Saturday, December 20, 2008

Revolution and Reform

The other night I attended a debate between Larry Everest, revolutionary communist and author of Oil, Power and Empire, and Norman Solomon, progressive Democrat and author of Made Love, Got War.

The debate crystallized some of my own ideas regarding revolution and reform.

Norman Solomon made a good point: Revolution is years away at best, and might be impossible — we won't know for sure until a revolution is successful. Until we have an actual revolution, it is better to do what we can to work within the system for progressive change. In theory, I agree: you don't refuse to rescue a drowning person just because your efforts to have a dangerous beach closed have not yet succeeded.

But in practice, I find Solomon's position hollow. For forty years, I've watched the Democratic party cave time and again to the conservative, pro-business, anti-populist, pro-religion and sometimes explicitly fascist agenda. And this blatant appeasement has become progressively worse, culminating in the Democratic party's utter inability to thwart the agenda of the Bush administration between 2006-2008 — despite the fact that Bush is the weakest, least popular president ever; arguably the worst president in American history. Choosing the Democratic party as a vehicle to fight against the Republican conservative agenda is as moronic as betting on the Washington Generals to defeat the Harlem Globetrotters.

Worse yet, progressive Democrats have shown nothing but blatant appeasement to the conservative wing of the Democratic party — and its blatantly clear that Barack Obama represents this wing. Many progressive democrats object to criticism of the Obama administration — not because it's wrong, but because somehow Obama is so fragile that criticism might convince Obama to back away from the minuscule progressive agenda he might support on his own.

It's a fundamental rule of negotiation that you do not get what you do not demand. If you want something, you not only have to ask for it, you have to fight for it. Coming to the table ready to "compromise" is nothing but appeasement. You have to fight for your adversary to compromise, and you have to make your adversary fight for your own concessions.

This is such a fundamental point of negotiation that it becomes difficult to attribute the persistent strain of appeasement in the Democratic party and the so-called "progressive" wing of the Democratic to anything other than gross stupidity or rank hypocrisy. The Democrats are demanding nothing of the Republicans, and the progressive Democrats are demanding nothing of the party as a whole.

I was watching some political documentary a while ago, and Barney Frank (D-MA) made a perspicacious comment (which I'll have to paraphrase from memory): "Do you vote? No? Then what do I care what you think?" Left unsaid, though, is the corollary: "Will you vote for me no matter what I do? Yes? Then what do I care what you think?"

There's an important sense in which Barack Obama is actually worse than John McCain. Obviously, Obama is not an explicitly theocratic fucktard like McCain; Obama is a bright guy, and I'm sure he means well, but he knows precisely what the capitalist imperialist system demands of him, and he was supported by capitalist elite because they know he will deliver. Obama is a palliative, not a cure. A palliative is just fine when it relieves suffering while one is curing the underlying disease. But a palliative is actively bad when it removes the motivation of pain for curing the underlying condition while it worsens. And that is precisely what the Obama administration aims to do.

A McCain administration would have given tremendous impetus for progressives to actually organize. "Let's make the patient sicker," says Dr. House, "so we can diagnose the disease and cure it before it kills the patient." An Obama administration just masks the symptoms and has visibly and provably sucked the oxygen from the mainstream progressive movement.

Obama will not end the occupation of Iraq: he's said so. Worse yet, a half-assed withdrawal will be seen by the Iraqi people as a weakness to be exploited, not a victory to be consolidated. One must grasp the nettle firmly: we'll see an escalation of the war in Iraq as Obama tries to tiptoe out.

Obama will not end the occupation of Afghanistan; indeed he aims to expand it. He is no friend of women or abortion rights. He is no friend of gays. He is no friend of secularists. He is no friend of labor.

He cannot, even if he has good intentions, fix the economy. It is beyond repair. He cannot deliver universal health care: the Republican party is viscerally and fundamentally opposed, and Obama's willingness to compromise will again be seen a weakness to be exploited, which it is indeed.

Obama is no friend, no friend at all, of true progressivism, a progressivism that seeks any sort of substantive change, and not just the rhetorical window-dressing of vacuous slogans on the same old oppressive bullshit.

I'd love to work within the system for progressive change, substantive change. But it's the plain truth that even the most mild progressivism has been not just locked out of actual participation in politics, but anesthetized into a coma by vapid sloganeering. Reform is completely off the table, at least any reform more substantive than, "Hey, let's be more discreet about demolishing the underpinnings of liberal capitalist democracy."

There's just no choice but to do what we can, however ineffective, for a revolution.


  1. Dude, maybe *this* is your best, most provocative post of the year.


    I want to say more on the subject, but that pretty much sums it up. The political machine is running itself now. The American corporate party with it's two flavors of red and blue have managed to crush or purchase or co-opt any meaningful dissent.

  3. All of what you just said about Obama was also true of FDR. That is how the American system works. When the process of extracting wealth from the workers reduces their level of living to unsustainable levels, such that revolution is even the slightest possibility, the system will throw up an FDR or Obama as a palliative to prevent revolution. It was not a *mistake* that Obama won the election, any more than it was a *mistake* that FDR won the election of 1934. Not all of our ruling elites are stupid. Many of them are, but not all. And the ones who are NOT stupid saw the possibilities being dire if McCain was President and managed to finish the job of George W. Hoover's destruction of the middle class.

    Regarding the notion that the narcotized, apathetic American public could be roused to revolution by anything other than absolute national disaster to the point where a quarter of the population is unemployed and homeless... not likely. And our rulers know that. Sorry, but people dreaming of revolution are just that -- dreaming. In the end, if there is going to be any change, it will have to be evolutionary, not revolutionary, because we simply don't have a population made of revolutionaries anymore, the last such batch got put down *hard* in 1865.

    - Badtux the History Penguin

  4. FDR was not a palliative: He actually made real structural reforms to the political-economic system, and his efforts led to substantial improvements: he made capitalism about as good as it can possibly be. Still imperialistic, still exploitative, but he made real improvements.

    But conditions are far worse today than they were in the 1930s. There was still room for growth, and there was still room in the capitalist system for the labor of ordinary people to be valuable. A Keynesian stimuluous was just what's needed.

    I think conditions are not just worse today, but qualitatively different. I'm going to write more on this topic soon.

  5. Here we are up against the no win wall. Evolutionary change is co-opted by the blue flavor and then emasculated by the red flavor. Revolutionary change is crushed by both flavors. Why go on? Do we need a complete destruction of the post industrial US society for a new more progressive entity to rise from its ashes? The disruption of most everyone's lives would be a steep price to pay

  6. In from Swift. Much of what you write is true, and yet fatally flawed in perspective. Democrats will count votes and they will go where that counting leads them in legislation. That is the system that exists and I push and shove in it to go my lefty way and expect to be at it for a lifetime and come up short. I won't get my way until enough Americans elect enough lefties.

    I do that because I am armed to the teeth and prefer ballots to bullets. I have the ability, the capability, and the tools to do either, I vastly prefer quieter methods. So, if I'm wasting my time, do you want to pick the targets?

  7. Chuck: I'm more or less in agreement with you. See my latest essay, Revolutionary Conditions, for a more detailed explanation.

    It's important that revolutionaries such as myself absolutely abjure violence to create revolutionary conditions. On the other hand, it's important that revolutionaries not uncomplainingly accept the limitations and contradictions of our bourgeois faux "democracy".


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