>Complacent Too Long: Protest Too Little >___________________________________________________________ >By Robert Krause Robert.Krause@aya.yale.edu > >"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution" >-- Emma Goldman > >Outrageous charges have been levied against the "New Left" by the >popular press and even by presumably left leaning press. The New >Republic Journal last spring ran an article whose title sums up the >attitude of >the press left, right and (?) center, "The New Left: Bold, Fun, and >Stupid." <http://www.tnr.com/050100/foer050100.html> >In much of the presses depiction of the new left the activists >are described as being theoretically and politically naive, even >"stupid". The attacks directed at a whole group of people are either >misinformed or are >attempts to misinform the readers about a current political movement. >Perhaps the writers of these political journals have been reading too >much of their own rhetoric. > >Both the editors comments and Mr. Foer, the author of the New Republics >article "The New Left: Bold Fun and Stupid" begin their polemic with the >accusation that the "New Left" doesn't have a "deeper critique of global >capitalism. In fact, claims Foer, "they've (the New Left) absorbed the >central lesson of the consumerist ethic they claim to loathe: Pleasure >sells". Foer goes on to state that he asked an anarchist (presumable >during the (Washington direct actions) to define their ideology, they >responded according to Foer, "Anarchism is like socialism without the >state." Foer sees this answer as naive and insufficient. I wonder what >he expected during an action? A strategy for fielding questions of >political actions throughout the political spectrum is to respond with >slogans and Sound-Bits. One never knows what sort of answer a person who >is asking a question like that is likely to be able to receive. After >all a protest or direct action is not a final exam of a graduate class >in radical political economics. > >What I would like to do here is respond to these criticisms with a brief >outline of what I understand to be the range of conceptual foundations >of this new left and their critique of capitalism. It is important to >preface this with the comment that in any movement participants will >differ in their individual interests and capabilities. Some will not >have as developed theoretical perspectives as others. Everyone is not an >ivory >tower academician, and that's wonderful. The grassroots and broad based >quality of this "New Left" is a sign of its strength. Unlike some of the >talk-till-we-drop leftists infighting well into impotence this new left >is content with being perhaps under-theorized (perhaps) and with >protesting along-side people who may differ in some way that could >become >significant in the future. Having said that, there are some important >criticisms that the "New Left" is making, that the liberal left for the >last 20-30 years has failed to pursue. > >Lets begin with Foer's claim that incorporating a "Pleasure sells" or >"Fun" attitude is conceptually naive to the point of embracing the >ideology they desire to subvert. The left political analysis embraced >from the puppeteers to the anarchists is a long tradition from Kropotkin >to Foucault. The New Left according to the words of Utah Phillips and >Ani Difranco seek not only "Bread but roses". Not coincidentally one of >the best known of the puppeteer groups is called "Bread and Puppet". >This sound bite strikes to the heart of one of the New Left's core >beliefs: we fight not only for livable wages, just and representative >governing bodies etc. but we also fight for quality of life: Roses. >Explicitly we seek a world of social and economic justice and a world >that has room for humanism, joy and beauty. Issues the serious academic >left of old often overlook. Foucault's "Dandy" is a possible icon for >this position. Along with this superficial and idealistic critique comes >a more serious discussion regarding the difference between the politics >of "pleasure" and the politics of "desire". As Foucault, Deleuze and >Guatarri, and Baudrillard point out, desire is the insatiable commodity >capitalism essentially deals with. That is, desire is productive, >because the cultivation of endless new desires (a never ending stream of >new >products) sucks individuals in our culture into a never ending morass >where they must forever produce more and more so they can continue to >consume more and more. This same ideology is our chief export. This >culture colonialism by the capitalist first world throughout the world >seeks to transform the world into a global version of the Roman >vomitoriums. The drive that the Republicans, Democrats, (and yes, even >Marxists) have to continue to grow the economy ours, theirs and the >worlds, by having our every experience of life mediated through >capitalism is itself a serious problem. > >Once we sang songs after dinner around a piano at home, now we watch >TV, and buy CD's of professionals we don't know and who aren't >accessible to us. This cultural change creates people who are afraid or >unwilling to >sing,dance, or do art unless it is "professional." We used to go for >walks in the woods to experience being with nature. Now our very >experience has been co-modified by ever increasing consumer crap needed >to enter nature: Gortex, hiking shoes, mountain bikes, ad nauseum. >Desire is productive because when you desire you work to obtain the >product that is believed will satiate this insatiable need and in doing >so you produce. Pleasure is not productive, pleasure is an end in >itself: Roses. Punks, know their artists. Their artists are often >accessible to them. I have friends who have gone out with Ani after a >show. Part of the new political left's agenda then is a serious >introspective critique about how capitalist desire for wealth, power, >and respect (Weber) often through a naive and unexamined embrace of the >technological perspective (Heidegger) can be mitigated through >deliberately cultivated relationships with self, others, society, >technology and the world (Heidegger, Foucault). This micro analysis >frequently is combined in the new left with a macro critique that >economic growth and the ecstatic orgiastic celebration of the "triumph >of capitalism" and promotion of this growth all over the world will have >serious if not deadly (as in world deadly) side effects. That is, we >cannot continue the level of consumption and growth without 1) running >out of non-renewable resources and 2) damaging perhaps beyond repair our >biosphere. > >Now these are serious global economic critiques not only of capitalism >but also of Marxism and any economic ideology that holds that continual >growth is a desirable social end. The fundamental policies of the >IMF/World Bank and the WTO then on this account are seriously flawed. >The goal to open and keep patent world market with the ends of >increasing the "standard of living" both for the first and third worlds >is environmentally catastrophic if we maintain an ideology of insatiable >desire. We will kill ourselves and perhaps the planet. > >As far as the workers of the world go, while it may be true that the >threat to first world labor is the growth of a competitive third world, >it is also true that the policies of the World Bank in particular have >left many third world countries terribly in debt. And while it may be >argued that significant portions of loaned monies have been misused and >mismanaged by the dictators and corrupt state governments, it is also >the case that the structural adjustment programs of the IMF/World Bank >have wreaked havoc in many states with existent and previously more >functional infrastructures than after the conditions and specifications >of loans from the World Bank and IMF. > >The details of those this is not the proper context to delve into, >however, readers might want to consult Joseph Stiglitz's article >entitled, "The Insider" (April 17&24, TNR) that addressed some of these >issues. > >The critiques of this IMF/World Bank offered by demonstrators and >activists offered in the form of slogans "More world, No Bank" are >simplifications of complex and often diverse opinions regarding what >should be done. Radical revision of existing systems, altogether new >economic systems and regulatory bodies that are democratically elected, >and getting rid of the IMF/World Bank altogether are examples of the >range of opinions held. It means little to say that some positions are >better thought out than others, but the depth of thought is hardly the >point. No one is about to say OK anarchist generation Xer, go ahead and >create a new economic system. Capitalism is hardly about to roll over >and die. That being the case the entrenched nature of the existing >system speaks to how it is that anarchist punks, union workers, Earth >First!ers, the Green Party, and so many others can stand united despite >differing agendas. As progress is made and policy changes or institution >changes occur the groups that stood side by side will be forced to >reconcile or separate. Until then however groups with differing >ideologies and agendas can stand together unified unlike the stupid >infighting among the intellectual subdivisions of the political left for >the last who knows how long. Stupidity, Mr. Foer, is not individuals >with differing agendas (many of whom may have not read Baukunin or >Kropotkin or even Marx) standing together united in an understanding >that something has gone very awry. Rather stupidity is well read >leftists arguing forever about whether Trotsky, Lenin or Mao have it >right and so do nothing in the face of environmental disaster or >oppressive non-democratic bodies imposing economic burdens on the people >of the world. > >****** >Robert G. Krause, teaches philosophy at Quinnipiac University and at >Western Connecticut State University. He is a Clinical Instructor at >Yale University where he lectures and instructs in Bioethics and in >Psychotherapy. He is also the Faculty Advisor at WCSU for a student >activist group Youth for Justice and he is a member of CGAN.
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