Thursday, October 14, 2010

How did the American Left lose the working classes?- Part one

Yes, boys and girls, that's our discussion question for today. I need explanations!

First, let us study this pertinent excerpt of historic text:

In 1922, the Nikowsskis moved to the Polish section of Chicago, and Dick went to work in a slaughterhouse where he worked six days a week, freezing in winter, sweltering in summer, making just enough to exist on, never enough to save anything. Nikowsski's description of this slaughterhouse in 1922 evokes for me an image of men in hell, condemned to shovel coal onto their own doom-fires.

One of the men who worked in the slaughterhouse was a socialist, a thin, burning-eyed man in his thirties. Dick Nikowsski was twenty years old. This socialist worked beside Dick, and became his friend. He talked endlessly, obsessively about "the bosses" and "the working stiffs." Half the time Dick couldn't follow the socialist, didn't know what the hell he was talking about, thought only that he was going to get them all in trouble. But he liked the socialist because behind the rage he sensed something wild and wounded in the man, and besides, whenever there was a dispute between the foreman and a worker, the socialist was the only one who stuck his neck out for the worker.

Then, one day in summer, when it was so blistering hot in the slaughterhouse the sweat was pouring down into the men's eyes, blinding them, the socialist suddenly turned to Dick and said to him: "Do you know where the owners are now? Right now while you and I are here sweating like pigs?" No," Dick replied, "where?" The socialist took a folded page of newspaper from his pocket. "There!" he thundered. "At the coast!" Dick stared blindly at the picture of a group of men and women lying languidly by the sea. The blue eyes of the seventy-year-old Nikowsski stare at me, fifty years disappearing in their wide gaze. "I didn't even know what the coast was," he says in wonder as fresh as that of the twenty-year-old still alive inside him.

"Something happened to me then. I just stared and stared at that picture. Suddenly it was as if everything that socialist had been saying all those months clicked into place somewhere in my head, and I saw me behind that picture, I saw me knee-deep in blood and shit my whole life so that that picture could be taken. I don't know how to describe it to you, I don't think I even knew what it was that was happening, I certainly couldn't have put it into words, but something came rising up in me, so swift and so strong, it nearly took the breath out of my body. I can still feel it, the way I felt it then. As if it was coming right out of the center of me, as if it had been waiting there all that time, all my life, and now it had--just that fast!--run out of time."
Excerpted from The Romance of American Communism by Vivian Gornick.


I like that story because a similar thing happened to me. Very similar, and although I wasn't stuck in a slaughterhouse, I was doing some nasty work, scrubbing toilets and such. And I was significantly younger than Dick.

I soon learned what else was happening with this corporation around the same time I was working for them. My eyes were opened.

And my question is, why doesn't this happen now? Why has the right-wing Tea Party movement been so successful in cashing in on class resentment?

Where is the Left in these harsh economic times?

I have decided the Left is largely IN ABSENTIA because the American Left now comes from the elite class itself; their political convictions are basically a reflection of the warmed-over liberalism they obediently ingested while attending Good Colleges. They believe what they believe out of a sense of common decency, fairness and goodness. But not because most American Leftists have experienced classism themselves.

In fact, most have NOT.

The Left is therefore doing it FOR the poor bedraggled working classes... not for themselves. (They do not feel personally disenfranchised, they feel they are speaking up FOR the disenfranchised.)

And this is why they keep getting it wrong.

This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else's oppression.

--Combahee River Collective, 1977
Keeping this statement in mind, we see why feminism, disability and gay activism (and other types of identity-based activism) has been so successful in the past few decades, whereas the American Left, no longer an actual product of the working classes, can no longer claim success.

The identity of Lefty is now that of the more educated person, someone who can afford to buy organic, who listens to NPR, who has the room to start composting. They read the New York Times, not the New York Daily News.

When an ignorant person is just becoming politically aware for the first time... can they look to the socialist working next to them on the job? No, because there aren't any. So, where do they look? They look to the TV, as always... and carefully segregated on certain channels, they see the people who are like them, and the people who aren't.

They look around and see common working people going to church to pray they can make it through another tough, back-breaking working week, as they watch the televised coastal elites make fun of church-going, ascribing religious belief to simple weakness and stupidity.

They attempt to get hired, and find that jobs have evaporated. Where did they go?--asks the worker. (And who has the ready answer for that? The right or the left?) Why are we bailing out rich Wall Street greedheads when I can't pay my mortgage due to unemployment?--asks the worker. (And who has the ready answer for that? The right or the left?) Why am I working harder and getting poorer, while Paris Hilton has time to make porn and waltz around in designer clothes and officially do nothing for a living? (And who has the ready answer for that? The right or the left?)

People join the group that is most like them. And this means that these days, American working people seem to be joining the Tea Party, the group that most LOOKS like them.

The American Left is no longer synonymous with "the workers"... It was once, but has changed dramatically. I now think of the American Left as the primary participants in identity politics, but not as the workers.


Discussion? Agree? Disagree? Although I'd like this to be a multi-part series, I am unsure of which direction I'd like to take this next... so COMMENTS PARTICULARLY WELCOME. (note guidelines for commenting; trolls will get the trap door!)


D. said...

Hey, I want as much of this as you can post! (I have certain disagreements with folks on the left, but that doesn't mean that full spectrum left shouldn't be out there!)

chaos said...

if we keep going in the direction we are going most american leftists I believe will become disenfranchised eventually, because any protections workers have are being worn away to nothing.

I think there's more going on than people just identifying with those that look like them. I do think that is part of it.

lefties need more creative, visible and repetitive advertisements of our ideas/ policy changes. i think they had that in the 60's (i could be wrong) lefties are longwinded and the people dont like to listen

Becky said...

The working class now rails against the welfare class for taking all their hard earned taxpayer dollars, while groveling to big business because they mistakenly think that will land more jobs in America, instead out outsourced over seas, while the CEOs do the beach thing.

We have our own dysfunctional teabagger running for governor in NY, but yet the left/progressive side (especially here in Buffalo)is coming off so poorly (Elite) as to drive regular ol' people who normally wouldn't entertain a thought of voting for him to rally to his defense...conflicting.

Where am I going with this? Don't know...have been tossing thoughts around for weeks. A semi-related something else that I just read, from Colorado:

Sungold said...

I would tend to say the American left came unmoored from workers as early as the 1960s. SDS, anti-war protesters, civil rights activists, women's liberationists - none of the various offshoots of the New Left included many working-class people. By 1980, many working-class folks rejected everything smacking of the New Left, and many voted for Reagan. (The story is surely more complicated than this, but it definitely predates identity politics.)

I too am looking forward to the next installment!

SnowdropExplodes said...

I think the Left has always had this problem, one way or another. Most of the thinkers we associate with developing communism and socialism throughout their history were not themselves working class but from privileged backgrounds and lifestyles.

I think that the Left has generally shown a tendency to slip from concrete practical principles into ephemeral ideals, and in so doing the immediacy of the movement has slid away from practical workers and towards the educated and privileged people.

This certainly happened during the 1960s in Britain, and continued since (the 1970s and early 1980s saw the workers trying to cling onto the Left, even as the leaders wriggled away into these fairyland ideals). I think that, looking from the outside, the same seems to have occurred in the USA as well.

The final conclusion of this can be seen by comparing the practical approach of the original Clause IV of the British Labour Party and the idealism of the revised version introduced before "New Labour" came to power in 1997. (Wikipedia entry with the texts here.)

Again, looking from the outside, it seems to me that a similar disconnection has occurred in the US Left as well.

I recall I was trying to help someone with their mathematics homework once, and I got into the theory about why something worked (I forget the exact part of maths that I was helping with - something to do with ratios, I think). The child I was helping was struggling to get it, not being naturally inclined towards maths. Someone pointed out to me, "you need to keep it simple, focus on the practical outcome. All [X] needs to know is, "how many boxes do you need to pick up?" (or whatever the problem was about). I think a lot of folks on the Left forget about the "how many boxes" part of socialism/progressivism and try to preach the background theory (e.g. "stupid churchgoers!" seems to come from that). A nice theory on its own never broke any chains.

Jon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jon said...

there are some good comments here, and I'll come back and read them again. My take on the problem is that there is no left. There are a few well off do gooders who think they're the left. Historically they were hangers on to the left but not the left itself. Comes down to it I'm a trade unionist. I'm for labor, and I don't just mean white men in hard hats. If there was a left I'd be in that too but there's nothing but atomized leftist individuals and self righteous rich kids. Non white workers never turned their back on the left. They don't act the way some of us with a boho background think they should but Black and Latin workers are real stand up folks when it comes to real issues.
If there's ever going to be a left in this country it will probably be imported from Mexico. Here in my small California city, over 10,000 people turned out for the May Day immigrants rights march. No accident that it took place on May Day. The march was called by the United Farm Workers. Marchers carried signs in Spanish saying "May Day is the day of the workers". Of those 10,000 plus marchers, a few hundred were white. Yet, when the Peace and Justice center holds their annual fair, a few hundred white people show up and refer to themselves as "The Left". I am living in one of the most "left wing" areas in the country. We have our progressive radio stations. We watch Democracy Now. We have our left wing bloggers and literary people and most of those people are completely oblivious to the masses of hispanic workers all around them. If they talk about the working class it's mostly to complain that hundred thousand dollar a year operating engineers don't support their campaign for more bicycle trails. Nothing against well paid operating engineers but puh leez.

risa said...

In my last couple of years before retirement I quit management and went back to a union position, it was a better fit. But i could see the "the Left" at the university where I worked was completely out of touch with the unionized working staff. Many of the staffers were beginning to get slurped up by the Tea drinkers -- there was no Pete Seeger, no The Weavers to make the connections. We may be having this conversation 40 years too late.

I think there was a coup in November 1963 and the Left has been shadow-boxing ever since. The current political realities in the U.S. are about Eisenhower Republicans fighting the John Birch Society. And losing that fight, slowly, over time. I don't know of any solutions near term.

John Powers said...

Have you ever watched "The Century of Self" by Adam Curtis? All the episodes are at Google Video. What interests me about some of the Tea Party tactics is how much they are a part with 60's-style activism. Curtis's thesis about PR is quite interesting.

When I first got forwarded Bob Basso videos where he's dressed as Thomas Paine, I thought of The People's Bicentennial Committee and Jeremy Rifkin's first book, "Common Sense Two." I searched and the only online references I found to either were at conservative foundation sites.

Left and right is a dialectical way of thinking, but the terms are hopelessly confused with debate rather than dialog.

Very soon no matter how people swing politically the reality of equity robbery will be apparent. That leaves making something about the only alternative. So maker culture is something hopeful I see emerging. It's amazing how when the truth is not in the middle but our own two hands that commonalities are asserted.

Lisa said...

This is a great post and such great comments. Somewhere along the way, the Right really became the dominant framer of the issues and the Left has been in a defensive position ever since. Even when Democrats win big in elections, it's because they're playing the game by the rules established by the Right.

The workers are living the reality created by this kind of PR loss. I'm one of the long-term unemployed and things are increasingly difficult. The longer I'm out of work, the less likely it seems I'm going to be able to find anything. But when I hear how miserable so many of my friends are in the workplace, I see the issue even more clearly. Workers - employed or not - have suffered dramatic losses in workplace equity.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Great comments, everyone! Some of yall will get quoted in part 2. :D

Lisa and Chaos, yeah, one reason I do not have the time (or energy) to blog as often as I used to, is that I am DOING MORE at work, if you catch my meaning. In a recent meeting at my workplace, a show of hands showed only about a half-dozen of us had been there since the doors opened. (All of the half-dozen, not surprisingly, were older people.) Where is everybody else? Why is the workplace so volatile these days? As you say, we are playing by the rules of the Right...

And Risa, my grandfather always thought as you did, that "everything changed" in November 1963, although I don't know if he would have called it a coup. (That's some scary language, and I think he never really wanted to go there.)

Jon, I agree that black and latino folks have long understood worker issues better than whites. I'm currently hunting down WJ Cash's prescient "Mind of the South" to quote from in my next post. I do believe Jim Crow "bought off" white southern workers (Cash's idea), made them feel they were "luckier" than the workers of color, since, well, they were. They were bought off with mobility, the chance to move and live anywhere they wanted (the #1 white privilege of the 20th century), and that became an excuse (premise) to ship workers all over the country/world for pissant middle management jobs. I have to figure out how to outline the "buy-off psychology" of middle-management into my next piece. (I touched on that here, about the increase in managerial temper tantrums, but need to expand it.) Like Jim Crow, I see the whole phenomenon of middle management as a way to keep the white worker "bought off" and believing we are "better" than workers of color, a continuous balancing act.

Snowdrop, correct about socialist leaders, but most endured hardships during their revolutions. Mao/Fidel set the precedent of getting down in the trenches with the people and living in tents during the Long March/revolution; note they never took off their worker-clothes in public. (Interestingly, keeping Jon's comment in mind--neither was a white man.)

John, you have also sent me hunting for ONE DIMENSIONAL MAN, which my Library Thing widget informs me I own, but can't locate. (Uncle Herb, where'd ya go?)

And Becky, thanks so much for that link, will likely quote from that also.

And my thanks also to Sungold and D, for encouraging me. I'm glad the post made sense, was worried it wouldn't.

more to come...

Jon said...

Daisy, If you can't find Cash's book you can have my copy. I haven't opened it in years although I loved it when I read it. I live in Northern California. You live in the south. You're the one that needs it.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jon, I found it!!!! In fact, I will have to put off my quotes of you great people until later, because as you can see from Part 2, he got me all fired up. ;)

Part Two: How white flight brought down the economy

May his soul rest in peace.

SnowdropExplodes said...

correct about socialist leaders, but most endured hardships during their revolutions.

I did say "thinkers", not "leaders" originally - but of course some thinkers were also revolutionary leaders (Mao, Lenin, etc).

I think the fact that those who shared the conditions of their followers have had successful revolutions, whereas the Western thinkers have generally not, may be somewhat supportive of the original argument, too.

Anonymous said...

I'd say it was during the Vietnam War. The blue collar "America, Love It Or Leave It" crowd versus the dirty freaking hippies. Ronald Reagan administered the final blow by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine. Everyone started getting their news via corporate-owned media - which slowly tightened their grip on communications.

Now, only Corporate America has a voice - and the blue-collar workers are largely anti-union. Go ahead, blame the "elitist left" all you want - just know you're quoting Rush Limbaugh when you do it.

Beleck3 said...

the violence of the 60's killed the LEFT. not only were the Heroes/Kennedy/King/killed, but the Right went ballistic over losing Vietnam. Never forget that TV killed the Vietnam War. that's why the Fairness Doctrine was killed.

Besides the LEFT was never organized or focused, just like today. But the Right was organized and began to attack the LEFT, with Spiro Agnew's Nattering Nabobs of Negativism comment. The consolidation of the Press began then and there.

of course Jane Fonda helped, Chicago demonstrations/Democratic convention. the LEFT Is totally crazy and doesn't work together. separate goals. the Truth was co-opted by the Media. The Right began its' assault and hasn't given an inch since then.

the 60's were a weird time. the Whites were terrified by Black rioting in the cities and afraid of black payback in the South. the indignation of helping blacks when whites didn't qualify for government help started the whole anti-Government Tea Party back then. was called Segregation back then, by various leader like George Wallace and St. Ronnie when he came to Philadelphia, MS with the Southern Strategy.

it's a long road to today. i hope the Whites will wake to see they are being screwed by the Republicans, but the PR campaign is so smart and effective, i doubt they will. most older whites, 50's on up think Government is the Problem. Reagan's lies worked.

Death is the only answer to undo such lies/St. Ronnie's PR campaign. the Fear of Black payback is the KEY to Southern White Fear of voting Republican. Education is the only answer and education doesn't exist in the South. So. more ignorant whites will follow until... ? i know lawyers who believe Government is the problem. educated and choosing fear.

what is the answer? the Banksters may cause an opening for reality, but these people may choose truthiness over truth. Faith based thinking really holds the answer for these willingly ignorant people.

Rheinhard said...

Wow! A very thought-provoking post. It made me think that you're saying much the same thing that Gandhi said in this speech (from about 1:02 on). Just as there was little reason for the Indian peasant to fight for a group of a few hundred lawyers in Delhi, there's little reason for the working poor to fight for rich lawyers in the Democratic party or laptop-lugging bloggers...

Beleck3 said...

watch Archie Bunker/All in the Family to see what and where the Tea Baggers came from. time has passed and not much else has changed.

reality is stranger than any fiction.

mollie said...

Hey, volunteer for a local Democratic candidate! The working class Left is alive and out here, we just don't get the publicity!

TheFritoPundito said...

Did you ever consider that the rightwing has been engaged in a systematic, and largely successful effort to marginalize, disenfranchise and destroy the Left? Look at what happened to ACORN, who were working class leftists. Or look at the total dismissal of the protests against the Iraq War. The fact that you would suggest this shows that you too have absorbed the right wing framing, that what few leftists are just self-hating "elistists". Look around you - there are valiant community groups, populated by a wide spectrum of the population, who are still struggling to achieve what used to be the goals of the Left. But they get no support from the Dems, ridicule from the media, and as a result, outright hostility from the general public. YOU try achieving anything under those circumstances.

DaisyDeadhead said...

FritoPundito: look around you

Excuse me, but are you JOKING? (Is this your first visit to this blog?) As Axl Rose famously asked, do you know where you are?

If I look around HERE, WHERE I AM, there is no left here; I speak from Ground Zero of the Tea Party Movement, Senator Jim DeMint's redder-than-red old congressional district in South Carolina; the district that recently dumped Rep. Bob Inglis as too liberal.

Put another way, I speak from the state already written off by the left. So yes, I am coming from a rather unique perspective.

FritoPundito: The fact that you would suggest this shows that you too have absorbed the right wing framing

What a strange thing to say.

How exactly does someone avoid "absorbing the framing" of the people around them, the people they work with, the place they live, the local media, friends, family? Of course I "absorb the framings" of people around me; don't you? And I am around working class people, and always have been. I "absorb" what working class people think/say/do... again, don't you?

If you don't, perhaps this is the reason for the disconnection. ;)

This is also why you don't understand what's going on with the Tea Party. (Something is happening but you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones?)

It is highly unlikely that anyone who finds it necessary to inform people they have a Ph.D. in their Blogger profile (giggle) could properly understand any discussion about workers. FYI, "workers"
refers to the people who sweep up your lab at night, fix your car, ring up your groceries, pack your meat, wait on your tables, clean your teeth, etc. Them. Not you.

I notice you did not mention workers a single time in your comment, and they/we were the focus of my post.

Not. You.

YOU try achieving anything under those circumstances.

Um, what do you think I've been doing most of my life?

Any more nasty condescension and stupid remarks like that, Dr Pundito, and whether you write a Salon-column or not, it'll be the trap door for you.

Please go back to writing about meeting your girlfriend in Shanghai with the "fun tastes", and leave the politics to the grownups. (that should give you some blog hits. Now run along.)

Jon said...

Woo woo! You go Daisy!

Neil in Chicago said...

Put Wilhelm Reich's Mass Psychology of Fascism on your reading list. You'll be glad you did.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

An interesting conundrum, but hardly limited to the US experience as this post from George Monbiot points out. It seems that the right wing mantras are winning out. Quite frankly, the US MSM is geared toward the rightward trend in politics such that the Democratic party is branded Socialistic.

The problem is that the economic and cultural squeeze from the right is effecting everyone. The political structure is also weighted against popular candidates making any inroads as political campaigns run into the millions and billions of dollars. That means the tweedledum pretence two party system (really just one) is allowed to run the show since no one else can compete. No one is screaming that they have been frozen out of the political process.

Anyway, I have been blogging on this topic as well here among other posts.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

You might enjoy this post particularly:

Anonymous said...

Anyone who rejects someone opinion because they have a PhD is a fool. My parents, one a immigrant, grew up in working class backgrounds (one the daughter of a steel worker and a YMCA cleaner, the other of a corner store owner and a home maker), both have gone on to get their doctorates. They both did this while working, my mother after teaching in public schools for almost 20 years, and being an active member of the union the whole way, but they don't understand classism huh? I studied with a single mother, daughter of two farmers, who just got her degree, I guess she is an "elite" too huh? There are many others like this, people from true blue collar backgrounds, working multiple jobs during their schooling, that suddenly don't loses their memory or their knowledge of what it feels like to struggle just because they get an education. The dehumanizing of the scholar, by both the right and now it seems the left, is one of the most unsettling trends of the past decade. Yes things are tough for working class people, and yes the fact that professors with a job telling you why is not helping, but if you really think that PhD's are the problem, than you are lost. The anger the you and others feel, about the loss of your jobs, way of life and the security that you once had is real and must be addressed. But to ignore the advice and guidance of those who have devoted their lives to learning about the root causes and solutions to these types of problems is foolish. Your characterization of "elites" as out of touch organic eating fools is just as offensive and ignorant as the redneck or greedy union member stereotype. Many, many educated people care and give back, not out of pity, but out of an understanding of where you are coming from because either they or their parents experienced it first hand.

Look I understand you will now attack me, and I am fine with that (I have no blog to mock, but I am finishing up my doctorate, so I understand that alone disqualifies me from having a valid opinion in your eyes). But just remember this, when you are finished purging those with an education from your "new left" you might find your influence, resonance and ability to counter the arguments from the right seriously hamstrung.

Oh and I publish this as anonymous ( I am guessing you will say I am a coward for doing so) simply because I do not have a google account and really don't want to set one up for this single post.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Anon, or FritoPundito, isn't this your blog? Why are you lying about not having one? Are you the same "FritoPundito" who posted before? You had a profile then, and I linked it. You saw that, right? Why are you lying about having no profile?

FTR, we see from your very first sentence that you have no reading comprehension, Ph.D. or not.

Doctor Frito writes: Anyone who rejects someone opinion because they have a PhD is a fool.

What I wrote: It is highly unlikely that anyone who finds it necessary to inform people they have a Ph.D. in their Blogger profile (giggle) could properly understand any discussion about workers.

Do you understand the distinction between what you wrote and what I actually said? (How did you get a Ph.D with such shitty reading comprehension, seriously?)

Of COURSE you know you are not the only person with a Ph.D. in this thread? Why would you assume you are?

My point, in bold: you are the type of person who finds it necessary to TELL PEOPLE you have a Ph.D., before they even KNOW you... this is a way of throwing around some educational authority you believe you have earned, thereby giving your dumb-ass opinions more weight. This works for you most places, so you erroneously believed it would work here too. No, that sort of posturing and preening means POINTS OFF in these parts. Sorry dude.

Again, let me clarify: it is the unabashed bragging and attempt to make yourself look BETTER that I find ridiculous, not the Ph.D. itself, which of course, is an inaminate object and innocent of all wrongdoing.

And this is a riot: But just remember this, when you are finished purging those with an education from your "new left" you might find your influence, resonance and ability to counter the arguments from the right seriously hamstrung.

[Historic note: I am getting serious Cultural Revolution flashbacks, and I am suddenly understanding why Chairman Mao sent the whole lot of them to the countryside.]

Anon, what makes you think they are interested in having "arguments"? Where would you get an idea like that? Certainly, none of the current leaders of the Tea Party movement have shown any interest in reasonably debating facts at ALL. (Most do not even believe in evolution, and you think *I* am too dumb to handle them?)

The Tea Party Movement is about emotion, not intellectual crap from clueless, stunted, perpetually posturing, reading-impaired "scholars" like yourself.

If scholars are dissed, maybe its because 1) you aren't the smartest people around--just the people with the means to have the most education, which is two different things and 2) you can't seem to stop reminding everyone of how much education you have, since you think (like right now) this means you must be deferred to. No, it doesn't mean shit, except that you have an education. (What this proves is that education does not necessarily make people more analytical or more intelligent or even better readers.)

WARNING: Any further derails of this thread will be deleted, Doctor Pundito. Reading comprehension IS required.

Jon said...

Daisy, I was kicked out of one of America's finest cow colleges and you are OK in my book.

DavidByron said...

As far as the "Left" goes in America I think your first article in the series was quite mistaken. You insult the "left" by saying they are not doing XYZ but the people you are talking about are not the left at all. You are talking about Democrats or liberals or Progressives -- not the left.

Look back at that piece you quoted at the beginning of the first article. here I will quote a sentence from it:

"This socialist worked beside Dick, and became his friend. He talked endlessly, obsessively about "the bosses" and "the working stiffs."

Now please tell me if that is the working definition of the left then are Democrats the left? No. Are Progressives the left? No. How many Progressives do you know that would call themselves socialist? Socialism and communism are curse words for them. And how many Progressives would be caught dead talking about "the bosses" or the workers? or class war? And those few who say capitalism itself is wrong would likely do so on ecological grounds.

Do you not understand that the US has outlawed communism for many decades now? You don't live in a free country as far as political speech goes. There are still laws against expressing certain political views in America. What passes for the left in America is a corporate inoculation intended to make people feel there is free speech. You know what an inoculation is? That is when a doctor injects you with a weak or dead form of a disease so you won't catch the real thing.

This strategy seems to have worked better at eliminating the left than the previous strategy of beating them and killing them.

So I am not sure the left has lost the working class in America so much as just lost altogether.

DaisyDeadhead said...

David, JG Ballard would say we were "absorbed" (as by the borg), while I think Herbert Marcuse would say we lost the war of meanings. Something like that.

But you are probably right: about the losing. Corporations indeed rule the world, at this point. Will they become the new nation-states?

Do you not understand that the US has outlawed communism for many decades now?

Communism hasn't been "outlawed", it has been drained of any real meaning, as has most "politics". Corporations are the global reality now. "Communism" has been turned into a cartoon. After the demise of the Soviet Union, "communism" had no more utility in most American minds, and it went the way of the 8-track tape. Communism is a period piece, Boris and Natasha, East Germany, Soviet Realism, Cold War spy thrillers, etc. History Channel. We lost the war of MEANING.

This new development, the Tea Party, is emotional (populist at base) and responds to symbols, it isn't not logical or rational. That's what I was trying to explain to Doctor Pundito.

DavidByron said...

Communism has been outlawed in the sense that there are laws outlawing it in the US where its treated much like terrorism.

It is not treated as a cartoon that I have seen but more like an object or ritual horror. All right-thinking Americans are taught that communism = evil. That is not a cartoonish thing, not is it meaningless. While liberals and Progressives are seen as wimps that is not true of communists.

I do think that the recent attacks on civil rights and so on and the advancing plutocracy are in part because of a sense among the elites that after the fall of the USSR, the American populace had "nowhere to go" so that concessions that were necessary in the 1930s or 1940s or 1960s because of the threat of communism -- that is the philosophical threat of communism, the threat of a good example -- are no longer seen as needed, and so since the 1980s there has been an on-going claw-back of those rights and government services.

In other words kind of like the existence of union workers raises the conditions of all workers even non-union workers, the existence of even a rather flawed kind of communism in the USSR was enough to raise conditions for workers everywhere. At least that seem to be how it is, to me.

DavidByron said...

I don't think I do get your point about "The Left WAS the workers" (see comment thread of second in series). I suppose I can see what the general implication is but it strikes me as the sort of statement that is bound to be true somewhat and bound to be false somewhat, so a lot depends on what exactly you mean.

For example was Howard Zinn a worker? the son of factory working immigrants, or was he a non-worker because he was an elitist college professor righting swanky books?

Was Che Guevara a worker? He came from more of a middle class family as far as I can see.

Was Victoria Woodhull a worker? She was born into poverty, made her first fortune as a psychic, her second as the first female Wall Street stockbroker and ended up marrying an English Lord, but she was also the first to publish Marx in the US and led a local workers union.

Still I suppose that was not the point you were making so much as going back to your hypothesis in the title of the series which is the idea that the left lost the working class more than they lost anyone else. It's not clear to me that is the case compared to a hypothesis that socialism and communism became discouraged across the board uniformly. It's not like there's a whole lot of middle and upper class socialists about either.

The perspective makes a lot of difference as to the "why".

Sorry for going on.....

Nancy Lebovitz said...

I have a lot of free time and not very much money, and I'm an NPR junkie. My local station is WHYY.

Long ago, I was told that NPR is left-wing, but I've noticed a few anomalies. It wasn't just the miniscule pay for one of their phone solicitors I knew. Not only was there no show about how to live well on less money 20 years ago, but when I brought up the subject to someone who turned out to be "let me explain why all our policies are perfect", she couldn't seem to understand why anyone would want such a thing. Four years into a financial collapse, and that show still doesn't exist at WHYY. I don't know whether they've got one anywhere in the network.

And I think that only a junkie would notice that they're subtly anti-union. The first news announcements about a strike will be about how it will inconvenience people. It takes them a few hours to get around to saying what the reason for the strike is.

Here's a politically incorrect theory-- I think that white support for civil rights and affirmative action was partly motivated by decency, but it was also an attack on poor white people, who are (were?) closer competitors to upper middle class and upper class whites than black people are. This is an especially clever move, because if lower class whites don't like affirmative action which helps people of color who have considerably more money, the lower class whites are accused of being racist. The theory explains why liberals, who are theoretically in favor of kindness and justice, are mostly uninhibited about attacking lower class and southern whites.

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Alison said...

Agree. Thanks for this post.

A question: Did you have any actual evidence that the anon was FritoPundito? Same IP or something? Because reading the conversation after the fact makes me wonder.

Personally, I'm an autodidact. Been scorned for "seeming smart" and also for having a high school equivalency.