[lbo-talk] BobboSphere is not disillusioned with Obama

Julio Huato juliohuato at gmail.com
Wed Aug 3 09:33:38 PDT 2011

Seth wrote:

> Okay, if I understand you right, given these people's level of alienation,
> they *at first* need to get hooked by "raw racial and ethnic reasons."

I don't want to give the impression that leftists or socialists or what have you can tweak things and get people -- *at first* or later -- *hooked* by anything. People operate under the conditions that history hands to them. Good or ill, effective or not, race has been a defensive strategy, a strategy of resistance, for people who have a particular history that goes back to slavery, etc. How race allowed these people makes sense of things and cling to their humanity under very adverse circumstances is CLR James 101.

It's an odious analogy, but think of what is involved in educating a child. I mean, I can speak about that, because I've made all the mistakes that parents can possibly make. In trying to make my children do "freely" what I want them to do, I've tried the whole menu of power instruments that, historically, humans have tried on other humans to elicit their cooperation -- from raw force and credible threat thereof to deprivation of necessities (e.g. screen time!) to carrot dangling (e.g. toys!) to psychological manipulation and diversion to (relatively) calm and rational discussion of options based on acknowledgment of common needs, etc. Basically, the most powerful methods of power are those on the latter end of the spectrum.

Those on the former end, as necessary as they may be at times, tend to exhibit limits rather quickly. Again, the opposite of alienation is appropriation. And learning means that your children have to appropriate ideas, behaviors, the experiences of others, etc. Yet it has to be their ideas and their behavior.

As I told John in an off-list email, the starting point has to be the struggle. When people struggle (with whatever means, ideological and political, they have at hand), they become eager to learn from the experience of others. Doctrines and theories are the organized and condensed experience of others. When people struggle, they tend to need ideas. So they get theoretical, analytical, and stuff. Now if, on top of all, you are not Black or Latino, and you are trying to help Blacks and Latinos educate and organize themselves, you have an additional barrier to overcome. That is just a fact.

It's like being an adoptive parent -- and I can talk about that as well, on the basis of my own personal experience. In the case of adoptive parents, your children -- dealing unconsciously with raw feelings of separation and abandonment that pervade their whole bodies -- are going to push you away, test you, see whether you're for real, whether you are not going to go away when things get tough. So they are going to display all sorts of obnoxious behavior. They are going to get under your nerves, because they can and because they need to get 1,000% reassured that no matter how outrageous and obnoxious their behavior, you will stand by them and be their parent for real. That is just the way things are. But they will get better -- or so one hopes. :)

> But then, if their consciousness is to develop at all, they eventually have
> to get disillusioned and come to see the limitations of that kind of thinking.
> Isn't disillusionment the necessary step? Otherwise, they never leave the
> plane of "raw racial and ethnic reasons." Or am I misunderstanding you?
> So, doesn't that mean you have to try to advance the process of
> disillusionment?

Again, we have to be humble enough to understand that people have their own dynamics. Their own timing. We are talking about their own organic emergence and growth as an autonomous and conscious political force. Can they go from A to Z in a single leap? Maybe. Or maybe they need to go from A to B and then to C, etc. The left, the self-designated conscious caucus of the working people, has a crucial role to play. But that role is much more subtle that being the historical syringe that injects political consciousness in an otherwise unconscious crowd. As I said, the left needs to be educated.

Just like in parenting, honesty and respect of children works, without being panacea. In any case, viewing your children as human beings (certainly profoundly ignorant and immature humans, but humans nonetheless) capable of empowering themselves, is the starting point. Again, I say this with due trepidation, because the analogy parent/child suggests a patronizing attitude, which if extrapolated to politics will lead to bad practices.

Every now and then I read in the lists that Marxists have been wrong all along in assigning to working people some metaphysical revolutionary role in history. That is not the way I view things. Of course, working people are not to be idealized. Clearly, they are not ready made for revolution, like stuffed turkeys on the eve of Thanksgiving, stuff you just pull out of the fridge and stick in the oven. No, they have to make themselves into a revolutionary force, through their own struggle, or else there will be no revolution. Alienation means being at the very bottom of the social order. Working people, and this is not unique of the U.S. case, are crushed, fragmented, utterly demoralized -- and the system perpetuates itself by replicating all this crap. Otherwise the system would not be what it is. Yet, these people are human beings, with all that being human entails. Human beings, historically speaking, are not wimps. As a rule, we don't give up. We don't just take whatever nature or history hands us. No, we want things our way.

It may be hard for us to see from a distance, but people at the bottom of the social order are compelled to retain their humanity just like everybody else. The difference is that they have to cling to their humanity when given a tougher shot in life. But cling they will. Forgive my paraphrasing Bill Clinton, but what is wrong with the working class can be fixed with what is right with the working class. Even in the current conditions, the lives of working people -- their cultures and traditions of coping and resisting crap -- are pregnant with elements that when expanded and generalized amount to a tremendous power. Sometimes those very elements may appear as elemental, destructive, or intimidating forces to us, because we come from other points in life. But just read Malcom X's biography (the new one) to see how a person given a rough hand in life can transform himself into a formidable foe of the status quo.

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