Monday, April 20, 2009

the kleinlash 

Al G. responds to Naomi Klein.

I responded in comments:

I hold no brief for Klein, that article is terrible, and her last book was equally bad. I hope to god none of her facile neologisms make it into everyday speech. They seem custom-designed to become eye-clawingly bad cliches spouted by braindead television anchors desperate for a new way to appear "balanced" in the face of total right-wing implosion.

I also completely agree that the extra-electoral (revolutionary) left in North America is basically an ineffectual homogenous sectarian sub-culture at this point.

However, there are some things in your piece I'd like to address and question:

First, I think you're giving short-shrift to the achievements of the direct-action wing of the Global Justice movement. As short-lived as it was it played a key role in undermining the Washington Consensus. David Graeber's excellent essay "The Shock of Victory" goes into the detail, but as a result of these movements the world was already distancing itself from "free trade" agreements, the IMF, World Bank, and WTO before the Iraq invasion further isolated the United States on the global stage. That's no small potatoes. It fell apart after 9/11, and it obviously didn't destroy capitalism, but it certainly took a lot of wind out of it, and set the stage for later develpments, including the Obama movement. For one thing, that movement morphed, partially, into the anti-war movement which, despite all its problems, did help set the stage for Obama to become an anti-war candidate. None of that rhetoric would have entered the Presidential campaigns had it not been for the hard thankless work of people in the anti-war movement.

Further, one of the things that was exciting about the Global Justice movement, at least in North America, was that it was the first time in a long time that the privileged white-kid left and the working class had managed an alliance. There were a lot of union folks at Seattle and Miami.

Now Obama is seeking to breathe new life into an IMF that this movement effectively destroyed. So we'll see how that goes.

Second, although I think you're soft-pedaling the egregiousness of the bank bailouts, and omitting the Af/Pak situation, Obama's achievements thus far are laudable, and doubly impressive for occuring so quickly. We do need to "demand" more, but we also should be thankful for victories. Real people's real lives will be improved, or at least avoid total catastrophe, as a result of some of these policies.

What I worry about, and don't understand (as I'm not a participant in the Obama movement), is that for one I don't see the endgame to this sort of pure pragmatism you're outlining, and for another I think it may close off options that are actually more possible than people appear to believe, such as single-payer healthcare. (I might be totally wrong about this, but given popular support for single-payer, if the Obama movement really got behind it and pushed it, I can't see how it could fail. A reform like that alone would guarantee Dem party dominance well into the next decade and necessitate a complete reconfiguration of the Right. If the moment is lost in passing half-measures that keep the insco's in the game, we would be waiting another generation for such a system.)

The way Obama bailed out the banks, and his rhetoric, makes it pretty clear that he's interested in restoring America, not transforming it. I think the post-war period of prosperity appears to be what he has in mind, the so-called Golden Age of Capitalism, thus all the FDR comparisons.

But say it works as advertised. Say that stability is restored to the economy, and the green programs lead to a period of growth. Say it even happens well through the end of Obama's second term. If there's no structural change, won't the capitalists just regroup and launch another counter-offensive like the one they started in the 70's and led us into the morass we're in today? If we're not aiming for reforms that will also transform, how are we not just setting ourselves up for another round of pillage and plunder? Don't we want to get beyond ping-ponging back and forth between hyper-exploitative capitalism and state-ameliorated exploitative capitalism?

So, I could certainly see that just getting America back to something resembling the period of post-war liberalism would be a huge move toward our mutually agreed upon anarcho-syndicalist dreamworld, but once that happens, then what? How do we get there from here? Or rather, how do we even get there from the here of ten years from now which will presumably be better if we all pitch-in and work for/with Obama?

The other thing I don't get, and would appreciate an explanation of, is the idea of the Obama movement now moving toward organizing on behalf of Obama's budget and other policy proposals. Before the election, it was promised that the Obama movement would "hold his feet to the fire", but this seems to be off the table now, internet critiques notwithstanding. Perhaps the "how" of that organizing will be decentralized and grass-roots, but the policies are still coming from above. Wouldn't a Bolivian-style situation, in which not only were ground conditions changed by organizers, but policy itself was generated by the grass-roots, be a preferable alterative?

I respect the accomplishments, dedications, hard-work and diversity of the Obama movement. Can you explain though why working for the budget is the best move for the movement right now? Why does it appear to be sitting back and waiting for orders from above? Is that a misperception? If so, how?

Maybe America is just not quite there yet, and the grass-roots, even after coming off an historic victory, still needs to feel its power more before things get to the stage where state officials are taking orders from them, not the other way around. But I imagine what makes it hard for the extra-electorals to get out there and pound pavement, is partly the idea that they're being asked to do it in service of policies generated from above. "Get out there and get people behind the chief's plans!" is a hard row to hoe for a lot of folks, especially ones who are just not fond of chiefs for whatever reason.

Although maybe you don't really care about the craws of the extra-electorals. It certainly seems like it, and honestly I can't see why you would. In that case though, if they're so irrelevant, marginal and pointless, why waste such valuable vitriol and precious pixels on lambasting them?


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?