[Marxism] The New Progressive Agenda
WJKELLPRO at aol.com
WJKELLPRO at aol.com
Sun Dec 12 13:41:12 MST 2004
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The Half Class War.
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D.
The corporate elites are attacking the majority of the American people now,
as never before. Yet, no one is mobilizing the majority for self-defense or
counter attack. For example, Ohio's unemployment is among the highest in the
nation, yet a majority of its voters supported the Bush team. Those neocons are
the ones who send the sons and daughters of Ohio to Iraq, while sending Ohio
jobs to Mexico, China, and other places where children's rights and worker's
rights are disregarded, and environmental needs neglected. We live in a
condition of top-down undeclared class warfare. Why is the majority taking this
beating, and not fighting back? Is the major part of America populated by
"Dumbfuckistanies," as someone has suggested?
Before we start blaming the victim, perhaps we would do well to think as
clearly as we can about what it is we, as progressives, want for our country.
Surely, we all share a desire to increase the degree of democracy in every one of
our country's public and private institutions. One way for us to advance
democracy is for us to start thinking more like democrats. What is the
democratic way to think about the reasons for the behavior of the middle class? For
starters, the doctrine of responsibility for a democracy is that everyone is
responsible for the condition of their democracy.
Thus, when we ask, "why is the majority voting against their material and
political self-interest," we are asking the right question, but in the wrong way.
The very formulation of the question absolves we progressives of
responsibility for this condition, by assuming a we/them dichotomy. A more democratic
formulation is "what are we doing that contributes to this contradiction?"
Even though progressive organizers and activists are pouring their energy,
resources, and ingenuity into advancing democratizing and Earth-saving causes,
they may be unwittingly acting in a self-defeating manner. Since speech is the
engine of politics, an examination of political speech may help to clarify
our errors. Here are three dimensions of the speech context:
1. The rhetoric on the right gives the middle class a feeling of belonging to
a morally superior community.
2. The rhetoric on the left gives the leftists a feeling of moral and
intellectual superiority over the adherents to right wing rhetoric.
3. Progressive leaders are afraid to speak the truth.
1. Right wing religious rhetoric begins with the assumption of a white male
God, a white male Jesus, a white male Holy Spirit, and a set of white male
values for determining what is right and wrong, good and bad, even beautiful and
ugly. Primarily white male preachers manipulate these assumptions to create
a false sense of both moral certainty, and of inclusion in a morally superior
community. This community is portrayed as including "the American way of
life," which centers on corporate-enriching consumerism.
This rhetoric succeeds for several reasons. First, it subliminally promises
to satisfy the universal human needs for community and certainty of values.
Secondly, the primary aim of religious rhetoric is to discourage critical
thinking in favor of accepting, on faith, spurious declarations of values. Also,
the middle class is prepared to fall for this scam by a system of public
education based on test taking rather than on the development of critical thinking
and independent thought. The success of this rhetoric is measured by the
number of votes its users win over.
2. How, then, are we progressives enablers of this right wing success?
Michael Lerner writes, in The Politics of Meaning, that after years of empirical
research, he has found that progressive rhetoric is experienced by many in the
middle class as an unfair blaming of them by us for the existence of
discrimination, disadvantage, and poverty. They feel misunderstood, discounted, and
forgotten by the left. Rather than inviting them to join our community of values
, we exclude them from our community as, in effect, "sinners," and thereby
enhance the appeal of the right. Thus, we, who call them "dumbfucks,"
"backyard-barbecue-bozos," "Joe six packs," "racists," "nativists," "homophobes,"
"sexists," etc., are defeating our ends for the ego enriching feelings of moral and
intellectual superiority. It seems as if we progressives would rather be
"right" than hold power. Unless we can break out of this self-defeating enabling
pattern, the middle class will continue its drift toward the right.
3. With a little self-criticism, and by mustering up the courage to speak
the truth, progressives can learn to turn failure into success. While
legitimate group grievances abound, the broadest and most inclusive truth about
capitalist society in the US today is that we are in an undeclared half class war.
Currently, it is all top-down warfare, because the victims are failing to fight
Americans today are more cowed and passive than were the Jews being shipped
out of the Warsaw ghettos on cattle cars in the 1930's. Of course, Americans
are not being shipped to death camps, we are at least allowed to live. But
what are we allowed to live for? It is a way of life that is imposed upon us,
and that reduces the value of each person to that of an instrument or function
in the economic system.
Our precious value as free living, self-directed, autonomous and creative
individuals is being gassed right before our eyes. Economic exploitation is an
anathema, not because our pay is insufficient, but because it reduces our value
and makes membership in the human community seem worth less. Human dignity
is a more salient issue than the amount of one's wages. If we make raising the
way institutions value individuals the primary focus of progressive rhetoric,
and leave the Bible-pounding to the right, we will draw the masses towards
us. This will happen because people ultimately desire membership in the human
community more so than they want to be in a divisive community based on moral
Therefore, the first item on every progressive agenda should be the
declaration of class warfare. We must have the courage to defy the taboo on using that
term. Then we will be in a position of leadership to mobilize the middle
class for fighting back.
Declaring class warfare will boost progressive power in several ways. First,
it will attract media attention, provided that our leadership is uniform in
making this declaration. The media is addicted to sensation. Ralph Nader has
been the best hope that progressives have had since we realized that Bill
Clinton and Al Gore are really centrists. Yet, Nader's dry analysis of corporate
and "duopoly" exploits has failed to stir the middle class. Why? In part,
Nader's lack of feeling and empathy make him uninteresting to the media. While
he was always technically correct, he never caused a sensation. If Nader had
had it in him to make a passionate declaration of class warfare, and to show
his empathy with the alienation of the people in the middle class, he might
have become another William Jennings Bryan.
Secondly, an open declaration of class warfare will line-up a currently
scattered progressive agenda behind a specific objective. That objective is to
criticize every public and private institution in this nation for the way each
debases the individual, and thereby excludes him and her from the human
community - a community in which every person ultimately desires to feel that he or
she is a valued member.
Victory in class warfare is won when the majority of people feel their common
humanity with one another. Achieving this condition will require
restructuring institutions to affirm human value. Hence, the role of progressive
leadership is to show the people that, and how, the system is debasing them. One
means by which the people can learn to fight back is by being shown how to think
critically about the value-condition they are living in. They can learn to
compare their personal sense of high self-worth to the way they are regarded in
their socio-economic system. This will surely make them angry! Class warfare
cannot be won without a lot of angry people channeling their energy towards
In a class-dominated society, individual self-respect can be enhanced by
increasing the actual power of the people to participate meaningfully in the
decision-making that effects their lives. This requires changes in some
fundamental institutions, such as the election process, the work place, and the system
of public education.
The "911 families" were so successful in pressing Congress for their reform
legislation both because they had public sympathy and because they presented
very specific and doable proposals for change. We progressives can be just as
successful, if we follow the same formula. That requires clear, careful
thinking about what we really want, and a willingness to negotiate, compromise, and
unify behind our specific reform demands.
Progressive indulgence in the rhetoric of moral and intellectual superiority
is self-defeating. To win the class war, we must convince ourselves and the
majority in the middle that we are all worthy of oneness.
William J. Kelleher, Ph.D. is the author of: a) The New Election Game: A
Replacement for the Two-Party System of Electing the President and Vice-President
(1987), also at www.empathicscience.org ; and, b) Marxist Spirituality: Why
Widespread Spiritual Enlightenment Cannot be Attained in the Capitalist System
and What To Do About It. (forthcoming)
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