by Ted Welch
Mon Oct 22nd, 2012 at 09:57:30 AM EST
This defense of voting for Obama came from another recent discussion.
We agreed on major things; we're both extremely critical of the "status quo" (see below), as is Chomsky, he and I think that we need radical change and that people deserve better.
However we disagreed about some of the means. Chomsky and I think it's worth trying secure whatever relatively small changes are currently possible because, while small in relation to what is desirable and ultimately possible, these can be matters of life and death for many people - e.g health insurance for 45 million people (see below).
Last time Chomsky recommended voting for him but "without illusions" (and was criticised for the negative note by Zizek, but that's another diary).
Chomsky explained his attitude to tactics when explaining why he disagreed with the boycott of Tel Aviv University::
If you call for an academic boycott of say Tel Aviv University you have to ask yourself, what the consequences are of that call for the Palestinians and there's an indirect answer. When you carry out an act in the United States, you are trying to reach the American population and you're trying to bring the American population to be more supportive of Palestinian rights and opposed to Israeli and US policies.
So you therefore ask yourself, will an academic boycott of Tel Aviv University have - you ask yourself what the effect would be on the American audience in the United States that you are trying to reach. Now, that depends on the amount of organization and education that has taken place in the United States.
Today, if you look at the people's understandings and beliefs, a call for an academic boycott on Tel Aviv University will strengthen support for Israel and US policy because it's not understood. There is no point of talking to people in Swahili if they don't understand what you are saying. There could be circumstances in which a boycott of Tel Aviv would be helpful, but first you have to do the educational and organizational work.
Same with South Africa. The equivalent of BDS, the boycott and sanctions programs, they began really around 1980. There were a few before, but mainly around then. That was after twenty years of serious organizing and activism which had led to a situation in which there was almost universal opposition to apartheid. Corporations were pulling out following the Sullivan law, the [US] Congress was passing sanctions and the UN had already declared embargo. We're nowhere near that in the case of Palestine. We are not even close.
I recommend a slogan from Gramsci: "Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will".
He is for passion, and, in his case, optimism rather than cynicism, but recognises that intellect used to seriously analyse the existing situation might reveal the reasons for pessimism about radical change in the short term. However optimism of the will enables people to go on struggling despite this, e.g. Chomsky, doing what they can and working ideologically to try to win "hegemony", another Gramsci term, which would enable really radical future change.
Of course such disagreements over strategy and tactics are nothing new, however, I would say that such disagreements about aims and strategy and tactics are ONE of the factors which help explain SOME of the failures of the Left. Doctrinal disputes are far less common on the Right, they tend to unite around a few common themes: Nation, tradition, anti-immigrants, orthodox families, and, in the US, religion, etc. THIS is one of the key differences which helps the Right (see discussion of "balls" below for more). For an amusing parody of this tendency of the Left, see Monty Python's Life of Brian "splitters" scene:
"The groups in the film all oppose the Roman occupation of Judea, but fall into the familiar pattern of intense competition among factions that appears, to an outsider, to be over ideological distinctions so small as to be invisible; "ideological purity", as Cleese once described it..." Wikipedia.
In France this sort of factionalism let in Le Pen to the second round in 2002, giving the NF greater credibility. Some Leftists then had to vote for Chirac as the remaining choice was between the Right and the far Right:
"Many left-wing candidates contested the election, gaining small percentages of the vote in the first ballot, chipping away at Jospin's support. As a result, Jospin narrowly polled in third place, behind Chirac and the Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, and thus did not go through to the runoff second round of voting."
it's possible to deplore the general "status quo" regarding the US, its gross inequality, its terrible foreign policy - as Chomsky does at length (and I agree) - AND be briefly "happy" at the specific event of Obama's election. The reaction of Chomsky in particular would be more accurately described as "grimly relieved", but with "no illusions". Chomsky advocated voting for "the lesser of two evils". It certainly doesn't mean he's "happy" with the "status quo", i.e. the situation in general; even with Obama in power he's continued his criticism of the US and of Obama, but ALSO gone on encouraging people to do what they can to change the "status quo".
Chomsky and I and any intelligent leftist think "people deserve much more" - that's again why he continues his very strong (but informed and analytical) criticism AND his encouragement of organisation and activism - he doesn't just retreat into blanket cynicism.
Some describe the difference Obama makes as no more than "breadcrumbs"; however, these "breadcrumbs" amount to life and death for many, relief from serious illness for millions - that's not to be sneered at:
"How many Americans would be left out in the cold under Mr. Romney's plan? One answer is 89 million. According to the nonpartisan Commonwealth Foundation, that's the number of Americans who lack the "continuous coverage" that would make them eligible for health insurance under Mr. Romney's empty promises. By the way, that's more than a third of the U.S. population under 65 years old.
Another answer is 45 million, the estimated number of people who would have health insurance if Mr. Obama were re-elected, but would lose it if Mr. Romney were to win."
For some evidence on the positive effects of Obama's first term:
Before Obama took office, you will recall, the economy was in freefall, obliterated by tax cuts, runaway government spending, massive consumer debts, and regulation-be-damned culture of the prior administration.
As the attached charts show, the moment Obama arrived and implemented the stimulus, the economy began to improve. And it has gotten much, much better in the past four years.
Some people detest the views of the Right, but admire their supposed macho attitude, e.g.:
"I despise them (the Right) - but also respect them for having pair of 'balls' to stand up and fight for what they believe in...
Left is also slowly but surely waking up from some deep whimpy sleep but nowhere near as massively and as fast as right."
But is it plausible that all of the Left, US, Europe, etc. just lack "balls" and is this really why, supposedly, they don't organise themselves well enough?
Marx, or Chomsky, or any serious leftist, would offer an analysis of what's happened to weaken the Left and strengthen the Right, based on real socio-economic changes. This would include the further development of technology, replacing even more manual labour, de-industrialisation - both these leading to decline of union power, so important to the Left. De-industrialisation also broke up more informal structures, which provided key ideological strengths, e.g. mining communities, communities like those in Detroit and Flint (which played a key role in forming Michael Moore).
On the other hand, this notion that the Right is powerful because they have more "balls" and therefore organise themselves better is no real explanation. In fact the majority on the Right don't organise themselves, as so often, they get organised by those with financial power. Thus the grass-roots Tea Party was taken over by people like the billionaire Koch brothers. People like them also pump money into the Right-wing political activity in general (and into Democrats too, of course, to cover their bets and continue to exert influence even when a Democrat wins):
"But organisations tracking money in politics say the Kochs' biggest impact in the midterm elections will be from funding and providing logistical support to such groups as Americans for Prosperity (AFP), one of the biggest Tea Party groups.
AFP, in turn, has spun off other organisations such as November is Coming, Hands Off My Healthcare, and the Institute of Liberty, which are buying up television ads and holding rallies across the country in an attempt to defeat Democrats.
US campaign laws make it easy for political interest groups and their corporate backers to hide their spending in elections. "This is a world of shadows," said Taki Oldham, an Australian documentary maker who spent months following Tea Party activists. "In my mind, without a doubt nobody has had more influence on the anti-Obama campaign than the Koch-funded groups."
These are the kind of real factors (as any marxist would know) which help explain political developments - not the size of the balls on one side - it's more the size of the wallet, if one wants to keep it simple.
Finally another point from Life of Brian: "Other scenes have the freedom fighters wasting time in debate, with one of the debated items being that they should not waste their time debating so much."
After all, the things that unite us on the Left are greater than the "crumbs" we debate. Not that I want to discourage even critical comments :-)