Monday, February 16, 2009

Danger Ahead? Searching for Liberals, Progressives, Radicals

One of the things that's endlessy fascinating about the progressive left is how adherents vehemently resist being identified as "liberal," "radical" or "socialist."

Today's progressives are simply the heirs to the New Left anti-establishment activists of the 1960s, in the most immediate sense. In the larger scheme, these folks are the standard-bearers of radical-left ideological movements that are based in Marxist theories of class struggle and utopian goals for transcendance from poverty and misery. The strains found on the left range from today's establishment Democratic Party to the most hardline revolutionary factions such as International ANSWER. Programmatically, progressives vary on questions of the pace and scope of reform of capitalism and the balance between individual autonomy versus state control of the most basic personal space. What we've seen most recently, as I noted yesterday, is an emboldened progressive paternalism that, by dint of electoral victory in November, sees itself as politically empowered to transform society's rules and institutions in dramatic fashion, away from competition, markets, and transparency to conformity, command, and intolerance of individual initiative (see, for example, "
Totalitarianism in Leftist Fairness Talk").

But again, leftists will not talk about what they really want and what they truly stand for. If they did, they'd be even more reviled and repudiated than they already are. To win power, today's left has to frame its agenda in terms of "change" rather than "collectivism." President Barack Obama, the first genuine chief executive of modern progressive-left ideology, was nutured and formally trained in communist-post-structural activism, ideology, and anaytical methods. It's no surprise that bonafide Stalinists organizers and registered communist parties endorsed his campaign for the presidency last year. But when called out on this, leftists cry foul. They denounce any identification with "socialism" or "radicalism" as McCarthyite fearmongering or BushChenyite domestic terrorism.

Yesterday, for example, Jillian at
Sadly No! threw an ignorant hissy fit over Newsweek's recent cover story on "We Are All Socialists Now." After throwing out a number of encyclopedic definitions of "socialism," and bandying about the notion of the "means of productions, a favorite Marxist concept, Jillian gives us this whopper:

“Means of production” is a term that refers to the actual productive industries in a society that make things which people buy. McDonald’s is an example of one of these productive industries; they make hamburgers. Now, there has been some talk about the government nationalizing the banking industry. But, American journalism, what I want you to understand is that “banking” - according to socialists - is not a productive industry. Banks don’t produce things - they don’t produce physical things that you can buy like you can buy a McDonald’s hamburger. Now, it’s not that socialists don’t have a lot to say about the nature of finance as an industry, but we’re not going to go there now - there’s a lot of big, scary, hard to understand words involved in the concept, and we’re going to start small. Just trust me that even if our government does completely take over the financial sector of our economy, that’s still about as far from “socialism” as you can be.
Boy, it's a good thing McDonald's' market share is up during the economic crisis - their managers won't have to turn to the giants of "industrial finance capital" for funds to keep the wheels of hamburger "production" rolling. Will somebody please send Jillian copies of Das Kapital and Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism? Man, this women needs to bone up on doctrinal foundations!

Not so much with David Sirota, who is the author of The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington.

Sirota's up in arms this morning over Nate Silver's essay today, "The Two Progressivisms." Silver, who recall made a splash last year as the breakout polling expert of the presidential campaign, breaks down progressives into binary categories, as "rationalists" and "radicals," which is another way of contrasting "reformers" from "revolutionaries."

The essay is worth a look, not the least of which for
Silver's nice table drawing contrasts between the two strains. What's interesting is how Sirota pounces on Silver faster than the Dobermans in They Only Kill Their Masters (and keep in mind that Silver's own identification as a genuine "rationalist" is belied by his own lapping at the pig's trough of progressivism this last year or so).

In any case, here's
Sirota's smackdown, where in particular he takes exception to Silver's notion that today's progressives are "dangerous":

If American history teaches anything, it is that the "dangerous" epithet is the last and most banal refuge of those who seek to preserve the status quo. From Joe McCarthy slandering progressives as dangerous communists to George W. Bush saying anti-war activists were dangerous terrorist sympathizers, Estasblishmentarians have been painting their foes as threats to the nation for decades.

Aimed at me individually, the charge is clearly so silly it should undermine the credibility of anyone making it. I'm a journalist, an author and a blogger. The idea that I alone can "marshal an army," as Nate says I can, is laughable. I mean, yes, I'd like to think my work is making an impact - but me alone "marshaling an army?" If you think that, you're spending too much time with Michael Phelps and his bong.

The idea that my work, or the work of anyone more "radical" than Nate Silver, is "dangerous" - well, that's not laughable, nor is it insulting, really. It's a badge of honor, and I want to thank Nate for throwing out the epithet. I say that not because I think the progressive movement is "dangerous" to the United States, but because it is, in fact, dangerous to the status quo, and throughout history, when the status quo starts calling progressives dangerous, it means we're actually starting to make a serious impact.
I'll let readers enjoin the debate at the links.

It is interesting that Sirota first decries any talk of today's progressives being "radical," then rejoices in the notion that his movement is "dangerous," in the same way for example that Martin Luther King, Jr., was "dangerous." Things are much more complicated than this, I imagine, although it's true that Dr. King flirted with
communist associations and ideology during his run as the nation's most important civil rights leader.

But labels are less important the definitions and doctrine. Simply put, today's progressives are radical in that they fall the farthest to the left of the ideological spectrum, where the farther we go left the more drastic and far-reaching is the change desired. It's not kosher for folks to use terms like "liberal" or "socialist" nowadays, and that's why Jillian and her similarly less-informed brethren endlessly evade such identifications, and it's also why David Sirota obscures any coherent definitions of his ideological foundations at all. These people will engulf moral goodness in a reign of deceit and decrepitude, and they'll enforce mediocrity through the elimination of competition and initiative. We're seeing the lies of the left already, less than one month into the Obama administration. Leftists are pushing to quash free speech and mobilize union power against "corporate expropriators."

Most common people will be fooled by the left's legerdemain of nomenclature ("hope" and "change"), but rest assured, both Jillian and David Sirota are in cahoots in the very "dangerous" radical destabilization that
Nate Silver describes. Indeed, it's much more dangerous than even he realizes.