Monday, January 07, 2008

the chest-thumping of political independence

I don't like to criticize my own kind. There's something about spending my precious intellectual resources (including time--I'm writing this at 6AM so I can get some writing in before the kids wake up) on criticism of those whom, fundamentally at least, I agree with that just seems counterproductive in the "discursive economy" if you will--or the political economy of discourse (that's it). But this is pretty important. Over the next election year, we'll once again see a new round of chest-thumping from socialist political parties about the necessity of building a political movement outside the Two Parties.tm

It is necessary. Of that I have no doubt. But it's the chest-thumping that bugs. It manifests itself whenever we fiercely independent, uniquely enlightened, gee aren't we cool socialists dismiss the sentiments behind support for, say, John Edwards or even Green candidates. Let's not fool ourselves: For those who don't methodically and faithfully (I'll explain that if you want) put class conflict first as our analytical and sociological, as well as political postulate, President John Edwards would be fundamentally different from, and better than, any of his predecessors. Now, the fact that we can see Edwards easily slipping into compromise, being manipulated and overhandled, watering down his progressive politics to a thin nothingness of what they are now, or even being "pornographied" by scandal, is important, and speaks to something I find very satisfying about our political method.

But we must be on guard against sounding like we are squaking and boasting about our political independence, ourselves watering down the political differences between sections of the Democratic party, and worse, failing to acknowledge the feelings and intentions behind support for the most palitable of those candidates, especially for people struggling to get by in their lives, who don't have the privilege of critical reflection we've managed to imperfectly forge for ourselves.

Understanding those differences in political perspective is critical to be able to truly say that a worker's movement has no interests apart from those of workers.

None of this is to excuse the equivalent chest-thuming on the part of our left-Democrat friends who blame Nader for 2000, and accuse us of not caring about the short-term benefits (or overwhelming Bush-avoidance) of electing Democrats now. But I'll confine this moment of self-reflection to our chest-thumping, not theirs.

I'm guilty of it myself. It's laziness, really: Instead of carefully analyzing the conditions that shape bourgeois politics, and explain the legitimate needs on the part of workers who cast their lot with the bourgeois left, I revert to cynicism and doctrine to dismiss those choices. Such cynicism is counterproductive in the extreme, because it tells people who aren't socialists that they should give up altogether. That kind of forced choice runs counter to my own experience--seing people mull over joining a socialist organization for weeks or months, before joining and becoming incredible activists and leaders for years. It's a shame, too, because election years are important opportunities for political discussion.

So if I do it, readers can call me out on it. Let me make my position clear: I understand the choice to support a progressive Democratic candidate, or even a weakly progressive one as an alternative to, say, the worst president in history. I've said that before, last time a little over three years ago in reference to Kerry, Nader, and Cobb, and even went so far as to say it was "smart" to vote for Kerry in states where it would make a difference. Kerry would have made a horrible President, btw, but I can understand where I was coming from. It just...seemed...possible...to...escape...Bush...! In my defense (see, I have to defend myself against my own chest-thumping) I also pledged to stand by fellow Cobb supporters in those "key" states if they decided to vote Green. But I understood why Kerry. We need to understand that why. One of the things that keeps great people away from our politics is our smarminess.

Just some things to think about...I don't pretend to know an immediate way around the dilemma that inspires such conflict, but we can certainly be more thoughtful and engaging about it.

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