Monday, October 7, 2013

Economic Sit-in Strike (prolonged)

There is a curious parallel between the anti-war movement of late-60’s youth (in which I played a part), and the Teabagger antics in the House.

This is not a palinode.  About the Vietnam War, we were right.  Time and retrospection have only deepened the details of that fiasco, which indeed (as most of us somehow did not realize at the time) was just a re-run (cum napalm) of the fiasco begun by the French.  It was -- to use the technical term favored by my current servicemen friends -- a classic cluster-fuck. 
We ourselves, however, by and large had no idea of any way forward, apart from a vague and lazy all-you-need-is-love (bzw. socialism) utopianism.   A tight Marxist core actually thought strategically and programmatically,  but unfortunately, by the late 60’s -- post-Kronstadt ’21, post Hamburg ’23, post purges and show-trials ‘37ff, post Hitler-Stalin ’39, post Hungary ’56, post Czechoslovakia ’68 -- you pretty much had to close your eyes to what had happened in actual History, to retain an optimistic faith in the wise workings of Historical Materialism.
And so we fell back upon obstruction, sit-ins, passive-aggressive resistance.  For this, we do not collectively apologize, any more than we apologize for having soiled our diapers as infants, or sprouted pimples as a teen.  On Vietnam, I repeat:   We were right.  We simply had no clue what to do about it.  So we lay down in front of military vehicles, chained ourselves to army-base fences, occupied buildings, and (the fun part) made love-not-war.


So now the poor Republicans -- and this is spoken with some genuine empathy -- under the crushing pressure of inexorable advances of the juggernaut of History, which has robbed them of their reason, have backed themselves into a corner, and worked themselves into a dissociative state.  Emotionally, intrapsychically, their quandary is not that different from what we suffered from.  That we were, with hindsight, right, is psychodynamically irrelevant:  we could not have known that at the time.

That said, the Tea-types have chosen a very strange issue to raise atop their battle-standards:  bitter opposition to the Affordable Care Act -- something that, in some form, both parties have been working towards for decades, an evolutionary combination of Medicare, Romneycare, and Social Security (the latter, as regards the young earners subsidizing the old and sick), and which was passed by this very Congress, was found sound by the Supreme Court, and has weathered dozens of lost-cause challenges in the House.  It is as though hordes of hippies and SDS activists had been flooding the streets in protest against, I don’t know, Radio Free Europe, or General Foods.  

[The French observer Tocqueville noticed this kind of disconnect  already over a century ago:
Pour un étranger, presque toutes les querelles domestiques des Américains  paraissent, au premier abord, incompréhensibles ou puériles.
-- Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique (1835), p. 260 ]

But again:  That does not matter within the cleidoic pressure-cooker that the Teabaggers now crouch in;   they do not see themselves as others see them;  and with that, they are subject to the evolutionary dynamics of any fringe sect, such as the Trostskyist or Mao-oid splinter-groups on the left:  though the nosological particulars for this cohort  more likely will resemble those of the Branch Davidians, Jonestown/People’s Temple, or the Heaven’s-Gate doomsday group.

If the psycho-ideological parallels with Marxist sectarianism here posited, have any validity, then we may expect to witness (and here, in making a testable prediction, I am giving empirical hostages to fortune) a spectacular implosion, with fractures and splits along unpredictable microscopic socio-ideological fault-lines:  defections, recriminations, and general bewilderment.  
Not a pretty sight.  The lads & lasses in The Weathermen had at least their youth to excuse them.  But what is the excuse for Michelle Bachmann and Ted Cruz?

Mark Rudd & Bernadine Dohrn, redivivi

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[Update 3 October 2013] Another historical parallel:

The President spoke of the absurdity of the nation’s being held hostage by a minority of one party in one house of one branch of government.  This morning, this Tea Party hard-core is being referred to as “The Thirty”, based on their numbers.  But to anyone steeped in history, the phrase amusingly echoes the name of those appointed by Sparta to rule over Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War -- the “Thirty Tyrants”.


In the annals of Communist sectarian, my favorite among the party-names is the


These were Bulgarians.   (Bulgarians are sort of like Russians without the Old World charm.)  Their turn upon the stage of history was brief and inglorious, but the name is worth examining.
Beginning with the Bolsheviks -- the word means “majoritarians”, though that was objectively an overestimate at the time -- Communist and Socialist parties, and even groupuscules,  have usually tried to name themselves in ways that made them sound substantial.  (E.g. the grandly and fancifully named sect “National Causus of Labor Committees”).   In America, especially during the Popular Front, CPUSA front groups often had broad bland big-tent titles -- “Workers Party”, “American League for Peace and Democracy” --  sometimes almost comically so: “Mother’s Day Peace Council”, “League of Women Shoppers”.
But Tesnyaki means …. “the Narrow Ones”.   And for a group that at least nominally aimed at rule by the majority -- the workers and peasants -- the choice of name was odd indeed.

It pointed, however, to a key consideration, whose often underestimated importance would be ratified by time.  The implication was:  tightly knit.  (As Greta Garbo said in “Ninotcha”, defending the Stalinist purges, “There will be fewer but better Russians.”)  And indeed, by being tightly knit, following orders without question though it meant turning on a dime, the parties of the Comintern achieved influence well out of proportion to their numbers.    In America, the CPUSA never amounted to anything numerically,  yet by the 1930’s they managed to control many union front organizations bureaucratically -- packing the leadership, and always showing up in force for votes.   The surprising extent of their behind-the-scenes success, especially during the period of the Popular Front, can only be explained by such discipline.  After all, there have been many movements of or for workers in this country, from the Knights of Labor and the Wobblies on;  the CP had no monopoly on that.   And unlike any of their rival groups, the CP labored under the incredible burden of (in the 1920s) geographically insensitive dictation from Moscow, and (in the ‘30s) increasingly insane activity, noxious from a Left perspective especially:  the purges, the show trials, the gutting of the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, and finally (can’t make this stuff up) the Hitler-Stalin pact that gave the green light for WWII.

We are currently witnessing something similar in the House.
The hard core of Republican freshman fanatics, mostly hailing from the boondocks that God forgot,  have nevertheless somehow managed to stymie the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House, and bring much of the nation’s business to a halt, even threatening a Samson-gambit on the debt ceiling that could really pull the temple down.   (Cf. Howe & Coser on the CPUSA: “the damage wrought by the party in its passion to conquer, or to destroy what it could not conquer”.)
The Teabaggers’ ‘Moscow’ in this case consists of behind-the-scenes manipulators like the billionaire Koch brothers and (gawd, is he still not dead?) the ineffable Edwin Meese:

And the lesson of history here is:  No matter how scatterbrained their ideology, how reckless their actions, if they keep tight and hang tough, they might just get away with it.


The rather far-fetched parallel with which we began this post,  was offered in a ludic spirit, largely to tweak the Tea Party’s nose.  But if someone had the time and the inclination, it would be worth pursuing further.

For:  To any student of labor history, the remarkable thing about the Stalinoids’ role is how utterly remote it was from the everyday interests of workers.   Many is the strike they subtly sabotaged, since a labor victory (in the Third Period view) would only foster illusions of reformism.   But more:  As the years progressed, you could not make sense of the actions by the CPUSA (and other sections of the Comintern) in terms of labor vs. capital at all.   Nor was the truth behind the façade always just self-interested Soviet raison d’état:  sometimes even the basic welfare of Russians and other Soviet bloc citizens -- even the security of the state itself, as in the Red Army purge on the eve of World War II -- was sacrificed to obscure factional infighting within the ruling clique.

Thus, consider the possibly yawning disconnect, between the aims at the level of the Koch brothers, and the vein-popping hayseeds who are their public face.  The sort of emotional issues that move the latter to fury, such as abortion, are unlikely to be hot buttons chez the Kochs.   The key coup for them is not Roe v. Wade, but Citizens United.  In fact, my hunch is that the Kochs and their henchmen would just as soon that Roe v. Wade remained in effect, so as to keep the yokels in ebullition, distracting attention from structurally more crucial matters such as the upcoming double-tap sequel to Citizens United, re recess appointments, soon to appear before the Supreme Court.

We really don’t know what their game is.  Possibly something as simple (and semi-publically acknowledged) as rolling back the Great Society and the New Deal.  (The minimum wage in particular  seems to stick in their craw.)   Or possibly something a bit more esoteric …

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