Sunday, April 24, 2011

The discourse of inevitability

It's an old trick. Instead of giving an argument for some policy, set of ideas, etc. you simply claim that it is inevitable. If something is necessary, and we therefore have no choice in the matter, why bother to criticize it?

This is the meaning of the following often-invoked phrases: "necessary cuts", "needed cuts", "difficult decisions (about what to cut)", etc. The same goes for the notions of a "bloated budget", or a "bloated public sector", "excessive spending", etc. These are all meant to prime the pump of austerity. By convincing us, before the "debate" even ensues, that certain facts about our social/economic situation are necessary, inevitable, incapable of changing, etc. the cards are stacked ex ante in favor of austerity.

Thus, the "debate" among Democrats and Republicans as to how deep to cut can appear credible to the vast majority of Americans, who, in truth, have no interests in any cuts whatsoever.

Both Republican and Democrat accept the false premise that cuts are necessary. But, as I've argued many times on this blog, that premise is bullshit on stilts. There is simply no evidence for it. There is no reason in principle why we couldn't end the wars, tax the rich and actually expand (rather than slash and burn) important public goods such as health care and education. Corporate profits reached record levels last quarter. There is no reason why this massive surplus couldn't be allocated to meet human needs rather than to line the pockets of those who already lead lives of luxury.

But compare this course of action with what's actually happened under Democrat rule. Wars and occupations abroad have expanded. "Too big to fail" financial institutions received massive amounts of resources in the form of a bailout with little or no strings attached. The Bush tax cuts for the rich became the Obama tax breaks for the rich, when our President and his Democrat allies in Congress took ownership of that regressive policy by re-instating it. Moreover, in addition to Obama's spending freeze (exempting, of course, "defense" spending), Obama has just eagerly signed off on the single biggest budget cut in U.S. history. That cut will severely impact the living standards of millions of working class and poor Americans.

The contrast between the ideals orienting any sensible progressive politics, on the one hand, and the reality of what Democrat and Republican do on the other, is staggering. But, to take on yet another invocation of "inevitability", I don't think we should resign ourselves to such a narrow array of options. Progressives in the U.S. need to break free of the chains of Democrat electoralism. They need to stop self-censoring and withholding criticism. And most importantly, they need to stop apologizing and explaining away the conservatism that runs deep in the Democrat edifice. They need to stop with the wishful thinking and projection, and actually face the facts. Any sober confrontation with the reality of the two-party Duopoly should show us that we need to build independent organizations capable of exerting pressure outside of the ephemeral swells of the election-spectacle. We need to rebuild the Left. And that means educating, training, and organizing the next layer of movers and shakers capable of building existing social movements and starting new ones. There is no shortcut here- and electoral "victories" for Democrats are absolutely not a sufficient condition of success (I would argue, further, that they aren't even a necessary condition). We need to learn from the examples of the 1930s labor movement and the 1950s-60s black freedom struggle. Neither of these ground-up, militant movements began within the narrow confines of electoralism and two-partyism. They were far more ambitious and grassroots, and that's precisely the kind of movements we need right now.

1 comment:

Bonder said...

"It's an old trick. Instead of giving an argument for some policy, set of ideas, etc. you simply claim that it is inevitable."

You mean like how Marx claimed that communism was inevitable?