So here we are in the Spring of 2013, nearly five months after Barack Obama’s re-election and the Senate added new liberal members, and not much has changed. And it doesn’t look like anything major will change.
Wall Street once again is engaged in reckless financial games, the Congressional Republicans are still behaving like tantrum-prone children who can’t get their way and are willing to take the economy and government down with them, the global climate is creating weather havoc everywhere while carbon emissions are essentially unchecked, the Israelis and Palestinians are locked in stasis, even the mildest gun regulation bills face little chance for success when pitted against the NRA, Europe continues to force “austerity” on the backs of the middle-class while the wealthy continue their essentially free ride, the GOP leadership’s post-election “autopsy” urges a change in tone as they try to expand the base but Republican office-holders and candidates can’t seem to stop themselves from continuing to behave like ignorant, arrogant louts. And so on, etc. etc. Rinse and repeat.
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It seems an appropriate time for a good, old-fashioned sum-up of historical context and analysis as to how we got to this scary place and how things potentially could change. See what you think:
EARLIER “REVOLUTIONARY” FERMENT
Back in “The Sixties” (roughly the late-1950s to the early-1970s) we rebellious young activists shared a key belief: The foundations on which the ruling elites and institutions rested were so obviously rotten, corrupt and immoral that our “revolution” — our worldwide revolution from Chicago to Prague to Mexico to Paris — would topple the “Establishment” in favor of a more just, peaceful, equitable system of governance and economy and politics.
What we naive radicals hadn’t factored-in to our ambitious vision was the tenacious reserve strength of the ongoing financial and political “system,” and its willingness to use any means necessary to push back at the major changes taking place and being proposed — including the use of force against those with the temerity to try to alter the “system” in major ways. These physical attacks included deadly force; see the Kent State and Chicago Black Panther slaughters.
Some major victories did come our way:
1) A key mainstay of that youth revolt was the immoral and badly-run war in Vietnam, born from neo-imperialist impulses and American ignorance of the complex geopolitical realities of Southeast Asia. It took many years, but finally the U.S. was forced to withdraw from Vietnam.
2) As for domestic politics, many of the radical proposals of “The Sixties” made their way into the mainstream body politic — Medicare, Medicaid, Voting Rights Act, equal rights for women, etc. — adding on to the populist breakthroughs of the New Deal reforms from the 1930s: Social Security and more regulation of the greedy forces of rapacious finance and corporate power.
THE RIGHTWING BACKLASH
But, in nation after nation in the 1970s and ’80s, the well-financed plutocratic forces in control of the levers of power fomented a mighty backlash to stop “the revolution” (really little more than relatively mild reforms) from gaining any more political traction and social momentum. For an introduction to how corporate America planned to dominate and derail democratic reforms, see the famous rightwing “Lewis Powell Memo.”
In the U.S., corporate/media titans set about buying up newspapers, radio and TV networks, cable channels, think-tanks and the like, and used them to shape and influence public opinion, especially among the usual rightwing sectors: the less-educated, the fearful-of-rapid-change conservatives, the easily-led religious fundamentalists, the regional anti-federal government forces ensconced primarily in the South, Midwest and Mountain states.
That those HardRight forces re-conquered much political territory over those intervening years can be readily seen. Despite the lessons supposedly learned from the Vietnam debacle, new wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were launched with little political opposition, mainstream media questioning, or persistent, ongoing public protest. These wars were connected to the massive amounts of money to be made from the control of natural resources such as oil and gas and precious metals, and to a hegemonic desire to reshape the geopolitical power structure of the Middle East.
THE DEADLY IRAQ CON
A decade ago, ten million protestors filled boulevards across the globe in an unprecedented, one-off, worldwide demonstration, trying to prevent the launching of the U.S./U.K. war against Iraq. It was obvious that innumerable governmental lies were being told, and deceptions employed, to get that catastrophe started. Those who objected were brushed aside as unpatriotic, hippie nay-sayers.
(Then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft told Congress that those who question the policies and tactics of the Administration’s “war on terror” were giving aid and comfort to the enemy: “Your tactics only aid terrorists — for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies…”)
Those who paid attention at the time (and who read the Downing Street Memos from England) were convinced by the evidence that the launching of the invasion of Iraq was based on fraud, deceit and outright lies. Ten years after the war was launched, it’s even more clear now that a disastrous, immoral con was pulled on the American and British people by their rulers.
As the Iraqis demonstrated, “Shock and Awe” doesn’t work if the local population refuses to go into shock and is not in awe of your technological superiority. The Occupation of Iraq that followed and the widespread use of torture by the U.S. and its allies — helped lead to the Arab Spring of our own day. The so-called “victories” of those rebellions are yet another example of progressive movements defanged and diluted of their democratic power by the ruling elites.
DOMESTIC RIGHTIST DOMINATION
During the eight years of the CheneyBush era, regulatory laws were watered-down or eliminated to permit air-and-water polluters to re-write or ignore environmental regulations, and the forces of greed were permitted to manipulate the financial system for unchecked gain. The predictable result was the 2007-09 financial meltdown created by unregulated Wall Street manipulators, which led to a disastrous recession in the American and global economies. In the U.S. and elsewhere, there was top-down-enforced austerity after years of stagnation of middle-class dreams, as wages have been flat for decades, while the wealthy reap untold profits.
The RightWing, feeling its oats during all this revanchement, decided to try to take it all. The Republican right-wing believed that with liberalism and the Democrats dazed and confused, momentum was on their side. Their attitude: “Let’s just quit our namby-pamby approach and simply repeal all of the Great Society and New Deal reforms in favor of a return to the Gilded Age of the late-19th Century, when for all intents and purposes freedom-from-restraints ruled triumphant over all financial and economic actions, with little or no governmental oversight.” Greed, they were assured, would once again be enshrined as the nation’s guiding light (“In Gold We Trust”). The rightist M.O.: If anyone gets in our way, ignore them or cut them down — impeach Clinton, stymie Obama, make sure the government can’t function, spend down the treasury to the point where there’s precious little money for popular safety-net programs (but always enough for war-making and defense contractors).
POLITICAL REALITY IN 2013
So here we are in 2013, with both the more liberal Democrats, and the more reactionary Republicans locked in mortal combat, like two dueling tarantulas twisted into a death embrace. The GOP continues its stranglehold on legislative progress. Not much gets done — at least on the federal level. The public loses faith in government — which pleases Conservatives, as such pox-on-both-their-houses feelings gives Republicans more hope, since a lot more Democrats get disillusioned and drop out of political activism.
The GOP, in control of most of the state legislatures, is moving all sorts of reactionary, crackpot laws onto the books. Of course, it is no small irony that conservative forces, who want to get “big government” off the backs of the citizenry, feel quite comfortable dictating what citizens can and should do with their own bodies and in their own bedrooms. Recent studies demonstrate how authoritarian impulses rule so much of conservative ideology, especially when allied with religious fundamentalism.
TIMIDITY/CONFUSION OF THE LEFT
While one could point hopefully to the shrinking base of the Republican Party and the post-2012 election intra-party philosophical civil war, the Democrats still haven’t figured out how to successfully engage the brazen, street-fighting tactics of the Republican HardRight and consequently are losing battle after battle. And yet, despite deserved criticisms of some of President Obama’s policies, it’s pretty amazing that he’s been able to get a few potentially important laws passed that at least keep key liberal social/political/economic issues alive.
Obama should be leading the charge for major change, but his standard M.O. is to nibble around the edges of power but hardly ever to confront the “System” frontally; a centrist-pragmatist, he seems content to take baby steps and to give away much of his political capital in search of the illusionary oasis of bipartisanship. The progressive banner is proudly held up by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alan Grayson, Paul Krugman, Jon Stewart, Rachel Maddow and innumerable bloggers, but they tend to be pretty much marginalized outside the corridors of power.
THE ‘OBJECTIVE CONDITIONS’
What can be done? At the very least, the Liberal/Left, now scattered, must become a united, active force. At first, it seemed likely that the Occupy movement might be that political generator. But that exciting development faded away fairly quickly. Most liberals, it seems, can engage their political passions only in brief spurts, but tend to forget that revolution, even a social revolution, needs infrastructure, money and great patience — years, decades, of hard, slogging work. The Right has spent decades building and putting their infrastructure in place; they can simply outspend, out-organize, outwait whatever the disheveled Left can throw at them — and they also, by and large, have the forces of police control behind them.
It took several years for the radicals/progressives of the ’60s to cobble together the various organizations and factions (anti-war, pro-democracy, civil rights, women’s lib) to create The Movement. Finally, they had a counter-weight to the rightwing, and could mobilize quickly and powerfully when called upon to do so.
As was true in the ’60s and now in our own time, the objective conditions for “revolution” would appear to exist in America, and elsewhere across the globe. Unrestricted capitalism has created too many problems, seismic cracks are appearing in institution after institution, the populace in country after country is angry and looking for intelligent direction as governments continue in throe to corporate power and the obscenely wealthy who pull the strings.
WHY ISN’T IT HAPPENING?
If I’m correct that the objective conditions seem to exist for radical organizing and social revolution, why isn’t it happening? Especially in this country. Are Americans lazy? cowardly? terrified? bored? too exhausted trying to keep their economic heads above water? frightened of their potential power? worried that revolutions always eat their children? All of the above?
I don’t know the answer(s). It may take a singular event or unforeseen catastrophe to get us to the tipping point. It certainly will take a new generation of leaders to prepare the soil and sow the seeds of social revolution.
It may be that these new, presumably younger leaders won’t develop until some charismatic, courageous leaders join them from the traditional pool of elected officials, willing to risk their current positions of power and the perks that go with them — in the service of sweeping social/political/economic initiatives. In other words, the momentum generated by the progressive forces of the New Deal/Great Society must find a way of merging with the growing energies of a pissed-off electorate and a somewhat radicalized citizenry.
We activists of “The Sixties” Movement didn’t get everything we hoped for, but we got enough to start the ball rolling as we altered the parameters of power and greatly influenced several decades of political and social discourse. We need that new Movement ASAP. Organize. Organize! ORGANIZE!