So take the discourse of freedom, liberty, and rights. This discourse is very, very important to ordinary people, particularly Americans. You can lament that fact, but it is a fact. A radical left movement that wants to win would be careful in how it talks about freedom. To me, the message is obvious: socialism is desirable in part because it’s only socialism that guarantees true freedom, the freedom to live and behave free of want. We’re the movement that can make people really free because once in power we can let them pursue their own interests free of hunger, homelessness, and so on.The premise that socialism guarantees freedom is crazy, but it is to the fratricide that I wish to speak.
Is that the message in socialist spaces? Not at all. In fact if I talk about freedom in many radical left spaces, both real and virtual, I will often be told that “freedom is a bourgeois concept” or something similarly fatuous. The left typically disdains the discourse of freedom — and not in spite of the popularity of that discourse, but because of it. Why? Because of the Iron Law: to be dismissive of freedom might hurt the left movement overall, but because such dismissal is a part of left-wing culture, acting this way elevates you within left social spaces.
People talk a lot about the current moment as the beginning of a nascent left ascendance. I would love to believe that’s true, and I do think that the material conditions have worsened in this country to the point where people are getting fed up. But I’ve been working in left activism, in one way or another, since I was 14 years old. In those 20 years, I have never encountered a time where the discursive conditions within the radical left were less conducive to building a mass movement through appealing to the enlightened self-interests of the persuadable. I fear that the internet has simply made it too easy for leftists to find each other and build mutually-therapeutic communities which encourage people to regress into them, rather than to spread their message slowly through society. And I fear that replacing the union hall with the college campus as the center of left intellectual life has made class struggle seem like an intellectual exercise rather than a day-to-day matter of life and death.Yes, the union hall might have at one time been a locus of the class struggle, although over time it became a symbol of insider family ties or of short-sighted job descriptions that prevented the rolling mill operator from clearing a mill-wreck. But Mr De Boer is not alone in reconsidering the elitism and condescension on the left.
I think there’s real problems within the left — theoretical, political, discursive, pragmatic. I say these things out of a deep and sincere belief that we must fix our own problems before we can hope to gain power necessary to fix the world. Some people disagree, which is fine. What I find disturbing is how few other people are willing to take on a role of within-group critic, and how many are willing to excommunicate anyone who performs such a role.
It will not be easy for progressive to reach out to Trump voters, unionized or not. In part, that is because anti-Trump defensive activity has become the basis for a new wave of silo organizing and fundraising. Each group is claiming that its activities will be the most effective means for upending the Trump agenda and returning Congress to the Democrats.Lets also leave aside, for now, whether the Democrats have any hope of being some sort of a left political party, or whether they're simply rent-seekers with rhyming slogans. Left populism, on the other hand, has the potential to backfire.
The animosity towards Trump voters runs deep. One prominent progressive educator told me privately that Trump voters should be viewed as terrorists ― that their anti-establishment revolt was like throwing a grenade into a crowd, and we’re the collateral damage. Others argue that the Trump voters really are “deplorables” when it comes to their racism, sexism and anti-immigrant beliefs.
The suspicion also spreads to those who do want to reach out to these Obama-Sanders-Trump voters. They are often criticized for favoring class over race ― for failing to put anti-racism as the central feature of all organizing and educational efforts. So for example, if addressing “white skin privilege” is not a major part of the education, then the education is viewed as catering to the racist white working class.
This can cascade into a series of litmus tests on race, gender, immigration, abortion, global warming, etc that must be passed in order to be welcomed into the progressive community. While there is no denying that these issues are of critical importance, the net effect of administering such tests is that progressives will be stuck within their own bubbles.
None of this will come easy. Our silos provide us with strength. We take pride in our identities and are empowered by them. Also, it is very difficult for us to even imagine what a common movement might look like, let alone how to build one. But we can be sure of one thing: Building a fairer and more just society will require a massive educational movement. As the Populists taught us, it can be done.Populism, however, might be a useful description of Mr Trump's message: his was neither culturally conservative nor libertarian, although some of his budget proposals have a libertarian cast to them, and his judicial appointments are constitutionally conservative, which implies freedom to associate in siloes, and freedom not to associate with the fodder in other siloes.