Tag Archives: richard wolff

Themes From Left Forum 2010: The Center Cannot Hold

  • The economic crash of 2008 killed the illusion of neo-liberal, “free market” capitalism. The State had to bail out capitalism into a perverse socialism for high finance. I like to call this “zombie capitalism” — capitalism in the US is essentially undead, suspended between this world and The Great Beyond by the arcane and bizarre efforts of 0% interest lending (to banks, not to you and I)  and stimulus money. Another way to put it: “necro-liberalism”.
  • Even as Goldman Sachs et. al. made profits from the system they crashed, auto workers were remorselessly gutted. Now municipal worker and teacher unions are in the crosshairs, as we see in New York State and California. This is the current fight: keep the state government from cannibalizing our services and labor gains to make up for federal spending cuts. You see, the stimulus package was just an advance on money that usually goes to the states. Which is to say there was no actual extra money spent.
  • Neo-liberalism has undermined our capacity as individuals to organize: since the 70’s we spend more time at jobs for less pay, our commons (public spaces where we can rally, libraries where we can meet…) have shrunk, we are saddled with more debt, we spend more time alone. More than one speaker brought up time management assistance for the movement.
  • Don’t kid yourselves: the Tea Party movement is a force for white nationalism. At least, that’s what is backing them. A few people called them “the Klan without robes”. Most rank-and-file Tea Partyers are hurting economically, but (as Bill Fletcher Jr. asserts) they have bought into a right-wing myth of America that has been “stolen” from them rather than accept the game was always rigged for the super-rich. We must vigorously oppose right-wing populism while exercising empathy and outreach toward the individuals in that movement.
  • And we can expect more of this. Richard Wolff’s main point for the weekend was that 1 in 6 Americans are unemployed, which comes out to about one in every family. Americans believe in their bone marrow that each generation is supposed to be better off, that we are entitled to a middle class lifestyle. 90% of America believes they are in the middle class. When that illusion becomes impossible to maintain they will go “Joe Stack” on whichever scapegoat is most convenient.
  • There is a Left, but recognizing it as such is damn difficult. There are “Lefts” — single issue coalitions compromised by tunnel vision and NGO-ism, anaemic third parties working in isolation of each other, and radical collectives bereft of strategy. Our branding has evolved but our ability to organize people has atrophied. Sam Gindin says: Everything we do must work toward building our organizational capacity. We have to build memberships that are meaningful in size and commitment, and we must connect these different “Lefts” into a coherent, if not unified, movement that people can point at and say “I want to join *that*.”
  • The Iraq war haunts us. On the one hand, it took seven years of horror before a popular movement rose against Vietnam. In 2003 there was a mass mobilization before troops even invaded Iraq. On the other, that Vietnam mobilization led to withdrawal whereas, seven years later regarding Iraq, the anti-war movement is invisible and there is no end in sight. My analysis: the difference with Vietnam was the draft. White suburban guys were being sent to hell and America did not abide. And saying that a majority of Americans in 2010 oppose the Iraq war is like saying a hung-over alcoholic opposes whisky. Still, we must figure out a way to force a withdrawal from Iraq.
  • The most visible wedge at the forum was between people who see the healthcare bill as a small step toward something better and people who see it as a massive giveaway to for-profit insurance companies now more deeply entrenched in the system. In either case, massive activism and long-game strategy are required to get to single-payer.

More coming…