Moving Beyond Hope: A Leftist Looks at the Near Future

I can’t deny the exhilaration I felt on Tuesday, November 4th when the presidential election was called for Barack Obama. When people in my working class multi-ethnic neighborhood started setting off firecrackers and shouting out their windows, my housemate’s daughter joined them. The feelings most of us felt on knowing that the reactionary Bush regime was on its last legs were genuine emotions of hope and relief. Our job now is to turn the critical support that Obama received from many on the left into a movement that strives to return the focus of the movement away from the man and his victory and towards ending the war/occupations, etc. To do this, we must engage the issues. The most important issues are the issues of imperial war and capitalist failure. We should understand the difference between the symbolism of a black man winning the presidency of the United States and the reality of a moderate liberal free marketeer who believes that there is a war on terror and that it can be won by killing Afghanis and other people whose religion and culture are used to define them as the enemy.

We need to learn from history. For starters, this means push for and support any left leaning reforms proposed by Obama and oppose his reactionary efforts to continue, expand and intensify the war on the world and the impoverishment of the nation. As activists, we must resist cynicism and embrace the desire for change. The Obama campaign on the ground reminded me of other bourgeois popular movements that were supported by the national left in those countries — Peoples Power in Philippines comes quickly to mind. This reform movement rid that nation of the Marcos dictatorship, but replaced it with a regime that entrenched itself in the neoliberal economic politics of its day. The Philippines remains a nation that fails to serve a large number of its people. In short, we must keep in mind what we already know–that the defeat of the reactionary Bush regime and the election of Barack Obama is merely the first forward step in a long time in a struggle that is even longer. Even more importantly, the Left must help the larger numbers of antiwarriors and seekers of economic justice understand this as we organize and work to make our most fundamental hopes come true.

How then, do we do this? There are two key elements. Politics and organization. Let me discuss the second one first. This is where we can learn from the Obama campaign. As an observer, I was impressed by its grassroots nature, steadiness of message, understanding of its purpose and its relentless yet levelheaded pursuit of its goal. There are a couple elements here that the Left can surely learn from, no matter what the political situation is in the world. We must understand our purpose and maintain a relentless yet levelheaded pursuit of our goals. Opposition to the occupations and wars of Washington must be organized with an understanding that it is imperialism that causes these wars and that understanding must be translated to the grassroots. Resistance to the capitalists’ theft of the peoples monies for their aggrandizement must be explained for what it is–the natural workings of monopoly capitalism, not some aberration due to greed and lack of regulation. We know this because we study this. It is necessary that we make this knowledge better understood by many more people. After all, people do want to understand why their world is so screwed up. The election of Obama and his message of change is evidence of that. His presidency is almost certain to prove that the change he is referring to is not going to be enough.

Obama’s message is one that encourages inclusiveness. We have all heard him say that this nation is not the “blue states of America or the red states of America, but the United States of America.” No matter what we think about the red, the blue or the red, white and blue, the fundamental message of this statement is that humanity shares several commonalities and that is what we must emphasize. As leftists, we must naturally go beyond the commonalities of our humanity and address the commonalities shared by those whom we wish to organize–the working class and its allies. There are many organizations on the progressive and left side of the political spectrum here in the US. They are naturally composed of both members of the working class and their allies. A few that come to mind are labor unions, SDS, UFPJ, ANSWER, and even MoveOn and the Green Party. In addition, there are other informal movements and networks organized around death penalty and prisoner issues, immigration and sanctuary issues, women’s and TBGLT issues and so on. Add to that the national networks opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on drugs and you come up with a substantial number of folks. This is our potential base. This is who we must debate anti-capitalist politics with. This is who we must enter into coalitions with — coalitions that will rebuild the movement against the war and torture; coalitions that will end the police state actions of the immigration authorities and insure full human rights for those who live in this country without papers; coalitions that will expose Wall Street for the gang of criminals that it is and insure that working people and those without work but looking benefit from any bailouts legislated in Washington; and so on.

We have lived under one of the most unabashedly antidemocratic regimes in US history for the past eight years. We have seen principles written into this nation’s most important document — the Bill of Rights — openly and gleefully violated and buried. We have seen the richest people, the corporations and banks in this country steal without shame from the national treasury. We have seen authoritarian bigots impose their regressive and racist dogma into the national conversation and law books, sometimes under the pretense of security and other times under the cloak of a religion built on hate. We have seen men and women sent off to kill men, women and children in the name of power and wealth. We have heard the politicians and technocrats in Washington discuss the torture of other human beings as calmly as they touch the switch that lights the national Christmas tree every year. The blatant contempt we have felt has resulted in a despair I haven’t seen since the dark days of the early 1970s when Nixon and his secret police were using whatever means they could to destroy the popular movements of the 1960s.

The election results on November 4th, 2008 prove to us as much as anybody else that, despite this recent legacy, many residents of this land hope things can change. History has not always been kind to those with hopes such as these. After all, this nation, like all nations, has seen times worse than these past eight years, only to have their hopes picked up by some politician speaking pretty phrases but limited by his determination to resolve the crises he faced while leaving the very system that created the crisis intact. Yet, hope is better than despair. I leave you with a quote from the 19th century anarchist Peter Kropotkin:

Revolutions are born of hope, not despair.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way The Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground and Tripping Through the American Night, and the novels Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator's Tale. His third novel All the Sinners, Saints is a companion to the previous two and was published early in 2013. Read other articles by Ron.

31 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on November 11th, 2008 at 9:55am #

    Ron I appreciate your sincerity. I don’t question your steadfastness is genuine.

    The premise of your argument is that the system is available to be fundamentally changed. That it has the levers of power which we can access through dissent and lobbying (obviously not the kind that the real lobbiests undertake), and voting.

    You present a picture of Obama which is vague, as it has been for over a year regarding his inclinations. (I kind of resent your bringing into this the former US colony – the Phillipines since such comparisons are ludicrous in every respect).

    Your approach is as old as the US itself. It is forever hopeful that it can reform the empire (I’m not sure that you recognize that the USA is an imperial empire, but you are obviously intelligent and probably acknowldege it). If you do recognize the USA is an imperial empire and all that that means, you seem to ignore it in your argument. Ending the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t begin to touch the other 800 bases in hundred of countries throughout the world. Nor the propensity to frame our actions as “war”. And our latter day empire approach to conquest through corporate preditory neoliberalism.

    Yes, these are “untouchable” issues for a politician and the POTUS. The military industrial complex, as you know, is not in a single place nor is it easily identifiable as a single or small group of corporations. It is structurally much deeper.

    History is important. But the principles of human existence are where the lessons are. History is like a river, you never return to it twice even if it looks like the “same” river. But the principles governing the river’s flow are constant. Understanding those principles rather than the artificial state of an empire and it’s POTUS is worthy of your heart and mind – imho.

  2. ron said on November 11th, 2008 at 10:07am #

    Thanks for the comments. Let me explain myself a bit more. I am looking not at Obama and the system of capitalism, but at the grassroots aspect of the Obama campaign and the genuine hopes the defeat of the Bush regime have created. You understand what I am saying as believing “that the system is available to be fundamentally changed.” I ask you to read a little deeper. I do not say this anywhere. In fact, my piece is a call to utilize the lessons about organizing and the hope that has sprung from the Obama campaign to move beyond the system and organize to change the system.
    I am not of the persuasion that reforms are pointless. Instead, I see them as a means of raising consciousness and hopes to the point where folks see and understand the contradictions of capitalism and understand that it is capitalism that must go, not George Bush or some other politician.
    Your statement that “Ending the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan doesn’t begin to touch the other 800 bases in hundred of countries throughout the world ” is just not true. One doesn’t end the imperial system of military bases all at once. They start with those whose primary purpose is to occupy and control an entire people. Iraq and Afghanistan fit that definition to a T.
    Once again, it is not my point in this piece to explore Obama. It is to look at the desire for change as represented by his victory and join a discussion how that desire can begin to bring about a change that is fundamental and genuine.

  3. Michael Kenny said on November 11th, 2008 at 10:30am #

    Unfortunately, history has proved Kropotkin wrong! It is despair, an irrational emotion, which drives people to revolution. And it is the conflicting hopes of those who lashed out in dispair at the existing power structure which cause so many revolutions to go so badly wrong. Babies get thrown out with the bath water.

    The French overthrew their king, not because they were full of hope but because their stomachs were empty. The Russians overthrew their Tsar because he was getting them killed in a pointless and unwinnable war. When his successors carried on the war, they let the communists take over and when they dispaired of the communists’ ability to give them a good life, they overthrew them too. The Germans overthrew the Kaiser because he lost a war and left his people starving. When the democracy that succeeded him failed to meet their needs, they voted Hitler into power and dispaired of him only when he had utterly destroyed the country. The Portuguese overthrew their dictatorship because it was getting them killed in a series of colonial wars. And so on.

    People are at their best when they have their backs to the wall!

  4. Martha said on November 11th, 2008 at 10:41am #

    The “grassroots” of Barack’s campaign assembled the day after the 2006 mid-term elections and went state by state for primaries and caucuses. It was a hype machine as the special issue of Newsweek makes clear.
    Ron Jacobs, a usually astute critic, has fallen for a media-created hype. Like the YouTube video of the woman swearing Barack in office will mean he pays for her gasoline and her mortgage payments, Ron is not aware of certain realities. I liked Mr. Jacobs much better when he stood at a distance to electoral politics.
    It’s appalling to hear him speak of the women’s liberation movement and the LGBT movement when both were tossed under the bus by the campaign of Barack Obama who put homophobes onstage in South Carolina during the primary and put a homophobe on a swing-state ‘values’ tour during the last 6 weeks of the general.
    takes you to Kevin Alexander Gray & Marshall Derks report on North Carolina and, Mr. Jacobs, there is nothing ‘hope’ful in that. But it does go to how Proposition 8 passed in California.

  5. Max Shields said on November 11th, 2008 at 10:51am #


    Reforms may raise consciousness or expectations which could lead to real change when these expectations are not met.

    I am very leary of the existing power. I’m not convinced that an elite power has not shown itself capable of co-opting in ways that never changes the fundamental dynamics. I do think there are loop holes in the dynamics but not at the national level which is far to abstract to be meaningful.

    That is the central issue I have, not Obama who is simply an example of Dem v Repub rule. I’m equally leary of the substantive role of the grass-roots. But obviously there were thousands and, overall, millions, but were they of some kind of single-mindedness? Do African Americans see real change in Obama or the symbol of change which they “hope” will yield something more? I suspect the latter, but it’s still about a personality.

    As for the youth (in America that lasts nearly into our early 40s), I see the fever pitch for Obama, not as an example of “grass-roots” movement, but in much the same way as pop stars like Michael Jackson or the Beatles were rolled out. The catalyst is not a sensibility as much as a fawning. Can something be made of it for real change? I suspect not.

    Nevertheless, I understand where you are coming from and why you wish to pursue it. I just see important flaws and significant doubts in your approach.

    I agree that evacuating our occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq are important first steps. But the engine behind this imperialism is here, and there. It looks South, it looks to Africa, it looks to parts of Asia as well as the Middle East. Pull back here, to go there. It is not simply an incremental game.

  6. Max Shields said on November 11th, 2008 at 10:53am #

    Ron, just one clarification: I said I was leary of the “grass-roots”, I meants as it manifested itself during the election cycle. I believe that a real grass-roots moment is our only real hope.


  7. Deadbeat said on November 11th, 2008 at 2:48pm #

    Ron writes…

    am looking not at Obama and the system of capitalism, but at the grassroots aspect of the Obama campaign and the genuine hopes the defeat of the Bush regime have created.

    First Ron thanks for writing an analysis captures the essence and meaning of the Obama campaign without falling into the vat of hyperbole or histrionics. It is refreshing to read someone who understands the nuance yet can frame a cogent analysis.

    I am in total agreement that there are lessons that the Left can learn from the Obama campaign. My question is the Left is willing to take a look and whether the Left is willing to learn or will the Left continue on its same course.

    I don’t necessarily believe that the Left should integrate themselves with the Democrats but what I do believe is that the Left must find a way to find some sort of united front. As you point out the Obama campaign had a major theme throughout its campaign. Unfortunately since the Left is extremely fractured unless they can find some common theme the Left looks disjointed and disorganized.

    Nader’s lone wolf approach is extremely limited and IMO is doing more to diffuse the Left rather than build it up. The Green Party at this point is the only institutional structure that represents the Left electorally but it is going to take years before they become viable again. However the Greens can put themselves in position as an alternative for disillusioned Obama supporters. Clearly McKinney and Clemente are much more tactful in their critiques of Obama than Nader.

    Max Shields asks…

    Do African Americans see real change in Obama or the symbol of change which they “hope” will yield something more? I suspect the latter, but it’s still about a personality.

    Having an African American in the White House IS real change to African Americans because of their REAL history struggling against racism and discrimination in the United States. The problem is that Obama does not represent the SUBSTANTIVE change that folks on the Left would like to see. This is the disconnect regarding the rancor on the Left over Obama and the desire of African Americans to “give the brother a chance”. Which is why Ron’s article can serve as a template of how folks on the Left can articulate its message.

    I believe that a real grass-roots moment is our only real hope.

    That is cliche. The question is the nature of the grassroots movement. A lot of people believed the “Battle in Seattle” or the anti-war movement in 2003 was THE moment. Both movements today are extremely weak at this point and if Obama should come through on some of his promises — then what. A lot of people won’t be marching in the streets but you still will have to reach these people.

    Yest grassroots movements are the way if there can be SOLIDARITY among the disparate groups. Perhaps there will be a grassroots movement that can catalyze other movements and those movements can coalesce into a stronger one. Unfortunately if recent history is any guide there has been more efforts on the Left to diffuse that energy than to harness it into a MASS movement.

    One again Ron, thank you for your insightful analysis.


  8. Max Shields said on November 11th, 2008 at 5:17pm #

    Deadbeat “give the brother a chance” is the most vapid statement you’ve made so far.

    The point you make on the use of “grass-roots” regarding what I said shows more rancid toward my posts that anything resembling an intelligent note on your part. Why? Because I made the point of make the distinction between a mass pop marketing job vs a REAL grass-roots movement. You can’t read that because you’re looking to disagree rather than actually process what I stated!

  9. gui r. said on November 11th, 2008 at 6:15pm #

    I think that Michael misunderstood Kropotkin a bit, because despair without hope is ineffectual and so revolutions never begin or proceed without hope. But we are living in extremely interesting times and I wonder what the Americans will do during Obama’s presidency. If they will endure (like Dilsey in The Sound and the Fury) or that they will
    refuse to see any longer through a glass darkly, that is the question. Whatever Obama’s program may be, his election tore open the curtains, and even though the establishment is flexible like in England during the demise of Empire circa 1890-1918, they take a huge risk with him. Those establishments who were not flexible (again like the Bush regime) in France, Russia and Portugal, were swept aside immediately. But one must never under-estimate the shrewdness of the rulers. One does so at one’s own peril and that should be a warning to everyone interested in true change and/or planning to bring it about.

  10. Max Shields said on November 11th, 2008 at 7:18pm #

    A movement in the US will not come by “convincing” people to “join” or to show them the error of their ways because they voted for Obama.

    Convincing people is a fools errand.

    Understanding what needs to be done must begin by understanding what actually happened during this election. Not everything, but the main thing – was there anything about the Obama crowds that was in anyway about a political movement. It seems to me the answer is clearly no. It was about the successful hundreds of millions of dollar marketing campaign which (as marketers all know) creates a buzz which turns into a phenom.

    There is no there there. There is no Obama spin off that will yield a progressive American Movement. Deadbeat fails to get that. I suspect it’s because he’s more interested in denouncing a faux “left” failure than to look at what actually happened.

    I’m not saying African Americans didn’t vote for a black candidate because he was black and because most would have voted Dem anyway (if the voting block record holds true to form). But even that swing in Iowa to vote for Obama was about buzz. The news media pronounced that it was OK for blacks to consider Obama a legitmate candidate. It is the News Media that shaped and informed decisions. It wasn’t even a poll, it was a mix of repeated broadcasts that together with a build up of dollars which led ultimately to a massive drive to get blacks to vote Obama…to build to a fever pitch that Obama would be HISTORICAL, would break the color line…would…would…would bring about a NEW DAY. This is pure Barnum & Bailey. This stunt is pulled every election with whites, hispanics as well as blacks. But this time, it was different and it had hundreds of millions of dollars behind it with a media ready to sell sell sell.

    It is important to realize this. This was not a failure of the left but an unmitigated SUCCESS of American Corporate Capitalism to do what it has been doingfor hundreds of years SELL. It is the lord and master.

    The “left” is NOT a failure. The “left” has been homogenized to the point where Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reed are now Radical Leftists. Orwellian black is white is at its optimal overdrive in America!

    The “left” that deadbeat likes to trounce on doesn’t exist except in his figmented mind. There are people who see through the charade, who could be called leftists or progressives, but they are clearly not of or part of what we just witnessed in the election of Barrack Obama. Make NO mistake about that.

    It is that “left” or independent progressive who is ripe for creating a real movement. The movement will not be of the system, but an alternative to it. The system that exists is at the other end of its charade making billion/trillion dollar antics. Whether this or the next election will see its demise remains to be seen. But there is a reality which is non-negotiable – it will be the day of reakoning. And it is from those ashes that we’ll have to be ready to “plug” in the new world order – one created locally through progressive intiatives. Again, people will not need to be convinced; they will not need to be sold, because the answer is not by simply outdoing what has just happened but watching, planning and working for the time when the empire collapses and an alternative will be embraced.

  11. Beverly said on November 11th, 2008 at 7:25pm #

    After the cow, Obama, has gotten his free milk, i.e., the White House job, NOW we focus on the “issues?”

    Over the years the Democrats have increasingly supported policies/legislation detrimental to the party’s constituencies and the poor and working masses in general. There were enough red flags with Obama from day 1 to signal he wasn’t going to buck this trend. Said flags continue to obliterate the scene with an Israeli apartheid cheerleader as the Obama administration’s gatekeeper and names such as Paulson, Volker, Powell, Rubin, and assorted Clintonistas on the short list for cabinet gigs.

    The time for talking issues and making demands was during the primaries and before Nov 7. This is especially true for advocates for progressive, minority, and labor concerns as these groups have only their votes for collateral, not the billion dollar checkbooks of Wall Street and corporate power brokers.

    And can we get one article that doesn’t swoon over the “exhilaration,” of the first black president and all that? This nonstop orgasmic stupor over “history in the making” is clouding discussion over problems we face and how we go about forcing the new administration (that continues its vague rhetoric and questionable circle of advisers) to do something about them. While the masses are dancing in the streets over this “wondrous event,” ObamaCo is busy furthering the usual, the corporatist agenda, with a token nod to populist concerns.

  12. Wendy said on November 11th, 2008 at 8:01pm #

    I was not surprised to see Cindy Sheehan lose her run for Congress in San Francisco. It was clear that she became the face (and not a pretty one) of the anti-war movement only for herself, not her brave son. After her failed protest in Crawford in which she didn’t get her meeting with Bush, she wrote her book which sold about a dozen copies, pulled the State of the Union t-shirt stunt, embraced dictator Hugo “I run the Venezuelan media” Chavez, went on her 6-hour hunger strike, “resigned” from the peace movement, and then the latest campaign. Now that the campaign is done, it is only a matter of time that she does something else to get her name in the news. Funny that her election totals (17%) were lower than Bush’s approval rating (22%), and that says so much, hehe. She just doesn’t get it that she has been reduced to irrelevancy. Good riddance.

    Peace on Earth. Wendy

  13. Deadbeat said on November 11th, 2008 at 8:43pm #

    Max Shields says…

    Deadbeat “give the brother a chance” is the most vapid statement you’ve made so far.

    No Max I’m not saying that. The African American community which you now have such disdain for since they voted overwhelmingly for Obama is saying.

    You are the one Max with the “bunker” mentality and if you read what I am writing carefully you’d see that I am really trying to help you alter your rhetoric so that you won’t alienate this very vital voting bloc. I’ll repeat again. The African American community is the MOST LOYAL voting bloc of the Democratic Party. The Left’s strategy to weaken the Democrats MUST include appeals to African Americans.

    Ridiculing African American for voting for Obama because you personally has so much disdain for him won’t help you win African Americans over if you do not find a way to contain your Obama disdain. When Obama disillusion African Americans as we’ve seen how much Obama has to kowtow to Zionism, will you have alienated African Americans so much that rather than inspiring them to move in your direction they respond with “fuck you”.

    That is the choice Max and right now from some of the remarks I’ve seen here on DV I can see that division and diffusion is in the Left’s future.

    Clearly I do hope that the Green Party behind Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente (women of color) knows how to interact with the African American community and can lay the groundwork for the Left. But it is going to take a while.

  14. Max Shields said on November 11th, 2008 at 9:02pm #

    deadbeat you are a racist and anti-semite.

  15. Brian Koontz said on November 11th, 2008 at 9:09pm #

    In reply to Ron Jacobs’s reply to Max Shields:

    “I am not of the persuasion that reforms are pointless. Instead, I see them as a means of raising consciousness and hopes to the point where folks see and understand the contradictions of capitalism and understand that it is capitalism that must go, not George Bush or some other politician.”

    That doesn’t make any sense. What happens time and again is that reform *diverts* and destroys revolutionary energy. What happens is that a revolutionary force emerges, the elite offer “reforms”, and the revolutionary force says “Ok”, and that’s the end of it. That’s what happened in the 1900, the 1930s, that’s what happened in the 1960s, and that’s what most of the supposed “left” want to happen now.

    The Bush Administration excited many true leftists in America because we recognized they wouldn’t offer reforms, so this might have led to a true revolution. But Americans are such utter douchebags who only care about the price of gas, not the condition of the world, their civil rights, or apparently anything else, that this revolution didn’t even get off the ground.

    If the reformers have their way, we’ll have reforms, and forty years from now (or less) the world will undergo utter catastrophe, whether from capitalist meltdown, ecological meltdown, nuclear holocaust, some combination of those or something else entirely.

    The Western left has the luxury of wanting reform. Millions of third worlders killed every year by the West don’t have that luxury.

    The natural world doesn’t want reform. Third worlders don’t want reform. Yet the supposedly radical “American left” calls for it time and again. Zinn calls for a “Second New Deal”.

    Now that Obama is president, there is little hope. Only McCain with his utter insanity might have driven Americans into a frenzy of revolution. Now Americans are supplicants, drooling zombies, groupies drenched in orgiastic sweat kneeling before their “president of change”.

    The possibility of revolution has died in America for now, and with that death the world has lost much of it’s hope.

    American “left” – “The natural world and third worlders can’t vote.”

    The wrong electorate is voting in America.

  16. Suthiano said on November 11th, 2008 at 10:02pm #

    It’s clear that those of the American “left” persuasion feel that they have power at stake in this debate. Why else would they so fiercely attack those who would disagree? Dissident Voice is frequented, apparently, by people who feel threatened by honest, meaningful challenges to their assumptions/beliefs, and so seek to silence dissenting voices.

  17. gui r. said on November 12th, 2008 at 5:49am #

    I get the odd impression that despite disagreements, most of the commentaries agree basically about the facts of electoral politics.
    One has to realize the impact that an attractive, well-groomed
    and well-educated young couple like the Obamas can have on continuing the status quo, glamorous like the Kennedys but probably even brighter and equally representative of the ‘soft’ elite power block.
    That is why they were so acceptable to the general voting public because in no way did Obama represent opposition to deeply held prejudices. His is the family presented by Bill Cosby, a television show which like many others of the same kind prepared the viewing public for an event such as the present election. There is a reassurance that Obama will never veer into uncharted revolutionary waters, that though he is probably totally aware of the power structure and the ethnic problems still around, that he will fit into that image of a smart
    upper class citizen regardless of race which in his case is quite incidental. And so Obama will be the great appeaser.

  18. ron said on November 12th, 2008 at 5:51am #

    It seems that many so-called leftists prefer to dwell in a place where cynicism and hopelessness prosper. Naturally, this is considerably easier than addressing the task at hand and trying to figure out a way to accomplish it.
    On another note, I don’t think there is a dichotomy between “convincing” people to “join” or showing them the error of their ways because they voted for Obama. One complements the other when done correctly. By the way, Nancy Pelosi is not a leftist. Neither is Bernie Sanders. They are liberals! End of story. Why is it that so many otherwise intelligent people look at the mainstream political system for leftist leaders. There are none there. They exist among the people.
    As for Koontz and his anti-reform tirade: Lenin had a phrase for that–infantile leftism. It feels good for the righteous leftist that spouts it, but accomplishes little.

  19. gui r. said on November 12th, 2008 at 6:17am #

    Ron you are correct but then so many people feel that they have been ‘had’, which is true also. Obama has deflected protest and resistance to the status quo. Anger is healthy but it needs to be channeled and that is not so easy to figure out at present. That is why Kropotkin remains important once it becomes clear that little has changed in the power structure. It is too early to determine a course
    for action, but debate always helps to sort out ideas and hope.

  20. ron ridenour said on November 12th, 2008 at 6:17am #

    Reflections on Obama

    What to feel?

    Hope and despair, as Ron Jacobs raises, are feelings that can be put into action, including for revolutionary direction. I felt mostly, though: Suppressed joy. Repressed victory. Freedom Songs of struggle and jubilation. Justice won, justice denied. On-going pain of war, mass murder, torture, unnecessary starvation, unnecessary sickness and early death. Disappointment at not being able to cry with unrestrained gladness—at long last, after endless years of excruciatingly painful castrations, lynchings, eye-gougings, rapings…my people in kinship have achieved a collective victory of such gigantic proportions. The knowledge that the joyful feeling exists for many makes me feel good in itself. The knowledge of why I can’t cry out of pure joy is most disheartening, though. The permanent war age will continue.

    Yet I must confess that I feel a vague hope that he—this black man who was three years old when I fought alongside his people in Mississippi for the right to simply vote—might just remember the 106-year old black woman of whom he spoke in his victory speech, a woman who lives to see one of her own people win the biggest prize. Obama took her with him, and therewith took with him, and for the benefit of his white audience too, the history of slavery, brutal racism and the long hard struggles against it. No other Democratic party candidate could have embraced her and her history in such an intimate way. Certainly the warmongering, racist McCain plus crypto-christian-fascist Palin could not, even in their nightmares, imagine such a warm and enlightened communication.

    We can hold Obama to that intimate understanding of the true history of oppressed peoples if we organize and grow in determination, and therewith in strength. Even though Obama will do the bidding of the capitalist-imperialist system, he might just be a significantly bit different and for the benefit of many people whom we abide, like this great great grandmother. And if that is so, it means we have a greater chance to organize and place on the agenda the absolute need to substitute the current economic foundation with one based upon cooperative production and and cooperative distribution of goods, services, and natural resources, and with an absolute end to all aggressive war-making. It means showing people we organize that socialism can and must be about collective decision-making while capitalism is and can only be about decision-making by the monied.

    Obama’s inevitable failure to even propose such an agenda let alone fight for it could well drive many people, including sectors of the working class, into an understanding that it is not the person–not the color of the skin, the gender nor the sexual preference–that is the determining factor but the very economic system itself.
    Still, I wish to dwell a bit on the victory–the victory of our historical struggles against racism and for racial equality. Let us recall that the United States as a nation was built upon the genocidal racial wars against the aborigine peoples, and upon the slavery of black Africans. Mulato Obama as president of the US of Amerikkka has taken the KKK out of America, at least officially. And that is a victory, and one that can be more readily built upon, which could take the KKK out of America everywhere, if we unite all we can and demand real revolutionary change.

  21. Max Shields said on November 12th, 2008 at 7:05am #

    ron, thank you for clarifying the difference between liberal ruling elites and the progressive (left).

    That said, there is nothing more cynical than the election of Barrack Obama. What ever symbolism (and it will surely fade) he has wrought, it will be his counterpositioning of that symbol by his actions/inactions that will be the bain of any efforts to “reform”.

    Furthermore, I can only say that one does not reform an empire when the empire’s power elite are fully in charge.

    I will not reiterate my position on localism, but it generates real energy on the ground, human scale. It is not theory, it is real and can be the focus of an independent progressive movement (including Greens, Socialists, Labor, and others). I would go so far as to say that there are people at this level who lose the labels and the realities of human-scale are then dominant; no enemies. There are no schisms to get in the way. An economy grows from it as well as the relationships it helps to foster begin to flurish.


  22. Brian Koontz said on November 12th, 2008 at 7:38am #

    The idea that the anarchic left has no “ideas” or “solutions” as proposed by Ron Jacobs and countless others is false. Max Shields, myself, and others have talked about anarchic solutions – the *only* solutions (proposed so far, anarchists are happy to bow before some other construct with better solutions) that can save the world and better the fate of humanity and other living creatures. More detailed and comprehensive solutions will be presented by anarchists as we gain power. Until that time doing that is a waste of time.

    Calling anarchists infantile is ad hominem. It has no basis in reality.

    Does it feel good to be an anarchist? Yes and no. Yes because we are proponents of saving the world. No because others are not and we have to share the world with these people.

    Take a calm approach here. Take a deep breath and examine everything you know about the state of the world and the state of the elite. Now project forty years down the road with presidents like Barack Obama (and presidents like Barack Obama leading other powerful countries). What’s the outcome? Examine the ecological state of the world, what is needed to save it, and relate that to Obama’s policies.

    The world is in ecological crisis, and as far as most third worlders are concerned and many others, imminent and ongoing crisis to their health and well-being. When you have your hand on a hot burner, do you ask for reforms? Do you *negotiate* with the burner that is charring your hand? Do you *compromise* with it, perhaps asking it to leave you a few fingers?

    No – you do everything in your power to *remove* your hand from the burner, *immediately*. You’re in a state of brief panic until your hand is removed, at which time you feel relief (and start looking for some ice water).

    Any rational creature examining today’s world is in a state of panic. Yet Ron Jacobs and others call for negotiating with the burner that is destroying all of us.

    We’re not infantile. We’re the elephant in the room. If you ignore us you’re be imperiling all of us. While so far that is the “American Way”, the future can be made to be different.

    It’s mature to panic when the situation calls for it. The calm collected reformers, looking down their noses and sneering at the “infantile panickers”, will not have to worry about being told “I told you so” from these “babies”. By that time, we’ll all be dead.

  23. Max Shields said on November 12th, 2008 at 7:50am #

    ron ridenour
    I don’t remember any of our cities becoming more than what they were moving towards, ethnically cleansed ghettos with deep problems of economic, social and environmental injustice AND with black mayors at the helm. It’s not because these mayors are black, white or latino.

    I, unlike Ron, think there is nothing we can do with this Obama symbolism. It is hollow in the end, cynical perhaps, and even detrimental to real change. It is the ultimate answer from the power elite to the last throes of empire.

    (What makes anyone think that the country that elected a two term Bush is somehow different? Chris Hedges has written a very good piece in TruthDig on the lack of literacy in America – at all levels of education. I was talking to a friend of mine who voted for Obama. He’s in his 60s and has read a book since he graduated from grad school in the 60s. And he has time!!)

    Time will tell, as it always does…but it will be too late if we don’t face it and move on with alternatives.

  24. Max Shields said on November 12th, 2008 at 7:52am #

    (What makes anyone think that the country that elected a two term Bush is somehow different? Chris Hedges has written a very good piece in TruthDig on the lack of literacy in America – at all levels of education. I was talking to a friend of mine who voted for Obama. He’s in his 60s and has NOT read a book since he graduated from grad school in the 60s. And he has time!!)

  25. ron said on November 12th, 2008 at 8:01am #

    Nowhere do I say we should negotiate or compromise with the Obama admin or any other element of the imperialist power elites. I do say, however, that it is a type of blindness to ignore the desires of many of the people who worked for the Obama campaign and voted for him. One shouldn’t dismiss these people as irrelevant. One should try and figure out how to move them forward. I am not against anarchism, but do have a problem with those–anarchists and others–who vocalize their sentiments that sound suspiciouslyy like contempt for those that don’d understand their politics.

  26. Martha said on November 12th, 2008 at 8:23am #

    Ron Jacobs (in comments): “It seems that many so-called leftists prefer to dwell in a place where cynicism and hopelessness prosper. Naturally, this is considerably easier than addressing the task at hand and trying to figure out a way to accomplish it.”
    Not interested in a feelings check or the fact that Mr. Jacobs wants to ascribe feelings to people he’s never met.
    Ron Jacobs (in comments): “By the way, Nancy Pelosi is not a leftist. Neither is Bernie Sanders. They are liberals! End of story.”
    If Mr. Jacobs will put down his referee whistle, could he stop attempting to redefine terms? Pelosi and Sanders are “leftist.” There is the center and there is to the right of it and to the left of it. “Liberal” is leftist. It may not be as leftist as Mr. Jacobs wants (and I go beyond that myself) but it is leftist and you’re not allowed to ‘reinvent’ political theory just because you want to hiss in public.
    Call ’em corporatists, no problem. Call Pelosi “center-left” even (though that’s debatable). But she is a leftist and it is truly an act of misinformation (or Reagan’s “disinformation”) for Mr. Jacobs to take to the comments and attempt to create new definitions that have no standing in poli sci.
    John Pilger telling it like it is

    It is time the wishful-thinkers grew up politically and debated the world of great power as it is, not as they hope it will be. Like all serious presidential candidates, past and present, Obama is a hawk and an expansionist. He comes from an unbroken Democratic tradition, as the war-making of presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter and Clinton demonstrates. Obama’s difference may be that he feels an even greater need to show how tough he is. However much the colour of his skin draws out both racists and supporters, it is otherwise irrelevant to the great power game. The “truly exciting and historic moment in US history” will only occur when the game itself is challenged.

  27. Max Shields said on November 12th, 2008 at 9:41am #

    Ron, I wouldn’t ignore people. I would however ignore the fact that they voted for Obama.

    Pilger, Martha, is one of the clearest headed thinkers and journalists I’ve come across. Thanks for the link.

  28. ron said on November 12th, 2008 at 9:51am #

    Don’t tell me to grow up. Your “I’m so correct and you’re not” attitude is one I will not subscribe to. Explain to me how one is corporatist and left at the same time?

  29. Don Hawkins said on November 12th, 2008 at 10:20am #

    The Near Future

    “Current trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable — environmentally, economically and socially. They can and must be altered.”

    “Current trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable — environmentally, economically and socially. They can and must be altered.”

    World on track for 6 degree warming, says report

    November 13, 2008

    THE world is on track to increase average temperatures by six degrees above pre-industrial levels by 2100 — three times the target limit set by governments at last year’s Bali summit, the International Energy Agency reports.
    In its annual World Energy Outlook 2008, released in London last night, the IEA warns that the world now faces an “immense” challenge to hold global warming to two degrees above pre-industrial levels, the goal it set in Bali.
    The pace of growth in China, India and other developing countries is set to increase energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions much faster than any action by Western countries could reduce them.
    The IEA is the energy counterpart of the OECD, a Paris-based think tank funded by Western governments, including Australia, to advise on energy demand, supply, technologies and policy issues. Its advice is seen as authoritative.
    This year’s report implies that it is now almost impossible for the world to limit greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to 450 parts per million (ppm), the target set by ministers last year.
    To do so, the price of carbon emissions — from electricity, cars, factories and homes — would have to rise as high as $US180 ($A270) a tonne by 2030, far above the $20 a tonne featured in Treasury modelling.
    Even to hold greenhouse gas concentrations to 550 ppm — the interim target floated by the Garnaut report — would require carbon prices to climb to $US90 a tonne by 2030.
    In a politically charged finding, IEA executive director Nobuo Tanaka said its modelling shows it will be impossible to reach the Bali target by reducing emissions in rich countries alone, as was envisaged in Bali.
    “We would need concerted action from all major emitters,” Mr Tanaka said. “Our analysis shows that OECD countries alone cannot put the world onto a 450 ppm trajectory, even if they were to reduce their emissions to zero.”
    The analysis finds that on current trends, only 3% of the increase in energy-related emissions by 2030 would occur in OECD countries. Instead, 97% of emissions growth would be in developing countries, and 75% in China, India and the Middle East.
    Mr Tanaka said the era of cheap oil was over, and the world needed “a global energy revolution” based on lifting energy efficiency and the use of low-carbon energy sources, such as solar, wind, nuclear and carbon capture and storage.
    “We cannot let the financial crisis delay the policy action that is urgently needed to ensure secure energy supplies and to curtail rising emissions of greenhouse gases,” he said.
    “Current trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable — environmentally, economically and socially. They can and must be altered.”
    The report says the key responsibility must be taken by the five major emitters: China, the United States, the European Union, India and Russia.
    The report comes at a critical time, with environment ministers to meet at the start of December in the Polish city of Poznan to review progress — or lack of it — in negotiations since their Bali meeting.
    Their goal is to negotiate a post-Kyoto agreement to reduce global warming by the end of next year, when they meet in Copenhagen. But as yet there is no shared vision on the key issue of which countries are to reduce emissions, and by how much.

    The next year will tell the story or could be sooner. 25 billion to the big three for what? How many business leaders with a mind that could get together and head to the hill in a few months and start off with what do we have to do and how can we do it. Is Obama’s plan still 150 billion over ten years for the fix. Do you think that is realistic? 150 billion to AIG for insurance man that is nut’s and 150 billion or is it 250 billion to see if we can save human civilization. I have to admit I want to see how this is spun.

  30. Suthiano said on November 12th, 2008 at 11:46am #

    People around the world are tired of waiting for incremental reforms to the empire. The United States produces so much harm and destruction everyday, while simultaneously broadcasting so much insidious bullshit into our airwaves, that if I lived there I would be pissing my pants in fear. There are no more decades to put in place the reforms that would undo what’s been done in the last 4 decades… or the last 200 years. The American “left” is out of time. If you sense disdain or contempt from those of us who have seen what’s coming, then congratulations on your perceptiveness. The rest of the world is furious. As citizens of that great country the onus is on you; find a way to control the criminal bosses that inhabit your land, or we’ll come form abroad and do it for you. We’re tired of waiting for you to wake up.

  31. ansel said on November 12th, 2008 at 2:27pm #

    Dissident Voice really needs comment threading. The site looks like it’s built on WordPress. There are numerous plug-ins for WordPress that will add comment threading (here’s a good one: Y’all should install one of them so that these discussions can be followed without scrolling up and down constantly.