[lbo-talk] Where Movements Come From

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Mon Aug 22 12:47:48 PDT 2011

"For the last twenty-five years, students taking my college course on the social movements and legacies of the 1960s have consistently found the movement histories powerfully inspiring. Almost to a person, they find considerable connection with the values and sense of empowerment alive in that world. For most of these years, however, these same students have concluded with a sense of resignation that they see few places in their own culture where they can make a significant difference."

Edward P. Morgan, _ What Really Happened to the 1960s How Mass Media Culture Failed American Democracy_, Ch. 13, " Media Culture and the Future of Democracy"

Connect this, among other topics, to my empirical observation that all movements necessarily direct their agitation to those who in some important sense already agree with them. Ted Morgan's opening to his final chapter, quoted here, pinpoints very precisely what is _always_ the case during those periods that I have called Interims and which Charles Post assigns to the fact that working-class movements are always episodic; that they cannot endure for long for a number of material reasons. It's not the opinions of those we must reach that we must change. Rather, we must change their (in its way quite rational) belief that they are powerless and that action is futile. And _this_ cannot be done by persuasion; they have to see the opposite in action. Such action can only begin by something like a spontaneous negative response to some outrage. What I keep trying to introduce into lbo-talk culture is the recognition that such a response has occurred, and we have to think in terms of how to follow up on that response. Also, we can't try to discover by analysis whether it is a solid response that can be built on. No initial responses can ever pass that test. Only practice can determine whether Wisconsin is an initiative that will fade or whether it is the start of a new period of working-class activity. Leaders (all participants in such a response) are those who are willing to fail, knowing that only through such willingness can occasions for success be discovered.

That was the point of my criticism of attempts to "criticize" Wisconsin: such attempts are explicit declarations of one's lack of any interest in changing the world.


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