I actually wrote this post a week ago, but it was not published due to a technical glitch. (That’s a self-serving way of saying due to my incompetence.) So, I’ve added a couple of links to make it less out of date, and hope it is still of use, in drawing the lines in the sand between good ideas and bad ideas, between good politics and crap politics. I think the overall point is that fixed positions and big labels (left-wing, right-wing, Zionist, anti-Zionist, anti-capitalist, populist) are not a useful way of thinking about politics, but that the key divisions, the ones that matter, cut across these lines.
1. Occupy, again, and good and bad anti-capitalism
1. Occupy, again, and good and bad anti-capitalism
I posted a long one on Occupy last week. One thing I missed from the links was this excellent post by David Schraub on some of the issues I touched on, including how the Israel/Palestine issue intersects with the politics of Occupy: go read the whole post, as I tried to extract some of it here and ended up quoting the whole thing.
The antisemitism angle was the topic that Daniel Siedareski commented on in the thread, noting some factual inaccuracies in my post. Among other things, I made comments on “Occupy Wall Street”/”OWS” that were not specific to the New York OWS action but referred to the Occupy movement as a whole or even to other occupations, such as the particularly militant Occupy Oakland, whose Jewish contingent is also not connected to Occupy Judaism. That’s the thing, I guess, about these virally networked leaderless movements: hard to keep a track of!
Negative Potential made a different point in the comment thread. While agreeing that capitalism is systemic and structural, he argues that it is not magically self-reproducing and is based on the acts of capitalists. He is of course correct in this. However, I don’t see any notable current within the anti-capitalist movement arguing that capitalism is magically self-producing. If a structural understanding of capitalism became the norm within Occupy, and a moralistic condemnation of bankers’ greed became the exception, then we’d need to speak up, but that’s just not the politics of the situation. Boris Johnson and Warren Buffett can make the argument about bankers’ greed well enough without us.
Following from the above and quoted in his comment, I like Dan’s characterisation of his position on Zionism, which (in a week when I have been called a “notorious Jewish supremacist” by none other than Gilad Atzmon) resonated with my own convoluted insistence on refusing the Manichean politics of Zionism/ant-Zionism:
On any given day of the week, I vacillate between a variety of positions on Israel and Zionism. I often say that I am a religious anti-Zionist, an ideological post-Zionist, a pragmatic progressive Zionist, and (mostly kidding) a Kahanist under fire. To be clear: I believe in the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their ancestral homeland. I believe the Jewish people have an immutable connection to the land of Israel... In other words: I am a reluctant Zionist, a critical Zionist, some days a borderline anti-Zionist, but a Zionist nonetheless — much to the chagrin of both the anti-Zionist Left and the Zionist ultra-Right.
3. Right-wing populism and left-right convergence
Paul C has an interesting “spiky” review of the two recent Demos reports on right-wing populism (one on findings from 11 European countries, another on the English Defence League specifically). Paul questions the notion that significant numbers of people are concerned about the cultural erosion caused by immigration (and therefore the left needs to “engage with” them), a claim Demos make, and also the notion that the new populism is in some sense left-wing. Marleymorris, author of a LibCon post on the report, defends it in the comment thread, which is worth reading.
This last point of debate relates to a criticisism Negative Potential makes in the comment thread at this ANT post. Dislike of finance capital, NP notes, is shared by some people on the far right and some people on the far left, just as Mulder notes “the Left in the UK may be opposed to free trade, but not for the same reasons that the far right are opposed to free trade.” This is, of course, correct, and it is dangerous to overplay the “right woos left” card: large numbers of leftists are not about to join fascist parties because some oddball right-wingers come along to an Occupy event or because the Front National talk about multinationals.
But that is not where the danger lies. The danger lies in the grassroots, in the unconvinced majority. Most members of the “99%” don't see themselves as left or right, and aren’t signed up to grand ideological narratives. Looking at what data there is, there is a considerable overlap in the US between the support for the tea party movement and the Occupy movement. Most people feel ripped off, fucked over, exploited; many of us are feeling squeezed, watching our debt increase, feeling a growing gap between our expectations and what we can afford. Articulating this concern is traditionally the role of the left, but the left has failed at this quite spectacularly the last few decades, and this opens a space for the right if it can articulate these complaints more effectively.
I would also argue, and I know I’m entering slippier terrain with this, that the same points hold true for the Enlightenment-derived political values that were once the foundation of the left: individual liberty and freedom of expression. The left has not only failed to articulate these concerns in the last few decades; a large part of the left has rejected these values. And so, again, when right-wing populists “lay claim to the mantle of the Enlightenment”, as Demos puts it, it doesn't matter how sincere they are; it matters that they are convincing.