Citizen Action Monitor

Thoughts on why the left lost in Wisconsin. What’s next?

The liberal elite has lost its legitimacy among America’s working class who have fled to right-wing populism

No 497 Posted by fw, June 8, 2012

“Any left-leaning independent activism strategy that has any force, meaning and direction will have to see that these people [right-wing populists] are allies in the fight, not people to scoff at as dumb, naive or absurd… In the meantime it’s ‘Back to the drawing board,’ as the old adage goes.”Steve Horn

In an article in Counterpunch, freelance investigative journalist Steve Horn offers his take on Gov. Walker’s victory in Wisconsin’s recall election. His conclusion might surprise you. Canada’s liberal elite might want to ponder the implications of Horn’s thesis for building a movement of the left here.

To read Steve’s original piece, click on the linked title below. I’ve added subheadings to my reposting of the article below.

One Year Longer One Year Weaker: Wisconsin and the Left by Steve Horn, Counterpunch, June 6, 2012.

The post-election reality is that “the left as an organizing force is ‘one year weaker’”

There was an expression among activists that went “One year longer, one year stronger” a year after the beginning of the “Wisconsin Uprising” here in Madison, WI. The reality is that one year+ longer, the left as an organizing force is “one year weaker.”

The truth? People, as a mass movement in the United States, are attracted to right-wing populism, embodied by the likes of Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who recently won the recall election by an astounding 7-percent landslide.

Sure, there are refrains, such as “this was an auction, not an election,” and that “money won this election.” But people still voted and have agency. And Walker won by a long-shot.

Questions the left must ask themselves

Many important questions arise for those who consider themselves, broadly speaking, on the left: a.) Why the grassroots attraction to right-wing populism? b.) How’d the left (both liberals and leftists alike) get steam-rolled so badly? c.) What’s next for the grassroots activist of a left-leaning orientation now that, bluntly speaking and when looked at through a sober viewpoint, the cause has been so badly bludgeoned since last year’s “Uprising”?

Right-Wing Populism Explained

Americans feel abandoned by the “liberal elite”

Many schools of thought exist as to why people of a working class background have flocked toward the Tea Party.

There’s Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” argument, which posits that, in essence, working class people are duped by wedge issues, such as abortion and gay marriage, into voting against their economic class interests. This, of course, assumes the Democratic Party is the “party of the people.”

There is also the Chris Hedges’ “Death of the Liberal Class” argument, which says what he conceptualizes as the “liberal class” is dead and has lost its legitimacy among the United States’ citizenry. Another way to refer to the “liberal class” is to call it the “liberal elite.” This argument is far more compelling and complex than the Frank argument.

Hedges posits that long ago, liberal elites abandoned the rank-and-file of the working class, though they have continued to, in a hollow manner, speak on behalf of it. Because an untold number of people feel abandoned by liberal elites, its void has been filled by an organized and outraged right-wing populist front, argues Hedges. Hedges argues that Wall Street Democrats like President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama serve as Exhibit A of the liberal class. I would take that a step further and say so too did Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett.

Then there’s the Noam Chomsky argument, which in most ways mirrors the Hedges argument, but directly addresses the question of the Tea Party. In a speech he gave in Madison, WI in April 2010, he stated

“Ridiculing Tea Party shenanigans is a serious error, I think. It would be far more appropriate to understand what lies behind them and to ask ourselves why justly angry people are being mobilized by the extreme right and not by forces like those that did so in my childhood, in the days of formation of the CIO and other constructive activism.”

What Happened to the Left?

“The left…committed suicide when it demobilized a legitimate grassroots movement and turned it into an electoral campaign”

Emma Goldman had it right when she stated, “If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” Labor and the left in Wisconsin committed suicide when it demobilized a legitimate grassroots movement and turned it into an electoral campaign. It has been a long, slow death.

Grassroots activists with righteous indignation gave up their agency to do that which was deemed “acceptable” to the powers that be, namely the “Union Bosses” and the Democratic Party apparatchiks. Why was a general strike never considered? Why not creative tactics to “kill the bill,” Act 10, the reason for the “Uprising” and recall to begin with? How’d this all morph into what it’s morphed into?

In the main, the left has failed to understand that what populist right-wing activists hate more than anything else is the Democratic Party and unions, two pillars of what Hedges defines as the “Liberal Class.”  Their hatred is justified, given that, as Hedges points out, these institutions abandoned working class people long ago. Thus, the left confused real grassroots power with the Liberal Class and are now paying the consequences.

What’s Next?

Face the fact – the working-class majority are attracted to right-wing populism

Some will say that the John Doe affair could bring the demise of Walker, keeping hope alive of a Walker unseating. Others will say it’s time to put all efforts into the Obama campaign.

But that’s all, for the most part, a grand charade for movements representing the working class.

What’s really needed?

An acknowledgement, at the very least, that the working-class grassroots in the majority of Wisconsin are attracted to right-wing populism. They see Madison (rightfully so, I’d argue) as an elitist, detached enclave 77 square miles surrounded by reality.

Left-leaning independent activists will have to see right-wing populists as allies not enemies

Any left-leaning independent activism strategy that has any force, meaning and direction will have to see that these people are allies in the fight, not people to scoff at as dumb, naive or absurd.

For now, it’s “One Year Longer, One Year Weaker,” but it doesn’t have to be like that forever. In the meantime it’s “Back to the drawing board,” as the old adage goes.

Steve Horn is a researcher and writer at DeSmogBlog. He is also a freelance investigative journalist. Follow him on Twitter at @Steve_Horn1022.

RELATED READING

  • Accountability in Defeat in Wis. by Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive,  June 8, 2012 – “Meanwhile, the movement—a real giant grassroots movement, which flooded the capitol square with more than 100,000 people and which gathered a million recall signatures—is disintegrating. Actually, it began to disintegrate the moment the leaders (and who were they, exactly?) decided to pour everything into the Democratic Party channels rather than explore the full potential of the power that was latent but present in the streets back in February and March of 2011. There were both strategic and procedural blunders that need to be accounted for.”
  • AFL-CIO Declares Victory In Wisconsin In The Face Of Defeat, by Ann Robertson & Bill Leumer, Countercurrents, June 8, 2012. This readiness to offer concessions by top union officials – as opposed to putting up a fight – has been rampant across the country in both the public and private sector. It has contributed significantly to the undermining of the standard of living of working people and to the growing inequalities in wealth. It is the number one reason why unions have not succeeded in recruiting masses of new members. After all, why should workers join unions and pay dues, only to watch their salary and benefits drop?”
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This entry was posted on June 8, 2012 by in information counterpower and tagged .
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