On Your Marx, Get Set, Go

Lessons From The Left: What Is To Be Done

by ANDREW LEVINE

“These days, comparatively beneficent capitalist states, the kind that still survive in much of western and northern Europe look pretty good from over here, notwithstanding the unrelenting efforts of politicians and media pundits to denigrate them.  The events of 2011 were about union bargaining rights and growing inequality.  Though no longer on the offensive, European social democracy and its counterparts elsewhere do well on these counts.

We did too, of course, until the late 1970s, when a series of Democratic presidents took it upon themselves to implement the “bipartisan” attack on New Deal and Great Society institutions that it is commonly associated with the name of that unjustly celebrated reactionary, Ronald Reagan.

Jimmy Carter got it going, Reagan and his Republican acolytes (nincompoops all) believed in it, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama carried it out.  One would think Republicans would be grateful.  But they are too focused on winning elections to evince normal reactions.

Indeed, they are so focused on winning that it’s not even clear that they act with the best interests of their paymasters in mind.  Lucky for them that the plutocrats who own them are so dense and so (short-term) greedy that they neither notice nor care!

Constitutional arrangements that assure that “we, the people” are consulted only at periodic two and four-year intervals have a role to play in the fiasco now afflicting our political culture.   So too does our duopoly party system, comprised as it is of two parties equally dedicated to the interests of the one-percent.  And we must not leave out the shameless way the one-percent buys political influence in contravention of democratic norms, but in accord with the law of the land as determined (“legislated”) by five right-wing Supreme Court Justices.

Even so, before our political class and their media flacks undertook to exploit anxieties generated by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ours was a (comparatively) weak state.  Individuals’ lives and behaviors were generally free from intrusive state interference and there were considerable legal and customary immunities protecting free expression and political activity.  This is still for the most part the case, despite the depredations of the two scofflaw presidents we have suffered under since 9/11/2001.

But our state has always been among the very strongest on earth in insuring that the powers and privileges of the one percent (or rather the fraction of the one percent who really run the show) remain immune from serious contestation.  In this respect, ours has always been an unusually non-democratic democracy.”

*

“Constitutional arrangements that assure that “we, the people” are consulted only at periodic two and four-year intervals have a role to play in the fiasco now afflicting our political culture.   So too does our duopoly party system, comprised as it is of two parties equally dedicated to the interests of the one-percent.  And we must not leave out the shameless way the one-percent buys political influence in contravention of democratic norms, but in accord with the law of the land as determined (“legislated”) by five right-wing Supreme Court Justices.

Even so, before our political class and their media flacks undertook to exploit anxieties generated by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, ours was a (comparatively) weak state.  Individuals’ lives and behaviors were generally free from intrusive state interference and there were considerable legal and customary immunities protecting free expression and political activity.  This is still for the most part the case, despite the depredations of the two scofflaw presidents we have suffered under since 9/11/2001.

But our state has always been among the very strongest on earth in insuring that the powers and privileges of the one percent (or rather the fraction of the one percent who really run the show) remain immune from serious contestation.  In this respect, ours has always been an unusually non-democratic democracy.

And so while the need for a political vanguard – not necessarily, indeed not ideally, the kind Lenin proposed – is general, the need for something that would serve that purpose in our circumstances is particularly acute.  We live in a liberal democracy with a liberal component that remains fairly robust.  But, in recent years, the democratic component, never very strong, has receded almost to the vanishing point.

In these circumstances, the electoral road to change and hope – not just for a radically transformed social and economic order, but even just for a more decent order within the framework of existing social, political and economic arrangements — is more than usually out of reach.

This is the real lesson of the 2008 election.  Obama may be feckless, and he has certainly disappointed almost everybody who harbored any hopes for his presidency.  He could have done much better.  But the idea that he could begin to do what some of his supporters imagined he would was illusory from the start.  One needn’t be a full-fledged Leninist to know that, but serious readers of  “What Is To Be Done?” could hardly fail to notice – or to understand why.”

* In one of his final columns for CounterPunch (July 6-8, 2012), Alexander Cockburn gently took to task those of us, himself included, who went overboard investing hope in the Occupy movements and other spontaneous domestic uprisings of 2011.  Too many of us – I among them – were so swept up by the enthusiasms of the moment that we forgot some well-established truths.  As so often before, Cockburn’s words gave voice to what I along with many others had already come to realize, but was not yet ready to articulate.  Now, however, there is no excuse; the time is past due to recall the basics.  This was Cockburn’s point.  It is therefore to his memory that I dedicate this appreciation of one of the most castigated but also one of greatest and most pertinent classics of political thought. “

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