Monthly Archives: April 2010
As I’ve gone back over the past few years of blogging I’ve done, I found that nowhere had I done an extended essay on political strategy from a radical left perspective. I have done such strategic writing on religion, feminism, and other categories of the “eightfold revolution”, but somehow my views on politics proper, the nature of human governance and how to transform our present system, haven’t been addressed at length or with much substance.
How to begin such a big subject is probably the first writer’s block. I am sympathetic to a variety of alternative polities, from “Parpolity” by Stephen Shalom, municipalism by Murray Bookchin, Quaker consensus, and a few others. My view is that participation in democratic decision-making, especially if it is undertaken with a serious commitment to equality and freedom is a life-changing experience and no revolutionary transformation worthy of the name can get by with the limited sorts of representational governance that is dominant in modernized societies.
The question that I keep returning to isn’t exactly how a participatory radical democracy would actually function. Rather, it’s how do we begin the change within our present society in ways that will make it more likely that a radical democratic future will become real? What is the strategy?
I realized that I had very strong convictions about this when I read the following comments on the “Unrepentant Marxist” blog:
Question: “I spend my time trying to keep the fascist right from coming into power, yes I realize that both parties are flirting with Fascism in the USA, however I am taking my chances with the Democrats, to at least advance more to the left.”
Answer: “I strongly disagree with you on the Democratic Party. In my view the DP is the main obstacle to the kind of principled and uncompromising direct action that will lead to major reforms. Perhaps nothing demonstrates this more than Obama’s refusal to call upon the countless numbers of young people who volunteered to elect him. A huge network of idealistic and energetic young people could have been mobilized to press for single-payer but instead the movement was turned off like a faucet once Obama was elected. Interestingly enough, the Republican Party is much better at mobilizing people in action, even if it is for reactionary ends. This is one of the reasons I was a supporter of the Green Party until it decided to tail-end the DP. It could have been an electoral party that had an activist dimension. We still need something like that and I hope that worsening economic conditions can bring into being.”
While I appreciate Mr. Proyect’s candor, I find his political “hope” to be typically defeatist. Let’s hope society gets bad enough that it will turn to us enlightened radicals for answers. Not. Gonna. Happen. I might wish as well that something other than the Green Party was the main left alternative to the Democratic Party, but that’s the situation we face. If I am serious about forming a radical democratic movement, I should get involved with the one organization that is trying at least a semblance of such a formation, the Green Party.
Oh, I know the Greens are often defeatist and opportunist at times. Does that really make them a worse organization within which to organize than the Democrats? If I go peruse the Green Party’s “10 Key Values” I still come away agreeing with them far more than any Democratic Party platform.
There’s a lot more to say on this topic, but for now I’ll just leave it there. I want to build a real alternative to representative democracy and while I don’t expect the GP to actually become that alternative immediately, one has to start somewhere and there, within the Green Party, is where the most sustained and successful efforts are happening, right now.
I believe that motherhood has been institutionalized in such a way over history to exploit women and prevent their public influence on the activities of adult men. In other words, patriarchy has colluded in confining women’s influence as narrowly as possible to the world of children. Childcare, teaching, and parenting are overwhelmingly done by women. Nancy Chodorow and other psychoanalytic feminist theorists have maintained that the mothering practices of Western society have aided and encouraged the public repression of women. This body of theory argues that if children receive the majority of their nurture from women, the children will reproduce the sexist pattern of gender roles we see around us in society.
Although Chodorow and other psychoanalytic feminists focus on co-parenting as the solution, I think that more institutionalized measures are required. I believe that a social systems consideration of psychoanalytic feminism’s claims will lead to the conclusion that gender equality in society will require acheiving three basic goals; 1) men must become far more involved in nurturing work such as raising children, daycare, and primary education, 2) creation of universal childcare as extensive as the current public education system in place in most industrialized countries with men as fifty percent of the workforce, and 3) that women be supported in reducing the amount of time and energy that they are required to devote to such work. The goal of universal publicly funded childcare would be to reduce the pressure on women to be full-time mothers. I am not advocating that full-time mothering be prohibited, but rather that no woman should have to feel that she is obligated to be a full-time mother.
The universal childcare system should also be gender equal. I advocate an “affirmative action” program aimed at training, recruiting, and compensating men to join the largely female domains of childcare, primary education, and parenting. Boys should be given babysitting courses as readily as girls currently do. Day care centers should receive funds to invest in more male workers.
This aggressive program of recruiting men into classically female-dominated work will require programs in the institutions which supply those fields. The shift to a gender equal system of childcare would also necessitate a massive effort to offer greater educational opportunities to women in fields traditionally male-dominated. All academic and vocational programs which are currently male-dominated should become aggressive in recruiting women into their courses. This goes beyond classic affirmative action which encouraged hiring more women as teachers in those male-dominated sectors, but a shift to gender equality in society would require aggressive recruitment of female students into those programs. These programs, universal childcare and large-scale training of women in fields outside of traditionally female-dominated sectors seem to me an essential feature of genuine gender equality. The goal advocated here can be summarized as the redistribution of childcare and domestic work from its current burden on women’s freedom into a responsibility that is shared equally by men.
My views on economics go back to when I first learned about communes in the early 70s. As a Christian, I was totally enchanted with this model of living which seemed so true to what Jesus practiced. From 1986 to 1995, I lived as an “intentional neighbor” of a Christian Commune and learned from the inside what it’s like to redistribute wealth according to need.
This community had several admirers of Liberation Theology, a dissenting Catholic movement that emphasized the “preferential option for the poor” and often explicitly borrowed from Marxism. With this influence, I began to think about economics in a more global way. The Catholic Workers seemed to me to have the potential to create a global counter-economy through a network of parish-based communities. However, I also came to appreciate the importance of secular political alternatives to capitalism. This led me to take seriously proposals like parecon and socialism. I still see great potential in communal experiments.
My basic economic strategy begins with four strategic reforms. One, global secondary education - An educated worker is an empowered worker. Two, global unionization - A unionized shop is a secure workplace. Three, basic income guarantee - If a worker can simply leave a lousy job with no threat to basic needs, then the jobs will have to cease to be lousy. Four, universal healthcare - This last is not so controversial, even in the USA these days. I could add a few others, such as a functioning Labor Party or universal computer access, but these four seem to me to be truly crucial.
If I think about the strategic question of how to win these basic reforms, I think the progress the left has made on universal healthcare is instructive. In 1993, Hilary Clinton created a universal healthcare plan that was shot down by the Right and distrusted by the Left. for the next decade, universal healthcare languished as a dead letter. The passage of the ”Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” this year in the U.S. hopefully marks the turning point for a revitalized economic progress movement.
I think universal secondary education is probably the second plank to begin organizing around, while continuing the advance on universal healthcare. Of course, we should also continue to support progressive and universal union organizing. I think that the final reform to see the light of day will be the basic income guarantee. Once that reform becomes worldwide, the real battle to abolish capitalism can get underway.