Monday, November 14, 2016

Discussing Our Opposition---#1

Many friends have sent in comments regarding the "Our Opposition" post below. Here is a comment from a valued friend who does great work in the local anti-racist movement and a response. And for some reason Blogger will not allow us to take down the different versions of  the "Our Opposition" post and folks are hitting all four. I'm sorry about that, but it can't yet be helped. Many thanks!

Response From A Friend

I think voter suppression, I think voter suppression, a stunningly ignorant electorate (including those who choose not to vote or vote 3rd party because they insist there's no difference between the 2 major parties), the media (SNL's opening on 11/5/16 was pretty spot-on), the FBI, and racism/sexism/xenophobia are all much more responsible for what happened Tuesday night. I think putting so much of the blame on Clinton, a flawed mainstream politician to be sure, excuses those things. Even Noam Chomsky advocated voting for Clinton, as did Bernie Sanders. In a sane world, the choice was clear. Trump is the definition of a demagogue, and that anyone would vote for him is a sad commentary on our society.

Perhaps in a so-called anti-establishment climate, Clinton wasn't the best choice. But I'm not convinced Sanders would have won and nobody else was remotely viable (or better than Clinton). I also question how "anti-establishment" the electorate is given how many incumbents won re-election as usual. More than anything, I think what we're experiencing is a white backlash by ignorant and bigoted people. I certainly don't think the average Trump supporter was sitting around having in-depth discussions about trade policy or any policy for that matter. For one thing, Trump himself didn't offer substantive positions. For another thing, survey after survey makes it clear that the average American is clueless. Millions of people can't even name the Vice President, much less express a nuanced position on a complex subject like trade or debt. Both our media and our educational institutions are failing us.

I'm afraid the decades of right wing hate (much of it rooted in sexism) directed at Clinton has leached into the consciousness of leftists and left-leaning people. Bill Maher, who I don't always appreciate, said it well: So did John Oliver:

I admit to once being one of those "no lesser evil," Green Party voting people, but I came to recognize that I was exhibiting white privilege by doing so. And I read these mindset-changing pieces by Julio Huato: and I don't agree with everything Huato wrote, but I'm with him when he writes "we cannot just will conditions that don't exist." As Bernard Chazelle wrote years ago, "America has lefties but no left." Lefties/leftists haven't laid the groundwork necessary for structural change.

A Clinton Administration wouldn't foment hatred or roll back progress made in the area of civil rights, it wouldn't nominate horrifyingly right wing justices for the Supreme Court, it wouldn't try to privatize Soc Sec/Medicare/infrastructure, it would pursue alternative energy investment and maintain the US's position in the Paris Climate Treaty, it would maintain the Iran nuclear deal, it would have worked to lower the costs of health care and college tuition, and on and on and on. Again, the choice should have been clear to any decent person.

I watched all 3 debates and I'd never before seen one candidate so thoroughly dominate the other. Clinton kicked Trump's ass in every debate. She offered substantive policy proposals, whereas Trump did not. She gave some pretty inspiring speeches, whereas Trump fomented hate with speech that can barely be considered coherent (read the transcripts of his speeches and try to figure out what the hell he's saying half the time). And she did win the popular vote.

All that said, the Clinton Administration would likely have compromised too much (often starting from a position of compromise as Democrats are wont to do) and wouldn't have followed through on various promises (leftists would, of course, need to put pressure on the administration). It would have been an extension of the Obama Administration but probably slightly more progressive (thanks in part to the pressure imparted by Sanders) by virtue of society (seemingly) moving in that direction, especially had she won by the margin she should have won by.

But what's done is done and I do think we're long overdue for the Democratic Party to alter its course. Making Keith Ellison the new DNC Chair, something Sanders and others are advocating, would probably be a good start. Pushing hard for campaign finance reform, more labor unions, an investment in new industries (as the jobs that have left the US are never coming back) and an end to gerrymandering would also be good. And the Democratic Party (as the only viable alternative to the GOP in a 2-party system of government) most certainly needs to do more to combat oppression, which will only get worse given who is headed to the White House and how much control the Republican Party now has (at the local, state and federal levels of government).

I don't know what the answer is to combating all that ails us, but I don't think the answer is promoting socialism (very much a loaded and divisive term) or any other -ism (not that you're necessarily doing that). Attempting to persuade people that a certain term doesn't mean what they think it means seems like a poor use of time. And I question the efficacy of protest marches, though I understand why people are drawn to them during troubling times. I also don't want to kowtow to existing power structures. But "we" (those opposed to oppression?) must somehow find a way to achieve more concrete political victories, and that's going to require helping the electorate (and young people who will become part of the electorate) become more informed and more active (less mindless entertainment and more organizing around issues of concern). As Julio Huato wrote, "It seems to me that leaps in the quality of an organic process have to be preceded by a prolonged, very patient process of accumulation of small quantitative changes.  By definition, in and by themselves, quantitative changes do not alter the quality of the process. The quality remains. But those gradual changes prepare the sudden alteration in quality."

I haven't a clue how to achieve more political victories or address institutional racism (though I'm confident the former would aid in the latter), but I'm involved with RJOC and the NAACP as a means of figuring all of that out. Maybe some town hall meetings (with 30-50 residents of Salem-Keizer) would be worth organizing (some specifically for people under 18 and some for adults). Maybe going door-to-door between election cycles, and not just during campaign season, to discuss issues would be worth doing. I don't know. One thing I do know is that taking part in sparsely attended meetings of like-minded people isn't sufficient, therapeutic as those meetings can be.

Our Response

A note of self-criticism: I should have talked more in the "Our Opposition" post about the Voting Rights Act and the FBI. I would not say that people are "stunningly ignorant," however. The phrase could be misunderstood as elitist, might be taken as not showing real love for the people and their struggles and blocks organizing. If we approach people without taking into consider the facts---like I did by not talking about the Voting Rights Act or the FBI, or with the assumption that people are stupid---we can't get very far.

I agree in the main with what our friend says throughout his response, but there are some questions that arise. I don't think that Clinton was a good candidate, or the best candidate, who was put forward, and I don't want us to fall into the trap of making this about candidates. Elections can be---should be---about class and popular struggles, not candidates, It's how we initiate and respond to issues, not individuals, which matters. But how do the Democrats get new and better leadership without criticizing Clinton? Yesterday and today the Democratic party establishment began responding to criticism in unhelpful and obstructionist ways, so the circle-the-wagons mentality is there. The criticism of the Democratic party leadership is needed and deserved, but the folks who hung in there through the election have the credibility (and the responsibility) to fight it out, and they deserve our support.

Besides the Democratic party leadership obstructionists, there are others who potentially block change in the Democratic party. Some of these forces can be won over and others neutralized. Labor presents a special problem because some union leaderships are taking over liberal and progressive political campaigns on the bet that the push for change will increase and they want to direct that and use it, having learned much from Occupy. On the other hand, the union rank-and-file has a different interest and perhaps a different direction. There is an opportunity to win many changes in many areas if we work with all forces in motion on a united front basis.

The qualitative and quantitative juxtaposition and unity mentioned in our friend's response to us derives from dialectical; materialism, the best way to understand reality and change things. We have been saying this for years. The question arises---if one identifies as being on the left and looking at things dialectically, how can it be that we could never embrace a third party as a matter of principle, not promote socialism and not build a left? We say that the political options are so few and so poor precisely because leftists do not work from a socialist agenda in our daily work. We meet people every week who identify as being on the left but who have no connection to the core of the left, which should be socialists and socialist organizations. Their political work would be more effective were it built from a socialist base.

It is difficult to hear that there are leftists but no left here. This is becoming a common saying. Again, I argue that this appears to be true because socialists are not doing the work of organizing for socialism from a common home or homes.

Meetings are indeed poorly attended, and that is discouraging, but large demonstrations are taking place. We know that when we dare to struggle we most often win. A small meeting can organize a successful action, and action and victories lead to more actions and more victories. The need to "just do it" and the need to consolidate what we do organizationally is right in front of us.

Conversations like these orient towards the most politically engaged. My question remains: do we orient now towards the most politifally engaged or to the most disaffected?           

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