Thursday, July 15, 2021

Wolff on Generating Allies

Whenever I read or listen to Noam Chomsky or Chris Hedges talk about citizens changing the world like they did in the 30s, I get equally riled to action and then paralyzed by ignorance of how ever to begin. A recent discussion by Richard Wolff offers a bigger hint about how the New Deal was manifest, and why it's so much harder to get going now. Here's a very abridged and paraphrased summary:

In the 30s, FDR faced similar issues as Biden is facing now, but he was able to make fundamental structural changes to the economy that were bold for the time: social security at a time when the government had no money and millions were eligible, unemployment compensation, the first minimum wage laws, a government jobs program in the public sector, and he taxed corporations and the rich to pay for it. The government's job is not to make money but to help the people. The changes made the system much less unequal, and it took Republicans 80 years to get it back to the level of inequity not seen since. By contrast, Biden isn't making the spending programs that he needs, and he's afraid to tax anyone.   

FDR was able to do all this only because of his allies: the New Deal Coalition, made up of the Congress of Industrial Organization, a powerful union, as well as the support of two socialist parties and one communist party.  They all worked together, and were everywhere on the ground demonstrating, teaching, writing articles, and handing out leaflets. They worked hard to change the way people on the ground think by interacting with them. They created the consciousness across the US that gave FDR the extra influence that allowed him to achieve these radical measures. 

Biden has no such ally because, after 1945, the Democrats seconded the Republicans in destroying the New Deal Coalition and the socialist and communist parties in an anti-communist binge. People were fired, deported, imprisoned, and the labour movement shrunken. Now there are a few small groups of socialists, but they have to start from scratch because they had been destroyed. Obama could have done more if he had gone to the people, but instead he destroyed Occupy Wall Street. If Biden fails, it will be because he has no mass ally working everywhere to create the consciousness to give him the power to overrule the Republicans, and it will be the fault of his own party that got him into this dilemma, and then the Republicans will run against him and blame him for not solving the economic problems that the Republicans are more responsible for.

So, if we take up the call to action from Chomsky and Hedges, it sounds like the solution is to become a coalition by spreading this narrative of social justice far and wide, boots on the ground, face to face, and joining forces with the Sunrise Movement or Extinction Rebellion or the Rise Up Movement. But we're really starting from scratch, not just in getting out the message, but in combatting so much misinformation and misfocused agitation. As Chomsky says, things are better now than the 30s in many ways, but I worry that we're just comfortable enough to ignore it all. We're too used to instant gratification and reaping the rewards of our efforts. Activist work requires a lot of effort knowing that you might not see the results in your lifetime. That complacency might change soon with worsening climate catastrophes. 

The rest of the video discusses the rise of China, a socialist country, overcoming poverty by, in the 50s and 60s, developing basic education and infrastructure, then, in the 70s and 80s, offering cheap labour to the world with the lure of higher profits, without asking for foreign aid that often comes with string that keep countries from any real prosperity. A Price of a Bargain, by Gordon Laird, is a useful read on China's long-range strategy, and the documentary, American Factory, does a great job of showing pivotal cultural differences when a Chinese billionaire opens a GM plant in Ohio. Trump blamed the problems with US capitalism on immigrants, Mexico, and China. Biden is still looking for a scapegoat, deciding between Russia and China. But the real problem is the American demonization of the socialist mentality. 

And I just missed my 10-year anniversary, Monday, of yammering on and on here! Still screaming into the void.

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