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There used to be a day when radically leftist politics was very different.  This was decades ago, and in the postmodern politics of the 80s and 90s we forgot it.  No, in that politics, it seemed that politics just became about interest groups and that it no longer reflected the dimension of the universal.  Instead, one group pitted itself against the other, claiming a hierarchy of grievances, in which others were told that their grievances were less important than those of others.

In another time things were different.  The struggles of the few were treated as the struggles of the many.  The particular was an instance of the universal.  Workers in Detroit might be struggling over something very specific to their local circumstances and geography workers who formerly placed a washer on a screw being fired and other workers required to place that washer on the screw.  Such a local management and workers issue, entirely particular to that geographical location, yet leftist everywhere would see this injustice as also being about them and would come to the aid of those struggling.  Similarly, women's suffrage issues were also seen as workers issues and right-minded workers would come to their aid on behalf of those struggles.  Likewise with civil rights struggles pertaining to race.  

Each of these struggles would be absolutely particular, absolutely a matter for those groups, yet they would be seen as issues that pertain to all.  And why did these issues so specific to a particular group of workers, women, or people of color pertain to all?  Why would issues so specific to particular identities be something of universal concern?  Because before the eyes of power, of those who hold the keys, we're all expendable and worthless.  The trial and execution of the Rosenberg's might have been their personal affair, but women, workers, those struggling on behalf of unions, people of color, etc., could be treated analogously.  The union activist could just as easily experience a fate analogous to lynching as the black man.  Each particular injustice reflected universal injustice. And so right minded individuals fought on behalf of all injustices and inequalities, no matter how remote they might be from their own life.

Today we see something very different.  We see assertions made about one issue being more important than another, one injustice trumping another.  Some will say that race trumps everything due to the profound injustices of race.  Others will say that sex trumps everything because of the endless injustices against women.  Queer politics, of course, tends to get trampled by all the other groups.  "That's just a concern for those queens!"  Yet others will say economics trumps all other issues as economic oppression cuts across all the other differences.  Ecological issues barely appear on the radar screen of the left at all.  One group pitted against another; each group asserting their own political privilege in the order of struggles.

There were significant advantages to the politics of the struggles of the few being the struggles of the many.  First, this politics was good at building powerful activist coalitions.  If you're a worker implicitly telling black people to fuck off because economic issues are more important than race issues, it's hard to form a coalition with African-Americans who might economically share your struggles.  Likewise with race activists implicitly telling those concerned with economic issues to go to hell.  I say "implicitly" because no one ever says it outright.  They just show it through the form of their arguments, through their actions, and through behavior.  We show it endlessly.  Hell, I recall back in the days before Obama came around on gay rights people saying "look, there are just more important issues to worry about and besides, this is just too politically toxic right now."  Way to build coalitions.  If you're genuinely a "pragmatic realist" you recognize there are forms of activism that build coalitions capable of producing change and there are those that weaken us.  In my experience, those who have crowd loudest about pragmatic realism are the least pragmatic or realist.

Second, the universalist position is morally superior.  It's hard to make a case for your rights if you're not defending everyone's rights.  The particularists have always been the conservatives.  And "conservative" is not a synonym for republican.  There are plenty of democratic conservatives.  Conservativism has always been about defending the particularism or privilege of a particular race, religion, economic station, title, etc.  If your fight for rights is premised on that group alone, you're a particularist.  I shouldn't be, for example, fighting on behalf of gay or jewish rights, for a particular identity, but on behalf of universal rights being applied equally to GLBT and Jewish people.  If I ignore struggles of people of color, workers, women, white men, Christians, Muslims, the disabled, and so on, there's something wrong with my position.  I speak from a position of moral bankruptcy.  Their struggles are my struggles because the only position of moral authority is that of universalism or fairness and equality for all.  Not special rights, but universal rights.  

Their struggles are my struggles because we all suffer injustice and their injustice is my injustice.  Need I mention issues of privacy and civil liberties, concern for which has been recently so vilified as "libertarian".  How can I speak with moral authority or persuasiveness if I make such arguments?  How can I speak with moral authority if I say to women that their struggles take a back seat to struggles on behalf of climate and economics?  No, the only position of moral authority is one where the struggles of the particular are also universal struggles to which I ought to devote myself with as much fervor as my own struggles.  I ardently hope that perhaps we can one day remember this form of politics and begin to practice it again.  I ardently hope that we will witness the day where the conservatives among us, in the democratic party, disappear and that we cease defending the politics of privilege or the ranking of issues.

Originally posted to JosephK74 on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 10:04 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tipped and Recced for this thought: (13+ / 0-)
    If I ignore struggles of people of color, workers, women, white men, Christians, Muslims, the disabled, and so on, there's something wrong with my position.  I speak from a position of moral bankruptcy.  Their struggles are my struggles because the only position of moral authority is that of universalism or fairness and equality for all.  Not special rights, but universal rights.  

    Their struggles are my struggles because we all suffer injustice and their injustice is my injustice.  

    Has American Politics ever been anything but one interest group pitted against the other?

    How many points in American History have significant gains for anyone but the monied and powerful?

    But I wholeheartedly agree that we need to own the struggles of others.

    •  It used to be different (8+ / 0-)
      Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
       -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
      Very important reminder in this diary, which is outstanding.  "Divide and conquer" is the timeless way small groups of power elites have hung onto their power, especially in "democratic" societies. Coalition-building efforts on the left in this country have always faced strenuous efforts to distract and divide them by the PTB, even beyond the naturally fissile nature of politics.  Our own arguments here have clearly reflected how that process has been internalized, as the diarist clearly states.

      It's why I constantly harp on the vital nature of economic populism to build a modern left movement.  When more and more of us are more and more screwed by fewer and fewer oligarchs, the only way to fight back is to spread the senses of anger and solidarity against their depredations.  Democrats use social issues just like Republicans do, to divide and distract us from their economic agenda.  It's long past time we saw through that and came together, right and left, against the Money Party that herds us both.

      We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

      by Dallasdoc on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 06:09:29 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Elites divided us (0+ / 0-)

        The division into special interest groups was, in my experience, done less by groups themselves (though there has been some of that, occasionally) than by the anti-progressive forces trying to divide and conquer, as they always have.

        They were hard at work during the 2008 primary season, for example, promoting the meme that white women and white working-class men would all vote for Hillary, and how in the world would black women ever make up their minds, and only blacks would support Obama, and on and on.

        Meanwhile, actual activists and leadership organizations like the NAACP, La Raza, Native American Rights Fund, labor groups, environmental groups, and Occupy are working together in multiple coalitions. The NAACP supported marriage equality, the LGBTQ groups joined NAACP in calling for an end to stop-and-frisk, the supposedly white elitist environmentalists like Bill McKibben repeatedly honor and elevate the First Nations activists who started the tar sands campaign, and are joined on the platform by Van Jones.

        El pueblo unido
        no sera vendico

  •  Everything is connected (8+ / 0-)

    I advocate for climate and the environment, but that's basically a hopeless task if we fail to recognize the connections to economics, inequality, and environmental justice, as well as the positive contributions that can come from people of every background and however-defined group.

    Thanks for your diary,

    •  I agree (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JosephK74, DawnN, enhydra lutris

      It is stunning to think that people have forgotten this, but it seems they have. Or never learned. When I first became politically aware, some 45 years ago, it did not need to be said. It was understood: We were all marching together and we were marching for all.

      We have let the forces against us divide us from one another. We can stop them, together.

      This is an excellent and timely diary.

  •  Solidarity was the principle (12+ / 0-)

    My fight was your fight, and your fight was my fight.  An injury to one is an injury to all.  The reality, the social superstructure hasn't changes.  By choosing "rugged individualism" over solidarity, we have made ourselves less.  We have chosen, in the words of "Solidarity Forever", "what force on earth is weaker than  the feeble strength of one?"  As the original Wobbly words put it, "In union we are strong".

    Clap On, Clap Off, The Clapper!

    by ActivistGuy on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 11:31:13 PM PDT

  •  There is a lot of effort by TPTB to keep us from (10+ / 0-)

    number one, figuring out exactly what's happening, and number two, uniting in solidarity around a common understanding of the situation.

    I can't stress it enough: it is the results of mind-numbing propaganda, manipulation, conditioning, psychological warfare.

    All that's stuff is being used against the population 24/7.

    That explains the lack of cohesiveness of "the movement."

  •  Suffering is suffering (9+ / 0-)

    We don't really need to assign a hierarchy to it in order to understand and oppose injustice. We need to recognize it in all its forms. Only by all pulling together can we be strong enough to prevail against oppression.

    "In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

    by ZhenRen on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 12:49:14 AM PDT

    •  Exactly (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DawnN, enhydra lutris, ZhenRen, JosephK74

      The old saying goes

      an injury to one is an injury to all.
      If we assign a hierarchy to injustices, either past or present, we have fallen into the trap of letting ourselves be divided by those who commit injustice against humankind.

      "Growing up is for those who don't have the guts not to. Grow wise, grow loving, grow compassionate, but why grow up?" - Fiddlegirl

      by gulfgal98 on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 03:25:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  What saboteurs for the status quo do is (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JosephK74, DawnN, enhydra lutris, Mgleaf

    whine about the "divisiveness" of anyone devoted to a particular progressive cause, e.g., feminism or racial equality. You see it all the time in threads following diaries in this venue. Anyone speaking about the challenges faced by one particular group, is wrongly "taking attention from the bigger cause."

    Generally, I show these pipsqueaks no mercy.

    Thanks for the diary.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 06:08:50 AM PDT

  •  Let's not call it radical leftist (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Mickquinas, DawnN, enhydra lutris

    What could be more centrist than justice for all? Those whom this era calls "leftist" can barely see Richard Nixon from their back porch.

    We need to move the Overton window.

  •  ... (6+ / 0-)
    "Everybody counts or nobody counts"

    ~ Harry Bosch.

    Help me to be the best Wavy Gravy I can muster

    by BOHICA on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 07:05:07 AM PDT

  •  It is the eternal cycle (7+ / 0-)

    I have been meditating, wrestling with John Donne's poem (below)  and how we, in our very "humanness", deny our humanity in order to protect ourselves from imagined danger ... when the danger is really our isolation and denial of the reality is our connectedness, that what happens to one happens to all. It is all too easy to let fear and anger rule and destroy our lives. The question, of course, is how do we not only keep from falling into the same fallacy, but help others out as well. Do we change things one by one, by becoming a movement?  Certainly not by anger or fear or coercion. Heavy questions this morning.

    Although the poem is about death, it is also about living and being connected.

    No Man Is An Island (written 1623)

    No man is an island,
    Entire of itself,
    Every man is a piece of the continent,
    A part of the main.
    If a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less.
    As well as if a promontory were.
    As well as if a manor of thy friend's
    Or of thine own were:
    Any man's death diminishes me,
    Because I am involved in mankind,
    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
    It tolls for thee.

    "I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night." Greg Martin, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida

    by CorinaR on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 08:51:36 AM PDT

  •  Wisest thing I've read recently. If anyone is not (0+ / 0-)

    free, no one is free, end of story.  Not even the rich oppressors themselves or the poor white racists in Mississippi (sorry, not to single you out MS, there's plenty of racists everywhere).
    Men who beat up on women do it because they're weak not because they're strong.  Rich people who plunder the national economy are evil, yes, but also pitiable because they don't have any better values to live by.  In traditional leftism religion is anathema, but many people need religious guidance to true humanism.  There are no villains (though there are heroes) because in the real world we live in, people we might perceive as villains are really just misled.  So as progressives it's our job to educate them, not stifle and oppress them in turn.  NO ONE is unsalvageable if we try hard enough.

    They that have power to hurt, and will do none

    by richardvjohnson on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 04:19:19 PM PDT

  •  Wonderful diary, thanks. Solidarnosk! (0+ / 0-)

    That, in its essence, is fascism--ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power. -- Franklin D. Roosevelt --

    by enhydra lutris on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 07:02:48 PM PDT

  •  Beautiful and timely diary. I remember the days of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JosephK74

    solidarity and am wishing mightily that I am seeing a resurgence in  North Carolina's Moral Monday Movement.

    Forward Together. Not One Step Back.

    If we do not permit the earth to produce beauty and joy, it will in the end not produce food, either. - Joseph Wood Krutch

    by DawnN on Thu Aug 22, 2013 at 07:03:50 PM PDT

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