By Marina Bart (formerly aab) a writer and former public relations consultant, who thinks and writes about many things, including political economy, culture and communication
eactions to Yves’ piece suggesting the best pathway to reduce American military imperialism might involve a more oblique approach were…lively. In it, she hoisted a long comment of mine written a few days earlier arguing along similar lines. Some readers, rather focusing their analytic energy on the proposal itself, chose instead to attack me as being insufficiently peace-loving and virtuous. I might have taken that a tad personally.
The linchpin of much of the opposition to this proposed strategy was that war is immoral, advocating for and implementing war is immoral, and therefore supporting any politician who advocates for or implements war is immoral. I agree. We are not proposing to support warmongers in any way. We are not proposing to support establishment politicians. We are proposing that at this stage of the process, the left emphasize universal direct material benefits, and not require that candidates overtly and aggressively campaign against the military industrial complex. The goal is to build a large enough coalition for the left to take power and, among other important objectives, shut down all these wars.
As I mentioned in my response, I’ve been participating in anti-war activity since my mother pushed me in a stroller for one of the earliest marches against the Vietnam War. I door knocked for Eugene McCarthy in elementary school; I was banned from Brownies for wearing a McCarthy button. I helped Obama get elected in part because I thought he would at least dial the warmongering back compared to Clinton or McCain. But that didn’t happen did it?
One of the notable aspects was that some objecting to the proposed approach misunderstood it. Given how much trolling occurs on the Internet generally, and particularly in political forums, it’s easy to assume that personal insults and distortions are deliberate trolling. But it is equally true that real, mutual communication is hard. Developing consensus is hard, especially if you’re trying to create something new that materially and intimately effects those involved. So online trolling has systemic downstream currents, conditioning people to treat one another as nefarious opponents, rather than as potential allies with shared goals.
The essential problem remains unsolved. The majority of United States citizens would benefit from a government focused on citizen needs over elite desires. They neither want nor benefit from our military adventurism. Neither do the people everywhere else on Earth. There is already a electoral majority for a number of important policies and legislative initiatives that would move the country’s governance in that direction. Those policies and initiatives remain unimplemented not because people don’t want them, but because the United States is not functionally a democracy. The economic elite controls all the levers of government, as well as all the pathways into government. We have a deeply corrupted electoral system, which the ruling elite uses to engage in empty democracy theater as a means of social control.
So, is there any way to get from here to a country with broadly shared prosperity, a healthy and happy citizenry, and a more peaceful mode of governmental operation both at home and abroad? One that does not require increased bloodshed or waiting until the entire system collapses (which would involve tremendous suffering, particularly for the billions already being exploited by the global ruling elite)?
I think there is. Yves and Lambert agree with me. We’re not the only ones. The idea is to build such a massive, energized coalition, organized around a nurturing, peaceful vision of what American government and community can and should be, that we can overwhelm the electoral, media and other entrenched obstacles that stand in the way of real change.
Yves and I were both arguing that there’s an opening now to do this. There are challenges. Nothing is guaranteed. But the times they are a-changing, and this offers the left a real opportunity it hasn’t had in decades. A key goal would be a significantly reduced military. We are not advocating assisting current Democratic Party leadership in any way. In fact, the objective is to remove them from power, inside the party as well as in government. All we are saying is give universal direct material benefits a chance to build the coalition and teach Americans what a government that serves them can and should do. There’s more to the strategy. Coming up next will be a post laying out the whole plan – there’s more to it than “vote” + “magic” = Utopia! But first, since this is a grassroots strategy aimed at creating a more egalitarian society, I thought it might be useful to hear from other members of the commentariat. As some old dude once said, “It’s not me. It’s us.”
My inspiration for this piece, which will also inform how I handle the next one, comes from reader jrs, whose response began,
I read it several times trying to understand the full of the argument, but all of it is such a stretch from anything we have now that it’s hard to even imagine how it would play out.
Yes. We are advocating a paradigm shift. (I didn’t realize until I read the reactions just how big a one it apparently is.) As with other dramatically new ways of thinking, such as Modern Monetary Theory (or heliocentrism), it can be very challenging both to advocate for it and to absorb it. Our past, our culture and our terminology all fight against it. It’s difficult to avoid reflexively retreating to familiar categories, language and positions even when you are consciously trying to avoid them. I want to find a way around that problem.
Cujo359, after saying my argument was unpersuasive, continued,
To start with, I don’t come at this from a political operative’s point of view, but from a citizen’s. I want my country to be a better place, and specifically, I want it to be a better place by giving all of us access to medical care and the opportunity to find a job or make a decent living (in short, a full employment policy of some sort). Any politician who doesn’t support those policies won’t get my vote or support, no matter what his position on other matters, because to me without those principles in mind any politician is going to take us in the wrong direction as a country. Right now, most major party politicians don’t have either my vote or support.
I fundamentally agree with all of this. The reason to address political strategy here is reach and persuade citizens to help build the coalition. It’s for exactly these kinds of discussions. Solidarity on the left has been fractured into a thousand tiny pieces. An important goal of any winning strategy that could move the country left is to rebuild that solidarity. Given that Cujo and I are so closely aligned on desired outcomes, my challenge is persuade Cujo to work with me strategically. I’d like to believe I can. I am going to try in my next piece, which will cover all the different elements of this approach, not just the policy prioritization issue. It will not require anyone to vote against their interests or for what they perceive to be immoral people or policies. Ever.
PlutoniumKun framed it this way:
I agree with Yves and Marina on this, but I do think that at a minimum a candidate, no matter how good they are on single payer should at least not be an overt ‘bomb first and then ask questions’ imperialist.
Yes. In fact, I think the minimum should be several notches further left. All we’re suggesting is that the people and platform we support should not be required to be overtly, aggressively anti-war right now, while the left is still to weak to do anything about it. As Kalen wrote,
[Being vehemently anti-war] is more or less position of R.Luxemburg who was condemned for it and died abandoned by her fellow comrades and labeled a traitor by her compatriots.
This is the price that many righteous leftists like Malcolm X had finally become had to pay sometimes even from hands of their comrades in the struggle.
While Kalen mentioned this in a comment arguing against our proposed approach, this tragic history could be considered a point in its favor. I would like to find a way to keep our current and future Rosa Luxemburgs and Malcolm Xs (and Martin Luther Kings, for that matter) alive and working for social justice as well as achieving an end to our Imperial warmongering. The goal is to end profit-driven state violence, with as little additional death and suffering as possible. That’s why we propose trying a slightly different means to achieve the exact same goal as Rosa Luxemburg, Malcolm X, and presumably Kalen.
As to why we are proposing an emphasis on universal benefits at this stage, dcblogger reported:
I went to an anti war march the day after the strikes on Syria. Code Pink was there, the DC Statehood/Green party and a few other die hards there. Mebbe 100 demonstrators. The anti-war movement is far too week at this moment to be a driver of anything.
Along these lines, the list of economic benefits that could be successfully promoted by the left (i.e. become law) is long, popular, and potentially unifying. A governing coalition built upon this kind of program is possible, even in the relatively near future. Unfortunately, a similar coalition that sought to undo the MIC could not be built in the U.S. anytime soon. I do think that those supporting this kind of universal benefits program would generally be open to restraining military spending and adventurism. After all, Bernie Sanders voted against both Iraq wars. He was also one of only three senators who voted against the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 and one of seven who voted against the 2017 bill.
Like many, I am not happy about Bernie Sanders’ conciliatory statements towards our military and surveillance regime. But he is still the furthest left national political figure in the country. He refused to board the bus to the White House to be part of Trump’s “let’s bomb North Korea” dog and pony show. He was the only Senator who refused. The goal here is to make Sanders’ current operational position the right flank of U.S. foreign policy, not its shriveled, disempowered left flank.
Cat Burglar pointed out another way focusing on universal benefits now gets us to an anti-war government sooner rather than later.
I remember a friend who held back from joining a large demonstration in Paris that was being violently harassed by police; he told me, “I didn’t have national health care like the Parisians did.” I know more than a few people working in businesses they find morally objectionable who would quit, except for the medical benefits…Looked at this way, from the bottom up, getting universal benefits is a way to allow people the free space in their lives to overcome the military-industrial-congressional complex.
Just as an army travels on its stomach, a protest movement will struggle if its members are too sick, exhausted, or hungry to protest. Focusing on universal benefits now would both demonstrate why and how a different kind of government is worth fighting for, and give the people support they need to keep fighting.
While the full game plan does not require every member of the coalition to ever cast a vote for a Democrat or even vote at all, it does hinge on purging corporatist Democrats from the party. Not just as elected officials, but within the party machinery at the state and local level. Among other advantages, that means we won’t get McGoverned this time. We’re not asking any leftist to help any corporatist ever, just as we are not asking anyone to support any warmongering candidate ever. As per Sluggeaux,
Federal, State, and Local campaign laws favor the so-called “two-party system” and it is quite impossible for a third-party solution at the ballot box. At this moment the Democrat party is completely out of power in any branch of government and in most states, so there is indeed no reason for the Military-Industrial Complex to direct graft the way of the Democrat establishment. This creates an opportunity to push the agents of the Washington-Wall Street axis out of the party.
The two major parties have been working for over a century to guarantee that no national third party can take power. This is intended to trap the left, stranding it in the wilderness with no path to power. Even if your preferred outcome is a new party, weakening the corporate hold over the Democratic Party is a necessary condition for success. It’s their job to stop us. We have a unique opportunity to instead oust them. Universal material benefits are the key that unlocks the door of our cell.
As a precursor to the next post explaining the overall strategy, here’s Kurt Sperry:
I like Marina’s argument and mostly agree but it’s important to remember that there is no incentive for the DP to reform as long as they have have political influence to sell. They must first be weakened and starved of resources–and political power–before reform efforts will find any traction. I think that means in the near term that we cannot give any aid to the party where that aid is administered by the party, and that we should vote Republican (or at the least withhold our votes) when there are no reformist Dems on the ballot to vote for. To reform the DP, it must mostly be torn down first, and that in practice necessarily means allowing Republicans to win any contests where there are no reformers to vote for.
I have a daughter. When she was about the same age I was when my mother pushed me in that stroller, I pushed her in a stroller through the Los Angeles Zoo on September 11th, 2001. A friend had called and suggested we get the kids out of the house so they wouldn’t be around much television, to give us time to figure out what to tell them. I don’t want her to also have to push her daughter in a stroller over another American war or blowback from the last one. I want to be a citizen of a peaceful nation. Doing the same thing again and again yet expecting a different result is famously considered to be…unuseful. Perhaps a paradigm shift can get us where so many of us have been trying to go for so very, very long.