In the early twentieth century, a real-life Socialist ran for president in America. He ran five times, actually, and once from a prison cell. Eugene Debs was fiercely against war and the corporate state, and his rhetoric was effective enough against these forces that their champions found it necessary to imprison him. J.P. Morgan did not contribute to Debs’s campaigns.
Despite the protestations of the right, Obama is no Debs. The total destruction of the radical left in this country is long complete. From the creation of Wilson’s propaganda department came the birth of the public relations industry. The Red Scare led to purges meant to stamp out any traces of leftism from the church, the press, unions, and even popular culture. But the absence of any pressure from radical leftists has left the mainstream liberal class susceptible to overtures from the corporate state. This transformation was completed when Bill Clinton and the DLC sold out working people and the poor through NAFTA and “welfare reform”.
The Death of the Left meme is not mine; it belongs to Chris Hedges, formerly of the Harvard Divinity School and the New York Times. The two-decade foreign correspondent explains in Death of the Liberal Class how the one-time bastion of liberal power – the Democratic Party – is now simply another wing of the Business Party, i.e. corporate conservatives. As Hedges says, by the 1970s, there was “no longer any bulwark to protect us from the corporate state.” Reagan ushered in the era of deregulation and the liberal Democrats went along with the whole thing, courting corporate money as furiously as Republicans did.
It’s enough to make you quit, as we seem to hit a new low every day. Obama has codified indefinite detention and is actively assassinating people on a secret kill list he maintains, including American citizens. Congress seeks censorship powers over the internet while its members enrich themselves using inside information. Any effort of the people to cry out is quickly stifled by the state — and yet, we must carry on or else face a bleak future under the thumb of a corporate monolith.
The left can rise again – after all, the right did it. The term “liberal media” is ridiculous now, but has its roots in a reality before Rush Limbaugh, when the entire radio and television spectrum was not owned by corporate giants. The right made a conscious, coordinated effort to get its message out by creating the media outlets to do so. Of course, it wasn’t pitching a movement of corporate rights and declining wages, but bathing its message in the language of freedom and individual liberties. Twenty years later, people on the left don’t even call themselves liberals; the term has become a pejorative.
But whatever you call it, the elements exist in the population for a resurgent left. Great majorities of the American people, consistently over decades of polling, have supported the major prerogatives of the left: public education, healthcare, and pensions; nonaggression towards other countries; strong environmental protections. Only sophisticated propaganda efforts, combined with general overwork in the face of economic stagnation, have prevented these desires of the population from being realized. Now, the Occupy movement has shown that it is possible to disturb America from its slumber and get numbers in the streets calling for economic justice. We need to build on those numbers, and channel that energy effectively to win.
To bring others to our side we must ensure two things. First, we must be committed to nonviolence, and project an image that is fundamentally civil. We do not need to wear the Sunday best of the Civil Rights movement, but neither can we bring shields and facemasks and throw rocks at the police. To win, we must attract sympathizers, and the general American public is a mass of bourgeoisie that is not sympathetic to violent revolt. They see Occupy Oakland and it reminds them of Castro’s rebel army. They recall the Battle in Seattle not as the opening salvo in the movement against corporate globalization, but as a riot. What are they even protesting?
The Civil Rights activists won over the mass of regular Americans who saw them defiantly nonviolent even in the face of tremendous violence against them, and admired them for it. This is the example we must strive toward. We must not only be nonviolent, but our unwavering commitment to be peaceful must be understood as a given, and then the police response against us will be seen as a thuggish overreaction instead of a justified mob put-down.
Secondly, we must work within party politics, as unpalatable as that is to many of us. I have thought about this for some time and finally concluded that there can be no third political party in America today. The electoral system effectively prevents it, and the rift it causes between the left and the center is fatal to our cause. The writer who sealed my conviction on this point is G. William Domhoff, who explains it at some length in this paper, and who has also put a name to my particular political sect (since “liberal” clearly will no longer do): “egalitarian”.
Egalitarians must work to take over the Democratic party as the Tea Party has recently taken over the Republicans. We must form local alliances and run local candidates. We must recruit primary challengers to run against centrist Democrats and we must turn out the vote to show our strength and demand access to power. Action in the streets will lead the way, but we must have electoral strength to make our leaders follow through with the changes we demand.
Ultimately this is a fight that goes beyond America, for the corporate state does not respect national borders. The Egyptians are bringing heavy numbers into the streets, even a year after the movement which toppled their dictator began. Occupy is ragtag compared to the Arab Spring. But America’s example is amplified by our wealth and global reach. Actions we take here have an out-sized effect on developments which affect millions of people. Therefore let us use the moment that is presented to us to bring change – real change – in the most effective ways possible.