I respect Chris Hedges as a smart guy who sees big pictures, so I always consider his opinion carefully. His take on OWS is worth reading.
He puts his finger on some issues that have long bothered me, also, and any liberal who sees the New Left caused more problems than it solved is brilliant in my book. But in other ways I think he misses some things —
The occupation movementâ€™s greatest challenge will be overcoming the deep distrust of white liberals by the poor and the working class, especially people of color. Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected. This distrust is not the fault of the movement, which has instituted measures within its decision-making process to make sure marginalized voices are heard before white males. It is the fault of a bankrupt liberal class that for decades has abandoned the core issue of economic justice for the poor and the working class and busied itself with the vain and self-referential pursuits of multiculturalism and identity politics.
Now, I mostly agree with this, but … “identity politics” and the abandonment of economic justice issues were as much choices of African-Americans in the New Left as it was whites. I remember that well. What you ended up with in the late 1970s, once the dust settled, was that all the different factions of the New Left, including the Black Power movement, had scampered off in different directions and mostly had abandoned the poor.
I also think bringing in economically marginalized whites, who have been taught to distrust liberals also, is just as important as bringing in people of color.
But I am encouraged that OWS recognizes one has to level the organizational playing field and not let white guys take over, as they do tend to do.
Very far down in the article, he says,
The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement is that it has not replicated the beliefs of the New Left. Rather, it is rooted in the moral imperatives of justice and self-sacrifice, what Dwight Macdonald called nonhistorical values, values closer to King than Abbie Hoffman. It seeks to rebuild the bridges to labor, the poor and the working class. The movement eschews the hedonism of the New Left; indeed it does not permit drugs or alcohol in Zuccotti Park. It denounces the consumer culture and every evening shares its food with the homeless, who also often sleep in the park. But, most important, it eschews, through a nonhierarchical system of self-governance, the deadly leadership cults that plagued and ultimately destroyed the movements of the 1960s.
Most of that sounds good, but I’ll have to think about that last part. Was it really “leadership cults” that destroyed the movements of the 1960s? Does anyone else see it that way? That’s not how I remember it. There were some personality cults, but they tended to come and go. I’m a few years older than Hedges, and my memories are no doubt different.
Then Hedges loses me for a few paragraphs, until I got here —
In line with the occupy movement, we must not extol the power of the state as an agent of change or define progress by increased comfort, wealth, imperial expansion or consumption. The trust in the beneficence of the stateâ€”which led most liberal reformers to back the wars in Vietnam and Iraq at their inceptions, as well as place faith in electoral politics long after electoral politics had been hijacked by corporate powerâ€”ceded uncontested power to the corporate state.
He’s off here, I think. I don’t think “trust in the beneficence of the state” was really the main culprit behind ceding power to the corporate state. It was more the distrust of the state, the breakup of the New Deal coalition and the abandonment of party politics by the New Lefties.
Liberals and liberal groups, such as MoveOn, which urge us to appeal to formal structures of power that no longer concern themselves with the needs or rights of citizens have become forces of disempowerment.
I need that explained to me. Examples?
The rest of the article, about toppling the corporate state, certainly sounds stirring, but he’s not telling me how the corporate state is going to be toppled. If we’re not going to use the levers of government, which seems to be what he’s saying, then what? Revolution? Is he nuts?