A recent email from PopularResistance.org prompted me to look more closely at their work and consider what I think of it. I concluded their approach reflects much of what is wrong with left-wing politics.
There’s much in their philosophy with which I agree, including the following:
• Forming real democratic organizations to empower local communities.
• We need to build economic democracy including worker-owned cooperatives, community supported agriculture, farmers markets, community banks and credit unions…. Of course, national policies need to be changed as well….
• People need to build their own non-hierarchical democratic institutions that bring people together to solve community problems, pool talents, resources and energy and allow real democracy to be practiced.
And in their newsletter, the authors affirm the value of certain incremental victories:
Already, the movement is seeing success from its protests, not just in changing the conversation, but in affecting policy. Medea Benjamin points out ten good things that happened in 2013 including stopping the war in Syria, negotiations with Iran, push back on Obama’s drone murders and opposition to the NSA spying program, among other things. While these victories do not constitute our ultimate goals, they show that organized people power is making a difference….
But elsewhere they reject such reforms with all-too-familiar empty rhetoric This abstract ideology contradicts their acceptance of the all-too-obvious need for reform and undermines their potential effectiveness.
In summarizing Bill Moyer’s manual, “Eight Stages of Successful Social Movements,” which they praise uncritically, they assert:
The movement must avoid becoming a mainstream group working for ‘achievable’ reforms…; instead they must remain “principled dissent groups” advocating for what is right, not what is possible….
Any reform within the current system of rule by wealth will ultimately default to a position of serving the wealthy.
Contradicting their affirmation of non-hierarchical approaches, they come down of on the side of elitism: “The primary goals are educating, converting, and involving all segments of the population.”
Toward what end? That’s left very unclear. Their definition of success is extremely ambiguous, but one option listed, “the social, economic and political machinery slowly evolve to new polices and conditions,” sounds like a series of “reforms” to me. And they speak favorably of the rise in protests in recent years, many of which are “reformist.” This inconsistency leaves a sense of incoherence.
In terms of longer term goals, though I could quibble with some of the language, I can relate to affirmations such as the following:
We need to understand that we are not a fringe movement, but a movement in the center of the best ideals of the United States. That is, we believe in a government that is truly run by the people, not by elite corporate and wealthy interests; we believe in equality under the law not special treatment for those who are politically connected and abusive enforcement against certain communities; we believe in a fair economy not one rigged for the wealthiest. This is what the majority of American people believe, but those in power violate these principles.
But if they want to align themselves with the majority, they should drop their opposition to “reform.”
And to my mind, they need to deepen the understanding of “the system,” which involves all of us who reinforce the system in countless ways. Without the consent and the participation of the overwhelming majority of Americans, our society would collapse. It is therefore overly simplistic and inaccurate to say:
Large transnational corporations currently control the political process, the judicial system, the major media outlets and education. The national security state, from the local police to the military, protect the interests of transnational corporations, both overtly through fear and physical repression, and covertly through spying and infiltration.
To try to scapegoat large international corporations simply makes no sense to me. Our situation is far more complicated than that. “Control” is not the right word to describe the enormous power exercised by those corporations, which don’t always agree with each other.
And solutions will involve much more than attacking that “enemy” and replacing those corporations with local currencies and local stock markets.
Real progress in this era of the Internet will require something other than the top-down “mobilizing” that PopularResitance.org recommends. These days, such leaders “die with their mouths open,” as Ronald Heifetz put it.
Rather, we need open, transparent, collaborative problem-solving among peers who truly respect each other. A good first step would be for the administrators of the PopularResitance.org to identify who they are on their website.