Why doesn't the Left have a real vision?

Margaret mairead at mindspring.com
Tue Mar 30 10:05:51 PST 1999

Jonathan wrote:

>We have been a serious threat in the past, that's precisely the point.
>The reason the left feels so ineffectual inside the US is that the moments
>where it's been most effective have been precisely the moments of greatest
>government repression. That doesn't mean giving up, it means recognizing
>that we have been and can be effective again, but that we should also be
>ready for the costs of success.

Okay, fair enough.

>And that's what we use now. But I think the left needs a clear media
>strategy along with everything else and has to either a) forge massive
>media networks on par with those of the right or b) actively fight to
>democratize existing media networks. I think a combination of the two
>approaches is probably best, but lampposts and the internet (which is
>hardly a bastion of leftism--and hardly a democratic medium) aren't

hmmm...i guess i agree in principle, but it's putting into practice that worries me. How, without the huge fiscal resources of Capitalism, can we possibly gain parity in media extent and power? I can alllllmost see democratisation being easier, but only in theory, absent a great New-Deal-ish shift leftward, something that doesn't look likely any time soon :-( Do you have substantive reason to feel more optimistic?

>I see many credible programS. The key here is plural. I'm not talking
>about one unified national or international left movement because at the
>moment, there isn't one. But there are smaller groups doing good things
>for people in their own ways, and a lot of them. None are ideologically
>pure, but if one gets past knee-jerk orthodoxies there is much for any one
>of us to do. .

I agree that there are small ventures all over the place. But my issue is our lack of -- in marketing/ PR/psywar terms :-) -- a 'story to tell'. I'm talking about the equivalent of Capitalist mythology.

Right now, Capitalism says, in essence (this is a jumble):

- Capitalism is the only success story in the world, and it's a success story wherever it goes. - Socialism has been at best a failure and at worst murderously so whenever and wherever it's been tried in modern society. - Under Capitalism, everyone can succeed if they just work hard. - Capitalism is based on fair competition, the Invisible Hand, individual responsibility, individual wealth, no parasitic government --- and it works!! - Under Capitalism, even very poor people have a color TV, and better living conditions than pre-Capitalist societies ever imagined. - People who work hard should get all the fruits of their labour. - It's not possible to have a successful communist/socialist society at any level above about 100 people and gatherer/hunter conditions. - Nobody hardworking should have to support freeloaders who don't want to work. - There isn't enough for everybody.

This forms the Capitalist mythos, that pervades the entire culture. It's accepted as true because it is so pervasive, and because the left has no myth ready to oppose it on anything more than handwaving grounds. We neither puncture their balloon, nor do we have one of our own to float. So we get no support because we have nothing supportable!

>And I think that's the big thing. Organizing, educating,
>getting people involved. There's no big secret to it, and a top-down
>platform at this point would be meaningless without much greater

It seems to me that it's a chicken/egg problem: how are we to get better participation without a credible story to tell?

>I mean, I've got my idea and you've got yours, and we can
>talk about them here, but the real point is for all these heterogeneous
>groups to work alone and together bringing people into contact with one
>another. That's how you build a movement.

Again, i guess i'd agree with you more if we had a central mythos. A party line, if you like. Something that can be pointed to, that everyone says Yep, that's The Truth. I've never heard of any successful movement (apart from religions) that didn't have a set of defensible central principles.

>Honestly, I think this kind of discussion quickly degenerates into the
>verbal equivalent of pants-dropping.

I don't recognise the metaphor, but it sounds interesting :-)

>I've got a long history of activism with
>local groups. I know others on this list have similar histories in their
>communities. I make my living as an academic, so I see the "parlor pink"
>side of it too. I just wonder what people expect out of internet
>discussion lists. Internet access, fluency, and interest are all marks of
>a certain kind of social privilege. i would expect those of us on the
>list to be privileged in one way or another. I would also expect that
>since it's a discussion list we would, well, discuss. I come in with the
>assumption that people are here in good faith. That's enough for me
>online. On the other hand, if you show up to my union meeting and
>criticize, I'll expect you to be part of fixing the problem you identify.

Perhaps i've sounded too contentious, and if so i apologise. I don't question anyone's good faith. I do feel a considerable sense of frustration because here we have this wonderful communications medium and it seems as though we're using it 'to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic' (i'd prefer a fresher metaphor, but can't think of one).

I belong to the local co-op. We're leftish (if a bit too New-Age-ish for my taste) and we do our tiny best to implement socialist principles. But it's a drop in the bucket. Just like Ithaca NY, with it's 'Hours' counter-economy -- fine as far as it goes, and doubtless the source of great satisfaction to all its participants -- but it doesn't go very far at all.

It seems to me that people jump on bandwagons mostly when they're brightly colored, making a lot of noise, and already overloaded. It seems to me we don't even have the wheels on ours, yet. That's what bothers me. It's not going to get very far, without the wheels on.

le meas, Margaret

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