Pollack, Norman. 2015. ‘Failure of the American Left: Iron-Fisted Co-Optation’. CounterPunch, 18 December.
by Norman Pollack
This week, Tuesday (Dec. 15) to be exact, I was a guest on Gary Null’s WBAI/Pacifica radio show, preceded by Chris Hedges, a solid analyst and critic of the contemporary social order, to discuss the failure of American radicalism to act as as a transformative political-ideological social force in opposition to repression at home, intervention abroad. As usual, Gary’s questions prodded interviewees through his penetrating insights to launch into orbit with mini-monologues on the given topic, and Chris was superb in his portion, focusing on Woodrow Wilson’s administration, its pursuit of repayment for Morgan and other bankers’ loans to European nations threatened by German victory as reason for intervention, its Creel Committee (CPI) steady propaganda to control public opinion, and of course its suppression of radicals, notably the Wobblies, as the genesis for modern-day US antiradicalism. This is persuasive but doesn’t go far enough either on Wilson or on America.
Let me here sketch out a more long-term analysis of the problem, not in criticism of Chris, for whom surviving radicalism is in debt for whatever life it still maintains, but merely as a further take on the situation of America’s declining Left. First, one must enlarge the historical context, Wilson simply one though perhaps pivotal step in the societal process of curbing and seeking to eliminate radicalism as having legitimacy in what, after all, has been the continuity of American capitalist development from the late 18th century through the present, which has narrowed the boundaries of structural and social change stifling the rise of ALTERNATIVE formations such as socialism and a more humane political culture and system of values. This is not a deterministic formulation, but only points up the conscious functioning and furtherance of class dynamics by which ruling groups have taken control through the normalization of capitalist fundamentals of wealth-and-power accumulation in a hierarchical framework. Exploitation plays a significant role, so does a market economy, so does the Constitutional, legal, and ideological protection of the property right, so does the suppression of labor violence, so does commercial penetration increasingly taking on global dimensions, so does the military factor, whether as the spirit of militarism, naval power in action, intervention, in ensuring the realization of a closed, one-track pattern of growth confronting and dismissive of all challenges to its moral rightness.