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Comments by YACCS
Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The good old days my ass

Power to the people and my handler

By Max Sawicky

All generalizations about "the 1960s left" are false, except for this one.

Matt Stoller is well-situated to talk about the intersection of contemporary internet-based protest and the Democratic Party. He does not seem very current on the boots-on-the-ground left that is responsible for the huge anti-war demonstrations we have seen since 2002, as well as for local organizing against Wal-Mart and for the "living wage." About the 60s left, he is all wet. Why does this matter? It speaks to the limits of the netroots when it comes to policy, program, ideology, and intellectual world-view.

The "Internet Left" is a mostly brainless vacuum cleaner of donations for the Democratic Party.

Let's go chronologically. Two preeminent organs of the 1960s left were the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). SNCC had at least two distinct vintages which I would characterize as before and after Stokely. Before was integrationist, social-democratic, and reformist. After was black nationalist and radical.

SDS was never a centralized organization with a unified ideology. The politics of its presidents (and later a collective leadership) changed significantly over the years. At the beginning there were social-democratic and laborist roots. Soon there was a decentralist community organizing focus, alienated from the Democratic Party. Later still there was serious, non-dogmatic interest in Marx (my favorite period, typified by people like Carl Oglesby and Carl Davidson). Later still we had the deranged "Weather-people," multiple Maoist and Trotskyist formations, the Stalinist Enver Hoxha-lovin' Progressive Labor Party, etc. etc.

How in the world could you generalize about this Tower of Babel? Matt tries to, invoking the term "post-scarcity," which applies to hardly any of the worthies above. He suggests that economics was ignored. This is rubbish. Even those most alienated from the U.S. working class did not hold the starving Third World masses to be under the yoke of a post-scarcity economy.

Think of how today's media characterizes "angry bloggers" and the netroots, and consider whether TIME Magazine-type descriptions of SDS or SNCC would have been accurate. In TIME Magazine, then and now, you do not read about class politics. You learn about Stokely Carmichael and Al Sharpton, not about Bill Fletcher or Adolph Reed. You hear about protectionism from the Buchanan right, never from the global justice left.

In TIME Magazineland, the latter 90s and "welfare reform" were triumphs of Clintonomics, not the targets of withering critiques.

The contemporary "Internet left" is not very left. It is vociferous, partisan, and alert to opportunities to nail Republicans and Joe Lieberman. And there's nothing wrong with that. But left? Please.

* The netroots criticized the Iraqi effort a) for not gaining the support of the U.N.; b) for not armoring the troops sufficiently; c) for not proving the existence of WMDs; d) for not proving connections to Al Queda; e) for not using enough troops. Can we presume that if George H.W. Bush had been there to get the support of the U.N. and prove Saddam had WMDs, an invasion would have been justified?


Let's start with the last first. I remember Kos and I calling the Iraq war a failed colonial adventure in 2002, before it was started. I predicted that someone like Sadr would rise to power and the exiles would be rejected. But I guess generalizations are fine when one is engaged in a romantic retelling of the 1960's. But with Google, you will see I predicted the failure of Iraq from before the invasion.

Now, it's easy to pick on Matt, because this is all history to him, but I'm a little older and I find your comments bordering on Kagan-like misrepresentation.

The "Internet Left" has done more in three years than any of the groups you hail as heroes from the 1960's did in 10 years. Why? Because neither SDS or SNCC were actually interested in democratic politics. They morphed into terrorists. Now, it's all nice to recall the Panthers and their cute black leather jackets, but in the end, they were bait for the FBI because they preached guns and violence. Neither SDS or SNCC lived more than a few years because they had no interest in working with people, only "the people". Their community organizing skills rarely coopted the people who could make them last. They centered on a dynamic leader, not the community.

The New Left failed because it was arrogant. It didn't listen and didn't care about the people they were supposed to work with. They wanted to lead without listening.

You should remind people how the Panthers devolved into drug-dealing gangsters. It was macho theatrics, not real leadership. The SDS, which morphed into the Weathermen, are remembered for their incompetence in bomb making.

Now, if you think being on the left is about Marx and discussions, you have to be kidding. Who was going to listen to that?

The people who suceeded were the ones who left the "movement" and ran for office, or who grew up, like Joseph Lowery.

Then we had the autocratic Nader movement, with one leader, and many followers.

Max, I also find it amusing that you forget to note how the class differences on the left would be enshrined. You keep talking about the "left", but let me let you in on a secret, that left was exclusionary as hell. Public Citizen had rich, white interns who could afford to be paid those miserable salaries, excluding many who could have expanded the movement. From NARAL to the Sierra Club, they all became havens for the rich. I applied for a job at the Audibon Society and got a plea for donations with my rejection letter. Who does that?

You laud these groups, but forget what they did. They shifted the discussion on the left from civil rights to toasters. They embraced the consumer economy and sought to perfect it, while the working class was slowly being screwed.

Then you talk about the anti-war protests. You mean the embarassing ones run by ANSWER, which alienated more people than gained their support.

Meetings? You mean like the Greens had? They were good at talking and bad at doing.

I think what you resent about the "Internet Left" is that they get things done. The Greens can't get past the city council level. Chris Bowers got millions of dollars to win races. Which might actually change people's lives and not end up in a circle jerk discussion.

What I think you are blind to is that you admired the organized, New Left, where people had rules and read books and marched. Instead of the "Internet left" which actually empowers people to participate in politics. You would think that someone on the left would be excited by that, and you would want to encourage it.

The New Left failed. It was only when people embraced political power did changes really happen. The "Internet left" empowers people to act on their own or with others, with no "leader" to direct them. One would think that real people power, not just the crap tossed about in meetings, would be exciting.

posted by Steve @ 2:19:00 AM

2:19:00 AM

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