Monday, November 06, 2006

'Twas The Night Before Midterms...

Okay, so, I was not going to post a single word about the U.S. elections that happen tomorrow. I do have a sort of morbid fascination with the whole process, however marginally relevant I might hold it to be to actually making the world a better place, and I do kind of halfheartedly follow what's going on. But that's no reason to inflict this disorder on anyone else. Except I think I will, ever so briefly. Please note that this post has been written quickly and worded incautiously and contains overgeneralizations; you have been warned.

First, the inane predictions: the Dems will retake the House but not the Senate, though it'll be close, and they will make some handy pickups in governorships. A century after it might have been meaningful for it to happen, the U.S. will get its first ever self-identified socialist in the Senate, Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Yay.

Now for the cynical reflection. I think what I am looking forward to the least after tomorrow is the smugness that will be radiating from liberal and progressive Democrats -- smugness that will be entirely missing the point. Don't get me wrong, I think a popular reaction against the nutters who have been running things down there since 2001 is a good thing. I also get frustrated by the "Dimes Worth of Difference" crowd that refuses to see any difference whatsoever between the parties. There may be no relevant differences in terms of foreign policy beyond styles of management for U.S. imperialism, but there are enough small but non-trivial differences in terms of domestic policy for oppressed and exploited constituencies to make the difference worth more than a dime. That is precisely why the trap of electoral politics is so effective: there are differences (even if they are small and even if they function to drain energy from autonomous social movements) that can make small but real changes in terms of death and suffering. The problem, much as I observed in the concluding part of my six part series on the Canadian federal elections earlier this year, is that without a significant upswing in social movement mobilization, things will be worse in two years or four years than they are now regardless of who wins -- what is at stake in this election is the rate (and, to a limited extent, the nature) of that worsening.

What can be useful in deciding how enthusiastically to treat this shift in the political winds in the United States is to ask why it has happened. And it has happened because the specific coalition that brought Bush to power has run into difficulty. None of the religious right, the fiscal conservatives, or the neocons are exactly happy with what's going on right now. As well, enough of what the Bush gang has actually been doing has pierced through the intentionally cultivated fear among the general public to cause a certain amount of disapproval. The demonstration of poor imperial management skills in Iraq have managed to turn both significant elite sectors as well as much of the public against the Bush regime. And the specific nature of some of the scandals that have hit the Republicans recently are such as to take some of the punch out of the Christian right grassroots.

Then look at the other side. The Democratic Party itself has no particularly inspiring policy positions, even on the domestic front. A few fringe candidates notwithstanding, all they have ever claimed to be is better managers of empire, not opponents of empire. And the joint is still firmly in the grip of the neoliberals, even if some progressive media outlets have been crowing with excitement about a handful of insurgent primary victories for progressive against Democratic Leadership Council stalwarts. One place there does seem to have been real improvement even since 2004 is in the para-party organizations like MoveOn and Progressive Democrats of America. This is likely to start making up some of the imbalance in terms of the political "ground game" that has, outside of a few labour strongholds, massively favoured the right since the '90s. But because these organizations are tightly linked to the party and not autonomous, there are serious limits in how much space they will be able to create for significant shifts in progressive directions.

If you look at movements that are actually autonomous of the party but that might see the party as useful for furthering their goals, the landscape is not particularly encouraging. Given that most of my information comes from mainstream and white-dominated alt-and-indy media sources, I don't claim to have a whole lot of insight into the state of movements in racialized communities -- I'm particularly interested to know how the Latin@ movement has evolved since its crest not long ago. But the labour movement is treading water, the anti-war movement has disappeared. Mobilzations around things like voting machines have shown some life, but fairly narrowly. The general state of progressive and radical movements in the U.S. that are autonomous from the Democratic Party still seems to be pretty low, with no signs of a pending wave of factory occupations or an outbreak of barricades. Please correct me if I'm wrong. (Please!!)

So that's what's happening. The Republicans are falling apart for very specific reasons, some of which will not be replicated in the next election cycle and others which may or may not be. There are no indications that their scary social movement-like base will be much weakened once the scandals of the moment are forgotten -- which means, of course, they will remain much stronger than anything liberals or lefties can mount. The Democrats, beyond the limited improvement in strength of their para-party organizations, are bland and showing no signs of lurching leftward, with no signs of autonomous organizing that will be strong enough to make them.

When real domestic gains have been made under Democratic presidents, in the '30s and then in the '60s, it has been because of powerful autonomous social movements that the Democratic Party could not ignore. Those conditions do not currently exist. The Dems picking up seats tomorrow will not create those conditions. Only people organizing autonomously of the party will create those conditions.

End of rant.


radio free school said...

That was a good rant, Scott! I agree whole-heartedly with your conclusion. People need to remember their own power to act and to force the "leaders" to follow.

Scott said...

Thanks, Randy!

Btw, I seem to have been wrong in my prediction for the Senate, but judging by my visits to the few sites with those politics that I read semi-regularly, my predictions of misguided and insufferable smugness appear to have been accurate.