A history lesson
I find fantasists like Max Sawicky amusing.
They talk about some never never land where people did things right and how we should all just repeat what they did.
The New Left was a minor participant in social change because it was disconnected from the masses. It was really college kids and some activists reading Marx and talking. I've read Marx. I don't think I'll get back the hours I spent pouring through Das Kapital. How that helps fund a charter school is beyond me, but practical results often elude the current left.
For someone so contemptuous of people acting on their own, and waiting for the next leader, I think we need to discuss when being on the left wasn't what people did in dorm rooms and meeting halls.
There has probably been no more effective leftist in American history than Walter Reuther. The head of the UAW in the 1930's and 40's, he didn't debate Marx, he fought union goons in the streets of Detroit. He didn't have theories, but practical goals which improved people's lives.
I don't think Max, with his romance with the words of the New Left, would be able to identify the most critical adjustments to the class structure in the US.
The GI Bill and the UAW contract of 1946. Both built the structure of modern American society in the face of conservative opposition. It was the determination to provide the benefits of the GI Bill, a college education or a home, which changed America. The UAW contract of 1946 established the benefits we now take for granted, vacation, 8 hour work day.
Now, you can sit in a room and read Marx, or you can actually organize and lead people. Harry Bridges was as left as you could get and he spent his time organizing dock workers in the face of goons.
The netroots represents the left which actually does something, not the circle jerk of academics and the isolation from the working class which doomed so many of the New Left's ideas.
Which is why it scares people. The fact is that left academics no more like housewives in politics than the right think tankers. They don't feel these people are worthy because they haven't read Marx. Changing lives? Not so important. Doctrinare leftist thought, important.
Poor Max thinks it's important that people read Marx and Marcuse. How many people did his new left heroes actually elect to office? Because that is how we make change in this country. They were beyond electoral politics. They thought they could convince the poor of their ways by quoting authors they never cared about.
What Max will realize about his version of the left is that it never does anything. I don't care if the local activists read Malcolm X. If they stop a landfill in their neighborhood, I think they've done more to prove collective action works. Then he lauds the "direct action forces" the people who disrupt Davos and other gatherings. And that, my friend, is where the romance of the New Left runs into reality. You don't think most of those groups are infiltrated by everyone from SISMI to the Bundespolizei to MI6?
While they're hopping around and getting arrested, they are quickly shoved aside as theater. They may have mobilized, but their arrest record is longer than their accomplishments. But that is what happens when you see politics in romantic instead of practical terms. Protest is less important than controlling who sits in government.
The fact is that the only place his version of the left has worked is in a conference room. Most people have neither the time nor tolerance for it.
posted by Steve @ 8:16:00 AM