[sixties-l] Wake-up call vs. Bedtime for Democracy

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: 12/21/00

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    I appreciate Stew & Bill's concern about the threat of a resurgent right in much
    of the world.  At a theoretical level, we need, I think, to appreciate how much
    this resurgent right feeds off of the
    ethnic/communitarian/personalistic/religio-traditional frustrations caused by the
    spread of corporate culture or "progress" (McWorld --see Ben Barber's great book
    on this: Jihad vs. McWorld --a good present for you late shoppers!).  What the
    left needs to do is mount a consistent and reasonably coherent attack on
    precisely this culture, recognizing the subjective importance to humans of all of
    the above 'frustrations.'  Simultaneously, we need to demonstrate how
    corporate/consumer capitalism not only oppresses & exploits labor, creating
    massive poverty & squalor amidst ostentatious (glamourous) affluence (the latter
    of which helps to keep the polity in tow --more on that below), but ALSO erodes
    the very community/family traditions and contexts that help give meaning to life
    (and provide a 'place' for face-to-face grass-roots democratic politics) AND is
    destroying our global habitat.  In focusing primarily on these 'common' targets,
    we needn't overlook the importance of 'identity politics,' etc. but we should, I
    think, concentrate on how these arenas of subjective empowerment are themselves
    distorted & undermined by consumer capitalism (though there are "liberating"
    qualities associated with capitalism, ultimately the market is trying to bring
    these into its sway by converting them to forms of consumption, etc.) --and how
    the burdens of exploitation and poverty fall disproportionately on women and
    people of color the world over.
    That, in my view, is the theoretical ground.  As for practicalities, that first
    means that the scope of the potential progressive coalition is far broader than
    what Stew suggests when he speaks of labor, blacks, and women.  How about the
    environmentally-concerned majority?  How about small, independent businesses
    (especially retail) who are being eradicated by McWorld & globalized "free"
    trade?  There are significant contradictions buried in this coalition (e.g.,
    small-business & labor; environmentalists & labor) --but these are products, I
    would argue, of the existing liberal/capitalist paradigm.  What we need to work
    toward is a view that sees globalizing capitalism as the enemy of both a viable
    ecosphere and exploited working people.  A view that sees it as the enemy of both
    small, independent business and labor is one that seeks to transcend the age-old
    imperative of exploited labor through more a shared, community-based
    decision-making process, in which all who have a 'stake' in the viabililty of a
    locally-owned business have some say over the kind of constraints that business
    must operate within (this can only happen when the larger market-based system is
    targeted by globally-organized forces which begin to narrow the scope of
    corporate freedom --there is, after all, an imperative to exploit labor built
    into the combination of private ownership and a market mechanism the mandates
    maximized capital accumulation, i.e., capitalism).
    But, second, in terms of practicality, Stew asks why can't this coalition work
    within the Democratic Party the way the Right works within the Republican party?
    The answer, I think, is two-fold.  First, the electoral system must first be
    changed to open things up --e.g., proportional representation or other voting
    reforms which counteract the stranglehold of 'lesser-of-two evilisms.'  Put
    somewhat differently, the Republican Party (or most people who think of
    themselves as Republicans), I think, recognizes that in almost all circumstances,
    to move in the direction of its right wing is to lose the Presidential election
    --simple lesser-of-two-evilism logic (the Reagan phenomenon was in some respects
    an anomaly that requires more discussion).  Ditto, the Democratic Party.  Note
    how both Parties' conventions were full of the 'ideological' rhetoric --e.g.,
    Republic right & Gore-the-populist; whereas in the campaign it was
    back-to-the-center.  BUT, this also reflects the stranglehold of corporate money
    on both parties --a system which is deeply and fundamentally corrupt and which
    elected officials themselves are not going to fix unless they are 'forced to.'
    This is the reason the Democratic Party abandoned its "McGovern wing" after 1972
    via the Democratic Leadership Conference (in which Gov. Bill Clinton --and others
    like Chuck Robb, Mike Dukakis, etc.-- played a key role) -- check Tom Ferguson &
    Joel Rogers' Right Turn --another late Xmas goodie for you late shoppers), and
    its the reason the McGovern wing (cf. Stew's coalition) has been on the outside
    looking in, in every way except symbolically (speaking of such symbolism --I hope
    folks have noted the "politically correct" cabinet Dubbya is putting together!).
    In short, the battle to 'take over' the Democratic Party is probably going
    nowhere absent fundamental campaign reform.
    Which brings us back to other options --the need to build a strong coalition of
    grass-roots, radically-conscious (cf. above) organizations & like-minded folks to
    build pressure on "government" to start making the kinds of structural reforms
    that will open up the way for more serious political mobilization.  This means
    (a) a movement towards a more coherent and cooperative left (on the latter, cf.
    the Independent Progressive Politics Network headed up by Ted Glick), (b) an
    organized outreach/organizing effort to communicate to the larger society that
    this vision is the only alternative to the eco-suicidal, horrifically unjust, and
    community-destroying one we have now, (c) the use of mass mobilizations to
    achieve both this communication and put pressure on the 'system,' and (d) the
    creation of electoral pressure on the existing two-party, lesser-of-two evil
    system so that the two parties (well, the more "progressively inclined" --in
    rhetoric at least-- Democratic Party) sees that it must respond or it will lose
    voters.  This latter, in my view is why the Nader/Green effort was and still is
    so important.  I don't suggest that I can predict what way this would go --it
    could ultimately, with really fundamental reform 'take over' a Democratic party
    in a more class-driven system; or it could become the basis for a third party
    (and maybe more) operating within an opened-up system....
    Anyway, Stew says, "Let's work together in a pro-democracy movement."  I'm
    absolutely with you on that one, Stew, but let's also strive for some clear
    thinking via discussing what that entails.
    Ted Morgan
    StewA@aol.com wrote:
    > Bill is right. His seeing that disillusionment with the American system could
    > push some in the direction of fascism is a signifiicant insight. The
    > worldwide defeat of socialism has diminished the capacity of the left to
    > provide alternatives. The right is very anxious to step in and is doing just
    > that in the US, Canada and Europe.
    >       He is also right about the electoral college being  part of our
    > incomplete democratic revolution and it must go. The fact that Hillary
    > Clinton agrees should not put us off. We should also support campaign finance
    > reform. Paula raised the question of demonstrations - many were organized
    > through the Internet - they were independent spirited affairs (including here
    > in Portland) and they went on all over the country. (God I wish we had the
    > Internet back in the '60's.) We must make maximum use of this new tecnology.
    > Also I can't help but wonder why a progressive alliance, of labor, Blacks and
    > women can't gain as much power in the Democratic Party as those right - wing
    > Christians have in the Republican. Maybe there is a reason - but it alludes
    > me. Let's work together ina pro-democracy movement.
    > Stew
    > http://hometown.aol.com/stewa/stew.html

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