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Single Issue Politics Won't Get Us Very Far
DEFEATING SINGLE ISSUE POLITICS
Nobody to the left of Karl Rove would consider sending a petition to the Koch brothers to do anything that was in the interest of the people of this country. That’s because everyone realizes that these greedy, vicious dogs restrict their actions to stealing from the poor and causing whatever harm they can to the largest number of people.
Similarly, nobody in his/her right mind would send letters to General Betray-Us, McChrystal or any of the Pentagon power-brokers that define our foreign policy, asking them to stop murdering defenseless civilians around the world. People understand that the self-interested killers who run this country’s war machine are not concerned with what their fellow citizens think of permanent war, torture, or the slaughter of innocent people.
Even gullible Americans understand the principles set forth in the preceding paragraphs. Yet the number of well-intentioned activists who end their political analyses with the slogans: “sign this petition” and send it to Congress; or “write Obama” and tell him you want x, y, or z, is astonishing. Virtually every facebook blurb I read about politics ends with the admonition “we’re not going to take it anymore” and we’re going to write, petition, or beg someone important to change the situation for the better. What in the world are these people thinking?
It should be painfully obvious to everyone that there is little, if any difference between the Republican and Democratic parties -- both are owned by the corporate interests that define our foreign and domestic policies. Obama needed a billion dollars to win re-election. Who would believe that he got it from poor people? He has supported virtually every war the Pentagon asks for; every policy that Wall Street demands; every repressive piece of legislation that the Republicans want, and every anti-immigrant demand that the most racist Arizonian can conjure up. He would allow fracking directly underneath the White House, if an oil company magnate instructed him to do so.
Neither party proposes tax reforms that would shift wealth from the 1% to the masses. Neither party proposes to end our imperialist assaults throughout the world. Neither seeks meaningful change to our imprisonment of ¼ of the convicts on the face of the planet. Neither seeks to prevent the complete destruction of the environment, which is progressing at breakneck speed. You don’t create change by asking slave-owners to give up their property voluntarily.
Fights between the political parties in this country are like arguments between competing NFL football teams. They are meaningless! The teams are all owned and controlled by the same billionaires that make a fortune over these modern day gladiator fights. If you want to change the nature of professional football, you go after the owners, not the players and coaches. Only when the owners suffer will you change the nature of football.
We all belong to groups that espouse the issues of our choice: immigration reform; labor unions, environmental protection, abortion rights, gun control, affordable health care, educational opportunities, gay marriage, co-ops, etc. The lists seem endless. Nonetheless, until the advocates of these various issues/struggles understand the relationship between each of them, and unite around a politics that support ALL of them, they are kidding themselves. Unions now comprise less than 10% of the work force. The reason for this is that for decades they abandoned the rest of the nation to work on and profit from their own isolated causes. Advocates for each of the issues know their own topics from top to bottom. But there is absolutely no thread of consciousness that unites them.
Since the downfall of the "socialist" leaders (Russia, China, VietNam, Cuba, etc.) few in the Left have any vision of what a meaningful alternative to capitalism looks like, and it is impossible to build a counterforce to the Koch brothers without such a vision. The organizational solidarity needed to combat those who control the Congress and both political parties is simply non-existent at this time, and good feeling rhetoric is no alternative.
If we don’t find a way to build a meaningful alternative to the choke hold international capital currently has on the world, our self-serving, isolated struggles can’t succeed, even when we are multi-racial, working class, non-sexist and green.
If Americans can't fight for single payer healthcare that is available to all, and covered by the state, it is scarcely a beginning to fight for better healthcare services at any one hospital. Winning the struggle for same-sex marriage is a hollow victory if the earth around us has become unsustainable and toxic. The need to broaden our perspective and reach beyond our single-issue politics is paramount.
I certainly don't want to throw water on other people's pleasures: some like sports, some like co-ops, some like unions, or immigration struggles, or anti-prison work, etc. When people work on those issues, it's great that they are enjoying themselves, and seeking change. But without an overview that incorporates the ultimate goal of overthrowing capitalism, they each go nowhere.
The fear of authoritarian socialist bureaucracy has immobilized the Left to the extent that only isolated, fragmented movements, unrelated to each other, seem to provide an alternative for activism. To the extent that people see anti-capitalist work as supporting authoritarian, un-democratic bureaucracies, we’ve lost the fight. Democracy requires more than a two-party system owned by the same oligarchs. Elections are being held in every authoritarian kingdom in the world: they are little more than shams to rationalize the uncivilized ownership of capital by the 1%.
Active opposition to rapacious, unregulated capitalism requires an alternative vehicle for democratic control. Single issue politics do not provide that alternative. Douglas Lummis, in his book “Radical Democracy” described the broad spectrum of contexts in which democratic principles prevailed under the most astonishing circumstances. The creativity and substance of his vision need to be adopted and followed by Americans who seek to survive the attacks being waged upon us by the corporate magnates who presently control our lives.
Luke Hiken is an attorney who has engaged in the practice of criminal, military, immigration, and appellate law.
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