More Of The Same
Left Words and Leftwards
In the aftermath of the repeated collapse of radical revolutionary politics in India and the disturbing overthrow of left movements in Greece and South America, an entire generation of those who had rejected radical politics earlier, now realise that their sloth-like slumber, as "democrats and social democrats" and their inertia in collaborating with the radical left led to the growth of the Right all over the world and the Hindutva forces in India. They have now become pronouncedly active in the new media. This is a very good sign. But was it their inertia or the corrosive commandism of the radical Left?
It becomes very apparent, especially a week before general elections are held. The diktat of the major shareholders come down like sledge-hammers on the editors. "Do as we say or quit!" This is quite clear. The questions raised here, do not spring from naivety about the press barons. It is more from a sense of self-examination as to the effectiveness of the spread of what some have always upheld as indisputably "correct and just". It is OK to have a burning desire for fairness. But is it desirable to use the same words, as before, to mobilize a generation that has been cut off from anything that happened 40 years ago? Can one influence a post I-pad generation? Can one impress a video game playing tablet generation, a smart phone savvy generation about how the Glass-Steagal Act was quietly dispensed with and led to the meltdown of 2008? This writer saw a most despicable display of macho theatrics by an Indian commando who dissed any non-soldier or civilian with the most misogynist metaphors about what it is to be a real defender of the nation in the Siachen glacier. And guess what! He wore a T-shirt with the picture of Bhagat Singh and it said Inquilab Zindatad! Even misappropriation has its limits. It is equivalent to white liberals saying "All Lives matter!'' There is obviously an information disconnect!
Why is the need for law and order made so sacrosanct? Why is the right to disobedience not equally upheld as a democratic right? Why is the verdict of a High Court Judge considered sacrosanct, especially where it is clear that lawyers and prosecutors are clearly practicing members of extreme parties? Why is enforcement and militarization of the state seen as a necessity? Why is sedition such a terrible thing? Why is nationalism an easy invocation and internationalism made into a romantic fantasy? Why elections every few years are democratic and direct selection of leaders at the community level are considered the politics of the hippie left? Why are the politics of GDP growth, unemployment and control of fiscal debt considered as weekly benchmarks of economic governance, while child poverty statistics, literacy rates, infant mortality and clean water for aboriginal people, not a priority in any weekly or monthly and even annual government data? For that matter, why are banks, universally scorned upon as run-away profiteering bandits, bailed out as a matter of routine government projects? Too big to fail! Really? And why is such a decision considered wise and logical and the majority buy it? In fact, there is an implicit guarantee from government that banks should not be allowed to fail, and taxpayer's money should be used to ensure that.
The tyranny of the unaccountable nexus between private capital and the state is extraordinarily preserved as "normal" and yet it is said that "markets" provide freedom of choice! And the market is made into a temple of wisdom! And everyone knows the market is continuously manipulated.
The bombing of a hospital in Kunduz stirs a lot of emotions. But, what is discussed is the contravention of Geneva, the bombing of a hospital, killing of doctors. What is not discussed is the exceptional "right to kill" in the first place in another country, especially a hospital, because you have intelligence that some Taliban were using that premise as a shield. It is normal for a Westerner to believe that a Taliban could be killed by any means. But it is abnormal if the Taliban want to blow up the editorial office of the NY Times. And one can go on. The problem is that the essence of an argument lies in its embryonic humanist logic and not in the trappings and affiliations that surround it. People have bought into the hegemony of "normality."
Be it on the issue of women's rights, universal health care, against bank-driven austerity programs, against a security state, in environmental battles, for the rights of First nations, Palestinian human rights and other causes—the same people seem to be talking to each other. It is often a voice of anger and frustration. It is often an overwhelming sense of being outwitted in these times. Progressive ideas do not make a dent, do not proliferate when it counts. They are seen by the mainstream, as "outdated, failed experiments, cliches and nostalgia for dogma." And perhaps rightly so.
The first thing for leftists to realize is that the right wing are not the only idiots in this world. There are leftwing nut jobs and crazies available in plenty. What left-wingers view as their special intellectual ability to decipher political trends, apply political theory and thereby implement those intellectual capabilities into a viable basis for mass mobilization, is a state of opiated stasis or bliss.
The right wing have an equal, if not better ability, to decipher history and turn it upside down, with great craft, and on top of that they have the ability to use enormous resources to spread the word through intricately constructed, often very liberalist interpretations of facts and incidents.
There has been a range of developments that have changed the ability of people to exchange ideas, contradict each other, argue incessantly, and tear each other apart with relative ease, with the development of the internet in the past twenty years, or more. There is also the explosive growth of a middle class population, both in the developing as well as the developed world. This acts as a sort of buffer between those who have and those who don't. These folks who "want to have" by any means necessary, are also the prime movers and shakers of a "stable consensus." To hell with those who have nothing!
There is a certain comfortability about what is considered as "normalcy". This is a major stumbling block. And in the context people live in today, normalcy is acceptance of a new economy where jobs have no permanency, contract service jobs are the new normal, factory jobs have disappeared, very high levels of unemployment are normal. And so is loss of collective bargaining rights and the murderer disappearance of aboriginal women. It is normal. The rising costs of education, rising iniquity, wars between geopolitical forces that posture as the forces of righteousness against extremists or dictatorship, the unchallenged acceptance of spin as truth—which gets ultimately exposed as a web of lies and the extraordinary bailing out of bandit bankers and off shore profit smugglers which only come to light, because courageous hackers and whistle blowers step out into the sunlight. And eventually get incarcerated. And that is the new normal. Snowden lives in exile in Russia. Assange lives in a 15 X 14 room in the Ecuadorian Embassy. And Chelsea Manning is confined to a cell for 35 years. That is normal. They broke the "law." That is what Obama says and so does Bernie Sanders. So, do "normal" people wrestle with their conscience, while clearing their throats, as to why they so easily buttress this abnormality as the "recourse of law"?
During one discussion session, a deep sense of frustration was expressed about the ineffectiveness of the left in capturing the imagination in the popular mind. The inability to instill progressive responses as the "normal". The inability to infuse debate and discussions, with the majority, with an analysis that rises above tribal affiliations, with views that transcend the ordinary left/right divide. In the end, the left-wing perspective does not even spread to more than 5% of the total population. The world seems to have been enamored by concepts like growth, balancing the budget, fighting terrorism, free trade, protecting borders, and simply acquiring more wealth at a personal level and to hell with poverty, destitution, inequality and destroying the environment. On the other hand, there is also a "normalcy" that aspires to be on the side of environmentalism, against tuition hikes and against occupation and displacement; and simultaneously there is also a somewhat effete tendency to hate Putin and the Russian or Chinese maneuvers all over the world, with a nearly racist disdain, as if they were less certifiable as humanists than the usual suspects.
Of course, those with a conservative tribal affiliation would snicker at such a realization, as something that has always been very clear to them. "Radicalism" is what it is--an outlaw perspective- a pathological and knee jerk response of dissent from the frustrated margins. But for radicals themselves, to begin to question the effectiveness of their efforts, could by itself, be an important realization. For example, how about growing out of this election euphoria? Elections are merely the yardstick of measuring changing opinions on popular issues every four years. Party platforms hardly matter. They are released a week before the final ballots are cast. Just to put a few things on record. Elections do not come close to representing the comprehensive will of the masses. Parties with 39% of the cast ballots, form governments (Canada-both conservatives and liberals). Meanwhile parties with more than 50% of the popular support cannot form governments (Portugal). Getting roped in to the electioneering game, every few years is also a sign of indolence in the in-between years. So how does one measure the in-depth mindset of the masses? How does one overcome the "normalcy" of disengagement until the next elections?
So why do leftists and other radicals, remain often ineffective? Why do the results of years of organizing not result in a solid baseline of thought processes that enable the ordinary masses to recognize media manipulation, the tissue of lies that have been convened to sacrosanct aphorisms about righteousness? Why can't the Left undo popular misconceptions that plague the arena of social betterment-that blocks genuine development, equity and brings down the iniquity in our societies? Why can't the academic Left speak in educational terms and speak to the poor directly, instead of to the Left in general and other Lefts who don't agree with them?
A few days ago, this writer was closely watching some municipal workers working on pumping out silt from large drains on the corner of a busy street. They had cordoned off the area. They were working methodically, conscious of security and warning off pedestrians and flagging cars to move a certain distance. A man rolled down his window and hurled some absurd expletives and roared away. A little later a middle aged couple, walked by and again expressed disgust at the municipal government, referring to the workers as sloths. About one quarter of the team were women, working in a methodical manner. Later that week, another team of workers came by, again cordoned off the area, dug out the area around the cover and replaced the manhole cover. Once again a stream of abuses was directed at these workers and by extension to the city administration for blocking these corners, ruining business etc. So, there are two sets of people involved here. The first are the municipal workers, who are doing their job meticulously according to standard operating procedures, as per the work schedule deployed by their contract managers. Then there are the folks in cars, some of whom own houses, own businesses or work for them. They want conveniences, they pay taxes or expect repairs done by their landlords. They want immediate payback for each cent they pay. Their approach is that for every cent they pay into the state's coffers, they would like to see tangible benefits for themselves. The workers similarly follow a vision, not always the job they dreamed of, but definitely believing that one is lucky to have a job, with the existing benefits and do not always see the necessity to see beyond the manhole. It is the manhole that is his/her source of livelihood and it is the manhole that is the source of irritation for the pedestrian and the driver. The society beyond the individual or the family, is a distant reality. The individual has become the primary basis for all social philosophy. Therein lies the entire ethos of so-called "western civilization," at its present evolution.
How does one bring about a discussion with these two sets of people, about larger issues like let's say the XL pipeline, the Prime Minister's role and the tip line on "barbaric practices", and about the heckling from certain left wingers to get rid of Assad? How should one initiate a discussion on the cuts in the city and provincial budget? And how about Putin? Is he just the bad guy that the media makes him out to be? Or is he playing to the populist bleachers where taking macho action on extremists is long overdue and therefore a sneaking sense of admiration is inevitable. Would "inter-imperialist wars" be a good starting point to instigate a discussion with the workers? Or, would they be more interested in discussing the Nikab first? How can discussion on secularism or on tolerance in general, be initiated with each of these groups. Both these groups, or classes if you will, are entrenched in their segregated worlds of pension cuts, day care subsidies, drains backing up in basements, career imbroglios, chemical dependence of sisters, children's health, depressing income levels, gas bills, temporary work contracts. Well, it is about these people, the majority, who do not always have access to significant information to realize how economies in the developed world follow certain global "rules", which thereby determine planned iniquity in society, a planned diminishing of services, a planned cut on their ability to spend or save. Can a sewage cleaner be interested in finding out about Syria and the situation in that part of the world? Maybe, but mostly not.
There is a wide gap between those who have continuously been engaged in left wing activism and the language they use to convince the unconvinced or those who have not had the chance to get familiar with certain aspects of life beyond their immediate concerns. Those who go to demonstrations, even the one hundred thousand who get mobilized against austerity measures, are not sold on either "permanent revolution" or "new democracy" or libertarian principles of individual freedoms. There are implicit assumptions, that a large mass of people assembled on city streets on a weekend, have a comprehensive understanding as lo the steps that would lead to an insurrection against injustice and therefore a dramatic social change mechanism. Slogans and pamphlets, even carefully constructed theses in the form of books, do not always excite people. There was a time when the rot was obvious. Franco, Salazar, the Shah, Suharto and Pinochet were obvious dictators, murderers. Kissinger and Nixon were criminal plotters. The World Bank and the IMF were clearly demonstrating their avaricious role in undermining the self-reliance of nations coming out of colonization. The United Fruit Company was the forearm of the US policy of treating Latin America as their back-bay. They backed and maintained tin-pot dictators. Today it is Angel Merkel who acts as dictator. Today they are desperate to counter Chinese and Russian influence in these areas by foisting "democracy" through the elites of these countries. They plot coups through civic leaders they have cultivated for years. That is how they went about it in Iraq, in Libya, in Venezuela and as well lately in Bolivia. Today, a Black man heads up an oligarchy. And in opposition to them there are blocks like the Asian Investment Bank, Alba or the BRICS nations attempting to counter the dollar as reserve currency. The Tupamaros or the MIR are not that visible anymore. In act, guerillas from that time have become Presidents of nations in Latin America and are beginning to show signs of intolerance themselves. The power of words—the correct words and the correct choice of language has become crucial to re-exciting the popular mindset towards social change.
There are two streams of the left that participates in various movements. One is the Party Left. The other is the Movement Left. The Movement Left upholds an aversion for doctrinaire diktat, an aversion for the Stalinist past of many and therefore uphold the notion that things will happen on their own as long as spontaneity is allowed to run its full course. There is an obvious invocation of Anarchist principles in such attempts at mobilization. Freeform democracy. Hands-up democracy. Thanks to the bureaucratic and undemocratic history of most Party Left formations, such movements have succeeded, lately, but only each time there is a crisis. It is issue based. There is still limited ability or comprehension to interlink each struggle with larger issues of tot al overhaul of the system.
Then there are those who are a contemporary evolution of decades of the Party Left. They are evolving and developing every day, but their words and language remain stilted and frozen in time. What people need is not one platform that exhorts the ultimate goal of fundamental social change. But appropriate platforms and papers for each social class and movement. Their own concerns, their own words, their own expressions and familiar terminology must be used to "educate" and uplift the discussion. Perhaps, more importantly, there is a need to have independent organizations for every social formation and movement, and those intellectuals who regard themselves as farsighted about the larger interconnectedness, should voluntarily stay out of influencing each movement with their party biases.
[Rana Bose is a Montreal engineer, author, poet and playwright. His books have been published by Vehicule, TSAR (now Mawenzi) and Seagull]
Vol. 49, No.11, Sep 18 - 24, 2016