Thursday, August 16, 2007

Are Progressives Lacking Courage or Power?

This past weekend at the annual conference of the American Sociological Association in New York City, Canadian author and journalist Naomi Klein, who is close to the so-called 'anti-globalization movement,' gave a speech entitled 'From Think Tanks to Battle Tanks,' which appeared to be based on her new book which will be published this September, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

The theme of the ASA conference was 'Is Another World Possible?' It explicitly refers to the motto of the World Social Forum, 'Another world is possible.' Klein criticized the timidity of the conference's title. It seems like she would like to add several exclamation marks to that slogan and emphatically emphasize the 'is.' The motto of the first US Social Forum in Atlanta at the end of June was 'Another world is possible. Another US is necessary.' So how can progressives make the necessary possible, which is, after all - at least according to some - what politics as the art of the possible, is all about?

For Klein, the problem seems to be essentially a moral and perhaps a psychological one, and her solutions appears to be similar. Essentially, she wants to encourage and build the confidence of progressives by reminding them of their history. The main problem for progressives is not a lack of ideas or money, but a lack of confidence, courage, and passion. If only progressives had more of it, they could 'scare' elites into progressive action. This discouragement stems from the conviction that progressive ideas have already been tried and turned out not to work. However, the opposite is true: They did work and were popular. Understanding that progressives 'never lost the battle of ideas' but instead were crushed is the best way of building the confidence necessary to succeed.
The real problem, I want to argue today, is confidence, our confidence, the confidence of people who gather at events like this under the banner of building another world, a kinder more sustainable world. I think we lack the strength of our convictions, the guts to back up our ideas with enough muscle to scare our elites. We are missing movement power. That’s what we’re missing. “The best lacked all convictions,” Yeats wrote, “while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Think about it. Do you want to tackle climate change as much as Dick Cheney wants Kazakhstan’s oil? Do you? Do you want universal healthcare as much as Paris Hilton wants to be the next new face of Estee Lauder? If not, why not? What is wrong with us? Where is our passionate intensity?
While she mentions 'movement power' once, she does not further explore this. This is unfortunate since according to many, the key problem for progressives is not a lack of confidence and courage, but a lack of resources, infrastructure, and power, and the lack of a strategy that would allow progressives to more effectively put these pieces together and build power in the long term. In short, the main problem for progressives is not moral but intellectual, material, and organizational. For power is concentrated in organizations, which bundle resources, and are the most effective social actors since they are most capable of collective decisions and collective action.

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