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Forum Post: A protest movement without a Vietnam or segregation?

Posted 2 years ago on June 15, 2012, 2:51 a.m. EST by francismjenkins (3713)
This content is user submitted and not an official statement

Trying to synthesize all the different ideologies, approaches to civil disobedience, community organizing, etc., can be a challenge for even the most brilliant intellectual. Navigating through this landscape is at times confusing, overwhelming, and it can even seem like a road without direction. Maybe it's because we're culturally oriented towards an expectation of reward. A light at the end of the tunnel, somewhere we can plant our flag and declare victory.

Surveying literature related to 19th century anarchism, communism, etc., it's easy to see the distinctions between those days and today. Some anarchist and communist thinkers favored what is essentially a labor theory of value (where we basically pay people according to labor inputs e.g. money becomes valued according to a scheme like number of hours worked).

Some thinkers rejected this idea (notably Peter Kropotkin), who believed (and I think rightly so) that at the moment of the first exchange, it becomes virtually impossible to value things according to something like hours of labor input (and I would say the problem starts even before the first exchange, because it doesn't account for all the hours worked in attaining expertise, particularly in the case of highly skilled professionals like scientists, doctors, etc.). On this count, I have a great deal of respect for Kropotkin, but of course he (like all anarchists and communists) believed in the famous maxim of Pierre Proudhon, "property is theft" (and they weren't solely referring to the means of production, they were also referring to real property, on the basis that property is the sum of all efforts of those who came before us, and thus cannot be said to be "owned" or monopolized on the basis of legal title resulting from a financial transaction). There is a real problem with this idea. Namely, property ownership induces stewardship of property, whereas an agent who merely rents, who does not perceive property ownership as a realistic option, will (generally speaking) be a poorer steward of property -- compared to an owner.

Then fast forward to 60's activists, like Saul Alinsky, the many college campus organizers, freedom riders, etc. I appreciate Saul Alinsky for his pragmatism. There was a statement he made famous, which I'll paraphrase. When commenting on the virtue of the maxim the "end justifies the means" --he said that we should evaluate the "ends" and "means" in the context of each particular case (and his call for a case by case evaluation of the circumstances, effectively makes this maxim a misnomer under his community organizing & rules for radicals approach).

The flaw with Alinsky's approach (in the context of the situation we face today), is he believed, in order to organize a community, you had to first "disorganize" it. In other words, the pitch of the organizer had to be sprinkled with both hope and despair. In his view, people need to become desperate (or at least perceive their circumstances as sufficiently desperate), before they would become willing to take a risk with radical new ideas.

Now fast forward to 2012. We have no war in Vietnam raging, the bodies coming back from Afghanistan pale in comparison to the slaughter of Vietnam (on both sides). We have no Jim Crow, no segregation, and most of the injustices faced by the urban poor, minority communities, etc., are invisible to most Americans. Even attempts to expose the authoritarian nature of our system, has thus far fallen on deaf ears (or the people who are moved by these scenes, tend to be people who already sympathize with our view point).

We can point to an unemployment rate above 8%, underemployment, droves of people who have given up looking for work, etc., but even if that total number approaches 20%, it still means that over 80% of America is employed, has health insurance, pretty decent places to live, good communities, schools, and they're kids are generally able to go to college.

The point is, the situation we're facing is much different compared to 60's, and much more different compared to 19th century Europe. People like home ownership, and the likelihood of convincing Americans that Pierre Proudhon was right when he referred to property as theft, seems implausible. Moreover, it's very unlikely that a sufficient number of Americans will come to perceive their circumstances as so desperate ... that they become willing to entertain what are commonly viewed as extremely radical ideas (like communism). However, to Alinsky's credit, he understood that community organizing cannot solely comprise protest without a goal and strategy (merely regurgitating a list of grievances ad nauseam, without a calculated purpose).

All of this gives me the sense that we need to tailor an approach that matches our circumstances. If a philosophy purports to be an all encompassing collection of ideas, suited for all circumstances people can be expected to face, then it must be durable and flexible enough to adapt itself to all circumstances. If it fails this test, then it's hard to define it as an all encompassing set of ideas. In other words, since Alinsky's desperate circumstances probably do not exist, we need a new idea (something that doesn't rely on desperation). This isn't about a failure to recognize or acknowledge that many people do indeed face desperate circumstances. However, if the goal is to change an "entire" society (not just small parts of a society), then there needs to be a perceived benefit for the society at large.

It is possible that people's natural sense of altruism can inspire them to join this struggle. However, assuming this theory of altruism is correct, then it becomes a battle of information dissemination (and successfully fighting against sophisticated attempts to manipulate and distort information).



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[-] 2 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 2 years ago

That is the battle we must wage, the false perception that our present economic and political conditions are normal.

Nail on the head.... the widespread perception that everything is ok, when in fact nothing has really changed. The economy is still as vulnerable to systemic failure as ever before. The wars are still going on... we are still in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[-] 2 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I don't think there's a widespread perception that everything is okay. I mean, I think we're exaggerating the stupidity of the American people. It's just that the American people are not going to become communists, not now, and not ever. I think the American people would naturally gravitate towards ideas like participatory democracy, I see no inherent resistance to things like cooperatives, and on a whole range of issues, I think Americans could agree with us, but property is not theft (that's an absurd statement that should be left in the 19th century ... and people intuitively understand that).

[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 2 years ago

My point with the economy is that there hasn't even been passed meaningful financial reform legislation since the crash. We still have too big to fail- if anything some banks like JP Morgan have become much bigger due to buying up banks like WAMU that were allowed to crash, derivatives haven't been roped in.

Never mind ideas like communism or participatory democracy, very few outside of OWS are even calling for financial reform in the mainstream, using the political system we currently have. The country has settled into a new normal, which is acceptance of our current conditions.

This is not to say the people are stupid. People are adaptable. This acceptance is a form of adaption to a world that changed drastically for many. The measure of how bad things are is a relative one.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Even tea partiers are starting to call for the restoration of Glass Steagall. There's even republicans who support the idea (e.g. McCain). So I think we're underestimating the support we "could have" if we got our act together. I mean, it took years after the Great Depression before we started to see serious movement against our financial system.

[-] 1 points by geo (2638) from Concord, NC 2 years ago

I have been trying to be optimistic with hopes of the Tea Party and OWS having a common front, but I have all but given up on that idea. From ALL my dealings with actual Tea Party members, we are the enemy. We represent everything that is anti-American in their eyes. They don't want our help.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Well, I didn't make the above statement with some hope of teaming up with the tea party (overall, I agree with you, not gonna happen, so why bother wasting our time thinking about it). My point was that Americans are not oblivious to the fact that our financial system needs more regulation; but at the same time, communism (and its variations) is the antithesis of American thought (and for good reason).

[-] 1 points by JadedCitizen (4277) 2 years ago

Like people intuitively understand the inherent mis-logic of living in a free country, while working in a 9 to 5 dictatorship.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

I mean, I've worked plenty of 9 to 5 jobs, and I even liked some of those jobs. They were nice office jobs, air conditioning, a nice desk, an ergonomic chair, cool coworkers, nothing remotely resembling a dictatorship. It is true that many people, primarily uneducated people, are forced to work in shitty jobs. These are the sort of jobs (companies) where we have the most profound need for a new way of doing things (like cooperatives). But even under that scheme, people will still have to show up for work, they will still have to keep regular hours, and they will still have to do work. They may get paid a little more, they won't get treated like shit, and so it's a good idea (but this is not communism, it's not a ridiculous implication that all wage labor reduces to servitude, it's simple common sense).

[-] 2 points by jrhirsch (4714) from Sun City, CA 2 years ago

Just a few years ago we had the housing and stock market crashes, the bank and auto bail outs, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, unemployment and stagnant wages, wealth inequality and political injustice. In comparison, things are not quite as bad. People have adjusted. It's the new normal. What's the fuss?

That is the battle we must wage, the false perception that our present economic and political conditions are normal.

[-] 1 points by nomdeguerre (1775) from Brooklyn, NY 2 years ago

I don't believe the middle class feels secure. It is the American middle class, even the notion of a middle class, that is under attack by the corporats the globalists, the Ratpublicans and hardly protected by the Democraplicans.

The corpoRATS and the NWO'ers don't want any powerful source of resistance to their plans (plantation slaves & Foxxconn hells the world over).

Preserving the middle class as the norm is our fight.

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Right, but all the things you mentioned are the devil they know, communism is the devil they don't know, and will not be convinced to take a liking to.

[-] 1 points by nomdeguerre (1775) from Brooklyn, NY 2 years ago

I don't follow you. Are you suggesting that protecting the middle class is communist?

[-] 1 points by francismjenkins (3713) 2 years ago

Of course not, but communism is not protecting the middle class (it's the exact opposite, the destruction of the middle class). I would think we'd want "middle class" to be our baseline, move the goal post. I view things like housing (whether it be an apartment or house), food, medical care, education (including college education), etc., as basic human rights.

However, this does not mean that I can go along with the idea that "property is theft" (I think property ownership is, in most cases, a good thing).