December 1, 2006

The Next Two Years

I've been thinking about the new Freedom Road/El Camino para la Libertad statement on the elections--currently being discussed at All Out for the Fight and Pottawotomie Creek. One thing that stands out is the bit which reads:

The greatest danger is that of demobilization. One need only think back to the Clinton years and the manner in which his presidency effectively demobilized social movements, as well as liberal and progressive forces generally. The fear of criticizing Clinton because it might fuel the Republicans (at least that is the way that the rhetoric went) led to nearly complete silence while welfare was repealed, the anti-terrorism act was passed, more people were incarcerated in the U.S. than under any president, Yugoslavia was bombed, Iraq was being strangled...and the list could go on and on.
In some ways, the comparison with the Clinton era may understate the problem. If memory serves, what happened then was, in the main, what you could call a demobilization from the top. The leadership of major organized liberal forces with a following in the social movements--NOW, the AFL-CIO, the Black Church, the big environmental groups--were easily played by a shrewd Dem in office after the massive shock of 12 years of Reagan/Bush. A few invitations to the White House, some bad legislation vetoed, FMLA and a handful of other accomplishments, and they rolled over on the White House lawn, waiting for their bellies to be scratched. As David Bromberg puts it in Kaatskill Serenade, "He called me by name/He bought me that cheaply."

What will be driving demobilization this time is two different factors. First, at the big picture level, the stage has been set by the polarization between the bourgeois parties plus the Democratic wave in the 2006 midterm elections, fueled by popular revulsion at Bush, the occupation of Iraq, incumbent venality, and so on. Thus, we can expect that the initial frame inside of which all politics will be discussed for the next two years, on the Sunday morning talk shows and in the laundromat alike, is going to be this: Bush hangs onto his expanded presidential powers as the Congressional Democrats flail at him and candidates for the top slot from both parties jockey for position in the pack. Everything will be about 2008.

Second, and perhaps more important, we would do well to look more closely at developments in the Democratic Party. A giant part of the Dems' sweep was the self-mobilization of tens of thousands of progressive individuals around the country whose loathing for Bush, for what he's done and what he represents, wouldn't let them sit still. They took an active role in campaign after campaign, and even more made targeted donations to "long-shot" candidates who will be taking the oath of office this January.

These women and men were galvanized into action not primarily by the (in most places, barely existant) Democratic party machine, but mainly through a range of Internet-based forms like, BlueState and especially the yeasty DailyKos (or more correctly DailyKos/MyDD/News Blog/FireDogLake/TPM/&., &.) empire in the blogosphere. Many of them would have to be counted (in Maospeak) among the advanced. Many of them work for NGOs, belong to unions and/or are employed in the "caring professions," like teaching and health care. Many have demonstrated against the war.

Now, these folks have just had a very unusual experience. They stepped forward to do something and they had a big fat visible effect on the real world. So while some may, from our point of view, be "demobilized" from independent social movements and non-electoral activism, that's hardly the same as being passive or alienated or depending on Nancy Pelosi to make things right. In fact, some of the most visible are being courted and hired right now as staffers and consultants by politicians, 2008 candidates, think tanks, lobbying firms and the like, exactly so they can mobilize others in the same way.

What do those of us who are anti-imperialists, revolutionaries, socialists, do about this? If this is gonna be a blog and not an on-line book, perhaps we'd best explore that in a future thread. I'll only say the FRSO/OSCL statement correctly identifies the occupation of Iraq as a key link, because the Dems ain't gonna do anything about it and the people of this country are gonna get very restless once they realize that means the carnage may well continue unchecked until well after Inauguration Day, 2009.


Nelson H. said...

I stole part of this post and put it up in the comments section over at PottawAtomie Creek.

Welcome Jimmy!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to suggest a different way of viewing these "demobed" activists. Maybe we should go just a little further back than Clinton's 1992 election.

Yes, more than a few friends and comrades were disarmed by their fervent hopes and dreams back in '92. I remember hearing folks proclaim (without any sense of irony) that Clinton and Gore had made very specific promises to this or that constituency. Whether it was the labor movement, the AIDS crisis/health movement, the remnants of the Rainbow Coalition or whatever, yes, these folks were hanging on to a fantasy of how US government works.

But if we look back to that Rainbow upsurge itself, we may be considering a more relevant period in history to compare this year's "victory". Many stone-left activists, the folks who were at that time referred to as the "hard-left" (itself a male supremacist phrase that was, thankfully, dropped from our diatribes) accepted staff positions with bourgeois politicians at that time.

Hey, it doesn't matter how much these folks are "long-shot" candidates, or what their personal views are. As they became "relevant" candidates, as they become folks who might affect policy, they (of necessity) became mainstream and therefore less of a challenge to the status quo.

And our friends (and comrades) on their staff also became "mainstream".

Jimmy Higgins said...

You've got an interesting suggestion here, Rahim, and I hope you'll expand on it a little. The period of the Rainbow, and the experience you are refering to, which I am assuming is mainly that of the League of Revolutionary Struggle, might indeed hold some lessons worth paying attention to. LRS folk did become players in the Jackson campaign, in particular in 1988, and a lot of them followed the trajectory you describe, with a few, especially on the West Coast, eventually running for and winning local office themselves. (And, for the new jacks reading this, in the aftermath of the '88 campaign the majority in LRS leadership went on to weaken and eventually formally liquidate what was in the late '80s the largest ML organization in the country and one whose membership and leadership was predominantly people of color.)

So what lessons do we draw from this? It would seem to validate the old Trotskyist jibe that the Democratic Party is the Roach Motel of the US Left--Reds go in but they don't come out. Is this lawful--in the sense that the compromises one has to make and the "sugar-coated bullets" of cushy jobs and political influence will inevitably pull folks off of the revolutionary road? (The experience of FRSO/OSCL and some of its predecessor groups would suggest it's not, but that may be a function of the specialized situation--relatively small and weak forces of whom nobody is demanding onerous compromises and to whom nobody is offering the bourgeois political version of the "good life.")

And if it is the case, how do we deal with the need to interface directly and consistently with elected officials if the working class and oppressed people are to be able to, in the traditional formulation, affect affairs of state? Simply to advocate building powerful mass movements which force politicians to respond is doubly idealist--in denying the particularity of contradiction in how that force is exerted (or diverted) and in acting as though particular movements and the people's struggle overall will not have great ups and downs.

Further thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Yes, Jimmy, it was largely (though not exclusively) the behavior of our LRS friends that I referred to here. And yes, you can s characterize my view by as a “Trot jibe” (though I do like that “roach motel” imagery), but lets examine cases.

While self-proclaimed reds might imagine they gained more “access” and “clout” as policy advisors to left-leaning members of Congress than as Research Director to the Democratic Majority in a state legislature (both are real examples, by the way), it seems to me that the less “glamorous” librarian position gave a friend of ours more opportunity to influence law and policy.

Another issue becomes who is being offered and who is taking these staff positions. When members of communist organizations accept a “chief policy advisory” portfolio, they are, in the end, proclaiming the bourgeois fallacy that heroes make history. It may be worth arguing that it’s a little different when non-reds take these kinds of jobs.

So how do we interact with elected officials? We testify at Congressional (and other legislative) hearing as representatives of the campaigns we are active in, as labor activists, anti-police brutality advocates, as folks concerned about healthcare, as music lovers, etc. We and many of our friends, comrades and associates are “expert witnesses” on a variety of topics.

We have a lot to say, without remaking ourselves as lawyers, etc (a whole ‘nother area of real examples).