From time to time, we’ve written about the concept of obliquity, which is that in a complex system, i is impossible to identify a simple path to achieving your objectives. You do not have an adequate grasp of the terrain to do that. Thus people who seek to be happy seldom are the happiest people. Companies that focus on maximizing shareholder value perform less well on that metric than others in the same industry that have loftier, more complex goals.
Politics is particularly subject to obliquity. With the participants regularly engaging in hidden moves and Game of Thrones level sabotage (as well as more than occasional use of sexual favors), it is remarkable that anything ever done. And it is too easy to reject the validity of time-tested truths, like “Politics makes strange bedfellows”. For instance, Roosevelt’s ability to implement his New Deal program was not a downtrodden masses versus feckless elites program, as it is often simplistically portrayed. Roosevelt had the support of what were then the progressive business forces of his era, firms that had strong export businesses (the precursors of our multinationals). They were more willing to ward off the perceived threat of Communism by making a deal with labor because the high value added of their manufacturing operations gave them leeway to make economic concessions (mind you not that this wasn’t true of other businesses but companies with high profit and growth potential in a more normal environment had both more to gain and more to lose).
If one is paying attention, it isn’t hard to notice that much of the country is against our level of military spending. Members of the armed services (overwhelmingly the troops and their families, and to some degree, even the leadership) are either opposed to how US armed forces are overextended by multiple tours of duty in the Middle East or pragmatically recognize that this isn’t a sustainable strategy.
Yet despite where the weight of political sentiment sits in the US, the ferocity of Russian warmongering in the wake of Trump’s victory showed how deeply committed highly influential insiders are to keeping the military machine running on overdrive.
Anyone who opposes the US imperial project is inherently an outsider. If they weren’t one already, they would rapidly become one. Look at what happened to Martin Luther King, held in high esteem as result of his civil rights victories. The press and public sentiment turned on him when he opposed the War in Vietnam. His assassination restored his reputation; who knows if he would have been treated as well by history despite the seminal role he play if he had instead had his opposition to the war when that stance was seen as unpatriotic largely airbrushed from his record.
Another issue to keep in mind is that in battle, reinforcing success is a sounder strategy than sending resources to units that are floundering.
How does this translate into thinking about candidates? It implies that it is naive and self defeating to demand that a “progressive” or bona fide leftist candidate oppose war as a major platform position. Mind you, that it not the same as opposing hawks. And other efforts to build coalitions to oppose America’s costly and corrupt imperialism are important too. But this is a multi-fronted battle, and approaches that are useful in one arena do not necessarily translate into another. Winning in politics is first and foremost about picking winnable fights, scoring victories to gain credibility, skills, and get others to join a successful campaign, and only then moving on to more entrenched targets.
So if an otherwise sound candidate doesn’t campaign on “more war” and gives only at most tepid support, that is far more pragmatic and more likely to win against the war machine in the long run than going after it head on.
Our Marina Bart gives more detail in this exchange in comments two days ago:
April 24, 2017 at 3:14 pm
Warren, like Sanders, is a faux progressive because, like Sanders, she does NOT challenge the U.S. empire and its imperial, interventionist foreign policy.
Until Warren and Sanders start talking about closing the more than 700 U.S. military bases in 70 countries, stopping the deployment of Special Ops teams in more than 130 countries, ending the seven illegal wars of aggression the U.S. is now waging, and cutting the national security budget (one TRILLION dollars a year!) by at least 50%, they should not be considered progressive, just pro-war liberals…
April 24, 2017 at 5:28 pm
What mechanism are you suggesting we use to kill the war machine?
This is my understanding of the available options:
2) Civil War or Violent Revolution
3) Massive citizen unrest that results in enough damage to capital that it retreats once again from open imperial conquest.
Let’s briefly address each, in reverse chron:
Re: #3 — The elite we are dealing with is a global elite, with obscene amounts of stolen wealth that is highly mobile, and properties all over the world. And even during the “Vietnam War” malaise years when the MIC had been somewhat penned in and prevented from launching overt military campaigns, “we” still used the CIA and other arms of the imperial state to overthrow governments not to our liking and clear out whoever and whatever stood in the way of a multinational’s ability to extract monetizable resources all over the world. Just how much damage to capital would need to be inflicted for them to call off their dogs, which is what the US military is? How many people would have to die in urban riots and conflagrations at the hands of our excessively militarized domestic law enforcement agencies, down the the county and town level?
Personally, I believe we have all evidence we need that the bloodshed necessary to also burn down enough corporate buildings and make it meaningfully awkward to enjoy one’s twenty million dollar Manhattan apartment would be extensive. I don’t want to find out how bad it would be. I want to find a less violent way to end state-engineered violence.
Re: #2 — Do I have to detail here how an actual Civil War or Revolution would be even MORE brutal and violent, leading to the loss of even more life, with an outcome even less guaranteed to be the one that we prefer? As a reminder, it’s pretty clear at this point that the South won the Civil War; it just took them a while.
Now, let’s look at option #1 — The only potential option I’m aware of that could bring change peacefully. I will stipulate to start that our electoral system is profoundly corrupted. Simply relying on the “democratic process” wouldn’t work, because we are in no way a democracy. The two parties that control the system utterly won’t even let all American citizens vote, or have their votes counted if those ballots would lead to “unacceptable” desires and outcomes. So even an “electoral” strategy is fraught with difficulties and would necessarily require some degree of citizen protest and destruction of property, to put some force behind the expression of discontent, and drive home to the elites that the people really have become ungovernable being whipped down the neoliberal path. Remember, even an election they have to steal sends them a message. The Democratic Party, run by incompetents though it may be, knows perfectly well its traditional base now hates them*. That’s why they’re trying to steal the Republicans’ base.
But back to option #1: The theory of change being advocated by me, and I believe by Naked Capitalism, is that if we focus on the universal benefits most Americans desperately need, we will energize and awaken a massive coalition with the potential to break the chains and escape the pens we’ve been herded into on our way to the slaughterhouse. If that coalition can be brought together quickly and effectively enough, we can scare off some low-hanging courtier donations the establishment Dems rely on, while putting them in a status bind: their personal status relies in part on their sanctimonious pretense of virtue; without that, what are they? They are deeply invested in this idea of themselves as kind, loving and diverse — see pretty much every tweet from “Chelsea Clinton” of 2017. Taking that identity away from them has many benefits, in terms of everything they care about. Remember, when your material needs are met (and for all Democratic Party functionaries, they are in spades), your psychological needs become paramount. They do not want to accept that they are exploitative warmongers. Believe me. I have directly and personally confronted Democratic trust fund scions on this and faced immediate, life-threatening blowback. The oligarchs aren’t going to fund the Democrats as robustly if it’s clear they can’t get the presidency back,
So, this campaign for universal benefits, which Bernie is pushing for from inside the belly of the beast, creates and energizes a status-quo shattering coalition, while destabilizing the Democratic Party and draining it of funding and allegiance. It weaken our opposition — the Democrats — while fueling our funding and activism. Because the Democrats are already so weak in terms of governing, it offers the opportunity to purge them out of the apparatus of the party, which then offers the opportunity to change the current electoral dynamic. If leftists controlled the Democratic Party in California, 2016 would have gone very, very differently. Among other things, a lot of leftist ballots would have been counted that were shredded or flipped. With each increase in power inside the party system, the left gains the ability to protect the right to vote and have that vote counted, moving us closer and closer to something like actual democracy. The Democratic Party cedes both ideological ground and access to the levers of party power.
Americans don’t want war. There is consensus on the actual left and the segment of the right that actually sends its members to fight about this. In an election where everybody got to vote and have their vote counted, we would have less war. And if we could get universal benefits flowing, that dynamic would strengthen.
You want to push to cancel the war economy first, to pay for the benefits. But I don’t see the coalition for that working. We only have two parties, and both are officially dedicated to war. The Dem/CIA coup was to bring apostate Trump in line. We can’t end the warmaking electorally (i.e., relatively peacefully) until one of the two parties is controlled by anti-war forces. To do that, we have to purge the warmongers out of the Democratic Party (there’s no point in trying this with the Republicans; they have actual governing hegemony). To purge them out, we have to energize people along viscerally urgent lines. Which gets back to why pushing for universal benefits FIRST makes both strategic and moral sense. (Let’s not forget that the United States government is colonizing and brutalizing its own people in massive numbers, every day.)
My strategy has the added benefit that we don’t actually need to start by cutting spending to deliver those benefits. We can use benefits payments to change the political economy, and after gaining power, start to pull all that stolen tax money back into our coffers for the peoples’ use, and correct our budgeting priorities to shrink the military way, way down, and start using it for national defense, rather than corporate wealth acquisition.
Explain to me how your strategy would work to achieve your goal.
* There’s a pertinent section in Shattered, apparently, explaining that after Bernie beat Hillary in Michigan, the Clinton campaign made the decision to avoid it in the General Election. It wasn’t an accident. It was precisely as I had suspected: they recognized that the working class now hated them and their policies, and they had no intention of changing either. They figured they could herd enough black working class voters in Detroit (and fake even more, as per the data from the aborted recount) to still win, as long as the rest of the discouraged and alienated former base didn’t remember there was an election happening. They were literally relying on the people whose jobs, homes and pension they had stolen not being informed enough to come out to vote for their opponent, and that their opponent would be unwilling or unable to reach out to those voters. Which worked out as it should have; it’s such a pleasing surprise these days when that happens. Also: not Putin.