From the Archives: “Richard Kline: Progressively Losing”

Lambert here: Of course, “you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, they give up.”

Kline’s post was originally written in 2011, but it holds up very well. I’d be interested to know what readers think of Kline’s schema of liberals, ‘progressives,’ and radicals, and whether these categories have mutated and cross-fertilized over time. (For example, Clinton supporters combined a noteworthy tendency to try to convert non-supporters by shaming them, a ‘progressive’ characteristic, with a liberal characteristic: An incrementalist “hang together and don’t rock the boat” attitude appropriate for its 10%er, credentialed, urban/coastal base).

For me, the heart of the post is simple and comes at the end:

Progressives have successfully stamped Big Capital as ‘anti-us’ historically, and they need to return to this. Those active for social reform have to forget about the electoral cycle. They have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible and concentrate on what they themselves are in process of accomplishing. They need a compact reform agenda (yes, bullet points and not more than ten of them). They need a defined activist strategy, no matter how large the difficulties or time horizon appear. They need to build genuinely activist organizations with specific plans to achieve a core set of goals. And they have to reclaim militancy as a word, and deed, of pride. If they do those things, they will make real progress, and moreover they will be ready when the moment comes for breakthrough amongst the wider society.

In crisis, opportunity. Stoller comments that: “Dem party is weaker than any time since 1928.” And by 1932, FDR was a dominant political figure. And FDR had no issues with taking or wielding power at all.

By Richard Kline, a Seattle-based polymath and poet

Those anywhere to the liberal side of the Anglo-American political spectrum have been on a long losing streak. As of this summer of 2011, they are wholly in disarray. In my considered view, ‘progressives’ lose because they do not have it as a goal to win. Their principal concern is to criticize the moral failings of others in society, particularly the moral failings of those in power.

At best, progressives seek to convert. In the main, they name and shame—ineffectively. American ‘progressives’ distrust political power, period, are queasy about anyone having it, and suspicious toward anyone who actively seeks it, including other putative progressives. The contest as progressives conceive it is fundamentally a moral one: they believe they are right, and want their opposition to see the light and reform/conform. Thus, they don’t frame what they engage in as a fight but rather as a debate.

There has been another and more radical trend on the left-liberal end of the spectrum previously. That trend derived from radicalized, Continental European, immigrants, it sourced much of labor activism, and is largely extinct in America as of this date. It is the atrophy of this latter muscle in particular which has rendered progressive finger-wagging impotent.

One can’t fully analyze the state of specifically American left-liberals without evaluating the positions of the domestic economic oligarchy, which are primarily conservative, or left-radical activism internationally. What follows is necessarily truncated yet also the heart of the matter. I’ll start first by defining a few terms.

I would loosely divide the left side of the political spectrum in America into liberals, ‘progressives,’ and radicals. The first two have deep roots in the primary sociological communities of the country; the third did not. Progressives and radicals have largely been distinct communities of activism. I’ll discuss both in some detail below. (Actually, the range is not a spectrum but a three- or four-dimensional position space, but that is a separate issue. I happen to particularly dislike the term ‘progressive,’ but I’ll skip my reasons and use it for the sake of clarity.)

Liberals are great believers in ‘the law,’ and happy enough to live and let live until they are in a pinch or have to give up something for the greater good—at which point they scream for a cop or start in on how ‘we’ can’t afford X. Liberalism isn’t primarily a moral position but a practical attachment to personal liberty and property. If one abandons that allowance for others, one is soon threatened as well since power unchecked makes few fine distinctions, so it’s a ‘hang together and don’t rock the boat’ perspective rather than one of commitment. I’m not going to spend verbiage here discussing this community because they go with the flow rather than push any program. As such, they shape little in the way of policy. The principal asset to left activism provided by liberals is their inertia, since the American political tradition is a significantly liberal one, and American governmental institutions are substantially so on paper. Fascism and oligarchy are pushing on a mountain of lard in trying to shift liberal inertia, with limited success. The only way really to move the ‘liberal muddle’ is to set fire to its peripheries. The good news is that liberals don’t want to change what they have, and clutch for ‘the government and experts’ to save them if things go sour. (Although that’s also the bad news . . . .)

Secondly, let’s dispense with several basic misconceptions regarding why progressives are presently so unsuccessful.

“Progressive goals are not popular.” Even with the systematically distorted polling data of the present, this is demonstrably untrue. Inexpensive health care, progressive taxation, educational scholarship funding, curtailment of foreign wars, environmental protection among others never fail to command majority support. It is difficult to think of a major progressive policy which commands less than a plurality. This situation is one reason for the lazy reliance upon electioneering by progressives, they know that their issues are popular, in principle at least. Rather childishly, they just want a show of hands then, as if that is what goes on really in elections.

“The ‘Right’ is too strong.” The oligarchy specifically and the Right in general are far less strong in American society apart from what their noise machines and bankroll flashing would make one think. The great bulk of the judiciary remains independent even if important higher appellate positions are tainted. Domestic policing is, by tradition and design, highly decentralized, with a good deal of local control, making overt police state actions difficult, visible, and highly unpopular (think TSA). While the military is a socially conservative society in itself, it is also an exceptionally depoliticized one, with civilian control an infrangible value. Popular voter commitment to the nominally more conservative political party has never been narrower or more fragile.

The rightist oligarchy does have a stranglehold on the major media, despite which accurate, uncensored, news is widely and readily available to anyone who wants to hear it. The other principle advantage of conservatives is that they are highly organized. Consider how the oligarchy effectively took over the ‘Tea Potter’ lunatic fringe in no time, and still presently stage manages it behind the curtain, or how they are paying some outfit(s) to constantly monitor and surreptitiously disrupt liberal to progressive blog-spaces. The powers of the Right are broad but thin and brittle, like a coat of lacquer on everything. Any organized citizen resistance would shatter that surface grip without great difficulty.

Part of the genius of the Right is that they presently operate through puppets, like Scott Walker or Chris Christie, or even Clarence Thomas, rather than attempt to assume direct power. Individual puppets can be kicked out, but they can always buy/indoctrinate another set of quislings because the supply of wannabes is endless. But that is a weakness, too, in that without such a puppet quisling in the right place at the right time (think Tim Geithner) the Right has no grip on key levers of power. The larger point here is that the mass of institutional governance in the US remains wholly separate from conservative control, and is not notably committed to conservative goals.

“America is a conservative society.” That is demonstrably untrue on any historical analysis. Like the other points here, it is a meme invented and spread by the right wing itself. There are three grains of truth in the contention, however.

More than some West European derived socio-cultures, there is an initial value placed in Christian profession; not faith, profession, and not an enduring one either. I won’t argue this in detail, as it takes a text, but the profession of a higher cause is the personal entry point to belonging in the society distinct from a more discrete paradigm of ethnicity. This makes the society seem from the outside more Christian, and hence ‘conservative,’ than it is in fact. This has for the majority become the ‘civil religion’ of Bellah, but is in effect a secularized form of Christian pilgrimism; one must profess to belong.

Second, there are specific communities in American culture which are deeply conservative, notably most rural whites. Their society is in fact distinct from the culture of the county as a whole, something they understand but that the majority chooses not to. (This concept is argued, if slightly differently, by David Hackett Fischer in Albion’s Seed, an analysis I endorse and would extend.) The point being that their society in America is conservative, but American society as a whole is liberal if one does a sociological analysis.

Third, American society is not radical because it is deeply suspicious of ‘combinations,’ cabals, cliques, or factions who combine to advance their own interests as distinct from the broader public interest. There are deep socio-historical roots for this antipathy to faction, but they are real. One consequence of this, though, is that American society as a whole has generally been hostile to organized labor as a ‘special interest.’ American society also has a bedrock attachment to personal property and personal liberty—essential liberal values, one might add, not conservative ones—which impede any advocacy of leveling or uniformitariansim; i.e. liberty always trumps equality. The flip side here, though, is that Americans are just as suspicious of ‘sections,’ ‘trusts,’ ‘banksters,’ and oligarchs if they see them as an organized, self-interested force. This distrust is not a conservative preference. These are further points I won’t develop, but the in aggregate they make society seem ‘more conservative’ since radical goals are shied away from.

Who’ll Carry the Can?

Anglo-American ‘progressivism’ has its origins in Non-Conformist religious reform communities. These date to Lollard times in England c. 1400, before the US was settled, and always had a significant social reformist element beyond within a professed Christian carapace, as it were. Literacy, education, personal liberty, and economic liberalism are all embedded in this worldview, formed as it was between the contesting pressures of a rapacious, French-speaking aristocracy and a crypto-absolutist monarchy with scant regard for the rule of law, while a venal and irreligious church hierarchy provided no relief. England from c. 1350-1500 was a place of intense factions and irruptions of civil war, leaving a distaste for power-seekers and military rebellion. Few of them were rich; it was a proto-bourgeois and petite bourgeois community, but with religious congregants in the lesser nobility giving them communication with power. The suffered erratic but at times severe religious persecution prior to c. 1600, and political disenfranchisement even after that, which much shaped their negative view of state power. There is much more to this subject, which demands a text no one has yet written. This is a social tradition are both fairly well-defined and quite longstanding.

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. Without going into examples, that is my opinion, and a conclusion I’ll return to on a different vector below. What progressives do best is to deny and eventually withdraw community sanction for specific practices, so that those practices are eroded and then banned by governing authorities. Where communities are deeply divided and such practices have tenacious constituencies, progressives have few answers and no success.

The origins of Anglo-American radicalism are far less tidy to summarize. To me, it’s an open question whether a native tradition of radicalism even exists. I’ll posit a view, by itself debatable though to me accurate, that radicalism is a secularized derivative of millenarian religious revolt, but modify that contention in saying that ‘bread and justice’ were ever the drivers of such fervor. Religious ‘fairness and community’ were simply the only means long accessible for poor or oppressed communities to intellectually package their dissent and demands. ‘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.

Howsoever, it is difficult to argue for a radical activist community in the US before extensive non-Anglo immigration. Radicalism certainly hasn’t been limited to industrial or even urban contexts, but then neither has immigration. American mining drew heavily upon experience European mining communities, many of whom who brought radical ideas with them, for instance. Even if one considers civil rights agitation intrinsically radical, the same conclusion holds, for blacks, Catholics, and Jews were by definition non-indigenous to a Protestant British colonial community. I’ve been all through Foner’s work on the growth of American labor, and read a deal else, and while I wouldn’t say it is his conclusion I’m struck by how late and how separate labor demands were in their inception in American left-liberal activism.

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.

Many earlier immigrant communities experienced considerable oppression, and not only came to America as an escape but brought radical elements with them. That was true amongst German, Polish, Jewish, and Italian immigrants, and was relevant amongst the small West Indian population as well. Their third and fourth generation descendants are, at best, little involved with radical organizing. Present immigrant communities to the US are substantially from Central America and its surrounds, East Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. These communities have not brought radical elements with them: those have tended to stay home or go elsewhere. They have largely come here for the opportunity to better themselves, and shaking the social order is the last thing on their agenda. The exception to that are Muslim immigrants to the US, of diverse background though substantially Arab in origin. Presently, they lack indigenous American allies, and are heavily policed by the state; they are no way placed to take a vanguard position supposing that they were so inclined.

Reviewing the summary above, it will be evident that the supply of aggrieved militants has thinned out. One could say, uncharitably, they their residual objective has been a piece of the pie, and to be left alone to eat it in dignity. “Share the wealth,” is the substance of their message. Once they have any, the tendency is to sing another song. On a darker note, some were later sedentarized by acquiring apparatuses, which easily rancidify into patronage and rent-seeking gatekeepers.

What radicals do best is bunch up and shove, that is organize and agitate. Those now don’t bunch, and have little inclination to shove as opposed to fit in. But for blatant discrimination, present immigrants would be a reliable, conservative voter base not inclined to pursue economic grievances through activism. Without that muscle, labor has no strength. What labor has are mortgages, debt, and a lot to lose, not a matrix congruent with agitation.

From the perspective here, progressive and radical vectors and their policies overlap directly only in a few areas. Moreover, these vectors have tended to be pursued by discrete demographic and ethnic communities, though of course values and polices have been swapped and shared at times and in places. The success of one vector has tended to advance the success of the other Said another way, they have been more powerful in combination than either would be alone. If radicals might have achieved some of their goals without progressive support, though, the reverse is not true. Progressive advocacy particularly lacks any traction at present absent effective radical agitation to make the progressives seem like ‘the reasonable ones.’

A further conclusion from this analysis is that the assault of the right has been focused disproportionately upon the prior policy and institutional gains of the radical vector. From one perspective, one could hypothesize that the broader socio-culture has focused its response upon the ‘most foreign’ or perhaps ‘least native’ contentions. I’m far from sure that I believe that myself. For one thing, the oligarchy and the right are most hostile to economic claims. With the exception of environmental activism, which has huge economic implications, most advocacy for economic justice has lain primarily with the radical rather than progressive community. Radical agitation has been the most militant, provided the most physical muscle, and is historically sourced amongst the poor, all reasons why radical successes should be expected to draw the larger reactionary attack. Then too, economic reforms are easier to attack since they are far less embedded in law than social reforms. And further, one should not assume a reactionary program will stop if and when the institutional bulwark of economic justice and organization is crushed, since there will be little to bar the marginalization or ban of existing progressive successes after such a point.

Still, any progressive or radical revival has to take into account that the assault of reaction has been principally aimed at economic justice and its supporting legal and institutional bases in the US and the UK.

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity . . . .”

If it all seems black, consider: Social justice never seemed deader than 1957, but enormous reforms were enacted by 1974. Progressivism was never more prostrate than c. 1900, but a broad reformist agenda was emplaced by 1916.

The downside to those comparisons, though, is that radicalism did much of the agitation to impel reform in both cases, and it is just that engaged radicalism which we most lack now. To go back a further iteration to the 1849s, progressives sans radicals were far less successful until slaver states were stupid enough to revolt. The American socio-political context is more divided and radicalism weaker today than at any time since the 1840s.

As of 2011, I would say that progressivism is broader and better known than at any time in American history, not least because of the validation and presence of past success. We can rely on the oligarchy to push to egregious excess. What we cannot rely upon is public agitation to be the thin end of the wedge.

Can we, then, expect oligarchical corruption and economic losses to push liberals and the haute bourgeois toward a reformist program? I wouldn’t count on that, and in particular, no one should expect that to happen quickly if it occurs at all. Take as an example Dylan Ratigan’s recent rant against elite corruption (to unfairly single out one prominent instance). His solution? “Let’s all get together on a Big Capitalist Spend-a-thon.” Because we’re ‘too divided,’ so we need something like a ‘Moon Program that brought us together.’ Now, I don’t know where Ratigan was in 1962, but that was the height of Civil Rights agitation, concurrent with mass agitation against atomic weapons testing, and also the start of the anti-poverty campaigns. His image of the country pulling together is something seen through the dollar signs on white tinted glasses, frankly.

But there are two deeper points to take from his appeal. First, he, as many, evidently believes that capitalism will really save him and us, it’s just that ‘a few’ have hijacked it. He doesn’t want to change any system, only to get back to some non-existent past in the imagination when it worked, or rather when it worked ‘for people like me . . er, us.’ Many think like this, and it is a huge load of sand in the crankcase on any drive for change. What these folks want never worked for many in this society, but too many believe in retrospect that it did because that belief validates a lot of comfortable lies. That embrace of plasticine phantasies is a dead weight against change.

Second, Ratigan inveighed against ‘factionalism’ even more than against corrupt oligarchs. Like many, he sees himself as in a reasonable center between ‘the left’ and ‘the right,’ and in firm American tradition mentioned above he is suspicious of special interests advocating ‘their position.’ So he wants us to come together around a common position. Now, the political naivety of this is stunning given the overt, anti-social, anti-citizen program of the right through a generation, pushed in private by many whom he doubtless respects in public.

But even accepting the false analysis, what stands out is the extent to which progressives have let themselves become seen as ‘special interests’ advocating ‘for the few.’ Ratigan isn’t alone; many ‘liberals’ and ‘centrists’ and ‘independent voters’ share this view of progressives, explicitly or implicitly. This is where progressives are in the public mind, and not simply through propaganda from the right.

Progressives have successfully become tarred as ‘factional’ in significant part due to their involvement with identity politics, i.e. ‘X rights.’ The Democratic Party has correctly identified this imprimatur as an electoral loser, and for that reason amongst others have abandoned progressivism in the most cowardly way. However, we cannot expect ‘reasonable centrists,’ delusional or not, to embrace the reform program of ‘those X favorers;’ this will not happen. And not necessarily because ‘centrists’ hate ‘those Xers,’ but because the societal disposition is to shun advocates of minority advantage.

One could list numerous conceptual failures amongst liberal and radical activists in this way. I’m going to limit myself to a few, with similarly few remedies to follow. Progressives have a childish fondness for a show of hands, i.e. elections, and a present obsession with the current reactionary ‘hypocrite’ coughed up by the oligarchy and the latter’s media. Both are pointless and self-defeating. Winning elections doesn’t matter; passing laws and regulations, and winning court decisions on their basis is what matters. The former may lead to the latter, but it hasn’t for twenty years at least. And the oligarchy can always recruit another quisling, the supply is endless; their personalities are irrelevant.

Moreover, the ideological ultra-right doesn’t care if they are in the minority: they’re delusionally convinced of their own validity, and will continue in their ways whether they get 10% or 70% of the vote. What matters isn’t what they’re after but simply beating them.

Progressives have become far too obsessed with ‘the agenda of the right’ to the point that they themselves presently have no positive agenda, certainly none that can draw in the uncommitted. Progressive actions are wholly defensive rather than offensive, and this maximizes the oligarchy’s huge advantage in money and organization. In an endless search for ‘equality,’ progressive activists have handcuffed themselves to the contemporary equivalent of campaigning for temperance (banning alcohol so as to ‘force’ uplift). These activisms and other, broader forms of identity politics aren’t something I would call for abandoning. They cannot, however, recruit a wider reform movement, and indeed actively repel those of limited political education because they focus inherently on ‘some, not all.’

On the radical side, employer based privileges (i.e. ‘contracts’) will continue to be broad-base losers for left liberals, exactly because they inherently favor ‘some, not all.’ The workplace organizing model was always compromised; in the US, it has failed. Narrow unions are dead, not least because corporations can move jobs, sites, and countries far too readily. Something much in evidence now amongst anti-union working class and petit bourgeois folks who should, in principle, support unions to enhance ‘prevailing standards’ gains is, explicitly, spite that some have good jobs and protections while these others don’t. If rightist propaganda has exploited this, the situation is nonetheless a huge bar to extending a radical reform program even amongst existing union members, to say nothing of those on the outside. Issue- and instance-specific campaigns such as opposition to fracking run into the same problems. If you are directly effected, it’s a crisis; if you live 100 miles away, it’s not your problem (seemingly).

Similarly, “Free my spliff” doesn’t have much currency for non-tokers. The problem is that instance- and job-specific injustices have always been and remain primary, organizational drawing cards. These are what radicalize many individuals, and get them involved with activism to solve them.

To me, the only way out of these dead ends lies in committing to a defined agenda of institutionalized, economic justice because this affects all. Social justice cannot be secured absent economic justice. Any such agenda is going to be anti-corporate, anti-poverty, pro-education (and job re-education), and pro-regulation. It has to be citizen-based outside of existing political parties. This kind of program can be articulated as pro-community rather than pro-faction if the organizing is done. This has to be pursued from a defined agenda, unapologetically, and from a pro-citizen(ship) position regardless of other more discrete goals.

Will Anglo-American progressives articulate any such program and organize around it? I can’t say that I’m optimistic. Yates said it best in the fewest words in a comparable social moment heading on for four generations ago. To extend upon that thought, the contemporaneous Fabian Society had a fine, progressive program. Almost anything they could have aimed for within reason was ultimately put in place too—from 1944-50 when the British Empire was derelict, the state effectively bankrupt, and the ruling class irretrievably discredited by their knee-jerk nationalism and societal niggardlyness. Between the wars, Fabian successors were unable to accomplish anything meaningful on their own.

And yes, we too now can rely upon the oligarchy to fail. They have nothing to offer 90% of the citizenry, economically or socially. They have been serial catastrophists in their grossly speculative market manipulation, and only grasp after ever more gassy phantasms following each failure. Their ‘bombsight hegemony’ pursued abroad gets no peace, no silence, and no net profit. Both on an historical basis and on present scrutiny, we can rely upon the extractive class to drive themselves right into the bridge abutment of ruin.

What we can’t rely upon is for them to impact that moment quickly. From an historical and cyclical perspective, ‘just waiting it out’ might take until 2035, even 2045. Now a generation of squalor and iniquity in the US is nothing to remark on scaled against world-historical standards; it would fit with the rule of things rather than the exceptions. Americans think that they are exceptional, and that that isn’t how they do things. Well, they’ll have to live up to that, because what is certain is that we won’t have reform without struggle. Government-buying oligarchs; sold-out liberals clutching their meal tickets; loose cannon fascist minority; deeply divided society: that’s too many logs to leap on a single, lucky bound, or to be rolled by Some Sainted Prez (of which we’ll have none). If we want change sooner than a generation of rot from now, it will have to be worked for, and worked for not with wagging fingers and dabs of money thrown at issues but with organization.

Progressives will continue to lose as long as they continue to act with strategic irresolution and tactical incompetence. They no longer have a political party to carry their banner: the Democrats have completely shut them out. Waverers and the Great Huddled Middle won’t respect, and so won’t support, natterers who won’t fight.

We are not in a time for converting but one for confronting; not a time for compromise but a time for direct action. Holding actions are a way to lose slowly, an offensive program is needed. Naming and shaming, and electing the Next Great Saviour have both failed, and progressives need to get off those donkeys and articulate a real activist agenda. Spectacle gatherings which the media ignore and where everyone goes home Monday morning are presently ineffective because there is no organized base to make use of them. Money is not the main problem; feet on the ground moving forward are the real problem. A discrete agenda pursued full-time by experienced organizers is the solution. Less talk, and more walk.

Progressives have successfully stamped Big Capital as ‘anti-us’ historically, and they need to return to this. Those active for social reform have to forget about the electoral cycle. They have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible and concentrate on what they themselves are in process of accomplishing. They need a compact reform agenda (yes, bullet points and not more than ten of them). They need a defined activist strategy, no matter how large the difficulties or time horizon appear. They need to build genuinely activist organizations with specific plans to achieve a core set of goals. And they have to reclaim militancy as a word, and deed, of pride. If they do those things, they will make real progress, and moreover they will be ready when the moment comes for breakthrough amongst the wider society.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Politics on by .

About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Madmamie

    I think everybody should go back and watch Paul Jay’s third interview with Bill Ayers (just before the election) on TRNN.

    1. DarkMatters

      Frustrating. Ayers talks of being mindful of positive targets, yet his discussion continues to be a criticism of existing conditions, rather than a presentation of bullet points to achieve. Physician, heal thyself.

      1. Alejandro

        If you don’t know where you are, it doesn’t matter where you want to go. Powerpoint presentations are not maps and “maps are not the terrain”…”know thyself” and where you are, first.

        1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

          OK let’s start, where are we? Anyone who stood silent and/or cheered while Obama continued with 8 years of straight-up Bush Terms 3 and 4 policies cannot call themselves a “progressive”. How you like me now?

  2. fresno dan

    What is always amazing to me is that the repubs enforce RINO while Dean learned that the democratic wing of the democratic party does not exist. It is hard to argue that liberals / progressives / or anyone much concerned with merely enforcing laws fairly gets ANY representation when their presidential nominee/husband earns ?180? million dollars giving speeches to bankers, ESPECIALLY after the bankers put the country thorough the worst financial crisis sine the great depression…

    1. Uahsenaa

      Personally, I get most frustrated by people’s unwillingness to talk about power: who has it and how they use it. There’s this perverse desire to see everyone as “fundamentally good” and all that is necessary is to appeal to their better nature. Yet, I’ve seen many perfectly affable and more or less caring individuals remain complicit in the exercise of power in entirely dubious ways, because they simply refuse to think about it to any significant degree. The labor organizing campaigns I’ve been a part of meet just as much resistance from admin/management as from the koolaid drinkers who want to believe “we’re all in this together” and don’t want to draw the ire of TPTB, perhaps because they know in their heart of hearts just how precarious their position really is. The largest program here at my U, which employs nearly as many graduate students and adjuncts as the other departments combined, is populated by many such go-along-to-get-along-ists, which makes any effort to organize nearly impossible.

      None of them want to hear that a starting librarian makes much more than they do (both in terms of salary and bennies), which is not to slight the librarians (they earn it), nor how their department chair makes 5 times as much as they do for reasons that continue to escape me. He’s not a bad guy, but you’d think at some point the discrepancy would rankle more than it seems to.

      1. tony

        I think that the modern education system selects for agreeableness and concentiousness. These two traits are strongly associated with obedience to authority and agreeable people tend towards dishonesty and wilful ignorance because the truth makes people feel bad.

      2. noinspiration

        perhaps because they know in their heart of hearts just how precarious their position really is.

        I don’t think there’s any perhaps about it; this is the main thing. It’s much easier to believe that your boss is a good person than to admit that you should be afraid of them. In this connection, it’s also worth noting Kline’s point about how the populations that used to produce radicals have mortgages, debt, and lots to lose.

    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      The “democratic wing of the Democratic party” did exist, in the organizers that Dean hired, the work that they did, and the people they brought into the party. All of which is why Rahm Emmanuel (and Tim Kain) needed to destroy Dean’s work and bring in creatures like Steve Israel (a strategy that lost them the Senate this year with Murphy and Bayh).

      The descendants of the “democratic wing of the Democratic party” also exist today. That’s why the Democratic Establishment needed to rig the primaries to defeat it.

  3. Ulysses

    “Progressives have successfully stamped Big Capital as ‘anti-us’ historically, and they need to return to this. Those active for social reform have to forget about the electoral cycle. They have to forget about what the lunatic Right is doing as much as possible and concentrate on what they themselves are in process of accomplishing.”


    I oppose Trump for the same reason that I oppose Clinton. He is someone who upholds a system of taking more from the many, for the benefit of a few. Anyone else interested in unapologetic, militant activism might want to get in touch with their nearest I.W.W. chapter:

    1. Uahsenaa

      I’ve been trying to convince the people I’m currently working with to go with the IWW rather than the AFT, whose behavior this election with regard to their membership was downright shameful. The grad students are organized under UE, which wouldn’t be a terrible option.

      I’m not hopeful, either way. The adjuncts here are super gun shy and pretty thoroughly cowed by the precarious nature of their employment situation.

  4. tommy strange

    The last paragraph reads close to anarchist writing I’ve been reading for 30 years. Demand and organize for participatory economics, direct democracy, urban assemblies, etc. I’ve lived my life by this, I only hope those on the left embrace this finally. Yes vote. But the ballot box only sways ‘left’ when the masses revolt in a truly organized demand. At the least you get crumbs, at the most, you get social revolution.

    1. tegnost

      for one thing I’ll be surprised if another “progressive” tries to win by courting republican voters and dissing their own. That, at least, is a step in the right direction. Purple revolution be damned, and I think the purple revolutionaries aren’t aiding themselves much by their antics

  5. Brad

    Too much abstract faith in the “progressive liberal tradition” in the USA. The US state is a lot less liberal in structure that Kline thinks. See JGA Pocock and the Atlantic Republican interpretation (“Machievellian Moment…”). “Conservatives” are to be seen as politically activated liberals.

    The less-than-liberal structure of the state describes exactly the cul-de-sac of American progressive politics. Advance within the existing state regime is no longer possible (let’s say highly unlikely). It was in the past before the Cold War. But the Civil rights and antiwar movements were essentially strategic failures. Nothing since. That history is over. No wonder Sanders spoke of a “political revolution”. Not sure he understood the full implications of that slogan.

    One factual nitpick. “Domestic policing is, by tradition and design, highly decentralized, with a good deal of local control, making overt police state actions difficult, visible, and highly unpopular (think TSA)”. False. First, complete lack of understanding of the origins of *urban* policing. Traditional local control was agrarian in origin and social orientation. 2nd Amendment militias. That didn’t work well in policing New York City and Chicago. See “The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894” Sam Mitrani (2013). The city is the hole in the American donut.

    Second, ignores the enormous Federal centralization and augmentation of urban policing, first with Nixon and again in another leap, after Homeland security, focus centers NSA etc. Occupy was a revealing “count the rifles” exercise in Federally coordinated urban repression. So is Standing Rock, in a “rural-industrial” petro-pipeline setting.

    1. Science Officer Smirnoff

      Better yet (per Pocock ref) see J P McCormick’s Machiavellian Democracy (2011) Cambridge University Press:

      The plebian tribunate, the centerpiece of Machiavelli’s prescriptions for popular government, was an intensely controversial institution in assessments of the Roman Republic throughout the history of Western political thought. Yet, inexplicably, scholarship devoted to elaborating Machiavelli’s “republicanism” virtually ignores it. Aristocratic republicans such as Guicciardini, and many more before and after him, from Cicero to Montesquieu, criticized the tribunate for opening the doors of government to upstarts, who subsequently stir up strife, sedition, and insurrection among the common people. Machiavelli, on the contrary, argues that the establishment of the tribunes made the Roman constitution “nearly perfect” by facilitating the plebians’ assertion of their proper role as the “guardians” of Roman liberty.

      As we will observe in Chapter 4, when Machiavelli proposes constitutional reforms to restore the Florentine Republic, he creates a tribunician office, the proposti or provosts, a magistracy that wields veto and appellate powers and excludes the republic’s most prominent citizens.* Even commentators who understand Machiavelli to be an advocate of the people, an antagonist of the grandi, or— albeit more rarely—a democrat pure and simple largely neglect the crucial role that the Roman tribunes play in his political thought and consistently overlook his proposal to establish Florentine tribunes, the provosts, within his native city.

      *N. Machiavelli, “Discursus on Florentine Affairs” (1520-21)
      [emphasis added, two footnotes, and section citation omitted]

      Be so good as to place under your pillow at night—from the Introduction (pp. 7-8)

    2. Ray Phenicie

      Thank you for getting us to read JGA Pocock’sThe Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. A rather deep book but his point , I believe, comes from the story about James Madison getting crates of books that Jefferson sent to him from France. These books (can’t find the list-have to get a biography of Madison) focused on the republican nature of the Renaissance cities of northern Italy: Florence and Venice in particular.
      Madison rose many times to speak at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. We have to know this to understand our current position in history. Because we have lost this understanding of our tradition we are now wallowing in ignorance. Go ask Hillary or Donald what they think about Florentine Republicanism of the Renaissance.
      Harty Har har.

      The real issue for Madison and for us is to balance Republican Ideals about the philosophy and civics of government led by a dedicated band of committed leaders as opposed to the inevitable quandary of how to make proportional representation in a democratically based constitutional form of government actually work-see the failure of the electoral college concept or the concept of having a two senators represent tiny geographic regions. We are still forging what the term ‘limited government’ really means. Likewise the term Republican form of government. U. S. Constitution says:

      Section 4. The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

      What does all that mean?-let me get another book off my shelf-oh wait I gave that away-well the reader can research the topic and report back. Words like Democracy, Liberal and Progressive are not easy to define but that does not mean we should throw the words out of the political discourse.

      Finally, the issue for me about Kline’s article is his contention that the country we inhabit has a Democracy ensconced somewhere inside its borders. He mentions the realist nature of the observer (myself) who can honestly report on a pathological state of the patient’s present condition without falling into despair. Poetry, love, art and music still flourish in the land so life is good. Oh and craft beer. Always the books, and music and beer. Beethoven’s Ninth and all that.

      So we really need to look at that term. And, gentle reader, do not despair-you too can bolster public opinion on this very important topic. I contend that we are very distant from any land that is a Democracy. Kline mentions the failed revolution of the 1960’s but I know, as does every reader, that he can see the images of that era in his mind. These are the images of a police state in full, naked, crude, raw, in-your-face tyranny. The Hobbesian (as in hob nailed boot) monstrosity of the state is on exhibit. We do not live in a Democracy.

      Finally, from Larry Diamond’s Lecture at Hilla University for Humanistic Studies
      January 21, 2004:

      Democracy consists of four basic elements:

      I want to begin with an overview of what democracy is. We can think of democracy as a system of government with four key elements:

      A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections.

      2. The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life.

      3. Protection of the human rights of all citizens.

      4. A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.

      1. Ray Phenicie

        Pocock describes the Machiavellian moment:

        It is a name for the moment in conceptualized time in which the republic was seen as confronting its own temporal finitude, as attempting to remain morally and politically stable in a stream of irrational events conceived as essentially destructive of all system of secular stability. . . It is further affirmed that “the Machiavellian moment” had a continuing history, in the sense that secular political self-consciousness continued to pose problems in historical self-awareness, which form part of the journey of Western thought from the medieval Christian to the modern historical mode. . . Florentine theory and its image of Venetian practice left an important paradigmatic legacy: concepts of balanced government, dynamic virtu, and the role of arms and property in shaping the civic personality.

        We are always facing, it seems, a Machiavellian moment but now, more than ever, we need to find out what balanced government and civic virtue mean as we go down the chute to the hard prison floor of reality in a Trumpean moment.

  6. Synoia

    It reads as a rant, with the objective “write 2000 words.”

    Where’s the beef? The less than 10 point plan?

  7. Synoia

    Lambert here: Of course, “you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, they give up.”

    Never Give Up.
    Never, Never Give Up.
    Never, Never, Never Give Up.

  8. Douglass Truth

    just heard part of a skit on Prairie Home Companion – it was about construction workers making a lot of noise early in the morning – according to the skit, just to annoy people – mocking them – I wonder what a construction worker would think if they heard it. actually, I know: fuck those liberals, I build stuff.

    1. bob

      Yeah, I did road work for a while.

      “they’re all standing around every time I drive by. Lazy”

      What would it look like at your office if we could drive through that? You’re all sitting down!

    2. casino implosion

      As a structural steel erector I recently had the pleasure of working on the roof of a building being renovated for a new client: one of the world’s top tech companies. We were in a panic rush because the weekend street-closure crane permits had been issued for the coming Saturday, when the heavy cooling unit would be installed on top of the frame we were building.

      Midweek, a surprise visit was announced: the CEO of the company-a household name worldwide, and a notorious villain, was making a tour of inspection. All work in the building was to cease so that things would be quiet in the downstairs conference room where he was being welcomed by his toadies and familiars. Only my crew was permitted to work, since we were on the roof and had to finish in 3 days. “Just keep it real quiet, guys” begged the general contractor’s rep.

      2000-lb I-beams do not go in quietly. Not long after we started work a deputation arrived on the roof and told us to work more quietly, the big shots were downstairs. We gave them a couple of minutes to get back downstairs and then I picked up an 8-lb sledgehammer with a sawed-down handle and hit a column about 5 times as hard as I could, transmitting the noise via the structure through the whole building. Then we downed tools and sat there until they came running back with their hair on fire and ordered us off the premises immediately. Straight to the Blarney Stone.

      They still needed their dunnage, though, and we got to install it at night, for time-and-a-half.

  9. sharonsj

    Labels don’t work anymore. I think of myself as all three: liberal, progressive, radical. Yes, I occasionally name call in comments to conservatives because I can’t believe how ignorant of facts they are or how they dismiss facts as irrelevant. I give genuine sources for the information I provide–such as the two Pentagon papers on climate change–and get replies telling me the Pentagon is full of liberals. Or the lady who blamed a kid’s despicable actions in Utah, arresting for torturing and killing the family puppy, on liberals. When is the last time anyone with a brain thought of Utah as liberal? I called her delusional (my common epithet for Republicans) and that’s hardly shaming. Nor can it be compared the the endless crap hurled at Bernie supporters by Hillbots.

    1. Uahsenaa

      Progressive seems to have been rendered meaningless of late. If CAP is “progressive,” then I have no idea what that word means.

      To my students, I usually refer to myself as a pinko or, in darker times, as a useful idiot.

    2. Cry Shop


      My name, the most intimate label I have, mean/carries different import to everyone I know.

      Once a label is on something
      It becomes an it
      Like it’s no longer alive

      Even dictionaries have to be updated with accelerating frequency as the underlying meaning and usage of words change, how much more so words that no one turns to a standard reference to understand. It’s interesting that even Chomsky and Žižek can’t even agree over something as specific as what’s Anarcho-syndicalism.

  10. bmeisen

    Don’t forget that the dems had until the early 90’s 26 years of control of both houses of Congress, and that Obama shared his first 2 years with a dem Congress, blue dogs as well as a few red cats.

    Klein misses the mark in my opinion. There’s a long tradition of miltancy on the left. Progressives need to focus on the election cycle – can you imagine Bernie somehow not? More specifically on the inconveniences that constitute Democracy in the USA. One change would I believe have profound consequences – citizen registration. Sounds so horrible, and in Alabama critics see a return to segregation. Nonsense. Mandated citizen registration is standard practice in European social democracies. Governments desperately need the information it generates to successfully serve the public! Only the anglo-saxon systems dismiss it, using obsolete liberal arguemnts.

    A few of the benefits: mandated citizen registration dramatically reduces and controls illegal immigration, which in the US would go a long way with a vital constituency – the rural poor. Accompanied by harmonization of the delivery of civil services, including voter registration, it would address critical faults in the system by making the voter registration process automatic, keeping rolls complete and up-to-date and voters informed about practical details. The implications would be dramatic: end of the 2-party system, a real chance for minorities at sharin power.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Do you have a concrete example of where this worked, in particular “minorities” [classes thereof?] “sharing power”?

      Neutral-sounding words like “harmonization” give me the creeps.

      1. tegnost

        I agree, a symmetric application of regulation and laws, rather than the asymmetric reality in which we now exist, would preclude the need for more individual surveillance, this idea sounds like more of the same top down administration, and the tech companies and gov all have more information abut us than they’re letting on making citizen registration a policing tool for the others.

      2. bmeisen

        Political – not necessarily racial, ethnic, or lifestyle – minorities. In Germany mandated citizen regisration and harmonization of municipal services – making services (mv, voter reg, parking, passports … ) available at one service point (the citizen center or its field offices) – guarantees that all elligible voters are “registered” and informed including reminders of upcoming elections. Parties run neither voter registration nor US style get-out-the-vote campaigns. Voters don’t have to take a morning to get back out to the mall where the voter reg office is when they realize that they moved last year and forgot to re-register. The rolls are not subject to intermittant purges when the civil servants might have a moment to get to it, nor are they the domain of the party that currently controlls city hall. The result is higher turnouts and greater voter engagement in the democratic process which is what ultimately was designed out of the US system.

      3. bmeisen

        The Alabama law is awful because it makes citizen registration a pre-requisite for one municipal service. The reminders of segregation are painful and an effect will be voter suppression – the hallmark of Democracy in the US.

        The model that I am suggesting makes citizen registration a pre-requisite for any and all municipal services: voter registration, garbage collection/landfill use, motor vehicle registration, among others. Political minorities, not necessarily ethnic racial and lifestyle minorities, benefit becasue under mandated citizen registration, all elligible voters are registered and informed of approaching elections. Any change of legal address requires a visit to the citizen center where your file referencing legal name, date of birth, nationality, marital status and address is updated and a new ID is issued. The new ID or a print-out that you have registered is your ticket to municipal services as well as participation in the next election.

        This format benefits 2 critical areas: immigration and voting. Regarding voting, the rolls do not have to be intermittantly purged, for example when city hall workers have some spare time to correct for death notices and court judgements. The databases are networked and accessible in each citizen center field office. Nor are the rolls the precious domain of the party that currently controls city hall. They are the domain of the citizen registration office and the civil servants who staff it. New parties are more likely under these conditions than currently.

        Regarding immigration: illegal or unregistered immigrants can’t access essential services. Currently it is possible to live a lifetime illegally in the US and suffer basically only one disadvantage – you can’t vote, which is actually perfectly fine with the system anyways. With mandated citizen registration an illegal immigrant can get by for a while but the disadvantages mount and indeed sooner rather than later it makes more sense to leave or apply for citizenship.

  11. Carolinian

    I’m not too sure how useful it is to worry about who is a liberal etc. For most USians it might be “all of the above” (probably not radical) and it changes over the course of their life. But one should point out that our culture has maintained until recently the myth of the classless society and this is one of the things Sanders didn’t get with his emphasis on “billionaires.” Most Americans don’t resent billionaires because they want to


    billionaires. Which makes aspirational America considerably different from the highly class structured societies in Europe. After all this is why many people came here. Now that the economic way upward is increasingly blocked things are changing. If we want an economic revolution like they’ve had in Europe then we may have to become a lot more like them and that is happening.

    The truth is that people are basically selfish and have to be convinced that social peace is in the interest of everyone. Great emergencies like the Depression and WW2 have helped us achieve that social cohesion for a time but I’d say the US is a mostly conservative country where liberals have to work to make their case. The reason is simple enough: capitalism has made us affluent and the affluent are conservative. However capitalism is also an inherently unstable form of society and that affluence is fast receding for most. Events will be in the saddle and determine when the left finally makes its comeback.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      “Most Americans don’t resent billionaires because they want to become billionaires.”

      Citation needed. My life’s experience in these United States indicates otherwise. Most Americans want to be financially comfortable, with a modicum of control over their lives and their work. They do not want gold plated toilets in penthouses in Manhattan, with excessive staff and over-dressed trophy wives.

      1. Carolinian

        You are giving a middle class perspective (which I share…I could care less about being a billionaire). However the poor and struggling, the voters Dems need, would love to be billionaires. The aspirational thing may be dated but it still exists.

        1. nippersmom

          Most of the poor and struggling I know/have met aspire what you would probably describe as middle class, not to being billionaires.

    2. Temporarily Sane

      Which makes aspirational America considerably different from the highly class structured societies in Europe.

      Are you saying Americans have more opportunities for upward social mobility than Europeans? I don’t have the source at hand but I read that Denmark now has a higher upward social mobility rate than the US, which would mean class structure is more rigid in the US than in parts of Europe. It’s worth remembering that Europe is a continent and probably the US has a more fluid class structure than some European countries but definitely not all of them.

      The “Europe” which you seem to be alluding to no longer exists. The days of western and northern Europe being an inspiration for social democrats in the English speaking world are over and have been for several decades. The trend has been for those nations to move rightward and align themselves with the Anglo-American model of capitalism. This really took off with the election of Tony Blair in the UK and Gerhardt Schroeder in Germany in the mid-1990s and has accelerated since then.

      Currently the EU is a shambles and perhaps even more out of touch with reality than the US. The moribund Eurozone in thrall to neo-liberal technocrats and inability to deal with the refugee influx (which Europe helped create by supporting American led “regime change”) doesn’t seem to have sunk in yet. The rhetoric around “Brexiteers” is similar to what is being said about the “deplorables” who voted for Donald Trump: that they are a bunch of racist and misogynist scumbags who hate Muslims and black people and women etc. etc. Head in the sand group think denial at its finest.

      Currently the EU is not exactly a role model of excellence and both sides of the Atlantic are in a similar predicament. The myths of the past have largely lost their currency and only the privileged and socially powerful benefit from people believing in them. Many people do not believe in them anymore and voiced their fear and disgust in the only way still legally left open to them. Judging by the media’s post-Trump/Brexit doubling down on finger-pointing and absolving themselves and their neo-liberal “partners” of any responsibility for voters’ discontent, the message has not gotten through. At all.

      1. Carolinian

        Yes I was giving more of a look backwards and trying to show how things here are becoming more like Europe used to be…evolution in reverse. But isn’t Europe moving back into oligarchy as well?

      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > The truth is that people are basically selfish

        That’s not a truth. It’s a neoliberal narrative. Of course, we’ve had a couple of generations of miseducation, time enough for Darwin to do a little work on optimizing for greed…

        1. Carolinian

          Let me expand my comment:

          Most people are basically selfish and most people are social animals and all of this is instinctive. As I said in the interesting Outis discussion, liberalism = empathy and empathy seems to be inbuilt as part of our social animal nature. But if you assume that a great deal of human behavior–far more than conventional humanism cares to admit–comes from our genetic heritage then you have to deal with the fact that self preservation is job one. But of course that’s not the whole story since, per Darwin, species preservation is the ultimate job one.Homo Sapiens rule the planet because we are social and because we are “the apes with big brains.”

          So yes people are selfish and the job of liberalism is to appeal to our social side and convince us via those big brains to inhibit the selfish side. In my as always humble opinion, liberalism, coming as it does from a religious tradition, spends way too much time worrying about traditional concepts such as free will and moral choice and you see this in commenters like former seminarian Chris Hedges with his often insightful but Manichean opinions.

          As for neoliberalism, this has no philosophical basis whatsoever but is merely about using one portion of our instinctive nature to manipulate itself into power and wealth.

          To sum up: liberalism needs to stop trying to change people and make them “good” but rather deal with who we really are and save the planet. Species preservation, after all, is job one. There is a great conflict of ideas going on here but it’s more rational versus irrational. This is one reason why all the fear and hysteria after the election is so disturbing. FDR, a practical guy, said fear is the real enemy.

          1. Carolinian

            BTW I’ve read a book about Darwin that suggests he first came up with his theory through visits to the London Zoo and observations of commonality among the animals and in particular how much the zoo’s just acquired gorilla resembled humans. Of course the converse of that is that we resemble them. For Victorians the idea was shocking. For 21st century-ians “just another species” may be an idea whose time has come.

    3. Harold

      This is certainly the national individualist-bootstraps myth, as taught to all our children, and, even if not accepted by everyone, since in tension with our religious instincts, civilization, and humanity, one never sees it challenged head on. It’s the HRC/Ronald Reagan mantra, for example.

      1. Carolinian

        So you are saying there are no poor immigrants who came here and made fortunes. Of course that’s not true. As I said above things are changing as they must for class conflict politics to come to the fore.

  12. sd

    Personally, I don’t really know what to call myself. I think Bernies version of Democratic Socialist is probably the closest, but pretty much, very few in the US even know what that is.

    So reading this article, I got lost pretty fast because I don’t really know where I am in Kline’s construct. His idea of progressive, is different from my personal experience. The same with militant, radical, liberal and left.

    In the end. What point is he really trying to make? We all suck?

    1. noinspiration

      His point is that we need to be like the Republicans after Goldwater, thinking long-term and building a movement rather than following the winds of electoral fortune.

      Also, from what I’ve seen, one of the major themes of this post-election has been recriminations between the people Kline calls progressive and those he calls radical. Two groups who might have thought they were the same turn out not even to be speaking the same language. I think Kline’s distinction is worth keeping in mind if we want to move past the current impasse.

  13. Edward

    Progressivism is what Fascism was called in America in the last century. Check out “Liberal Fascism” by Jonah Goldberg for the historical details.

    1. FluffytheObeseCat

      I wouldn’t trust Jonah Goldberg in regards to the time of day. He makes his living as a social-political shill for the neocon right.

  14. dk

    Further, since so much of radicalism is communally based it has often been difficult for radicals to form inter-communal alliances.

    It’s harder if they try to coordinate ideologically, which intentionally or unintentionally implies ideological homogeneity. It’s easier to form alliances between local communities in a per-issue basis. For example, water quality is a pretty common issue in man communities, but maybe issue #1 in some areas, lower on the list in others. Lateral sharing of information and methods, and uniting for national policy purposes, can be achieved without requiring uniformity on other issues.

    Of course this means that there is never a completely uniform culture, which is the case anyway, concepts of ideological purity not withstanding. Local activism is a good way to grow organically and at least somewhat asynchronously. Leading edge groups can share lessons with newer ones, and experimentation can take place locally without putting a national organization at risk. It’s also harder for the opposition to spot :).

    The benefits of centralized national organizing are few, but western culture finds it intellectually satisfying. Experiences with strong centralized federations (US, EU) suggest that ad hoc federation is more flexible, task focussed, and safer against totalitarianism/fascism.

    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      That’s why bulleted lists of policies are good. People can support (say) a Post Office bank, even if their ideological assumptions differ (within a spectrum of opinion, I grant).

      1. dk

        Yes but can we take that a little further?

        I see a recurring problem in organizatios like unions, where the original basis for organizing was collective bargaining. Then people try to leverage the existing union organization and involve it (its membership) in other issues like stricter gun laws, which some union members may not want to promote. Membership commitment is weakened and both collective bargaining and gun legislation may suffer.

        Political parties obviously have similar issue parsing and constituency fracturing, is it really advantageous to have groups operate on multiple fronts when one could have multiple groups? Is ideological uniformity beneficial, necessary, or even rational? Do I have to have the same politics as my neighbor just so we can both support infrastructure for clean water? To the point, do I want to get involved in national political organizations, even “new ” ones, that essentially force me to commit to their entire bullet list? This just opens the door to astroturfing

        In small populations, the multiple issues may outnumber the membership, but if there’s one thing we have a lot of, it’s people. Why can’t organization happen around single issues and leave abstract philosophies to individual preferences? Bureaucracy happens one way or another, use it to focus resources into specialized organizations rather single organizations that do many things while “eliminating redundancies”.

        Organizations can have similar/partially overlapping bullet lists, but end up competing for membership.

        Give some ideological group, I think we can say that :
        – no two group members have completely identical priorities of an identical large set of issues, at least if one drills down far enough.
        – any member’s priorities and issues can vary over time. Heck, issues themselves morph over time, too, not just conceptually but eventually.

        Lists can also describe people and their various issue priorities:

        person A           person B            person C
        animal welfare     black sox           universal wage
        P.O. banking       crop cicrcles       blue sox
        blue sox           P.O. banking        L. Cohen memorial

        So organizing can be done around single goals, instead of the same issues/goals appearing on the bullet lists of various (possibly competing) orgs. The orgs can be local or distributed (probably a bit of both).

        A and B can work together in the P.O. banking collective, they don’t have to see eye to eye on sox, and their sox debate doesn’t have to impede P.O. banking. This can lead to siloing if taken too far and not understood externally, but it’s a way to achieve effectiveness faster on issues, while avoiding gridlock that comes from ideological differences, and the vulnerability of multi-issue organizations to fail on all fronts because they are failing on one.

        tldr; bullets lists are for people, not organizations.

        I’m sure this could be expressed more simply/directly with a better vocabulary than mine.

        1. Lambert Strether Post author

          I like your mode of thinking but:

          tldr; bullets lists are for people, not organizations.

          1) So who are we trying to get to vote us? People, or organizations?

          2) I’m recollecting an image of a Wright Patman palm card. I can’t find it now, but on the card was a bulleted list, with items delivered like: Rural electrification, Social Security, and so on Concrete material benefits.

          1. dk

            Candidates are people, too! :)

            When voting for a candidate, the palm card / bullet list is a great way to see how well they fit your/my prefered profile.

            We vote for people (leaving aside ballot measures), that’s where bullet lists and palm cards work, and belong.

            But do we need to jam our inter-election organizing, activism and fundraising into monolithic orgs with fixed (and/or debated) bullet lists? Already, unions and other non-candidate groups go canvasing and GOTVing for multiple candidates. Distributed org resources can come together for specific purposes, and still work independently when that brings advantage. Be one or be many as needed.

            One of the details of the classic divide and conquer strategies is to divide the target group in ways that weaken them; that doesn’t mean that division inherently weakens. Specialization cultivates expertise; multiple targets are harder to attack at once; right-sizing doesn’t always mean bigger; diversity doesn’t have to be institutionalized, it can be organic, systemic.

            This is multi-dimensional thinking, and task-specific components for structures that compose/decompose as needed. A lot of western thought revolves around linear (one-dimensional) models and static configurations.

            You know the story about the bundle of sticks? The old paterfamilias on his deathbed implores his quarrelsome sons to work together, “Each of you bring me two sticks; take one and see how easily it breaks. Now give me your other remaining sticks; I tie them together, see how you are unable to break the bundle! Stronger Together!”
            and with that the old man expires.

            Fast forward 10 years, the brothers have pooled all of their land and resources, and prospered beyond what they could have done alone, but things are not going uniformly well. Their children squabble, their shared infrastructure becomes fragile, their collective wealth draws many enemies. One day the whole thing collapses, and the brothers find themselves sitting around a campfire far from home, wandering refugees.

            A stranger approaches; aren’t you the famous sons? What are you doing here? They tell him the story and show him their keepsake, the bundle of sticks. Ah what a tragedy, your sainted father died before giving you further counsel! The stranger throws the bundle into the fire, the sticks all burn together. You see? There is a time to band together, and a time to stand apart. (Not coincidently, a bundle of totem sticks is the symbol and namesake of fascism).

  15. I Have Strange Dreams

    Healthcare, food, shelter, education and dignity are basic human rights. What is radical about wanting to live in a civilized society? Why would anyone be opposed to their fellow humans having such basic rights, unless they were suffering from a mental illness like greed? Call out the greedy for what they are: sociopaths.

    1. Ray Phenicie

      Greed really is a subset of other emotional responses that keep people from identifying and emoting with their fellow human beings. Also greed can be controlled by careful and thoughtful government administration that can use the full coercive power of the government while protecting individual liberties and rights. The problem is finding people to operate in the higher echelons of government who care as much or more for other people than they do themselves. So far, we have failed to do that.

  16. skippy

    Richard Kline, a Seattle poet an polymath, predicts that the oligarchy that funds the Tea Party will fail. In a recent essay, he wrote,

    …we too now can rely upon the oligarchy to fail. They have nothing to offer 90% of the citizenry, economically or socially. They have been serial catastrophists in their grossly speculative market manipulation, and only grasp after ever more gassy phantasms following each failure. Their ‘bombsight hegemony’ pursued abroad gets no peace, no silence, and no net profit. Both on an historical basis and on present scrutiny, we can rely upon the extractive class to drive themselves right into the bridge abutment of ruin.

    What we can’t rely upon is for them to impact that moment quickly. From an historical and cyclical perspective, ‘just waiting it out’ might take until 2035, even 2045. … If we want change sooner than a generation of rot from now, it will have to be worked for, and worked for not with wagging fingers and dabs of money thrown at issues but with organization.

    Disheveled Marsupial…. I wonder how old compatriot Richard fares…. I do still think of him…. and some others…

  17. stefan

    Ten point agenda. We need to speed up economic growth while creating pathways to a broad-based middle class society.

    1. Transportation- long range plan to install super high speed rail and upgrade regional transport throughout nation “highly reticulated vascular system”, rebuild roads, bridges, harbors, etc.

    2. Communication- land-based broadband to rural as well as urban places “a completely articulated nervous system”

    3. Education- federal support for state-based overhaul of education, beginning at the university level, letting state universities coordinate with localities “ a healthy neocortex”

    4. Construction- lengthen depreciation period from 20 years to 100 years to induce higher quality, more labor intensive construction “physical exercise”

    5. R&D- incentives and eduction dollars to foster technological innovation (?% of GDP)

    6. Health- go to single payer, medicare for all

    7. International- relax posture while trying to ensure peaceful coexistence “be friendly”

    8. Taxation-use tax policies to suppress incomes above $5m/yr, enforce pay to play taxes for domestic corporations “recover balance”

    9. Energy- upgrade grid and diversify sources

    10. Domestic- protect civil rights, equal protection, and fairness

Comments are closed.