Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How not to criticize the two-party straightjacket

When I criticize the Democrats from the Left, I want to make clear what I'm not saying.
  • I'm not claiming that we simply need to vote a different way.
  • I'm not claiming that simply withholding a vote from the Democrats is sufficient.
  • I'm not claiming that withdrawing from politics is the best course of action.
  • I'm not claiming that our primary task should be to build an electoral alternative to the Dems.
  • I don't think that defying the Democrats and withholding a vote (or voting Green or something) is a radical act.
On the contrary, I think the entire problem is the assumption (which we're encouraged to believe from day one) that the nexus of our political power is exercised by voting and writing checks to campaigns.

When I criticize the two-party straightjacket, I'm not recommending that we opt for "less relevant" politics and retreat from the public political sphere.

On the contrary, I think that the only way to be relevant, the only way to make a difference politically is to build grass-roots organizations and movements and win people to the idea that even modest reforms are often won by hard-fought struggle.

The claim is that we need a more appropriate conception of what "political" means so that we can break free of the constricting straightjacket imposed by the Democrat vs. Republic disjunction. We need to stop self-censoring and settling for tepid crums so that we can begin organizing and demanding that things change.

There are no shortcuts here and I don't have the experience or know-how to say exactly what form such struggles and movements might take (and I'm inclined to believe that anyone who says they do have all the answers here are cheating you). But the basic idea here was put well by Fredrick Douglass many years ago:

"The whole history of the progress of human a
liberty shows that all concessions yet made
to her august claims have been born of
earnest struggle.... If there is no struggle,
there is no progress. Those who profess to
favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation
are men who want crops without plowing up
the ground, they want rain without thunder
and lightning. They want the ocean without
the awful roar of its mighty waters. The
struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a
physical one, and it may be both moral and
physical, but it must be a struggle.

Power concedes nothing without a demand.
It never did and it never will."

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