[Marxism] middle class ghettoes
benj2006 at connexus.net.au
Tue Mar 14 19:22:39 MST 2006
A great article from the Monthly Review web zine. For all those on the
left who fear that progressive political opinion is something restricted
to an educated "elite", or that the left is unable to break out of the
trendy inner-city, I found this article has a number of constructive
insights, into not just the broadly progressive "middle-class" public
(however you define them), but also the activist groups that many of us
from that background are involved in.
Full article available at <http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/engel140306.html>
I Live in a Ghetto
by Michael Engel
I live in a ghetto, with all its attendant social pathologies:
isolation from the outside world; customs, language, and behavior alien
to the larger society; inability to act collectively in the common
interest; and class and racial homogeneity. Ghetto life is like living
in a state of siege. The residents display a smug self-confidence and
false bravado to cover up their fundamental insecurity. The only
security against a hostile environment is sticking with one's own kind.
Although some may describe it as a community, it is a socially
fragmented aggregation of individuals doing exactly as they please. The
result is an inability to accomplish meaningful political and economic
It is not that these people are insincere, ignorant, or hypocritical.
It is that they are firmly middle-class. They simply cannot stomach
collective action that threatens what they believe to be their personal
space. Ultimately, most also fear a radical transformation of society,
even though they may claim to desire it. It is very comfortable in the
Pioneer Valley, and one can rationalize that uncommon comfort by taking
individual and mostly symbolic actions against political and economic
ills without risking anything. Of course, there are a number of radical
activists in this area who have gone beyond that and risked their lives
or freedom for social change. But they are a largely older group and a
distinct minority. "Virtual organizing," such as MoveOn.org, is much
more comfortable for the new generation of middle-class progressives
than face-to-face organizing. No structure can develop out of this
approach. Thus, as in so many other places, the middle-class peace
movement that sprang up before the Iraq War disappeared as quickly as
computer images as soon as hostilities began.
A successful movement to transform America is going to have to shed its
middle-class ghetto mentality and the individualism that goes with it.
This is no easy task for a middle-class American, as I discovered in
that organization. It is also not easy for an activist group to take
that path without sacrificing democratic values in the process.
Progressives in the Pioneer Valley and elsewhere are spinning their
wheels and stuck in the mud because they refuse to face up to those
issues. I believe that socialists in this country have also paid
insufficient attention to them. If we are serious about achieving
socialism, we are going to have to do a lot better.
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