Populism as Masquerade (was Re: Henwood vs. Cockburn)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Mon Nov 15 07:52:24 PST 1999

Carrol wrote:
>But on a maillist we necessarily speak in abstract categories. And however
>many individual exceptions there almost certainly are in any group you wish
>to name, certain sectors of the population are simply *not* reasonable
>targets of organized attempts to reach them. For example: the population
>of Arthur, Illinois -- simply because there are not enough of them. I would
>also disagree with Katha, for example, that Hitchens's columns in Vanity
>Fair would be apt to have any particular political effect. If you want to,
>you can pick the most thinly populated county in Nevada and spend the
>rest of your life trying to recruit radicals there. You might even find one
>or two. But you would also be (politically speaking) a damn fool.

When organizing for a political party, an issue, a union, etc., I think you'd first go to the most likely people (= those whose ideas are already close to the platform of your party, those who already agree that X must be supported [or opposed, as the case may be], those who think they need a union, etc.), and then mustering some strength in number, you'd go to the uninformed, the undecided, the fearful, the discouraged, etc. Then and only then you'd think about, if need be, creating a 'coalition' with those who are not likely to agree with you on many things because they already hold a coherent political ideology different from yours (such as those active in militias, the jury-nullification movement, the anti-abortion movement, etc.).

For instance, those who organized an anti-abortion movement didn't start by going after those who thought like Carrol, Katha, Doug, Michael H., Charles B., me, etc. If they had, they wouldn't have gotten anywhere. In reality, they started by galvanizing conservative Christians and then tried to expand from that base. The Greens didn't start by focusing on trying to make those who thought like Jim Heartfield join them. They first built a movement by gathering together like-minded people who thought unchecked destruction of the environment, natural or social, had to be stopped, especially those who were already active on some environmental issue. The Civil Rights movement didn't start by trying to change the minds of George Wallace and his likes and to make of them Civil Rights activists.

If we were to have any chance of converting, say, some of the believers in a Rightist ideology to our side, we'd have to build a strong & growing base of politically active & well-networked leftists first and then grow into a mass movement. Then, they might defect from the Right and join us.

Adolph Reed Jr., being an organizer for the Labor Party, understands this need for organizing priority; Cockburn, on the other hand, doesn't seem to understand it at all.


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