Re: 60s/grass roots

Fri, 14 Jun 1996 15:29:35 -0400

To respond to a few of Eide's comments:

His view of the left is that it is (a) dead and irrelevant --because this
liberal-capitalist world is pretty good (and Marx has been discredited --by
what, the fall of Soviet-style communism?), and (b) academic, cultish, &
top-down vanguardist, out of touch with real people's lives.

Obviously, we part company on the first point. I simply see too many ways
in which capitalism contains imperatives that produce vast ills on this
globe: the competitive growth imperative that is cumulatively eating away
at the global ecosphere (I take seriously fundamental warnings about the
planet's and our ability to survive as a species, from global warming, to
the thinning ozone layer, to the significant erosion of the human immune
system) --these are not trends simply reparable by a technological fix;
the inequality imperative: namely that capitalism requires inequality (as
an incentive driving the top-down social control in the corporate
structure, as a surplus labor pool of unemployed needed to keep wages low,
costs down, and profits up, etc.) and capitalism produces enormous
inequality, which then produces government responsive largely to the needs
of capital (i.e., via the wealthy elites) [Thus the "freedoms" and leisure
enjoyed by the industrialized West have come on the backs of much of the
Third World --IN the Third World and at home.]; and the consumerist
imperative, driving people's lifestyle habits, even their self-definition,
through advertising and never-ending manipulation. There are, of course,
other pieces one could talk about, but I have no doubt that Eide see's the
glass half full, while I see it half-empty. I would say that all of these
imperatives UNDERMINE democracy based on the active participation and felt
needs of all people engaged in their various communities. Guess this
seems almost obvious to me.

I'm flat out puzzled by his second point, however. Take this, e.g.:

> I think Ted raises some interesting points. The problem
>w/grass roots movments (ie. militia of 90's) is that, eventually,
>they throw out all claims to legitimacy by saying, 'not simply
>will we change what we don't like we will destroy everything else
>since our superior logic connects everything together; and here
>are the dupes, here are the conspirators, here are the intellectual
>theories that proves it can be no other way. etc.' At that point
>your 'grass roots' wither and die. The old organizer Alinsky
>knew this and use to shake his head at the new left. Once a group
>says, 'well, liberal democratic technocratic, capitalist society
>is a sham, a fabrication so it must be destroyed- and we will
>destroy it since we see through its fabrication, its sham.' And you
>commit yourself in this fashion you, ipso facto, make about 99.5%
>of the people trying to make a living, raise kids, etc. your
>enemy. And so your group is marginalized.

Uh, who ARE we talking about here Eide? Odd that you choose the militia of
the 90s as the vehicle for discrediting the left. Might as well include Pat
Buchanan, too. But please spell out what left is behaving in this manner? I
would subscribe completely to Alinsky's methods, updated perhaps to account
for behavior of the mass media, and so would progressive community organizers
that I'm familiar with (and they are all over --some dealing with ecological
issues, some with educational issues, some with workplace issues, etc....)
THESE are all part of the left, even if they don't always make the connection
to the more global forces at work (case in point: workers organizing because
they are being downsized out of jobs; some are attentive to global/capitalist
forces at work --e.g., the newly organized Labor Party Advocates; others
aren't). And as for the tiny minority left, check out some public opinion poll
results on the public's view of the government, the economy, the role of the
wealthy & elites, the need for better environmental safeguards and health
supports, etc. (to say nothing of the 70% or so who have consistently
maintained that the Vietnam war was "fundamentally wrong and immoral."

So, you ask:

> What kind of grass roots movement are you
>going to have if you don't trust the people, their judgements,
>their dreams, their freedoms? Hm? Why will the experience of
>nature change consciousness but all the books by Chomsky change not
>a thing except the field wherein he is an expert?

Two brief points: WHO doesn't trust the people? I would argue that Chomsky
trusts the people far more than virtually anyone else I have read commenting
on the political scene; among other things, he argues again and again that the
people are way ahead of the elites who are trying to control their
consciousness (which is, among other things, WHY elites try to control their
consciousness). I'm not putting down "nature" as something that can change
consciousness, (though I would say it can change pieces of one's
consciousness --e.g, respect and reverence for the natural, etc.-- but not
others --ways that economic imperatives create incentives to disrespect the
natural), but I'll argue from first-hand experience that Chomsky does, too
--namely the consciousness of my students who read him. They "move" quite a
ways in their consciousness by reading Manufacturing Consent, for example.

Guess that's enough said for now.
Ted Morgan

Except for this:

>ps. please understand the subtle laughter of the media- it is not
>the 60's movement they criticize it is the baby-boomers who carried
>these movements in their youth and who have moved into the mainstream.
>'So, this is where it all ended up,' the media scoffs.

Precisely, and this is largely a media fabrication (Big Chill style) because
what the media are saying here is that people who were at the core of 60s
movements are no longer engaged in the struggle for justice, peace, etc.
First, the media are caught in their own generational reification; the 60s, I
would argue, never were a generational phenomenon. And second, thgere is ample
evidence (both public opinion polling and books like Doug McAdam's & Whalen &
Flacks) that 60s activists are still committed to the same values & visions that
underlay their activism in the 60s. Just because people age, marry & have
families, develop careers, doesn't mean they embrace the values the
media-based consumer culture tries to inculcate.