Fresh Start For the Left: What Activists Would Do If They Took the Social Sciences Seriously
by G. William Domhoff
The failures of the American left are not in its egalitarian values, but in the means it uses to realize those values. This document suggests the strategies the left could follow in the United States if it took the findings of the social sciences more seriously than it currently does. There are links throughout to other documents on this site that provide greater depth on specific topics, and an annotated bibliography at the end.
Due to the setbacks suffered by activists because of the Nader presidential campaign of 2000, the aftermath of September 11th, the invasion of Iraq, and Bush's reelection in 2004, perhaps more new activists will find what the social sciences have to say of more interest. These several setbacks were all the more disheartening for activists because the American left seemed headed for a revival after a long drought that began in the mid-1970s at the latest. Hope sprang anew in 1999 with the creation of the Teamsters and Turtles coalition, which generated massive demonstrations and shut down the WTO meetings in Seattle. This surge of new hope was reinforced by the excitement generated by Ralph Nader's presidential campaign on the Green Party ticket in 2000, which seemed at one point like it might receive as much as 8-10% of the vote and lead to a viable left third party.
But as so often in the past, the hopes were soon dashed. The Teamsters, and most other bread-and-butter unions, went their separate ways from the environmentalists once again. Then the small outbursts of property damage and physical confrontation with police in Seattle came to be the dominant features of subsequent anti-WTO protests in Québec City and Genoa, especially in the eyes of the media, leading to the further alienation of the labor unions, the death of a protestor in Genoa at the hands of the police, and widespread public rejection of the demonstrators. Meanwhile, the Nader campaign bitterly divided most segments of the left into warring camps, drawing the opposition of most feminists, civil rights leaders, and environmentalists, and ended up with a meager 2.7% of the vote.
By early 2001 the American left was back to where it started from in 1999, only to be further marginalized by the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11th that caused new outbursts of patriotic nationalism and decreased any tolerance for the property destruction and attacks on police that had come to epitomize global justice demonstrations. The mobilization of large-scale anti-war demonstrations in early 2003 raised hopes once again, but Bush ultimately ignored those efforts and went to war anyhow. Then a new surge of leftist energy went into the attempt to defeat George W. Bush in 2004, but all to no avail, and the basic problems of the left remain unresolved.
This recent cycle of rise, decline, and new hope repeats the basic pattern of American left politics throughout the past century, although the momentum sometimes lasted a little longer in the past and included some notable successes, such as women's suffrage, industrial unions, and greater civil rights and opportunities for people of color, women, and gays and lesbians, as well as new environmental laws that cleaned up many waterways and improved air quality in some parts of the country. But even given these sporadic successes, the American left never has been able to attain its overriding goal, which is to build itself into a larger movement for greater economic equality and social justice.
Could the left do better? This document suggests it could if it took the findings of the social sciences seriously. The problem is not the egalitarian values that underlie the left and energize the activists who so often spearhead important social movements, but the methods by which leftists have tried to realize their values. They have made many wrong choices in terms of the strategies that could lead to a larger and more effective left, and the result is one disappointment after another despite promising starts and much public support for egalitarian values.
Unfortunately, it is not at all clear that activists will ever take social science findings seriously. Despite the strong intellectual orientation of most leftists, they seem to prefer high-level theorizing in philosophy and history, usually based on new interpretations of classic texts, to the mundane results of empirical studies using methods they often criticize. Some express contempt for what they call "bourgeois social science" or "positivist social science." Some postmodernists even dismiss the social sciences as just another "narration," or maybe another myth, in a fragmented and decentered world. Why so many leftists reject the social sciences for one reason or another is a bit of a mystery.
What follows are ten key points that would put the left on its way to a more sustained movement.
#1. The People Are Not Bamboozled
Faced with their many failures to convince even a significant minority of the American population to act in ways that they assume are in the best interests of the overwhelming majority, many leftists tend to blame this lack of success on the fact that most people do not understand the nature of the social system or their class interests. These failures on the part of ordinary citizens are said to be due to the overwhelming ideological and persuasive powers of the capitalist class and its ideological allies. Although the argument is cast in terms of concepts like "false consciousness," "ideological hegemony," "regimes of power/knowledge," or "cultural logics," it says in effect that people are being bamboozled or brainwashed by the powers that be. Thanks to the sophistication of this argument, as legitimated by famous theorists and philosophers such as Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse, leftists seldom consider the possibility that the solutions they offer are rejected by people because they are unworkable, or might put current freedoms and rights at risk, or could even make things worse for the poorest and most marginalized people.
Contrary to the theorists of consciousness who explain away left failures, many studies in social psychology and sociology demonstrate that what people do makes sense in terms of the situation in which they find themselves. They may not understand all the details of the close working relationship between big business and government, or how and why markets currently work to the great advantage of capitalists, but they know full well they are being ripped off, and they fully believe that the circumstances they find themselves in are not fair. Numerous polls reveal that they would like to see a wide range of changes, including government guarantees of a job, a higher minimum wage, better health and safety provisions, and a government-supported health care system, all of which would "reduce the rate of exploitation," to borrow a term from Marxism.
Based on these findings, it seems likely that everyday people don't opt for social change in good part because they don't see any plausible way to accomplish their goals, and haven't heard any plans from anyone else that make sense to them. But why don't they just say "the hell with it" and head to the barricades? Why aren't they "fed up?" The answer is not in their false consciousness or a mere resigned acquiescence, as many leftists seem to believe, but in a very different set of factors. On the one hand, for all the injustices average Americans experience and perceive, there are many positive aspects to everyday life that make a regular day-to-day existence more attractive than a general strike or a commitment to building a revolutionary party. They have loved ones they like to be with, they have hobbies and sports they enjoy, and they have forms of entertainment they like to watch. In fact, many of them also report in surveys that they enjoy their jobs even though the jobs don't pay enough or have decent benefits. (And as of late 2005, 93% of individuals earning over $50,000 a year describe themselves as "doing well.") They also understand that they have some hard-won democratic rights and freedoms inherited from the past that are much more than people in many other countries have. They don't want to see those positive aspects messed up.
On a less positive note, many ordinary white workers have priorities that they put ahead of economic issues. As all voting and field studies show, a large number of average white Americans do many things based on their skin color. They often vote Republican, for example, especially in the South. They protest against affirmative action programs. They live in segregated neighborhoods. White Americans also often vote their religion -- that is, the fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics who vote Republican are members of non-college-educated blue-collar and white-collar families. In terms of their economic situation, and their need for unions, they should be for the Democrats, but many of them aren't.
It is these alternative issues, both positive and negative, rooted in their own lives and experiences, not a false consciousness created by the capitalists' ideological hegemony, that explain why most Americans don't rebel -- or even vote their pocketbook -- most of the time. In short, the theorists of consciousness may be serious thinkers, and they work at a level that is very attractive to most leftists, but they are wrong when it comes to understanding why positive social change does not happen. They have misconstrued the problem, which has to do with structures of power and life circumstances and the compelling nature of everyday life, not the chains of consciousness. They have misunderstood everyday people, and in effect blamed them for the failures of the left, even though at the theoretical level it seems like they are blaming the overwhelming powers of the dominant class or power elite. They have made the people the problem instead of considering the possibility that what the left offers does not make any sense to most people.
If this critique based on studies of actual people in actual social structures were taken seriously by leftists, it would clear the way for a fresh start. It would make it possible to reconsider the many failed strategies and projects that need to be abandoned if a left is to grow in the United States.
#2. Third Parties Are Not Structurally Viable
It is rare to find a leftist who does not advocate one or another third party. If it is not the Green Party, then it is the Labor Party, not to mention the perennial Marxist-Leninist third parties (usually inspired by Trotsky or Mao) backed for decades by highly visible leftists. But cross-national and historical studies of electoral systems show beyond the shadow of a doubt that there are clear structural reasons why third parties make absolutely no sense in the United States. A vote for a left party truly is a vote for the Republican Party because the United States has a single-member-district plurality system. Such systems lead inexorably to two pre-electoral coalitional parties wherever they exist, although there is an occasional regional or ethnically based third party that survives in some countries.
But the situation is even worse in the United States because of the tremendous pull of the presidential elections, which are a giant single-member-district plurality election based on the whole country. The power that goes with the presidency means that anyone serious about contending for power cannot afford to allow its rivals to win, and thus there is an even greater tendency to form pre-electoral coalitions. Third parties are therefore even smaller and more ephemeral in the United States than in countries with parliaments and electoral districts.
When leftists ignore these structural constraints, they end up creating divisions among all those who are left of center and thereby risk hurting average people's short-run interests by electing right-wingers. It is not a matter of being "spoilers" for Democratic Party candidates, as Ralph Nader contemptuously casts the problem, but of ignoring the issues on which low-income people, people of color, women, and religious minorities feel they will suffer if Republicans like George W. Bush are elected -- and how right they have been.
Furthermore, there is solid evidence that the Democratic Party now could be transformed into a nationwide liberal-labor-left party thanks to the increasing use of primaries and the successes of the civil rights movement in forcing the racist white Southern Democrats who used to control the party into the Republican Party. In addition, the "party" is no longer really a party in the usual sense of the term, but a government controlled pathway into government. It is just a structural shell, and the label "Democrat" is merely the name for one of two government-mandated avenues into elected office. After all, anyone can register to be a member, and anyone can run in the primaries. Winners in the primaries put their co-workers into leadership positions in the party.
Moreover, there is strong evidence that leftists who have challenged in Democratic Party primaries have received a far larger share of the vote than they would have as third-party candidates in regular elections. Why, then, do leftists reject the possibility that the Democratic Party could become the organizational base they need within the electoral system, a base that could at the least allow them to spread their message to a far wider audience than currently is possible?
#3. Create a Separate Identity Within the Party
If we listen to what leftists say about why they prefer a new third party to the Democrats, the issues seem to concern compromise and corruption. They point to the many examples of sordid bargains that liberal Democrats made in the past, such as those with Northern machine Democrats and racist Southern Democrats. They also inveigh against the caution of many current Democrats.
None of this, of course, has anything to do with the key structural issues that shape the electoral system against third parties and at the same time make it possible to enter Democratic Party primaries. Instead, the objections to the Democrats have to do with being identified with lesser evils, which are in the realm of social psychology. We therefore turn to social psychology to see if it has an answer to this dilemma.
Social psychology suggests that individuals with strongly held values tend to see most people as trimmers, backsliders, and hypocrites, and to want as little to do with them as possible. Strong moralists therefore have a tendency to withdraw from mundane routines and to develop a physical space or organizational form of their own. Ironically, then, the great strength of egalitarian activists -- the energy they derive from their moral purpose -- may be a hindrance to taking the structure of the electoral system seriously. Strongly held egalitarian values may lead leftists to downplay or ignore the structural arguments, so they can have a place of their own. If this analysis is correct, then the need is to create a separate identity that allows leftists to live up to their ideals while at the same time operating -- but only when they are doing partisan politics -- within the Democratic Party. So what should egalitarian activists do in terms of future elections if and when the issues, circumstances, and candidates seem right? First, they should form Egalitarian Democratic Clubs. That gives them an organizational base as well as a distinctive new social identity within the structural pathway to government that is labeled "the Democratic Party." Forming such clubs makes it possible for activists to maintain their sense of separatism and purity while at the same time allowing them to compete within the Democratic Party.
This strategy of forging a separate social identity is one reason for the success of the right wing within the Republican Party. By joining organizations like the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition, highly conservative people can define themselves as Christians who have to work out of necessity within the debased confines of the Republican Party. That is, they think of themselves as Christians first and Republicans second, and that is what egalitarians should do, identify themselves primarily as egalitarians and only secondarily as Democrats.
After forming Egalitarian Democrat Clubs, egalitarian activists should find people to run in selected Democratic primaries from precinct to president. They should not simply support eager candidates who come to them with the hope of turning them into campaign workers. They have to create candidates of their own who already are committed to the egalitarian movement and to the programs and strategies that are suggested later. The candidates have to be responsible to the clubs, or else the candidates naturally will look out for their own self interest and careers. They should focus on winning on the basis of the program, and make no personal criticisms of their Democratic rivals. Personal attacks on mainstream politicians are a mistake, a self-made trap, for egalitarian insurgents.
In talking about the program, the candidates actually do much more than explain what egalitarians stand for. By discussing such issues as increasing inequality and the abandonment of fairness, and then placing the blame for these conditions on the corporate-conservative coalition and the Republican Party, they help to explain to fellow members of the movement who is "us" and who is "them." They help to create a sense of "we-ness," a new collective identity that the diverse groups in the current left can use when they are in the partisan electoral arena, but which they only need emphasize in that arena.
But an electoral strategy by itself is not enough. Success comes by combining an electoral strategy with a strong base in social movements that have the ability to disrupt everyday life, whether through strikes, sit-ins, or any of many other tactics developed by those who practice strategic nonviolence.
#4. Social Movements Yes, Property Destruction or Violence No
Leftists are not only distinguished by their strong egalitarian values, but by their commitment to social movements. Both the social sciences and 20th century American history support this commitment. Social movements are necessary to social change even when there are democratic elections. They get people out of their routines. They dramatize issues. They show that the powers-that-be can be challenged.
But not just any social movement accomplishes these goals. It has to use strategic nonviolence to be effective. Here the civil rights movement is the prototype of what is necessary and possible. The tragedy of the American left is that too many leftists do not accept the need for an exclusive focus on strategic nonviolence, and that too few of those who do so are willing to criticize or exclude those who advocate property damage as a method of empowerment or armed struggle as an eventual necessity to overthrow the state. The result is the kind of downward spiral that characterized the New Left in the 60s and the current global justice movement . The current leftist compromise on this issue, called "a diversity of tactics," allows the strategic nonviolence people to do their thing and the property-destruction activists, who often self-identify as "new anarchists" or "anti-capitalists," to do theirs, albeit with the promise that they will not do anything that might endanger the nonviolent protesters. But such a compromise is a disaster as far as the effectiveness of strategic nonviolence.
Social science studies have much to say about the power of strategic nonviolence. They also provide evidence that any form of attacks on property or people alienates most Americans. Worse, the use of such tactics shows a lack of understanding of how precarious democratic institutions actually are, ignoring the history of organized militaristic violence in most societies across the globe. It also suggests a lack of respect for the sacrifices past egalitarians made to win democratic rights in the few places where they have been institutionalized.
Although nonviolence is a strategic choice, it has to be employed within the context of a larger and more encompassing value system for two crucial reasons. First, such a value system is necessary in order to deal with the most important problem in using strategic nonviolence: helping members refrain from violence in the face of delays, provocations, and violent acts by the opponents. The individual urge to retaliate violently to violent opponents is difficult to resist, but any use of violence by the insurgents leads to the loss of moral credibility, repels potential allies, and seemingly justifies violent reprisals by the government. Second, the practice of strategic nonviolence has to be encased within a value system so that the opponents slowly can become convinced that the challengers will not suddenly resort to violence when they think it will be to their advantage. American egalitarians need to demonstrate that their strong moral convictions are always going to be expressed in a way that is consistent with their deep belief in the dignity and rights of each person. A sudden shift to property destruction or armed struggle is not an option. Strategic nonviolence therefore takes training, great personal courage, and self-discipline.
Moreover, the sustained use of strategic nonviolence takes a sense of collective political identity based upon shared programs and goals. Strategic nonviolence is the commitment of a collectivity that is out to win against great odds. Physical attacks on individuals or property damage are therefore a violation of the movement's shared identity and of the values its members care about the most. Any resort to violence in any form breaks down group cohesion as well as alienating the silent majority that has to be defined as eventual allies in the struggle.
Within this context, the key issue for strategic nonviolent activists in a stable democratic country like the United States is to create and use tactics that cause the unexpected disruption of everyday life in ways that force people out of their routines, hurt the bottom line of businesses, or injure the electoral chances of politicians, while at the same time winning positive attention from the media. There is no one formula for how this is done; it is the product of activists whose experience and sense of timing lead to the right mix of tactics for the moment.
#5. Planning Through the Market, Not Non-Market Planning
Convincing leftists to adopt a combined electoral/social movement strategy that abandons third parties and the possible use of property destruction or other forms of physical attack would be a difficult task. Right now there are few leftists who are not for one or another of these self-defeating approaches.
But changing the left's key message probably will be even more difficult. It involves nothing less than facing the fact that non-market planning (which is what is usually meant by the term "socialism") does not work. Economics, sociology, and political science establish this point in a variety of ways. Most importantly, it is still too difficult if not impossible to collect all the information, and make the fast adjustments to changing preferences, that would be needed for central planning in a complex economy, no matter how community-based it was at its starting point. In addition, no one has yet devised methods for analyzing the inadequate information that can be gathered. Then there are all the problems of keeping a bureaucracy responsive, even one that held frequent meetings with neighborhood councils and work-site employee councils, as still nicely summarized in the old phrase, "who says organization says oligarchy."
The impossibility of centralized, non-market planning, even within a democratic society, I am asserting, means that it is necessary to abandon the economic plan that has been seen as the solution by most egalitarians for the past 150 years. It's the "s" word, socialism. Because no one mentions socialism any more, what with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with China taking the capitalist road, in the form of "Market-Leninism," it's hard to know just how many leftists still think socialism would work in a fully developed democratic economy. But it's my guess that many still hold out some hope, if only because there seems to be no other alternative. The problem is embodied in the label that many leftists now have adopted for themselves, "anti-capitalists." But what does "anti-capitalist" mean?
Many leftists will be skeptical, but a highly plausible new direction for bringing about greater economic equality and more access to common property is offered by planning through the market. Once it is realized that markets can be viewed from a governmental point of view as administrative instruments for planning, it can be seen that with a little reconfiguring they can serve collective purposes as well as the individual consumer preferences trumpeted by conservative free market economists. In this form of planning, the information is supplied by the price system that is so central to the considerable, but far from perfect, efficiency brought about by markets.
There is thus no need for one big centralized planning apparatus. Instead, the planning tools within a reconstructed market system are simply taxes, subsidies, government purchases, and regulation. This point may seem very mundane, but these well-known government powers can be potent when applied to markets. In the past, egalitarians could not think of these interventions as planning tools for two reasons. First, they are currently used by the corporations that dominate the government for their own short-run interests. Second, most egalitarians couldn't see the possibilities for any kind of decentralized market-based planning because they thought of planning as central planning.
According to this way of thinking about planning, then, the big issue is winning political power from the corporate-conservative coalition, which is another reason why challenges in the electoral arena are such an important dimension of a full-scale egalitarian movement within a democratic society. That is, taxes, subsidies, government purchases, and regulations could be used by egalitarians to do planning through the market if they had enough power in the government. The economic issues are not all that arcane. The solutions are there. But the political power has been sorely lacking.
Nor is it necessary that corporations have all the rights of real persons they now enjoy under American law thanks to the governmental power their owners have exercised. They need not be able to enter into the political arena as if they were actual people. Their charters could be limited to the legal rights that are needed for them to buy, sell, and manage a workforce. They could be legally obligated to obtain licenses, based on rigorous standards, before they could market their products.
Furthermore, the government could own enterprises that compete in the market, perhaps replacing some large privately owned corporations. It is possibilities such as this that make corporate leaders despise even the slightest government involvement in the economy as a bad precedent. Call these government-owned enterprises "competitive public enterprises" to make them all the more congenial with "market ideology" and all the more upsetting to those who champion only "private enterprise."
In short, it is necessary to leave behind the tired old argument about "market socialism" versus "centralized planning" and think in terms of "socializing markets," as British sociologist Diane Elson has suggested. The ways to do this are readily available, but of course they all presuppose the political power to implement the changes. These changes first of all involve the strengthening of familiar governmental regulations, along with more financial support for nonprofit watchdog groups in what Elson calls the "associational sector." There is also, as Elson says, a need for some sort of "democratically accountable planning commission" that sets out general policies, but that structure is already in place, and it is called the United States Congress. There is also the need for "democratically accountable state agencies" that would "structure markets," but they already exist, too, in the form of such entities as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services.
The annual battle over energy policy in Congress can be seen in this context as exactly the kind of "planning through the market" that is needed, and as a prototype for the kind of policy struggles that could be waged on many other issues. The environmentalists call for higher taxes on fossil fuels, subsidies for renewable energy sources, and regulations that force automobile and utility companies to burn fuels more efficiently and cleanly. They ask the government to purchase heating and cooling systems for its buildings that use renewable energy, and to use vehicles that meet the highest standards of fuel efficiency. On the other hand, the oil, coal, automobile, and utility companies demand low taxes on fossil fuels, subsidies for fossil fuels, and minimal or no regulations relating to efficiency or pollution, which in effect is a very different plan. If the environmentalists' plan were to prevail, the United States could gradually wean itself from foreign oil and clean up the air and water at the same time.
Admittedly, planning through the market would not satisfy those egalitarians influenced by the classical Marxist claim that the impersonal market is a snare and a delusion because it is the most pernicious method ever devised to legitimate the exploitation of labor. According to this theory, workers are led to believe that they are receiving a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, but in fact they are being screwed due to the fact that their lack of capital forces them into the labor market and puts them at the mercy of what a capitalist is willing to pay. This central theoretical point is summarized by the following phrase: the "exploitation" of workers is disguised as "commodity exchange."
Whether this classical Marxist claim is right or wrong, and I think it is wrong because the issue is really political control of labor markets, planning through the market could be used to decrease the degree of exploitation that currently exists by making wages higher, the work process more humane, and employment in some form or another a political right. Better unemployment benefits and guaranteed health insurance in one form or another also would reduce exploitation through the wage system. From a political point of view, as I just said, the issue is the control of labor markets, which is why the corporate-conservative coalition is always vigilant against any possibility that a liberal-labor-left coalition might come to have more power.
Within this context of greater governmental control over labor markets, it might be possible for those who claim that markets inevitably create alienation to think about the fact that a majority of Americans express satisfaction with their jobs even under present conditions, suggesting that they would find them even more positive in a reconstructed market system with genuine protections for working people. It also might be possible for classical theorists to consider the most general theoretical point that can be made about a market system: It is first and foremost a general social system that makes it possible to have coordination through mutual adjustments. It is a form of cooperation in which people do not have to attend a series of meetings beforehand, or enter into lengthy discussions, or even like each other. There are elements of coercion, in the sense that people have to work at a job for a wage, but they also would have to do that for a good many decades in the most utopian of centrally planned economies.
The heresy suggested here is for egalitarians to admit that markets can have the virtue of being a decentralized form of coordination and control that does expand opportunity for most people. Yes, they also can make it possible for the owners of income-producing private property to gain the power to dominate government, as is currently the case in the United States. But by their very nature they leave open the possibility that government can limit the power and rewards of ownership through taxes, subsidies, government purchases, and regulation if a strong left-oriented movement could win political power. Government also can create competitive public enterprises to compete with privately owned companies, and it can tax incomes and wealth far more than it is doing now without disturbing the functioning of the market.
On balance, then, markets are more useful than not, and can provide a starting point for developing many new egalitarian policies and programs that have only been touched upon briefly here. It therefore makes sense to talk about reconstructing the "market system" and figuring out ways to socialize and democratize it. It makes sense to think about Congress setting out general plans for key issues like energy conservation and health care, and to use current agencies to carry out these plans.
#6. Redefining Who Is Us and Who Is Them
Social scientists have done a great many studies documenting the inequalities and injustices of the class-based social structure of the United States. However, the evidence for class domination and extreme inequality doesn't mean that it makes good political sense to frame political conflict primarily in terms of one economic class against another in trying to bring about egalitarian social change. It tends to reduce political struggles to economic issues, and to create problems of defining who is us and who is them that have led to endless arguments about who is a worker, who is a petite bourgeois, and who is a capitalist.
If the problem is developing new policies and gaining political power, which it is, then the struggle should be framed from the start as a conflict over power and values, not as a struggle between social classes. The in-group should be all those who come to embrace the program of the egalitarian movement, and the out-group should be all those who oppose such changes. If the conflict is framed in this way, an egalitarian coalition has a chance to win over the moderates, neutrals, and independents who currently identify with capitalists, and who might be offended by blanket criticisms of them as a class. It may even attract dissident members of the capitalist class who transcend their class interests, and in the process become very valuable in legitimating the movement to those in the middle who are hesitant to climb on board.
But a class framing is not just a problem in terms of labeling all capitalists as enemies. Once the conflict is framed in class terms, those defined as members of the working class take on all virtue, and those outside the working class are ignored or demonized, whether they are rich or not. In fact, it is very difficult to decide who is in the working class and who is not, which leads to further problems for the movement. For example, those who are neither capitalists nor workers are sometimes called the "petty" bourgeois, which in theory means those who own their own means of production but do not exploit the labor of others, but in practice ends up meaning those people who are believed to be potential right wingers, a demonization which almost guarantees that they will become enemies of the left whether they started out that way or not.
Doing politics in terms of class categories also make little sense because it does not sit well with most of the everyday working people to whom it is meant to appeal. The whole thrust of the average Americans' experience is to break down class distinctions, not heighten them. They do not like to think of themselves in terms of their class situation, which immediately reminds them that they are not rich and have a lower status than they might like. Americans never have liked the idea of class, and this is not simply a denial of reality or the product of ideological hype. It is a matter of what social identities people prefer to emphasize, which in the United States have not included class for a variety of historical reasons.
Most Americans below the wealthy and professional classes understand that they have differing interests from the upper levels when it comes to wages, working conditions, taxes, and government benefits. Poll after poll shows that they would like to see their own interests realized, but not by defining one class against the other. It therefore makes no psychological or political sense to try to impose a class identity on people just because there's a social structure out there or some theory says it's a good idea to do politics in class terms.
In addition, a class framing is problematic because many egalitarians who agitate for social change do not come from the working class, however broadly it is defined, which makes them look like they are practicing a form of noblesse oblige. They often come from professional or wealthy families, obtain good educational credentials, and find work in or around university settings. Rather than claiming that they speak in the name of the working class, which rings hollow with most blue-collar and white-collar workers, they should put forth a program based on planning through the market that alters the class structure, and then try to develop a value-based coalition that includes everyone willing to support it.
The ideal model for a more open-ended framing of a social conflict is provided by the civil rights movement, which refused to define "whites" as the enemy, but only "racists" and "bigots." Racists and bigots included most whites in the South at that time, of course, so there was a clear opposition out there, but at the same time there was room for pro-integration whites. Drawing on the Christian tradition, the movement therefore was able to utilize the concepts of forgiveness, redemption and conversion in the service of strategic nonviolence to forge a black-white coalition. By opening its doors to people who believed in equal rights for African-Americans whatever their class, race, religion, or previous beliefs, the movement was able to use these concepts to make it permissible for people to change their attitudes without violating their self-images as decent people ("saving face").
This strategy also had great appeal because it made sense to the many "third parties" -- bystanders and observers -- outside the South who were witnesses to the struggle. In similar fashion, if a "cross-class" coalition is going to be necessary to assemble a majority for an egalitarian program in the twenty-first century, then it is better to begin with a political framing of the Us vs. Them issue that does not define one class or another as the enemy.
This approach to social change receives strong support from a long tradition of experimental studies of in-groups and out-groups in social psychology. First, studies of in-groups and out-groups show how readily people create such categories, even when the basis for distinctions are few and minor, probably because being part of an in-group reduces social uncertainty, enhances self-esteem, and satisfies psychological needs for a sense of belonging and identity. Such studies also reveal how quickly people invest strong emotional energy in the categories, feeling positive toward those they define as in their group and, with the wrong kind of encouragement, highly negative toward those in the out-group. It is clearly quite easy to become extremely antagonistic toward opponents due to this form of thinking, which is why who is us and who is them has to be defined very carefully from the start.
At the same time, experimental studies by social psychologists show that an Us v. Them framing is a powerful basis for a social movement. An in-group definition provides a strong sense of solidarity. It makes possible social comparisons with privileged exclusionary groups, which can generate a sense of injustice and contribute to a willingness to act. The problem, then, is to define the out-group in such a way that it is possible for people to abandon this group and join the in-group. Thus, the out-group should not be defined by characteristics that it cannot relinquish, such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class origins. So, how should the conflict over transforming American society be framed by nonviolent egalitarian activists?
Given the changing social composition of the Democratic Party, and the need to avoid a class framing of the in-group and the out-group, it is the "corporate-conservative coalition" and the Republican Party that should be the designated opponents of egalitarian activists. Indeed, they are the most clear, vocal, and organized opposition to any form of progressive social change, as evidenced by their economic and social policies since at least the 1970s. Framing the general conflict in terms of egalitarians versus corporate conservatives, and of Democrats versus Republicans in the political arena, has two distinct advantages in addition to avoiding a demonization of "the rich" or the capitalist class.
First, these are categories from which people can remove themselves. They can change their minds and become Democrats, as many former Republicans in the Northeast already have done over the past 35 years. Second, these categories leave a great many people as "third parties" who do not feel labeled as enemies and put on the defensive by criticisms of the corporate-conservative coalition and the Republican Party. In exit polls in 2004, 37% of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 37% as Democrats, and 26% as Independents. At the same time, 34% said they are conservatives, 45% said they are moderates, and 21% said they are liberals. Thus, a focus on the corporate-conservative coalition and the Republicans as the opposition leaves egalitarians with a potential majority of liberals, moderates, independents, and Democrats to win to their side.
But who is the egalitarian "we" who do battle with the corporate-conservative coalition if it is not "the working class?" It starts with the multiple we's who currently make up the nonviolent insurgent groups in the United States, the coalition of white progressives, liberal people of color, progressive trade unionists, feminists, living-wage activists, environmentalists, gay-lesbian activists, global justice and anti-war activists, and anti-sweatshop activists who work together on many issues. From there the coalition has to build out to the neutrals, bystanders, moderates, and skeptics who are the majority at the present time. Within this context, the movement has to offer everyone a shared common political identity -- "egalitarian Democrat" -- that does not attempt to downplay or erase their current social identities. It should be possible to be a feminist and an egalitarian Democrat, or a gay activist and an egalitarian Democrat, without feeling any sense of competition or contradiction among social identities.
#7. Keeping Leaders Accountable
Courageous and farsighted leadership is as essential to an egalitarian social movement as any other collective human enterprise, but leaders can destroy the movement and undermine its goals in the process of building it if there are not mechanisms to hold them accountable from the start. On this score, leftists need to face another brutal fact. They too often end up with undemocratic organizations led by charismatic leaders who control just about everything. It is therefore absolutely necessary for left organizations to adopt from the outset the kind of organizational procedures that make it possible for members to keep leaders accountable and to replace them when members feel it is necessary.
Consider the case of Cesar Chavez, the inspiring nonviolent leader of the United Farm Workers, who gave organizers room to be creative and built a multi-ethnic coalition of farm workers. After a series of victories in the mid-1970s, and the election of a liberal Democratic governor who pushed for a California Farm Labor Board, it looked like the United Farm Workers were on the verge of major success. Contracts were signed with a few liberal growers, and some of the more conservative growers signaled that they might be willing to bargain after years of resistance.
But the union faltered badly between 1978 and 1983 for several reasons. Partly this is because it had to fight off an attempt by the Teamsters to move into parts of agriculture through arranging sweetheart contracts with growers. It also had to deal with a right wing Republican governor elected in 1982, who appointed a vicious agribusiness lawyer as the head of the farm labor board. However, the story of the failure is much more complicated and tragic than most activists imagine, and it began before the Teamsters and the Republicans created problems. In fact, Chavez himself played the major role in undermining the union's victories because he could not delegate and share power. He could not abandon his all-powerful leadership role to create a normally functioning organization in which many people playing specialized roles had significant decision-making power. He could not resist giving the best jobs to his friends and relatives.
Long-time co-workers were forced to take part in a form of encounter group called the Synanon Game, in which they were unmercifully criticized and browbeaten. They found themselves fired and ordered out of the union's compound in a small mountain town at a moment's notice, sleeping in their cars for a few days until they recovered from the shock. Loyal legal aides who were trying to negotiate contracts were accused of disloyalty and asked to resign. The bargaining team fell apart, and most of the growers took advantage of this opportunity to return to an oppositional stance. As sociologist William Friedland put it as an expert on labor organizing who followed the whole history of the farm worker struggle: "Cesar Chavez created the United Farm Workers and Cesar Chavez destroyed the United Farm Workers."
Then there's the matter of how Students for a Democratic Society degenerated into a series of Marxist-Leninist sects. This story has been brilliantly told by political scientist Richard J. Ellis in The Dark Side of the Left, a book which makes for very painful but necessary reading. It shows that ideas about resorting to violence surfaced among some SDS leaders long before the 1966-1967 period, when many leftists grew discouraged about the apparent minimal influence of the anti-war movement. There's also the disgraceful case of how pro-violence Black Power advocates took over the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. There are also examples of how allegedly leaderless and egalitarian feminist organizations developed hidden power structures due to the "tyranny of structurelessness."
To overcome these problems with undemocratic leadership, there has to be (1) a set of organizational rules that are ratified by the founding members; (2) an elected leadership council, and (3) the ability to replace the top leader or leaders by a vote of the membership. This is the "constitutionalism" emphasized by liberals and often ignored to their own peril by egalitarians.
In addition, the movement has to be made up of a network of organizations, not one big organization. This makes it less likely that a few top leaders will take over everything. It also gives individual activists more freedom because they can register their dissatisfaction by leaving one organization and joining another. This freedom helps to keep organizational leaders more responsive. In addition, a network of organizations is the best way to accommodate the multiple social identities that inevitably will be present in a movement based on a coalition of groups.
#8. Foreign Policy
For a complex set of reasons that begin with the fact that egalitarians naturally tend to be more internationalist than other Americans, foreign policy has been a real can of worms for leftists, dividing them among themselves and often leading to tensions with the more nationalistic Americans they are trying to reach. Historically, the basic stance of the American left has been to oppose every policy stance taken by the American government.
Instead of starting with near-automatic opposition, an egalitarian foreign policy should be based on an attempt to realize egalitarian values to the greatest extent possible, independent of what the United States government is proposing. For the foreseeable future, this means human rights for everyone in every nation-state, the right to have and participate in a nation-state, and the greatest possible equality that can be achieved within a reconstructed market system based on planning through the market. Once egalitarians have staked out this position based on their own values and analysis, they then can support, modify, or reject American foreign policy initiatives, rather than simply opposing all of them as imperialistic.
The area of human rights is the best starting point to make the case for a more differentiated stance toward American foreign policy. Egalitarians believe that everyone should have the right to belong to the religion of their choice, to organize political parties, and to join trade unions. They believe there should be equality for women, racial and ethnic minorities, and gays and lesbians. Although many of these values are also embodied in European and American ideals, that does not make it ethnocentric for Americans to advocate them for everyone. Nor does it imply that Europeans and Americans are somehow naturally more enlightened. After all, it took many hundreds of years of world wars, civil wars, religious persecution, ethnic conflicts, race riots, and civil rights movements for some degree of religious tolerance and democratic participation to emerge in Europe and the United States.
Whatever the historical reasons for the ideals about human rights, freedom, and democratic participation projected by the United States, the fact is that this aspect of American culture is embraced by many people across the world as a beacon of hope. In addition, the government has proclaimed in recent years that it engages other countries partially in terms of how they do on human rights issues. In theory, a country has to meet human rights standards in order to receive American foreign aid. Needless to add, the government does not always act on the basis of these professed ideals.
Since the values of egalitarians and the American government coincide on human rights issues, American leftists should express their support for the emphasis on human rights in American foreign policy. There can be calls for gender equality and religious tolerance in all countries without any apologies about allegedly imposing mere American values, and there can be criticism of any country that practices sexism, racism, homophobia, or religious persecution. There need be no hesitation about advocating the use of strategic nonviolence in currently violent conflicts where the government is at least quasi-democratic.
Egalitarians also should create pressure to make sure that the American government lives up to its professed ideals more often. They should support Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other human rights organizations that some of them tended to ignore in the past as merely liberal. They should back United Nations initiative on human rights, and insist that all its member nations, including the United States, come quickly into compliance with the rules they have agreed to, but often ignore. There should be no more apologies for the Third World countries that violate basic human rights, including communist or formerly communist countries.
It is perhaps especially important for egalitarians to advocate the right to democratic participation within all countries, and insist that the American government support transitions to democracy. Such a policy would bring egalitarians into frequent conflict with foreign policy makers if past experience is any indication. Indeed, as recently as April, 2002, the Bush Administration tacitly accepted the overthrow of the elected president of Venezuela by wealthy conservative elites because he is a populist who is often critical of the United States. When the low-income people of Venezuela and the leaders of other Latin American countries forced the deposed president's return to power, Bush's National Security Advisor warned the restored president to "respect constitutional processes," an ironic comment at the very least.
Egalitarians should be especially sensitive to insisting on respect for the rights of those in the political minority in newly developing democracies. Too many seemingly democratic elections have led to the crushing of the losers in the past 50 years, who are often ethnic or racial minorities within the country. It is therefore completely certain that the democratic conditions for an election have to be met before any elections are held. For egalitarians, that should mean mandatory monitoring of elections by teams from democratic countries, or from the United Nations. To set the right example, and provide an international context for all elections, such teams should be sent to the United States (especially Florida), Canada, and European democracies as well as newly developing democracies. It may even mean sending foreign or UN troops to new democracies to avoid bloody election aftermaths. There may have to be gradual transitions to democracy that begin with accepted rules on freedom of speech and the rights of those in the minority on any given issue.
Within this context, the American government should be pushed to use various kinds of sanctions in support of democracy within repressive countries that are its close allies, just as egalitarians did in the successful fight against apartheid in South Africa. Here the best current case in point would be the undemocratic oil-producing Arab countries, which are propped up and defended by the American military against their own people as well as rival authoritarian states. In the aftermath of September 11th, such pressures also can be seen as acting in the national interest because these repressive states breed terrorists who are sometimes secretly financed by billionaire oil sheiks. Egalitarians cannot allow the United States to continue uncritical support of these regimes.
Moving beyond the issues of human rights and democratic rights within emerging nation-states, egalitarians should insist that oppressed peoples have a right to a nation-state. The most murderous and enduring disputes in the world today involve the thoroughly modern desire to have a nation-state. One power analyst estimates that as many as one-third of the major disputes in the world today involve this issue. These insurgencies are often portrayed as religious ones, but they usually are rooted in secular nationalism and use religion as one of their key motivators and justifications. To take the obvious example, Palestinian suicide bombers may or may not have talked about their religious beliefs, but they were seeking self-determination in the form of a Palestinian state. Such demands cannot be understood in terms of the spread of capitalism or attributed to imperialism.
In an ideal world, the United Nations would have the will and strength to help mediate these disputes and find peaceful compromises. However, it is clear that this is not going to happen, partly because the United States is not willing to risk losing any control to an international body, but also because undemocratic regimes often have the power to delay, water down, or veto initiatives at the UN. To the degree that the United States enters into these disputes, it is going to do so through coalitions it organizes. It was Clinton in 1993, not Bush in 2001, who told the United Nations that the United States would act "multilaterally when possible but unilaterally when necessary."
What, then, should egalitarians advocate in the face of unpleasant alternatives? They should first of all continue to urge that the United States support the United Nations in settling these disputes, but they should advocate American intervention if they cannot pressure the government to work through the United Nations. Then they should work to have the United States side with the aggrieved party, not with the repressive power.
Beyond conflicts over human rights and the right to have a state, there are many economic battles involving land, labor, and capital that come with the spread of American, European, and Japanese capitalism to the rest of the world. It is here that a strong critique of American foreign policy fits into the picture. The American government, in its role as leader of the capitalist world, too often sides with local landlords and capitalists against indigenous peoples, landless peasants, and workers. It almost always supports regimes that repress their own citizens. It advocates a set of economic policies -- maximum reliance on the market, low tariffs, uncontrolled capital flows, minimal welfare benefits, and austere government budgets to avoid inflation -- that are ruinous to developing countries. Along with its allies, the United States stands behind and finances the international agencies that carry out the policies favored by multinational corporations.
Egalitarians have to oppose the American government on virtually all of its foreign economic policies, but not simply as anti-capitalists, anti-imperialists, or opponents of the WTO. They have to challenge these policies through the advocacy of a reconstructed market system that can make use of relatively free trade among countries with developed economies, while providing aid, subsidies and protections for the economies in developing countries. Most importantly, they have to work to elect a congressional majority of egalitarian Democrats and at least a moderate Democrat to the White House. Under those circumstances, foreign economic policies would reflect the possibility of a more egalitarian market system. Otherwise, American foreign economic policy will continue to be an expression of the low-tax, anti-government policy regime that is also the Republican vision for the United States. The best thing that egalitarians could do to help the rest of the world is to be successful in domestic electoral politics.
In the context of challenging these austere foreign economic policies in the name of a more egalitarian market system, many of the specific proposals already developed by egalitarians and reformers would come into play. Less developed countries should be encouraged to permit unions, set minimum wages, provide welfare benefits, control capital flows in and out of the country, and institute progressive taxation. There should be controls of various kinds on multinational corporations, and American-based multinationals should not receive tax breaks from the United States for taxes they pay in other countries, as they currently do. There should be much higher levels of American, European, and Japanese foreign economic aid to less developed countries, and perhaps especially to those countries that the United States undermined during the Cold War with aid to repressive armies (e.g., Guatemala) or help for terrorists (e.g., the Contras in Nicaragua). The commitment of 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product to such aid, as proposed by the United Nations, should be advocated, a seven-fold increase from the meager 0.1 currently contributed by the United States. More of this aid should be funneled through the United Nations. There are also difficult issues, on which there is no consensus among leftists, as to whether the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and WTO should be significantly changed or simply abolished.
However, it is beyond my knowledge and purpose to enter into debates about specific policies relating to the many regions, countries, and economies in the world, or about exactly what to do concerning international economic institutions. My point here is that there is a solid basis for a foreign policy based in egalitarian values that stresses democracy as well as internationalist values. It includes a critique of American and European imperialism, but does not stop there.
As outlined above, an egalitarian orientation towards foreign policy turns out to be interventionist as well as anti-imperialist, not simply anti-interventionist. It is interventionist on human rights because they are universal values, not simply Western ones. It is interventionist for the right of self-determination through nation-states because that is the only way such conflicts ever will be resolved peacefully. It is interventionist for a reconstructed market system because the current American economic policies are undesirable and the socialist plans for non-market planning embraced by many leaders in the global justice movement will not work.
#9. A More Open Stance on Religion
Just as Leftists tend to be more internationalist than most other people, they also tend to be more secular. They rightly note, with annoyance, that many members of fundamentalist Protestant churches are a key part of the Republican right. Some hold the belief that organized religion would whither away in a more egalitarian social structure, as most famously stated in Marx's comment that religion was the "opiate of the people," to which he also added, "the sigh of the oppressed heart."
Secular activists of course know that there are many religious progressives as well. Some of the major activists of the 19th century came from organized religion, with a strong emphasis on the Social Gospel in the case of many Protestants who took the Bible as literally as their conservative counterparts do today. In the 20th century, Quakers, religious Jews, and members of African-American churches in the South were among the leaders in the feminist, union, and civil rights movements. In addition, many of the recent anti-corporate activists, anti-war activists, and supporters of Central American refugees are from liberal Protestant denominations and parts of the Catholic Church.
Still, there often seems to be the presumption in leftist circles that religiously oriented progressives will become more secular over time, and that religion will decline in importance. The attitudes that follow from this implicit assumption make the religiously oriented people into second-class citizens within progressive movements.
But religion is not going to disappear because it is one key way in which many human beings search for two separate but overlapping goals: meaning and community. It is as old as the species and is likely to be around in one form or another until the species vanishes, even if a majority of people in some countries (as in parts of Western Europe today) lose interest in it. Religions offer answers to puzzling and painful questions relating to death, guilt, and the reasons for conscious self-awareness. In its modern forms, it also tries to reproduce the cooperation, intimacy, and common bonds that were the basis of the small hunting and gathering groups in which human beings lived for tens of thousands of years. It cannot be stressed enough that religious communities create an automatic in-group that is separate from the workplace and political arena -- a respite from competition, office politics, and bosses.
For the most part we think of people involved in organized religion as believers who are searching for meaning, but in fact many are there for the comfort and support that is needed in the face of death, and for the sense of intimate community that is needed for highly emotional and meaningful occasions like initiations into adulthood or marriage. This leads to the phenomenon of skeptics and non-believers who attend a church or synagogue, sometimes for the sake of their children's socialization (baptism, confirmation, bar and bat mitzvahs, ethical precepts). This distinction between meaning and community within organized religion is expressed perfectly by one of the great physicists of modern times, Freeman Dyson, who describes himself as a "practicing Christian," not a believing one. He completely rejects all theologies and finds science a very satisfactory meaning context, but he nonetheless belongs to a Christian church as a way to participate in a purposeful community.
Given the diversity of meanings and practices that people bring to their religions, it does not make sense to respond to them as if they were all doing the same thing. Secular Leftists therefore need to have a more open, let-and-let-live stance toward religion in general, which does not mean acquiescence to the policy initiatives of fundamentalist Protestant churches and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as I will explain in a minute. All that egalitarians need to demand from organized religious groups is tolerance for the right to choose a religion, and for the right to be nonreligious if one so chooses. This stance has the strong backing of established American pluralistic values, but it is a tall order historically, as decades and centuries of religious wars in Europe, the Near East, and India reveal. It also remains a very contentious matter in the United States, as seen when the issue is tolerance for non-Christian religions or atheists, or when conservative religionists try to overcome the wall between church and state. Still, the overall acceptance of the pluralistic view is revealed by the fact that most Americans do not want to breach the division between church and state. They well know the risks involved in that direction.
A live-and-let-live stance toward organized religion does not mean acceptance of all the practices of a religious group. On the contrary, it creates a more powerful basis from which to challenge the negative aspects of specific religions that infringe on the rights of others. On right-to-choose issues, for example, it remains proper and necessary to oppose the efforts of the Catholic hierarchy and fundamentalist Protestants, both of which have been out of the mainstream in their support of restrictions on abortion rights in the face of American pluralist values and an endorsement of this right by a majority of Protestants and Catholics. It also is necessary for progressive activists to oppose the gender discrimination that is practiced in most religions, and to criticize Christian opposition to sex education and contraception.
In short, it is not the search for meaning and community that should be under attack. "Religion" is not the issue. Instead, it is specific practices that contradict American pluralist values that should be vigorously opposed on an issue-by-issue basis. By making this distinction, activists on the Left can be even more critical and effective in their challenges to anti-egalitarian religious practices, and at the same time make their movements more open and hospitable to participants in organized religion who share egalitarian values.
#10. Three Needed Commitments
So much for the individual pieces that should be part of a fresh start. How can an egalitarian movement as a whole adopt new strategies, avoid the mistakes of the past, and slowly grow? To keep the general movement on the pathways suggested in the preceding sections, each organization that wanted to remain part of the movement would have to have the following three commitments built into its rules. Any organization that did not build these three commitments into its rules would not be invited to participate in events sponsored by organizations that accept the commitments. Indeed, organizations that did not include these commitments would be publicly criticized whenever they spoke in the name of the left or took actions that were not consistent with the three commitments. They would not be part of the egalitarian left.
In effect, these are the rules that define the collective sense of a modern-day "egalitarian" (a believer in equal legal, political, and economic rights for everyone) in the context of a network of organizations and multiple social identities that has enough in common to be more than a temporary "coalition." The three commitments are:
- Working within the Democratic Party through Egalitarian Democratic Clubs if and when the organization chooses to engage in partisan politics. This rule makes participation in electoral politics conditional, not mandatory, and it also leaves open if and how the organization may wish to participate in non-partisan electoral politics at the local and county levels. In the long run, these clubs would be a crucial part of the network if the movement were to have major success, but for now they would need time to gain even the slightest toehold in the electoral arena, and thus would be peripheral for the next few years.
- Use planning through the market if the organization chooses to develop any economic programs. This rule leaves an emphasis on economic issues entirely up to individual organizations. At the same time it states that organizations that advocate abolishing markets and relying on central planning would not be eligible for participation in the network.
- Strategic nonviolence is the only acceptable form of social movement activity. This rule is meant to exclude those who advocate smashing windows and other forms of property destruction, or other violent tactics and strategies.
Within this context, the network becomes coordinated when any given organization goes to other organizations in the network to ask them to join a specific project, such as the living wage campaign. Other organizations need join only if they think the project is worthwhile. In this way, only projects that are widely accepted would receive large-scale support. Such a process takes time and requires compromises, but it helps to keep the Iron Law of Oligarchy at bay.
As just stated, the Egalitarian Democratic Clubs would be one key part of this network. They are the movements' link to the electoral arena. They would have the same kind of constitutions and follow the three commitments. They would have to convince other organizations in the network to join them in any given campaign within the Democratic Party. In essence, then, the network as a whole would decide when and where to move into electoral politics through the Egalitarian Democratic Clubs, which of course would have many members in common with the other organizations.
Transform the Democratic Party through the creation of Egalitarian Democratic Clubs. Build social movements that use strategic nonviolence in a creative fashion to win over neutrals, divide the opposition, discredit government authorities, and reassure police officers about their personal safety. Advocate extensive economic planning through a reconstructed market system that aims for greater economic equality, worker rights, and environmental protection. No one of these points is original or earthshaking. Taken together, however, they add up to a package that never has been tried. They unite the electoral and non-electoral. They by-pass the structural impossibilities of third parties and non-market central planning, and they eliminate the self-defeating resort to violence. They are the central pieces that would make it possible for a new egalitarian movement to create alliances with mainstream liberals and work with elected liberal politicians on some issues.
I have asserted more than I have argued, and I have only briefly summarized the evidence. Nor have I made use of the devastating conclusions that I think can be extracted from a comparison of the American left and the American right since the 1950s, which shows that the American left took all the wrong turns at key moments, while the American right in effect followed the social science lessons to the letter in its rise from the ashes.
Next: Why Doesn't the Left Do Differently?
For theoretical statements and evidence concerning the misplaced emphasis on "false consciousness" and "ideological hegemony," see Michael Mann, "The Ideology of intellectuals and other people in the development of capitalism," pp 275-307 of Stress and contradiction in modern capitalism, Leon N. Lindberg et. al, Eds., Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1975; Richard Flacks, Making History: The radical tradition in American life, New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; and Nina Eliasoph, Avoiding politics: How Americans produce apathy in everyday life, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
There is a good literature on comparative studies of electoral systems that shows the futility of third parties in a single-member-district/presidential system such as exists in the United States. For the most comprehensive studies, see Maurice Duverger, Political Parties, Second English Edition, New York: Wiley and Sons, 1959; Douglas W. Rae, The political consequences of electoral laws, revised edition, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971; and Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marks, It didn't happen here: Why socialism failed in the United States, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2000, Chapter 2. For the best account of third parties in the United States, see Steven J. Rosenstone, Roy L. Behr, and Edward H. Lazarus, Third parties in America: Citizen response to major party failure, Second edition, revised and expanded, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996.
Readers with long historical memories may wonder how this strategy for working within the Democratic Party compares with the attempts by the Democratic Socialists of America to work within the Democratic Party in the 1970s. There are several critical differences. The Democratic Socialists of America were so eager to be acceptable to liberals and organized labor that they went to the other extreme from the advocates of leftist third parties. They did not put forth their own candidates or develop a full program, but instead tried to help the most liberal of liberals while at the same time trying to support the cautious leaders of the AFL-CIO, a near-impossible stretch in itself. They thus were indistinguishable from liberals and hampered by their Marxian-derived belief in sticking close to organized labor as the clearest embodiment of the working class. They were unable to take any independent action, and therefore unable to challenge the party to take a new direction. They soon became invisible.
For the problem of strong moral energy as both a strength and weakness of egalitarian activists, see Richard J. Ellis, The dark side of the Left: Illiberal egalitarianism in America, Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998. Ellis describes these weaknesses as "illiberal" tendencies within egalitarianism. The final pages of the book present the general outlines of a "liberal egalitarianism."
For several good accounts among many of the problems of central planning and the possibilities of planning through the market, see Charles Lindblom, Politics and markets: The world's political economic systems, New York: Basic Books, 1977; Charles Lindblom, The market system: What it is, how it works, and what to make of it, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001; and Alex Nove, The economics of feasible socialism revisited, Second edition, New York: HarperCollins, 1991. For good accounts of some of the egalitarian policy possibilities within the context of a reconstructed market system, see Fred L. Block, The vampire state, New York: The New Press, 1996; and Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis, Recasting egalitarianism: New rules for communities, states, and markets, New York: Verso, 1998.
For a call for "socializing markets," see Leo Panitch, Renewing socialism: Democracy, strategy, and imagination, Boulder, CO: Westview, 2001, pp. 223-224. For the complete argument, see Diane Elson, "Socializing markets, not market socialism," especially pp. 80-82, in Leo Panitch and Colin Lay, Eds., The socialist register 1999, London: Merlin, 1998.
To understand why those influenced by classical Marxism cannot consider the use of the market, see the analysis of the role of the market in Stanley Moore, The critique of capitalist democracy: An introduction to the theory of the state in Marx, Engels, and Lenin, New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1969, Chapter 2. For evidence that some Marxist scholars in the United States continue to see the market primarily in terms of deception, see Bertell Ollman, "Market mystification in capitalist and market socialist societies," pp. 81-121 in Bertell Ollman, editor, Market socialism: The debate among socialists, New York: Routledge, 1998.
For an excellent discussion of how the New Left lost its focus on nonviolence, see Nigel Young, An infantile disorder? The crisis and decline of the New Left, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1977, Chapter 12. For one former SDS leader's reflections on the left wing of the anti-war movement and how it slid into violence, isolating itself from nonviolent liberals and moderates, see Todd Gitlin, The sixties: Years of hope, days of rage, New York: Bantam Books, 1987. For the deepest and most sobering analysis of how SDS moved toward violence, see Ellis, The dark side of the Left, op. cit., Chapters 4-5.
For useful articles on the global justice movement by members and supporters of it, see Eddie Yuen, George Katsiaficas, and Daniel Burton Rose, editors, The battle of Seattle: The new challenge to capitalist globalization, Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2001, and Eddie Yuen, George Katsiaficas, and Daniel Burton Rose, Eds., Confronting capitalism: Dispatches from a global movement, Brooklyn: Soft Skull Press, 2004. For the sentiment by movement activists that violent tactics are no longer appropriate for the global justice movement in the light of the attacks of September 11th, see the introduction by Eddie Yuen to The battle of Seattle, op. cit., and the column by L. A. Kauffman, "All has changed," Free Radical, No. 19, September 17, 2001, at http://www.free-radical.org/.
For the best accounts of strategic nonviolence, see Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic nonviolent conflict: The dynamics of people power in the twentieth century, Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994; and Ronald M. McCarthy and Gene Sharp, Nonviolent action: A research guide, New York: Garland Publishing, 1997.
For the longstanding nature of the American rejection of class, see Jackson Turner Main, The social structure of revolutionary America, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1965. For an excellent analysis of the social psychology of social change, see Stephen C. Wright, "Strategic collective action: Social psychology and social change," pp. 406-430 in Rupert Brown and Samuel L. Gaertner, Eds., Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology, Vol. 4, Intergroup processes, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2001. One of the virtues of Wright's analysis is that it also discusses the social psychology of why collective action is so rare despite glaring inequalities and injustices.
For the problems in the United Farm Workers due to Chavez, see Theo J. Majka and Linda C. Majka, "Decline of the farm labor movement in California: Organizational crisis and political change," Critical Sociology, 19, 1992, pp. 3-36. For a public statement of Chavez's failings by one of his former lawyers, see Jerome Cohen, "UFW must get back to organizing," Los Angeles Times, Jan. 15, 1986, page 5. My account also builds on conversations with Cohen, and also with William H. Friedland, one of the leading experts on farm workers in the United States.
For the collapse of SDS, see Ellis, The dark side of the Left, op. cit. For one account of how Black Power advocates took over SNCC, see John Lewis, Walking with the Wind: A memoir of the movement, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998. For invisible power structures in feminist organizations, see Jo Freeman, "The tyranny of structurelessness," Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 17, 1972-1973, pp. 151-164. Freeman points out that a lack of formal organizational structure can become a way of masking power, which can be all the more arbitrary because of the claim that it is not being exercised. This is why formal controls on leadership are essential to a "liberal egalitarianism," as stressed by Ellis, The dark side of the left, op. cit.
For the problems of invisible hierarchy in the global justice movement, see Yuen, "Introduction," page 10, in The battle of Seattle, op. cit. In the same book, see also Stephanie Guilloud, "Spark, fire, and burning coals: An organizer's history of Seattle," pp. 229-230.
For a discussion of how egalitarians can control tendencies toward elitism within their organizations through defining themselves as catalysts and focusing on strategic nonviolence, see Flacks, Making history, op. cit, pp. 271-275. "Activists who choose a radical path and an elitist practice must begin their journey by refusing absolutely to reach for power, seeing instead that their mission is to serve as exemplars of moral being and action. They must refuse absolutely the belief that history can be short-circuited through violent intervention. They ought to study Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Muste, and King as models of history making, rather than Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Che, and Fanon" (page 275).
The section on foreign is based on the highly original synthesis of work on international power and economics by Michael Mann, as shared with me from his unpublished manuscript on "Global Civil Wars." This work in turn is based on his creative new theory of power that is being utilized to explore the sources of power in Western civilization from its very beginnings to the late twentieth in his magisterial two-volume work The Sources of Social Power, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986, 1993.
For the quote from Condoleeza Rice warning the Venezuelan president to "respect constitutional processes," see Paul Krugman, "Losing Latin America," New York Times, April 16, 2002, page A31. For the first story revealing American involvement in the admit to overthrow this democratically elected government, see Christopher Marquis, "Bush officials met with Venezuelans who ousted leader," New York Times, April 16, 2002, page A1.
For the tragic misuse of elections for ethnic cleansing, see Michael Mann, The dark side of democracy: The modern tradition of ethnic and political cleansing. New Left Review, 235 May-June, 1999, pp. 18-20.
For a good account of the role of American activists in the anti-apartheid struggle, see Donald R. Culverson, Contesting apartheid: U.S. activism, 1960-1987, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.
The estimate that one-third of the major global disputes in the world today involve the quest for nation-states on the part of oppressed peoples is drawn from the unpublished work of Michael Mann "Global Civil Wars," op cit.
For the quotation from Clinton concerning unilateral action, see Noam Chomsky, 9-11, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2001, page 111. For several examples of covert actions against other nations by the United States since the early 1980s, see Chomsky, 9-11, op. cit. Chomsky also notes that the United States was found guilty of unlawful interference in another nation by the World Court in 1986 on the basis of evidence that it was funding the terrorism against civilian targets in Nicaragua by the Contras.
For the fact that the United States gives only 0.1% of its Gross Domestic Product for foreign aid, the lowest figure for 30 wealthy nations, see Jeff Madrick, "Economic scene," New York Times, Nov. 1, 2001, page C2. The Netherlands is the highest at 0.79 percent, and France gives 0.39 percent. For a detailed popular account of this issue, see John Cassidy, "Helping hands: How foreign aid could help everybody." The New Yorker, March 18, 2002, pp. 60-66.
For an excellent overall critique of the destructive free-trade regime sponsored by the United States, see Fred Block, The Vampire State, New York: New Press, Chapters 20-23. For his suggestions on how an egalitarian market economy should deal with these issues, see pp. 249-251 and 266-268. The American emphasis on free trade is made all the more objectionable by the fact that the United States does not practice it in terms of agriculture, textiles, or steel for political reasons.
For a discussion of the ways in which religious images and identities are often incorporated into social movements, see Ronald R. Aminzade and Elizabeth J. Perry, "The sacred, religious, and secular in contentious politics: Blurring boundaries," pages 155-178. In Ronald R. Aminzade, Jack A. Goldstone, Doug McAdam, Elizabeth J. Perry, William H. Sewell, Jr., Sidney Tarrow, and Charles Tilley, Silence and voice in the study of contentious politics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. For Freeman Dyson's views on religion, see Freeman Dyson, Science and religion: No end in sight. New York Review of Books, 49, March 28, 2002, pages 4-5. For the ways in which the Catholic Church nurtured the anti-abortion movement, see Dallas A. Blanchard, The anti-abortion movement and the rise of the religious right: From polite to fiery protest. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994; and Steve Askin, A new rite: Conservative Catholic organizations and their allies. Researched and written for Catholics for a Free Choice. Washington, DC: Catholics for a Free Choice, 1994.
First posted March 2005