Swans Commentary » swans.com December 19, 2005  



2005: Navigating The Doldrums
An Unprogressive, Sulking Year


by Gilles d'Aymery





(Swans - December 19, 2005)  2005 was first and foremost another year where "business as usual" carried the day: the deepening corruption of the governmental and corporate elites, the war against terror waged to defend the interests of those tiny elites, the ongoing worldwide transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, the intensifying curse of environmental degradations. Human suffering from natural disasters (tsunami, mud slides in Guatemala, Katrina in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, earthquake in Pakistan), international neglect (HIV/AIDS, hunger, water-borne diseases), and willful tragedies (Iraq, Palestine), largely overshadowed a few bright trends (growing resistance to US hegemony in Latin America, for instance). Secondly, and less talked about, 2005 was also a year that saw the dreadful consequences of the Faustian bargain made by the advocates of the Anyone-But-Bush (ABB) strategy in the year leading to the November 2004 US presidential election, namely the evisceration of the Greens, the demoralization of activists, the fragmentation of the political currents amidst acrimonious recriminations, shattering tenuous alliances amongst community groups that had taken years to forge, the harnessing and further co-opting of dissent by the Democrats, compounded by the explosion of the blogosphere (add to it, for good measure, the vlogosphere and the slogosphere) that increased the recuperation and atomization of activism, a sort of food chain leading in one direction only -- that is, bringing the troops home (to the Democrats).

The first part need not be reciprocated in this space. Edward Herman's excellent summation of 2005 will do. Instead, let's focus on the lesser-reported phenomena that occurred in this sorry year.


The legacy of lesser-evilism

The 1990s was a decade of exuberance and optimism in the United States. The bubble economy was booming and change for the better became the leitmotiv of the bridge to the 21st century. A tentative coalition among activists, radicals, spiritualists, leftists, lib-labs including the pwogs (in Alex Cockburn's description of "progressives") or pwogwessives (as the feral scholar puts it), "cultural creatives," and environmentalists, congregated around the Green Party. Ralph Nader carried the flag of this diverse coalition in 1996, bringing it to its zenith in 2000 before it crashed in the wake of the coup sanctioned by the US Supreme Court. Al Gore, his neocon in sheep's clothing running mate Joe Lieberman, the entire Democratic leadership, and their corporate backers caved in without a peep. Responsibility for the defeat was squarely allotted to the third-party candidate, Ralph Nader. Within months, and without a shade of a doubt by the 2002 mid-term elections, "friends and allies" turned against their former hero and the political structure that he had helped foster (though this is of course much disputed), the Green Party. From then on, the lesser-evilist crowd jumped on the ABB bandwagon. It was a stampede. Recalcitrants were told by the luminaries: You are either with us or...you will be fully ignored and marginalized. The majority complied and got on board.

Reluctantly (or not?), the dissenting crowd voted for a wealthy pro-war candidate and his neocon running mate. It made no difference. Bush won. This time around, the Green Party could not be blamed for the disillusion. Neither could Nader. So it was blamed on Ohio and the voting machines...and life went on.

The safe-states strategy, promoted by the folks at The Nation and such revolutionaries as Michael Albert and Ted Glick, and pursued by David Cobb, brought four consequences: It failed to help elect Kerry, it led to a schism within the Green Party (from which it has yet to recover); it managed, irony of ironies, to fragment and marginalize the movement -- the very prophesy they had conjured for those unwilling to jump on the ABB bandwagon; and they delivered the activist troops to the Democratic Party without exacting any concession from the Democratic leadership.

A year later, none of those people has gone through an exercise in self-examination or self-criticism. Having weakened the commonality of interests, the political alliances they wished to keep alive and strong fizzled, falling back into sectarianism. In the name of expediency they totally ignored the historical requisite of opposition, or movement building, that of coalescing as many currents as possible around a few solid principles. Sam Smith, the editor of The Progressive Review, reminded a Green audience in May 2005 in Maryland, "how the Socialists' own history [described] their roots: 'From the beginning the Socialist Party was the ecumenical organization for American radicals. Its membership included Marxists of various kinds, Christian socialists, Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish socialists, foreign-language speaking sections, single-taxers and virtually every variety of American radical.'" (See "Finding Greener Pastures & Greener Voters.")

Not only did their strategy torpedo third-party politics for the foreseeable future, it also contributed to the split of the antiwar movement between the accommodationists and the jusqu'au-boutistes. Were it not for Cindy Sheehan and the veterans against the war, the movement would be even more marginalized that it already is (cf. the continued squabbles between the UfPJ and ANSWER). All this was quite predictable as Philip Greenspan showed time and again in these pages (see "Who Will It Be: Coke, Pepsi Or 7-Up?" or "ABB a.k.a. America's Bizarre Bunko" or again "Why Vote?"). Greenspan's analysis has been consistently on mark.

The utilitarian politics of lesser-evilism has brought fragmentation, disillusion, resentment, and marginalization. Worse, Louis Proyect cogently explains in his own review of the year, "After The 2004 Elections," that far from changing course, "our friends on the Left" persist in giving lip-service to social justice one day "and then urge a vote for Right-leaning politicians the next." Thus, 2005 has seen the consolidation of the same failed strategy: co-optation and recuperation remain very much in play within the self-proclaimed pwogs.


The blogosphere

This dilution of and division among the "Left" has been further compounded by the explosion of blogs that took place in 2005. The blogosphere exemplifies the atomizing forces of a capitalist system that strives to reduce people to the lowest common denominator, the self, the individual, the consumer. It divides to conquer and reign and control. The blogosphere encapsulates the antithesis of union, cooperative, collaborative, collective work. It embraces the old saying, chacun pour soi et dieu pour tous. Far from empowering democracy, it pits one against the other, letting everybody believe that one can make it on one's own, but in so doing lets the elites control one's destinies through cheap laurels, social recognition, and little money ("everybody has a price," used to say this author's father). It either co-opts, or ignores and marginalizes.

Blogs like Joshua Micah Marshall's talkingpointsmemo.com, Jeralyn Merritt's talkleft.com, or Markos Moulitsas Zúniga's dailykos.com -- visited by hundreds of thousands -- represent the best of what capitalism is about. Check the similarity of their ads, ponder the direction of their rants and raves, look at the poverty of the comments posted by their visitors. It all points in one direction: the Democratic Party...and each master blogger is being rewarded, financially or otherwise, for it.

Juan Cole, of Informed Comment fame, has gone from a principled opposition to the war in Iraq to a Democratic position: "We broke the house, we need to fix it. If we leave now it'll be chaos." In the process, and in recognition of his contribution, the good professor has moved one step up the food chain, becoming an expert commentator on PBS's NewsHour.

William Rivers Pitt of Truthouth.org has moved on to the Progressive Democrats of America, while Jason Leopold, a frequent contributor to CounterPunch, has joined Truthout. Time and again, people get back or into the fold of the system, bringing with them their followers.

Radical outlets are no better. They may not lead their troops toward the Democratic Party, but they want the limelight to shine upon themselves. Synergy and common purpose are thwarted by the lone wolf, ideologically-pure syndrome. Working as one among many, with all the compromises such an endeavor entails, does not belong to prima donna status, how limited it may be. Thus, a Stephen Gowans would rather run his own show than be a part of a wider circle (full disclosure: Gowans, once upon a time, used to contribute to Swans). Stan Goff is another example. Both are talented, powerful, and clear-minded radicals, who cannot accept to be a part of the whole. They have a decent following, this writer included, but they do not join hands and minds and hearts in order to enlarge their own coalition of one.

The blogosphere and its attending egos are playing into the hands of the elites, from the sold-out crowds to the most radicalized well-intentioned players, to the extent that by the end of this sad year, no creative opposition has a living space in Cyberspace any longer (if it ever had one).

2005 was the year the system reconsolidated its power. For the few still fighting, the FBI, the Pentagon, the CIA, and 18,000+ security agencies, took take care of them. Money and egos once more defeated us. We have the "Left" luminaries and the blogosphere to thank for this unbecoming result. The more isolated and personalized we are, the better we are kept in check and under control.

It can only be hoped that 2006 will see the resurgence of collaborative, cooperative, and collective struggles instead of individualist efforts to combat a system that, beside encouraging and fostering divisions to better conquer, increasingly resorts to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of all life for the benefit of the infinitesimal few. Let's coalesce around a few principles, check ideological purity at the door, and embark on the old journey toward putting people and nature first and throwing the shackles of greed to the dustbins of history.

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Internal Resources

Years in Review

America the 'beautiful'

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Gilles d'Aymery is Swans' publisher and co-editor.



Please, feel free to insert a link to this work on your Web site or to disseminate its URL on your favorite lists, quoting the first paragraph or providing a summary. However, please DO NOT steal, scavenge, or repost this work on the Web or any electronic media. Inlining, mirroring, and framing are expressly prohibited. Pulp re-publishing is welcome -- please contact the publisher. This material is copyrighted, © Gilles d'Aymery 2005. All rights reserved.


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This Edition's Internal Links

Michael Neumann's The Case Against Israel - Book Review by Gilles d'Aymery

Reflections On 2005 And The Future - Edward S. Herman

After The 2004 Elections - Louis Proyect

2005: Annus Propagandus - Jan Baughman

2005: A Look Back In Anger - Charles Marowitz

2005: Earth Responds, Illusions Crumble, Vision Needed - Eli Beckerman

2005: A Lamentable Year - Robert Wrubel

2005 And Its Possible Impact - Philip Greenspan

The Good Gardener - Gerard Donnelly Smith

2005: Pessimism Unleashed - Milo Clark

Resistance Is No Longer A Choice - Joe Davison

Blips #31 - From the Editor's desk

Letters to the Editor

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Published December 19, 2005