[lbo-talk] An Open Letter to Lefty Friends, Colleagues and Bitter Foes Who're Disappointed by Obama

Dwayne Monroe dwayne.monroe at gmail.com
Fri Jul 24 18:31:08 PDT 2009

Julio Huato asked:

Okay. And then? It's a serious question: What's next in your view?


A fair question.

The same question my friends ask after finally conceding I wasn't temporarily insane when I criticized their blanket acceptance of the Obama story.

I'll repeat here what I've said to them off-the-cuff. I'm neither a philosopher nor a political strategist, though there are philosophical and petite real politik elements to what I have to say.

What follows is a sketch. A beginning.

As I see it, several things are needed.

1.) Acceptance of defeat (or, learning the real lessons of the campaign)

During an interview with Doug several years ago, Zizek said that the left must accept its near total defeat. Not to excuse a lack of effort, but to achieve what the Pentagon calls "situational awareness." Without such awareness, your activist counter-measures are doomed from the start.

What does this mean?

It means that you take the problem's scope seriously instead of supposing that a "good man" sitting in a powerful office can architect the profound improvements we want to see (and doubtless need, to survive long term in a civilized form). I think that much of the enthusiasm for Obama from truly radical people (by which I mean, people who've long shown a willingness to follow the money and blood trails all the way down without pulling the usual liberal 'well, but...' punches) was inspired by an exhaustion with knowing.

Knowing the monster's full size and utter ruthlessness. Knowing how small we seem when pitted against such an adversary. After years -- decades -- of struggle, it was nice to just feel part of something positive, large-scale, polished and successful for a change.

But this impulse led many astray. Attempts have been made to rhetorically save appearances by insisting that "pressure from below" will eventually force this essentially 'good man' to do the right thing.

But we've seen that, just as with the Bush admin, which learned it could safely ignore (polite and law abiding) public pressure by saying a few words about security and proceeding, the Obama team respond to their disenchanted left-leaning supporters by generally mentioning pwog-ish ideals, then proceeding to do what they were going to do all along.

The 'good man' (or woman) theory of politics is built on a refusal to accept our defeat. Or worse, a belief we can reverse our defeat by depending upon the good intentions of pleasant people. This leads to dead-end enthusiasms and eventually, impotent anger.

While it's true we face many crazy, even evil individuals and groups, it's even *more* true that we face a crazy, and in quite fundamental ways evil system. A system which has us as crushed as a Roman slave at the time of Augustus.

Despite this, we shouldn't be depressed or disheartened. There's freedom in throwing away illusions and knowing precisely where you stand.

Which leads to item 2.

2.) Re-discover the "communist hypothesis".

In his important little book, _The Meaning of Sarkozy_, Alain Baidou discusses the difference between a critique of Sarkozy which is informed by what he calls the "communist hypothesis" and one which denies or is ignorant of this hypothesis.

The aware critique acknowledges the master Sarkozy (and most other leaders) serve and, for that reason, hits much closer to the mark. It is a *living* critique which can inform an intelligent activism. The unaware critique devolves into belly aching about Sarkozy's personal failures or "hypocrisy" and so on. In the American context, criticisms of the Democratic Party which are unaware of the communist hypothesis tend to be endless cri de coeur exercises, devoid of serious content.

Bringing this back to Obama (who is, in some intriguing ways we should explore some other time, Sarkozy's ideological twin) the inability of many of us to view his campaign and presidency through a communist hypothesis filter contributed to the failures of imagination I touched on in section 1.

Okay, there's much more to say, particularly about the kinds of activism needed in a confusing time, but I'm very tired and going to sleep early.


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list