The Economic Crisis and “Populism”

I have to admit it. I read a lot of liberal/progressive blogs. Far, far more than I read radical blogs. My liberal/progressive blog reading frequency is only dwarfed by my game blog/forum reading frequency. If I graphed all of this time onto a chart, oh how sad it would look!

But anyway, I read a lot of blogs like Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Open Left, Talking Points Memo, etc. Across the board, and across the mainstream media the talk is about the economy, and about the rising anger of “main street” (read the white working, middle, and especially professional class) in the U.S.. There is a lot of talk about the rise of populism, both from the left and the right, and for the need for Obama to either ride this wave of populism toward transformational policies, or for him to temper it down with his cool-headed reformism.

In all cases, there is a narrative that is deeply class-focused, but with horrible inattention to race (except in regards to immigrant-bashing), and to the real landscape of poverty and exploitation in this country. It’s just simply “middle-class” and fat-cats. Language about working class or poor people is seldom to be found.

Even with all the holes and stupidities in the framing of these narratives, it is so, so significant what is happening here! The class war that has been raging for so long in this country and on this planet is finally being articulated and expressed in the mainstream. And, for the most part, this narrative is not being side-tracked into nativism like “buy american” or calls for border closures (yet). For the most part, this narrative is actually focusing on the power elite. AIG. Morgan Stanley. Bear-Stearns, or whatever. This is fascinating!

So, where are we, the radicals? What will our creative input be? What kind of militance and long-term organizing can we find here?

The truth is, I was caught off guard by this whole economic mess. I think a lot of radicals were. I don’t know how to plug into organizing about this. I don’t know what anarchists’ best roles could be right about now. But I really, really want to.

Direct action case work seems important. Vigilance against the disproportionate impact of the crisis on communities of color. Foreclosure resistance has been mentioned. Community expropriations of abandoned land. Workers’ takeovers. Defense of public spending from austerity policies. Hell, what about campaigns to actually revoke corporate charters and corporate personhood…and to support small local business? This is where being rooted in actual communities is so deeply important. And still not where I’m at personally as an organizer!

Regardless, I think things will probably start speeding up a little in the next year or so. If the Republicans really are going to go for a right-wing populism angle (what does that actually look like policy wise? I’ll tell you…attacks on the social safety net with vicious, racist, sexist bootstrap language!), then the anger and polarization in this country will only get worse. Organizing will be necessary, but it will be way different from the Bush years. Anarchists need to find our place in these coming battles. Our ideas, if we can modernize them, are very relevant right about now.

These are just some things I’ve been thinking about this morning. Don’t have much more, but I thought I’d write a little bit about it all.

Thinking about long-term revolutionary strategy, I think supporting a strong social safety net along the lines of Obama’s agenda is good. But I think equally or more important would be pushing economic stimulus that reaches small businesses and which sidelines or even makes corporations irrelevant. Why? Because in this we can take a lesson from places like Venezuela…working for a growing network of worker/community owned coops that can use the resources of the state to form a viable alternative to traditional capitalism. Does this create a mortal threat to capitalism? No, but it creates the skills and community connections that are vital prerequisites for participatory socialism. I also think pushing for the social safety net spending to be as participatory as possible is another crucial fight! The truth is, I think neo-conservatives are kind of right about a lot of public spending…it does create community dependence and it creates oppressive relationships between the state and poor communities. It doesn’t empower poor people. Helping people start their own projects does. Helping them decide and run their own community revitalization does as well.

I like thinking about this stuff. I’d like to think some more about it…

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi