Liberals are the Main Obstacle to a Real Left

by Lorna Salzman

This may seem obvious to many, but the real reasons for this are not those that one might immediately think.

The argument that we will get incremental "left" policies, even minimal, by settling for small slow change (such as contained in the new health care bill) is the usual one, but on examination of history, we all know that this doesn't work either. And in fact Obama swept universal health care off the table before the debate even started.

First, it must be said that the American left itself is mainly responsible for the lack of any real left movement in this country. More ideological and authoritarian a movement does not exist. More oblivious a movement about environmental issues does not exist. More disdainful of human rights a movement does not exist.

For decades the American left has remained indifferent, often hostile, to the multiple eoological crises of the world, to the oppression of Islamic women, to child slavery, to the energy crisis, to anti-Semitism, to leftist authoritarians like Castro and Chavez, to the destruction of rural communities and family farms (understandable because the left is an urban phenomenon).

As a matter of policy, it has remained aloof from the processes of civil society and electoral politics, pretending that mass movements of resistance are the means of change. The left has thus chosen a path of isolationism from the major social, political and environmental problems that have faced this country over the past century.

There are other reasons, however, namely that since the 1950s the death grip of the two party system has tightened at the same time that corporate power has increased through its control of those same two parties.

Alongside the affluence that built a huge comfortable middle class and a sense of security (now disappeared), plus relatively strong unions, there was little interest in anything that reeked of socialism or of any disruption to the social or economic order. Wages, benefits, health care and pensions were secure. The proletariat morphed into the middle class in the twinkling of an eye. The notion of a "race and class" struggle became a footnote in the textbooks, which were read only by marxists anyway.

Now, the breaking of this social contract between capital and labor has exposed the dirty secret of capitalism: it wants the whole loaf, including the crumbs that used to fall from the table. One would think that now, of all times, the left would be ready to pounce on the execrations and excesses of capitalism. But one would be wrong; they have shifted their energy towards fighting "imperialism", thus insuring their continued irrelevance.

Worse, this "imperialism" they decry does not even exist. The USA has no colonies and isn't seeking any. It is transnational capital and corporations that are sucking up the world's resources and labor, destroying indigenous cultures and their lands throughout Latin America, turning their forests into feedlots for cattle to feed the world, vacuuming the oceans, and pouring CO2 into the atmosphere without restraint.

Yet one seeks in vain for any movement on the left in this country that has directly involved itself in any of these issues. Instead, it cheers on the leaders of those countries in the forefront of eco-disaster, namely the heads of all the governments in Latin America, led by pseudo-populist authoritarian Hugo Chavez and seconded by Lula in Brazil. Giant dams on the Xingu River in Brazil....pools of oil all over the Ecuadorian Amazon jungle and its rivers.....genetically modified soybeans.....nuclear power plants....oil pipelines....cross-Andes highways to connect western Brazil with Peru and the Pacific coast...and

Worst of all, it aligns itself with terrorists like Hamas and Hezbollah, and anti-Semites wherever they can find them, in that movement called radical Islamism, arguably the most imperialist of all movements extant today, in its acknowledged quest to conquer THE ENTIRE NONMUSLIM WORLD and re=establish a Muslim caliphate. If you really dislike imperialism, then you should go after the Muslims. Good luck.

(Islam, far from being a religion of peace, set out on a westward rampage of colonialism until it eventually controlled more territory than the entire Roman empire, slaughtering, raping and pillaging its way into western Europe as far north as central France. The Huns and Visigoths paled in comparison. And this caliphate persisted into the 20th century in Turkey, which now seems to be nostalgic for those days).

Like the old Italian saying ("what the barbarians did not do the Barberini did"):What the IMF and World Bank did not do, the Latin American countries are doing on their own. And the American left cheers them on because American "imperialism" is supposedly being resisted.

As a result of the disinterest of the American left, the Democrats and their liberal supporters have monopolized the space that might have been available for reform if not revolution. To maintain control of this space, the mantra of the DP and liberal media and institutions has been "feasibility", "do-ability".

Hence, in its behind-the-scenes acquiescence to corporations and special interests, the legislative agenda of the Democrats is promoted to the public as being the only presently feasible agenda, while stronger demands such as those for universal health care or higher energy prices or an end to foreign wars are depicted as either not achievable at all, or as goals to be discussed at a later (unspecified) date. In their own brand of blackmail, the Democrats say: this is the best we can do; if we don't get this legislation passed, we will never get any. So support it.

Well, let's look at what might happen if voters didn't buy into this argument. We would end up with no energy legislation, for example. And no universal health care bill. But that's no worse than we had before. What if all of us had said to our congressional representatives: we don't like your energy and health care bills so shove them. If you support them we won't vote for you next time. Give us what WE want, not what YOU want.

Imagine if millions of people had given this ultimatum to congress. Imagine if those millions of people go to the polls in November and vote people like Boxer, Waxman, Kerry and Pelosi out of office. Two results of this would be: an energized united movement, and a message to the Democrats to do what we want the next time.

Imagine if this movement sticks to its principles and its guns, and demands the same of the new members of congress who replaced the Democrats. Imagine the next energy debate: one in which those who demand a shutdown of coal powered plants and an end to all fossil fuel subsidies and the imposition of a carbon tax go to their new representatives and say: if you don't support our agenda we won't vote for YOU next time either.

This is what is a called a movement. It is like the NRA. It doesn't tolerate compromise or halfway measures. It has one strong message, and it keeps to this message regardless of who is in office. It means business. And this is what the Democrats fear, as they well should.

No more incremental reforms. No more marginal victories. The whole ball of wax or NOTHING. But if you have built a movement for the future, that isn't nothing. It is really all that counts.

© 2002 Lorna Salzman. All rights reserved. Material may be quoted with permission.