Thursday, January 21, 2016

Contra-deBoer: Democratic

I'm continuing with an analysis of Fredrik deBoer's left manifesto for 2016 (start here). My seventh piece was "Liberal". Now we look at his "Democratic."

Fredrik deBoer recognizes that one of the problems of the left today is what political professionals like to call "messaging."
A functioning, healthy left political movement would identify building a mass movement by appealing to the unconvinced as its most central, most essential goal. It would identify obscurantism, factionalism, purity signaling, and other behaviors that limit the potential numbers of the movement as counterproductive. It would limit the use of specialized vocabulary and other forms of in-group signaling. It would constantly consider how its practices and discourses actually grow or fail to grow the ranks of the movement. 
Principles, he writes, are important, but they shouldn't exclude "vast swaths" of the population from understanding the movement because that limits its size. He is arguing that a mass movement should appeal to the masses.

The movement would use voting systems for decision-making, and would provide for minority voices and dissent. But it would avoid "flat" and anti-hierarchical organization; they have failed the left. The movement "would recognize the basic, beautiful radicalism of voting and democracy and defend it against the tyranny of structurelessness."

Note that by "Democratic" deBoer is not talking about how the successful left movement will govern. He is talking about how the left movement governs itself and is obviously reflecting conventional wisdom emerging on the left that their ideal of a government of consensus collectivism doesn't work for their political movement. The movement must have leadership, and while voting is important and democratic the movement should not get carried away by an excess of egalitarianism.

On the other hand deBoer is also concerned about getting the word out. He obviously feels that the left is hampered by its in-group jargon that doesn't communicate enthusiasm to potential recruits to the movement. Principles shouldn't get in the way of building the movement. In this deBoer is just like any sauntering politician and understands that the voters are not interested in ideas. They want a strong leader who will get them what they want. Or they want the government to keep its hands off their paycheck.

For someone like me, who is not a leftist, all this is rather encouraging. It tells me that the left finds itself tangled in its traces. On the one hand, of course, it believes in a militant political movement that will march and protest until it replaces the current unjust regime. In other words, it believes in a military top-down organization in which people are expected to fight and die for the cause. On the other hand it believes in a perfect cooperative and collective society free of all state coercion and domination and hegemonic structure where everyone is equal, everyone is consulted, and everyone matters. This is what the Marxists call an "internal contradiction." In the Hegelian dialectic "being" and "nothing," although opposites, are identical and resolve themselves, as I understand it, in "becoming." That's easy for Hegel to say, but how does the left resolve the problem of being at once a political movement, which must be focused and disciplined, and also a collective of peace and justice in perfect equality? As Candidate Obama once said, that is above my pay grade.

But I would be really interested in how "democratic" the left movement would propose to be after it had acquired power. None of the "so-called Communist" regimes of the last century seem to have done a good job on the democratic front.

Next up: "Realist."

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