matter for class analysis?

              There you go with our straw manning again. What I said was this (Look back up the thread if you don’t believe it.):

              It seems things are a lot more complicated now than they were in previous eras.

              Which I followed with this quote from Stephan Schulmeister

              One cannot identify “classes” of “real capitalists” and “finance capitalists” in modern society: Non-financial corporations as well as employees own financial assets and have therefore also finance capital interests.

              And then I followed that up with this quote from Michael Huson, who says much the same thing:

              A class approach thus relates only to one part of the overall economy… Meanwhile, creditors supply money in exchange for interest; but money is not a means of production. One cannot really speak of a “saver” or “creditor” class as such, because all classes are savers, and most also are debtors….

            3. Eddie Torres

              Thanks for that Michael Hudson material. In particular I liked his short entry on “Chicago School” — one of the better short summaries of integrated FIRE sector rent-seeking, deregulation, and monopoly.

        2. Moneta

          Here is the pyramid of wealth:

          – First there are those who control hard assets and those who print money.

          – Then there are those who offer services to those who control the hard assets and those who print money.

          Then there are those with DBs.

          Then those who scrimped and saved.

          And then everyone else.

    2. Lambert Strether

      “It doesn’t appear plausible that Boomers are capable of simultaneously hoarding 401(k) dreams and OWS sympathies.”

      That’s not true, and if you’d seen your 401(k) looted you might understand why. I know people who are in the exact same situation. It’s not only plausible, it’s factual. (And see here for the sloppiness of Boomer considered as an analytical tool.)

      Don’t just try harder, succeed and not #FAIL.

      1. Eddie Torres

        If Leaders are going to “serve as lenses to concentrate the energy of ordinary citizens who no longer have outlets for their grievances,” then how can those Leaders expect to enjoy the same level of concentrated and persistant support from ordinary Boomers when their grievances are temporarily alleviated by Dow-linked 401(k) plans appreciating in an executive-driven Fed-inflated share-buy-back mini-bubble?

        When Progressives are lame, so are Boomers.

  5. Saddam Smith

    Isn’t the issue now deeper than this analysis seems to allow? What of the Heart of Darkness dilemma? Applied to this analysis we might say that it’s flat out impossible to be radical/progressive within the system, because attaining power requires too many compromises on the way. The infamous System cannot allow (it just can’t) a truly radical/progressive force to rise up through its ranks. It would be detected as deadly and ejected, vomited out if you like.

    I put “now” in italics because, yes, This Time It’s Different. (Actually, perhaps that’s nowhere near as true as I’d like it to be, but I’ll get back to that in a moment.) As diptherio implied yesterday (and I echoed), this isn’t really an either/or situation on hierarchy/anarchy fault lines, or needn’t be (I don’t think I’m contradicting my opening paragraph here). At risk of being accused of wanton mission creep, I would thus question our notion of power (and hence control) itself. The power system the progressives are said here to be too weak and ineffective to manipulate/master for their own idealistic ends is in fact unsustainable and a direct outgrowth of the “Denkfehler” (error in thinking) that ‘knows’ humans are above nature and can therefore perfect it as they would a machine. Also, more often than not the journey to that kind of power is probably unattractive to the type of person/movement we are accusing of being ineffective. And ineffective on what measure? A measure a progressive might reject or not be interested in? What if the goal were the transcendence of this overly hierarchical system? Civilisations don’t last long, at least not compared to rain forests which are equally complex. Civilisation seems incapable of steady-state growth. So what use is there in wielding power-structures born directly of and moulded for millennia by the fallacious belief that Perpetual Growth (power over / control of nature) is what humanity is here to do? Our splendid destiny. Can that tiger be changed? I don’t think so and believe this particular iteration is powering towards its doom.

    Hence Occupy and other anarchic ‘movements’ are part – let’s assume – of a process whose success and failure cannot be measured in terms of power structures they are seeking to render obsolete. But the constituent parts of Occupy et al, i.e. humans, are born of the system too, just like the institutions of power they so deeply question. In other words, there’s no ready-made alternative out there to be flicked on like a switch. This stuff is learned by doing, and it takes a long time. And there is no guarantee of success.

    Back to “This Time It’s Different”. Though there have been many ‘movements’ throughout history with radically different agendas to the hierarchical status quo, what makes the modern attempt different is the fascinating constellation of historical novelties. One is instant communication (as flawed as the Internet is), the other is Peak Everything. Ordinarily I would agree with Yves’ analysis, but we are at a more profound crossroads than it seems to want to accept. The End of Growth is a very big deal for civilisation (none have survived its advent so far), and significant numbers of people are beginning to appreciate this (I assert/hope!). Changing civilizational course deeply enough cannot be accomplished by influencing the Dems or Repubs or Tories or whatever. A change of consciousness is required. Leadership is a part of this, flatter power structures are part of this, painful and slow trial and error are part of this, and all sorts of stuff I/we cannot yet discern.

    I just finished reading The Crime of Reason, a short little book that does a good job of pointing out just what kind of a bind our civilisation is in. There are some assumptions in the book I profoundly disagree with (Laughlin seems to believe that homo sapiens sapiens is indeed homo economicus and thus does not question neoclassical orthodoxy at all), but the book is nevertheless an important collection of data that sums up our civilizational dilemma nicely. Sufficiently well, I argue, to back up my belief that this beast will not be changed from within.

    1. britzklieg


      And I’d go a step further…

      I’d say the bad guys won – everything.

      There will be no justice – ever – for the masses.

      Egalitarianism, gained through the accumulation of political power, is a myth.

    2. nonclassical

      true, to an extent….BUT…$$$$=POWER…(of the sort being described)…again, we all know this is true…

      the power of the people is marginalized, therefore, obviously, again….

      therefore, it is the influence of $$$$ that must be controlled FOR “the people’s representative government”…it ALL ways, always, will come back to this…

      and it must be done…end ALL campaign contribution=influence of “the people’s representative government”…

      1. Saddam Smith

        I agree nonclassical. Unless the money system itself is fundamentally changed there is no hope at all for the emergence/evolution of a new system, one that can flourish under steady-state growth and open access to information.

    3. Nathanael

      “The End of Growth is a very big deal for civilisation (none have survived its advent so far),”

      There is an argument that certain nomadic and certain Native American groups survived localized ends to growth. I don’t see a useful role model among the nomads, unfortunately, since limits to growth were dealt with by tribal warfare until the population dropped sufficiently. The northeastern Native American example, based on the Seven Generations planning concept, may have more value.

      1. Saddam Smith

        I’m not sure we can call nomadic peoples civilsations, but that definitional issue doesn’t really help Western Civilisation’s current cul de sac. I agree with you though on the tribal/primitive model being inappropriate. For me the big question is how much societal complexity can be sustained in a steady-state model. If we were to effectively/deeply embrace a steady-state objective, I believe things like private property, usury, money, political parties, education, jobs and pretty much everything else that characterise our economic lives would necessarily have to undergo fundamental transformation. So this is a VERY big deal, too big to be taken seriously by the mainstream, or even progressives for that matter.

    4. Litchfield

      Re: Isn’t the issue now deeper than this analysis seems to allow? What of the Heart of Darkness dilemma? Applied to this analysis we might say that it’s flat out impossible to be radical/progressive within the system, because attaining power requires too many compromises on the way.

      This thread is so long that I might have missed something along the way, but I don’t see any mention of our form of two-party electoral politics in the USA, as compared to a parliatmentary system such as Germany’s. In the latter new, small political groups can enter the legislative arena and grow their influence gradually via coalitions. Witness the Greens. This is not feasible in practice in this country. I think this profoundly affects the choices—limits them—of both progressives and radicals in the USA. Add to this the money basis of party power and you have pretty much a stalemate. We thought that Obama was going to be the kind of leader who could bring about a “radical” (metaphorical sense) change in the Bush (and also Clinton) agenda. We were so wrong and it is such a huge betrayal. Obama looked like an opportunity to get off the carousel ride to disaster. NMow one can only assume that he was Fate’s Trojan Horse, and mull over the deep cynicism driving the political theatre.

  6. Massinissa

    “Consider Beatrice Potter Webb or Upton Sinclair.”

    Upton Sinclair? But he was a socialist. He ran for office TWICE under a socialist political ticket. And even when he started considering himself a Democrat in the 30s, he still referred to himself as a socialist. Can he be considered a Progressive AND a socialist? Usually in my mind theyre pretty much incompatible.

    Nice quote by Sinclair that I feel like adding just because:

    “The American People will take Socialism, but they won’t take the label. I certainly proved it in the case of EPIC. Running on the Socialist ticket I got 60,000 votes, and running on the slogan to ‘End Poverty in California’ I got 879,000. I think we simply have to recognize the fact that our enemies have succeeded in spreading the Big Lie. There is no use attacking it by a front attack, it is much better to out-flank them”
    On his past gubernatorial bids, in 1951.

      1. susan the other

        Yes. And that is why we know, from long experience, that it is impossible to out-do them at the poll. We do not want another Obama to sandbag us. Never again. Ever since the Gilded Age, rich capitalists have created their progressive arm to defuse the rest of us. It is time for something new.

      2. RanDomino

        Bah, it can still be possible to organize ideologically. Socialists have no concept of community building. They bounce from flash-in-the-pan to flash-in-the-pan but have no results. They think that turning out numbers and grabbing headlines = victory. Of course EPIC did ten times better- who wouldn’t want to end poverty? Could have called it the “puppies are adorable” party. Would have had the same effect.

        1. RanDomino

          forgot to add second point-
          If people really want to build power, and want to get “the masses” or whatever on board, they’ve got to admit that there is only one thing that attracts people: Real, tangible, economically-oriented success. Results! That’s all that matters! That takes a long, long, long time, and it means being an actual part of a community instead of pretending to be, and it takes work, and it’s going to be thankless. But today everyone’s either some privileged college jackass who wants to go down among the unwashed masses and spread enlightenment, or a member of the unwashed masses whose concerns consist of some combination of not getting evicted, getting their kids every advantage in order to win the race against all the other little snots, protecting the privilege that they’ve had to stab so many in the back to take, and/or getting high enough to feel alive for one fucking moment and be able to pretend to be a human being the next day.

        2. Lambert Strether

          Well, we can go to the mat about whether the socialists or the black bloc are better at community building another day.

          My point was more the tactical/technical one that “End poverty in California” was a great… Let’s not say slogan, let’s say encapsulation or talking point, that people respond to. People were ready to hear that message, in the same way that the Russians (sigh) were ready to hear “Peace, Land, Bread” — to speak to your next point, these were not metaphorical, but concrete material benefits — but the message still had to be crafted.

    1. nobody

      In my experience, there’s a quite a range in the politics of those who identify with the label “progressive.” Often, it’s used by people who’ve given up on the term “liberal” because they’re embarrassed by it or think it’s counterproductive as a result of what Rush Limbaugh et al have made in mean in the minds of so many people. If left/right is understood in international terms and divided on the basis of capitalism and property, these “progressives” might be better classified as right of center. They want a kinder, gentler form of democratic capitalism grounded in the constitutional order, not a qualitatively different and non-capitalist order.

      But the term “progressive” also used by communists and the like who use it as a mainstream-friendly euphemism.

    2. Patricia

      Chomsky add-on to Sinclair:

      “…recent polls pretty consistently reveal that Republicans are preferred to Democrats on most issues and crucially on the issues in which the public opposes the policies of the Republicans and favors the policies of the Democrats. One striking example of this is that majorities say that they favor the Republicans on tax policy, while the same majorities oppose those policies. This runs across the board. This is even true of the far right, the Tea Party types.”

    3. Nathanael

      Among people under 30, “socialism” is viewed more positively than “capitalism”.

      This is of course due to the fact that nobody under 30 remembers the Soviet Union (and nobody under 40 remembers any Premier before Gorbachev). That makes “red scare” tactics extraordinarily ineffective.

  7. Robert Callaghan

    Progressives don’t want nuclear power, coal, fracking, gas and oil. They want everyone to have windmills and solar panels. They want everyone to drive “green” cars, whatever that is. Since every road is made from the tar of oil refinery waste, I presume they’ll want roads made from hemp. James Hansen wants us to pursue 4g reactor research to burn nuclear waste. Progressives lose their minds at this notion and claim Hansen doesn’t know what he’s talking about. They discredit him in exactly the same way Fox News discredits climate scientists. They want us to safely store nuclear waste for 10,000 years without considering we might not survive the next 100 years.

    Much as the Great Gatsby strove to recreate the love of his youth, so does Bill McKibben , who seem more bent on selling books than anything. Writers like him are searching for a magic narrative that will ignite a world revolution, but sadly those days are long gone in our fragmented information era. Such is the nature of the tree of knowledge and evil. Goodbye Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the days of focussed attention are gone. Goodbye #occupy wall street, 350 dot org, though you may not stop dreaming, the dream is over. Never mind fantasy, here are the facts:

    The acidity of the oceans will more than double in the next 40 years. This rate is 10 times faster than 55 million years ago when when a mass extinction of marine life occurred. It is also faster than during 4 of earth’s biggest mass extinction events during the last 300 hundred million years — faster than even the great Permian mass extinction event where 95% of life on earth vanished 250 million years ago. The oceans are now 30% more acidic than in pre-industrial times. In less than 40 years they will be 60% more acidic than then.

    When ice ages come and go the planet can change temperature 5°C in as little as 5,000 years. 50 times slower than what we are doing to earth now. In the past, a 5°C change normally takes 20,000 years, we are going to do 5°C in 50-100 years, 200 times faster.

    Climate change is happening 100 times faster than in the past.

    By 2025, humans will impact 50% of earth’s biosphere. This will cause a planetary ecological state shift leading to a mass extinction event that is unstoppable and irreversible once started.

    Why does nobody talk about the thousands of 1-kilometer wide bubbling methane seabeds recorded in 2011.

    Only 1% of methane needs to be released to cause total disaster.
    Peter Wadhams interview

    Natalia Shakhova interview:
    do you believe scientists
    who spent 30 years in the arctic
    or do you believe scientists
    who spent 30 years at their computer?

    1. nonclassical


      viewing life in terms of “duality” of good-evil won’t get us-you “there”…it is, after all, the $$$$ that is the problem, in terms of influence upon “the people’s representative government”…true??

      1. Nathanael

        I mean, I think we’re headed for disaster because we needed to “go solar” when Jimmy Carter told us to.

        But on-planet nuclear is just stupid. Solar, a.k.a. off-planet fusion, is proven tech and we know there’s enough sunlight to supply the world’s energy needs.

        On-planet nuclear is a proven-failed tech.

  8. GRP

    Progressive ideals are not consistent with democracy since most people don’t care about justice, only what is to their adavantage. Most don’t care about the injustice meted out to the “others”, as long as they themselves benefit from it. Given that reality, it would be silly for any progressive to seek power in a democratic set up.

  9. SteveH

    “A most relevant point is that these are value-driven policies. Notably absent are economic policies.”

    How about a Progressive Income Tax?

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘Democrats … [failed] to demand that taxes be increased … in the late 1960s … to fund the Cold War, the War in Vietnam, the war on poverty, and the space program.

      Why in bloody, bleeding hell would a soi-disant ‘progressive’ want to raise taxes to keep funding the napalming of Vietnamese villages, Kissinger’s terror bombing of Cambodia, and the pointless slaughter of 50,000 U.S. soldiers?

      Richard Kline quite accurately identifies the quasi-religious, ‘sinners repent’ progressive mentality of imposing its own morality at gunpoint on its moral inferiors.

      Through its creation and worship of the welfare-warfare state, progressivism was erected on rivers of blood to ‘make the world safe for democracy,’ as the great progressive Woody Wilson said.

      1. nonclassical

        Jim H channeling Smedley Butler (“War Is A Racket”)..here hear, Jim…anyone notice the parallels between Smedley Butler blowing lid off that mess, and Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden???

        Difference was, “power” couldn’t marginalize Smedley Butler’s contributions=standing…(the Fighting Quaker)…but TODAY, Smedley Butler HISTORY goes marginalized…(“The Plot To Seize The White House”, by Jules Archer)

        …that “plot” by Wall $treeters…parallels evermore…

    2. Robert Frances

      Why an income tax? Instead, a gross receipts tax on the biggest earners (> $100,000 per year) of combined rent, dividend, interest, royalty, capital gains and other “non-labor” income is much more targeted and effective. For example, a targeted tax on rent income (say 20-30%) will help lower housing costs for homeowners and provide small business owners with less expensive space for purchase. More businesses with cheaper space will lead to increased employment and likely cheper prices on a variety of goods and services.

      In addition, a graduated gross receipts tax on businesses (over $1 million of sales) with tax rates as high as 10% on multi-billion dollar businesses and as low as 1% on $1 million of sales, will raise significant revenue that could be used to reduce regressive payroll, sales and income taxes on lower and middle income individuals and families.

      Since WWII, the significant increase of regressive payroll and sales taxes, along with the annual multi-billion dollar tax subsidies given to landlords and propery developers (including some massive bank bailouts along the way), have caused as much economic destruction to the lower and middle income groups than just about any other policies.

      The types of income streams and wealth taxed are more important than focusing on generic higher or lower “income taxes.”

  10. allcoppedout

    It’s hard to imagine being progressive and wanting power. One just wouldn’t want ‘power over’. One can actually lead in many ways (Belbin’s ‘chair’ and ‘shaper’ are rough examples). My view is that leadership is shot and we need new forms of it – difficult when you need to raise votes from typical public attitudes.
    I agree with psyhistorian that inheritance is the major economic problem. For me the idea that we should be renting properties built 100 years ago rather than just paying upkeep maintenance is dire. We should be building the leisured, secure life and finding work motivation that fits with that and planet safeguarding.
    I haven’t read a convincing leadership theory that isn’t almost entirely critical – Barbara Kellerman’s ‘The End of Leadership’ is an example. I’m not convinced that personal qualities make much sense as lying is left out. When people are asked to list great leaders they come out with a sorry mess of psychopaths and religionists.
    One wonders how any progressive could survive the political process. Hardly any scientists bother to try, and progressives are supposed to be swayed by entering arguments where reason prevails on one’s own view as well as others. Thus one cannot be the mule-headed conviction politician who is not for turning, so often portrayed as the determined leader.
    As an academic it is quite possible to write anti-organisation, anti-leadership and apparently deeply radical ideas, but the social impact of such is negligible. A thousand paradigm flowers may bloom – but they all share a wordy characteristic that does not translate into social education – indeed there is considerable resentment among the public and even students. Comments about my ivory tower Critical Theory were often right, but many good students with plenty of work experience also pointed out that using the statistical methods I taught in work would amount to a resignation letter – truth having a dangerous quality at work. I would usually explain with practical examples, like the design of a police crime recording system, designed both to be accurate and allow gaming through stitching, nodding, cuffing and skewing. Truth is not much use to the performance manager in our politics and organisations. Taking a look at what really happens to whistle-blowers would come next.

    Academe is now mostly a swindle. Teaching is largely by rote, cheating rife and the cost burden on students a growing sore – just as costs could be slashed. Progressives have failed here too under the imposition of managerialism. We don’t stand up for much really.

    Leaders are supposed to create reality for others in most mainstream ‘key player’ literature. This is a pretty frightening idea, to say the least. With people incapable of doing this for themselves, I’d feel obligated to teach them how to resist having such done to them – though I’d be teaching this and hence doing it to them in a way.

    The progressive doesn’t want to lie and use force, a major disadvantage against opposition that will – though there are many pseudo-progressives. The progressive is by nature challengeable and wants leadership to be controlled by participants other than leaders. Such systems will be vulnerable against spin and quick decision. Jared Diamond suggested ‘the world as Polder’, a very collectivist style based on the maintenance of Dutch dyke-systems – that there are good reasons to give up on authoritarian speed. There are, yet this requires a lot of education.

    There is so much to say – including the way conservative leadership creates fraud-systems that suit it – and bullying-systems. There are deep questions on whether politics creates any leaders – we seem to have had a long procession of puppets to neo-liberalism. What of the docile body and creation of govern-mentality, the destruction of pluralism, eradication of representation, hoarding of resources – the reality of jobs so bad people would rather be somewhere else nearly all the time?

    Leadership as it arises in groups is not a nice thing and we’d probably find much of it is dysfunctional, highly biological and more often than not unnecessary once a system is working.

    1. Nathanael

      Lying is seriously problematic as a tactic, for reasons which both I and Lambert noted earlier; it usually damages your own strategy.

      Using force is much more functional as a tactic, but it has to be used with caution, because it’s grossly backfire-prone; it must only be used when you have a majority, bluntly speaking.

      I speak merely to the abstract value of the tactics.

      1. Nathanael

        I must make an important distinction, however.

        *Honest* propaganda, publicity, marketing, etc., are very valuable and important. It’s actual lies which are bad.

      2. nonclassical

        hmmnnn….Lying…”doesn’t work”??

        please inform us reason bushcheneyriceaddingtonrumsfeldgonzalezetcetc+obama are not in prison at the Hague…???

  11. William

    Excellent article!

    Another contributing factor is that liberals believe that the ideal of allowing everyone to pursue their own beliefs and customs can and should be a primary defining aspect of American society. In sharp contrast, opposition to difference is a key defining aspect of conservative thought. Ike’s 1950s was a time of highly successful repression of difference (satisfying the conservative), yet it was also, as the article point out, a time and economic justice for the middle and working class.

    The repression of difference blew wide open in the 1960s and 70s. This awakened the conservative in all classes which resulted in a massive backlash that has been far too successful.

    THE most effective move by conservatives was into media. This goes almost without saying, particularly given that conservatives have no compuction against propoganda and using their media holding to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful. If conservative thought is to be countered in any effective way short of revolution, liberals have to take back the media.

  12. WJ

    This is a great post, and I’m wary to comment because, while a long-time reader of this blog–I found the site through Greenwald close to a decade ago–I may unintentionally seem like a troll, given my evolving position on this issue. But I can’t resist.

    It is not a new point, but I think it bears restating, that a crucial dynamic contributing to the decay of the real Left–the Left concerned with precisely those issues which Yves lists as having fallen off the radar–is the substitution of cultural positions for economic ones as definitive of one’s fundamental political orientation.

    For most of my generation–I’m 34–the Right to Choose and, more recently, the Right to Marry have taken precedence over Taxing the Rich and the Right to Organize in establishing your bona fides as a member of the Left.

    I think this is a disaster. First, because the legitimate social momentum of the 60’s was quickly coopted by the culture wars which Roe v. Wade virtually ensured were going to happen sooner or later; and defending a horrendously argued opinion in the service of a much less restrictive position on abortion than any found in Europe at the time (and even, in some EU countries, today) became an essential qualification for anyone wanting to involve themselves in Left politics. This immediately alienated a broad swath of working-class Catholic and Presbyterian white voters who supported Left economic positions but couldn’t sign off on Second Wave Feminism (which, as it turns out, most Second Wave Feminists couldn’t sign off on either). Combine this with the very real monetary interests and financial clout of Planned Parenthood and NOW, and you immediately have the structural self-strangulation of the Left we have seen over the past three decades or so.

    I’ll put my cards on the table here in the interest of honesty. I believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, and that any politics which takes as its premise the right of a woman to abort at any stage of her pregnancy is not, could not be, a viable Left politics. I don’t expect everybody (or anybody) to agree with this position, of course, and my point is not to argue it. My point is precisely that, in my opinion, abortion is an issue on which the “Left” should allow much greater room for disagreement than it currently does.

    Gay Marriage is the tragedy of abortion repeated as farce. Was there ever a more boutique bourgeois issue around which something calling itself the “Left” has ever organized? I myself support the civil recognition of gay marriage, but I have no illusions that it has the social significance which many have attributed to it–either on the “Left” or Right. The equivalent of the Voting Rights Act it is certainly not. Worse than this, the Gay Marriage issue has led to people on the “Left” giving kudos to places like Starbucks on account of the corporation’s socially progressive attitude–Starbucks! the union-busting, native-pillaging, hang-out spot of self-congratulatory liberals with advanced degrees and six figure incomes.

    The “Left” of my generation, I am sorry to say, has been so indoctrinated into the primacy of the cultural over the economic as determinative of politics that I see little hope of this changing. This is why, frankly, I pray that Roe will be overturned–not primarily because I think it is a wrong decision (though, of course, I do think that) but because I think only that will enable the Left to escape the ghetto of cultural politics and emerge again as a movement founded upon economic justice. This is why both the Democratic and Republican establishment will never allow Roe to be overturned, by the way. Returning abortion to the messy realm of politics–to being one issue alongside other issues that must be negotiated on the basis of other committments–would radically alter the possibilities for a legitimately Left politics in this country.

    O.K. Back to lurking…

    1. diptherio

      Thanks for having the courage to comment. Besides your anti-abortion stance, I tend to agree with you. What this country needs (maybe) is a Poor Person’s Party to bring the left’s focus back to economic issues.

      1. WJ

        Thanks for the response. A Poor People’s Party–or a Working Families’ Party, here is the NY chapter webpage: http://www.workingfamiliesparty.org/our-issues/–would be a start. Leaving aside the admittedly vexed question of abortion, suppose you ran a campaign similar to the platform of the WFP (which admirably downplays that most contentious issue): that is, suppose you ran on (1) Single-Payer Health Care; (2) Paid Family Leave; (3) Aggressively Progressive Taxation; (4) Anti-Corporatism. Would you win? No. For even though most families with children earning less than 200,000 per annum (and that’s almost everybody) would actually benefit from this platform’s implementation, there is no possible way that this platform would actually be given a hearing in a national election. The very structure of our electoral process is corrupt, given the amounts of money and media attention required to actually run a campaign, and this is why I think it is naive for a legitimately Left politics to try to establish itself via traditional electoral means.

        Here the issue becomes a way of sustaining political action across large sectors of the population–many of whom work long hours, and are neither educated nor informed (presently)–that does not depend on the ideological construal of political action that in most developed Western states *counts* as politics. As we saw with Occupy, non-ideological forms of political action are immediately labeled as illegitimate, and when they don’t fade away at once they are decisively crushed by state power. For most Americans, politics means voting once every two or four years for candidates that have been preselected by the structural constraints of the system itself. As soon as one begins to undertake political action that is not violent, but does not abide by these constraints, then one becomes a problem to the state.

        Unfortunately, then, I agree with those posting here who think that our economic condition needs to become far worse before enough people will be motivated to engage in a non-ideological politics for a long enough amount of time in order to have a legitimate effect. Nation-states are a bitch; they are usually changed significantly only by class-traitors (FDR) or by revolutions. I would love a class-traitor to come along, but I’m not holding my breath…

      2. Funonymous

        Who identifies enough with the poor to vote for them? What politicians pass their hats around to the poor come campaign ontribution time? Go with Steinbeck and call it the Temporarily Embarrased Millionaire’s Party, or the Stockholm Party….you can make pins that say I identify with my exploiter and you should too! Call it the poor person’s party and they’ll just tell you to get your act together and get a job, not vote.

    2. Lambert Strether

      My feelings are mixed.

      On the one hand, Marcy Kaptur (of “produce the note”) was superb on foreclosure.

      On the the other hand (my hand, I grant), Kaptur was not so superb on abortion. And I’m relucant to, as I see it, join the Obama administration in throwing women under the bus (the Yellin discussion shows the attitudes in little).

      What Twisty refers to as the venerable Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women cause a lot of suffering, even if you grant that life is suffering. And I’m reluctant to give them the big stamp of approval.

      So I’m not sure that abortion rights (control over the means of reproduction?) is properly placed in the “culture wars” bag.

    3. anon y'mouse

      you say

      “I’ll put my cards on the table here in the interest of honesty. I believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, and that any politics which takes as its premise the right of a woman to abort at any stage of her pregnancy is not, could not be, a viable Left politics. I don’t expect everybody (or anybody) to agree with this position, of course, and my point is not to argue it. My point is precisely that, in my opinion, abortion is an issue on which the “Left” should allow much greater room for disagreement than it currently does.”

      you are lying to yourself. your former statement “any politics” supporting abortion “could not be a viable left politics” and then requiring greater acceptance.

      you want what you want, and don’t see requiring it as playing into the identity politics problem. I would say your stance IS the problem.

      how about you accept that other people don’t want the government to tell them what to do/not to do with their own bodies, and leave that at that?

      your statements bely each other. you’ll have to decide which is more important to you: what some women may do with their own bodies, or economic justice.

      1. diptherio

        If we can’t work together on economic justice until we all agree on abortion then we are doomed.

        Do we all need to agree on what a defensible left politics is, plank by plank, before we work together for pragmatic reforms on issues we already agree on? Seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face…

        1. Lambert Strether

          “If we can’t work together on economic justice until we all agree on abortion then we are doomed.” True. Not being doomed would sure easier if we had some sort of diplomatic protocol other than silence, though. In a way, it’s the same issue as “strange bedfellows” working with the right, who did The Lord’s Work on fighting the bailouts (while Obama and the Democrats greased the skids), and some of whom are very sound on Fourth Amendment issues (as well as, interestingly, issues of gardening and food). I’ve often wondered about a “First Half, Second Half” formulation for working with them: In the First Half, we’ll co-operate to end the empire and restore the rule of law. In the second half, having cleared away irrelevancies like the legacy parties, we’ll fight it out on the values issues we disagree on….

          1. susan the other

            Yes. Let’s establish equity first. It is the foundation of society. Morality is relative to circumstance. If we all get really hungry and we can’t order pizza, it might not be so immoral to eat each other… etc. After an equitable society has been established and can be maintained we will all be strong enough to make our various claims. And maybe some of those odious abortions will simply go away. Others will not. But the morality of abortion here is relative. Equity is not.

      2. WJ

        anon y’mouse,

        Thanks for the reponse. I think you misunderstand me; I’m not asking that you agree with my views on abortion; I’m asking you to allow me not to agree with yours. I’m asking that in the interest of reestablishing the primacy of economic justice for a Left politics.

        My hope is that a world informed by a Left politics is a world in which pregnancy presents much less of a burden to women than it does in ours, and that therefore there will be less need for abortion in that world than there is in our own.

        But I’m not arguing that point. I’m instead arguing that any Left politics that places the issue of abortion prior or on the same plane as the issues listed by Yves above is not really a Left politics, and it in any case has no hope of attracting the working class in the U.S.

        1. anon y'mouse

          a world in which one doesn’t have to choose between food or medicine would be one in which abortions would happen less. this is not the place for that debate, but if you don’t think that MOST women who make that choice are not aware that it is a kind of Sophie’s Choice, then you’re fooling yourself.

          greater access to medical care, education and so on tends to reduce unwanted pregnancies. it seems to me that anyone who was in favor of reducing such practices would see the need to provide the means to reduce the need for them, yet moralizing about whether someone else can afford to have safe sex is about where this conversation tends to go.

          also, to get away from abortion in a sideways way: why should the government be able to tell you what to do with your own body? the issue is linked to one of greater autonomy over oneself. do we have a right to force people to take medications? how far does that force go?

          these are asides. economic justice would allow a person to actually MAKE choices, instead of having them made largely by unavoidable circumstances determined by magical “free” markets.

    4. Nathanael

      “I’ll put my cards on the table here in the interest of honesty. I believe that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, ”

      Well, you’re just wrong as a factual matter. Over 50% of all pregnancies spontaneously abort.

      Now you know. If you actually believe what you say you believe, you would care deeply about that and would be working very hard on that issue. I’m quite sure you aren’t, because nobody is. Because nobody really believes that a blastocyst is an “innocent human life”. That’s just a phrase that hypocrites throw around.

      Also, you’ve been lied to (as usual) by the right-wingers.

      The actual policy of the left-wing, and Roe v. Wade, and the United States, *AND THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH FOR NEARLY 1600 YEARS* prior to the early 1900s, is that abortion is permitted freely only prior to viability, which is roughly the end of the second trimester.

      Now, don’t pretend that this isn’t an economic issue. It is. It’s an issue of whether men can rape women and force them to bear their children. It’s an issue of emancipation of women, vs. enslavement of women — enslavement of women was the status quo for hundreds of years. Enslavement is an economic issue.

      When you get right down to it, right-wingers seem to really want to enslave women again. Their opposition to contraception makes it pretty obvious if you pay attention.

      As for same-sex marriage, it is just the natural fallout of people realizing that men and women should have equal rights. A side effect, if you will.

      1. WJ

        This response is emblematic of the misplaced priorities of the “Left”. Compounded of logical mistakes, factual errors, and hysterical rhetoric, the post is a kind of negative image of what you’d expect to read on some middling movement conservative blog. And to what end?

        To asserting that anybody who does not sign onto the official “Left” party line on this single issue is a woman-hating rape-enabler. Only white upper-class liberal-arts educated pseudo-intellectuals really believe such horseshit.

        A legitimate Left politics is not founded upon what the liberal “Left” elite decides the important issues are. It is founded rather on helping the working classes understand, articulate, and act against economic injustice as it bears down upon them every day. Anybody who really thinks that the lack of access to cheap and safe abortion is high on the list of these injustices has no idea, frankly, what the lives of the working poor are like.

        1. anon y'mouse

          sometimes, the abortion issue is one of economic survival. and sometimes it is the unfortunate solution to the problem of not having enough money and no health care to see a doctor, and pay for an ongoing prescription or for not having the up-front costs of a more reliable method.

          I say this having witnessed the decision multiple times, within a family and a community of working poor.

          the question still stands: what rights does the government have to dictate what anyone does with their own body? that may be a question for AfterWeREachtheUtopia where economic decisions do not force our hand, but I personally think it is a much more fundamental right, and only partially related to the abortion one.

          1. WJ

            I agree with the first half of your comment: these are all issues that drive women to abortion, and they are issues that the a legitimate Left should prioritize politically, but that the current “Left” subordinates to or confuses with legal access to abortion–which access is needed, in these cases at least, only because of the prior economic injustices involved.

            I actually don’t believe that I have a right to do what I want with my own body, because I think that rights-talk is just a way–a mostly ineffective way–of asserting power. So we are theoretically far apart on this whole question; but I think that’s fine, so long as we recognize that our disagreement on this point does not preclude us from working together in support of unions, universal health care, income equality, paid parental leave, and educational access. Once we obtain all those things, then we can work out our disagreements in other areas.

    5. Alexa

      WJ, you “nailed it” when you said:

      “. . . I think only that will enable the Left to escape the ghetto of cultural politics and emerge again as a movement founded upon economic justice.

      This is why both the Democratic and Republican establishment will never allow Roe to be overturned, by the way. Returning abortion to the messy realm of politics–to being one issue alongside other issues that must be negotiated on the basis of other committments–would radically alter the possibilities for a legitimately Left politics in this country.”

      Wish more liberals and/or progressives would “rally around” this notion, and channel their energies into more pressing issues–such as issues of economic justice, class mobility, and the preservation of our social insurance programs, or safety net.

      [The idea that “country club Republicans”–or DLC Dems– would ever allow the religious right, or any other faction of the conservative movement, to fully overturn Roe V Wade is ludicrous, IMHO.]

      BTW, thanks for “unlurking.” ;-)

      1. WJ


        Yes. We see eye to eye on this, it seems. It would be much easier for the Left to build a working political coalition around the economic issues you mention if it did not present these issues as necessitating, also, an unyielding commitment to the “right” of abortion. (I use “right” not to belittle proponents of legalized abortion but because I find the language of rights to be largely nonsensical.)

        To the extent that abortion is itself an economic issue, it is so chiefly on account of already existing social and economic inequalities–inequalities, by the way, which the availability of abortion doesn’t address so much as paper over. A woman who really is driven to abortion on account of economics, and there are far too many women for whom this is tragically the case, is already in a shitty situation, one that is not improved by the termination of her pregnancy but is returned to the status quo. Class, rather than sex, determines this issue, as it determines most others.

        The Left would be more politically effective if it realized as much, since it could thereby appeal directly to the vast majority of people in the country; at present, though the Left has been coopted by a subset of mostly white and college-educated progressives who have confused a politics of identity and gender with a politics of class. T

        The cynical and intentional confusion of these politics produces the Democratic Party Platform, which I think most of us could agree is ridiculous in its premises: for only in the barbarian and late-capitalist United States could somebody think that “women’s rights” entail the legal availability of abortion BEFORE they entail universal health care, paid parental leave, decent public education, and a heavily unionized economy.

    6. T. Greer

      I am book marking this comment. Excellently said.

      I occasionally stop by and read the comment on this blog because I appreciate the perspective of the readers here. I do not share this perspective. As is the case of many of the readers and writers here, I am a poor political fit for the current political system. Unlike most readers here, my political predilections lean to the right. Reading here is a way to avoid partisan echo chambers and confirmation basis (though our joint opposition to the ruling plutarchy means my bias is confirmed as often as denied…)

      Somewhere in my journey to convince the conservative half of America’s population that that a proper political platform for the right should be populism, decentralization, and democracy, I struck across the real problem the right has with reform: the exact same problem you attribute to the left! Plutocratic elites love the culture wars. I once compared our current political dynamics with those of antebellum America:

      “Today the greatest structural flaw of the American Republic is not slavery, but a rentier elite that dominates the upper echelons of American society. It is a socially cohesive bloc that has repeatedly resisted all efforts to keep America’s leadership democratically accountable, financially liable, or open to the ranks of the legions below, who are often viewed with a paternalistic disdain. [8] The wealth and power of this group is simply on a different scale than that available to the average American citizen. The gap is only growing larger.

      And no politician is talking about it.

      “As in the antebellum, today’s hyperpartisanship has its uses. The issues are real enough, and the cultural divide between each party’s demographic “base” is wide. Politicians take advantage of this with over-the-top rhetoric, turning all issues into a cultural crusade against the radicalism of the progressive left or the bigotry of entrenched conservatism. The accuracy of these attacks is unimportant. The antebellum party system allowed Southerners to define themselves as ‘Whigs’ or ‘Democrats’ instead of ‘slavers’. The current system serves its purpose just as well, allowing plutarchs to define themselves not in terms of power or privilege, but as part of a culturally cohesive group that represents ‘real’ America. With partisan issues taking the fore, politicians, lobbyists, and corporate big wigs can plunder the American economy and strip American citizens of their liberties in a decidedly bipartisan fashion. [9] And thus the greatest structural faultline in America’s body-politic and the most dangerous challenge to the integrity of her republican institutions and the liberties of her citizenry continues onward without public comment. And all of this without a gag rule. “

      As with WJ, I have labored to get “my side” to give up on or at least de-emphasize fights over marriage, abortion, and other social issues, for these are the fights the keep the plutarchs in power. Likewise, Tea Parties and Occupiers are marginalized once the ruling elite convinces America to see them in cultural terms.

      The culture wars keep Americans divided – and conquered.

      That last statement (if true) leads to an interesting conclusion. (Perhaps many from this site will find it unpalatable?) If opposition to the ruling plutarchy becomes a one-party affair, the whole project will be sucked into the existing culture war paradigm. Reflecting on the recent NSA amendment votes, I wrote:

      “There is a large constituency in both parties that distrusts the national elite and supports radical reformation of our political system. At this time they are a minority. They may not remain so in the future. Few would have guessed in 1895 that the Progressive movement would (from the bottom up) capture dozens of municipalities, states, and ultimately both national political parties before a decade had gone by. Indeed, the progressive movement is the most important model 21st century reformers have. [5] Entire posts could be devoted to the lessons the progressive movement’s success can teach us; today I will mention but one, relevant to the info-graphics presented above: resist the temptation to make this a one party affair.

      If reform is to be complete, comprehensive, and permanent it cannot be a partisan endeavor. Decentralization, dismantling America’s security theatre, and killing crony capitalism must be kept as far away from the “culture wars” as possible. If these reforms become the mantra of a single party instead of the starting point of both then they will not last.

      It is time the radicals learn to work with their opposites across the aisle. “

      I am curious how the radicals on this side of the aisle feel about this suggestion.

      But in any case, thanks for the comment WJ. Very thought provoking.

  13. PaulW

    The Left doesn’t want political power? I’d go one step further to suggest that 99% of westerners don’t want it. Quite natural given the responsibility involved. After all, from the late baby boomers on our society has produced mainly irresponsible people. It’s not in their DNA to want power. We leave political power to the psychopaths. What’s funny is how surprised we are by the predictable results.

    1. Funonymous

      All of the ruminations and opinions on power and its dynamics and motives in this comment thread are great, and serve to remind me of the high peaks in spite of the great, great troughs of various comments sections on the internets. Thoughts like these are the things that kept me out of all the really good schools, to steal from St. Carlin.
      I can see heavy cases being made for and against a desire to wield power, not all milled out of inherent personality flaws (however, you could put forth with decent evidence that power magnifies the weilder and their personality onto others, and in that magnification makes all personality flaws more obvious and liable to effect people, but that is a different topic entirely). Personally I don’t like to force choices and behaviors on other people, I’d rather leave them to do as they please as long as what they please is not hugely destructive to those around them, maybe confict averseness (and perhaps an over optimistic delusion regarding the intentions of others) is my personality flaw there, but then again I never really take to people who get off on having control of other people and being able to fuck with their lives either. They might be the ‘tough leaders who can make hard choices’ archetype that some people seem to instinctively line up for, but I usually see those sorts as bullies who need to belittle others and force them to their whim and will to get whatever brain chemicals make them feel good about themselves. along with their own damn way all the time. I’ve had to endure too many of that sort in the public and private spheres of life to have much patience for it anymore.
      I cannot begrudge people who are skeptical and reluctant to put their trust in people who openly desire power. Power and ambition are some of those weird, primal things that arouse odd feelings of all sorts in different people, probably for good reason. I personally have a less than positive mental association for ambition, I usually think of Macbeth. As for power, the character traits of power seekers usually put me off, and I have a better opinion of ‘competent organizers who reluctantly get pushed into authority positions’ archetype, I guess I assume that they will be more innoculated against the corrupting influences of power, but that could also be a personal bias. I would trust a congress and executive elected by a blind lottery of citizens over our present system for that very reason, but I also expect the damage quotient from the random chance for total incompetence at the powers of organization and management to be lesser than that of leaders that have a conception of power that leads them to the willful desire to bring all aspects of human communication and interaction under their purview and dominion, everywhere, forever, in the interest of a very small fraction of the planet, at the expense of everyone else.
      As for the responsiblity of power, the fear of failing those you are supposed to be sheparding and protecting is a strong motivator and case for why some would accept power and others would flee it. However, most motivators that have the flipside of a fear of being shamed and cast out are once again, tugging at those primal launguageless areas of the physche. If you refer to having the personal responsibility for being ‘where the buck stops’ when it comes to the machinications of our present domestic and foregin policies, I would argue that anyone would have to be insane and dangerous to want that. I shudder to think at the basket of skills and personality traits that would have to exist together for someone to actually desire to go through the process of becoming a viable candidate and then running for the office of US president. I certainly would not want the power of the most expensive and technologically advanced army in the world in my hands and consience, and I would be less than trilled to have my every word and deed to have vast seen and unforseen consequenses for everyone else on the planet, so that could be why I don’t give those who want those things the benefit of the doubt.

      So it goes for national power politics, and the question of if vertical heirarchies and weird dom/sub dynmaics are immutably wired into the human animal in all its comings and goings.

      Now for a different angle as per onganizational power and dynamics, more separated from the homo sapiens irrationalis weirdoificus that carry on in this way.
      As I have seen mentioned many times on NC, another dynamic is present in this schema as in many others; We have a global governance, though it is ecnonomic, and not political in nature. The national politics game is a big one, the global economic strucutres and distributions game is The Big One, and the players of that game are suited just fine by having a monopoly on organizational power, it makes the ticket to play way more expensive and dangerous to come by, let alone do anything useful with. This sort of drifts more into elite theory and oligarchy theory at this point; but regardless of who is weilding what power in what purviews, I tend to prefer many distribured power centers in a semi advesarial relationship to each other than I do hugely vertical unshifting power centers allied with each other to the woe of anyone not In The Club.
      As is, Finance capital and money power now has near total dominion and primacy over industrial capital, labor and human capital, real property, as well as the political process,the legal system, the list sort of goes on….and the actions and circumstances of everything, and one else are at the whims of their goings on, and it looks to me like the outcomes are all getting more irrational, strange and Kafkaesque as the fiscal quarters and news cycles (corporate, alternative, and underground) turn. I wish Hunter Thompson and Bill Hicks, were still here to grasp all this intersecting weirdness with both hands. I fear I am devolving into ranting and raving, so I will leave it at that, edit lightly, ask forgiveness for spelling errors before there is a grammar counter revolution, and hope I wasted less of your time reading this and I did writing it.

  14. omnipheasant

    It is astonishing to me that in his list of policies opposed by the US left Kline fails to even mention anti-Stalinism, and instead muddles along with references to religious traditions. By anti-Stalinism I refer to the strong aversion on the part of the 60s left for any political forms or practices associated with the “Marxist-Leninism” of the Soviet Union. But let’s not overlook the likelihood that the US left’s aversion was in part a response to the sustained attacks by the state faced by those segments of the US left that were oriented to taking power in a more traditional sense. The consequences of protesting could be bad enough, tear gas and billy clubs, but getting smeared as a “commie” would ruin your life. Kline seems to think that it’s only principles, not fear and constraint, that play a role in determining behavior.

  15. armchair

    It is difficult to add to this discussion because much of it is very well thought out. However, I think there are plenty of real world examples to bring into the discussion in Argentina with the Kirchners, in Venezuela with Madero, in Ecuador with Correa (an economist no less), in Bolivia with Morales, in Brazil with Lula, and so on. Even without bringing up conversation killers like Castro, Chavez or Ortega, there are plenty of present day examples of the left seizing power and all of the stomach turning consequences that come with holding power.

    On a tangent, a recent movie, “No,” failed to be a great movie, but it communicated the interesting history of the plebiscite that brought Pinochet down. The movie was about the role of a Madison Avenue ad campaign in rousing people to vote no to Pinochet. The idea of ad executives ending Pinochet’s reign is probably overemphasized in the film, but it certainly plays to burgoise sensibilities. A link to the ad follows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3Jph-eMjX8 (Chile, la alegría ya viene).

    Latin America has plenty of examples of the left falling short too. The failed election of AMLO in 2006 had many similarities to the failed election of Gore in 2000. In Colombia there has been decades of violence without taking the grip of power from the right.

    I wish I had more time to write about this. Anyway, I hope this adds a twist.

    1. Nathanael

      Something which has become known as Truman’s dictum:


      Republicans will win as long as Democrats act like Republicans. If actual Democrats run, they will win.

      This political situation has happened before. In the 1850s. That time, it led to the actual collapse of the Whig Party. The Free Soilers made it into Congress and stuff really started changing after that.

      The effort to suppress modern-day Free Soilers is much more severe, though it’s comparable to the efforts made to suppress the People’s Party and the Progressive Party and the Greenback Party.

  16. from Mexico

    Power, idealism and self-interest.

    Those three words sum up much of what constitutes the human condition.

    John J. Mearshiemer, a leading light of the American Realist school, sums up neoconservatism as being a marriage of military power with idealism:

    Neo-conservative theory – the Bush doctrine – is essentially Wilsonianism with teeth. The theory has an idealist strand and a power strand: Wilsonianism provides the idealism, an emphasis on military power provides the teeth.


    Which set me to thinking, what then is neoliberalism? Could we call it the marriage of power with self-interest, even though the self-interest almost always comes in idealistic drag (as in drag queen)?

    And what is the philosophy of the New Left, which seems to have thrown both power and self-interest overboard in a fit of self-righteous idealism. Would it be fair to say the New Left philosophy is a marriage of no-power with idealism?

    1. nonclassical

      ..from Mejico…

      My longtime best friend’s lovely Vietnamese wife (his first marriage, at 47) was
      just crushed as she couldn’t stand ameriKa, and returned to her village…it wasn’t because of “power”, “idealism”, or “self-interest”…nor was it really a clash of cultures…it was conflict between society based upon “individual”, and
      one based upon community…the good of all….$$$$, power, vs. good of all, way of life…

      by the way-they lived in her village together, first 3 years of marriage…he, being one of handful of inheritors of certain art in ameriKa had hoped to return here to perpetuate said art…

      he knew very well-(speaks 11 languages, has written Alaskan law, books, on travels, life, works with huge communications firm, internationally), exactly what the “conflict” is-would be…

    2. Litchfield

      Re: Power, idealism and self-interest.

      Those three words sum up much of what constitutes the human condition.
      Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/08/why-progressives-are-lame.html#iXSmEoYdrdML4IP8.99

      No, not necessarily. Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus’s “The Creation of Inequality: How Our Prehistoric Ancestors Set the Stage for Monarchy, Slavery and Empire” (Harvard University Press) provide a very clear discussion of “what constitutes the human condition.” Their superbly readable and comprehensive analysis, based on a methodolgoy that combines anthropological and archaeological data, clearly refutes such casual assertions as the one above concerning the fundamental makeup of humans and their societies. Inequality is a choice that societies make under certain conditions. Inheritance and family power have a lot to do with creating the conditions leading to the choice.Flannery and Marcus also discuss the role of marriage as a fundamentally economic arrangement that the record that they examine shows to be quite plastic.

      Here is a good review from the LRB that may motivate some to read the book (forgive length, but there is no access for nonsubscribers):
      * Harvard, 631 pp, £29.95, May 2012, ISBN 978 0 674 06469 0
      By the time I’d read no more than a third of The Creation of Inequality I would have willingly knelt before the authors to touch my nose against their knees and announce: ‘I eat your excrement ten times.’ That’s how commoners on the Polynesian island of Tikopia in 1929 would have addressed their chiefs, as originally documented by the anthropologist Raymond Firth. Having read about such encounters in Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus’s book I am left in no doubt that they are the archaeological and anthropological chiefs of social evolution to whom I must show the utmost deference. And so should everyone else, for this is a work of profound importance.
      Flannery first gained status in his hunter-gatherer band of archaeologists for the work he edited in 1976, The Early Mesoamerican Village, which presented its key arguments in the form of a dialogue between three fictional but recognisable characters, the ‘Real Mesoamerican Archaeologist’, the ‘Great Synthesiser’ and the ‘Sceptical Graduate Student’. The book established him as one of the standard bearers of what was then termed the ‘New Archaeology’, and as a writer of both intelligence and wit. He used the same device in 1982, in a short article called ‘The Golden Marshalltown: A Parable for Archaeology of the 1980s’; the conversation there, between a ‘Born-Again Philosopher’, a ‘Child of the 1970s’ and an ‘Old Timer’, told me – as a new graduate – a great deal more about archaeological theory and the profession than I had learned as an undergraduate. Flannery’s Guilá Naquitz, published in 1985, was about a small cave site in the Oaxaca Valley in Mexico that had reputedly taken six weeks to excavate and 18 years to analyse. It described fieldwork in an exotic location, and used meticulous data analysis and interpretation to show how even the tiniest charred seed can help us to understand the most momentous change in human society, the transition from hunter-gatherering to farming. It seemed to me the archaeological ideal. As soon as I had the opportunity – in 2003 – I made a pilgrimage to Guilá Naquitz to see where the great man had excavated those seeds from its dirt floor.

      Joyce Marcus is as distinguished in her own right as Flannery, but has become especially prominent through their joint publications, so that ‘Flannery and Marcus’ now form a single entity, as in ‘Crick and Watson’ or ‘Morecambe and Wise’. Particularly notable are The Cloud People (1983), which they edited together, and Zapotec Civilisation (1996), both of which blend archaeological and anthropological evidence to explore long-term social evolution in the Oaxaca Valley. The term ‘social evolution’ is here used quite differently from the way biologists use it to refer to the consequences of the various social behaviours displayed by individuals interacting within a single community. Anthropologists are concerned with the bigger picture: how and why did egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies transform into the diverse range of recent and present-day societies that feature such enormous levels of inequality?
      So it was both exciting and daunting to open The Creation of Inequality, a huge volume that provides a global survey and interpretation of social evolution from huntergatherer societies to empires. Described as a book for the general reader, it avoids fanciful literary devices and chapters full of theory in favour of a data-rich narrative that yields insights into a multitude of societies in the recent and prehistoric past. The book takes in Africa, the Americas, the Near East and the Pacific, though it isn’t a truly global study: Europe, China and much of South and South-East Asia are absent. It is divided into four sections that deal broadly with hunter-gatherers, ranked societies, hereditary chiefdoms and monarchies, topped off by a final short chapter with the title ‘Updating Rousseau’. Flannery and Marcus note in their preface that Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin and Basis of Inequality among Men (1754) took less than a hundred pages to argue that to understand inequality we must go back to the earliest times, to humanity’s ‘state of nature’. But then Rousseau didn’t have anything like as much archaeological data to draw on as we do, and had no more than a few anecdotal accounts of people living traditional, non-Western lifestyles. Today, we have a vast archive of anthropological studies to combine with the archaeological evidence.
      Anthropologists in the 19th and 20th centuries sought to follow Rousseau’s directive. Lewis Henry Morgan wrote the first landmark work, Ancient Society (1877), in which he defined three stages of social evolution: ‘savagery’, ‘barbarism’ and ‘civilisation’; the second was Evolution and Culture (1960), edited by Elmen Service and Marshall Sahlins, which posited four stages: ‘bands’, ‘tribes’, ‘chiefdoms’ and ‘states’. Flannery and Marcus set out to address two of the criticisms made of these earlier works: first, that they imposed the anthropological present onto the archaeological past, preventing us from recognising types of social organisation that did not survive into the historically documented world; second, that the model of successive stages of social evolution carries with it the idea of inevitable progress from past to present.

      University of Chicago Press – The Reprisal by Laudomia Bonanni

      Flannery and Marcus note that archaeology and anthropology have always had an uneasy relationship but that they work best when they work together: the former too often lacks detail, being subject to the vagaries of preservation and uncertain chronology, while the latter can’t show how social processes play out over the long term. The Creation of Inequality alternates its focus between the two disciplines, interpreting scant prehistoric remains with insights gained from the study of documented societies, which has shown that they are not static ethnographic entities but are in a process of long-term change. Flannery and Marcus demonstrate that there is no inevitability about the course of social evolution; indeed, across the world at the start of the 20th century, societies in which leadership was based on achievement were more common than those based on inheritance, the transition to ranked and hereditary societies having been either infrequent or unsustained.
      Flannery and Marcus begin fifteen thousand years ago, a time when everyone lived as hunter-gatherers. This seems rather arbitrary, being roughly halfway between two globally relevant environmental markers: the last glacial maximum 21,000 years ago and the dramatic global warming that marked the shift to the Holocene 11,600 years ago. Although they don’t say so, I suspect that Flannery and Marcus’s choice reflects their view that there is no environmental determinant of the pattern of social evolution; neither is it possible to predict types of social organisation and levels of inequality on the basis of population densities and subsistence strategies alone, although these impose constraints on which types might come about and be sustained. The comparison between the rates at which ranked societies appeared in the Near East and Mexico following domestication of their respective wild plants is especially illuminating: in Mexico, the rate was much slower because of the larger number of genetic changes required to turn teosinte into maize than the Near East’s wild wheat into einkorn, but remarkably similar ranked societies ultimately arose in both regions.
      Turning to ‘egalitarian’ hunter-gatherers, Flannery and Marcus stress various factors: the role of humour, teasing and ridicule as levelling mechanisms; how influence is won not by bullying but through generosity, modesty and diplomacy; how language and intelligence serve – and most probably evolved – to promote social networking; the absolute imperative to share. They remark how strikingly the urge to maintain egalitarianism contrasts with the jostling for power in chimpanzee societies. The explanation, they suggest, is that while apes put sex first, followed by food and then defence, the order for humans is food, defence and then sex, with marriage acting as a food-getting partnership rather than a hormone-driven sexual liaison. This is why marriage was always a flexible institution: one man one woman; two men one woman; two women one man; foursomes and so on. That said, hunter-gatherer egalitarianism is rather a sham. Flannery and Marcus argue that even the most egalitarian of them had a dominance hierarchy as clear-cut as that in any ape society. The difference is that for humans, the alpha elite were invisible supernatural beings, far too powerful to be overthrown, while the betas were ancestors who did the bidding of the alphas. No ‘egalitarian’ hunter-gatherer was ever more than a gamma in the social hierarchy.

      All societies, Flannery and Marcus argue, have their own social logic, a set of explicit or implicit rules of social behaviour that archaeologists or anthropologists must grasp if they are to understand how societies function or change. Social evolution occurs only through a change in social logic. Throughout the book there are statements of what the authors believe to be the social logic of the societies they explore, ranging from hunter-gatherers to the Aztecs. (Some of us might want to avoid the term ‘social logic’ and simply use ‘culture’ instead, in the sense of an array of implicit mental precepts.)
      A key development among some groups of prehistoric hunter-gatherers, requiring a change in their social logic, was the adoption of clans or lineages, each of which had its own particular relationship to a cosmology shared by the community as a whole. The presence of clans did not in itself create inequality but it changed social dynamics, thanks to the common principle of ‘social substitutability’: if someone from Clan A killed someone in Clan B, then revenge could be obtained by killing any member of Clan A, whether or not they were directly involved in the original crime. (Our urban gangs will be delighted to learn they are maintaining ancient traditions.) Ambitious clans, or individuals within clans, secured power by manipulating cosmologies to claim a closer relationship with the supernatural elite than the one enjoyed by other clans or clan leaders. Flannery and Marcus argue that this phenomenon has been pervasive throughout human history, reaching an extreme with the Egyptian pharaohs, who claimed divine status. Such manipulation wasn’t so difficult when cosmologies were passed on by word of mouth, since they could easily be modified to maintain their consistency with developments in other areas of knowledge, including technology. Not so today: Flannery and Marcus blame the printing press for the current antagonism between science and religion. Had sacred propositions continued to be transmitted orally rather than being fixed in print they would have been gradually remoulded to render them compatible with the scientific thought of Galileo and Darwin.
      It wasn’t only cosmologies that were manipulated to create inequality. In their study of three documented hunter-gatherer societies from North-West America, often referred to as ‘affluent foragers’ because of their extraordinary wealth of resources, Flannery and Marcus explain how mechanisms traditionally used to maintain equality were abused so as to do exactly the opposite. Among the Tlingit, feasts and gift-giving were employed on a scale such that the recipients were simply unable to return the favours on an equivalent scale and were forced into debt slavery.
      Such manipulations notwithstanding, hereditary prestige and power were rarely the result. The vast majority of communities remained ‘achievement-based’. In Part Two of The Creation of Inequality, Flannery and Marcus provide a rich set of anthropological and archaeological case studies, ranging across the world and through time, from precolonial highland New Guinea to the Neolithic of the Near East, and from the Central Andes of Peru to the Pueblo societies of the American South-West. Similar patterns of social interaction and settlement organisation have repeatedly arisen in such societies, irrespective of environment and economy. There is material evidence of achievement-based societies in the form of buildings dedicated to hold clan-based rituals, referred to as men’s houses, which have benches for sleeping or sitting, curated skulls, skeletal remains and sunken floors.

      Structures of this type appear to be a consistent marker: once you know what to look for, you can identify men’s houses in the archaeological records of the Near East, Egypt, the Americas and Africa and confidently infer that they too had been achievement-based societies. But the specific relationship between the men’s house and the source of achieved inequality was variable: in some cases (among the Ao Naga of Assam, for instance) the co-members of one’s house provided a ready means of support if you were an ambitious individual seeking to accumulate wealth and influence; in others (the Mountain Ok of New Guinea) simply being allowed into the men’s house constituted a source of prestige; elsewhere (the Siuai of the Solomon Islands) the existence of a house reflected the presence of a man who could afford to build it.
      Warfare and raiding between such societies were commonplace, the acquisition of enemies’ heads being a means to acquire more ‘life-force’. The Marind warriors of New Guinea, for instance, often returned from raids with their canoes brimful with the heads of their enemies. But there, as elsewhere in the world, such practices were banned by the colonial powers, so that groups were forced to adopt competitive feasting and exchange in their place – not nearly as satisfying.
      In Part Three, Flannery and Marcus show how some societies made inequality hereditary. But sustaining a newly established hereditary principle isn’t easy, and even in the relatively short time-frame of the anthropological record, one can see how societies such as the Kachin of Burma have cycled between achievement-based and heredity-based inequality. Flannery and Marcus suggest that such oscillations were common in the pre-industrial world – a warning to any archaeologist who assumes a single direction for social change. They give further guidance to archaeologists by suggesting that, while men’s houses are a sign that leadership was based on achievement, the construction of temples indicates a shift to hereditary leadership: members of a clan would use a men’s house to communicate with their spirits and gods, but a temple was where such beings were thought to reside, and there a chief had privileged access to their wishes for the mortal world.
      Flannery and Marcus draw on work done in Polynesia by Irving Goldman to describe three sources of chiefly power: mana, ‘an odourless, colourless, invisible, supernatural energy that pervades people and things’; tohunga, or expertise, as exhibited in diplomacy, ritual or craftsmanship; and toa, bravery and toughness, as demonstrated in warfare. These are common to many societies, if not universal, but vary in their relative importance and are especially potent when found in combination. That said, there is an astonishing diversity of human societies; Flannery and Marcus describe one with hereditary aristocrats but no chiefs, and show how prehistoric sites such as Caral in the Peruvian highlands (c.4500 years ago) fail to fit into established patterns, with seemingly contradictory lines of evidence about levels of inequality. Their accounts of the Kachin (Burma), Avatip (Papua New Guinea), Bemba (Zambia) and South Pacific (Western Samoa, Tonga) draw on and reinterpret classic studies, translating dense and somewhat arcane anthropological accounts into lively stories of social competition and change. For me, though, their great achievement is to use these to interpret archaeological remains, the better to understand social change in prehistoric communities, most notably in Mesopotamia, with its long stratified sequences covering thousands of years. They compare the spread of Halaf polychrome pottery to that of Tlingit and Haida crests (North America), Quimbaya goldwork (Colombia) and decorated vessels in Mexico, arguing that all of these were products of technical expertise that had become appropriate gifts for chiefly families; they also show how the sources of power in ancient Mesopotamia fall into the tripartite schema Goldman developed for Polynesia.

      The fourth part of Flannery and Marcus’s magnum opus concerns inequality in kingdoms and empires. It starts out like a DIY manual: ‘How to Create a Kingdom’. The answer is provided by way of four detailed case studies: the Hawaiians, the Zulu, the Hunza (in today’s Pakistan) and the Merina (Madagascar). The trick is not to grow your own ranked society but to take over your neighbours’, thereby creating a kingdom via forced unification. This was never easy: typically, it would take generations of competition between aggressive leaders before one of them succeeded in gaining overall control. But when this did happen it could be rapid: Shaka, the great Zulu war leader, took only 12 years – a period of time invisible to archaeologists – to go from being the illegitimate son of a minor chief to king of the Zulu. He was a brilliant military strategist and brutally defeated his enemies, turning thirty chiefly societies into the provinces of a single kingdom. (He was also a mummy’s boy: when his mother died in 1827 he ordered that for one year no crops should be grown and no cows milked, and that no married couples should have sex; he then executed seven thousand of his subjects who didn’t appear to be grieving sufficiently.)

      University of Chicago Press – Shakespeare and the Law

      Flannery and Marcus go on to explore the formation of three kingdoms in the New World: the Zapotec State in Oaxaca, the Moche State in Peru and the Calakmul Kingdom in the Mayan lowlands. They find that these too came about through the forced unification of rival societies. With barely a pause, they sweep back to the Old World for a study of kingdom formation in Ancient Egypt, where the archaeological evidence is again interpreted with frequent references to elsewhere: there are comparisons between Egypt’s pyramids and those of the Moche in Peru, between its kings and Hawaiian chiefs, and between its high priests and those of the Zapotec state. Ancient Egypt, whose pharaohs claimed divine status, had one of the highest levels of inequality among the first generation kingdoms.
      In their penultimate chapter, Flannery and Marcus explore the formation of second, third, fourth and fifth generation kingdoms, and then empires, formed when one kingdom took control of others. Here the story goes back two thousand years to Teotihuacan, one of Mexico’s earliest and largest cities, and leads to the Aztecs, who survived until the Spanish arrived in 1519, by way of a succession of kingdoms in the Peruvian Andes, from the Wari to the Inca, another victim of the conquistadors. Three themes are prominent in these final cases: first, how each generation of kingdoms or empires learned from its predecessors; second, how the subjugation of one kingdom by another to create an empire resulted in yet another source of inequality; and third, how the ancient hunter-gatherer ethic of generosity still had a role to play in social evolution, used as a last resort by some kings and emperors to get what they wanted.

      Rather than seeking human universals or the ‘laws’ of social change, as the New Archaeologists once did, Flannery and Marcus are repeatedly ‘reminded’ of one society by another, or ‘struck by’ similarities, having ‘suspicions’ and ‘impressions’ of what might have happened in the past. In their final chapter they come clean and explain how their study demonstrates that there are five or six ways of organising a people which work so well that strikingly similar societies have repeatedly arisen in different parts of the world at different times in human history. This is a big book in every sense: six hundred pages of unrelenting description and interpretation of archaeological data and anthropological observations; big ideas about the process of social change and human nature; near-global coverage from ice age hunter-gatherers to the formation of empires in the 19th century. To have put some order into all this data, and to have drawn out the cross-cultural patterns and recurrent long-term processes, is a deeply impressive achievement.

  17. par4

    Anti-colonialism as a plank of a colonial country founded on genocide, slavery and theft on a continental scale is ludicrous.

  18. carolinian

    The then seemingly entrenched liberal attitudes of the fifties and sixties were held by a generation–the generation of my parents–who still remembered the Great Depression. It took the near collapse of capitalism to create Social Security and other reforms.

    Which is to say only events can create change, not “ideas” or intellectuals or charismatic leadership. Leadership only matters when the public is prepared to follow.

    So I think many of us read blogs such as yours to take the temperature of events. When this house of cards called the American economy finally collapses then the left has a chance to come back.

    In the meantime the best use of progressive energies is to preserve the freedom of action we will need when events finally make change possible. Which is to say the mechanisms of state power must be resisted, an area where we can find common cause with many conservatives.

    Therefore all power to Snowden and Greenwald, boo hiss to those Obama partisans at DailyKos. The fact that so many in the left thought Obama would be their savior says it all about progressives and lame.

    1. Moneta

      I agree.

      I would add that the left is currently pushing for policies that require unsustainable amounts of energy and resources.

      Only when the system has gone through an energetic reset will the left be able to accomplish anything.

    2. Moneta

      Take the example of a 65-year old retiree with a 2500 square foot house, 2 cars, a boat or other toy, plus a cottage with a remaining mortgage of 100K-200K and an underfunded DB plan that generates 80K per year.

      Off kilter and too many of those left.

      1. nonclassical

        ..or take the 65 year old, still working, house paid for (knowing full well when bush-cheney allowed credit-card lobbyists to re-write bankruptcy law, 2004, millions of americans would go bankrupt) that everything must be paid for…
        who is now forced to listen to nonsense from neocons whose following of false
        leaders hasn’t changed, even given their total failures-economic destruction…

        1. Moneta

          I understand. The thing is that our current pension system is propping up the top 10-20% that is like my 65-year old retiree example.

          The system will not get better until those situations are gone… but as these “entitlements” get cut, everyone will suffer.

          Just like WW1, WW2, there will be a sacrificed generation whether we like it or not.

          One can bet bitter or one can adapt psychologically.

          1. nonclassical

            “one” cannot “adapt” to what is in the offing-“contracted workers” who will not even be listed as “employees”-therefore will not generate any sort of “concern” as “employees”…whether in healthcare, retirement, or education…

            survival of the…????

            ..you avoided congruency of bushcheney credit card lobbyist economic creativity-writing new bankruptcy last-therefore knowing full well what they had perpetrated-what was coming (down upon those who didn’t know)…more neocon chicanery…clever, internet disinformation device:

            Eight Traits of the Disinformationalist’

            “Avoidance. They never actually discuss issues head-on or provide constructive input, generally avoiding citation of references or credentials. Rather, they merely imply this, that, and the other. Virtually everything about their presentation implies their authority and expert knowledge in the matter without any further justification for credibility.
            Selectivity. They tend to pick and choose opponents carefully, either applying the hit-and-run approach against mere commentators supportive of opponents, or focusing heavier attacks on key opponents who are known to directly address issues. Should a commentator become argumentative with any success, the focus will shift to include the commentator as well.
            Coincidental. They tend to surface suddenly and somewhat coincidentally with a new controversial topic with no clear prior record of participation in general discussions in the particular public arena involved. They likewise tend to vanish once the topic is no longer of general concern. They were likely directed or elected to be there for a reason, and vanish with the reason.
            Teamwork. They tend to operate in self-congratulatory and complementary packs or teams. Of course, this can happen naturally in any public forum, but there will likely be an ongoing pattern of frequent exchanges of this sort where professionals are involved. Sometimes one of the players will infiltrate the opponent camp to become a source for straw man or other tactics designed to dilute opponent presentation strength.”


    3. Kurt Sperry

      I largely concur with this assessment and applaud its plain spoken clarity. We can easily be caught up in games involving ostentatious displays of erudition and in so doing get led into innumerable albeit sometimes fascinating and alluring deer paths in the woods when we should perhaps be trail building even though doing so involves compromise and consensus on an inevitably imperfect route.

      To further belabor the crude forest metaphor theme (I live at the margin of a still vast and resilient temperate rain forest so it tends to color my thinking), I visualize American society as a forest that is riding out a long-term drought It is still too green and verdant to break out into an all consuming wildfire but the conditions are trending towards that point. We can throw sparks into the underbrush (as the natives here did to create more productive conditions for their survival) hoping to initiate that momentous change and then watch them smolder and die out and–not unreasonably–easily conclude that throwing sparks is a futile endeavor, never realizing that when the moment is right a spark will catch hold, ignite and spread. And as long as the forest remains wet of course it is futile, but the forest is drying and getting more stressed and the tinder is accumulating at the bases of the ancient sickening giants.

      When the time is ripe however–and there’s little or nothing we can do to hasten or change this point, just as there is little we can do to bring rain or relief from rain on our localities–doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result will, Einstein be damned, actually bring a different result.

      Keep throwing sparks into the woods. You may one day be surprised, if also perhaps at times appalled, at what results.

      1. Lambert Strether

        To add to your metaphor, there’s been a good deal of snuffing out of small fires at the margin. As we know from forest management techniques, that means the fire, when it does come, is much bigger.

  19. Bob

    Progressives who really want to lead are labeled as mentally ill freaks and are carted off to the woods never to be heard of again. The last real progressive in power was JFK. He was carted off in a body bag. Instead of blaming progressives for who they are, maybe you should concentrate on just how easy it is for money to influence corporatist, fascist, and conservative government. Maybe you should be pointing the finger at the oligarchs.

    1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      This is sad to say, yet it shows the “powder-keg” atmospherics, when push come close to shove: the poor people’s march to Washington planned for summer 1968 by MLK Jr, with “camping” in DC, had the potential to bring lots of broken bones and bloodshed; and it’s the witnessed fundamental injustice and violent repression that can get the petits-bourgeois MOBILIZED …

  20. Bob

    Progressives who really want to lead are labeled as mentally ill freaks and are carted off to the woods never to be heard of again. The last real progressive in power was JFK. He was carted off in a body bag. Instead of blaming progressives for who they are, maybe you should concentrate on just how easy it is for money to influence corporatist, fascist, and conservative government. Maybe you should be pointing the finger at the oligarchs.

    1. diptherio

      Yeah, but aside from pointing fingers, what else? Everybody points fingers…

      Naming and identifying perpetrators of the oligarchy is important, but it’s far from being enough.

  21. Tyler

    I’ve thought about running for office, but I haven’t made the leap because Jim Moran is my congressman and he will hold that seat for as long as he wants, which may be another twenty years.

    1. Alexa

      Thanks Tyler for the “Real News” Chris Hedges video.

      And thanks (to whomever) for the baby leopard, “last two” dog, and rabbit pics–adorable all!

  22. TomDor

    It is not the wickedness of predatory wealth, but the weakness of progressive economics which keeps special privilege in the saddle in the United States.
    ANON 1920’s

    “We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace
    –business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

    They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
    Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.”

    Election eve speech at Madison Square Garden (October 31, 1936)
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt

  23. PBlacque

    Yves and Kline … great analysis … have 2 questions for Yves:

    1) You wrote… “Second is that the Democrats discredited interventionist economic policies by failing to demand that taxes be increased when the US was running large fiscal deficits in the later 1960s when unemployment was already low” … [emphasis mine] … please explain how you think increasing taxes would have helped the cause… in context of already large fiscal deficits.

    2) You wrote … “the only thing that might rouse downtrodden formerly-middle-class-in-denial Americans from their stupor is in fact the sort of charismatic leader” … I think that is exactly true and explains why Obama had rock-star status during his first campaign … but given his abysmal performance since … I wonder how many people still believe that.

    Finally … while we all wonder what will cause more outrage and activism/resistance/leadership/action plans on by the Left or Center Right… I tend to think it all boils down to economics (a la Marxian) and nothing will happen until we are all truly downtrodden… I mean worse than during the great depression … until then the appeal of the carrot appears to be too enticing individually…

    1. nonclassical

      …or until we can tell ourselves, each other, TRUTH…which our “leaders” demonstrably resist…whistleblowers, anyone??

      ..historically relevant as Upton Sinclair, are Manning, Snowden….of course there is a group of politically powerful on both sides of aisle who wish to silence free
      speech and control (or kill) media who tells truth…

      Egypt, reporters, anyone?? Robert Fisk-“The Great War For Civilization” is an historical parallel:


  24. diptherio

    I have to wonder what exactly is meant by “bare-knuckles political strife”. Push-polling, rumor-mongering, use of 501c-4 orgs to fund political campaigns? While I want to see more militancy from the left, I wouldn’t ever support the use of those types of “dirty tricks” to obtain our goals. I don’t think that unjust means can ever lead to just ends.

    What we don’t have in this country is any kind of democratic sense. In politics, both sides seem totally sure that their policies are the “right” ones and that the other sides are “wrong.” Politics then becomes the skill of imposing your side’s correct policies by whatever means necessary and/or expedient. But once we buy into this perspective we have admitted that democratic, rule-based government is impossible (or at least undesirable). Neither side will admit that the other may have some valid points. Neither side wants to listen to the other side, since we’re all so damned sure that we’re totally right and their totally wrong.

    What we really need to do, I think, is work on building bridges and forming alliances wherever we can. Banking reform is a major bridge-issue that folks on the left and right support (even if their leaders don’t).

    And a note on non-violence. I would argue that we remember and respect Ghandi and King and other non-violent leaders not, essentially, because of their non-violent ideology but rather because they were successful. If the non-violent strategy had failed to work we wouldn’t have nearly the respect for those leaders that we have now. It is not the strategy of non-violence that is, in and of itself, commendable. It is commendable because it has proven effective in many situations. That does not, however, imply that non-violence is the end-all and be-all of social action, or that those who choose to fight back with violence of one kind or another are somehow less noble than those who don’t.

    I visited Nepal a number of times during their revolution. My analysis of the situation is that neither the armed Maoist revolutionaries, nor the mainstream, non-violent political activists could have accomplished the overthrow of the monarchy on their own. It was, finally, a combination of military stalemate with the Maoists and massive non-violent protests in the capital that led to the Gyanendra’s abdication.

    1. Timothy Y. Fong

      I’d be curious to hear more about the Nepali revolution, and the subsequent government.

      1. diptherio

        Well, for ten years the Monarchy was fighting armed guerrillas all over the country. The rebels couldn’t take Kathmandu or otherwise strike a decisive blow against the military, and the government couldn’t evict the Maoist rebels from the rural areas.

        The Maoists originally were a splinter group from the social-democratic Jaana Morcha (People’s Front). The Maoist camp came to the conclusion that waiting for slow reforms to eventually take power away from the monarch and empower the poor/low-caste was not an ethical course of action. “How long must the people suffer under injustice, brother,” as a friend said to me once, “How long should we wait for justice?”

        The Maoists decided not to wait and took up arms and, rather quickly, control of the countryside. But the conflict quickly settled into a decade-long stalemate. During the whole period of the revolution there were mostly-peaceful protests in KTM and across the country. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the King unilaterally disbanded the parliament, cut off all communications to outside of the country (no phone or email), and declared martial law in the capital. Protests were officially banned, but that just drew even more people out. With tens of thousands at the palace gates and the Maoist rebels enjoying widespread support, the King finally gave up and fled.

        In 2009, there was a constituent assembly election (the first free elections in the country’s history) which the Maoists, much to everyone’s surprise (even the Maoists), ended up dominating. 40% of the CA seats went to the Maoists but it wasn’t enough to form a governing coalition. The traditional parties (Nepali Congress and Commun. Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist) put everything they had into obstructing the Maoists and keeping them from putting forth a constitution. The Maoist military leader, Prachanda, who was elected to the CA, didn’t help matters any when he tried to declare himself PM.

        It’s been intercine political in-fighting ever since. Still no constituion and no real government. The governmental bureaucracy has it’s own inertia, so there are still some social services. The school I helped build, for instance, is still getting partial funding from the Nepali Dept. of Education.

        But mostly it’s chaos, so far as the politics goes. I fear that India will eventually just annex the whole country with the excuse that they obviously can’t lead themselves. But this is a country that had a supreme ‘god-monarch’ until four years ago, is rife with corruption from the previous regime, and has massive poverty…given enough time, I hope, they’ll figure something out…

        1. Nathanael

          “The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the King unilaterally disbanded the parliament, cut off all communications to outside of the country (no phone or email), and declared martial law in the capital. Protests were officially banned, but that just drew even more people out.”

          So, really, it’s overreach by the elite which causes revolution. That was always my theory.

    2. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      Something like this? 300 native New Yorkers assemble non-violently, unarmed, before that marvelous totem in the Big Apple at the House of Morgan and yell: “shame on you %^t*!#! miserable bankers!” [repeatedly]

      1. diptherio

        Same here, but I also bristle at the label “pacifist.” I’m no pacifist, dagnabit, I refused to be pacified!

        Non-violence is a tactical decision and an obvious one for us, here in the US. Armed resistance has occasionally proven successful, but generally that is in places where a local population is trying to drive out a foreign power (often the US) and where the majority of the population is on the side of the armed resisters. Neither of those circumstances hold in our case.

        1. Nathanael

          I’d say that armed rebellion only works when a supermajority of the local population supports the rebels. Not a mere majority, but a really large majority. I’m not sure 60% is enough. 75% definitely is.

          Of course, that level of support for armed rebellion only happens when the existing rulers have been really spectacularly evil and incompetent for long periods while peaceful opposition is ignored and/or suppressed violently.

    3. Brooklin Bridge

      Splitting hairs perhaps (I agree with your main points entirely), but I think non violence and the effectiveness of such a strategy are both important and attractive core elements of Gandhi’s and others battles. I for one, would still be very attracted to a non violent campaign even it ultimately failed for numerous reasons. Moreover, there is nothing really non violent about such approaches. It might be better to say, “non aggressive”. Gandhi always warned his followers that they must be ready to suffer incredible violence including death before they could call themselves pacifists.

      1. Brooklin Bridge

        Moreover, Gandhi’s mission, by his own narrow definition, was largely a failure. He wanted to replace the Indian Cast system with the vastly more egalitarian system underlying British Law (which Gandhi adored), and the Indian economic system of exploitation by the 1% with cottage industry. Separation from British rule was to Gandhi simply a prerequisite for a nation to achieve either of those two goals since having a foreign nation dictate such goals obviated the whole notion of choice and thus to Gandhi any lasting benefit.

        But Gandhi suffered from being too great a leader; a hero. When he was killed, a large part of his unaccomplished goals died with him, just more slowly. In India today, it would be hard to argue that the cast system has been replaced by any sort of egalitarian rule of law or that the little guy in India is getting a fair break economically against the 1%.

        Does this obviate the attractiveness and usefulness of his approach? I don’t think so. Look at the impact it has had on the world and that -no matter how much it morphs- is anything but dead. But it is worth noting that Americans understand pacifism in different ways than Indians do. The latter see it as a spiritual truth as well as an effective strategy. From this point of view, you don’t ever loose; you simply keep on dying and suffering until you win.

        1. Nathanael

          Contrast India with Pakistan. Nehru and his successors actually made a *lot* of reforms to the caste system and the legal system, including some degree of land reform.

          None of these reforms were made in Pakistan.

  25. Braden

    Just a quick historical addition to this discussion. Progressive used to stand for a labor/farm coalition that opposed railroad interests and banks that had dominated American politics at the turn of the 20th century. They pushed labor standards, nationalizing railroads, and regulating banks. Contrary to the post’s rather bizarre assertion that Progressives don’t like governing, the 1910s Progressives actually had two third-party politicians in national office, including Bob La Follette and Burton Wheeler. In 1914, Hiram Johnson became governor of California on the Progressive ticket. Wisconsin also had a brief period where Progressives dominated state government.

    By pulling out names like Upton Sinclair as a Progressive, you’re actually committing a bit of historical malpractice. Sinclair was a socialist, not a Progressive. The socialists often aligned themselves with Progressive politicians, but the more radical socialists were skeptical that the Progressives could really achieve any lasting change. Progressive stood for non-revolutionary political change, which made it palatable to many Americans uninterested in radicalism. That’s why Progressive can still be used (or misused) today by politicians like Obama. It never became associated with communism and militant organized labor.

    I would agree with one thing. The success of the Progressives depended on the fear among elites of the radicals like Gompers. Liberals are too ensconced in their ivory towers to contemplate direct action against corporations that control American politics. They’ve literally all been granted tenure so they can be thoughtful, but impotent. If liberal groups want to see real change, we should all be supporting efforts to unionize service employees. We should start unionizing traditionally white collar jobs like computer programmers and engineers. Unions work. I’ve got some really generous health insurance that proves my point. Unions are the natural and necessary counterweight to corporate domination in a capitalist democracy. If your boss has several more zeros on his paycheck each month than you do, you should be in a union.

      1. Montanamaven

        Gompers was the opposite of a radical. The radicals were the Wobblies. Gompers was the first big union “boss” who referred to cigar makers as “tenement trash”.

    1. Nathanael

      “Progressive used to stand for a labor/farm coalition that opposed railroad interests and banks that had dominated American politics at the turn of the 20th century. They pushed labor standards, nationalizing railroads, and regulating banks.”

      Somehow we did not get the nationalized railroads (and yes, we need them). The labor standards have been rolled back (not all of them, but many of them). And the bank regulation seems to have been removed entirely.

      I think a lot of will was sapped from the Progressives by (a) Teddy Roosevelt’s reforms — Pure Food and Drug Act, trust-busting, etc;
      (b) Woodrow Wilson’s progressive income tax and votes for women *combined with* Wilson’s totalitarian police state tactics against anyone more liberal than him. The carrot made it hard for progressives to continue to oppose Wilson, but anyone who supported Wilson got tarred with the police state polices, leading to massive numbers of votes for Harding. (Sound familiar? This is how Obama just destroyed the Democratic Party nationally. Hopefully it won’t be for 12 years like it was that time.)

      I’d say given the issues involved, it’s a good time to restore a Progressive movement.

  26. don

    Willingness to engage in the political trenches and work to gain power is code for obtaining state power. Focus on economics is code for class struggle (warfare?).

    Lets not mince words.

    Do we (the left – of any stripe) have any potential for obtaining state power and engaging in class struggle?

    I think not.

    The more interesting question is why this potential is not present. Exploring this lack of potency and potential is whats ultimately missing here.

  27. denim

    Lame progressives?
    Well we watched as the wicked were snared in the work of their own hands. (You do remember GWB’s crash and burn economy, no?) My meager 401k was 100% in the highest grade bond fund available. Dumb luck? Certainly not investment accumin…I rate below novice.

  28. Eureka Springs

    Progressives are lame for more reasons than a hundred fine-toothed threads could possibly mention.

    Throughout the post and comments the main current event I kept thinking of in the US is the heath not care issue in recent years.

    Progressives abrogated each and every historical through rhetorical high point they have ever had all along the way. Making health care a human right by expanding an already enormously popular program into Medicare for all which would have dramatically improved an overwhelming majority of individuals financial well being as well as governments and most business.

    All evidence, all popularity, was/is on the side of single payer for all. If you can’t or won’t stand up unapologetically against your so-called allies (centrists) at times like that then you aren’t worth your eventual weight in compost.

    A group of progressives, ill defined as they are, who still has the largest caucus in the US House cannot possibly fail so consistently, so miserably unless they want to.

    Stand for nothing, fall for everything!

    1. Nathanael

      Progressives did stand up against the centrists, in favor of single-payer and against Romneycare.

      The interesting question is how progressives were so comprehensively suppressed.

  29. Cassiodorus

    The problem with progressives in this era is that this is an era of declining capitalism, an era in which the global growth rate is slowing to zero, torturously and over long decades, but nonetheless to zero.

    There is also the little problem of nature — the capitalist world-system must exist in a natural substrate, though it dismantles said substrate when profits can be gotten in no other way. That’s what’s happening now — the capitalist system is going to leave behind a planet Earth that will be one great waste dump.

    Amidst all this, progressives pretend that “incremental” reform will solve everyone’s problems, and thus are easy game for the public-relations schemes of Barack Obama.

    Radicalism would be nice, except that individual radicals are easily isolated and destroyed in our current system of total information awareness. This is why decentralized leadership is necessary. Occupy wasn’t vulnerable to state suppression because of its decentralized leadership model — Occupy was vulnerable because its participants weren’t radical enough. When the cops moved in, the progressives in the movement reoccupied their wishy-washy, vote-for-Obama identities while Obama’s FBI co-ordinated the suppression of whomever was left.

  30. Richard Lyon

    This is a really excellent post and gets at the fundamental contradictions involved. I agree with a comment above that there has developed an inherent conflict between the issues of cultural equality, race, gender and sexual orientation, and economic equality. People can focus on one or the other but not both at the same time. I am strongly concerned with the culture issues, but it does seem to me that they in practice create a diversion from the economic issues. I think one reason for this is that the leadership of these movements has mostly come from the middle class where people have swallowed the belief that they don’t have to worry about economic issues.

    1. WJ

      I think your last sentence is a fine analysis of the mainstream Left in the U.S. Cultural politics is champagne socialism without any class, pun intended.

    2. anon y'mouse

      they are beneficiaries of privilege, who bought into the “my skills at coding->creative class identity->is changing the world for the better” and believe that poor people are simply victims of society, who with enough of the correct kind of schooling and more egalitarian opportunities, can make something of themselves as well.

      in other words, they believe in the meritocracy, while admitting that the lower orders have been marginalized by the system and are products of their environment. if the rest of the world was as anti-racist and privileged as them, they would be on the meritocratic ladder with everyone else.

      I don’t necessarily even disagree–lack of education and opportunity, plus a lot of bad choices due to a stance that forces you into constant reactive mode to ensure survival does not allow for strategic planning, and most certainly DOES allow for losing hope and a turn towards self destructive behaviors. it just seems to me that so many were trying to be the comfy bourgeoisie as noted above, and will perhaps never have common identity with us proles down here. they want us to be like them, not the reverse.

    3. Nathanael

      “I am strongly concerned with the culture issues, but it does seem to me that they in practice create a diversion from the economic issues. ”

      Not if you’re female they don’t. Best way to ruin the economic situation of a woman? Force her to bear a baby she doesn’t want.

      1. WJ

        I highly doubt this is true for Chelsea Clinton, or for my lawyer-friends’ daughters, or for most women living in Edina, Mn, for that matter.

        You’re universalizing an issue relative to class as though it held true of women, simpliciter. This is just bourgeois ideology. For there are no women, simpliciter, just as there are no men. There are Mexican Catholic maids, college trixies who drive Cabriolets, middle school teachers, corporate lawyers in Manhattan, and convenience store clerks in West Virginia.

        You are of course right that it is probably true that the economic prospects of a convenience store clerk in West Virginia would be devastated by an unexpected baby. For this woman, abortion really is a pressing economic issue. But that’s only because she’s already been f*cked by the system, and her legal access to abortion won’t fix this.

        Hence it is that, to the extent that abortion really *is* an economic issue, it is so only on account of preexisting inequalities–of income, education, and health care–that a Left politics can and needs to address before bothering about the issue of abortion.

        Besides, poor women disagree with each other about abortion, but they don’t disagree that being poor sucks.

        1. Nathanael

          “I highly doubt this is true for Chelsea Clinton, or for my lawyer-friends’ daughters, or for most women living in Edina, Mn, for that matter.”

          It is true. Plain fact.

          You don’t see these women having babies they don’t want, do you? There’s a reason for that.

          1. Nathanael

            And if you want the gory, horrible details, start looking through the history of the 19th century.

            1. WJ

              I am sorry, but your response is a non sequitur to both your original point and to my response to that point. Your claim was that (1) the birth of an unplanned baby is the best way to ruin a woman’s economic future. I responded by saying that this claim remains blind to class differences between women; I then listed examples of women whose economic prospects would likely not be affected at all by such a birth. You then responded that (3) none of these types of women have babies they don’t want.

              But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether it is the case that, *were* these women to bear an unwanted child, their economic prospects would be ruined. I don’t deny that here, as everywhere else in life, the upper classes enjoy more opportunities and options than do the poor. I agree with your implicit point that these kinds of women have ready access to abortion, but that point is not pertinent to your first claim, which universalized the unwanted birth of child as the best way to ruin a woman’s economic prospects.

              I am arguing both that this claim is false and that, for the many women for whom abortion *is* necessitated by economic hardship, it is so chiefly because of the prior economic injustice they’ve been subject to in life, and that *these* injustices should take priority over a “right to choose” that doesn’t really constitute a free choice at all on account of the economic coercion that motivates it.

              Frankly, the only women who are really free to choose an abortion are the ones for whom economic survival is not a pressing issue. To say a working class woman is “free to choose” an abortion is rather like saying that sweat shop workers are “free” to leave their jobs.

            2. WJ

              I am sorry, but your response is a non sequitur to both your original point and to my response to that point. Your claim was that (1) the birth of an unplanned baby is the best way to ruin a woman’s economic future. I responded by saying that this claim remains blind to class differences between women; I then listed examples of women whose economic prospects would likely not be affected at all by such a birth. You then responded that (3) none of these types of women have babies they don’t want.

              But that’s not the issue. The issue is whether it is the case that, *were* these women to bear an unwanted child, their economic prospects would be ruined. I don’t deny that here, as everywhere else in life, the upper classes enjoy more opportunities and options than do the poor. I agree with your implicit point that these kinds of women have ready access to abortion, but that point is not pertinent to your first claim, which universalized the unwanted birth of child as the best way to ruin a woman’s economic prospects.

              I am arguing both that this claim is false and that, for the many women for whom abortion *is* necessitated by economic hardship, it is so chiefly because of the prior economic injustice they’ve been subject to in life, and that *these* injustices should take priority over a “right to choose” that doesn’t really constitute a free choice at all on account of the economic coercion that motivates it.

              Frankly, the only women who are really free to choose an abortion are the ones for whom economic survival is not a pressing issue. To say a working class woman is “free to choose” an abortion is rather like saying that sweat shop workers are “free” to leave their jobs.

  31. peace

    Re: Growth in property as measured by GDP is one form of growth. This is the most legitmated measure of growth but not the only measure.

    Future growth may be measrured in terms related to self-improvement, social cooperation and understanding, etc. Is this idealistic utilitarianism faulty or a useful motivator? Motivation to change seems to require a perception of “growth” and similar efforts to redefine GDP as GPI etc. are related to this.

  32. ex-PFC Chuck

    Here in Minnesota we have an instance of progressive wimpishness playing out as we speak. Over the last decade or so I have become pretty well acquainted with one of our DFL state legislators who does not represent my district. He is the cousin of one of my very closest, longtime friends whom I first met over a century ago in college, and I see him quite frequently on social occasions. A couple of weeks ago I had a one-on-one discussion with him during which I suggested that the 2014 elections will be a repeat of the unprecedentedly low turnout-fiasco for the Democrats that happened in 2010, which put both houses of the legislature under the control of wing-nut Republicans. Fortunately the GOP’s candidate for governor was so far around the bend that the uncharasmatic former Senator Mark Dayton squeaked by him by about 10K votes. This happened, and will likely happen again, because what had once been a Democratic-leaning center of the electorate no longer has any reason to get up and vote for candidates of that party because it no longer represents their economic interests. My legislator friend grudgingly agreed that that was a likely scenario. I further suggested that perhaps the only way the Democrats could likely help themselves would be to push through state-wide Ranked-Choice Voting with Instant Run-off for all elections. This concept probably has more traction here in Minnesota than anywhere else in the country. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as a number of other municipalities, have implemented it for local elections, and there is an active organization,FairVote Minnesota, pushing it(fairvotemn.org). Minnesota has a long tradition of third and fourth parties, including the Farmer-Labor Party that was formed during the depression and merged with the Democrats to become the DFL, and the Independence Party that was formed in the early 1990s, elected Jesse Ventura as governor in 1998, and remains active today.

    I asked him why RCV/IR didn’t get anywhere in the recently-ended session, and he said that Gov. Mark Dayton had made it known that he would not consider any election legislation that did not have bipartisan support. This is crazy! In the 2012 elections the DFL one control of both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office for the first time in about a quarter of a century. In that same election voters turned down two constitutional amendments proposed by the GOP-controlled legislature, based on bills for laws they had passed that were vetoed by the governor. One of those amendments would have imposed stringent voter ID requirements on Minnesota voters. So now when the DFL party has the opportunity to make it much more difficult for the wingnut faction to advance the causes of their paymasters, and to do so in a way that will go some distance toward restoring government of and by and for the people, the party doesn’t have the gonads to do it. So, Minnesota will likely again become vulnerable to the tender mercies of the radical right come 2015.

    1. anon y'mouse

      only tangential to your post-voting helps solve nothing, that is why most of us stay home.

      what would happen if those of us who know this turned out in protest OF and ON the day of elections? can it be, even semi-safely, done?

    2. Nathanael

      “further suggested that perhaps the only way the Democrats could likely help themselves would be to push through state-wide Ranked-Choice Voting with Instant Run-off for all elections.”

      I’d like to give you some advice. Forget “instant run-off”. They have it in Australia and it doesn’t help at all.

      You want one of the following:
      – approval voting (by far the simplest system which works)
      – “single transferrable vote” (differs from “instant run-off” in that there are multiple winners per district — which means you can get rid of gerrymandering — bonus!)
      – party list (also lets you get rid of gerrymandering but probably too out-there for Americans)

      I think an approval voting campaign would have massive positive benefits. It is remarkably easy to count and basically makes spoiled ballots impossible (unless they just have ink dumped on them or say “lizard people” or something). And it means that who-ever is elected was actually the most popular, which is not true of the current systems.

      STV is good particularly for getting rid of gerrymandering. They use it in Scotland.

  33. Brooklin Bridge

    The contemporary left believes that achieving power would taint their moral purity.

    That’s complete BS and it bothers me every time I see it. Moral Purity seems to depend entirely on who is doing the purity. If it’s the extreme right not voting for anyone who doesn’t stand up in front of the public and argue that the earth is flat and our text books should reflect that fact with a straight face, then it’s “getting things done”, holding your politicians feet to the fire, etc., and so on. That’s not Moral Purity, it’s The efficiency of the Right… If, on the other hand, it’s someone saying they won’t vote for those scoundrels anymore, period, because there isn’t a single politician left right or center who actually stood up for the “public option” or any other measure, or bill or amendment, other than empty speeches to even more empty chambers, which was already a compromise on a compromise, then it’s moral purity.

    So those moral purists, but not the ones on the right who won’t compromise, have to get down off their high horses and do what ever the next guy with a cause tells them to do, or go find a cause and work for it, or go and “get” power because that seems to be a good idea to someone, and if they don’t then they have to wear the label of folks who won’t get their hands dirty. FTS.

    Many on the left who are saying, “enough”, have gotten their damn hands dirty for longer than these people with a cause have been alive and all it’s getting them now is locked up and branded by an extreamly sophisticated and powerful machine through which no true reformers pass. One more guy coming along and telling them that if they don’t all rally round this or that idea then they are Moral Purists isn’t doing it for me any longer. Not that I’m not willing to fight, though I’ll pick my own for the time being, but certainly not just to avoid that phrase. These people should learn about horses and limits because it will save them a lot of energy in trying to beat the damn thing to death to be able to tell when they’ve succeeded and the poor thing has collapsed and been dead for some time.

  34. Ted Baumann

    I think the american “Progressive Left” sucks because it is an inherent part of the power structure it claims to be opposing. The only potentially threatening resistance comes from radicals. But it is true that radicals have a problem – the same contradiction every radical movement has had since the dawn of human history. Adopting the hierarchical methods of the oppressor to challenge him more or less guarantees another round of oppression. “Emmanuel Goldstein” said it best.

  35. peace

    Re: Growth. Growth in property as measured by GDP is the most legitimated measure of growth but not the only measure (e.g., GPI) nor the only domain of potential growth.

    Future growth measures may include “illegitimate,” essoteric domains involving self-improvement (spiritual, or self-esteem, or productivity eliciting self-improvement such as training), social cooperation (not just social networking) and social understanding (enlightenment, yes, but also tolerance, etc.) Is this a faulty idealistic utilitarianism or a useful method of motivating and improving society, civilization and hopefully human impact on the biosphere? Motivation to change seems to require a perception of “growth” (we’re getting somewhere) and I intend this post as means to motivate. The validity and long-term benefits (end-means analysis?) of this require more thought.

  36. F. Beard

    Occam’s Razor, some of the most famous men in history, the world’s major religions, economic history, philosophical consistency, and mathematics itself says the problem is BANKING! But Progressives?

    One could say unflatteringly that the goal of ‘progressives’ in activism is to raise their personal karma Richard Kline

    Yes, well there’s a problem. The US isn’t a Hindu nation, is it? And if it were we would blame the victims even more than we do and do even less for them. Instead, Progressives should study the Old Testament and learn it has a lot to say about social justice issues such as debt relief, land reform, a safety net, etc. As for homosexuals, let them grin and bear it assuming they haven’t already joined the Republican Party, now that their own rights are secured.

    by standing up for what is right. “Sinners repent,” is the substance of their message, and their best dream would be to have those in the wrong do just that, to embrace progressive issues and implement them. Richard Kline

    Where does one start? Do most (many? more than a few?) Progressives even believe in God? What then is this “sin” business? And why should the strong share with the weak otherwise?

  37. joecostello

    This is good piece Susan.

    Its hard to take the Global Warming people seriously first and foremost because they can tell everyone the world is going to end in 20 years, yet they can’t tell people they need to change their lives, this is literally the last breath of bourgeois liberalism, we’ll see what replaces it. But a start would be to organize people not in trying to stop pipelines, but around using less oil and electricity in their daily lives, but organizing is a lost art in America, the good thing is it can always be reclaimed.

  38. Sam

    Compelling read. Not only for the class implications*.

    I’ve definitely reconsidered the leaderless “slow politics” model i’ve advocated for some time in lieu of a charismatic leader. Consider Huey Long’s efficacy in bringing about the policies (e.g., WPA, Social Security) and articulation of material rights (per the Second Bill of Rights) one normally associates with FDR**. Then, juxtapose with “leaderless” movements of late that are subject to Dembot Party veal pen capture (e.g., Wisconsin, North Carolina) and tribalism***/one-upmanship***/factional immobility stemming from process minutiae*** (instead of nitty gritty policy). If a charismatic leader is to be had, there are several criteria that would quell my suspicions of yet more empty-suit, bankster-coddling leaders:
    (1) No party, or at a minimum, a renunciation in the credibility of “both” parties specifically because of their symbiotic relationship with one another and parasitism on the governed through establishing rent streams to the rentier elite;
    (2) Specific economic policies (e.g., jobs guarantee) or policy frameworks (e.g., full employment);
    (3) Logical appeal instead of emotive appeals to “justice” or other values that often lack intersubjectivity; and
    (4) Policy cohesion, meaning that individual policies are unified by some larger objective (for instance, jobs guarantee, Medicare for All, expanded Social Security benefits, foreclosure moratorium, chartering public state banks and/or a USPS bank, etc. are unified by curtailing the stranglehold of finance on the real economy).****
    Most critically, i strongly advise against seeking such a charismatic leader from “either” party – any faction therein, or one that is nominally or symbolically independent (e.g., Bernie Sanders is nominally independent meant to keep strays in the Dembot veal pen, and Ron/Rand Paul are symbolic rogues meant to keep strays in the Rethug veal pen).
    * See 2012, “47%” debacle. The objective of Democrats in this instance was to call out classism. For Democrats, classism adds another dimension to their carte blanche tribalism/strategic hate management. They’re eager to bring up Romney’s (and others’ who’re commissioned to play the all-too-obvious bad cop in our electoral kayfabe) class insensitivity because it reinforces tribalism, and the opportunity costs associated with classism are the realization of class oppression by the rentier elite.
    ** See and .
    *** Hallmarks of bourgeois progressives.
    **** Lack of policy cohesion is a major stumbling block. Policy laundry lists lend themselves to factionalism.

  39. Sublimejah

    It is fun to read about yourself by the better folk. The characterization of the left and progressives gave me a good chuckle.

    There was this:”They want to make money off the state, and often ARE the state at its margins. The Centrist bourgeois have seldom been inclined to confront the wealthy, being far more disposed to hang at the heel of the wealthy and hope for a good job when noticed.”

    Oh and this was good too…

    “The contemporary left believes that achieving power would taint their moral purity. They would rather be powerless, ineffectual, and pure rather than achieve their goals. What they don’t understand is that every endeavor is tainted by human imperfection. This is one of the reasons why they’ve made so little difference over the last few decades.”

    And dividing us up between moral purists and earthy radicals, nice, very nice.

    On the behalf of progressives (yes I am one) and the Liberals, (always considered myself one) and the radicals (live like one) I wish you all would start doing something helpful. This endless analysis of why what we are doing doesn’t work is not helpful, just more of the same we hear from the right wing, only nicer and in more intellectual terms.

    We who suck up to the wealthy for jobs are always working on improving conditions for the poor and working people, even when you all call us ineffective and powerless. (That is adorable by the way). There are many different efforts from the local to the national going to to help the poor and disenfranchised constantly, continuously and consistently.

    If you aren’t informed on our many efforts its because you aren’t interested in what we do, you have your lives, your own focus. We keep working on the system that leaks another crisis just when we plug the last one. And our work will continue, believe me the job creators also create a lot of work for us, decades of it.

    What is missing in the discussion is identifying the catalyst for the revolutionary and social movement that may come. That is what is missing, to blame the progressives or disparage them at the least is not a solution. The leader is not the maker of a movement, the leadership comes when the crisis arrives and someone must take responsiblity for directing the priorities of the groups who may take power. In the immediate aftermath of an revolution things get messy, various interests vie for a place in the new regime, and those who have strong organizational and community ties are likely to be players. Think of Germany after the Berlin wall fell, East Germany and West Germany began the reunification. There were many East German political and social groups with leaders already in place, they took their opportunity to shape the new authority. They were ready to act, and did act. (Think of Egypt now).

    Economic problems of their era generally precede any grand social movement or political upheaval. So how have you all done to assist the masses lately, debated the merits of QE3? Or maybe you are not interested in real change, since I assume about the readership here, the way you do about me, that you are fairly comfortable middle class folk also. But you think your work is important enough to continue, that you are influencing possible positive change, that these discussions and your opinions matter? With respect for all the credentials and the importance of deep policy analysis presented by the many talented people here I want you to know we need and want to be in cooperation with you, not fighting another battle.

    Real change is already here, we have increased our prison population 125% in the past 25 years, 16 million children live in poverty, you can’t get a good job without sucking up to rich people, lol. What is missing is how will we move forward, assuming that the moribund state of our political and social culture will break at some point. Things haven’t always been this way, they will change, but are any of us ready? So if you want to speed change along start acting like it,get prepared, regardless of what you do change will happen.

    1. Malmo


      I don’t think most here are being critical towards those mostly anonymous progressives working in the trenches. They mostly go unnoticed, and surely deserve our priase and support. It’s the establishment/political ubiquitous left that is so grating. Especially those feckless leaders therein prattling on at MSNBC and other mainstream outlets. I in no way, however, seek to disparage the vast majority of sincere progressives, who labor daily (mostly behind the scenes) for justice for the downtrodden and less fortunate. OWS, and other heterodox movements like it, along with their adherents, have nothing on those committed progressives not aligned specifically with them when it comes to good works. There’s more than one way to skin a cat.

    2. Brooklin Bridge

      I think Sublimejah has a point. When Republican voters are totally obstinate and bull-headed about not voting for a candidate that won’t tow the line they are called, “effective.” When a liberal does the exact same thing, they are called, “moral purists.” Go figure.

  40. Beppo

    The us government has owned a very successful domestic repression apparatus since the end of WW1 and the palmer raids. This followed the prior private repression apparatus, pinkerton thugs beating up the families of workers and the like.

    The FBI might be a double joke when it comes to catching terrorists that aren’t fictional, but they’re fucking fantastic at cracking down on leftists and throwing them in jail. DHS fusion centers are taking up that heroic legacy as well.

    If you want to find American leftists who’d like power, look around you

  41. BITFU

    The Road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

    It’s everything you need to know about this thread–on so many different levels.

    It’s what Progressives dislike about themselves, as in: “We’re acting lame. We just don’t have that radical ‘mean streak’ to get the job done.”

    It’s what non-Progressives dislike as well, as in: “It’s a noble thought, but fraught with unintended consequences.”

    I did a BITFU search on Progressives and impotence (as opposed to lame) and I’ll share with you a couple of essays I found from this site called ordinary-gentleman.com (I am not associated with this site).

    The author is easier on Obama than you might like, but he does a good job at crystallizing the frustration over the Left’s challenges in “reasserting a moral vision”. He’s an excellent writer.

    I think many will enjoy their work and I hope it adds to this discussion; and I’ll be sure to inform them of your post as I think their readers will find it very interesting.

    1. http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2012/04/25/the-rise-of-the-wonky-left

    2. http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2012/07/23/better-progressive-rhetoric-obama-is-building-that

  42. bobh

    If you pull back and look down at our planet’s accelerating misery from outer space, it becomes clear that efforts to reverse this trend will gain little traction in those areas that continue to disproportionately enjoy the fruits of misery propagation. Still, it is a balm reading this blog, this post and these comments and being in the virtual company of so many who understand and object, however futilely, to what is happening.

    Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
    So why is there no healing for my people?
    -Jeremiah 8:22

  43. Dan Kervick

    Some things about one’s life don’t become apparent until one gets older. And so this comment is not meant to be accusing as much as self-accusing. I and many others in America have now lived through a long period in which growing access to higher education meant a growing cultural divide between the highly educated and the less educated. And the divide seemingly keeps getting larger. Initially, there wasn’t that much of a difference in income between less well-educated working people and others who worked for a living in jobs that required a higher education. But increasingly these cultural gaps correspond to significant income and economic opportunity gaps. And “higher education” has now stratified into a number of different levels of post-secondary education, each serving different classes and strata.

    These changes seem to have ruptured a lot of the tenuous solidarity that once existed between various components of the US middle class who had a somewhat equal appreciation for the ways in which hard-won progressive reforms and legislative achievements had built the prosperity that they enjoyed, especially for the children and grandchildren of recent immigrants. The more unequal American society becomes; the more anxious one’s class position becomes. The class gaps are now so large that most people live in terror of falling into the hell hole of people in the classes below. The super-wealthy fight to prevent the ordinary wealthy from taking their stuff; and the wealthy fight to prevent the middle class from taking their stuff; and the middle class fights to prevent the working poor from taking their stuff; and the working poor fight to prevent the unemployed and destitute from taking their stuff.

    It’s almost impossible to imagine that the Democratic Party is the same party that was once said to be run by organized labor. For the people who took it over – culturally aspirant, well-educated liberals – the laboring classes and organized labor were the plague. Even for college-educated people who worked for a living by working for other people who made the rules, the whole idea that one was a “laborer” was an assault on one’s dignity. Laborers were dumb, had bad haircuts, were full of prejudices, engaged in vulgar and idiotic cultural pursuits, had tough and lousy jobs, and wore ugly clothes. The whole point of going to college was to escape from all that. And then for succeeding generations, the whole point was to escape from the lesser bourgeoisie of the merely college educated into classes like the “urban haute bourgeoisie”.

    One thing that really changed my attitudes is my move from the academic world to the corporate world. I’m a middle manager, which is actually an interesting and very educational place to be because I work literally in the middle of the building and interact with almost everybody: the executive leadership, the white collar people in accounting and customer service, the laborers in the warehouse. I used to feel exiled. But now I feel like my new life has been an enlightening blessing and I have gotten to see how American capitalism works on the ground.

    I have also met highly competent and very hard working people who can’t get ahead because they hit the “paper ceiling”, and constantly have to surrender promotions and higher salary to less competent, lazier, but better educated people.

    I have seen an older woman working on her feet all day in a back brace, terrified about losing her position and being forced into retirement – because retirement in America means loneliness, humiliating dependency and gradual impoverishment.

    And I see two parties run by people who literally don’t give a sh** about either of them.

    I read a blogospheric and media punditry whose elite opinion mafia consists in white guys who all went to the same schools, who stick together like frat brothers, and who share the same elitist distaste for everybody else.

    I listen to outfits like NPR that present a rosy dream of comfortable bourgeois aspiration around the consumption of art exhibits in New York and Paris; music; literature and gourmet cookery, while they hire people like Adam Davidson and the other neoliberals to produce shows like Planet Money to justify inequality, while cultivating a cult of worship around the markets, finance and Fortune 500 CEOs.

    Also in my work I have seen what the competitive nature of American capitalism means in real life, as opposed to an economics book. A lot of my friends who are still in academia understand the economics of competition in an abstract sense, but they still seem shocked when they hear about the reality of competition in the corporate world. In my world, people say things like, “We’re going to hit him in the face with a frying pan”, “We’re going go right into their backyard and take that market share away from them,” “We are going to eat their lunch and drive them out of business.” Of course when you actually do take your competitors’ market share and drive them out of business, it disrupts and even destroys a lot of lives. I don’t want that to sound too moralistic about this. That’s just the ethos of competitive capitalism. It is impossible to function in that world without having something like that attitude.

    The thing is, there are a lot of people out there hard-bitten and hard-wired to take. They are fighting every hour to grab a larger share. As company men and woman, they fight to defeat the competitors on behalf of the company, and as individuals they fight to defeat their personal competitors within the companies. And in their politics they fight to keep everyone else’s hands off their loot. This has changed my attitude about political reality. Progressive change in the direction of a more equal society and a better life for tens or hundreds of millions of people isn’t going to happen because a few nice affluent liberals deign to give it to them. If the bottom half (or two-thirds, or three-quarters or whatever) wants to improve its economic position and acquire a bigger piece of the pie, it is going to have to achieve some kind of solidarity and then fight to take that bigger piece from people who, believe me, are fighting every day to keep it away from them.

    Solidarity is achievable. But it will a require a movement that sets itself a deliberate task of building cultural bridges and overcoming a whole bunch of divisive cultural gaps, while reconceiving the battle lines along economic class and interest lines rather than old vs. young; brown vs. black vs. white; coastal hipster vs. heartland and southern redneck, secularist vs. religious, etc., etc., etc.

    1. Lambert Strether


      But it will a require a movement that sets itself a deliberate task of building cultural bridges and overcoming a whole bunch of divisive cultural gaps, while reconceiving the battle lines along economic class and interest lines rather than old vs. young; brown vs. black vs. white; coastal hipster vs. heartland and southern redneck, secularist vs. religious, etc., etc., etc.

      Adding that “old vs. young; brown vs. black vs. white; coastal hipster vs. heartland and southern redneck, secularist vs. religious” could serve as a listing of the portfolio of strategic hate management tools our masters have collected.

    2. Malmo

      Solidarity is achievable. But it will a require a movement that sets itself a deliberate task of building cultural bridges and overcoming a whole bunch of divisive cultural gaps, while reconceiving the battle lines along economic class and interest lines rather than old vs. young; brown vs. black vs. white; coastal hipster vs. heartland and southern redneck, secularist vs. religious, etc., etc., etc.

      I agree, these obstacles must be overcome if we are to move forward in a meaningful way towards a just society. The only question I have is how is this to be achieved? Can anyone provide a general blueprint for getting there? Help me, because, to be honest, I’m drawing blanks.

      1. from Mexico

        Well I certainly can’t “provide a general blueprint for getting there,” but I think I can provide a blueprint for not getting there:

        Nothing, indeed, about the [New Left] movement is more striking than its disinterestedness; Peter Steinfels, in a remarkable article on the “French revolution 1968″ in Commonweal (July 26, 1968), was quite right when he wrote: “Péguy might have been an appropriate patron for the cultural revolution, with his later scorn for the Sorbonne mandarinate [and] his formula, ‘The social Revolution will be moral or it will not be.’ ” To be sure, every revolutionary movement has been led by the disinterested, who were motivated by compassion or by a passion for justice, and this, of course, is also true for Marx and Lenin… Still, they too had first to espouse the nonspeculative, down-to-earth interests of the working class and to identify with it; this alone gave them a firm footing outside society. And this is precisely what the modern rebels have lacked from the beginning and have been unable to find despite a rather desperate search for allies outside the universities. The hostility of the workers in all countries is a matter of record, and in the United States the complete collapse of any co-operation with the Black Power movement, whose students are more firmly rooted in their own community and therefore in a better bargaining position in the universities, was the bitterest disappointment for the white rebels….

        I am not sure what the explanation of these inconsistencies will eventually turn out to be; but I suspect the deeper reason for this…has something to do with the concept of Progress, with an unwillingness to part with a notion that used to unite Liberalism, Socialism, and Communism into the “Left” but has nowhere reached the level of plausibility and sophisitication we find in the writings of Karl Marx.


        Progress gives an answer to the troublesome quesition; And what shall we do now? The answer, on the lowest level, says: Let us develop what we have into something better, greater, et cetera. (The, at first glance, irrational faith of liberals in growth, so characteristic of all our present political and economic theories, depends on this notion.)


        Progress, to be sure, is a more serious and a more complex item offered at the superstition fair of our time. The irrational nineteenth-century belief in unlimited progress has found universal acceptance chiefly because of the astounding development of the natural sciences… That science…should be subject to never-ending progress is by no means certain… Progress, in other words, can no longer serve as the standard by which to evaluate the disastrously rapid change-processes we have let loose.

        –HANNAH ARENDT, “On Violence”

        1. charles sereno

          Re Arendt: The 19th century belief in progress was irrational although it meant little to 99% of the working population. As far as science is concerned, yes, it ratchets forward only in one direction. Dastardly people want to gain its benefits and gainsay its inconvenient truths. Peguy was a nice, talented guy, but also a (too) fervent nationalist. Through the magic of Google, I retrieved one of my favorite quotes of Peguy —
          “A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket.”

      2. F. Beard

        Monetary reform and restitution, what else?

        But I’m losing hope but not really because I know money creation during the Millennium will be ethical.

    3. Nathanael

      Creating solidarity requires only one thing.

      Raising the awareness among the general population that they are *all* having their stuff stolen by the 0.1%.

      This is easier among the young, who have never been given any reliable class position. Millenials have been documented to be more solidarity-oriented than the immediately preceding generations; nobody seems to have phrased it that way, though.

      1. Nathanael

        I believe this is why the habit of the ultra-elite has been to hide their identities, lie about how rich they are, and lie about how they got rich.

        Anything to keep the people below them distracted fighting amongst themselves. Won’t work forever.

        1. Alexa

          I’m not sure of the reason for the PNAC link, since my comment was in reply to a comment “way up the thread.” (to WJ)

          I suppose that I should have “addressed” the commenter–sorry! ;-)

  44. Sandwichman

    “‘Sinners repent,’ is the substance of their message…”

    It’s not so much the “substance of their message” as it is the structure of their (our) repertoires. The community expresses itself through its spontaneous unity as a crowd. Collective action doesn’t just magically appear. Popular movements emulated established liturgical forms of public procession, whose themes were supplication (“We sinners beseech you, O Lord, have mercy on us and bless our crops, etc. etc…”).

    By contrast, elite technologies of control incorporated elements of the private sacrament of confession made compulsory by the Catholic Church in the 13th century. From confession follows bookkeeping, the panopticon, Prism and Schedule 7.

    On the one hand, then, we have Rogation (beseeching, supplication, te rogamus, audi nos). On the other hand, interrogation… Recall that aft –er the Russian Revolution, the Cheka, then the NKVD, then the KGB replaced the Okhrana (AKA “Okhranka”).

    The lines between supplication and control begin to dissolve when crowds perform social accounting rather than petitioning a higher power for redress of grievances. This takes practice — rehearsal — and a script for the crowd to perform.

    1. Lambert Strether

      As a lapsed Episcopalian, I really appreciate the mention of rogation — Rogation Day is the day we would parade animals round the outside to the church — and the unexpected connection to interrogation.

      It’s interesting to think of “protest” as a liturgical form. Thank you.

      1. Sandwichman

        Rogationtide — the three days before Ascension — was also the occasion for “beating the bounds”: the annual perambulation around the parish boundaries to inculcate in the memories of the young where the landmarks were and sometimes to take direct action against encroachments on the common fields and pastures by restoring landmarks to their proper location or by levelling encroaching fences and hedges.

        Beating the bounds was the repertory template for later anti-enclosure “riots.” What had once been enforcement of the customary common property rights got re-interpreted as trespassing violation of private (that is, privatized) property. As E.P. Thompson put it, the presumed “spasmodic” character of crowd action had been greatly exaggerated by social historians — at least up until the time that Thompson wrote his essay on the moral economy of the English crowd in the Eighteenth Century.

  45. LillithMc

    Any 5 year old can explain how much easier it is to win the game with cheating and physical power. US adventures in Southeast Asia, South America and the Middle East were fine until some of those tactics were used on the US by those big boys. They are focused and well-funded, but they also gave us the Patriot Act, Blackwater militias outside the law who were first into New Orleans after Katrina. “Chief Justice” Roberts arranged the selection of Bush by the SCOTUS and was selected as Chief Justice and selector of the FISA court. Spying is effective especially when used against locals like Occupy. SCOTUS recently overturned a court order against the Texas racial gerrymander. Texas replied it was not about racism, but about political control. Easy to push urban and non-GOP voters into a large district, fail to supply voting machines and find reasons not to register them. Corruption of politics was greatly enhanced by Citizen’s United. Now voting can be fixed. How long before there is backlash? We went there in the 1960’s when some died for the right to vote. Reality is that the political system has long been captured by corporations that are now multi-national. Perhaps enough violence will encourage them to either use massive force to control the people or ease them back into a pretend democracy. We are long past the time when Progressives had any influence in this armed tinderbox.

  46. Whistling in the Dark

    Well, game(plan) time or what?

    (One thing this site does really well is discussions! It has superior comment quality!

    But it doesn’t quite have a nice web-infrastructure for pursuing a single goal — which we all seem to share, i.e.: correction of some wrongs. Oh well.)

    How about a direct democracy movement? I know there is one; see Mike Gravell.

    But how about this: Government by pools of citizens (500 to 5000 in size? I don’t know.) They could be selected by jury. Perhaps 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month service is possible. One week for local, then if elected by the local pool, 2 weeks regional, then if elected.. so on. Executive action carried out by … well, just some agents hired with some specific tasks in mind, such as inspection of municipal water lines. Death penalty for dereliction! Well, maybe not, but corruption would carry heavy penalties, e.g.: jailtime.

    Mere details! So, does it sound good? “No, it sounds stupid. You’re a moron,” etc. “Yes, sounds decent. I don’t see any other ideas that sound effective, so what is there to lose,” etc. In any case, “welp, how?”

    Power is held by people (some more powerful than others). The press sucks. This site is pretty all right. But…

    Nothing beats door-to-door, face-to-face.

    A door-to-door campaign: Doing, what?

    One: presenting a well-articulated and formulated idea for direct democracy and why we need it. (Lots of experimentation and thought will be required to learn how to communicate the idea — or change it, yikes!! — in various locales and to various demographics, e.g.: red /blue!) How will it gain power? Signatures? How about individual consent! Will it reach the army? Well, maybe. But one person at a time is not only a truism but a novel approach.

    Two: Asking questions and learning about those whose doors are being knocked upon.

    Salesmen save the world? Highly doubtful. But it is “rubber-meet-road,” quite figuratively/literally. Hey, but a pyramid scheme is better than an invereted pyramid, right? (This is a joke.)

    Help wanted: Further ariculation of the whys and whats. The hows are provided by TINA: you must go knock on your neighbor’s door, even and including the mansion with a gate (You may need an “in,” right? A referral! This is not easy!)

  47. BruceMcF

    Part of this is the Adjective Problem.

    “Progressive” on its own is meaningless. If one had a bunch of white power neo-nazis collected together, and presented a proposal to improve transportation infrastructure that was both more environmentally sensible and also offer greater economic independent from oil countries overseas …

    … why, you’d likely find at least some who would admit in private they liked it.

    Voila, you have (transportation infrastructure) Progressive White-Power Neo-Nazis. Likely primarily because they like the idea of not giving money to Ay-Rabs, Venezuala and especially Nigeria.

    So you have a particular objective that you identify as progress. And you agree with the need to reform a wide range of other things. You can:

    (1) Focus on your highest priority. But to pursue your highest priority, it seems like you don’t want to piss off people willing to support this objective, but not willing to support any or all of the other of that wide range of other things. Or,

    (2) Build a movement in which those supporting a range of reforms all work together to pursue the whole set as a program.

    Only the second approach included taking power as a possible strategy to pursue, since the first approach requires that you refrain from pissing off those who may support your main priority in some way, but already have access to power and don’t want to risk any shakeup in how power is distributed in the current establishment.

    And the result is easily self-imposed divide-and-conquer. You have a set of people who’s reforms focus on things so fundamental to the establishment that they can only be seriously pursued by organizing to try to take power to put them into place. And you have a wide range of issue groups who imagine that their particular reform may be attainable by influencing those in power rather than by taking power …

    … and the latter set of people avoid the first set of people like the plague, to avoid pissing off those in power.

    And so even if there is a latent potential for a progressive-change coalition that would be able to build a movement and eventually take power, those who imagine that appeal to the existing authority offers a path to success often seek to actively avoid that kind of coalition.

    1. Nathanael

      “And you have a wide range of issue groups who imagine that their particular reform may be attainable by influencing those in power rather than by taking power …”

      As long as that works, I have no problem with it. The thing is, in recent decades, it has NOT worked. And at that point it becomes stupid. Pursuing strategies which do not work is stupid.

      Why did it work before? *We had smarter elites in power* — ones who knew how to maintain social stability.

      When Porfirio Diaz was in power in Mexico, it was true, for most groups, that their particular reform might be attainable by influencing him. I can think of plenty of other examples of *dictators* who could be influenced. And previous US governments could also be influenced, on most issues.

      That simply is not true any more in the US.

      There are now groups which command *absolute majority* support in the US, and even groups with *substantial supermajority* support — who are pursuing agendas which are *compatible* with the interests of most of the 0.1% elite. Marijuana legalization is a really straightforward and well-known example, but there are a lot of others.

      These groups are STILL not getting listened to in DC, and this is a sign of spectacular breakage on the part of our political elites.

  48. susan the other

    The term Progressive is a football. In the Gilded Age, progressives were the liberal arm of the robber barons. A palliative to the injustice of the extreme inequality of the end of the 19th C. Do-gooders by any other name. It is not a good adjective to describe how 99% of the American public has been disenfranchised from the wealth of this country. The disconnect leads us all over the place trying to figure out how to make things right. One certain way to fail to make things right is to elect a “progressive” asstroturf populist, aka an “Obama” who will betray us at every turn. We do not need such leaders.

  49. McMike

    I would argue that great movements require great leaders (meaning: egotistical, driven, tireless, sometimes highly flawed – the Janus face to corporate sociopaths).

    That’s what it takes to get movements off the ground and keep them movign forward.

    Many of these get co-opted, or burnt out, or jailed, or killed, or whatever. Comes with the job description.

    The author is correct that progressives (real ones) are taking a break from charismatic leaders (Clinton, Obama) and from power-seekers who claim to speak for us, and from the variety of charlatans that has jacked the left around like a Karl Rove with the religious right.

    Nevertheless, that’s what it takes.

    What it also takes is for the rest of the players in the movement to be inspired to run off and work tireless too. In their own way, as befits their resources and situations. In a million different ways across a million kitchen tables and bar rooms, and workplace break rooms.

    In the meantime, we have to wait for enough of the lower class to get pissed and also focussed on the real problem, and for the midle class to have nothign left to lose.

    Then the leaders will emerge.

    And another round of change will come, complete with assassinations and dissapointments, and sell-outs. Plus some real positive changes.

  50. Hugh

    The old labels have failed. It is meaningless to talk about the right and the left. What we have is kleptocracy, and those who serve it and those who are looted by it. Left and right are just ways to set the looted up against each other as chumps in a class war the rich and elites are waging against them.

    Kline is correct that resistance to kleptocracy is primarily religious, but it isn’t about truth but honesty. As for Watts statement: “The contemporary left believes that achieving power would taint their moral purity.” That’s pure BS.

    As John J. Chapman wrote:

    “The men engaged in all these struggles are in perfect ignorance that they are really leading a religious reaction. They think that since they are in politics the doctrines of compromise apply. They are drawn into politics by conscience, but once there, they have only their business training to guide them, —a training in the art of subserving material interests. Now if a piece of your land has an uncertain boundary, you have a right to compromise on any theory you like, because you own the land. But if you start out with the sole and avowed purpose of upholding honesty in politics, and you up hold anything else or subserve any other interest whatever, you are a deceiver. When you began you did not say “I stand for a readjustment of political interests. There will be a continuation of many abuses under my administration, to be sure; but I hope they will not be quite so bad as heretofore. I shall not insist on the absolutely unselfish conduct of my office. It is not practical.” If you had said this, you might have got the friendly support of a few doctrinaires. But you would never have got the support and approval of the great public. You would not have been elected. And therefore you did not say it. On the contrary, what our reformers do is this: They begin, before election, by promising an absolutely pure administration. They make proclamations of a new era, and after they have secured a certain following they proceed to chaffer over how much honesty they will demand and how much take, as if they were rescuing property.

    These men are, then, in their desires a part of the future, and in their practices of the past. Their desires move society forward, their practices set it back

    from the Preface to Practical Agitation (1900)

    The problem is not too much “purity” but too little, and no vision. The lame reformers of left and right, liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican, may have failed, but their failures were not complete. They moved the dial, pushed the conversation forward a little, and then got in the way.

    As Chapman writes:

    How gradual has been the process of emancipation from intellectual bondage! How inevitably people are limited by the terms in which they think! A generation of men has been consumed by the shibboleth “reform within the party,” —a generation of educated and right-minded men, who accomplished in their day much good, and left the country better than they found it, but are floating to-day like hulks in the trough of the sea of politics, because all their mind and all their energy were exhausted in discovering certain superficial evils and in fighting them. Their analysis of political elements left the deeper causes mysterious. They did not see mere human nature. They still treated Republicanism and Democracy—empty superstitions—as ideas, and they handled with reverence the bones of bogus saints, and the whole apparatus of clap-trap by which they had been governed.

    And yet it is owing to the activity of these men that the deeper political conditions became visible. Men cannot transcend their own analysis and see themselves under the microscope. The work we do transforms us into social factors. We are a part of the changes we bring in. Before we know it, we ourselves are the problem.

    Those hulks and problems are where we are at today. The left and right are fighting old battles. They do not see that the situation and our awareness of it has moved on. They continue to offer small “r” reforms that would merely soften a few of the edges of a system that is tearing us apart. They have become part of the problem. They look on kleptocracy and do not see it. They see wealth inequality and shrug. They pooh pooh class war because it makes them feel uncomfortable.

    And so Chapman writes:

    Meanwhile there has emerged a group of men who see the whole problem in a much simpler light. These men have carried forward the analysis which their fathers, or let us say their elder brothers, had begun, to such a point that there are no words in it which are meaningless, no factors which are not reduced to terms of human nature. They did nothing but add the last link to a chain of logic. Their predecessors discovered The Machine, and spent their lives in trying to belong to a party without strengthening its Machine. These latter men discovered that both parties were ruled by the same Machine. They see one issue, and only one issue in American politics, namely, the attack on that Machine.

    And that, my friends, is where we need to be, and more. Because we need to know more than what we are against, the true name of the enemy. We need to know what we are for, not just honest government but a fair and just society, where we commit to each other to respect the privacy of each to pursue a meaningful life however each of us defines it but that we also commit to take care of each other and commit all to all to provide the basic building blocks of that meaningful life. If that is not worth standing together and fighting for, nothing is.

    1. peace

      I agree that crime (lying, cheating and stealing) is at the heart of our economic problems including inequality; more so than “capitalism” per se. I believe the fundamental solution involves justice, not a new economic system; and I perceive this solution would be efficacious even if limited only to prosecuting violations of current laws.
      I believe that the post-Soviet zeitgeist is cynical towards cooperation (i.e. civics writ large) and drunk on self-interest (i.e., a Hobbesian Social Darwinism). We need a vision and goals that unite us and leaders are the ones who motivate with symbols and visions, but the post-Soviet form of progressivism is anti-leader and anti-hierarchy. I am very much against cults of personality (Yves excepted) yet in favor of humble spokespeople (i.e., servant leaders).

  51. ArtSmith

    Maybe it is the understanding that in order to beat power you end up becoming what you were seeking to depose. The ‘left’ for whatever that means, is, culturally, a grand ‘turning away from’, a reflexive disgust with consumer driven economics. If you want a grand vision from the left it’s ‘I don’t want to own what I can borrow and return’.

  52. Bagehot by-the-Bay

    I was a close associate of a Green Party candidate who actually won a significant election. Almost immediately, the Green Party Council, so accustomed to being in permanent opposition, began to undercut, question “purity” of action and motive, and generally slit everyone’s wrists, evidently so it could return to its comfort zone. Which it did by blowing the next election, no problem. I at least had the satisfaction of referring to them as “serial losers” and having this remark leak into print…

  53. Bruce Wilder

    You did not mention the Populist tradition, which is the traditional American appeal to what political psychologists would call authoritarian followers. These are the good soldiers of politics. And, they are notoriously vulnerable to the appeals and betrayals of demagogues. Radicals are willing to contest with the demagogues to organize and lead them.

    And, authoritarian followers want to be organized; they are followers; they feel their own weakness and vulnerability and want the privileges of membership, to be part of something greater. It makes them vulnerable to in-group/out-group dynamics, which can strengthen mass-movements, but also fire racism. The Right-wingers, with a social dominance orientation, want to lead them, and are not ethically constrained.

    Progressives, if that’s what we are calling ethical liberals of the centre-left, do not want to associate with authoritarian followers. They suspect the ickiness of racism. They puzzle at the provincial ignorance and fear of the wider world. The Ralph Naders will talk about the essence of leadership as the desire to create more leaders, not followers. They want a mass-movement of leaders, of independent thinkers, informed on the issues, thinking good philosophical thoughts, interested in ideas. Authoritarian followers are none of these things.

    I think the powers-that-be on the economic heights of the Right have used the spectre of racism to manipulate progressives rather artfully. The radical Tea Party in its followership (though not its leadership, of course) corrals a significant part of the authoritarian followers are rightly angry, and keeps them away from any connection with a left economic agenda.

  54. allcoppeout

    Interesting to see all of this. There have been some progressive achievements in sexism, racism, health, welfare and education – all incomplete. While such was going on the population trebled – a massive failure we rarely get to grips with – who wants to tell people not to have so many children? It sounds way too authoritarian for a progressive.

    This particular issue, closely connected with global warming and quality of individual life – perhaps about our very inter-connectedness – suggests to me that there is a lot of moral wuckfittery in the progressive cause, and the cause of freedom generally.

    The progressive politician gives up on honesty as soon as she steps onto the hustings. Who can attack the banks, private property (as we have it), work practices and the wonder of neo-liberalism and hope to pull in votes? The game is to get to power and be hobbled there by the neo-liberal spreadsheet. The sky will fall if we do anything else as the rich hold real power. They get into progressive opposition early with management consultancy experience and the rhetoric of the dominant, yet unproved “business-model”.

    Darwinism, as Lambert says, became ‘neo’ with genetics and now epigenetics – but science is evidence-based and subject to vast scrutiny compared with politics and economics and largely free of the Idols Bacon established nearly 500 years ago that still dominate the social.

    When it comes to non-dead theorists most can’t handle just how radical matters such as argumentative theory (Dan Sperber) really are – demanding re-thinks of stuff most (falsely) pride themselves on like being able to argue. Theory is now in such places and analysis of the informal logics of the everyday and the role of biology (and the animal we like to push aside) in structuring our societies.

    I see very few progressives who are not tainted by a lack of substantial science education. Even in this blog there is almost no sign of awareness of modern theory and bits of sociology like social epidemiology (Richard Wilkinson) that would pass the ‘science test’.

    The science story is probably that we are co-evolving to an immature species more reliant on cooperation (brains getting smaller, becoming more gracile …) and are still dominated by biology over brain (clearly complex as brains are biology too) – all this in expansion questions such stuff as leadership myths and what we really do in argument – suggesting we need a new form of public scrutiny – and also that most of us (all at some time) are very poor at argument through reason, something we don’t like to be told. I’d go as far as to say it’s likely we self-deceive and lie as we pretend to enter “civilized debate”. Exchanges with Mexico above are a small indication – though the right go much further.

    What we fail, most of the time, to get into, to understand argument and do it better, are deep questions on why humans reason. Sperber’s paper is here free:

    It’s a small part of modern theory and to some extent expresses a typical progressive dilemma. It wants to convince you much you hold dear is soaked-up rubbish – not least what you think of your own ability to “reason”. The progressive has realised sexism and racism are vile, but probably gave no thought to the effect of the ‘abolition’ on poor, working-class men as ‘victims’ of the changes that came with the disappearance of easy-to-get work. The progressive rarely takes the effect of her ‘modernisation’ on the chin, but is content to let others face this – in the case of immigration the starving of a denizen male poor of economic ability to have a family. Modern theories tend to complex systems and science. The progressive typically regards this as ‘heartless’.

  55. McMike

    I will tell you when the road splits: I have led a few minor, local grassroots affairs and events myself, and so I know that the roads diverge after your first real success.

    Right at that moment, you have an image to maintain, an organization to defend, a track record to perpetuate, the press calls you for quotes, people expect you to speak as an agent for others, you become wedded to a particular storyline, a persona to live up to (trapped in it as a matter of fact).

    Some might call it the mantle of greatness and seize it, others call it the moment of sell out and begin down the path of self-loathing, others yet, turn their backs and walk away.

  56. casino implosion

    I belong to a union that used to dynamite stuff back in the good old days, when they were upset about something. I remember one old timer, on the verge of retirement, looking sadly at the young journeymen and saying “in my old man’s time, they’d firebomb a scab rig. None a youse got the balls.”

    The old Irish Catholic tradesmen were clannish, and no strangers to violence in their daily lives. They had something pretty close to a gang or mafia mentality and that’s the spirit that drove the labor movement.

  57. nobody

    If Immanuel Wallerstein is right, what are the consequences for this discussion?:

    “There is a crisis of the capitalist system… What I think of as the fundamental crisis of the system is such that I don’t think the system will be here 20 or 30 years from now. It will have disappeared and been completely replaced by some other kind of world system… [T]he system has deviated so far from equilibrium that it cannot be restored to any kind of equilibrium, even temporarily. Therefore, we are in a chaotic situation. Therefore, there is a bifurcation. Therefore, there is a fundamental conflict between which of the two possible alternative outcomes the system will take, inherently unpredictable but very much the issue. We can have a system better than capitalism or we can have a system that is worse than capitalism. The only thing we can’t have is a capitalist system.”


      1. nobody

        He means something different by “unstable.” The capitalist world system’s about half a millennium old. During this time things have played out in fairly deterministic, cyclical fashion. Now is different. The cycles of the capitalist system are coming to an end. He’s saying there’s going to be (or, that we are in the midst of) a really fundamental transformation. Unlike, say, the French Revolution, which, from a more bird’s-eye-view, didn’t really change much. After five hundred years of what we’ve had, we’re getting something different. (Change you won’t have any choice but to believe in.) Maybe a lot better. Maybe a lot worse. But fundamentally different.

        Most of the time, you can’t do much about how things turn out at the macro level. But this is different. In times like these, small things can have ripple effects. It’s 50/50 which path the planet goes down. He has sometimes mentioned the famous butterfly’s wings emanating from chaos theory — things people do now are liable to have huge, consequentially effects for a long, long time.

    1. Paul Tioxon

      Pick a side folks. Bifurcation means dividing into two, from the one, the TINA, world wide system that is winding down and will most likely not spring back when some FDR like pol tries to save capitalism from itself. The beltway and Manhattan are so out of touch. Better to look to Detroit to see what most of America will look like via de-industrialization and new social networks of power being organized here and there. Here is what I believe the worse alternative to what we have now looks like.

      Armed Militia Holding Pennsylvania Town Hostage

      Welcome to America, where men with loaded guns call unarmed citizens “tyrants” and men with Swastika tattoos claim the “other people” are the Nazis …

      This is the on-going story of Gilberton, Pennsylvania, a small borough which is living under the constant threat of terroristic violence. Where men with guns block the entrance to public meetings, where public officials openly threaten every member of society who holds a different political view than they do, where councilmen are strip searched and arrested without cause and anyone who tries to fire the Police Chief would be forced to live in fear of retaliation from a militia of armed terrorists. Pennsylvania police chief Mark Kessler is the head of a political organization which refers to itself as “The Constitution Security Force.” Kessler was recently given a thirty day suspension, for using police property as props in a video where he threatens and insults “libtards,” otherwise known as people who hold political views which differ from his own. In a second video, Kessler can also be seen threatening the life of a federal government official, Secretary of State John Kerry.

      Read more: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2013/08/03/armed-militia-holding-pennsylvania-town-hostage/#ixzz2cdrM5000

        1. Paul Tioxon

          This cop has not gone crazy, the militia of over a hundred organized, come to his support. They have commandeered the police, the institutional violence of the local government and are holding elected officials at bay with intimidation. The point is, in this trench battle, the police department has been taken over. Normally, the outlaws have to pay the police and the courts in order to operate. In videos of this guy, he is firing separate machine guns, pistols, none of which are police issued. I don’t believe the USA law enforcement use AK-47s, machine pistols etc. These people have armed themselves. What goes on in other police departments with swat teams is not what this illustrates. People are forming organized militias. The 2nd Amendment is quite clear about having a “well regulated militia” not a garrison state of armed individuals. When they are operating in paramilitary formation, under some form of organization, they are no longer well regulated. They are a gang of armed citizens. So Dan, who’s going to protect me from “Chief” Kessler? Is coming soon to theater in my neighborhood? The lightly armed police or the heavily militarized police? The escalation of conflict and arms is being played out at gun show near you. The 50 caliber sniper rifles that can take down a helicopter or maybe even a jet engine are for sale at these show. The militarization of the citizenry, the law abiding and the gangster drug dealers is more of a problem than the police right now.

      1. John Cummings

        Kessler is heavily tied to global finance………..a quiz for the board, who is financing him……..I don’t want the corporation or group, I want the actual base source for the money.

        Kessler is a internationalist and traitor.

    2. LifelongLib

      Well, big landowners were an important part of ancient Rome. When the Empire collapsed they took over as feudal lords.

      Merchants were an important part of feudal society. When it collapsed they became the new defacto rulers.

      Where is the currently important (but non-capitalist) part of our society that is going to take over when capitalism collapses? It should be in plain sight.

      1. McMike

        My money is on the military/security system.

        In other words, the resumes will be heavy with ex-CIA, ex-special forces, ex-defence industry, ex-tech.

        We’re going fuedal in flavor.

        1. Nathanael

          Extremely unlikely. Those guys have proved themselves grossly incompetent.

          My money is on Google, Amazon, etc. Closely-held, family-owned corporations run by individuals — which have some loyalty to their employees. These are already pretty close to being fiefdoms, in the manorial/feudal tradition. Why shouldn’t they become fiefdoms proper?

  58. John Cummings

    left-hegelians need their own version of the Birchers much like Nelson did for right-hegelians.

  59. Waking Up

    Yves states: “How did a great swathe of Americans sit back and let these hard-gotten gains be rescinded?”

    Think you better add in one of the most important reasons…propaganda, propaganda, and more propaganda. Decades and decades of propaganda. This ad brought to you by (insert corporation, wealthy organization/think tank, or wealthy individuals name here).

    As just ONE of millions of examples, look at the propaganda that occurred surrounding the “war on terror”. How many people were called “unpatriotic” if they didn’t “support the troops” or spoke out against declaring war on a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 (as if that should have automatically started a war in the first place)?

    Question: Why is the King Center, Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the National Council of Negro Women inviting Barack Obama (with his disturbing track record on civil rights) to be a keynote speaker for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a Dream” speech? How many current “leaders” among whatever movement…civil rights, environment, economic justice, etc., no longer represent the actual issues? If we are to have “leadership”, they need to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk”.

    1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

      I think it’s important to unmask the frauds, the fakes, the stonewallers, the manipulators, the false-banner leaders, the psycopaths and lots of others. I think trust comes more naturally in face to face equal-to-equal discussions …

      1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

        I’m hesitant to say this, but I’ll do it anyway. I sense that the MIC-Media-Complex have pedalled for decades a glaringly distorted image of the United States of America, especially in foreign affairs, back to the American people. It’s a monstrous sin , maybe. And I sort of know that we Canadians got our bananas on the cheap though perversions of justice inflicted on the Central Americans. And Chris Hedges is pretty good, too I think.

  60. allcoppedout

    Mexico’s frequent appeals to Arendt puzzle me somewhat. She had long engagement with Heidegger, a dawkish Nazi. He was handsome and she was pretty – so so what? This pot can hardly call that kettle black and so on. I have seen plenty of careerists like Heidegger. I just don’t trust this class of people. For me it goes back to Plato ‘remembering’ Socrates and the line to Aristotle – how can I trust people writing on the back of work done by slaves?

    Much that looks good gets published and even now you can find people peddling virtue ethics to economists. These ‘ethics’, easy to feign, didn’t even mark out slavery as wrong. I’d rather, in some ways, have ridden with John Brown. It’s a sort of ‘Norman Yolk’ thing with me Mexico – if that makes any sense. I have a deep, iconic distrust of the upper class – though I lack the belief in any golden, Saxon age. We get suckered into their world as though we can really take part and get the change we want. In fact we are just their playthings. At an ethnomethodology conference the only disabled person present was my blind co-author, the only ethnic voice (room white to man-woman jack) a Chinese waitress.

    The other night, the barman at my local tossed a copy of the Daily Mail at me, pointing out an article on children now costing £148,000 in England or £160 a week. “What’s this crap on about mate”, he asked? His point was that with half of Bolton on the dole, disability or zero hours, it was highly unreasonable to believe any kid in such a family was getting anywhere near £160 spent on it – their families’ take-home was likely to be less. As it happened I’d read the Child Poverty Action Group report in full.

    The barman was right. The academic gloss is everywhere, somehow missing the beat. It’s not that I don’t want to find space for the erudition – it’s more that I wonder where the dull, boring and often brutal facts are. One we seem to be missing is that financialisation was a revolution Another may well be that we are swooned by pretty faces, pretty writing and if we examined our leadership fetish we might find it as iconic as haunting pictures of Hannah in the 1930s and worthless in ordinary lives.

  61. Bapoy

    I disagree with this post 100%. If the right was so successful, you would not have a fed, you would not have unions, social security, medicare, folks in welfare getting ~40 thousand a year (way more than minimum wage), and the list keeps growing and growing. Not only that, the quote Right Wing unquote has been not only in power since 1960, they’ve voted FOR many of these programs too. And how many of these programs has the “Right Wing” cut? Let’s see, none… that what.

    With that out of the way, the Tea Party was originally made up of people that cared for the country. Law abiding citizens that did not want to pay taxes to finance a 29 year old beach bum in California who has more strength and can work more than the same people paying the taxes. Yet, he is the product of your socialist utopia. Unfortunately, the Tea Party was taken over by the Republicans and are nothing more than the GOP. Aside from Rand Paul and a sprinkle of others, there is no “Tea Party”.

    Next, please show me how telling people they will get “free things, no need to work, tons of leisure time” is harder to sell than “you have to work your ass off to earn that”. Can anyone on this board show me how a leftist would fail against a realist? Am I just blind?

    Last, I keep going back to the basics and reality. If a government utopia is about giving people free things without, than who will produce the things the same people will consume?

    And please, spare the – we will collectively work crap. Who works for welfare benefits today? Or social security benefits? or medicare? Which union is willing to charge their next door neighbor less because their friends? The whole premise of these programs is to support a piece of the population with the production of the other. Can you not see that one person or persons have to produce what you are consuming and by that simple logic, someone had to work to make that available to you?

    Who is willing to produce something and give it to their neighbors at no cost? It’s not freaking rocket science.

      1. Bapoy

        Is that all you have to say?

        Tell us who will produce what the population will consume. The left is exactly the reason why Europe and Latin America are crap holes. France is actually dreaming a socialist utopia. Let’s see how that works out.

        I’m just glad i’m not in France and will probably never be either.

        1. LifelongLib

          I’ve never been to Europe, but I’ve heard that in many ways people there live better than in the U.S. Look at lifespans and literacy rates.

          Still trying to take you seriously, but that whole bit about France was so lame I think you might be joking.

          1. Bapoy

            Do you know who used to be the financial center of the world not too long ago? Shall I say it was Europe?

            Perhaps you can explain why the financial center moved from Europe to the US better than I can.

              1. Bapoy

                I see,

                So they are no longer stealing in Europe, got it. Oh wait, yes they are. The governments in Europe have sold their souls to the bankers at the expense of their populations. Yes, the population wanted free things and their politicians complied.

                Given the extreme rise in socialist/leftist propaganda machine, I am inclined to say that this is a peak in history. The left and socialists will soon be the most hated group of people in the face of the earth. And well deserved.

            1. Lambert Strether

              Try The Long Twentieth Century by Giovanni Arrighi (affinity with Braudel). He show how the center of capital has shifted starting with Genoa in the Rennaissance, to Amsterdam, to London, and then to Manhattan. Where next? At the time of writing, he thought Japan, but the drang nach osten seems to have stalled short of completion. I’m too stunned by paint fumes to summarize the argument, but that’s the pattern and readers might enjoy it.

              1. Paul Tioxon

                Giovanni’s last book before he died took up where he left off in the Long 20th Century. Japan looked like the place where American economic might go to die and pass on its title. Instead, China happened. “ADAM SMITH IN BEIJING” argues that the Chinese have had hundreds of years of experience with a market mechanism. The difference is that China places the mechanism in service to the state. Capitalism as developed in Europe is state and market united together to maintain power in the hands of elites. Banking and taxation work only with the authority to collect taxes by a strong, well run(bureaucracy) centralized government. The core states of Europe made adjustments to foster capitalism with stock exchanges, banks and high percentage rate of tax compliance. Weak states, ones whose power is not able to be projected from a central authority, make for weak economies as well as a weak military. Someone has to keep buying bullets and food and fuel to keep the war machine running.

                “THE RISE AND FALL OF THE GREAT POWERS” BY PAUL KENNEDY, while 20 years previous to this book, covers the same economic history along with the connection to military power. The state and the market is what characterize the social order of capitalism. While we quibble over definitions, the two components working to reinforce the other created the rule of money, with the state and the market in service to endless profiteering. Kennedy’s arc of power, rising and falling corresponds to the history based analysis of Braudel, the platform for Arrighi, Wallerstein, Harvey and others. It starts with Italian financiers backing different European powers. Britain learns the necessity for finance and internalizes the features of a market economy by forming The Royal Exchange, The Bank of England and staffs with British nationals only.

                Here’s a quick review that hits the highlights.


        2. zygmuntNICEbernier

          I regret to say that I fail to detect the nuances in your pronouncements, so reading you is unproductive for me.

        3. nonclassical

          ..tell ya’ what, bapoy…

          I will tell you bushcheney allowed credit card lobbyists to re-write bankruptcy laws, in late 2004…wouldja’ say they knew what was coming??..

          some of us took it exactly that way-millions of ameriKans were going to go bankrupt…

          what’s true??

    1. LifelongLib

      I don’t know any “29 year old beach bums”.

      I do know kids who need schools if they’re ever going to do something worthwhile with their lives. I do know people who need medical care if they’re going to get back on their feet — and go back to work. I do know old people who worked hard all their lives and deserve some worry-free time before they leave us.

      I give some of my work “at no cost” (in an organized way through taxes etc.) so my “neighbors” can have those things.

      You have neighbors like that too. And if you don’t see it, indeed you are blind.

      1. Bapoy

        I pay taxes too, and I have no issues with paying taxes, that’s part of my civic duty for better or worst. But you are ignoring the points I’ve made above.

        The socialists have gotten a multitude of programs implemented and it’s never enough. And than when all these handouts cause a drag on the economy, we complain about not enough jobs. Not only that, but we want the government to intervene more (thereby taking more resources from the private industry) to “create more jobs”. And as if that’s not enough, we than blame it on the private industry.

        In a few words, we take capital from private corporations and than ask why they don’t have enough capital. The problem with the left/socialists is their egoistic point of view. I want the government to make my life perfect, I don’t care how the government does it. If thousands lose their jobs or end up in poverty, so be it. But when those people do lose their jobs I will scream as if I care about those who lost their jobs or those in poverty.

        It’s madness really.

        Aside from the sprinkle of people working in government, when has a government created any jobs?

          1. Bapoy

            Oh yes, silly me….

            Tax 1 million dollars from corporations (which could re-deploy the capital and create jobs), use the funds to kick off a “project”, give a nice juicy contract to an already wealthy government friend who will skim the 50% and hire a few folks.

            Lambert – FDR created 15 million jobs at the expense of how many other real jobs?


            1. F. Beard

              Who said FDR used tax revenues to fund those jobs? The smart thing would have been to use deficit spending.

              1. Bapoy

                And the difference is?

                We both know that removing purchasing power from the population can be done in different ways. Tax them and make them furious.

                Or as you say be “smart”, inflate their purchasing power out of them by deficit spending. I’m not sure where you found the word smart, but to me it sounds more like diabolical. But when things turn south, the same socialists/leftists will be the first to scream murder and act as if they care about the poor. And guess what, the majority of Americans fall for this, but you will get yours.

                As I said before, socialists/leftists are nothing but a self centered and greedy bunch.

                1. Nathanael

                  Sigh. Remove purchasing power from WHOM? That is the question.

                  You seem to identify with Bill Gates, who has $72,400,000,000 dollars.

                  Or perhaps with the Koch Brothers — Charles has $45,900,000,000.

                  Removing purchasing power from him and spending it on the general population helps EVERYONE. He isn’t using it for anything good. (He often isn’t using it for anything, just hoarding it.) Even if he were using it for something good, we can *definitely* do better by redistributing it.

                  You don’t seem to understand that. Socialists understand that.

                2. F. Beard

                  I would combine new fiat creation with a ban on further credit creation so that the net effect on purchasing power would be ZERO.

                  Or do you not understand that the repayment of debt created from nothing EXTINGUISHES purchasing power and thus leaves policy space for new fiat creation without inflation?

            2. Nathanael

              “corporations (which could re-deploy the capital and create jobs),”

              They could. They don’t. Empirically testable fact. Fact: they don’t create jobs. Ask Mitt Romney (“I like firing people”), whose entire career was spent destroying jobs.

        1. nonclassical

          “the socialists”…meaning, if historical accuracy is the judge, those who decided
          to (bum’s rush) the entire economy into a bailout of Wall $treet???

          You know-“privatized profit” + “socialized risk”??

          Here’s that documentation, from twice Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporters Bartlett and Steele:


          …”it’s possible to reconstruct some of what happened in the first chaotic and crucial three months of the bailout, when Treasury was still in the hands of Henry Paulson and most of the money was disbursed. Needless to say, there is no central clearinghouse for information about the tarp money. To get details of any kind means starting with the hundreds of individual recipients, then poring over S.E.C. filings, annual reports, and other documentation—in other words, performing the standard due diligence that the government itself failed to perform. In the report that follows, we have no more than dipped a toe into the morass, but one fact emerges clearly: a lot of the money wound up in the coffers of some very surprising institutions— institutions that should have been seen as “troubling” as much as “troubled.”

          A Reverse Holdup

          “The intention of Congress when it passed the bailout bill could not have been more clear. The purpose was to buy up defective mortgage-backed securities and other “toxic assets” through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, better known as tarp. But the bill was in fact broad enough to give the Treasury secretary the authority to do whatever he deemed necessary to deal with the financial crisis. If tarp had been a credit card, it would have been called Carte Blanche. That authority was all Paulson needed to switch gears, within a matter of days, and change the entire thrust of the program from buying bad assets to buying stock in banks.”

          1. nonclassical

            and, Bapoy,

            before you try the “tarp has been paid back” propaganda;

            Tarp Overseer Debunks Bailout Myths: Big Companies HAVEN’T Repaid Tarp Funds … And Funds to Help Homeowners HAVEN’T Been Paid
            Submitted by George Washington on 04/25/2012 13:53 -0400

            Apologists for government bailouts push two main myths:

            That all of the bailout funds have been repaid
            That the bailouts helped the average American
            But the official government overseer of the Tarp bailout program – the special inspector general for TARP, Christy L. Romero – has debunked both myths.

            Today, Romero wrote the following to Congress:

            After 3½ years, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”) continues to be an active and significant part of the Government’s response to the financial crisis. It is a widely held misconception that TARP will make a profit. The most recent cost estimate for TARP is a loss of $60 billion. Taxpayers are still owed $118.5 billion (including $14 billion written off or otherwise lost).
            And earlier this month, Romero stated that the portion of the Tarp funds which were supposed to help homeowners haven’t been disbursed:

            A fund to support homeowners in the communities hit hardest by the collapse of the housing bubble has disbursed just 3 percent of its budget and aided only 30,640 homeowners in the two years since its creation, according to a report released on Thursday by a federal watchdog office.

            The Hardest Hit Fund, which was created in the spring of 2010, grants money to state housing finance agencies for efforts to help families that are facing foreclosure. It has “experienced significant delay” because of “a lack of comprehensive planning” by the Treasury Department and limited participation by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the large mortgage servicers, said the report by the special inspector general for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
            “Look at the TARP money that goes out to the banks,” said Special Inspector General Christy Romero in an interview with The Huffington Post. “That goes out in a matter of days. This has been two years and only 3 percent of these funds have trickled out to homeowners.”

            Indeed, bailing out the big banks hurts – rather than helps – the American economy.

            The only way to really stimulate the economy would be for the government to give money to the little guy on Main Street – instead of the big boys on Wall Street.

            Yet the big banks continue today to be bailed out through a wide variety of overt and hidden schemes … while the little guy gets nothing.

            This is true even though the American people were opposed to the bank bailouts from day one, and continue to oppose them:

            As I’ve noted since 2008, Americans are united in their overwhelming disapproval for bailouts to the big banks.

            This has remained true right up to today.

            As Rassmussen found only last month (as summarized by KXLF news):
            Today’s Rasmussen Reports survey finds that most Americans don’t like bailouts for financial institutions.
            60% Oppose Financial Bailouts; 74% Say Wall Street Benefited Most

            Survey of 1,000 American Adults


            • Just 20% think it was a good idea for the government to provide bailout funding to banks and other financial institutions, but 60% say otherwise.

            • While many activists try to link the Republican Party and Wall Street, Republicans think the bailouts were a bad idea by an eight-to-one margin.

            • Those not affiliated with either major party think they were a bad idea by a four-to-one margin. Democrats are much more evenly divided. Thirty-four percent (34%) of those in the president’s party say the bailouts were a good idea while 42% disagree.

            • Overall, 68% believe that most of the bailout money went to the very people who created the nation’s ongoing economic crisis, but 12% disagree and 21% aren’t sure.

            …not to mention fact Wall $treet banks and AIG were given TAX BREAKS to alleviate payback…

          2. Bapoy

            Wasn’t it the government that pushed for easier loans for poor people who could not afford it? Wasn’t it the government who removed glass Steagle? wasn’t it the government who ignored the bubble till the end?

            Wasn’t it the government who bailed out the banks? Wasn’t it the government who bailed out a bunch of people who bought homes they could not afford? Wasn’t it the same population who either asked for the bailouts out of fear or sat by without saying a word because of greed in wanting to keep prices inflated for their own good.

            The banks are just like the people who took the bailouts (and a host of others who get benefits without needing them), they are taking while the getting is good. So stop blaming the banks, it was your own government who bailed them out.

            I see how this socialist utopia works, implement ideas to “help” people which in turn create major problems, bailout the wrong doers at the back of tax payers, ask for more government intervention, create more problems, blame it on the free markets.

        2. Charles LeSeau

          “The problem with the left/socialists is their egoistic point of view. I want the government to make my life perfect, I don’t care how the government does it.”

          I don’t. I want limits to individual power. And I want certain things (like insurance, banking, medicine) to function as utilities. And I’d love a return to an aesthetically minded society so I don’t have to look at another hideous strip mall, giant billboard with a 1-800 number on it, or ugly neon burger joint. You Trimalchio capitalists are so aesthetically clueless that you have in less than 100 years made America the damned ugliest place on the planet.

          The world naturally belongs to the market and the owners! Their profit should directly translate to taking as much of this little globe as they want to! No limits! Mankind agrees on it! (No, we don’t. We never did.) “The government steals from me! I deserve unlimited wealth!” (which of course will definitely go to creating jobs and to paying people better!). I love it. So full of shit.

          I also love those who cry about welfare and how the poor and the beach bums don’t want to work. You know who I’ve heard say this the most? People from the ownership and rentier class who aren’t working themselves or whose work consists of skimming off of other people’s misery or labor. And I don’t mean just “the 99%.” It’s mostly taboo among the bourgeois left, but I’m not afraid to aim my cannon at the supposedly angelic small businessman too. Some real assholes and petit tyrants in that group. I’m talking bar & restaurant owners, landlords, insurance men, etc.

          I used to have a boss like that. His “job” (oh so productive) was to count the register and take the money home every day while we all did the work for him and he lived a life of near total leisure. Talk about stealing the efforts of others to support the gluttonous lifestyle of a lazy ass sack of shit. And you’re all for it because he’s the “owner.” And if you’re going to call me an egoist for being leftist, you should get a load of this jackass. Thinks he’s the absolute shit, loving his little fascist American duchy where he gets to push people around, goose the girls with impunity, yell at his employees, etc. Sickening.

          Or how about my landlord? Doesn’t do a thing. Hires others for maintenance, makes money because he owns property he inherited. Otherwise sits on his ass and talks about how the poor don’t want to work — while he does not work.

          I had a friend who was the private cook for a hedge fund billionaire, and that guy and his wife didn’t do shit all day either.

          Screw the rich. And screw the image of them being indispensable. There’s a reason none of them are actually going Galt.

          So many other things like this that I’ve seen…

          What’s most amusing is that your heroes right now have it better than they ever have. They’re raking it in, never doing better. Wealth inequality is higher than it has ever been, your businessmen are taking it all, and your ilk is complaining louder and louder while the rest of the world is getting more and more miserable and getting less and less. Your market system currently looks like a colossal failure (and by the way very much a STATE), and businessmen look like they can’t be trusted to behave when deregulated and undertaxed.

          I don’t usually pay much lip service to the whole gov’t vs private bit, but I’m willing to bet for most Americans their job is much more daily oppressive than the government is.

          1. Bapoy

            That’s what you think should be done. I think something else. Yves thinks something else. Every single person would have a different idea of how things should be handled. However, every person is not the same.

            Everyone is quick to take ownership for everything produced, but nobody, nobody on this board can ever tell me who will produce these things? Are you willing to work for free? If you would not work on producing things that people will consume for free, than why should the people purchasing them expect these things for free? Does every person work as hard or even produce close to the same? If you were a farmer, would you be satisfied with producing 90% of the crops, while the others around you only produce 10% and enjoy more leisure time than you?

            Would you spend hundred of thousands of hard earned dollars to provide free rent to others? Go do it, I’m sure many would appreciate it.

            1. Nathanael

              “Are you willing to work for free? ”

              Almost all of the greatest things I’ve created have been created for free, and the same is true of your average artist.

              Some unpleasant jobs require compensation. Being Bill Gates or Charles Koch does not require compensation.

  62. Jim

    For over two hundred years the traditional/classical left has tended to ignore the fact that an important motivation behind the creation of its various types of social utopias had little to do with abolishing the privileges of the ruling classes.

    The more primary motivation centered around the releases of energy contained in vengeance, anger and rage, which were then transformed into hatred, through a type of conceptual ideological fix which served to preserve these more ephemeral emotions in a historical political message often involving the industrial proletariat.

    This message, whether anarchist, communist, socialist or national-socialist, was supposedly necessary to create the illusion of a supposedly unified will called class cohesion.

    A major part of the the political struggles of the 19th and 20th centuries concerned which party or political apparatus on the left would be in charge of the the collective rage of “the people.”

    The more radical portions of the left have always been concerned with the issue of seizing or gaining power through the State. But, in fact, most of their major theorists who paid any attention to the State saw it simply as transitional entity which would eventually and mysteriously fade away.

    Consequently the Left (radical and progressive) have never developed a theory of the State and have seemed to assume that once the bourgeois State was overthrown the bureaucratic State would also be eliminated.

    Flash forward to 2013 and the Left (from the progressive to the Social-democratic to the Socialist)
    is in crisis–because we now live in Police/Surveillance State and the Left has no other historical explanation than the outmoded view that it is simply Big Capital and Big Finance which runs the State for their own interests.

    The NSA apparatus must certainly be pleased with such naivete.

  63. Emma

    The reason for “lame progressives” stems from the fact that we are still unable today, to concentrate on developing a successful all-inclusive way of dealing with economic matters ie. Creating a successful union between capitalism and democracy. Despite too, the fact that American people are probably much more in tune with each other than the adversarial walruses on both sides of the aisle and their host of media parasites would have us believe.

    There is an interesting book on Nonviolent Revolutions and Civil Resistance by Sharon Nepstad, in which she sees the success of a nonviolent revolution around the world, dependent on the strategy used by both the activists, and by the leaders in power. Successful change and progress comes through the ability to remain unified in purpose at undermining the government, its’ troops and security forces with psychological warfare. As opposed to self-destructing and allowing divisions, special interest groups, and offshoots, to tug away and unravel the initially resolute steel ball of intelligent armature required.

    Nepstads’ view is reiterated by Dr Gene Sharp, who also advocates unified strategic planning and implementation to scare the powers-that-be into enlightened self-interest as opposed to remaining unenlightened. It is a call to citizens to play precisely the same kind of mind-games that their leaders play, save for the removal of violence in the equation. It must however be pointed out that a revolution whether violent or nonviolent, always demands its’ victims.

    Our leaders who have the power today are cleverer than your average citizen, progressive or indeed animal in the animal kingdom. Our elite 1% with their artic-hearts, take shelter and advantage of the insulating properties of fairness in the citizens’ psyche. They use the notion of fairness that the system is fundamentally fair because we can elect an Afro-American man to the White House reinforcing the idea that the American Dream is alive and well. However the majority of us remain chilled to the bone because we don’t realize they already control him, so it’s win-win cart-blanche power for them. Or as Ivan Krastev puts it “In mistrust, we trust”.

    People cannot tolerate the power of the elite wind-chill factor over a long duration and either shrivel up and die, or become dormant in a biometric state where both our emotional and physical states are almost monitored 24/7. “The Prince of Darkness is a gentleman” as Shakespeare wrote, and his elite vertical position in life is powerfully erect spewing magical seeds of indoctrination into our lives so we’re less inclined to concoct our own spells of dissent and unrest.

    Progressives are indeed lame and have been for some time. Unlike animals in Winter, despite the perpetual gloom of canopy of branches shutting out sunlight, different species will avoid competition, resist decline, and actually undermine nature to an extent, by confining themselves to focus on one particular food, thereby improving conditions and their chance for growth and survival.

    Adaptation with the clear goal to create a better union between capitalism and democracy IS key to a better America. To achieve this, progressives need to become savvier activists, they need non-violent discipline, more inspirational thinking and a unified effort of course of action under a very unique “Chief Guiding Officer”.

    1. Chris Maukonen

      “Creating a successful union between capitalism and democracy. Despite too, the fact that American people are probably much more in tune with each other than the adversarial walruses on both sides of the aisle and their host of media parasites would have us believe.”

      Maybe this because that capitalism is inherently anti-democratic.

      1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

        It would be fun to make a bunch of voodoo dolls, each one representing some politico or others in the political machines. Then, make Ann a puppet of Bob, Bob a puppet Dan, Dan a puppet of Bo, and Bo a puppet of Ann. Then put it on tumbllr flicker etc.

      2. Emma

        Then how do you explain North Korea versus South Korea today, and what was West Germany versus East Germany?

        I suspect that the union of democracy with capitalism has created a problem in the US in part because private property one-upmanship has been allowed to takeover…..

  64. allcoppedout

    Health and welfare are rarely much of a drain on any economy. The rich and their demand for returns for doing very little other than prevent peace and sensible investment are the problem. The financial curse presents a massive opportunity cost for society that includes murder, theft and depravity.

    Behind the neo-conservative polemic Bapjoy is typical of are ideologies about hard work and its returns that are not sustained by evidence and utterly fantastic, usually ‘Austrian’ notions about great fortunes withering away in free competition we just don’t have. Historically, foreign policies were directed to force very expensive manufactures (at 50% plus profit margins) on markets – there is now (still limited) competition on manufactured products and finance has burgeoned to replace this source of return as though money can make money (something it clearly cannot without fraud).

    Having money is now such a predictor of having more of it we should put riches on a par with welfare as an economic drain, probably more so as the money riches collect is less likely to be spent in the productive economy – and we should bring about tighter controls to prevent financialisation and on the dividends of productive work with capital accumulating for societies in capacity that is sustainable. This would require an attitude change on reward and motivation to work – something long overdue on the truth of how much work is perceived by those doing it.

    The current system would have us doing 12 hours a day on the treadmill in Robot Heaven for our crust (I doubt the bread would be good enough to have one). My guess is progressives baulk at thinking of technology as something we can use to modularise economics in order that we are not slaves to the machine of neo-conservative ideology – one rooted in medieval times and perhaps nomadic notions we can move on to now non-existent new pasture.

  65. MaroonBulldog

    In Sweden, there is a popular song whose first line translates to English as “Children are a people, and they live in a foreign land.” They same sort of thing could be said of many progressives I have known.

  66. Code Name D

    Wow! There is so much here that I could only just skim the surface. And to think there is another thread just as large as this one I need to go though. But having looked into this myself, I have plenty of my own observations to make here.

    One facet of the problem, I would forward, is the lack of any sort of academic rigger with Democratic Party activity.

    I remember Bill Clinton running on a platform of opposing NAFTA, it’s the main reason I supported him. But when Bill suddenly became of staunch supporter of NAFTA, I followed, no questions asked, and became a rabid supporter of NAFTA my self.

    In hind-sight, I was never really educated on what NAFTA was and given a coherent argument as to why it was a bad idea. Of course I was just a dumb lay-person at the time. But there should have been academics operating within the party that demanded this sort of explanation. Bill should have then been placed on the hot seat to show that he understood at the academic level.

    That would have made Bill going back on his word all that much more difficult. Heck, Bill might not have done what he did if he had a good understanding. But he if he did try, there needed to still be academics in the party that would have taken him to task, not just for going back on his word, but demand an accounting of why Bill suddenly thought NAFTA was a good idea, and to hold him accountable for that position.

    I will disagree with the original idea regarding leadership in that I don’t think this is the real heart of the problem. Part of the problem is that Obama can say and do pretty much what ever he wants within the party. He has become the defacto king, and its treason to say any thing ill of the king. And we, the mere dumb presents, can’t really do much to take that on.

    Here is one experience in point. A few years ago, when I discovered you-tube, I started looking for videos regarding the evolution/creationist debate. Poking fun at creationist (my apologies to those of you who consider themselves to be) is practically a sport for you-tubers. And there were a few biologists out there who made the occasional video.

    Then one day, they came up with the probability argument. This is where they calculate the odds that several million DNA bits just fell into place to make a duck. The odds are always really really big numbers, making it next to impossible.

    I have to admit that when I first saw this argument, I didn’t have an answer. It nearly prompted me to reconvert. It didn’t help that the you-tube biologists were chocking on the question. The response was finally produced by a mathematician that had a better understanding of the nature of probability.

    It’s not just the proposition of speaking truth to power. One must have credibility regarding the truth, in order to effectively speak of the truth. And more and more, we are faced with mindboggling complex problems. The reason why I come here is because Yves demonstrates that she is very knowable on maters of economics and certain areas of social economic policy. She also has the resources and the training to conduct the research needed to answer questions that don’t have ready or easy answers. THAT KNOWLEDGE IS INVALUABLE IN THE TRENCHES!!! Some of the best activists we have ever known have been scientists and scholars. Benjamin Franklin, one of our more celebrated founding Fathers, was a blue blood scientist, including the observation that lighting and electricity were one and the same.

    We need more Yves Smiths, and we need them in a whole lot more fields. They are the generals, provided much needed guidance and academic grounding for our activism and movement. And when needed, we need them to take up arms in the rhetorical battles when the opposition sends out there propaganda heavyweights.

    1. Nathanael

      “One facet of the problem, I would forward, is the lack of any sort of academic rigger with Democratic Party activity.”
      (the word you’re looking for is “rigor”)

      “I remember Bill Clinton running on a platform of opposing NAFTA, it’s the main reason I supported him. But when Bill suddenly became of staunch supporter of NAFTA, I followed, no questions asked, and became a rabid supporter of NAFTA my self. ”

      Yeah. This sort of follow-the-leader behavior seems common and I really feel like it’s a problem. Thanks for discussing it and addressing ways we might prevent it in the future.

      Yours is my fave comment of the month.

  67. Furzy Mouse

    um, just who are these lame “progressives”…names? oh, and we still can’t use that much maligned “liberal” sobriquet..I am in the camp of they-have-been-thoroughly-squashed-and-threatened, see “Occupy” for more info….and to even get elected as dog catcher, one has to play the party tune…

  68. affinis

    I’m late to the debate, but just thought I’d weigh in with a few opinions.

    In the initial (8/19) post, Otpor is mentioned as a decentralized movement that succeeded. Though Otpor was decentralized, with much autonomy at the local level (and a corresponding slogan “Otpor in your community”), it’s an error to perceive Otpor as fully decentralized. There was a central group in Belgrade (containing Otpor’s founders), that exerted considerable direct control/influence over the entire organization. The members of the Belgrade central office (e.g. people like Srđa Popović and Ivan Marović) were not public charismatic leaders, but they did play a critical leadership role.

    So Otpor was a very “horizontal” organization, but with just the right amount of vertical structure to function well.

    In my view, that basic structure can be a recipe for success. Overly-vertical organizations can’t produce sufficient buy-in to work as movements. E.g. Move-On (and 99% Spring, which sought to co-opt OWS themes) could never replicate the dynamism/success of Occupy. On the other hand, fully horizontal organizations succumb to the tyranny of structurelessness, are susceptible to provocateurs, get mired in intractable debates, etc. Success seems to come from predominantly flat organization with just the right limited amount of vertical structure.

    With the civil rights movement, we now iconically think of MLK. Much of the civil rights movement (lunch counter sit-ins, boycott participation, early CORE, etc.) was quite horizontal. For movement dynamics to arise (with snowballing participation and multi-sourced creativity), you need that highly horizontal structure. But there were also leaders that contributed strategy, etc. Now, decades later, we seem to focus on the charismatic leaders and neglect the rest.

    The 2011 Wisconsin uprising was, in my view, the perfect mix of mostly horizontal and spontaneous, with just the right amount of vertical structure contributed by the unions (TAA, WEAC, MTI, AFSCME, etc.). Then, after the Capitol occupation ended, it went off the tracks. The unions and Dem party played an overly vertical game. Turned it into a conventional, strongly top-down electoral campaign, seeking to elect an unpopular anointed candidate selected in opaque private meetings (Kathleen Falk). A lot of the union leadership didn’t seem to understand why the early 2011 uprising had been so successful. Otpor incorporated movement dynamics alongside an electoral campaign, and that worked beautifully. The Wisconsin recall campaign utterly failed to do that.

    Another important feature of Otpor was a heavy dose of pragmatic strategic thinking. Many “decentralized” groups wish to eschew strategy – and that’s a huge error in my view. Moreover, for many groups on the radical left, “strategy” means intractable useless debates on grand ideological visions. IMO, there should instead be a focus on empirically, pragmatically, what works. Otpor did well on this – and I find myself wondering whether that, in part, reflected the composition of the founding group – some of the core founders were scientists (e.g. biologists) as opposed to political theorists and philosophers. They came together after an initial movement had collapsed (in part because Milosevic had planted provocateurs who initiated violence, leading to collapse of public support). Terribly depressed, a small group of friends got together in a Belgrade café, to try to dissect what went wrong and to strategize about what might actually work.

    Another interesting example of a successful grassroots movement that did almost everything right – the campaign to abolish slavery in the British Empire http://books.google.ca/books/about/Bury_the_Chains.html?id=8p6c9N5K2i0C

    On a separate point – Richard Ellis makes an argument that, on the left, a devotion to egalitarianism often leads to groups wanting to embrace completely leaderless, structureless, fully flattened organization models that cannot succeed; that go awry/dysfunctional. That the resulting supposedly “leaderless” forms are prone to hijack by charismatic de-facto leaders/demagogues. I don’t agree with all of his arguments, but I don’t think he’s entirely wrong.

    Additional comments:
    >”One could say unflatteringly that the goal of ‘progressives’ in activism is to raise their personal karma by standing up for what is right.”
    Strongly agree with this. But would argue that it’s not only true of “progressives”, but even of a large swath of the radical left – e.g. IMO, many anarchists fall into this. Personal purity karma. Not actually looking to win.

    >”And who has carried the can for progressives? Kline contends it has been radicals, who came from different social backgrounds and have different priorities”
    Also, I’d like to point out this relevant Sam Smith essay: http://prorev.com/2009/12/flotsam-jetsam-moving-on-without-obama.html

    >”As Kervick, Watts, and Kline argue, progressives simply don’t have the stomach for political trench warfare. They’ll write letters, sign petitions, man soup kitchens, but their appetite for bare knuckle confrontations is limited.”
    How often I’ve witnessed this. Weak kneed.

  69. Hugo Stiglitz

    It may also come to pass that neither the oligarchs or liberals win, at least not through any concerted effort of their own. The world we live in, our society etc. is extraordinarily complex with many systems that are not particularly robust. Any disruption of key systems (oil delivery, or break down of confidence in the increasingly bizarre money system for example) could bring about massive shifting of how power is distributed. In complex systems, often something that might appear to be a minor event, will have exponential consequences that few if any would have predicted.

    1. Nathanael

      Well, I’ve been predicting for a while that the current oligarchs are doomed to fall, but that *anything* could come after them (not necessarily liberals). So I guess I agree.

  70. Fiver

    I don’t see why Environmentalists are in the first group, when the fact is they have fought many tough battles, and actually won a number of them. And many of us believe that the State will soon classify “environmental terrorists” people who tie themselves to trees, block logging roads, report spills, demonstrate etc.

    Ironically, the only other group with the sort of already existing “community” ties needed to provide the soil for a “radical” leader to sow is the State itself, and in particular the miltary. Wouldn’t it be great if Snowden was but the first of many thousands who choose to be able to live with themselves the rest of their lives rather than not balk at what they are being ordered to do?

  71. ray

    Any progrssive leadership question needs to be asked in context of 50 years of assassinations of liberal politicians,liberal religious leaders,liberal social icons.
    If you are lucky you get treated like Dean or Edwards-discredited but allowed to live.

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