Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Boycott the vote.

Yeah, the topic that makes liberals pull their hair out...

Because in their eyes, "if only" they could just "educate" everyone into understanding that they have the best interest of the majority at heart, and it's that pesky shaggy and scooby (aka the Republican Party) that keep hindering their true promise to fix all of the absurd inequities that are central to our oligarchical system of government.

Newsflash:  A real program speaks for itself.  Compare your program with one of ours, a guaranteed income of $1000.00 per month, per citizen (est 2.5 trillion yearly paid for by capital gains tax increases) and imagine the political beat down if the elections were open competitions of ideas.  Against a competition of serious power to the majority at the expense of elite minorities, there is little chance that either the Democratic or Republican Party would have to compete against a competition that could by far outdeliver a higher quality of life to the majority.  Of course, this cannot happen.  Because the elections process is structurally rigged to prevent popular benefits from ever being delivered at the expense of minority power.  And what is to be done about this problem has always been the core political question lurking beneath all of the masking tape and make up of U.S. political history.

I have been playing rhetorically and testing this idea out in the classroom for most of this year, and above all other theoretical examples that are kicked around for how to end the problems of concentrated power, imperial viciousness and aggression, and everything that derives from those two things, that the best play on the political chessboard at this time is to boycott the elections.  It's been written and pushed about by Terri Lee and others, and does seem to be picking up some steam on facebook (link)

Naturally, we all have our theories about what to do--as we all have our theories of what the problems are in the first place.  Outside of the official channels of power, we live in a sea of noise when it comes to advancing an alternative.  Some want to take over the Democratic Party, some want to, run 3rd parties, some want to have occupations, some want decentralized attacks, and on and on.  If any one of these ideas could amass enough people on the same page at the same time--they are all, almost equally valued ideas.  So sure, if you could get 50 million people to register for the Democratic Party, meet online, and take over every level of government from dog catcher on up.  And obviously, if you ran a 3rd party, and everyone coalesced around that, then this too would bring about a massive alteration of the relations of power in society.

So why, of all the options, does the boycott line carry the most efficient punch?

Who gets to define what a collective group thinks EVER? There is never a serious scientific reflection that allows a party, or organization to actually speak for a collective group. Yet they do it--because the illusion of it is the thing itself. When the right wing wins an election in the 90s, they always had a tag line that they were winning because the Dems were "too liberal". This was preposterous, but it carried high propaganda value because the right wing had won the elections. When you run and lose, you can only provide an excuse for why you didn't win. If you run and openly admit you cannot win because the game is rigged, then you have much better positioning at the end. And, since we already know the numbers of the non vote, we get to determine why they are holding out--even if they have the multi variate reasons that would always apply to individuals. But politics is never about individuals, it's always about millions of people in groups added up.  And there is always going to need to be a signal strong enough to override the noise.  And the left LOVES making noise, because it allows all of us to feel smart and have our own ideas, and be unique and special individuals (One irony of Randian right wing ideology is the obsession with individualism, but the left is nothing BUT cat-fighting individualism and eccentric individuals colliding, while the right has the groupthink down to a science), and there are voices (like mine) that recognize the problem with the lack of a unified signal, but nobody has been able to really impress upon everyone the importance of groupthink in terms of having FAST social networks.  And power is important.  But Speed is equally important in my view. 

The Order of Operations. 

Ultimately, this CAN lead to either a 3rd party or a new constitution or whatever grand ass level of home run any one of the millions of people who think long and hard on issues like this could come up with. But In the order of operations, getting a same page/same time chant provides much better bang for the buck in my view than the other available options in regards to elections. It provides us a longer time frame--which we need because our media speed is slower, and is a highly defensive position, which we can strike out from at our own pacing--instead of reacting to the pace of the sham election cycle established by business elites and private media.  But there is an order to any political fight, and anticipating what your opponent will do is crucial.

Ultimately, my ideal order of operations is that we slowly spread the boycott message.  Some people have expressed a desire to ACTIVELY boycott.  Drive around with art cars, posters, hold demos, etc...  This is fine, and I think for motivated boycotters, this will help.  However, I am not planning to do much of this, and there is another camp which should blend in much more firmly in the background of the ordinary working class non voter.  No fan fare, just a simple non vote.  This will create enough diversity of styles of non votes to help establish the positioning I would like to have for 2013.

After the elections, the boycott's propaganda value will be whatever it is.  I can't anticipate the viral qualities of these sorts of things.  But even if it is bottled up, it still carries enough weight.  If it does go viral, this only speeds things ups for us.  So putting that down as an unknown, we can still basically follow the same line of strategy. 

Effectively, we can anticipate that a large majority of the population will stay home.  This will be effectively a base for us.  The Party loyalists will repeat nursery rhymes and slogans that they teach 11th graders, that a non vote cedes power to the elected government.  This is easy enough to counter, though we will hear it repeatedly (making it no more true than the first time you heard it) with a variation on the line by George Carlin that people who vote have no right to complain.  Ultimately, it's one platitude versus the next, and their interpretation is of equal arbitrary declarative value.  Of course, a wash in this debate is a win for us because we are in a much more marginal position at the moment and can only see our position improve with an organized debasement of our archaic political institutions like the Supreme Court and the Senate.

Ultimately, and naturally, the non vote gives you the best medium term (2-5 years) positioning in what will almost certainly be a massive propaganda battle that will hinge mostly on speed, depth and quality of message, and the ability of the base to be activated in smart and easy ways to take action and control.  It will dovetail with almost any left campaign for a guaranteed income
, abolition of the senate, an expanded house of representatives, and other immediate and transition reforms which provide us room to build and reward a political base with monetary power, while they support our ability to change the institutions to more widely distribute political power.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Political competition.

Politics, like sports, is a competition.  And in this competition there are two basic forces that determine the outcome.  How well your team can play--and how shitty the opposition plays.  Some things you can try to control (like how well you play), and other things you can't (how shitty the opposition plays).  But the bottom line is we need to not simply rely on explaining how the opponents actions caused certain outcomes--but how our own actions or inactions effect outcomes.

In football, if your leaders don't win--you clean house.  In politics, and i'm thinking especially of Labor unions or the Dems, they stay on.  Winning means delivering power to your base.  Having an excuse is fine when you lose.  All teams, players and coaches will have a reason for what happened "out there today", but the bottom line is when the football coach loses for one or two seasons, he's gone, and so are many of the players. 

The problem with politics, at least on the left, is that it works in many ways the opposite of sports.  The most winning and capable players in sports are pushed to the top.  The most capable ideas in politics are pushed to the bottom or made invisible.  You many be advancing a program which could expand political action by 20 million citizens, but because it's politics, your platform is automatically rendered invisible.  This makes politics more like the WWF than football.  The best competitors in politics are on the sidelines precisely because they are so much better at beating the asses of their competition.  When you demonstrate this level of ass kicking populist attack--the union leaders run, and the Dems run.  This is precisely how these institutions are set up--to avoid allowing a winning program in because winning requires risk--and these leaders are advanced on the basis of protecting the narrow group of constituents they represent--and not the maximum victory and appeal required to win or advance the program.

To the extent that we can avoid this, I think it's useful to reduce it to this level and explain part of why we lost to the opposition, and the other part should mostly focus on our internal problems--and how to remove people who are just not that good.  One more sports parallel or lack therof:  Sometimes it's hard to fire a loser.  In sports it's quantifable, so you know when your first round QB draft pick sucks, but you WANT him to succeed.  But the facts stare you in the face.  In politics, delusion is much more possible.  People WANT Obama to be a left wing populist, so many of them simply IMAGINE that he is trying, and IGNORE, the overwhelming evidence of his rightwing conservative, business loving, Israel and Egypt Arming, Predator drone assaulting, drug war supporting, immigrant deporting track record.

That's probably the best example, but it's foolish for us to try and control executive power.  The left needs to take over labor--fire all who back the old regime, sacrifice some of the old labor jobs (in the same way THEY have sacrificed me, and the vast majority of us) or at least risk their contracts in favor of militant expansion and takeovers within labor. 

Occupy activists can regroup, and rethink the no demands platform, and we will be more likely to build up support with a coherent program and a bit of the dirty L word.  But above all else, winning isn't everything, but nothing else matters unless you win.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Internal constant critiquing on the academic left.

Internal constant critiquing on the academic left.
I came across this blog by Jodi Dean today, and I think it makes a good point:

"There is a certain left intellectual position that holds out critique as an unadulterated good.
Critique is superior, more knowing, more responsible than action. Indeed, it's held up against action, support, enthusiasm, as the more responsible and mature position. What are the presumptions at work in such a vision of critique?
1. That one's opponent is uncritical--as if the ideas expressed had not themselves been products of critical reflection.
2.  As if any and every space were the right space for critique because critique is always right.
The problems with such a view, particularly now, is that they neglect the characteristics of our setting:
1. Constant critique and cynicism.
2. The academy as industry.
3. The need for left mobilization, coalition, and hope."

I agree.  And the other thing we need to build is some on the same page at the same time thinking.  This is another problem with the academic critique being a constant mode of operation.  To me, there is no way you win without having people being able to roughly lock in on an idea and hold it in their heads--at least long enough to implement it--which will take time to both build support, then carry on a fight, then an implementation phase (winning), then a securing the legacy phase. 

The problem with this constant academic critiquing overall is that it fails to consider the end game of even its best ideas--and that's assuming that academics or the left have a desire to lock in their best plans and put them forward...a mighty big assumption to say the least.  Ultimately, the hard part about putting down the constant critique mindset is that it's asking thousands of thinking intellectuals to put aside much of their own thinking and variations on the same idea--in favor of whatever is:

1.  Best boiled down and understandable for a wide audience.
2.  Most effectively delivered by whatever communications vehicle comes out of this historical phase.
3.  Has the ability to be implemented at whatever political level can be reached through a mobilization and political battle, and be implemented in a timely manner.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Voter Turnout in Wisconsin.

I'd just like to continue with one of my most dominant domestic political narratives of the past 4 years:  The apolitical majority:  The turnout in the Wisconsin recall, after all the hype about "massive" turnout, was around 57%.  Lower than the Obama race, which was nationally 62% of the eligible electorate. 

And once again, if you don't give people a serious popular option that will have an immediate benefit to their lives--you cannot and should not expect for them to vote.  If you work in the vast majority of the economy--which is to say, you work in the service sector, then you cannot reasonably expect to gain more money (read political power delivered to you for your participation), then you are wise to stay home.  It is completely rational from the vantage point of a 10-15 dollar an hour employee at Target to stay home for an election. 

I on the other hand, could easily mobilize 80% of an electorate at a state or national level for a party or campaign.  By running on a guaranteed income of 1k per month, paid for with higher marginal tax rates on our national wealth and technology.  There are plenty of stories to tell in there, but I'll save it.  But the bottom line is everybody understands 1k per month.  The numbers add up without problem (nationally that is).  All that's required is some group to come along and press it across time and mediaspace. 

But to continue to participate or support our losing sham elections efforts is to completely misjudge the wisdom of the non voter--who understand the difference between a "not scott walker" and a party or candidate or campaign to deliver them $1,000 per month as part of a crucial and patriotic campaign to re-stabilize power by removing so much of it from so few hands.  And remember, people with concentrated amounts of power are like crack heads.  They are like addicts who need our sympathy and our help.  It won't help much to simply scold them.  When we take away their addiction--it will seem like it hurts them in the short run--but once we help them get over their withdrawal symptoms, they will all be much better off clean.  And that for once would be a real WIN-WIN!


Sunday, May 20, 2012

Police organized terror plots

A couple of guys who used to be in the occupy fort lauderdale camp have been charged with attempting to attack a nato summit with molotov cocktails.  I can't help but note that the vast majority of these types of cases are virtually all set up by the government, usually the FBI.  And by set up, I mean the design it, provide the supplies, organize it, then find some poor sap to bite.  And since it's a pretty big country, there is always going to be somebody that does.

The Liberty City 7 case, which was a plot to be supposedly carried out, along with others you can read about here.

Ultimately, what I think is happening is that the law enforcement agencies have tremendous power.  Power of course is measured in economic terms by money.  If you have a business with massive sums of money flow or assets you have more power than the ones that do not.  And if you are an agency of the state then the ones with the largest flow have the most power.  Obviously, it matters how narrowly the money is distributed (i.e. 10 billion dollars distributed to a small agency compared to 100 billion dollars distributed to the entire society) but generally, money is a good metric to use to measure these things. 

The mechanics that differentiate a government agency from a business exist, but the underlying principles at the consumer psychology level are about the same.  And what these agencies are doing is legitimizing their existence by providing periodic propaganda examples for why they need to exist.  All large institutions require large amounts of money.  Large businesses and large state agencies.  And they end up inevitably using that money on employing people to occupy social roles of some form or another.  So if you are running a multi-billion dollar security budget, and you have idle hands, and you need to find things for people to do, then new social roles will be found.

And these social roles are basically built around setting up terror plots, then finding people to carry them out.  It's a public relations exercise that it can disseminate to the population at large in order to justify the continued power and ultimately the reason for the agency to exist in its current form.

They don't need to invent these plots per se, but they need to get results to demonstrate the necessity of their budgets. But it's fairly impossible for the agencies to disrupt real and actual threats because those, inevitably will remain secret. Anybody reading this could make a Molotov cocktail right now (gas+oil+bottle=molotov cocktail), and throw it at the next car they see--and there wouldn't be a damn thing that anybody can do about it except deal with it after the fact. So other than the leakiest of terror plots, which seem to be limited in number, there seems to be pressure on the agencies to mirror whatever the national propaganda imperatives are, and create these plots, and then recruit people to carry them out. The cold hard fact of the matter is that any REAL terror plot, is almost always going to be impossible to stop ahead of time, and only can be solved in traditional criminal investigations after the fact. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

We can't take power without taking power away from those who currently have it

The cold and hard reality is that we can't take power without taking power away from those who currently have it.  There are some, a naive few, who believe that politics is about suggestion, about making "your voices heard", compromise for the sake of posturing as a moderate and appearing to be a reasonable personality type.  This is nothing more than striking a pose.  And the time for posing must come to a close.  Not everyone can be a winner in the power game.  Those who bask in slots of extreme monetary decision making slots have the ability to force the economy to serve them--and not force them to serve the economy.  It is a relationship of power.  They are at the top, and those without money must independently figure out how to serve somebody with more money in order to survive.  This is the system of private domination.  A limited hierarchy where a small group owns the bulk of the economy, and the rest of the entire society exists to serve that group.  That is our economic system.  That has always been our economic system, though there have always been contestations over elite power which have forced compromises.  To "occupy" is nothing more than a tactic.  It isn't or should not, or cannot be, an effective "lifestyle", it is merely one tool out of the many more that we will require in order to be victorious.   

Power is about WHO gets to make decisions.  And the only serious broad freedoms that exist have come from people organizing and making demands.  An employer extorts an employee and pays an employee on the basis of the lack of leverage of the employee.  The employee can counter extort if they develop leverage, such as a skill set that allows them to bargain with the employer.  Naturally, on the grand scale, the aggregated advantage goes to the minority of the owning group, and the secondary minority of the coordinator class population (aka the top 20% or so).

To watch the protests of occupy develop--it has been inspiring only due to the relative inaction of dead obedience of the population for so long.  It's providing a degree of a role model for the broader population, as the clips circulate through various social networks, but it clearly has no demands, and we can't take power without taking power away from those who currently have it.

If somebody or some group is in the position to allow Israel to maintain an occupation based on ethnic supremacy and a jim crow styled economy, enforced with torture, and barbaric extra-judicial murders, then they will most likely carry this role out until somebody takes over the ability to make those decisions away from them. 

The bulk of daily life is governed by private power relations.  That is to say, the private sector dominates political life.  The clothes on your back are produced by the private sector.  The information is vastly controlled by the private sector (despite the fact that controlling the internet based social media is a work in progress), the food is controlled by private power, and so on.  When you drive down a commercial street what is on all sides of you?  Business.  We can't take power without taking power away from those who currently have it.  And that's the cold hard truth.  The private sector controls the propaganda system, owns the major newspapers, TV networks, and new media as well now.  If you believe, like all loyal subjects, in the power disseminated into your brain by a lifetime of propaganda, in the holy power of the private sector, then it is impossible to take power.  Because if you ideologically cannot believe in taking power away from the private sector, then you cannot take power for the simple fact that the bulk of decisions over daily economic life--every day politics, are made in the private sector, or are made by the state to protect the interests of the private sector.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Occupy and its discontents

The occupy mobilization is just that, a mobilization.  It was never a thing organized enough to be co-opted.  It was blank slate that anyone was able to put their imprint on.  The advantages and disadvantages to this have been well documented and I won't go into them here.  I will just comment on the Dems and GOP.  Political Parties are, in the U.S. reflections of a combination of varying factions of business interests.  These varying factions form voting alliances with voters along mostly market and brand psychology oriented techniques.  In other words there is nothing inherent in an alliance between a Hollywood mogul and a Dem voting soccer mom, and an alliance between the CEO of Raytheon and a GOP voter.  Both are an alliance between a top and a bottom.  A financier who controls the party at the top, and a voter who buys into the brand at the bottom.  It's all advertising, and both parties are built around this and it makes it impossible for people at the bottom to form a common interest based along class lines.

The Dems happen to be associated with the branding of the old left/liberal alliance of the 30s-70s.  The Liberals were almost certainly in charge, and the left in the U.S. never had any footing, even under this coalition, though it was obviously much stronger than it has been from 1980-2012.  Liberals are primarily overloaded in the top 20% of the economy, most have college degrees.  They derive income/power very differently from capitalists, but they are also very much empowered in ways that working class jobs are not.  There were once Liberal Republicans and Democrats.  But the politics of the 1960s created an overloading within the Democratic Party of the Liberals.  By the end of the 70s, it would be clear that the Liberals would dominate the Party, at the expense of the left, despite the fact that the working class dwarfs the liberals in size (which explains why the Dems have such a hard time defeating a conservative coalition that rarely pulls more than 25% of the eligible electorate).

The problem with this should be obvious, but if it is not, it is that a serious political democracy would allow majority populations to have a dominant say over resource allocation.  Our system ensure that resource allocation is private, and people get to vote on mostly frivolous things, though there are some legitimate issues tucked away within.  But for the most part, if you pick any 2 random spots on the bottom 80% of the triangle, and these votes will never be able to vote along economic lines, but will often cancel each other out. 

People who don't want occupy to get co-opted need to recognize that there is nothing to be co-opted.  It's a shell.  If you want to build something that can be co-opted in a more serious way (ha ha) we must have a stronger program that advances a more serious agenda (i.e. abolish the senate, expand the house, limit the executive branch, provide a guaranteed income for all, etc)  Then it won't matter if the Dems jump in and try to take it over, because you will be able to force out those within the Party who are unwilling to part with their support for elite interests.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Race is class

I often get into the topic of race and class throughout American history. I've built it into both my community college talks as well as part of contemporary political rhetoric around trying to build a united class majority. But there is an entire small, educated cultural sector that basically uses a repeated a-historical ungrounded language. Their general language includes terminology like: "POC" (people of color,) and "white folks" and "community" (as in the gay community, Latino community, etc..)

All of this stuff took over as a well financed and very acceptable way to discuss politics for the people who are supposed to get degrees, and come out and be the top 20%ers in the economy and came alongside the demobilization and defeat of the democratic left by the mid 1970s. I don't think it's a coincidence that it took off at the same time as the left was being decimated externally and from within, and the cultural seeds were sewn partly in the nature of the cultural movements of the 1970s. It is simply much less threatening to power to push this stuff than it is to just simply talk about power, about serious political programs built around uniting the majority around a set of issues that will actually unite them. Obviously race allows for division. The very CONCEPT of a race is a division. It is not a historical coincidence that the racial division from it's VERY INCEPTION and REPEATED REINVENTIONS was used to divide ALONG ECONOMIC CLASS LINES. Race doesn't merely intersect with class. Race IS class. It's very political and historical function is to divide people into manageable groups of self identifying human beings in order to ensure that people will work in a relationship where the vast majority of slots of the economy are squarely in the working class of the economy because only about 15-20% (at any given point in time) of the class roles in the economy can be conceptual, managerial, higher paying, etc..

That is the function of race. Race is NOT a cultural manifestation, a Manichean vision of good and evil, it is not subtle or abstract. And to the extent that it is, can just as easily attributed to a variety of other properties and causes. Much of this ideological race narrative serves, however unintentionally, the same exact function of the process that invented white people in the U.S. (from the late 1790s to the late 1820s) in the first place, and the same reason that the 1970s Louis Farrakhan was on the same page with Richard Nixon's affirmative action quotas: To produce class division by creating a more diverse elite. And although their reasons for this were different (Farrakhan was openly authoritarian and sat atop a powerful hierarchy built around a racialist ideology) the outcomes are the same, with a locally managed elite of black leaders, the culture shapers, movers, and thinkers, who promote and protect the sanctity of black culture, who want to help shape it, define it, and ultimately keep it alive by promoting it, on top of a hulking majority of a black working class.

However race and culture plays out on the ground, especially today, cannot be broken down neatly into the absurd taxonomy produced by the cultural studies framework because it removes the reality and substitutes a theoretical framework that seems to require a college degree to understand. This is probably because the professional classes by now are so far removed from working class priorities. It is far more unifying and much more effective anti-racist work to pimp things that unite large swaths of the population INSTEAD of pimping "diversity" and cultural division with layers upon layers of cultural examination. The most obvious way to do this is to build, once again, around class, since 80% of the population, white, black, brown or whatever, is solidly in this category. But in order to unite it, it clearly has been a failing strategy to focus on the internal "community", let alone having academic contests over which groups are the most oppressed because what exactly does having a clearly inverted hierarchy promote in terms of changing the relations of power in society? Nothing. The rise of this style of politics occurs pretty much with the rise of the new right in the late 70s. It does NOT help solve the very thing that it claims to be against which is racism because it promotes division along racial or other arbitrary and superstitious cultural lines. Whenever I pimp my class first stuff especially in the poorer and working class college rooms, let alone in predominantly black campuses like the Liberty City Meek Center, I always take the time to test this out, and I explicitly lay out the class versus race stuff and without exception, the room prefers more income rather than special bones thrown out to the room as white liberal guilt, slavery apologetics, etc.. And yeah, I lose a few here and there, the racialists on all sides, people who want and NEED race to be real, they can't roll with me on this.  (since it's their religion, to lose it is to lose perhaps the core of their being) But my angle is pretty unifying (unless you are rich and powerful or a power worshiping authoritarian type) And at this point, there is a fairly diverse managerial sector as well as a fairly diverse elite. This is the liberal objective. To them, equality is all about ensuring that some segments of various x,y,z communities are represented at various slots on the class ladder. So they don't simply remove elite power or high managerial power, they simply attempt to make sure that these slots in the economy are occupied by the respective community members instead of pulling the whole group up by nerfing the power at the top. So basically my entire program points out that the black working class population is economically getting hit hard, but the explicit Jim Crow style of program no longer is really in use (a night and day improvement) but they get hit because they are working class, and this is somehow not as important and much more easily done from a political standpoint because elites are able to drive down wages and incomes through policy. And by focusing on how it affects each cultural "community" it does nothing more than promotes respective cultural leaders to the top of each pyramid, who then do nothing except identify how the economic policies are doing bad things to their "communities".  They could end it with a unifying grand slam working class majority coalition.  But they cannot institutionally go in this direction because they have a cultural stake in being a leader of their respective oppressed cultural group, and derive a degree of relative power from being in that position.

There is a solid body of historical evidence for the various origins of races and classes.  Adolph Reed points out that "Even in the Jim Crow era, under racial segregation, not all Black people were affected by racial segregation in exactly the same way. Some of the differences were purely random, some of them having to do with geography. There was a difference between plantation areas and the border states, between urban and rural segregation, between different counties and different cities. And there were also class differences."  He further notes that working class whites at certain points in the late 19th century were purportedly in a different race than upper class whites.  Italians were non-white until they were recategorized in the 1930s.  (Italians were lynched by the KKK, and anti-Italian immigration hysteria promoted things like this:


And so on and so fourth.  Ultimately, the usefulness of any racial or ethnic category is only politically sufficient to the extent that it maintains the relations of power in society that benefit the people that own and operate it for their own perceived interests.  So long as races are maintained, then they are taking up neurological real estate in the popular consciousness that could otherwise be taken up by a class self awareness.  I heard Reed the other day on Doug Henwood's radio program noting that some Black History month speakers who give commanding speeches of uplift are commanding hefty speakers fees (10 grand at least) and are generally pimping the ideology of the professional and elite classes.  They deliver a message that encourages greater black participation within the capitalist hierarchy.  A theme i've already addressed.  But if the cultural studies line is really that helpful to its constituencies, who is signing the checks?


Thursday, February 9, 2012

The vanguard left and the academy

The trouble with the vanguard is the trouble with leadership on the left. One of the most vexing problems on the left is the issue of leadership and the vanguard. I admittedly am writing this at a time when I have become more sympathetic to the idea of the vanguard. Though perhaps this is because, due to circumstances, I would most likely be IN IT. And I suspect that most advocates of a vanguard driven left are in a similar position.

I've often thought about the nature of hierarchy. My general power framework operates around a 'power triangle' that I use to visualize elites, a secondary line of "coordinators" which i've pulled from Mike Albert's insights from Parecon and elsewhere. Some concepts of divide and rule, which I probably pulled in from Howard Zinn, personal experience, and elsewhere. I use a general Chomsky frame because Chomsky is much faster at framing an issue in terms of digesting it for many people, and speed is crucial when it comes to understanding power. Chomsky has always provided something that seems to lack on the left, especially the academic left and that is scope. I understand that depth is important, but scope is where the action is. If you cannot get a sense of proportion in your message, then it's a tree falling in the woods. And on the subject of a tree falling in the woods, my power framework around race and class was solidified by Adolph Reed, who I met and took seminars with at the New School in 2002-2004. The Reed case is an interesting one, because he's the lesser known figure on the left, but resonated with me in large degree with his opposition to "post-toasty" cultural studies bullshit that took over the academy and still seems to run rampant, coming at the expense of any semblance of a popular mass project. Not that this isn't to be expected. Cultural studies is a symbol of a losing democratic left. It's a symptom, a symbol, a vanguard killer to the extent that it takes some smart people, splits them all into manageable identity groups, and scatters the ashes to the wind chasing a phantom goal that has no win option. And for a popular movement, winning means everyone saying the same thing at the same time. You can still lose if you produce 20 thousand cultural studies self identified libertarian socialists cherry picking from 10 thousand great ideas, and they may be genuinely great ideas, but if you can't demand them all at once at the same time, they are meaningless. Reed also provided a class framework for race that resonated with me because it cut through much of the bullshit, and added a great deal of off beat history on race class and culture to my framework.

I went to predominantly black schools in the early 80s, 2nd generation after desegregation, getting bussed into 95% black schools until I was 12. Then moved into a much more racially violent middle school in 1990 where it was 'mixed' and by mixed I mean racial violence was much more prevalent, at least for the poorer sections of the population. This was prior to the gun violence in schools so jumpings, sucker punching, and random beatings, were fairly common. This was fairly normal until probably the time I was half way through high school and an in school race riot created mass expulsions because it garnered too much press attention or some other factor that I don't know about. It always seemed to me, that the nature of violence in the school system was beyond neglect, but one that was a tolerated by product of social management in education. A not-that-well thought out strategy of divide and rule. And basically that by allowing Lyndon Johnson's prediction of the black south that "If you have had your foot on the neck of a man for three hundred years, and then take it off, do you expect him to get up and thank you?". Well, if you were born after all that, you don't really know one thing from the next. All you know is that people are going to jack you, and that you need to protect yourself by trying to be tight in a posse of future little thugs for protection purposes. And this didn't mean that everything was a straight racial line. A sizable subset of the white kids WERE the black kids, culturally and behaviorally that is something that is probably a god damn perplexing concept to college aged hipsters in cultural studies programs in Minnesota learning about their white privilege, but ask anyone who went to school down here in the 90s who and what the "wiggers" were and you'll probably get a range of interesting answers . So that's pretty much how the culture of violence operated. The people I knew when i was a kid are either in prison, or in and out of prison, for a variety of violent charges, drugs, or other bullshit. I ended up graduating, went to community college, then a state school, and basically stayed out of trouble while I was in school, and this ties things back to the race and class work I did with Reed at the New School. By the time I was finishing reading my backbone of Chomsky when I was skipping what I was supposed to be reading for my methods classes at UCF, I learned the basic narrative of the civil rights movement, the black power movement, the women's movement, American Indian, and Chicano rights movements in the 1970s and how this transitioned into the right wing backlash to those movements. By the time I ended up in graduate school (I only ended up in graduate school because I had fallen in love with a woman and just applied to see if I could justify moving to NYC) Reed provided a key critique that made perfect sense, that race is a power relationship, and ultimately a class relationship like anything else in this country. And furthermore, by promoting the cultural side of it, it simply REPLACES a class critique with a cultural one, and not just an ordinary cultural critique, but one that is filled with "race hustlers" and "hucksters" and what not that exploit it, and basically serve as the top of the little triangle in my Big Triangle/Little triangle framework. He had this running beef with Cornell West in a combative style, and covered an expansive range of history of how races were invented, then vanished from the face of the earth out of political expediency. I had never heard of Cornell West until I met Reed. I had never heard of any of this whietness studies stuff until I met Reed. Had any of the cultural studies people come visited some of the 1990s public schools in South Florida, I probably could have directed them to some gold toothed crackers who would listen to the preachings on "checking white privilege" where they could preach the virtues of 'white skin privilege' to them as they are being run over by their own cars after they get car jacked. So all of this resonated with my instinct and street level theory that the rich people moved their kids out of the public schools or at least into the safer slots WITHIN a school, and allowed a giant gladiator environment which was obviously reproducing racial tension by allowing everyone to terrorize each other using packs of people in one giant lord of the flies social experiment. For people who've sat through one of my lectures, this was the top of the triangle, creating the conditions for the bottom of the triangle to be divided by having all energy focused on each other as it fights inside of an environment, and none of that energy is focused at the top. By the time you come out of an institution like this, the last thing you are thinking about is forming a giant social bond of solidarity.

So Reed to me was an in depth academic. He broke things down to the extent that it offered a serious alternative vision to the conventional wisdom on the left when it came to race. But he didn't have the speed of a framework that Chomsky has, and this ties into my broader thoughts on academic practice, life, and purpose. He either didn't care, or didn't know how to push his model to a wider range of people. Partly because the people in the academy that he would need to go through are less willing to accept his thinking for a variety of reasons. And partly because as time passes, a new generation enters the society with a different view on race than the older generations.

So I developed my basic academic and political framework which was shaped predominantly by the above influences and life experience. I run most social information though this model, and i've certainly gotten some mileage out of it. It's fast and reductionist and suited to a community college environment, but what can I say, speed and scope might be more important than depth, to the dismay of the people who consider themselves to be serious academics and value depth over scope. But the problem with academic life in the social sciences is that the entire program is inherently political. Even if you come up with a solid set of ideas or a better framework, the hurdles to dissemination of it are always tied to how easy the model is to spread. The easiness may be motivated by money (i.e if somebody comes up with a model that concentrated money really thinks makes concentrated money look good, then the money can promote the idea), but if you have good idea on the left--which means an idea that can only be opposed by concentrated money, then you must find other avenues. But then there are 20 thousand other vanguardist, self important academics who think they've got the framework too. This is an irony of the left inside of the academy. It's almost a weakness because by having so many voices and frameworks in competition, the potential for a narrow coherent voice is much less possible. So how in the world does any of this stuff make a difference when there really is no machinery in place to sort out the better ideas into a hierarchy of ideas?

One of the more absurd elements of academic life is the territorial nature that people guard their ideas with. Like, nobody is going to give you credit for having a great idea on the street. You can't patent a social theory, or a style of communication. Chomsky isn't going to sue me for using the propaganda model, or even stealing the model and using it without citing it. This sort of tolerated normal academic behavior is a problem not out of the principle (I understand the principle, person A comes up with idea, person A should be rewarded for being smart and clever) but out of the reality of how ideas spread. It reminds me of the RIAA's position on "content theft", which based on the idea that ideas can be owned because it is a commodity. Capitalist production tends t0 create artificial scarcity, defying economic reality in order to have that extortion power as the controller. But we do it to if we're constantly engaging in a citation festival of all things written on whatever narrow little focus we work on. Finding some new small niche isn't useful in the social realm, at least not for me. Small advances are for people that are developing nanotechnology, big and simplified frameworks to push a giant unity coalition require people to be...well united. The people who are coming up with frameworks might not always be the best suited to deliver the frameworks and disseminate them, but in order to win, do most people on the left not agree that if we are going to push for the power of the 99% or even just the bottom 80% that we are going to need a large section of at least 50 million people on our side? And this brings me back to the vanguard. And I will re-state my critique of the vanguard before defending it. The problem with the left is that it's basic idea is to level power between people. The more common wording for this is democracy. When the left comes to power, it means democracy is coming to power. And what the libertarian end of the left has built into the culture on the left is this strong fear of "leadership". Everywhere you go, it's a game of "i'm not trying to be the leader here", nobody is taking charge, because taking charge makes you look like the leader. There is a problem (obviously) with this, but it is rooted in a good place. Once you develop a program and have leadership, all kinds of opportunistic dickheads filled with testosterone and confidence, will show up and say "hello, I am here to be your leader". This whole culture pumps out wanna be leaders, alpha males, glory lovers, and things like that. And the second major problem with leadership is a classic one. Once the leadership gets in, you can't get the fuckers out. And a 3rd major problem with leaders is more fundamental. If you are going run around asking people to join you in a potentially risky struggle to end the oligarchy and install a new power distribution, what kind of ideological argument is it to basically be asking them to trade one type of leaders with another? As Corey Robin notes in his book on right wing thought, the right attempts to create a mass project by using what i always describe as "big triangle/little triangle". He frames is as offering some small place to rule, over the home, the kids, the slaves, etc... So you may not get to run the whole thing, but elites will give you your little fiefdom. This makes left ideologies problematic if they are statist, involve hierarchy, because it creates this internal problem. Why should people trade one group of leaders for another?

The counter argument, can be seen from the occupy movements. Occupy came in with these councils, voting practices, a system of twinkle fingers to speed through meetings (not speedy enough obviously because you will be in one of these meetings for like 4 fucking hours talking about something that you will not remember by the time its all over) and things like that. Democratic planning, it seems to me, is at best, going to need to be an outcome--not a tactic and not even a strategy. It is an objective. It is winning. And I understand Mike Albert's points about trying to build your movements in ways that reflect what you want to see when you win. But when you try to carry out actions without some degree of leadership, the speed problem hits. Democratic planning is many things, and one of those things is that it is slow. Especially in an authoritarian country where people's interests and views are almost never heard, and everyone wants to have their say. For all of the criticisms of hierarchical power systems of all stripes, they have a crucial component to them and that is they are faster than horizontal power systems. To deal with the back and fourth debate, the potential tactical decisions that will arise once movements grow, and for a variety of other reasons, a vanguard is needed to win. It isn't the end in and of itself, and I think an excellent compromise will be to have a clear deal about what and where the vanguard needs to go once you win, but I don't see winning without some degree of leadership. So there it is.