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Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

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Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

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Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

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Friday, January 27, 2006

More Groovy Street Theater?

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/27/06 at 08:50 PM

When the Students for a Democratic Society announced it would be convening this summer for the first time since 1969, my jaw hit the floor.  Did Paul Buhle suddenly decide that the New Left and its ideological children weren’t visibly impotent enough?  Could he choose a more inappropriate moment to revive the New Left obsession with symbolic politics? 

Reading the belabored utopianism of The Port Huron Statement with knowledge of its consequences should be a chilling experience for contemporary academics.  Sadly, the institutionalization of unrepetant New Leftists in the humanities ensures a primed audience for the new SDS and their old anti-statist, anti-rationalist message.  Only whatever leverage they once had with the Democratic Party they despised has evaporated.  Their disdain for practical politics resulted in their withdrawing from “The System” entirely.  The rebirth of the SDS will foreground the failure of the New Left to alter the course of American politics, especially when compared to “the New Right” with whom they were once allied.  The anti-statist, libertarian-leaning New Right created the working coalitions which stand as political commonplace today: free-market ideologues and Christian fundamentalists now share the Republican stage because the New Right create the conditions necessary to accomplish such a feat in the ‘60s. 

The New Left would have created coalitions had it not spent its collective energies on blowing your mind.  While the New Right hunkered down in positions of power, the New Left waged a public relations war against the idea of power in all its various guises: “The System,” “The Man,” “Them.” Capitalize one letter of Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff‘s famous diatribe and you capture the attitude perfectly:

I don’t know what They have to say
It makes no difference anyway
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I’m against it!

Your proposition may be good
But let’s have one thing understood:
Whatever it is, I’m against it.
And even when you’ve changed it or condensed it,
I’m against it!

Like Dr. Wagstaff, the New Left favored performance over complicity in the system.  (The resurgent popularity of the Marx Brothers in the ‘60s wasn’t an accident.) When I consider the potential efficacy of such performances cannot help but remember the response of the “little girl” in Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem to the Mime Troupe--"some of whose members started the Artist’s Liberation Front for ‘those who seek to combine their creative urge with socio-political involvement’"--and its “street theater”:

I mention to Max and Sharon that some members of the Mime Troup seem to be in blackface.

“It’s street theater,” Sharon assures me.  “It’s supposed to be really groovy.”

[...]

“It’s something groovy they call street theater,” she said.  I said I wondered if it might not have political overtones.  She was seventeen years old and she worked it around in her mind awhile and finally she remembered a couple of words from somewhere. “Maybe it’s some John Birch thing,” she said.

The Mime Troupe believe their performance constitutes of “socio-political involvement.” I suppose it is an involvement.  Not a socially viable or politically efficacious one . . . but an involvement nonetheless.  The New Left championed such symbolic interventions because the only alternative was complicity in the system.  A principled stance, certainly, but when combined with the actual intervention of the New Right into American politics, one with distastrous confidence.  Reading the unapologetic explanations for not voting in the recent Canadian election, I heard reproduced the New Left’s complaints about the Democratic Party circa 1968.  When someone justified their decision not to vote by declaring “they’ve already compromised everything,” I imagined those words coming from the mouth of Didion’s “little girl” and shuddered at the implications. 

They still have so much left to compromise. 

This post is informed by Sean McCann and Michael Szalay’s introduction to a forthcoming issue of The Yale Journal of Criticism.  I would have discussed the relation between contemporary academia and the New Left, but they cover that ground far better than I could ever hope to . . . and because I didn’t ask permission to recapitulate it and wouldn’t dare to without it.


Comments

The SDS was founded about 1960 and the Port Huron Statement was written about 1962. During its early years it mostly was a support group for the civil rights movement, and aound 1965 it shifted over to the anti-Vietnam War movement. SDS was originally non-ideological and non-exclusive, but because of the non-exclusiveness, once it had a bit of success it was swamped with ideologues (Maoists / Progressive Labor, LaRouchies, the nihilist Weathermen, and Yippie types). The group split up in 1969.

Early SDS was pretty thoughtful, realistic, amd hopeful. But the combined impacts of the Vietnam War (a Democratic war supported by most liberals) and the drug culture ruined everything. SDS 1967-69 was pretty bad but by that time the Port Huron Statement was ancient history.

Since 1941 American politics has been dominated by military concerns. No anti-militarist activity of any sort has had much positive effect since then —mainstream or not. I don’t expect that to change/

By John Emerson on 01/27/06 at 10:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Referring to the “New Right” as anti-statist shows some terminological confusion. The Reagan administration was radically Keynesian.

And the rest has the air of thin straw burning.

By Jonathan on 01/27/06 at 10:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Referring to the “New Right” in scare quotes, as if it didn’t actually exist and didn’t align itself with the New Left shows some historical confusion.

The rest has the air of ignorant guy yapping.

I’m sorry, but Jonathan, can’t you muster more than that?  As John notes, I’m bridging the early New Left with the late in a way which may not be altogether kosher (although given the language of self-realization and distrust of federal entities in the Port Huron Statement I think the connection’s clear as day); but I’m not inventing the New Left only to demolish it here.  In fact, I could’ve mentioned many damning episodes in its history but chose not to . . . or would you rather we levitate the Pentagon with the power of our minds?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/27/06 at 11:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The New Right--not an easily definable movement, especially as you move into the 70s--has always been in favor of massive state investment in the MIC (phrase coined by noted New Leftist Eisenhower). Therefore, referring to it as “anti-statist” is either disingenuous or ignorant.

There were “Dude” aspects to the New Left, certainly, but so? When asked about changes in political attitudes over the last forty years, Chomsky frequently relates an anecdote about how he was accosted most violently for speaking out against the Vietnam War in the early 60s by students. The fact that there was massive protest against the recent Iraq war before it happened is a more reflective New Left legacy than yippie Forrest Gumpery.

By Jonathan on 01/27/06 at 11:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Perhaps you have invented a “New Left” here, Scott, when you conflate groups like the SDS, the Yippies, and Mime Troupes – groups that I would argue had very different notions of both politics (anarchists, Marxist-leninists, Maoists, and, as you note, Groucho-Marxists) and performance (marches, protests, pranks, be-ins, and skits).

You contrast “symbolic performance” and “actual politics” here, suggesting that the former necessarily fails to make a difference (like standing on a battleship and pronouncing “Mission Accomplished” perhaps?).  A question for you:  how do you judge the efficacy of a performance?  When the performers are pleased with it?  When the audience is “moved” (to tears, to “actual political engagement”)?  When the police feel compelled to intervene?  In order for a performance to move from the realm of the symbolic/ineffectual to the actual/effective, must a performance bring about The Revolution?  Must it stop the war?  Must it register someone to vote?  Must it change someone’s mind?  Ten someones’?  One hundred? 

It seems to me that if you locate “actual” and effective politics solely in the machinations of the State, then your definition precludes many forms and possibilities of social change—sexual liberation being the most obvious in my mind, a legacy of Sixties leftism (and counterculture) that I don’t think can be so quickly discounted.

By on 01/28/06 at 12:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, there’s an implication in what you wrote that things would have worked out better if those terrible New Leftists hadn’t shown up. After 1965 all American politics was dominated by the bipartisan Vietnam War. The Democrats’ offer was basically the welfare state plus the warfare state, take it or leave it.

It was very difficult to know what to do in the face of that kind of war and the social pressures (and draft) that accompanied it. While I am not really happy with what was actually done, I’m really at a loss to imagine any more effective strategy or tactics. Anti-militarist popular resistance seems to be almost impossible anywhere, anytime, as we’re seeing today.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 12:30 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The bombing of Afghanistan after 9-11 would have been worse than it was if not for protest beforehand. The US government would likely simply draft an army and invade Venezuela and elsewhere currently, if not for the entrenched public intolerance of any such draft post-Vietnam. That’s not inconsiderable anti-militaristic achievement, by far.

By Tony Christini on 01/28/06 at 12:44 AM | Permanent link to this comment

“In fact, I could’ve mentioned many damning episodes in its history but chose not to . . . or would you rather we levitate the Pentagon with the power of our minds?"

50,000 people marching on the Pentagon is supposed to be “damning” compared to… what, exactly?

By Tim on 01/28/06 at 05:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Early SDS was pretty thoughtful, realistic, amd hopeful. But the combined impacts of the Vietnam War (a Democratic war supported by most liberals) and the drug culture ruined everything. SDS 1967-69 was pretty bad but by that time the Port Huron Statement was ancient history.

Yes. And the distinction between people who thought of themselves as “political” revolutionaries and those who thought of themselves as “cultural” revolutions (i.e. hippies) was real into the 70s and beyond. Different people, different social networks, different clothes, different reading. Some people switched back and forth and some predominantly political people dropped acid, not to mention inhaling, but the differences remained real & there was a certain amount of distance between the two.

There were all those conversations about how the women’s movement would breach the gap between these two through “the personal is political.”

And then . . . .

A few years ago I was invited to Goshen College to talk about music. That was most interesting. For Goshen is a Mennonite college (one of two in the nation). The Mennonites are very conservative Christians, with a long tradition of a capella singing in their services. But they are also skeptical about the state and insist on keeping church and state separate, hence many will not, for example, serve on juries.

And they are also pacifists. The grandfathers of the kids I talked to went to prison in WWII because they refused to go to war. And that is why I didn’t have to go to prison in the 60s because I was a conscientious objector.

So, anyhow, there was a student research conference at Goshen and I was the keynote speaker. Afterward I sat in on some of the conference sessions, undergraduates presenting their original research. Saw a young Mennonite woman in slighly gothed out read a feminist interpretation of an Old Testament text.

And then . . .

there’s the story of how Bay Area hippies created the personal computer revolution in the 1970s and 1980s. That’s where you get a lot of libertarianism, I betcha’. In the 1970s the hip created communes, in the 1980s it was high tech start ups.

If you go here

http://asweknowit.ca/evcult/USBlues.shtml

And read footnote # 24, you’ll find this gloss:

One way to trace the links between the counter-culture of the sixties and the computer culture would be to follow the work of Stewart Brand, whose The Last Whole Earth Catalog published in 1971 quickly became something of a counter-culture bible. Brand published subsequent updates and established a quarterly magazine, The Coevolution Quarterly , which became The Whole Earth Review . In 1984 Brand published the Whole Earth Software Catalog , a guide to personal computing. More recently Brand (1987) wrote a book about MIT’s Media Lab. More recently, Paul Levinson has reminded me, Brand had a role in founding Wired , a computer culture magazine with a graphic and verbal style deeply indebted to the sixties rock culture. Cyberpunk was defined by William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer (1984), in which video games meet reggae. The Mississippi Review devoted a special double issue to cyberpunk guest-edited by Larry McCaffery, Volume 16, numbers 2 and 3. For a brief chronology see Ravo and Cash (1993). David Porush has commented on cyberpunk’s cultural and neural imperatives (1987, 1991). For a look at a journalistic fellow-traveller, pick up an issue of Wired , or better yet, of Mondo 2000 , which features garish art direction, guidance on “smart” drugs (i.e. drugs which are supposed to enhance mental performance) and digital media, and interviews.

Wired, of course, still exists, though, like so much else, it isn’t what it once was. As far as I know Mondo 2000 is gone.

By Bill Benzon on 01/28/06 at 07:22 AM | Permanent link to this comment

About 1969 there was a famous edition of a SF underground newspaper (the Oracle, I think) which featured Timothy Leary, Gary Snider, Ken Kesey, and one other hippie type, in which they speculated about getting the whole world wired, with instant communication. There was a lot of creativity in the counterculture, especially if you allow Henry Ford type empericism, finding 10,000 things that don’t work and one that does.

After a certain point, though, both the politico side and the hippie side went pretty crazy. The influx of new people and the ethos of total freedom swamped whatever leadership and wisdom there was. My own favorite horrible exampe was a Christian commune in Seattle whose sacrament was glue-sniffing. The Weathermen, insofar as they did anything, were dedicated to blind actvisim of a destructive sort. Though fortunately they mostly talked.

My real message above, though, is that the military/foreign policy elite took over in 1941 and never really has had to let go for very long, and anything political that’s happened in the US has had to accomodate itself to them. The Sixties radicals ran head on into that, and lost. Liberal hawks basically have joined that team, and they will sabotage any attempt to propose a less-militaristic alternative within the Democratic Party.

So call me Chomsky.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 08:39 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, after the Moretti event, I guess that people want to settle down with a nice, relaxing, argument about the Sixties.

As for the current-day events—I’m not slagging on Scott here, but it’s always puzzled me why literary studies types think of politics as an issue that they are so interested in.  Nothing in literary studies gives one any special insight into politics, as far as I can tell.  And for any academic to be really involved in politics takes a sustained effort that very few literary studies people have made.  So of course whenever those who think of themselves as radicals write about politics they always have a despairing tone and a complicated set of reasons for doing nothing.

For Paul Buhle, I think that the complaints about his scholarship are more important than whatever designs he has on reviving an old brand name.

By on 01/28/06 at 10:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Nothing in literary studies gives one any
special insight into politics, as far as I can tell.

Shades of Plato.

A very interesting question.

I saw the politicization of lit studies unfold back in the 60s and 70s. But I wonder about the pre-history of that. I wonder of the local Trilling specialist would have some insight into this question.

By Bill Benzon on 01/28/06 at 10:12 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I remember the transition of the early Seventies very well. People started to realize that the anti-ear movement, though led in part by people with well-thought out poltical programs, was mostly just an “anti” movement and would disintegrate as soon as the war and the draft ended. The political ideas that filtered down to the footsoldiers were pretty thin and often incoherent.

By that time the inadequacies and pathologies of the hippie counterculture had become clear too. No atter how much anyone respeted the best aspects of the sixties, the whole package was impossible.

The break was from feminists—women who had been part of the movements and had been mistreated by macho jerk leaders. Gay liberation came along about the same time, and the movement to the personal-as-political. But there was a renunciation of politics as politics too. This was really post-New Left, not New Left, though some of the same people were there. (Three stages now: early new left, late new left, political-is-personal.)

People also went into the arts and academia just because the politics wasn’t there any more. There was a lot of movement into abstruse forms of identity politcs, critical theory, marxo- freudianism, etc., that had renounced conventional forms of political activity in favor of cultural politics.

I suppose you could periodize the post-new-left too, but I got off the boat then and stopped keeping track.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 11:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yeah, I hate symbolic politics too!  Screw you, Martin Luther King, Jr.!  Screw you and your March on Washington!  Screw you and your stay in Birmingham Jail!  Don’t you know that politics means pinching your nose and voting!  That’s it!  Marching, talking, writing, that’s all just so symbolic.

By on 01/28/06 at 12:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

[I so suspected I would catch flack for this.]

av, you’re correct, of course, that one can’t judge the efficacy of political theater the way one can, for instance, count votes.  But at the same time, the two shouldn’t be divorced.  One shouldn’t drop out of the system then complain as it spirals out of control. 

Also, I’m not altogether sure we had the best sort of sexual revolution we could have had.  What would it have been like, and where would we be now, if it hadn’t been connected to, say, the drug culture?

Tony, maybe I’m more cynical than you, but I don’t think the White House listened to a damn word it didn’t want to.  (Largely because it didn’t have to.) Sadly, I don’t think this text misadventure too far from the truth.

Bill and John, I see your point, and I do recognize the broadness of my brush, but I think the former SDS entails the excesses of the latter.  Ideologically speaking, the old New Left ain’t all that different from the new New Left.  The focus, certainly, had changed, but the general principles hadn’t.

Rich, as you well know, I don’t paint myself some kind of pundit, but when politics collides with literature the way it did with the New Left, they’re treading enough on my turf for my “expertise” to come into play.  Maybe.

LB, I wouldn’t quite call MLK a member of the New Left.  His late anti-Vietnam stance and the SDS’s early focus on civil rights aside, I don’t see much common ground.  (Then again, maybe that’s a lot to leave aside.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 02:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The problem with the New Left in its later stages was not so much that it indulged in symbolic politics.  As Luther points out, the civil rights movement by necessity also used symbolic politics, since it was shut out of the political process. 

The real problem was the assumption, rife among large parts of the New Left in its twilight years (but not shared by Martin Luther King, Jr., or by the SDS itself in its later phases), that symbolic politics should be an end in itself.  I.e., since the “system” is entirely bad, the aim is not to change peoples’ minds through symbolic action demanding specific reforms.  Rather, the goal is to enact utopian social relations immediately, in the present, within one’s own insular political or social group.

By on 01/28/06 at 02:44 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Oops - substitute “early” for “later” in that parenthesis in the second paragraph.

By on 01/28/06 at 02:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, I’d just like you to suggest what people should have done 1967-1972. In 1968 the problem was that the Democratic President in office, the Democratic Presidential candidate and the vast majority of Democratic officeholders of any kind still supported the Vietnam War, even though opposition to the war among the electorate was pretty significant. In 1968 plenty of people did work within the system (McCarthy campaign), but that failed and was always a very long shot. Robert Kennedy might have defeated Humphrey, but he was killed and his stance on the war was uncertain.

It’s a very long stretch to deduce the Weathermen and Yippies from the Port Huron statement. You have to make quite an absolute rejection of all non-electoral politics to get that. (I heard Tom Hayden speak in about 1965. He was working in Newark to get a traffic light put in in a poor neighborhood. The hippies in the audience tried to make a joke of it, and he just hated them.

I don’t like puppets and unicycles and jugglers at rallies either, and I’m assuming that that’s what what you’re really talking about. Your sketch of SDS is far off the mark, though, above all because you seem to misunderstand the deaperation of anti-war politics when almost no mainstream figure was willing to speak up.

Much of what you say is true from a liberal hawk point of view, but I don’t think of you as a liberal hawk. What really destroyed that movement was a futile attempt to take on the foreign-affairs / military elite, and while cultural weirdness contributed to the failure, I don’t think that it was the cause.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 02:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

> Tony, maybe I’m more cynical than you, but I don’t think the White House
> listened to a damn word it didn’t want to.  (Largely because it didn’t
> have to.) Sadly, I don’t think <a
> href="http://www.defectiveyeti.com/archives/001561.html">this text
> misadventure</a> too far from the truth.

Cynicism has nothing to do with it.

Even totalitarian governments are constrained in many ways by the mood and actions of the public - symbolic and otherwise. Bad as things are it’s easy to imagine (and in some cases know because it’s on record) how very much worse things could be/could have been if not for public opposition, very much of which has roots in the ever growing popular movements of the time period to which you refer and may be seen in “symbolic politics” which you scorn.

Sorry - Luther hit the nail on the head, directly and by analogy.

By Tony Christini on 01/28/06 at 03:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In my lifetime, anti-war activity has sometimes had the effect of tweaking or moderating American military action, but I doubt that it’s prevented anything, or shortened anything much. From the big escalation (1965) the Vietnam war lasted almost 8 years, which is longer than any previous American war.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 03:12 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, I don’t know what I would’ve done when disenfranchised, but I’m generally of the “change the system from within” mindset, so I assume that’s what I would’ve encouraged others to do.  I keep on wanting to mention Hunter Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, because in it you can see the naked machinery of popular politics, and you can see that it was ripe for coopting...only there wasn’t anyone there to coopt them.  Abandoning traditional politics had disastrous consequences.  We’re living with them.  And while I’m being bashed elsewhere for suggesting that the far Right’s ideological coup of the Republican party is something the New Left could have learned from, I still think that the decision to leave the realm of electoral politics brought us, well, here.  (And no, I’m not a liberal hawk.)

Tony, I see your point, but it’s nearly impossible to quantify.  Take your first statement about the War in Afghanistan: Sure, it could’ve been a lot worse, but do you really believe the current administration felt constrained by popular opinion?  I don’t see much evidence that it listens to anyone outside a small Neo-Con cabal.  I wouldn’t mind being wrong, mind you.  I would love to think that such symbolic politics are as effective as their electoral counterparts, but I don’t see it.

("Robots for Nixon!  People for McGovern!  Robots for Nixon!  People for McGovern!")

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 03:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

> In my lifetime, anti-war activity has sometimes had the effect of tweaking
> or moderating American military action, but I doubt that it’s prevented
> anything, or shortened anything much. From the big escalation (1965) the
> Vietnam war lasted almost 8 years, which is longer than any previous
> American war.

Vietnam could have been nuked off the map. It wasn’t. Venezuela could be under foreign occupation right now. It’s not. Sometimes anti-war activity stiffens the backbone of the larger public, sometimes the larger public helps make more effective anti-war activity. These actions and interactions can have huge repercussions that are hard to trace and attribute. Think of the abolition movement of the 1800s. Often only later is it possible to see starkly the effect and change.

> Tony, I see your point, but it’s nearly impossible to quantify.  Take your
> first statement about the War in Afghanistan: Sure, it could’ve been a lot
> worse, but do you really believe the current administration felt
> constrained by popular opinion?  I don’t see much evidence that it
> listens to anyone outside a small Neo-Con cabal.  I wouldn’t mind being
> wrong, mind you.  I would love to think that such symbolic politics are as
> effective as their electoral counterparts, but I don’t see it.

A lot of vital things that occur in life are difficult or impossible to quantify. We’re not talking physics here.

Nevertheless, I picked the Afghanistan example because apparently it has been roughly quantified and accounted for. I don’t have the particular article I came across - I think I read it at ZNet - but it pointed out that the U.S. military via the U.S. government was forced to greatly alter/reduce its initial bombing plans due to the domestic and international outcry over the sure calamity. This outcry was generated in large part by non-governmental organizations, nationally and internationally - organizations oftentimes created and later staffed and supported (financially and otherwise ) by the sort of committed activists and activities ("symbolic" included) that you deride.

Of course, just because something is not “as effective” as something else does not mean it should be pitched out, for obvious reasons - not least because much vital change (maybe most) is brought about in one way or another from the margins, change that institutional insiders have to be forced into.

By Tony Christini on 01/28/06 at 03:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, I don’t think anyone needs to take a general position on “symbolic politics.” Like any other tool, they can be helpful to a political cause or not (and sometimes actually harmful).  Likewise, various groups can use them effectively or not. 

The Civil Rights Movement was an example of very effective symbolic politics.  It captured the nation’s sympathy with its dignity, seriousness, and principled cry for justice.

The various groups in the anti-war movement were less successful at using symbolic politics.  Although they managed to produce large crowds of people, their public reception was not so sympathetic.  For too many people, they became associated with the lawlessness and cultural anarchy they believed was erupting all around them.  The hippies and freaks were perceived as too weird and dangerous by the great mass of squares that determined political consensus.  Some historians believe that the anti-war movement may have actually prolonged, rather than shortened the Vietnam War. 

Today, street theatre seems largely played out.  It is not taken seriously and is quickly dismissed by many as the predictable response of professional protestors and the assorted performance artists and hobby-horse riders, with their stew of pet causes that are often little connected to the actual issue being protested. 

I agree with Scott.  This is not a time that will be receptive to more of the same symoblic politics and street theatre.  At this time, the left side of the aisle needs to show that it can influence public opionion, gain power, and govern through the more mundane political processes.

By on 01/28/06 at 04:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"It seems to me that if you locate “actual” and effective politics solely in the machinations of the State, then your definition precludes many forms and possibilities of social change—sexual liberation being the most obvious in my mind, a legacy of Sixties leftism (and counterculture) that I don’t think can be so quickly discounted.”

I think av’s objections to Scott’s post are well-taken, but he trips himself up with this closing passage.  In fact, the concept of “sexual liberation” fits Scott’s model of supposedly oppositional cultural practices being co-opted by the right-capitalist system better than anything else.  And on the interpersonal level, it seems we’ve gotten more transitory physical pleasure along with a much greater amount of emotional pain.  (Sorry, I was going to e-mail av about this off-list but it doesn’t seem that he’s left genuine contact info.)

By on 01/28/06 at 04:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Nevertheless, I picked the Afghanistan example because apparently it has been roughly quantified and accounted for. I don’t have the particular article I came across - I think I read it at ZNet - but it pointed out that the U.S. military via the U.S. government was forced to greatly alter/reduce its initial bombing plans due to the domestic and international outcry over the sure calamity. This outcry was generated in large part by non-governmental organizations, nationally and internationally - organizations oftentimes created and later staffed and supported (financially and otherwise ) by the sort of committed activists and activities ("symbolic" included) that you deride.

If what you say is correct, this strikes me more as mundane politics than the symbolic variety.  From what you describe, it sounds like the NGOs were attempting to influence public and worldwide opinion by describing unnecessary civilian suffering, and in turn hoping that foriegn allies and the U.S. public would pressure the government to take an approach that would be less harmful to the civilians and that the U.S. government would perceive its own interests as being served by being more respectful for the plight of Afghani civilians.  I don’t think this is particularly “symbolic.”

By on 01/28/06 at 04:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Chomsky believes that the US attained its goals in Vietnam—not controlling Vietnam itself, but letting the rest of the world know what we’re willing and able to do. The negative international repurcussions of nuking Vietnam would have been too much.

That may have been true about Afghanistan. Nonetheless, the US seems to be committed to a policy of almost unrestrained aggression for at least as long as the Republicans stay in office.

I basically agree with Scott about contemporary street theatre and 60’s nostalgia politics. I think that his perception of the 60’s is inaccurate, and I think that he underestimates the difficulty of resisting the foreign-relations / military revolving door elite. People who worked within the system (Humphrey, McGovern and Carter especially, perhaps even Clinton) were trashed too if they displeased the inside players.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 04:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

stephan: “As Luther points out, the civil rights movement by necessity also used symbolic politics”

Luther is wrong in this case, and stephan is also.  The sphere of politics is not neatly divided into the two alternatives “symbolic” and “electoral”.  The Civil Rights movement required large amounts of community organizing.  In no sense was it symbolic in the sense that I think that Scott means.  Just to take one initial example, when Rosa Parks didn’t move out of her seat on the bus, that wasn’t “symbolic politics”—it was the trigger for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which took immense amounts of work and solidarity.  What most people seem to stigmatize as symbolic politics is the attempt to have a propaganda incident without the organized followup that will turn it into something more than a media blip.

For the larger question of whether literary studies helps one understand politics, why should it?  You understand politics by doing it, or possibly through well-informed political theory.  Literary studies people have no time or (in most cases) real interest to do politics of any sort, and the idea of literary theory being applied to politics produces results that are in my opinion, and in the communal opinion of the organizing tradition from within which I’ve worked, worthless.

By on 01/28/06 at 05:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

You’ve misunderstood my point, Rich.  Luther was (I think) conflating the symbolic politics of the later New Left (i.e., levitating the Pentagon) with that of the civil rights movement.  I was pointing out the need to draw a distinction between symbolic actions that try to rhetorically appeal to a broader audience and effect pragmatic changes, and symbolic actions that magically call into being a new society or some other apocalyptic nonsense.  Obviously, the civil rights movement used a combination of pragmatic symbolic protests and procedural methods (i.e., the NAACP’s legal challenges to segregation laws).  I don’t think you and I are in fundamental disagreement about this.

By on 01/28/06 at 06:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Regarding “working within the system”, the civil rights movement was sort of a limit case. People excluded from normal electoral politics worked outside the system in order to get in, and broke laws in order to become real citizens.

By and large, mainstream Democrats and liberals did NOT support the civil rights movement in its early years. “Working within the system” would have meant gradualist efforts of incremental changes. “They’re going too fast” was the recieved opinion, and only at the very end was MLK respectable. 

For better or worse, those who worked in the civil rights movement (I especially mean the whites, who were more or less expelled around 1965 and told to find other things to do; essentially the paradox of a paternalistic white-led movement liberating blacks became unresolvable) became disillusioned with mainstream politics. It wasn’t because SDS corrupted them that they became so.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 06:13 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Levitating the Pentagon was a joke. I can’t remember whether it was a joke pure and simple or whether it was an action of a ridiculous fringe group, but it wasn’t characteristic of anything.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 06:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

> stephan: “As Luther points out, the civil rights movement by necessity also
> used symbolic politics”
>
> Luther is wrong in this case, and stephan is also.  The sphere of politics
> is not neatly divided into the two alternatives “symbolic” and
> “electoral”.  The Civil Rights movement required large amounts of
> community organizing.  In no sense was it symbolic in the sense that I think
> that Scott means.  Just to take one initial example, when Rosa Parks didn’t
> move out of her seat on the bus, that wasn’t “symbolic politics”—it
> was the trigger for the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which took immense amounts
> of work and solidarity. 

Rosa Parks had an actual effect and a huge symbolic effect that inspires to this day. The measure of her symbolic effect is far from zero. Nor does every symbolic effect need to have an initial actual effect to contribute to change.

> What most people seem to stigmatize as symbolic
> politics is the attempt to have a propaganda incident without the organized
> followup that will turn it into something more than a media blip.
>
> For the larger question of whether literary studies helps one understand
> politics, why should it? 

Why should it not?

> You understand politics by doing it, or possibly

Much literature is itself strongly political. And could be far moreso in the academy. You don’t need to go to Haiti to be moved by literature to get involved on behalf of Haitian people, etc. You don’t need to go to a picket line to get involved on behalf of labor issues. Not that it would hurt. But sometimes reading and studying a book for a class is what gets a person involved. I know a number of people who have been inspired in part by books read and studied as literature who have gotten active and involved due to such reading, analysis, reflection. This is far from uncommon. And this is the tip of the iceberg - think of the study of overtly political theater and film, and their productions.... There could be a lot more of it, but it’s there, and has effect. And there are a number of studies that document some of these very real effects…

> through well-informed political theory.  Literary studies people have no
> time or (in most cases) real interest to do politics of any sort, and the

I also know plenty of people who give the lie to this statement. It’s just false.

> idea of literary theory being applied to politics produces results that are
> in my opinion, and in the communal opinion of the organizing tradition from
> within which I’ve worked, worthless.

I think what is called literary theory is largely disconnected from social change myself - but “lit theory” is far from the end all be all of literary study - in fact, it scarcely touches the community colleges where, I believe, about half of current college students attend, let alone, secondary schools and four year colleges.

By Tony Christini on 01/28/06 at 06:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It was one of Abbie Hoffman’s media stunts, right?  In which case, it was a joke, but in the service of a dada-anarchist ideology that viewed such stunts as the very stuff of political activism.

By on 01/28/06 at 06:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich writes, “The sphere of politics is not neatly divided into the two alternatives “symbolic” and “electoral”.”

That’s exactly my point.  Scott wrote that he’s of the “change the system from within” group.  If by “the System” Scott means the government, then that leaves all political work outside The System in the realm of what Scott seems to be criticizing as “symbolic politics.” I think symbolic politics is totally essential, as long as they are in the service of specific policy changes and not just of a lifestyle.

And Rich, if community organizing equals non-symbolic politics, then a good deal of the anti-war and Black Power and gay rights and feminist movements wouldn’t be symbolic.  I’ve met a lot of black folks who had steady meals due to Black Power community initiatives.

I’m not trying to defend the New Left.  But too much of the anti-New-Left critique sounds like a bunch of straight white men complaining that *their* agenda lost because of the New Left, when the true forces that defeated the Old Left include (a) the association of American class politics with Stalinists and Communism; (b) the “defeat” of Communism; (c) the demonization of the black and urban poor; (d) the use of abortion, and now gay rights, to split the blue collar vote.  The Right has grown in power precisely by alienating the cities (both symbolically and actually), by pitting white against black, by pitting Christians against gays and abortion.  Point of fact: if the Democrats had opposed abortion in 04, the Republicans would have lost hard.

And the reaction by a lot of anti-New-Left guys is to blame blacks, women, and gays—by blaming the New Left.

By on 01/28/06 at 06:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

> Chomsky believes that the US attained its goals in Vietnam—not
> controlling Vietnam itself, but letting the rest of the world know what
> we’re willing and able to do. The negative international repurcussions of
> nuking Vietnam would have been too much.

That’s correct (and the U.S. achieved more besides). That’s part of my point. The thing is, “the negative international repercussions” and the negative domestice repercussions might well not have been much to worry the US if activists everywhere were not active on peace and justice issues.

For example, simply regarding conventional bombing, it’s known that US bombing was limited - it’s on record - because the FBI reported that if the US intensified the war it could not guarantee domestic security. It appeared there would have been too much public outrage and upheaval. That’s fact, easily looked up. Vietnam was horrific. The record shows that without domestic public outrage and awareness - and who was raising awareness? - it would have been even much worse.

> That may have been true about Afghanistan.

It apparently was true about Afghanistan, as I’ve explained it. Pressure came from a lot of sources at the time. And the capacity to apply that pressure had been building for decades. People who raised awareness and acted, symbolically or otherwise, have and continue to contribute to this in significant ways.

By Tony Christini on 01/28/06 at 06:42 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry for the misunderstanding, stephan.  But I do think that there is still some disagreement, as you write: “I was pointing out the need to draw a distinction between symbolic actions that try to rhetorically appeal to a broader audience and effect pragmatic changes, and symbolic actions that magically call into being a new society or some other apocalyptic nonsense.” I don’t think that there is such a thing as a symbolic action that tries to effect a pragmatic change (or rather, perhaps people try, but they will never succeed).  There are symbolic actions that are organizing triggers, but the actual work of effecting the pragmatic change is done later.  The kind of media shorthand and celebrity creation that symbolizes Rosa Parks as the motive factor rather than the Montgomery Bus Boycott is a prime reason why current protest politics often seems so ineffectual—people have the idea that a gesture can possibly lead to a result without any idea of what kind of followup needs to happen.

By on 01/28/06 at 06:46 PM | Permanent link to this comment

> Nevertheless, I picked the Afghanistan example because apparently it has
> been roughly quantified and accounted for. I don’t have the particular
> article I came across - I think I read it at ZNet - but it pointed out that
> the U.S. military via the U.S. government was forced to greatly alter/reduce
> its initial bombing plans due to the domestic and international outcry over
> the sure calamity. This outcry was generated in large part by
> non-governmental organizations, nationally and internationally -
> organizations oftentimes created and later staffed and supported
> (financially and otherwise ) by the sort of committed activists and
> activities ("symbolic" included) that you deride.

>
> If what you say is correct, this strikes me more as mundane politics than
> the symbolic variety.  From what you describe, it sounds like the NGOs were
> attempting to influence public and worldwide opinion by describing
> unnecessary civilian suffering, and in turn hoping that foriegn allies and
> the U.S. public would pressure the government to take an approach that would
> be less harmful to the civilians and that the U.S. government would perceive
> its own interests as being served by being more respectful for the plight of
> Afghani civilians.  I don’t think this is particularly “symbolic.”

What I said is that symbolic activities often help gain support for these NGOs and other institutions that are in more direct position to leverage power.... How do symbolic activities achieve this? By raising awareness, largely. That’s not a symbolic effect either but as has been pointed out, symbolic isn’t quite the right term. Sometimes “symbolic” activities are used to raise funds or happen to serve to train leaders and organizers who go on to found and staff NGOs, etc. And this has been going on for decades. Take another look at what I wrote.

By Tony Christini on 01/28/06 at 06:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I should’ve framed this discussion differently, I suppose, but it is what it is now.  I’ll start by defining “symbolic politics” as “New Left stunts which occupied intelligence, time and energy that would’ve been better spent on creating working coalitions between politically diverse peoples of the sort which led to the Civil Rights movement.” I’ll define it like that because this conversation took a turn to the absurd as soon as MLK and Malcolm X entered into the equation.  As I wrote elsewhere:

The Civil Rights movement was a concerted political action, not political theater. It wasn’t symbolic in the sense that the New Left stunts were so much as acts of civil disobedience. Big difference. But your mention of Malcolm X is fortuituous, since the veiled threat he presented is partly responsible for MLK’s success: MLK could point to X and say “That’s your alternative."

I’m not sure how the New Left’s variety of “political theater” was yoked into concert with the Civil Rights movement, but it shouldn’t be.  Obviously, the Civil Rights movement benefited greatly from the staged protests...but those protests were often intended to shift the burden of law from the legislatures to the judiciary.  The same cannot be said about the “symbolic politics” of the New Left which were designed to, well, I suppose amuse themselves, their friends, and annoy “the Average American” into...being annoyed. 

LB, I’m not sure why you would associate community organizing as “symbolic politics” in the first place, since I think that’s pretty clearly the kind of “working coalition” I was discussing above.  Maybe that last nod to those who proudly didn’t vote in the last Canadian election made it seem like I had set up a binary between voting and everything else, but that certainly wasn’t my original intent.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 06:55 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The sphere of politics is not neatly divided into the two alternatives “symbolic” and “electoral”.  The Civil Rights movement required large amounts of community organizing.  In no sense was it symbolic in the sense that I think that Scott means.

I think that gets right to the heart of the problem with the post - Scott doesn’t explain what “symbolic” protest is, except to contrast it to “viable” and “efficacious.” So any arguments about activity by the New Left, or similar activity by other political movements, which did have political effect can just be discounted with the claim, “that wasn’t symbolic in the sense I meant.” Scott’s criticism here has no content.

By Tim on 01/28/06 at 06:56 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Maybe that last nod to those who proudly didn’t vote in the last Canadian election made it seem like I had set up a binary between voting and everything else.”

That’s how it sounded to me.

By Jon on 01/28/06 at 07:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Point taken, Tim.  I didn’t explicitly define it.  I thought the not-quite-implicit comparison of “street theater” to “coalition-building in a participatory democracy” would’ve pointed people in the direction I intended, but obviously I was mistaken.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 07:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Tim, that sounded snarky.  I didn’t mean it to be.  I honestly think this discussion would have been far more productive had I been clear about the distinction as I saw it.

Jon, I only included that as an afterthought, a way to point to the kind of “strategic withdrawal” from conventional politics responsible for the political emasculation of the Left in US.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 07:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I share Luther’s disinclination to blame anything on the New Left, though probably for different reasons.  Whenever you make current politics about The Sixties, you buy into a right-wing frame.  It’s history that’s too distant to be immediately applicable yet too close to be divorced from polemical use.

Luther writes: “Scott wrote that he’s of the “change the system from within” group.  If by “the System” Scott means the government, then that leaves all political work outside The System in the realm of what Scott seems to be criticizing as “symbolic politics.””

I don’t think that such a binary is implied by what Scott wrote.  Take Superfund, for an example that I’m familiar with.  A quintessentially within-the-system government program, involving billions of dollars, right?  (And let’s not start an argument about how bad Superfund is; there’s a huge body of right-wing propaganda devoted to slagging it that I’d have to get through.  Suffice it to say that not many government programs actually have “polluter pays” written into them.) But Superfund would not have come into existence without a non-electoral local community organizing effort that people might mistake for a series of symbolic actions.  So were the people responsible working within the system, or outside the system?

Try to make a snap decision on that, then add to your mental classification scheme the fact that just before the community organizers won, people in the group broke out guns and took two EPA staffers hostage.  (They got away with it.  A story in itself.) Then they went to some degree into policy wonkery, successfully assisting in exporting their local victory nationwide. 

I think that in the end, this intervention was within The System, though as indicated above it took some strange avenues to get there.  What matters are the goals and the result.  A lot of what people seem to criticize when they criticize people for trying to be outside the system is apocalypticism, which is a general feature of a lot of the supposedly political literary theory that is out there.

By on 01/28/06 at 07:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, I think that right-wing frame caveat only applies to moral judgments drawn about the New Left.  Sure, you have the Reagan-era critique of ‘60s culture, and sure, that’s associated with the New Left, but that’s an argument about “the moral fabric of the country” or what-not.  My argument, not to mention my assignment of blame squarely on the New Left, is purely tactical.  I could drain the New Left of its New Leftiness and make the same strategic critique.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 07:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I really think your reading even of the late New Left (67-73 or so) is off. Using levitating the Pentagon as part of your case is really ill-intended and silly. That was deliberate media fluff and was part of an initially-successful but ultimately disastrous attempt to “play” the media. The predominant New Left actions were a.) normal politics and petitioning, b.) enormous, peaceful, dignified demonstrations modelled on the Civil Rights movement, c.) disruptive demonstrations, as at Chicago 68 and Kent State, and d.) various sorts of civil disobedience and sabotage.

What provoked hatred was c.) and d.), not the street theatre.

Uneasiness about and opposition to the Vietnam War were very widespread during the war, but probably never a majority and absolutely not an effective majority. I think thatit would have taken some kind of public-opinion supermajority to actually end the war any quicker than it did.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 07:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A small point about ‘68, John.  McCarthy was a viable anti-war candidate till RFK entered the race.  SDS, via Carl Oglesby, encouraged people not to vote or work for him on the ground that they would be coopted by the system.  And, while it’s true that Humphrey wasn’t calling for withdrawal, he surely would have been preferable to Nixon, who won a narrow victory (and who not only carried on the war for another 6 years, but bequeathed us a number of the creeps still running the Republican party).  I’m sure everyboy would agree, though, that there were no good options at the time.  I took Scott’s objection to be to the institutionalization of some of the attitudes that resulted. The fact that one of the places they were institutionalized arguably has been literary academia is the only reason the discussion’s relevant here, I think. An addendum to Scott’s last point about the Civil Rights movement, a major part of the movement was aimed at securing voting rights.  The Voting Rights Act of 65 turned out to be one of the genuinely transformative events in American politics.

[This comment is by Sean McCann, whatever the author tag may say. We are experiencing technical difficulties. - the Management.]

By on 01/28/06 at 07:33 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In my perception, what was institutionalized in literary-cultural studies wasn’t the New Left, but the “The political is the personal” brand of sexual and identity politics—which was a reaction against the New Left—together with the more defeatist, antipopular aspects of critical theory (Adorno et. seq.)

Apolitical deadhead type hijinks also survived, and Ann Coulter is a Deadhead, so I’ll grant Scott that. The Kesey / Leary / Garcia type hippies really hated “politicos” and did what they could to make them look ridiculous.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 07:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Whenever you make current politics about The Sixties, you buy into a right-wing frame.  It’s history that’s too distant to be immediately applicable yet too close to be divorced from polemical use.

The common truism Rich references is undoubtedly correct - the sixties, much like MLK, have been irrevocably polemicized, so just citing them (or invoking the common pejorative) as an authority on the present day is not helpful.  But that hardly means one cannot talk, or seek - from a paradigmatic perspective, even - to understand historical context and consequences, and from a wide variety of angles.  Surely there are still more and less responsible and more or less precise ways to engage in such decade-speak, to seek to address the significance of the 60s (and what is perhaps more important, the unique political backlash that followed what was a period of relatively unprecedented social upheaval).  Maybe “the” failure, if anywhere, resides in “the Left’s” understandably inadequate response to this unprecedented backlash (cf. Christian Parenti’s _Lockdown America_), a backlash in which those in power took “symbolic” politics by the horns, you might say.  Hence, you know, some significant features of our post-modern or as some would have it post-political era, or condition.  Needless to say, simply renouncing “symbolic politics” (making as if, not unlike “Theory,” this were in any deeply useful or truthful manner a self-evident and self-contained entity and not just a convenient, reductive categorization) -at this stage will hardly do, and as an (allegedly pure) “tactical” approach especially, it simply will not do.

Blaming “political literary theory” is even more absurd, if not reactionary.

(But I say, before Rich takes us down the rather polemical “apocalyptic” road yet again, someone should probably tell McCann’s comment-editor to close the italics tag back there.  The thread seems to have gone all wavy from an early comment by McCann on, and as an afterthought.)

By Matt on 01/28/06 at 08:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, is “emasculation” really the term you intended to employ?

By Jon on 01/28/06 at 08:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

At some visceral level, an effective majority of Americans, including many ex-participants, rejected the Sixties, while at the same time a fair minority continued to live in the Sixties to a degree. I think that that’s one of the reasons why drug laws are so harsh; a big chunk of Americans want the Sixties to be erased.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 08:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott wrote, “LB, I’m not sure why you would associate community organizing as “symbolic politics” in the first place, since I think that’s pretty clearly the kind of “working coalition” I was discussing above.”

My point was simply that the New Left was a set of coalitions—or, to use Laclau and Mouffe’s term, articulations—of various groups that used a wide array of political tactics, some symbolic, some less so.  So a critique couldn’t simply identify the New Left with symbolic action, but would have to take into account the complex inbrication of symbolic and non-symbolic forms of political action across the various articulated groups constituting the New Left. 

“New Left” is turning into “Theory”—literally here!  Watch reification at work!

By on 01/28/06 at 08:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Matt: “Blaming “political literary theory” is even more absurd, if not reactionary.”

No one has blamed it for anything, as far as I remember.  I wrote that I thought that it was worthless within politics, which is not at all the same thing.

“(But I say, before Rich takes us down the rather polemical “apocalyptic” road yet again [...]”

I never saw an actual reason to disagree with the characterization, just a lot of sneering, like your continued use of the epithet Sean Mc-Doesn’t-Get-It.  That’s not an argument.  There has been a difference of opinion lasting through, at least, the 20th century, between those who favor revolutionary change and those who favor gradualism.  I don’t know of any better way to describe favoring revolutionary change plus pseudo-religious belief than apocalypticism.  If you’d like to suggest a better word, feel free.

By on 01/28/06 at 09:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jon, I left out the word “blanched,” which makes the nod more obvious.  I meant to gently mock the idea that there’s something academically unsavory about critiquing the New Left. 

Matt, when I refer to the “New Left,” I refer to people who called themselves such after the break from Howe and the newly minted “Old Left.” And I’m specifically not talking artificial demarcations like “the ‘60s” here for exactly the reasons you specify.  That said, while I think we agree (how could we not?) that there’s been a backlash, we differ as to its origins.  I locate them, pace this post, in part in the withdrawal of leftists from conventional politics. 

LB, point taken.  Still, I think there’s a distinction to be drawn (as others have above) between early and late instantiations of the New Left.  I’m condemning the later, obviously, because I see in its withdrawal from the very coalitional politics which made its earlier instantiation successful as what opened the doors to our contemporary situation.  I probably should’ve stressed their anti-institutional claims more strongly, since opposition to the very idea of institutions (both corporate and political) motivated both their critique of the corruption they saw and their desire to avoid conventional politics. 

Oh, and I can turn this debate to Theory more explicitly: the New Left was composed of academics who, after unsuccessful attempts to change the world from an extra-institutional position, took to academia and attempted to alter it from within.  Much of the advocacy criticism, not to mention its tone and self-righteousness, came from this particular crowd who, I should add, took “symbolic politics” to another level...but I don’t want to turn the debate in this direction, lest people think that’s where I was nefariously headed all along.  (It wasn’t.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 09:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My own opinion at this point is that, while politics outside the system is futile, equal futility can be attained by working within the Democratic Party, so there’s no reason to swithc. Of course, maybe I’m wrong.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 09:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Again, Scott—the New Left was mostly not academics, though some were and many went into academia when the New Left collapsed.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 09:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, that’s what I meant to say.  I left a “partly” out there.  (I’m too cold-medicine-addled to be participating in this discussion...not that it’s stopped me, stupidly.)

Also, I don’t think I’m quite a cynical as you quite yet.  I don’t believe in the system, but I do believe through it.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/28/06 at 09:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John Emerson: “My own opinion at this point is that, while politics outside the system is futile, equal futility can be attained by working within the Democratic Party, so there’s no reason to swithc. Of course, maybe I’m wrong.”

John, it all depends on how you define futility.  When people say that political action (within the system, without, whatever) is futile, they generally seem to be doing some combination of defining success as being something out of their reach and expecting their personal action to cause some perceptable result.  The first is common in leftist circles (haven’t smashed capitalism yet? haven’t succeeded, I guess) but the second shouldn’t be.  Isn’t the whole point of communal action the rejection of individual heroism?

Here’s a personal anecdote.  I once got annoyed at a particular right-winger who I thought was writing pseudoscience about global climate change.  I took a number of things that, mostly, other people had written about his work, and with their permission, put them up on a Web site.  A year or so later, I got a call out of the blue from a Congressional staffer.  The right-wing guy was going to testify about global warming before a Congressional committee, so the staffer was in need of some material, had found my site, and could I write up some questions and refutations for them?  I contacted one of the actual climate scientists who I had met in the course of doing the page and he agreed to do that, with the result that a Democratic congressperson used his suggested material to shoot down the right-winger’s testimony.

So, futile or not?  Global warming didn’t end, the staffer might have found someone else to write the refutations, perhaps the refutations made no difference, I didn’t actually do anything but put up a signpost that ended up getting two people in touch with each other, etc.  If you want to look at this as futile, there are plenty of reasons to.  I look at it as part of the necessary process of wearing down resistance, which is slowly working, and is going to be carried on by a lot of people.  Futility is a judgement that I think that uninvolved people tend to make more than those who are involved but frustrated.

By on 01/28/06 at 10:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

1

Working within the system, yo. As I understand it, 83% of Democrats are against the Iraq War and possibly 88% of them would be happy to see Hilary Clinton, who has no intention of ending the Iraq War, nominated for the presidency. She’ll jail ya for burning the flag! But she had to say that. Deep down she’s a good girl.

2

Wait, that’s not fair. What about the Alito protest, law students turning their backs, that Ben Franklin thing? Is that hippy-dippy shit or not? Fox News went on and on and on and on that it was hippy dippy shit. It sure seemed like hippy dippy shit to me. I mean, how was it not? And marching in the street? Like in Washington? Hippy dippy shit for sure. I mean “anti-war protests”? Come on. How is that not “sixties”? How is that different from dressing up as celery? Unions are pretty much hippy dippy shit these days. My uncle says so. And, like, reading Harper’s? Maybe that’s borderline but it’s surely on the way to hippy-dippy shit. If you want to keep a respectable profile, I dunno, I wouldn’t read Harper’s. Counterpunch, Noam Chomsky, I don’t have to tell you that’s hippy dippy shit. I guess commenting at Atrios doesn’t feel like hippy dippy shit, but sometimes I wonder if it really, you know, gets anything done.

3

So working within the System, what is that? I’m NOT saying it’s just sucking it up and voting for Hilary. I’m NOT saying that. But it’s true that pretty much everything else is hippy dippy shit. Is that my fault?

By T.V. on 01/28/06 at 10:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Not everything hip was hippie.”

By Matt on 01/28/06 at 10:36 PM | Permanent link to this comment

My own experience was just now with the Kerry campaign. I was being a good boy and working within an electoral, Democratic framework. Along with several other bloggers (Hesiod the most prominent) I spent much of a month doing research on Republican internet surrogates of the Swift-boat type. By April I had a fair amount of information gathered and posted, and was looking forward to keeping on top of that stuff.

Peter Daou was the Kerry guy in charge of blogs, and he dealt with me very, very cautiously. Hesiod, who is more prominent than me, took the initiative to contact the Democrats and the Kerry campaign, and he was rebuffed. He was intensely discouraged by his experience. Around the same time Kos had a similiar experience and posted about it.

It turns out that one of Kerry’s main people, Mary Beth Cahill, had virtually forbidden staff people to work with blogs. Daou’s a great guy but his hands were tied. (He testified just recently that none of the Democratic party pros have even the dimmest undestanding of how the Republican meme machine works.) After the election VP candidate Edwards also said, in a very dramatic public way, that Cahill was a detriment to the campaign.

And then in August, we watched while the Swift Boat liars chipped away at Kerry’s image while the Kerry people did nothing, and while Kerry vacationed.

When I became a Democrat again all I asked for was a strong campaign. I didn’t make any ideological demands. And the shits didn’t even bother to try.

By John Emerson on 01/28/06 at 11:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, no doubt you’re right that there are important distinctions to be drawn between early and late New Lefts.  And beyond question, the war was the major factor in the difference.  But it’s worth considering that most of the people who became the most celebrated leaders in the late sixties had been part of the movement since ‘65 or earlier.  And aspects of both the personal-as-political line and the apocalypticism were around from early on.  The Port Huron statement made creating a personally authentic life a central goal, and Hayden was talking about revolution in ‘61.

[This comment is by Sean McCann, whatever the author tag may say. We are experiencing technical difficulties. - the Management.]

By on 01/28/06 at 11:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

As a veteran of the 60’s, I’ve got to note that disturbingly missing from this discussion is any perceived awareness of the fact of the military draft, which lay behind much of the theater as well as the political action of the period. The FBI was quite interested in the SDS, not so much in the hippies, probably a great deal in the SF Mime Troupe and similar politically active groups.  But, through all of the manifestations of the counter-culture, either new-left political activism or the cultural theater of stepping aside from society at large, the fact of the draft, of one’s own ability to either evade it or not, was a potent force that kindled much activity in the counter cultural arena.  The fact of the military draft, and the perceived reality that one could be forced to take part in what was widely seen as an unjust and arbitrary war was the major source of energy feeding the fires of societal rejection of all sorts.  I would argue that the disturbances of the time had great effect that reverberate very strongly today.  The enlisted army was near fully out of control.  The Vietnam war was curtailed or allowed to run down, (common knowledge has it that the U.S. was defeated -a not completely wrong notion.) Johnson was forced from office.  The draft was stopped.  At least for a time the country was reflective about its extra-territorial adventurism.  The right in the U.S. today remembers these things, out of all that took place in the 60’s, and much of the agenda of the right today is still dictated by their perceptions of the 60’s - although I wouldn’t go as far as John Emerson in blaming the drug wars on the 60’s.  We as a society have many other deeply held Manichean convictions that can explain that.  But I would say that they rightly fear the guerrilla theater that exemplified the times, because it signifies still a loss of paternal control.

[This post is by someone who answers to ‘grackel’, not by Rich Puchalsky - whatever the author tag may try to tell you. We are experiencing technical difficulties. - the Management.]

By on 01/28/06 at 11:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I have no idea why it’s happening, but the comments listed above “av5” are from me, Sean McCann.  Following the convention of the weblog, I’ll assert the moral responsibility of having written them.

By on 01/29/06 at 12:00 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jerry Rubin, Abby Hoffman, and most of the Weathermen got on the boat pretty late, and they shared very little with the SDS people. Whether or not Tom Hayden et al had a personal authenticity thing going, the feminist revolt of 1972 or so on, which took “the political is the personal, etc.” as their slogan, was specifically a revolt against politicos of the Hayden type.

One thing that the draft did was make it impossible for anyone of draft age to bracket out the war and go on with their life. Even if an guy was not drafted, he’d gone through one to several years of real uncertainty. The volunteer army has defused that dynamic.

I think that the peculiar intractibility and excessiveness of the drug war are a shadow of the Sixties. The drug war is not even a political issue at all; scarcely a single major figure is willing to stick his neck out and say that the present situation is really intolerable.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 12:01 AM | Permanent link to this comment

It was arrogant control-freaks such as Emerson as well as Cahills who sabotaged Kerry’s campaign. And the Kerry campaign blog must have been coded by some cop-like “liberals” who wrote the Patriot Act. 

Marxists ruined the counterculture and new left as much as anyone; as did the rock-pop culture.  PK Dick or even Tim Leary preferable over Abbie Hoffman.

By Phreak on 01/29/06 at 12:05 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"I have no idea why it’s happening, but the comments listed above “av5” are from me, Sean McCann.”

Some kind of technical problem.  Someone using “grackel” wrote the comment that shows up as Rich Puchalsky0 above, not me.  You can still see who wrote what on the sidebar to the left.

By on 01/29/06 at 12:07 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, I believe Hoffman and Rubin organized VDC in ‘65, but yes, they had little to do with SDS.  With the exception of Dohrn, though, I think most of the prominent leaders of Weatherman had been in SDS since ‘65 or before.  Of course, there were lots of factional splits in SDS and one result was Hayden getting called down.  But I don’t think any simple cleavages can be drawn.  There were prominent figures in SDS who criticized “politicos” before ‘72 (e.g., Calvert) and some of the people they were talking about were the budding Weatherman.  Is it really contentious to say that, whatever other differences they shared, just about every one in the New Left thought that the pursuit of authenticity was a primary goal of politics?

[Sean McCann wrote this one. Disregard author tag. - the Management.]

By on 01/29/06 at 12:16 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Nicely said John…

The funny thing about all this is that the right has an absolute hegemony over the “symbolic politics” game right now. They may be better organizers, but to think that they’re not primarily winning these elections out of pure meme manufacturing is just plain wrong.

The postered fetus. The cadillac driving welfare queen. Fags at the chapel toward bestiality and child abuse. The mushroom cloud over Manhattan. The French. Effete Kerry. Kerry + Fonda. Kerry + Michael Moore. Michael Moore + OBL. The terror alert system. “Support our troops.” The “trial lawyer(s).” Democracy + Iraq. “Old Europe.” “Mission Accomplished.” Arm around a fireman on the rubble heap. The ticking time-bomb / torture scenario. The “muslim street.” (And that’s not even to start in on the Xtian crossover stuff...)

I know that’s not what Scott means by symbolic politics, which implicitly, according to his definition, has to fail. But these memes - and more importantly - the democrats’ failure to generate ANY MEMES AT ALL are as or more important than any new or newer right community organizing. These touch everybody, viscerally…

The democrats, since 9/11 and really back through Clinton, can’t be seen as anything but consummate “inside the system” players. Completely fail to develop anything of use on the levels of the aesthetic, the ideological, the polemical, or the propagandistic. No, erm, “vision.” Seriously - what image better captures them than rule following obstructionists, poll checkers too frightened to move the polls on their own. What was Kerry’s pitch last election? “Fight the War and Cut Taxes”? Where have I head that before?

So it seems a strange time to call for less symbolic politics… The left as a whole is deliriously lost “within the system.” And as much money as Soros et al can throw at the problem only ever finds its way into the same rigidified channels.

The problem about the return of the SDS is that it demonstrates, as clearly as the chants at the recent anti-war marches, that the left has failed in its extremely urgent tasks of inventing new songs to march to....

What the right learned from the likes of the pentagon levitators was that, yes, power is taken, held, and lost in the airy regions of the symbolic. The revolution will only be televised.

So, yes, we can practicalize our politics all we like, but when we arrive at Hilary’s pro-war, deficit reduction, entitlement reform agenda, we’re going to lose again. Why should even the moderately distracted care about that?

[This comment is by CR, whatever the author tag may say. We are experiencing technical difficulties. - the Management.]

By on 01/29/06 at 12:17 AM | Permanent link to this comment

oh, a small addition, of what should probably go without saying.  Wasn’t the feminist revolt in the New Left against sexism, not any particular definition of politics?

By on 01/29/06 at 12:19 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I have a three-stage theory, with the transitions in 1967 or so and 1972 or so. The second transition really did involve new people (women and gays), and the macho politico types really were driven out. The 1967 transition involved a lot of additional people and really fundamentally changed the organization. By 1969 almost everyone had more loyalty to some faction than to SDS itself, which was just the battlefield, and I think that very few of the 1961 people were even players in 1969. After 1969 SDS didn’t exist, and it wasn’t replaced by another central organization.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 12:24 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The feminist revolt I saw was not only against sexism, but also against large-scale political thinking. The full slogan was “The political is the personal, and the personal is the political”. More authenticity again; big-time male big-issue politics was seen as inauthentic.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 12:28 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Jesus, I think that the Troll of Sorrow has learned to hack.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 12:37 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hmmmm, this is most peculiar. I’ll email our webmaster and see what’s up with the comments going all wonky. (Wonder who I’ll turn out to be when I hit ‘submit’? I’m John Holbo, just in case anything tries to say otherwise.)

By John Holbo on 01/29/06 at 12:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve gone into the control panel to look and see what’s up. I tried fixing CR’s transformation into Rich-to-the-fourth. But the comment is quite insistent about who it wants to be by.

I suggest that people sign their names in the body of the comment until this gets cleared up.

By John Holbo on 01/29/06 at 01:11 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I always suspected you were all Rich’s sock-puppets.  Well, knowing is half the battle.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/29/06 at 03:43 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Stunts”?  “Political theater”?  This’ll teach you!

By on 01/29/06 at 03:57 AM | Permanent link to this comment

That was funnier when I, a.k.a. “The New Left,” wrote it.

By on 01/29/06 at 03:58 AM | Permanent link to this comment

The fact of the military draft, and the perceived reality that one could be forced to take part in what was widely seen as an unjust and arbitrary war was the major source of energy feeding the fires of societal rejection of all sorts.  I would argue that the disturbances of the time had great effect that reverberate very strongly today.  The enlisted army was near fully out of control. 

1. There is a sense in which the civil rights movement got started during WWII. African-Americans were incensed about discrimination in the military, in particular, that they were not being offered front-line roles on the battlefield. A Philip Randolph had planned a protest march in Washington that was called off at the last minute through the intervention of FDR. But that’s what got the energy going. Rosa Parks catalyzed it and the marching began in earnest in the later 1950s.

2. Vietnam came along and the draft became an issue. When I arrived at Johns Hopkins in the Fall of 1965 I looked around at the campus political organizations and joined SDS. The first thing I did within SDS was canvas African-American workers at Hopkins on civil rights issues. In the Spring of 1966 the Klan burned on a cross on the campus to protest a Bayard Rustin speech. I don’t recall when I first marched against the was, again, as a member of SDS.

3.

The second transition really did involve new people (women and gays), and the macho politico types really were driven out.

Yes. The women’s movement in Baltimore was led by women who were wives, lovers, partners, of anti-war movement men.

<CENTER>* * * * *</CENTER>

In 1967-68 I took am introductory course in computer programming, one of the first offered on any university campus. There was no computer science department. We programmed using card punch machines or teletype machines.

<CENTER>* * * * *</CENTER>

The problem about the return of the SDS is that it demonstrates, as clearly as the chants at the recent anti-war marches, that the left has failed in its extremely urgent tasks of inventing new songs to march to....

However, the musical ambience of the 22-March-2003 anti-war demo in NYC was quite different from anything I remember from the 60s and 70s.

[Bill Benzon wrote this]

By Bill Benzon on 01/29/06 at 05:18 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey! I just read that Port Huron statement. I dunno, I didn’t think it was “chilling.”

Also I read the Buhle thing about students organizing on their own instead of fetching pencils at Party headquarters. But where was the part about big puppets again? I couldn’t find that.

What else was there. Oh! Here’s a funny story about Joan Didion. I only read Slouching Toward Bethlehem a few years ago when a friend gave it to me. I was a little drunk and only glanced at the author’s name, and read it to the end in one sitting, and the whole time I was under the mistaken impression that it was written by Jonah Goldberg. No seriously! Cover up the name and read it again pretending. It sort of works!

[Love, Turbulent Velvet]

By T.V. on 01/29/06 at 12:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Phreak” above, BTW, is J*s*n G***lla.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 01:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

T.V., the statement itself isn’t chilling, reading it with knowledge of its consequences is.  And yes, Didion’s about as tough on the New Left as she is on everyone else in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.  Be you a Marxist, a hippie or Joan Baez, she’ll shred you.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/29/06 at 01:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, unless you’re John Wayne.

By on 01/29/06 at 02:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, you have your head up your butt. You still seem to feel that if the New Left had adopted a different strategy in 1961 or 1965 or 1967, everything would be better. That’s a misreading of history. Mistakes were made all right, but there were lots of causes and one of them was the fact that whoever controls the military is able to create facts on the ground which make a response almost impossible.

The people who did civil rights work in 1963 were not mainstream people working within the system. I remember reading the NYT editorials. By 1965 or 1967 they were OK, but when the chips were down they got little or no mainstream support.

The same was true of anti-war people in 1965. If people had gone to caucuses instead of what they did, Humphrey might have been elected, or he might not have been, and he might have wound down the war, or he might not have. (And from an American point of view, Nixon did wind down the war.)

The turning-point I think that you’re talking about was the attempt to politicize hippies, and the use of street theatre and, especially, confrontional demonstrations. This may have been a mistake, but I do not believe that the outcome in 1968 or later would have been much different if that choice had not been made.

I think that you also underestimate the resistance to anti-war efforts. At the beginning, choosing to oppose the war was a very lonely, frightening act, a kind of existential choice, and it was really more or less incommensurable with going to caucuses.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 02:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, you’re quite possibly correct, in that I can’t definitively say how things would’ve turned out had the New Left adopted a different strategy.  (I can’t, after all, misread a history that didn’t happen.) All I can do, and all I have done, is point to the actual consequences of their chosen strategy.  I aware of the reasons they chose it, and am not unaware of what that decision entailed, both personally and professionally; but I’m also able to look around right now and see the consequences of those decisions, and I’m not a fan. 

Another way to say this: I would love to be able to point to the positive effect the New Left had on the political culture, but I can’t see it.  They created a stereotype which, given the savviness of the Republican machine, hounds all those who would lean a little to the left of Clinton.  (Which still, really, puts them on the right.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/29/06 at 02:24 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott, you don’t know what the actual consequences of anything were. You look around you and see you don’t like, and you trace it back to a manifesto written 44 years ago. That’s an enormous stretch, as we’ve all been saying. And I also think that you’ve misread the history that actually did happen 1962-1969.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 02:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott,

Didion doesn’t exactly savage everybody; she doesn’t savage the same groups at the same historical moment. She goes through phases; each phase has a scapegoat which you may or may not share. Slouching is written in a moment of political reaction for her, and it is for me a pretty unmoving and unconvincing book. If it were written by anyone else I’d consider it hackwork, and so would you. She cherrypicks her suppposedly “representative” subjects for ultramegamaximum disgust, it’s all very hamfisted, and it pretty much reads as a proleptic catalogue of all the most simplistic rhetorical moves in the RNC playbook, right down to blaming sex for the decline of the republic, right down to eliding the importance of the war and the draft to period psychology (as if all these people just starting behaving irresponsibly for no reason), right down to the lurid O-O-O-What-of-the-Children moments. Sure there was squalor and narcissism, but Slouching is no more of an authentic window into lines of historical causation in the sixties than Destructive Generation or The Closing of the American Mind.

Speaking of causation: dude, are you really willing to back-inject that whole florid decade into the poor Port Huron document, “it,” the decade, being a “consequence” of the text? I’ve been known to accept theoretically outrageous notions of textual causation, but I don’t see it happening with this particular one, not even with a hermeneutic supercollider. It’s an innocent thing that contains very little of what you’re grousing about even with the most capacious notion of influence.

By T.V. on 01/29/06 at 02:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Didion, sort of a neutered HL Mencken, misread the dionysian energy of the 60’s and the Haight and was unwilling to acknowledge any of the positive effects of that energy. Regardless of excesses and drug casualties and hedonism, people like Kesey and the Grateful Dead produced more tangible good than a Didion and her fellow light-weight New Journalist cynics ever did, and were more effective subversives than the likes of Hoffmann and Hayden and crew.  “.....and the wind in the willows played Tea for Two....”

By phreak on 01/29/06 at 02:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I agree with TV’s questioning of the supposed consequences of the Port Huron Statement.  Much of it seems written to shore up the New Deal, not push us down the road toward insular lifestyle enclaves.  There seems to be a tension, sometimes, between Hayden’s call to take back the government from the military-industrial complex, and his emphasis on more local, participatory schemes--but these different emphases aren’t incompatible, and indeed I thought part of the New Deal was combining state action and more local, communal action.  The only part of the PHS that really supports a more “personal is political,” “apocalyptic” reading is the intro, maybe four or five pages where Hayden talks about ending alienation in the workplace and giving people the freedom to realize themselves through creative, self-directed work.  As T.V. says, it’s kind of innocuous, and it’s hard to see how the PHS sets the Left down the road to co-optation by Ronald Reagan’s press campaign.

By on 01/29/06 at 03:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Nixon wound down the war?  Not exactly.  It’s true that the PHS has a statist side, but I thought the standard interpretation was that people only cared about the intro.  Even so, while the PHS showed an attraction to participatory democracy and executive power (a combination common through New Left political thinking), it was dismissive of representative democracy and, more importantly, I think, withering about the insignificance of the central achievment of the New Deal--"security." Seems everyone agreed at the time life needed to be more risky.  Now it is.

By on 01/29/06 at 03:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Do I get to be OG of all these Rich Puchalskys?

Anyways, I think that this illustrates the difficulty of starting out by criticizing the New Left.  It is simply impossible, unless everyone involved is very careful, to keep the subject from snapping to the usual.  That’s what wrong with Buhle’s original proposal, I think, not the concrete actions or setup of the group, but the re-use of a name that is sure to deflect everyone into rearguing the sixties.  It’s leftist nostalgia, and I’ve already gone over what I have to say on that too many times.

I disagree with CR about the right’s supposed genius at meme-making.  Most of their memes are tired and old, and the liberals and the left have any number of people making all the ideas, pictures, slogans, Lakoffian frames, etc. you could want.  But they have a coordinated distribution system with buy-in from the major media.

Bill Benzon writes: “that’s what got the energy going. Rosa Parks catalyzed it and the marching began in earnest in the later 1950s.”

That’s the kind of shorthand that I think represents the problem.  Rosa Parks would have joined Claudette Colvin in obscurity if her incident hadn’t been chosen as an organizing trigger.  People later on read history books that talk about Rosa Parks and think that’s all they need to do.  If only.  That’s what I think is the real basis for the complaints about symbolic politics; of course you need symbols, but symbols without backup don’t go anywhere.

By on 01/29/06 at 03:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Where I would agree with Scott somewhat is on the ill-effects of political hippieism. I just don’t connect that to the Port Huron statement or SDS at all, but to Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman’s rather calculated scam, and to basically apolitical people like Jerry Garcia and Ken Kesey who were libertarians at best and really hated leftists and liberals.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 03:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I don’t have the numbers but Nixon brought American deaths down while continuing to kill Vietnamese.

Memes are good if they work. You don’t want to end up with the Sundance Meme Prize, but just lots of ticket sales. 

I remember that everyone ridiculed Rove’s 2004 “wolves” commercial, but my guess is that it worked.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 03:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"Rich Puchalsky to the Ninth Power” here again (lord knows what that hacking Troll of Sorrow will designate me as this time).  I agree with John Emerson’s latest comment (1/29, 2:23 pm).  Scott’s post is interesting and I certainly don’t mean to try and tear it down.  And maybe he’s right about some ill effects of “political hippieism.” But you really have to read the Port Huron Statement against the grain to find Ken Kesey there.  A good chapter to read is “Alternatives to Helplessness.” This chapter almost functions as a prescient CRITIQUE of all the stuff Scott is critiquing!  For example, Hayden weighs in against mere symbolic shows of protest, arguing that educators and unions must actually alter the status quo in the centers of power:  “As long as the debates of the peace movement form only a protest, rather than an opposition viewpoint within the centers of serious decision making [!!], then it is neither a movement of democratic relevance, nor is it likely to have any effectiveness except in educating more outsiders to the issue.” Where representative democracy is concerned, much of the chapter is taken up with strategies for breaking down the “Dixiecrat-Republican alliance.” And SDS’s strategy is precisely to attack this alliance through conventional democratic practices like voting.  “The civil rights struggle has thus come to an impasse.  To this impasse, the movement responded this year by entering the sphere of politics, insisting on citizenship rights, specifically the right to vote.  The new voter registration stage of protest represents perhaps the first major attempt to exercise the conventional instruments of political democracy [!] in the struggle for racial justice.  The vote, if used strategically by the great mass of now-unregistered Negroes theoretically eligible to vote, will be a decisive factor in changing the quality of Southern leadership from low demagoguery to decent statesmanship.” Where is the “belabored utopianism” in these passages?  (And I’m not just picking and choosing at random, I would say 80% of the PHS is urging more representative democracy, more participatory action, a stronger civil society, and so on.) Again, I think Scott’s and “av5“‘s ideas are provocative, but I guess I’m just not seeing the “No matter what it is or who commenced it,/ I’m against it” aspect of the PHS.  It makes me think there’s some other edition of the Statement that people are using, edited by Timothy Leary.

By on 01/29/06 at 03:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

T.V., I admit that I’m putting (pace LB) quite a bit of pressure on a document which, on its face, reads fairly innocuously...and I suppose that may be a mistake.  But the PHS is typically considered the founding document of the New Left, so it stands to reason that it contains, albeit germinally, ideological sentiments which won’t flower for a couple of years.  I’m not arguing for historical causality, then, so much as I’m turning to it as a document of a particular historical attitude.  Maybe I should have included a close reading of particular passages of the PHS in this body of my original post, but if, as Rich insists, this thread was doomed from the get-go, I don’t see what difference it would’ve made.  (I’ll return to the Didion point at another time.)

To address RP#9’s complaint, the New Left’s antipathy both toward the state (as then configured) and the alienating effect of the increasingly bureaucratic nature of American life (think The Man in the Grey Suit) were, I thought, commonplace knowledge.  The New Deal “nanny-state” Kesey viciously mocked in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, for example, or organized labor in Sometimes a Great Notion, for another, aren’t outliers to New Left thought but representative of it.  (At least, from what I’ve read.) Incipient opposition to institutions as such is contained within the PHS, thus so is what will eventually lead to the withdrawal from conventional politics.  That’s the move I’ve criticized here, or at least that’s the one I tried to.  Apparently, all I’ve done is convince people I wasn’t alive in the ‘60s and that voting’s supremely keen.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/29/06 at 04:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

It’s been some time since I read Tom Wolfe’s book, but I thought that in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s Ken Kesey was in the Stanford writing program, volunteering for LSD experiments, and writing his two major novels.  He wasn’t agitating for civil rights in the South or trying to figure out how to tame the US’s imperialistic foreign policy.  I mean, c’mon, we’re humanists here, but if we’re going to try to act as sociologists, we need to present convincing data.  I’m perfectly willing to be shown that there was a Hayden/Kesey connection somewhere--maybe Hayden read “Nest” in 1965 and became more anti-statist afterward--but it has to be something more convincing than “anti-statism was in the ether at the time, if you read the PHS really, really closely you’ll see it.” Maybe this isn’t a critique of Scott so much as it is of the blog format--I have a feeling that there’s a more nuanced analysis in the upcoming Yale Journal that just isn’t coming across here, due to space limitations, the rapid-fire nature of the comment box, etc.  For that reason, I should probably stop commenting and wait to read the articles(s).

By on 01/29/06 at 04:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Kesey in “Cuckoo’s Nest” takes the political discussion beyond the usual right vs left commonplaces: the imagined liberal-behaviorist utopia turns out to be run by Nurse Ratcheds, icy mengele-like clinicians, and robot-like interns. The McMurphys are not necessarily superior (and there is some irony in McMurphy--he is not so much a hero (tho’ Nicholson, a dimwit, hammed him up as one---perhaps McM’s a bit psychotic, incipient mansonite), they are in a sense the victims and casualties of all the state and behaviorist planning. Kesey or the Dead were not simply some amoral druggy libertarians (the Dead has its own powerful philanthropic organization which donates a great deal of money to many different groups, including to africa) : there is in Chief Broom for instance quite a bit of real compassion for the natives and Weir I believe made some remarks in support of Dean. Anyways, that libertarian and Jefferson-on-sinsemilla aspect of the 60s may be as authentic as the more marxist elements.

By phreak on 01/29/06 at 04:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, although the casualty rate declined, I believe more Americans died in Vietnam under Nixon than LBJ, which would make sense, even with Vietnamization, given that American presence extended for another 6 years after ‘68.  But there was also the invasion of Cambodia, the secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos, the Christmas bombing of Hanoi, the madman approach to diplomacy, etc.  He was pretty lethal.

By on 01/29/06 at 05:25 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Maybe talk about how the twenty-aughts are NOT like the sixties?

One’s the draft, as some have said. That’s where all the weird, inverted-Oedipal psychology came from, at least for the boys. Your parents support the war: they want to kill you. “Dad won’t let me listen to the Beatles upstairs.” Map that scenario onto this one: Dad wants LBJ to send me to my death. The second licenses a full-scale rebellion against the first, because they’re too entangled to be teased apart. You’re allowed to say fuck-you to your parents if they want to kill you. There are no limits, no taboo too small to rage against. This is the source of the enormous libidinal mobilization, and of the frequently regressive infantilism of the politics too. No later era without a draft is psychologically analogous. Comparative doo-da about “Dionysus” or “childish antics” or “responsibility"--or political tactics and consequences--are bogus, in my opinion.

Another signal difference between “the sixties” and now is the quality and degree of media surveillance, and its wholesale ownership by the right. It was widely reported across many weblogs that the antiwar protests just prior to the Iraq conflict drew out an enormous number of “ordinary” middle Americans, the sort of people that you “wouldn’t have expected” to see at a protest rally. At no point was this represented in media coverage of the marches, assuming they were covered at all. This is very different too.

By T.V. on 01/29/06 at 06:15 PM | Permanent link to this comment

By the way, the difference in the media situation is why Scott’s screed seems to me more than a little masochistic and self-hating. It buys into the tired, tired old liberal-triangulation biz. If only “we” could agree to scapegoat and expel some further-left “fringe,” “we’d” gain “respectability” among the mythical middle! This is fantasy. It never yields any poltical results except an increasingly neurotic timidity. And in this case, it’s preposterous on raw empirical grounds. If there were a hundred antiwar protests across the country tomorrow, and every single person attending wore Sunday-best white shirts and dresses and had close-cut hair and didn’t use profanity or chew gum and was polite to the cameras and cited Jesus in all of their answers--with the exception of five people in Seattle who dressed as Batman--you can be very, very certain that all of the major news networks would play tape loops of the five people dressed as Batman. Does anyone seriously dispute that?

The question is:  who do you feel rage toward here? Personally, I prefer to blame the fuckers who manage the wall-to-wall news spin. But too many liberals direct their rage almost exclusively toward the five people dressed as Batman, and to their “enablers,” those idiots who explicitly or implicitly allowed this thing to happen in front of the cameras!

Of course you can do that. But consider carefully what this means. It means that you’ve accepted and internalized the nonreciprocal terms of representation and let the right define the battlefield for you. It also means that you’ve accepted the need for a hyperStalinist surveillance, a surveillance in excess of the State’s own, which ensures that nothing potentially embarrasing ever appears in the realm of the spectacle because [shrilly] the window of opportunity is so small!!. Which is to say, you’ve accepted the need to eternally triangulate against your own, layer after potentially embarrassing layer, until you’re indistinguishable from the right whose respect you’re vainly trying to win. And the irony is that even if you dispatched the five people dressed as Batman, execution-style, for the greater good of the republic, some Fox News pundit would simply invent some disgrace which would stick to you and take you down anyway.

But to this day triangulation remains the psychology of liberalism. It’s a wounded psychology, the psychology of people who still see themselves through the eyes of people who despise them, the high-school psychology of the betas one or two levels up from the bottom whose most desperate social imperative is to avoid being seen with the untouchables.

Now I’m sure someone will pipe up and say, “Oh, if only it were just five people dressed as Batman! It’s thousands!” But the numbers don’t matter at all. Tactically, the difference between right and left is that when the right sees a potentially sympathetic marginal group they instantly say “How can we use that energy?” Whereas liberals always say, “Oh my fucking God! How can we keep them from the polls so we can win over the Center?”

I think that’s the origin of the problem we’re in. Not street theater. It’s so apocalyptic a problem, in my opinion, that over the last four years I’ve more or less completely severed my psychological identification with liberalism. It seems completely irremediable. The Democratic Party has consciously decided to become a permanent, and permanently lucrative, minority party; I have plenty of anger to direct toward them, and very little left for the kids who dress up as vegetables.

By T.V. on 01/29/06 at 06:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

One reason I’m so unfriendly to Scott’s idea is that I, too, think that the turning point of modern history was during the Sixties: LBJ’s escalation of the Vietnam War. This ended up meaning that the Democratic Party would be split between hawks and doves for at least a generation, and that the Republican candidate in 1968 would be able to run either as the peace candidate, or as the war candidate, or (as Nixon did) both.

I now believe that military concerns and the military/foreign-policy establishment have had the whip hand on American politics since 1941. Brzezinski might disagree with Kissinger, and Scowcraft might disagree with Rumsfeld, but guys from that club will always have the last word. Carter displeased the club, and Casey sabotaged him (postponing hostage release). They sabotaged Humphrey (a private deal with Vietnam), probably McGovern, and maybe Clinton.

I don’t think that the turn to street theatre and confrontational demonstrations in 1965 or 1967 caused that. It was a desperate, futile, and maybe a wrong-headed response, but I don’t think that it made anything happen.

By John Emerson on 01/29/06 at 07:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill Benzon writes: “that’s what got the energy going. Rosa Parks catalyzed it and the marching began in earnest in the later 1950s.”

That’s the kind of shorthand that I think represents the problem.  Rosa Parks would have joined Claudette Colvin in obscurity if her incident hadn’t been chosen as an organizing trigger

You’ve missed the context. Prior to mentioning Rosa Parks I asserted that the civil rights movement started in WWII with black dissatisfaction over segregation in the military. It was in that context that Rosa Parks had catalytic value. To be sure, I didn’t spell out everything that happened between the earlyh 1940s and the mid-50s, nor did I even outline it. For better or worse, I assumed it—this is, after all, a blog discussion, not a hardcopy refereed journal. So I was asserting that Rosa Parks’s action worked in the context of a decade and a half of politcal work.

That’s the only way catalytic events, symbolic events, function. They feed on “energy” that is “latent” in the dynamics of the system.

By Bill Benzon on 01/29/06 at 08:20 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Bill, what I meant was that Claudette Colvin refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person nine months before Rosa Parks did.  Civil rights leaders considered organizing around Colvin, but decided not to, largely because they thought she wouldn’t make a good symbol.  If they had decided not to with Parks, people would never have heard of her either.  My point was that Rosa Parks was not really the catalyst for a decade and a half of political work.  The catalyst was the local organizing effort that used her as icon.  Yes, she was a good icon, and yes, that decade and a half provided the fuel—but icons are common.  I’m just saying that it would be equally short to write “the Bus Boycott catalyzed” instead of “Rosa Parks catalyzed”, but no one does.  And I think that’s a problem.

T.V., I think that you’re reading things into what Scott wrote that he didn’t write.  I didn’t see anything about excommunicating some fringe.  I don’t see that among any liberals now, really.  I think that even the dimmest (except those in the media, of course) are starting to understand that the right wing will manufacture whatever propaganda it needs if it can’t turn up one symbolic person to enact it, so looking for that one person to scold is futile.

By on 01/29/06 at 08:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"That’s what wrong with Buhle’s original proposal, I think, not the concrete actions or setup of the group, but the re-use of a name that is sure to deflect everyone into rearguing the sixties.”

I agree with this.  (In fact, I find myself agreeing with most of the Rich Pulchasky’s who’s been posting here, perhaps especially with the one who claims he’s in fact CR.) Though I’ve also found the more nuanced discussion of the sixties of much interest.

Of course, in the UK the equivalent argument (about what shut the Left out of power and helped keep Thatcher in for so long) tends to blame exactly the opposite phenomenon: not withdrawal, but entryism.  I’m thinking about Militant in the 1980s.  Whose specter continues to haunt the Labour Party.  It’s a period that’s been revisited in the recent twentieth anniversary of yet another political manifesto, the Limehouse Declaration.

By Jon on 01/29/06 at 09:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

"most of the Rich Pulchasky’s who’s”

Forgive the ungrammatical confusion; but who can blame me?

By Jon on 01/29/06 at 09:23 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich Puchalsky says: “T.V., I think that you’re reading things into what Scott wrote that he didn’t write.  I didn’t see anything about excommunicating some fringe.”

Scott Eric Kaufman says: “Could he choose a more inappropriate moment to revive the New Left obsession with symbolic politics?”

I say: Res ipsa loquitur.

—et alia (http://etalia.livejournal.com)

By et alia on 01/29/06 at 10:01 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I’m not sure how a post about bringing the New Left back into the fold turned into one advocating they be excommunicated from it, but apparently it has. 

et alia, exactly how does the statement of mine you quoted means what you think it so self-evidently means?  I only ask because in the entry and after I argue that the New Left withdrew from coalitional politics, and that ideally its ideological children would reverse course and re-enter the realm of conventional politics.  Given that, whom do you think I’m excommunicating, and from what?

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/29/06 at 10:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

et alia, usually when people say that something speaks for itself, they are less certain of their interpretation then they want to let on.  Scott’s post goes on to decry ineffectiveness, it says nothing about excommunication; the moment is supposedly inappropriate because there is a lot at stake and choosing ineffective means would be the wrong thing to do.  T.V. was writing about scapegoating and expelling some leftist fringe to gain credibility.  You can read Scott that way if you want to—purposeful misreading for greatest righteous anger value is nothing new, I’m sure—but I don’t find it very interesting.

By on 01/29/06 at 10:22 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The Real Rich,

I disagree with CR about the right’s supposed genius at meme-making.  Most of their memes are tired and old, and the liberals and the left have any number of people making all the ideas, pictures, slogans, Lakoffian frames, etc. you could want.  But they have a coordinated distribution system with buy-in from the major media.

So you don’t like them, think they’re stale. No one would agree with you more. Problem is, they’re insanely effective. Straight from Nixon’s canny targetting of the “urban crisis,” through Reagan’s nuclear optimism, to GWB’s war on terror, one winner after another. And, honestly, I think the libs have enough money / organization to get at least a meme or two out there and running. But they don’t. Why? They’ve got none. Why? They’re not sure exactly what they’re up to, have settled into the role of Loyal Opposition.

My pops, completely untouched by anything even remotely like right-wing grass roots organization, can basically sing with perfect pitch the talking points, the idees recues, he hears on O’Reilly each night.

Seriously, name a single meme, ideologeme, plain old idear of any mobilizing efficacy dropped by the Kerry campaign.

Organization is important. But Karl Rove is importanter. Talk radio is way importanter. It is in large part a battle of ideas, and our/their magazine is empty.

CR (in case it’s still funky, the attributions...)

By on 01/29/06 at 11:06 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Test

By on 01/29/06 at 11:45 PM | Permanent link to this comment

In loosely sequential order:
Emerson’s

“the drug culture”
“Kesey / Leary / Garcia type hippies really hated ‘politicos’ and did what they could to make them look ridiculous.”
“really hated leftists and liberals”
“The New Deal “nanny-state” Kesey viciously mocked in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, for example, or organized labor in Sometimes a Great Notion"

“drug culture” as a phrase, like “hippy” as a term, was a media creation, though there may be some weight to the idea of the media itself even then being little more than a lab assistant in a much larger and very well-funded R&D facility.
Certainly there was eventually something that could be called a “drug culture”, just as there was something that could have been and is called the “hippy” movement.
It would be unrealistic to describe Kesey or Garcia as never “hating” anything or anyone I suppose, though in Kesey’s case anyone who knew him would say he strove valiantly to rise above petty egoisms and unnecessary negativity.
It’s possible you were in the thick of things back then and are actively choosing to employ terms and images that were created from outside, by antagonistic agencies, for the purpose of diminution and control of what was and remains to this day a seriously threatening break in the social order, but I think it’s more likely you’re using them because you’ve bought uncritically the media versions of the events and actors you characterize as “hating” and “hippies”.
“Hippy” is a bothersome term - it was originally jazz-world slang for wannabe scenesters, repurposed and given to a relieved and anxious nation in a Look magazine article. I remember that relief vividly. It was all around me.
What you need to get is the weirdness of suddenly seeing all these long-haired freaks and not knowing what to call them. And then you had a word for what they were that made them seem silly.
Hunter Thompson’s version is that Herb Caen the redoubtable SFChronicle columnist coined it, which is plausible given he’s the perp on “beatnik”, another term of derision and scorn given unimpeachable credentials by constant media repetition and the need in inferior men to name what frightens them.
Both those words annihilate everything outside the boundaries of their ridicule. It’s cartoonization as assassination technique.
Characterizing Ken Kesey as “hating” anything can only be done from way outside any experience of the man himself. It seems more likely that received disdain, from what were obviously powerful intellects, was a “hateful” thing for those who encountered it - and in the absence of rigorous self-knowledge that would have been easily transformed into being “hated”.
Being subjected to the negative judgment of someone whose collaboration and support you’re expecting can be traumatically “hateful”, and it was the case that many of the leading figures of what came to be called by many names every single one of them either derogatory or co-optive were disdainful of the anal and unimaginative politics uber alles" crowd.
It’s a fairly simple thing to illuminate - the denial of your particular solution to a shared problem is not denial of the importance or urgency of the problem itself.
Calling Kesey anti-union, or saying he “mocked” organized labor in his novel, would have more substance if it was accompanied by an explanation for the existence of Jackie Presser, and all that it implies. It would be more accurate and far more honest to distinguish what’s clear in the book, which is an homage to the working man, as man, working, and not some theoretical unit of abstraction.
And as a fun tangent r.e. street theater:
Emmett Grogan and the Diggers may or may not have been complicit but it is a true fact that a morose and not well and lonely buffalo disappeared from its cruel confinement in a constricted paddock at the west end of Golden Gate Park, and also true that the next day the Diggers’ daily free lunch for “the people” in Panhandle Park featured buffalo stew.
-
Fortuitously enough, when I read Scott Kaufman’s “your mention of Malcolm X is fortuitous, since the veiled threat he presented is partly responsible for MLK’s success” I realized what was missing from this entire thread, aside from Canada - any mention of the assassinations, and from that any serious discussion of the general dread and the at least perceived futility of traditional political process.
Anyone over 16 and under 35 in 1968 who was anything like aware of anything beyond their own basic needs-meeting was freaked totally by what still seems to have been the consistent and conspired murdering of viable mainstream liberal leadership.
Evaluating the influence of SDS by the progress or regress of the country generally, or by the leftishness or triangular behaviors of mainstream Democrats in particular - but leaving out the video-game-like disappearances of these men, and the fear that created and maintained in all of us - it seems a little you know, denialistical or something.
-
“levitating the Pentagon”
The development of radar in mid-20th century warfare technology led pretty rapidly to the development of radar-jamming technologies, of which one of the simplest and cheapest was the airborne dispersal of great volumes of chopped tinfoil, known as “chaff”.
It’s my contention that many of the more outlandish things that crop up on our communal radar are just such stuff.
They emanate from the same duplicitous stronghold that gave us the McDonald’s woman, the one who sued the company because her coffee was too hot. Not the real one, the media one.
That the real one needed skin grafts from the ensuing burns consequent to her spilling what was a virtually boiling liquid onto her lap just never seemed to make the same stories that gave us all the image of grasping self-interest that’s now the history of that.
The objective in scattering chaff is redirection, confusion - a large enough mass of false signals that the instruments become untrustworthy.
The phrase “conspiracy theory” - defined as it is now by absurdities and hoaxes more than actual conspiracies - has been drained of its real and fairly important meaning by just such means.
-
T.V.

“One thing that the draft did was make it impossible for anyone of draft age to bracket out the war and go on with their life"

Generally, overall, and yeah, though there were exceptions, some because their own dilemmas were more pressing even than being drafted. There was a kind of war here at home, as many learned later, and some learned at the time the hard way. Fred Hampton for instance.

“No later era without a draft is psychologically analogous."

And here’s where it comes back together.
The refusal of the Bush Administration and its dominant social cohort to publicly address the weather - inasmuch as it’s a darn serious thing all in all - gets pretty psychologically analogous, though never on that personal “Greetings...”, or “We regret to inform you...”, level.
Nevertheless I personally, and I think many other like-minded viewers of the contemporary scene, get the impression they’re still trying to kill us, or - more accurately parallel to the Viet Nam time - that they’re still willing to sacrifice us without the slightest regret, for their own gratification.
It’s just that the Oedipal maps are outdated now, and most of the oppressive fatuous greedy arrogant swinish obstinant refusal to care is coming from below us on the timeline.
The whole business of climate change, with its immense consequence, has metaphysical resonance all through it, including the prophetic tradition of the fundamentalist Christians who make up the essential power base for the insane right in America - and for the instigators whoever they are of the Iraq debacle as well - or at least it has a resonance of something that is purported to be metaphysical; and a lot, a really really whole lot, of what was derided - by both the mainstream through its then still moderately honest media, and the grimly anal (though fashionably hirsute and slovenly) Left in its serious efforts toward consensus - as “hippy” and “cosmic”, and still is so derided evidently, was concerned with these very things, that there were many who tried to put the health of the earth and the human soul above the shallow expediency of too-narrow political concerns. Concerns which for all their immediate validity and pragmatism are about no more or less than exactly those things.
-
I’m sorry to one and all that this is so long, and will say in my own defense only that, had I not exercised great care and concern for the reader, it might well have been twice again the length it has now become.

[rollo]

By on 01/29/06 at 11:50 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Some of the phrases I used were conventional designators, e.g. “the drug culture”. There was such a thing, and I was part of it, and in many cases it was purely and simply that. Already by 1967 or so people were complaining that things were getting stupid and fucked up.

I was more on the politico side, and whatever you called the Kesey / Leary / Garcia types, they had a real disdain, or whatever you call it, for the politicos. (The two guys in that general group who did not were Gary Snider and Allen Ginsberg, who both had leftists in their family background). This disdain was partly justified, after all, in the case of neo-Stalinists or Weatherman nihilists. But their alternative wasn’t much more than the kind of thing Scott’s arguing against—magical thinking, self-dramatization, radical individualism.

I should say that the cultural power was with the non-politicos, and politicos thended to drift halfway over to that side. Partly justifying Scott’s original statement.

I don’t feel that I’m repeating anyone’s slogans or judgements, except to an extent by using conventional designators.

By John Emerson on 01/30/06 at 12:25 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott: I argue that the New Left withdrew from coalitional politics, and that ideally its ideological children would reverse course and re-enter the realm of conventional politics.  Given that, whom do you think I’m excommunicating, and from what?

Come on, Scott. Saying that the ideological progeny of the New Left could not have choosen a “more inappropriate moment to revive the New Left obsession with symbolic politics,” that “the institutionalization of unrepetant New Leftists in the humanities ensures a primed audience for the new SDS and their old anti-statist, anti-rationalist message,” reducing the mindset of the 60s New Left to two verses of a song from Horsefeathers—just about everything in the post drips with comtempt.  You say your intention was to show that the New Left marginalized itself and that ideally they should reintegrate themselves, but your post heaped calumnies on them and suggests they should be shunned.

Let me ask you this: do you think there’s anything to the ideology or tactics of the New Left and its progeny that mainstream Dems and liberals need?  If so, then your claim that the New Left should re-enter mainstream politics has some meaning other than “Open your wallets, shut your mouths, and vote!” Otherwise, that’s what you’re saying, and that’s all you’re saying.

Rich: T.V. was writing about scapegoating and expelling some leftist fringe to gain credibility.  You can read Scott that way if you want to—purposeful misreading for greatest righteous anger value is nothing new, I’m sure—but I don’t find it very interesting.

You found it uninteresting, so you responded.  I find that interesting.

By et alia on 01/30/06 at 01:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I’ve been boycotting these threads, but it’s not like anyone notices a drop-out. (Hey, kinda like politics!) And with T.V. and Rollo and Luther B. the 7th here, and me liking Scott despite this what-the-fuck post, I might as well give up now as any other time.

You can’t beat me for ressentiment, boyo. If we were on Kotsko I’d be confessing with no hope of redemption that the single thing that rankled me most last year—with all last year’s global disasters and personal wretchedness—the thing that dug deepest under my skin was—just like old times, cracker on the scholarship—a slumming academic star child of an slumming academic star rejoicing in his opportunity to play hip beautifully coiffed Maoist in 1968 (1968, when our last chance got pissed and bled away) and telling me that I was a deer caught in the headlights of history—and what am I gonna say? I’m useless politically. It’s been proven.

But Scott, if you’re worried about lack of support for a corrupt Democratic Party, then work for a less corrupt Democratic Party. I’m no Maoist, but my nose cannot be pinched enough to vote for Dianne Feinstein. Yeah, pretending a revolution is pending does nothing or less than nothing, but where are your PayPal pointers to the local progressive-as-they-can-be candidates in the primaries? And what is this non-call to non-arms doing here?

Long Sunday is not the anti-Valve. The Valve is the anti-Valve. Long Sunday sometimes responds to the anti-Valve. And I can’t blame them, although I think they can find better uses of their time.

[aka Ray Davis]

By Ray Davis on 01/30/06 at 02:02 AM | Permanent link to this comment

"Bringing the New Left back into the fold?” You wrote an “ew hippie” post, Scott. The typical campus these days has five burgeoning Objectivist clubs and one Chess Club Against the War with three members. In that context you’re issuing an alarmist call to stop, stop the formation of a new left student group before it does damage, before the television cameras arrive! Before--oh my God--the puppets appear! It’s the exact instantiation of the mindset I wrote about above. I agree that the SDS brand label is a danger in inciting infantile sixties nostalgia in college kids. If you’d stopped there we’d be on the same page. But you didn’t stop there; you pounded out another anti-boomer manifesto about how it’s all their fault so you don’t have to take any responsibility for your rhetorical choices in the present. And you emprison yourself in your own lurid Didion stereotypes, because the Right has spent three decades spreading the Pavlovian ew-hippie reflex to every single possible collective political action outside of voting, which they now control with Diebold machines. Of course you end your essay by holding up people who “proudly don’t vote” as the ultimate evil, because your own ew-hippie rhetoric has already beeen designed to leave no other political action imaginable.

This new affectation that you only meant to include--c’mon, who does it convince? It doesn’t even convince all the people who began by criticizing you but are now affirming your argument to protect you from me. (This shoulder-to-shoulder thing always happens if you bring up triangulation to liberals, and it supposedly refutes the proposition that triangular scapegoating is the basic dynamic of any little tribe. Yeah! Okay!) Rich’s explicit claim that liberals don’t exclude anymore, what can you even say to that? I wasn’t aware that the DLC had spontaneously disbanded. The first gesture of the liberal alphas like Berube and Kinsley after 9/11 was to flamboyantly write off thousands of allies to keep their place at the discursive table: there is no decent left! Forever dead to history are the Chomsky fans! Absolutely classic: danger, danger, who do we sacrifice? Liberals never think they’ve excluded anybody because they’ve just written off everyone two millimeters to their own left, and of course those people don’t count. But liberals need to get religion and reach out to the crazy fundies! (Do I have to prooftext all the articles on this one, too?)

Anyway, sorry I’ve offended. Good luck with putting a stop to left student organizations on campus before they can poison the water supply! And go Hillary in ‘08! (Oh! Oh! That was mean! But be explicit, Scott, the burden’s on you: what else do you have to offer? You said it wasn’t only the voting booth. Then what? For all your sneering, the cases for not voting are actually quite cogent and eloquent and passionate compared to your argument. We’ll forego “community,” since you boys are obviously neither skilled or concerned with making people who disagree with you feel welcome, but what have you inside-the-system fellas got that would inspire loyalty or hard work or committment to the disaffected? You’re going to have to deliver on that, because the fear card is not going to work next time around. I don’t see that you’ve got anything to offer but insult and triangulation, and by definition those don’t bring anybody into the fold.)

By T.V. on 01/30/06 at 02:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

et alia, your unfamiliarity with commonplace Old Left critiques shouldn’t be my problem, but apparently it is.  I’m not sure what to do about it though.  If you can’t understand why someone on the left would be critical, nay super-mega-ultra-hyper-critical of the failures of the self-proclaimed New Left, then I doubt you’d be able to follow any explanation I forwarded.  Hate to put it that way, but when I’m this overwhelmed by the graciousness of my interlocutors, I don’t have much choice, now do I?

Ray, the reason this conversation belongs here is, as mentioned above, the politics of the New Left were largely symbolic and their protests often took aesthetic form . . . and because the literature of the ‘60s and ‘70s is saturated with advocacy for and/or opposition to those politics.  Furthermore, for reasons alluded to above, those “politics” inform literary studies today.  As for why my site isn’t littered with Paypal pointers to local progressives or posts airing undigested complaints about the latest outrage, well, that’s because I can choose what I think and write about on my blog, and I’m not one to confuse my concerted political efforts with my literary studies.  The personal may be political, sure, but that doesn’t mean politics should silence the personal and/or professional . . . but that doesn’t mean I don’t think the New Left had a pernicious effect on leftist American politics.  I think it did.  If that makes me, well, whatever, then so be it. 

Also, I’m not a party to the Valve/anti-Valve polemics, unless you count those, pace et alia, who drag me kicking and screaming into such unproductive binaries.  I suppose I could become that, but I’m neither as embittered nor emboldened as I’d need to be to do so . . .

. . . all of which is only to say that I don’t think willful and/or ignorant misinterpretations of this post should be the standard by which my own politics are judged.  Am I more than a little rattled by the reaction to its being branded a “what-the-fuck post,” when I think it nothing of the sort?  Certainly.  But I’m not convinced that my assessment of the impact of theh New Left on contemporary politics is wrong.  As Emerson’s pointed out, I seem unforgiving of people who reacted the only way they felt they could given unfortunate circumstances . . . but as sympathetic as I’ve become to that position, I look around today and wonder whether compromise wouldn’t have been a better solution.  As I initially wrote, one of the repeated reasons for the rejection of conventional politics was that things couldn’t get any worse, and yet here we are, forty years later, and they are.  That speaks to the failure of something, no?  And at the very least, a reevaluation of the received wisdom about the efficacy of certain forms of political protest/action.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/30/06 at 02:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

T.V., I’m not sure what to make of your broadside other than to inform you that you’re arguing with a demon of your own invention.  My reaction to the New Left isn’t informed by Republican propoganda, although I can imagine it’d be comforting if it was.  It’s informed by years of activism, but I don’t feel the need to prove my leftist credentials.  Because that’s not, nor should it be, the point:

The point should circle around say honest assessments about the efficacy of particular strategies, which is what I addressed.  If you’d rather discuss the likelihood of Hillary’s nomination, well then, I should turn it around and say that the likelihood of Hillary’s nomination is to my mind inextricably bound with the withdrawal of the left from the Democratic party.  Why you indict me for noting that the party wouldn’t be so centrist had the New Left fought for its place in it instead of withdrawing from the field astounds me.  If you’d like to deny that this withdrawal had consequences for the country, and that Hillary’d be a viable candidate regardless, then that’s an argument requiring more evidence than the tired compmlaint that “there’s nothing anyone could’ve done, and anway you’re just a crypto-fascist Reagan Democrat for suggesting that we investigate how the party moved from point A to point B.”

As for your assignment of what my original intentions were based on, well, nothing more than intuition from what I can see, I can only say that if you read my original post, see it as the lament for the politically inefficacy of the left it so patently is and came to the conclusion that my actual intentions were to further beat the dead horse whose death I was keening, what can I say?  “That’s an absurd interpretation” doesn’t seem to cut it, but it’ll have to suffice.  What this thread has proven, more than anything else, is that I should be more cynical, not less, since people seem to think that the only appropriate response to exposing the New Left to a little sunlight is to dive for the bunkers and call everyone a Republican.  If that’s the case, that is, if it’s possible that the New Left’s response and its consequences wasn’t the best of all possible responses but people defend it anyway because, well, because “only a Republican at heart would attack it,” then whatever lessons could be learned by its failure won’t be, and we’ll all have something to complain about, let me see now . . . four plus seven times infinity is . . . forever.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/30/06 at 03:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Scott-
One of the consistent reasons for the rejection of conventional politics was that things were getting worse, in obvious and exponentially increasing ways, and they were giving every indication of continuing to do so, and conventional politics looked to be totally incapable of doing anything about it.
And here we are forty years later and they did, and they were.
Placing the causative blame for that on political street theater is like blaming the family dog for the disintegration of your marriage

John-
At some point the designators are something else, more like that triangulation T.V’s so riled up about, and they carry a complicit attachment, or an attachment of complicity.
What the common folk more or less titteringly call the “N” word was once an accepted designator itself.
“Magical thinking” is precisely what was missing from the rhetoric of change of the late 60’s Left, once the obvious goal of ending the war in Viet Nam was factored out. Or at least thinking with some magic in it.
Thinking magically. Transcendence, finding the transcendent in the real. Fiction’s that, the best fiction is nothing but that. Poetry. But politics now, there we’re allowed only the stripped-down machineries of fact and logic.
That same devaluing of everything but efficiency has given us the benevolent grace of the Free Market with its humane and far-sighted policies. It’s no coincidence that art is trivialized in that cultural stance, reduced to a flavor of ice cream. Art is communication above and beyond the confines of rationalism. We need that. It isn’t a luxury, it’s vital.
I don’t like emphasizing this - it’s still early, and the cultural attitudes are tenuous and larval yet, but we’re not confronting just the incipient fascism of globalist neo-liberals or the overt fascism of neo-con stepchildren now - we’re looking at massive, systemic, disruptive and unpredictable change - societal, environmental, and everything that carries. Whether we vote for or against it.
It’s possible the only conventional things that are going to matter are the emergency service professions. And if that’s not going to be the pertaining condition it won’t be because conventional politics pulled our collective asses out of the fire.

[rollo]

By on 01/30/06 at 04:25 AM | Permanent link to this comment

et alia, your unfamiliarity with commonplace Old Left critiques shouldn’t be my problem, but apparently it is.  I’m not sure what to do about it though.  If you can’t understand why someone on the left would be critical, nay super-mega-ultra-hyper-critical of the failures of the self-proclaimed New Left, then I doubt you’d be able to follow any explanation I forwarded.  Hate to put it that way, but when I’m this overwhelmed by the graciousness of my interlocutors, I don’t have much choice, now do I?

Ah.  Unvarnished comtempt.  It’s refreshing, but not very informative.  Also, it’s odd that someone who finds the writings of the Old Left and the CPUSA “particularly compelling” wouldn’t seize the opportunity to share his enthusiasms, but I suppose these things are beyond the compass of small minds like mine.

I suppose that in the years to come Scott and like-minded people will help enact universal health care, get us out of Iraq, have the US lead the world in reducing greenhouse gases, and so on.  Even so, they’ll have to endure the scorn of ultra-radical street theatre players like myself (and do you know how much it costs to get a clown suit dry-cleaned these days?) But then he and his comrades will just have to get used to the blame of those they better, and the hate of those they guard.

By et alia on 01/30/06 at 04:55 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Two more questions, Scott, and I’m through.

1. Why is it that people top-heavy in theory, when someone points to an unconscious but debilitating pattern in their behavior, instantly balk and pretend that someone has tried to identify their EVIL OVERT INTENTION? Obviously one reason is that the criticism can then be reframed as wrong, excessive, even insane—because who knows your intentions better than you? But it comes across as sophistic. Theoryheads use structural or subintentional analyses all the time and everybody knows they recognize the genre. Triangulation is a deeply sedimented and pervasive habit of liberal discourse. It’s not an “intention.” And when you point it out, the aggressive liberal response is ALWAYS some variant of “Oh, so I’m not allowed to criticize the left without being a Republican?” Just as the fratboy response to any feminist critique is “Oh, so you’re saying men are evil, that I intend to dominate women?” The goal of stubbornly moving to the category of intention is to dismiss the criticism outright. The fratboy may not know any better. You do. Anyway we’ve pretty much played out the script here.

2. How efficacious do you think you’ve been in this thread, communicating your intention, being aware of hot spots, smoothing tensions to keep your coalition together? That’s important, if you want to instruct other people in political efficacy.

Unless, of course, it’s assumed from the outset that certain people or groups are expendable, best arranged for exit, ideally by virtue of their own “incivility” or “insanity” (old tactic, used with women and other unworthies: push their anger buttons and then dismiss them for their “hysteria"), best replaced with recruits from the more respectable center?

Which is also what I said. I think it’s what you said too.

The real and only question for me is whether you’re willing to entertain the possibility that you did say it without being aware. Whether you’re willing to enter imaginatively into a unfamiliar space and grasp how triangulation looks to those whose political identities don’t flow along the center of party politics, who have triangulation used against them all the time, how much, from that position, it looks like a rigged game, whether you want to try to understand the kind of anger it breeds, why that anger is so forecfully present from the very first sign of a triangulating operation, how central this dynamic is to the destruction of fruitful alliances, how productive it would be to become aware of its operation in your discourse so you could avoid its predictably debilitating effects, what kind of efficacies might be opened up by learning to talk in a way that didn’t walk so blindly over these mines all the time.

I think you have more intellectual and moral integrity than most grad students. I’m sorry for the anger up there, but it really does come from a terminal despair--because if you don’t get this, then it’s pretty much a certainty that nobody will. I do believe that the triangulation habit is at the center of most of what goes wrong in these disputes. And at any rate, it’s become clear to me that I can’t and won’t engage in political participation so long as it remains so monolithically in place. Not that that obliges you or anyone to anything (the other side of that being that I’m not going to beg). It’s just a way of saying that this is not a petty flamewar for me; it’s about as personal as it gets.

By T.V. on 01/30/06 at 07:42 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Anyone over 16 and under 35 in 1968 who was anything like aware of anything beyond their own basic needs-meeting was freaked totally by what still seems to have been the consistent and conspired murdering of viable mainstream liberal leadership.

I was living in Baltimore when MLK was assassinated. There were riots. And martial law was declared. You had to be off the street by 4PM, even if you were living far from the district where the rioting was happening. I lived in the penumbra of the Homewook campus of Johns Hopkins, pretty far from the rioting. But I had to be off the street by 4PM. There were national guardsmen all over the place.

A sobering experience.

By Bill Benzon on 01/30/06 at 08:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

terminal despair--because if you don’t get this, then it’s pretty much a certainty that nobody will. . . . it’s become clear to me that I can’t and won’t engage in political participation so long as it remains so monolithically in place. . . . this is not a petty flamewar for me; it’s about as personal as it gets.

Well, that clarifies the stakes.  Scott’s initial point stands, I think.

By on 01/30/06 at 08:46 AM | Permanent link to this comment

I apologize for the problem with comments on this article and for any problems with comments which may be occurring elsewhere on the site. There is a bug in the version of the software we are currently using to run this site and I hope to be able to update the affected files at some point today, January 30, 2006.

In the meantime, I have updated the site with a temporary fix. Those names which were appearing incorrectly should now appear correctly, although non-clickable.

Again, I apologize for any inconvenience.

By Valve Administrator on 01/30/06 at 10:23 AM | Permanent link to this comment

rollo:

One of the consistent reasons for the rejection of conventional politics was that things were getting worse, in obvious and exponentially increasing ways, and they were giving every indication of continuing to do so, and conventional politics looked to be totally incapable of doing anything about it.
And here we are forty years later and they did, and they were.

Yes, but what if the embattled left hadn’t withdrawn?  What if conventional politics only seemed incapable of creating substantive change?  We can’t know the answers to these questions, but we can point to the radicalization of one party as an example of how to introduce a radical voice into mainstream politics.  Not the voice we prefered, mind you, but a model not to be ignored.  As Alain notes on the Long Sunday thread, today’s NY Times has an article on the Alito nomination and how it represents the culmination of 25 years of seeding the judiciary with conservative scholars and the gradual transformation of what counts as “conservative” legal opinion.  That kind of structural shift fundamentally altered the political landscape, and we’re not too happy with how it has . . . but a call to return to the very tactics which, in part, allowed this shift to occur strikes me as wrong-headed.

et alia, I have no contempt for you, varnished or otherwise, I simply lack the patience to interact with people who willfully and ungenerously misread every word I write. 

T.V.,

The real and only question for me is whether you’re willing to entertain the possibility that you did say it without being aware.

I am, but when you say:

Unless, of course, it’s assumed from the outset that certain people or groups are expendable, best arranged for exit, ideally by virtue of their own “incivility” or “insanity” (old tactic, used with women and other unworthies: push their anger buttons and then dismiss them for their “hysteria"), best replaced with recruits from the more respectable center?

I only see that you’ve missed something essential.  I’m not talking from a “more respectable center” here, but from a genuinely leftist position which considers the excesses of the New Left as foreclosing the possibility of political action along the lines the genuinely far right has accomplished over the past 30 years.  The right didn’t move to the center; they moved the center to it.  I’m not interested in recruiting from the center.  (I would think my pot-shots at Clinton Democrats above would’ve clarified that.) I’m interested in grassroot leftist coalition-building, in changing the party from within.  To return to Ray’s point briefly, Christian conservatives turned their noses up at their Republican candidates for decades, but they also infiltrated the party and created a more amenable situation, one in which they could forward candidates who smell of roses. 

And for what it’s worth, I feel the same despair this morning that I felt when I pulled the Kerry lever last election: this is what passes for a liberal these days?  But disappointment in those who fail to adequately represent us shouldn’t boil over into resignation, especially when resignation puts Bush in the Oval Office.  Kerry’s far from perfect and would’ve made me regret my vote daily, but he also wouldn’t have nominated Roberts and Alito for the Supreme Court, and at the end of the day, that’s a difference with distinction for me.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/30/06 at 01:09 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Kaufmann’s post, embodying a sort of liberal perspective opposed to excesses and improprieties, and interested in perserving tradition, might be expected of one in the literary establishment. Updike used to say such things in the 60s.  The Lit. biz since the beats or even the surrealists forward always objects to expressionism, whether Andre Breton or Kesey--as it objects to the innovative spirit of technology and sci-fi. The Dionysian must be sort of tamed, romanticized (in bad sense) and accepted in the canon--Shelley is acceptable; Kesey not (and Pynchon also not really so much a fave among the Lit. pros). The beats, Kesey, sci-fi is out; Janey Austen and Victorian tea hostesses perennially in. A Kesey’s writings sort of break the Tory literary mold, overturn the victorian pleasantries and civilities, and the lit. biz depends on all those cultural traditions: lit., even when concerned with protest (if in the proper marxist social realist form) must keep the stiff upper lip as it were.

By phreak on 01/30/06 at 01:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The best-case outcome for staying within the system in 1968 would have been for Humphrey to have won and to have ended the war fairly quickly. I really don’t believe that an anti-war candidate would have been run by the Democrats; maybe if RFK hadn’t been assassinated, but as it was, the 1968 convention was a lock for Humphrey.

For Humphrey to wind down the war was not a sure thing, since he was part of the administration which was responsible for the war, and since many Democrats were still hawks. So within-the-system people would have had to have avoided excessive opposition to the war to stay within the system, which would essentially mean telling draftees to cooperate and enter the army. People just couldn’t do that. There was lots of spontaneous, naive opposition to the war, and the left leaders didn’t have any institutional way of controlling “the left”. Whoever was willing to oppose the war became a leader by that fact, and to the extent that “the left” was a real factor, it was because of its opposition to the war.

Scott, I think that you miss the degree to which events drove political action, and the extent to which LBJ’s escalation was the biggest driver of them all.

A second factor I haven’t mentioned is that the Sixties movements frightened the establishment so much that they took steps, starting very early, to gain better control of the media and “opinion leaders”. That’s where the Republican Wurlitzer got its start. But they were motivated by the actual real strength of the left movement, not by its excesses and stupidities.

The sillinesses were heavily used by the new Republican media machine (e.g. the infinite repetition of the story of someone spitting on a returning vet in an airport, as if it were a common occurence even though it may not have happened at all).

But the right-wing pushback would have happened no matter what, unless the opposition had been completely insignificant, and they always would have been able to find an anti-left poster child (e.g. Ward Churchill, a very obscure figure and not a Democrat, who has been made the public face of the Democratic Party for many).

By John Emerson on 01/30/06 at 01:37 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I continue to find the therapeutic value of venting highly overrated. At the risk of further annoyance, I’d like to try a compare-and-contrast to figure out what’s going on here.

Scott, I’d guess that we’re close to indistinguishable in our political opinions. (Political efficacies are a different matter. It would be hard for anyone short of Walter Pater to be less effective than me.) I think Gore, Kerry, Edwards, or Dean would all be better presidents than Nader, but I still like Adlai best. My dream is to live in a secular democracy which keeps ethnicities and fundamentalisms from tearing each other apart and which taxes capitalists to provide unprofitable social services to all citizens. I know the chances are slim, and I believe they require playing the game dirty, loud, and compromised, just like the right-wingers did. I can’t think of a single event to feel nostalgic about in 1968. (Wild Honey, maybe?) I think Irving Howe was right and Jerry Rubin was wrong. Living and working in Berkeley, I get more opportunity to encounter wannabe Jerry Rubins than I would under other circumstances. And occasionally I emit a peep of despair, and get treated to the usual responses.

But, despite my allergies, I don’t think wannabe Jerry Rubins are a major problem in the world today, or the United States, or even Canada.

OK, that’s one possible disagreement, in which case I’m willing to admit that you might be right and I might be wrong. (About Canada, anyway.)

Here’s the “WTF” factor: It may or may not be 1968 in Canadian politics. But it is surely not 1968 in the arts. Who are the new sticking-it-to-the-man novelists? China Mieville? Which major movie directors are forming revolutionary collectives? Where are the rifle-waving poets? Ron Silliman doesn’t count, does he? Jackson Mac Low and Carl Rakosi died recently, and I don’t know of any successors—and those are the kind of “political poets” we could use more of anyway.

Nor does it seem that publishers are getting into radical chic, or that book reviewers are attacking writers for their bourgeois timidity, or that ballet houses are hosting tributes to the Chairman.

You posted your lament on “a literary organ”, but I don’t see the baleful influence of the New Left on literature.

My guess would be that you’re more concerned about the baleful influence of the New Left on English departments—but if I’m correct then that does, yes, seem to land us into “Theory” territory again, and the whole odd problem of determining the political utility of English departments under any circumstances.

By Ray Davis on 01/30/06 at 01:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

A lot of this I’m-going-to-give-up-on-politics-if-not-X bit is structural in nature, and has little or nothing to do as far as I can tell with anything in particular about the New Left (or for that matter the Old Left).

U.S. politics is set up structurally (and by that I mean the electoral rules in the Constitution and so on) so that there can only really be two large parties.  So there are always people giving up on them, trying something else (the shorthand image of “puppets” is only one of many such, historically) and coming back when they don’t work.

Scott is right about there being a whole lot more to compromise on.  Think back to, say, the 2000 election.  I have no interest in writing an anti-Green screed, and I do not mean this to be a criticism of them, only an example.  But much of the same rhetoric was there with regard to Gore.  Gore, whatever his other faults, was the A-1 world politician for global climate change issues.  As I think most people would agree, things can be worse, a lot worse.

The response to this is usually some varient of “you’re trying to say that everyone should buckle under to the mediocre moderate liberal middle.” Nope.  I personally have found that people who take a lot of convincing in terms of participation aren’t worth motivating.  Make your own judgements about what is worth doing for you.

What I don’t think that people understand is the structural advantage that the right holds in this regard.  How involved would you be if someone paid you let’s say $35,000/year as an intern or $60,000/year as a starting employee to be involved full time?  I’ve seen people go into conflicts with something like 1/10th of their work time and a community volunteer against a multinational with a well-paid legal, PR, and technical staff group working full-time on that project.  Most of the advantage that the right picked up has in my opinion little to do with memes, culture, etc. and everything to do with the slow grinding power of being able to have people who never get discouraged, never drop out, and contest every issue because it’s their job and the right has money to pay them. 

Where does this come back to literature?  (The Ray Davis question.) I’m not going to get into that, except to point out that when any other lit-blog, Long Sunday or the Weblog or whatever, posts something about politics, there isn’t this question.  It is assumed that their literary stance informs their politics and vice versa.  Should this be so?  I don’t know.  I do think that it’s almost a caricature of the problems of liberalism to say that we should restrain ourselves, stick to literature here, no talking in the library.

Lastly, T.V.: “Rich’s explicit claim that liberals don’t exclude anymore, what can you even say to that?”

You could read what I actually wrote, and its qualifications, a bit more carefully…

“I wasn’t aware that the DLC had spontaneously disbanded. The first gesture of the liberal alphas like Berube and Kinsley after 9/11 was to flamboyantly write off thousands of allies to keep their place at the discursive table: there is no decent left!”

Do you mean the Michael Berube who is a Cultural Studies professor?  Or is there some other Berube they you mean that I’m not familiar with?  This is a real question, not a rhetorical one.

At any rate, I haven’t said what you think I said, and I don’t think that Scott has either.  But—why should I go easy on you, if I didn’t want to?  I would assume that you’re some variety of leftist, correct?  Let’s do each other the honor of acknowledging our differences.  I’m a liberal; liberals and leftists spent most of the 20th century fighting each other; we are not natural allies.

By on 01/30/06 at 02:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jerry Rubin may have been wrong or naive: was Kesey? Richard Brautigan? the Beats? HS Thompson and Mailer and Co.? Again this is more English biz insider chat. The literary patronage system does not want Kesey or other similiar writers anywhere near the “canon”: that would be far too Jeffersonian and democratic and a danger to the Harry Bloom sort of liberal Tory scorekeeping. A Richard Brautigan does not fit on the syllabus; like Rimbaud or Breton or Henry Miller or for that matter Voltaire, Brautigan’s writing is far too disruptive to the shareholders of Shakespeare, TS Eliot, Toni Morrison inc.

By x on 01/30/06 at 02:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

So within-the-system people would have had to have avoided excessive opposition to the war to stay within the system, which would essentially mean telling draftees to cooperate and enter the army.

I don’t see that that follows, John.

Another small, but I think significant note.  The “establishment” circa ‘68 is the liberal establishment and, to my mind, not at all the same thing as the Republican wurlitzer.  I think in almost any segment of Mills’s Power Elite (corporations, political parties, media outlets, even the military), the dominant figures circa ‘2000 were both much farther to the right and more radical than the grandees of the ‘50s and ‘60s.  There’s a great line somewhere in Studies on the Left, circa ‘65, where someone, perhaps James Weinstein, says: participating in representative democracy is stupid because corporate liberalism will always remain in power.  (I can search out the reference if need be, but, of course, it’s not an unusual sentiment.) Only, of course, that wasn’t what happened.  I take it to be among Scott’s most telling points that, if the New Left had points to score, it had them to score against a political and economic order that appeared to be permament, but wasn’t in the slightest.  (Is there anyone now who believes that a major problem with the life of the average citizen is that it’s too secure?) Hence the mistake in looking to resurrect it.

By on 01/30/06 at 02:48 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I dispute your claim that the managerial elite is politically to the right of where they were in the mid-60s in any significant way. This class is predominantly liberal on many social issues (abortion, gay rights, science education) and has probably become more so.

Public opinion surveys that track socioeconomic class will bear this out.

By Jonathan on 01/30/06 at 03:19 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ray, yes, yes, yes, yes, not so many political poets, except for the Pinter variety, and yes, especially about English departments.  (This is the first thread of this length in which Zizek hasn’t been mentioned until post 100+ or so.) But I didn’t want to step on Sean and Michael’s toes, so I didn’t push their argument to its conclusion.  Fortunately I don’t have to, since the World Wide Web provided my with a fresh example this morning: Julia Kristeva’s article on “The Future of Cultural Revolt,” which opens

While we celebrate the events of May 1968, some people writing novels about it, others denouncing its imposture, analysts have facilitated its eter­nal return in well-worn words. The enraged have taken up the path of inti­mate revolt. It is the same one: that of realists who want the impossible.

All the obvious caveats about conflating a French ‘68 and an American aside, those members of the New Left who fled into English departments flock to rhetoric of this sort and repeat it, ad infinitum, in the political justifications for the scholarly productions you rightly call into question.  (I should also add that the turn to an “intimate revolt,” as a declaration of the impossibility of a political one, isn’t unusual, but I’m still bothered by the embrace of a militant passivity.)

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/30/06 at 03:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Jonathan, there’s a real split between cultural liberals and the old economic left (even the moderate Social Democratic types). That’s how the extablishment has moved to the right. The attack on Social Security would have been unimaginable in 1979.

Sean, cooperation with the draft, or not, was a forced issue after about 1967. Non-cooperation, or advocacy of non-cooperation, or defense of non-cooperation put you on the outside. The alternative to these was some form of acceptance of the draft, however grudging or nuanced it might be. And as time went on, more and more people had this issue pushed closer and closer to them, so that it became concrete and non-theoretical.

And the fact is, the escalation of the war in 1965 and the conduct of the war up until 1969 was a Democratic program. What in-the-system opposition to the war that there was came from within the Democratic party, but I don’t think that the Democrats turned against the war before Nixon took it over.

When Eugene McCarthy did challenge LBJ in the Democratic primaries, he ended his career. He was shunned by the Democratic Establishment more or less permanently. He was working within the system, but the substance of what he did—opposing a Democratic President—made him an outcast.

I’ll keep saying this: the Vietnam War was the problem, not the specific way that it was opposed. (Not mentioned so far: the Civil Rights Act lost the South for the Democrats).

By John Emerson on 01/30/06 at 03:52 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rich, Long Sunday, Kotsko’s Weblog, and Crooked Timber don’t describe themselves as lit-blogs. The Valve does.

I agree with you about the importance of deep pockets for political action. But isn’t that another reason lit-blogs aren’t the best place to negotiate political change? Liberal, conservative, or idealistic; teachers, students, or unaffiliated; cultured or pop cultured—we’ll never be the ones with money. That may be why, lovable liberal though I am, I feel most comfortable discussing the future of our civilization in the dumpster of Wealth Bondage. (Which I would link to directly except that it seems to be considered, and I quote, a “Blacklisted Item.")

Scott, we’ll just have to disagree about tactics. But we live in different battlegrounds, so I guess that’s not too surprising.

By Ray Davis on 01/30/06 at 04:17 PM | Permanent link to this comment

How did Wealth Bondage get blacklisted?

But folks, a simple google will find it for you.

By John Emerson on 01/30/06 at 04:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

URLs containing the term “bondage” were universally blacklisted to help prevent comment and trackback spam. I have whitelisted wealthbondage.com, so that it may be linked in the future.

By Valve Administrator on 01/30/06 at 04:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

No problem, V.A. I thought that was probably what was going on, but I also thought it was pretty funny. (Probably not the right kind of humor for this thread, though!)

By Ray Davis on 01/30/06 at 05:08 PM | Permanent link to this comment

As far as I can tell, there isn’t anything to say about the SDS and the New Left that wasn’t said by Christopher Lasch in The Agony of the American Left, back in 1969:

“In other words, the Left has to begin to function not as a protest movement or a third party but as an alternative political system, drawing on the abilities of people who realize that their talents are often wasted in their present jobs. It has to generate analysis and plans for action in which people of varying commitments to radicalism can take part, while at the same time it must insist that the best hope of creating a decent society in the United States is to evolve a socialism appropriate to American conditions” (pgs. 200-201).

By Russell Arben Fox on 01/30/06 at 05:43 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Actually, Long Sunday is sponsored by the Association of Groovy Kids and Hymns in Hipsteritus, but we try not to let on about it all that much.  (For one thing, it tends to offend all the adults and published authors who happen to grace our little contributor list.)

Genuinely sorry to hear about the adverts for “bondage” problem (we’ve had our share of trackback spam as well - no fun).

Be curious, Scott, to hear just what you think Kristeva is saying there (not, of course, that I would necessarily stake all claims on rushing to defend it - not by a longshot, would be my guess).  But frankly, maybe if you wanted to actually say something meaningful at this point you’d be better off simply starting with a fresh post?

By Matt on 01/30/06 at 05:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The H-1960s listserv is having a parallel conversation of interest about the late New Left and the Weatherman.  In particular, I’m struck by this statement:

There’s a second Weatheridea that, even if it sounded very weird coming from the mouths of people for whom political strategy was, let us say, not a strong point, I find
arresting: this is the insight they voiced that many people in the new left simply weren’t interested in power. Weatherman talked about “winning.” Of course, that was silly coming from them, since I think they meant by this that the new left had had no strategy for exercising power in the U.S. Weatherman was living in a fantasy world and had no such real strategy themselves. And their critique of earlier new leftists is easy to dismiss because some of the most prominent Weatherfolks were real johnny- and janey-come-latelys to left politics in 1968 and ‘69. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t right about the earlier new left, which shortly after its initial organization seemed to give up on ideas about actually exercising power within the U.S. political system. Instead they would beat at the gates from the outside, and hope that those who did wield power would make concessions to the barbarians.

Matt may, however, be right; this thread may need to be put down.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 01/30/06 at 05:57 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Gore, whatever his other faults, was the A-1 world politician for global climate change issues.  As I think most people would agree, things can be worse, a lot worse.

No doubt some found it profoundly dismaying that, given his possession of the single best environmental record in the senate, Kerry seemed to prefer to debate the relative strengths and smartnesses of Bush’s vs. his (hypothetical) “war on terror.”

Ferociously illiterate politics may be easier to sell, but that doesn’t mean that merely faking them will do you any better.

By Matt on 01/30/06 at 06:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry Scott, didn’t mean to steal the last word.

By Mat on 01/30/06 at 06:02 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Even if the new left was to do everything Scott wanted them to do, it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference.  The south’s abandonment of the democrats after the civil rights laws were passed pretty much screwed the Democrats.

By on 01/30/06 at 06:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

if the New Left produced the likes of Kristeva and Cixous (and pomo) maybe it was inspired by Beelzebub after all: or by some of his consorts--Gorgons perhaps.

By Interstate 666 on 01/30/06 at 07:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, of course it ended McCarthy’s career, John.  He lost.  Life is usually not good to primary challengers who lose.  Plus, he acted like a jerk in the process.  But that doesn’t necessarily say much.

I think there were a number of active antiwar protesters and supporters of draft resistance who did not condemn electoral politics.  Consider, too, Scott’s analogy.  One thing the New Right had enormous success with was both taking over the Republican Party and misbehaving when it felt like it.  (Most recently, with Harriet Miers.) Theoretically, I can’t see a reason why a serious and well-organized movement able to exercise some political muscle couldn’t do the same kind of thing to the Democrats.

By on 01/30/06 at 08:03 PM | Permanent link to this comment

This is already coming into being in the U.S. with organizations like MoveOn.Org, right?  I.e., grassroots pressure groups working on behalf of the Democratic Party but also pushing it in a more progressive direction.  It’s had limited success so far, but the idea seems right.

By on 01/30/06 at 08:49 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean my point is that McCarthy did work within the system, and got the same hostility that the out-of-the-system people got. The way the Vietnam War functioned in 1965-8—raising the issue itself was what was taboo.

The Dixiecrats did not see their careers ended, and they bolted the party entirely.

By John Emerson on 01/30/06 at 08:59 PM | Permanent link to this comment

> Who are the new sticking-it-to-the-man novelists?

Oh, that’s easy. Don’t look now - revolutionary novels - Mainstay Press: http://www.mainstaypress.org/

By Tony Christini on 01/30/06 at 10:29 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Well, it’s an interesting question, John.  But I don’t see that there’s enough data to resolve the issue one way or another.  Had RFK not been assasinated, and not won the nomination, would his career have been over?  Who knows?  McCarthy is a bad test case because he was so politically inept.  The expected life span of primary challengers who lose is not long in any case--especially if, like McCarthy, they don’t control much of a power base.  (How many of the Republican contenders from ‘68 does anyone remember?  Rocky is it.  And those were big names who weren’t challenging the hand-picked heir of an incumbent.) But McCarthy is special because he ran a bad campaign and pissed off everyone.  I don’t think that proves you couldn’t run an antiwar campaign and survive. 

In any case, I don’t doubt that McCarthy got hostility.  Of course, he did.  The party was falling apart because it had signed on to an immoral and disastrous war, and its leader had amazingly quit the field.  You wouldn’t expect rational behavior or warm welcomes in that context, but panic.  The question is whether that means the widely shared position in the New Left at the time--that you shouldn’t vote or take part in electoral politics--was wise.  Frankly, I can see why people said no.  Still, I think things would have been better had Humphrey won.  (For one thing, it might have finally put a nail in Nixon’s career.) And the election was close.

By on 01/30/06 at 10:35 PM | Permanent link to this comment

McCarthy had an excellent political career, going from success to success until 1968. He was not politically inept.

Obviously there’s not enough data to resolve the issue. But I think that you and Scott are missing the fact that in 1965-8 opposing the Vietnam War, by itself, put you “outside the system”. Both the Democratic Party’s internal organization, and the two-party system itself, made raising issues that big and that painful very difficult; basically they were designed to do so.

McCarthy has been blamed for not withdrawing in favor of Kennedy, and that’s pne of the big reasons he was hated. One reason why he didn’t withdraw is that he wasn’t really sure that Kennedy was an anti-war candidate. So besides working within the electoral system, we now have the further proviso that candidates should step aside at a certain point.

The Vietnam War was not a compromisable issue, and it wasn’t an “agree to disagree” issue. It forced painful choices, and the results are painful to this day.

By John Emerson on 01/30/06 at 10:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

The radicals perceived correctly the hypocrisy of the dixiecrats, of Daley, of Humphrey. E. McCarthy may have been a bit brighter and less corrupt, but he was still another liberal insider (Bobby K was anothrr matter--somebody took that boy out of the game).  The Yippies were not, initially, so wrong--perhaps the objections to Nam brought about by figures such as Chomsky, Sartre and Russell were more intelligent, dignified, rational--but the Yippies were doing leftist politics apres sex drugs and rock and roll. Maybe that was a mistake, but then some people think Jimi Hendrix was a mistake too.  It was later that the sort of initial Yippie spirit--not so far from Dada in a way--was sort of assimiliated into the academy and culture, and attenuated, or spiritualized, while also sort of further radicalized via marxism and multiculturalism. Either way the real horrors of Nam are generally not examined: instead it’s been given the Ho-wood treatment--Apocalyples Now, Deer Hunter Platoon, etc. And Ho-wood also sort of co-opted, or commodified as they say, much of the left, in terms of the rock culture, the spectacle, the radical chic.  Hanoi Jane may have been a bit naive (tho’ not entirely wrong); but her brother and pals’ gonzo fantasies seem a bit more sinister.  It was people like Nicholson and Beatty and their director producer pals who ruined the 60s, man; and King Jacko botched Kesey’s novel as well.

By xyxxyxyxyxyxyx on 01/30/06 at 11:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Coretta Scott King has died.

<CENTER>http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060131/ts_nm/king_dc TARGET=king</CENTER>

By Bill Benzon on 01/31/06 at 08:54 AM | Permanent link to this comment

New York Times obit for Coretta Scott King.

By Bill Benzon on 01/31/06 at 10:15 AM | Permanent link to this comment

There is a war. 1000s, if not millions are being killed. It appears our side is the aggressor and the ratio of our dead to the “enemy” is approx. 1 to 40.  People begin to protest: some are well-known professors; others are students or artists. If the protest is justified, are there some parameters on what sort of protest shall be permitted or acceptable? While a Chomsky’s research and investigation of the war may be ultimately more valuable and scholarly, the hippie types of protests were perhaps not without value.  Or is Kaufmann suggesting an Updikean type of reserved, ironic silence (and writing as if we needn’t be worried about ‘Nam) is preferable....However upsetting to belle-lettrists and academics, expressionism breaks through sometimes, and may appear even among the working classes: I prefer a George Grosz or photojournalism to folk songs, but in some sense perhaps even Masters of War may be superior to nihilism of right or left.........

By 'Toid on 01/31/06 at 12:26 PM | Permanent link to this comment

John, I don’t miss that fact.  The question is what to make of it--whether, apart from understandable, it was wise for the New Left to declare representative democracy pointless.  Along with the overwhelming commitment of Democratic Party to the war in the 60s should probably be taken into account the fact that, once a Republican was in office, the party was ready to change its position pretty quickly.  On the other side, even if the war was indeed the major factor, should also be considered that the New Left had been expressing sometimes quite strong doubtfulness about representative democracy since the early 60s and in some quarters had taken the non-seating of the MFDP in ‘64 as the final blow. 

McCarthy had a career before ‘68; it was after he bombed that campaign that it was over.  Yes, it was payback, but he ran a bad campaign.

By on 01/31/06 at 08:10 PM | Permanent link to this comment

H-1960 informs that Yippie cofounder Stew Albert is gone.

By nnyhav on 01/31/06 at 11:41 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean, I don’t understand you. McCarthy ran an amazingly successful campaign in 1968. That was the problem that Democrats had with him—certainly he wasn’t shunned because people had lost respect for his tactical abilities. 

McCarthy won Oregon, and almost immediately Kennedy was killed, and things pretty much spun out of control from there.

I think that we’re agreed that 1968 was a disaster. I think that your attempt to see the Port Huron Statement of 1962 as a major cause (seeming, the major cause) of this disaster is a delusional rewriting of history.

Three hihg-profile assassinations in five years turned a lot of people extreme. Politicized hippies (whatever you want to call them) were politically extremely erratic and random—some of them ended up as millenarian Christians. By 1968 most of the elder statesmen and wise men on both the political and cultural sides had been shunted aside, in large part because they were thought to be too rational.

But to me the bottom line is that war changes everything, and once the decision is made to go to war the discussion is transformed into something more total—and any war leader knows that he might have to defy public opinion for a time. War is not a divisible political issue that can be bargained over, like tax policy or social spending.

The within-the-system possibility for Democrats in 1968 was Henry Jackson / Hubert Humphrey liberalism—support the war, keep the welfare state. (That’s what Nixon gave us, in fact). It was in the realm of possibility that Pres. Humphrey might have ended the war more mercifully than Nixon did, but that’s not a certainty and I’m not sure it was even likely.

By John Emerson on 02/01/06 at 10:52 AM | Permanent link to this comment

John Emerson: “The within-the-system possibility for Democrats in 1968 [...]”

I think that you’re still implicitly restricting the possibilities available within the system to the electoral, John.  Here’s Saul Alinsky in 1972’s _Rules For Radicals_:

“To bring on this reformation requires that the organizer work inside the system, among not only the middle class but the 40 per cent of American families - more than seventy million people - whose income range from $5,000 to $10,000 a year (in 1971). They cannot be dismissed by labeling them blue collar or hard hat. They will not continue to be relatively passive and slightly challenging. If we fail to communicate with them, if we don’t encourage them to form alliances with us, they will move to the right. Maybe they will anyway, but let’s not let it happen by default.”

That’s essentially what Scott has said.

By on 02/01/06 at 11:31 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Alinsky’s writings used to float around the pad-- mildly interesting, yet like so much of the sort of New Left and Marcusian agenda, the writing seemed desperate, pedantic, superficial. The sort of boiler plate ethics--we must work together to fight economic and social injustice, create a better democracy, etc.--seems a bit naive; like Edward Bellamy on some decent columbian. Even granting Alinsky points, others might have already decided that democracy is pretty much a sham, and perhaps appreciate Sartre to some degree: man is s useless passion.  I think that is where like a Kesey starts: with a sort of view of humans are mostly psychopathological, and that their institutions (including the military, education, psychology) also reflect that pathology. Poetry may be impossible after Auschwitz as Adorno said: ethics may as well.  That doesn’t necessarily imply apathy or a Burroughsian sort of ultra-misanthropy (tho’ that may not be entirely unfounded after the 20th century), but might provide people with a sort of, well, postmodernist realism: don’t get your hopes up.

By x on 02/01/06 at 12:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Hey, John, who’s rewriting history?  I never said that the Port Huron statement was a major cause of the disaster of ‘68.  Here’s my position. The New Left from early on had doubts about electoral democracy and an attraction (alongside its interest in participatory democracy and its view of politics as a means to making an authentic life) to executive power.  The war understandably made those doubts especially forceful, and one of the results was that come ‘68 dismissals of mainstream politics--including strenuous advice not to participate in the McCarthy campaign--and talk of revolution was common in the New Left.  This turns out to have been a mistake.  The major point to be made against the New Left, I think--and I believe this was Scott’s point--was that it’s critical vocabulary simply does not offer much of value. What it had to say about the world in the 60s was compelling in some ways and seriously misguided in others.  What it has to offer now is especially minimal.  But I have no complaint at all against the notion that the Johnson administration’s disastrous and immoral war policy was the single most important force in the politics of the 60s.

I’m just gonna have to respectfully disagree with you about McCarthy.  I don’t think he was a crusader who challenged the system and was shut down. (In fact, I believe among the first stated goals of his campaign was to bring RFK into the race, which he later regretted.) and I don’t think dashing around with Robert Lowell was much of a campaign.  Nixon brought lots and lots of bad things apart from his intensification of the war. (Chile?) I think Humphrey would have been a lot better.  But who knows.

By on 02/01/06 at 12:27 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Ignoring our friend “x” as per good common sense, the early SDS people followed Alinsky pretty exactly. When I heard Tom Hayden (1965 or 1966), he was doing neighborhood organizing on mostly-local issues in Newark.

I don’t think Alinsky had much to say about how to organize a national movement against a bipartisan war. I don’t really blame him for this, because I’m not sure that it can be done. Once a war starts citizens learn (or are taught) pretty quickly that this State is a representative democracy operating under special powers, and that their accepted roles are limited to either supporting the war, or else keeping out of the way.

There’s actually a theory out ("Acid Dreams") that some of the LSD evangelists had Army intelligence connections and that LSD was being used as a counter-insurgency tool. I don’t necessarily accept that theory, but it’s more reasonable than the Port Huron Statement theory.

By John Emerson on 02/01/06 at 12:28 PM | Permanent link to this comment

let’s ignore you. alinsky was a sunday school teacher. this is silly overgeneralized policy wanking.  you;ve never figured out what an argument is.  you’re like walter kronkite on lsd

By x on 02/01/06 at 12:32 PM | Permanent link to this comment

:-) :-)

By John Emerson on 02/01/06 at 12:47 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, 1941 (N.Y., Penguin, 1969:912-913)

I realized why this poem had stirred me.  When I had stood by the tomb in the monastery at Vrdnik in the Frushka Gora and touched Prince Lazar’s mummied hand, I had been well aware that he was of a pattern familiar to me, that he was one of that company loving honour and freedom and harmony… Such people I have always followed, for I know that they are right, and my reason acknowledges that by their rule and their rule only can a growing and incorrupt happiness be established on earth.  But when all times have given birth to such good men and such as myself who follow them, why has this happiness not long been accomplished?  Why is there still poverty, when we are ready for handsomeness?  Why is there carelessness for the future of children?  Why is there still oppression of women by men?  Why is there harshness of race towards race?  I know the answer.  I had known the answer for long, but it had taken this poem to make my mind admit that I knew it.
It is revealed at all meetings addressed or attended by the lesser of those who care for freedom and the well-being of others, which often exhale a strange sense of danger.  Meetings of the opposite party, of those who desire others to be enslaved for their benefit or to preserve iniquitous social institutions because of the profit they derive from them, offer the simple repulsiveness of greed and stupidity, but not this sense of danger.  It is evoked in many ways: by the clothes worn by the women among the speakers and the audiences, which are of a sort not to be accounted for by poverty and by overwork, since they are not specially cheap and must indeed require a special effort to find, so far do they depart from the normal.  They can serve no purpose save to alienate public opinion, and it is sad that they should not do all that they can to secure the respect of the community when they are trying to revise communal beliefs.  It appears possible that they do not really want to succeed in that attempt, and that suspicion is often aroused by the quality of the speakers’ voices and the response of their audiences.  The speakers use all accents of sincerity and sweetness, and they continuously praise virtue; but they never speak as if power would be theirs tomorrow and they would use it for virtuous action.  And their audiences also do not seem to regard themselves as predestined to rule; they clap as if in defiance, and laugh at their enemies behind their hands, with the shrill laughter of children.  They want to be right, not to do right.  They feel no obligation to be part of the main tide of life, and if that meant any degree of pollution they would prefer to divert themselves from it and form a standing pool of purity.  In fact, they want to receive the Eucharist, be beaten by the Turks, and then go to Heaven.
By that they prove themselves inferior to their opponents, who do not want to separate themselves from the main channel of life, who believe quite simply that aggression and tyranny are the best methods of guaranteeing the future of man and therefore accept the responsibility of applying them.  The friends of liberty have indeed no ground whatsoever for regarding themselves as in any way superior to their opponents, since they are in effect on their side in wishing defeat and not victory for their own principles.  Not one of them, even the greatest, has ever been a Caesar as well as his kind self; and until there is a kind Caesar every child of woman is born in peril.  Often I wonder whether I would be able to suffer for my principles if the need came, and it strikes me as a matter of the highest importance.  That should not be so.  I should ask myself with far greater urgency whether I have done everything possible to carry those principles into effect, and how I can attain power to make them absolutely victorious.  But those questions I put only with my mind.  They do not excite my guts, which wait anxiously while I ponder my gift for martyrdom.
-----

[Actually there are people on a number of sides who resemble Rebecca West’s indictment; this is not really to take sides on the 60s, or on the present, as if only one faction should think hard about her words.]

By on 02/02/06 at 07:00 PM | Permanent link to this comment

They created a stereotype which, given the savviness of the Republican machine, hounds all those who would lean a little to the left of Clinton.

This is nonsense. I hear that stereotype brandished by liberals and liberals alone anymore. Most of the conservatives and reactionaries I know — and I live among them — have pot-smoking close friends and family members with long hair and beards who listen to rock and roll. None of them have ever heard of big puppets at demonstrations: that’s a negative fetish of the Kos set. They may resent breaking Starbucks windows, but I’m so far to the left that I think Chomsky’s wishy-washy, and I hate people who break Starbucks windows.

Others have ably described the disservice done to the historical record here in conflating a panoply of mutually hostile factions and a mass of occasional followers as a coherent entity called “The New Left.”

But there’s something missing, it seems. I’m a day late and a dollar short here, and I tried to read the previous comments closely and failed to see explicit reference to it: political organizers in the groups you lump under the New Left, Scott, were the subjects of massive government infiltration, orders of magnitude beyond the stuff we currently decry coming from the Bush administration, part of which consisted of planted police agents - FBI, state police and local cops - who posed as activists and exhorted their “comrades” to acts of violence. Or who sowed division in cooperative groups by spreading rumors that other activists were agents. This is part of the public record. Yeah, the left of the time spent a lot of its energy in useless pursuits, and much of it was authentic learning-curve stuff, but much of it was the result of government infiltration of the New Left.

Most importantly, Scott, you seem to mistake the identity of grouplets, or tendencies, with what individuals did in those days. There were hidebound ideologues, to be sure, who refused any sort of flexibility in their political work. But the operative slogan (which is what we called “memes” back then) around the McCarthy campaign, for instance, was “Clean for Gene.” Which meant “dress in nicer clothing and shave and act “straight” as a political tactic to get this candidate elected because he’s the least of six or seven evils.” I know tie-died Yippies who went Clean for Gene, smoked dope at the 72 Miami convention, did guerilla theater in the streets during Iran-Contra and the war in El Salvador. They’ve just finished growing their beards back after going door to door for Kerry.

It’s about having a sensitivity to variable political conditions, and a willingness to admit that different approaches may work at different times. Both qualities I commend highly.

By Chris Clarke on 02/09/06 at 08:21 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Chris, I’m not sure I’d lump all of them under the banner of the New Left: I quoted, somewhere above, a number prominent leftists specifically noting their glee at the collaboration of the post ‘69 New Left and the Movement.  So while I agree that the two weren’t necessarily coterminous, and that there weren’t fluid categories of the shaved sort you describe below, but I don’t think that fluidity necessarily contradicts what my broader argument was above: i.e. there’s an individualist and expressivist streak which entails a distrust of all forms of institutional power and which encourages disengagement with conventional politics.

That said, you do make an excellent point about the government infiltration of leftist organizations, although I wonder (because I honestly don’t know) whether those agents climbed high enough in the ranks to make the large and intended-for-public-consumption statements I cite.  (By which I only mean, I don’t think Kesey was an agent.) The reason I find your point so poignant is because, strangely enough, it echoes mine.  I’m favoring a grassroots political movement, and government infiltration at the lower levels representing a certain kind of highly pernicious seeding. 

Finally, I am speaking largely of grand statements and big movements, not individual negotiations between the two.  This problem, however, isn’t specific to my post here, at least I don’t think so.  I’m trying to make as much as I can with the historical record available, and I think the paucity of my account reflects its paucity as much as my own untutored ignorance.  (Nor am I the only one to think this.  If you click on the link to the H1960’s discussion above, you’ll see that among professional historians who were there at many of the events, a definitive accounting can’t be had.  That’s not to excuse whatever I’ve elided, only perspective on the difficulty on writing about what I chose to write about . . . and, more to the point, McCann and Szalay did.

By Scott Eric Kaufman on 02/09/06 at 08:40 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean McCann’s and Michael Szalay’s No New Left issue of The Yale Journal of Criticism is now online at Project Muse. And apocalypically enough, it’s the final issue of The Yale Journal of Criticism:

We look forward to a day when immediate pressures no longer preclude the outward-looking task of presenting the excellent work of our colleagues from around the world.

I’m glad they gave Sarah Winter the last word. Otherwise it’d be just too creepy.

Thus within the context of the recent cultural history of the United States, which is the main focus of the essay, a pertinent question to ask about American academics’ various forms of engagement with French theory would be why they may have adopted Foucaultian or Derridian methods but not their authors’ stances as public intellectuals. And the answer would have to take into account the extent to which a similar public standing exists or is lacking for American academic intellectuals: why the literary field in the United States in general, and the opinions of academic intellectuals more specifically, particularly the views of academics within the fields of the humanities, are rarely recognized as having political relevance—as counting in the world of mainstream politics. One would need to ask, and I am not the first by any means to do so, why public intellectuals such as pundits, journalists, and the occasional historian, who provide opinions or analyses on cable and network television news programs do not typically come from the ranks of full-time academics or famous writers, but rather seem more frequently to be journalists, freelancers, or members of politically affiliated or supported think tanks.

By Ray Davis on 02/12/06 at 01:54 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Just because I can, here’s a trackflashback to Scott’s Prof. Wagstaff citation.

By Ray Davis on 02/12/06 at 02:11 PM | Permanent link to this comment

I would like to note that, contrary to McCann and Szalay (449), Ratner’s Star was published before The Names and is much a “major novel” as it.

By Jonathan on 02/12/06 at 02:53 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sorry to creep you out, Ray, but thanks for noticing.  I wasn’t aware the issue was out myself. 

In case anyone is still interested, I hope to post some responses to Winters, Bromwich, and Lott at the Valve soon.  (fwiw, btw, the first quote pasted in by Ray is not from Szalay and myself.)

Point taken, Jonathan.

By on 02/12/06 at 10:16 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Sean, you & Szalay didn’t creep me out, although I’m still trying to figure out whether and where I disagree with you and whether the possible disagreement is interesting enough to write about. The potential finality of the guest issue was what creeped me out. As you may have gathered, I don’t like apocalypse.

And I’m sorry if it seemed as if the first quote came from anyone but the editors of the magazine. I should have attributed.

By Ray Davis on 02/13/06 at 01:50 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Thanks, Ray.  Sorry to have misread you.

By on 02/13/06 at 08:10 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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