Now Some Positive Thoughts on the Left Forum
By Marcus Hill at Mar 27, 2008
Many thanks to all of those who read and enjoyed the Left Forum piece. Many more thanks for the comments and glad it was able to propel some discussion.
Like I said, it was mostly underdeveloped surface thoughts and frustrations I wanted to unload, but the process and conclusions it reached obviously begged for a part two (as Michael pointed out)—another negative stance on negativity and leftist bickering without offering back something positive isn’t really breaking any molds.
Honestly, the Forum left just as much a positive impact on me as it did a negative one (more so actually). The negative was just a bit more irritating so I felt like unloading it first and using it as a backdrop to orient the rest.
The positive vision I was left with is still raw and developing, so I can’t offer anything too concrete right now (soon though, I think). Regardless however, I think because positivity is in such short supply, its seeds can be extremely valuable, so I will offer what I have. Much of it might be pie-in-the-sky silliness, but keep in mind its developing.
Part of it comes as kind of a Chomsky-esque maneuver--you know how he spends 2 hours telling you how bad off the world is, but then can still conclude that things are better than ever? I would say that (just from talking to people and listening to them vent) the general distaste that I was left with from the Forum resonated pretty broadly—which is a huge plus in that it seems that a lot of the rhetoric is being recognized for what it is.
People seem to be starting to metabolize the idea of praxis and “by asking they walk.” As this continues to grow, I feel like rhetoric that isn’t walking and practice that isn’t asking will find gaining or maintaining much footing in the movement difficult to come by. In this sense, for me, the Forum was a pretty vast glimpse at what works (at what’s more praxis oriented) and what doesn’t (like Marxist newspaper-peddling rhetoric).
As to what shapes this will take down the road, who knows (not really to be known), but as there is something heavily psychological and defusing about earnest asking in that it has the power to transform environments from battlefields into coalitions and resources (the nature of dialog versus acidic competitive debate), I would say that this point in time is definitely and particularly malleable. We just need to stick our hands in the clay.
How to go about doing that? Despite the distaste, I did walk away with some rough ideas for some projects I want to dig into once school finishes up. The specifics aren’t all the important right now as they’re still forming, but I think more importantly, some of the positive incidents over the weekend that prompted the ideas deserve some exposure.
The first incident came out of the two Saturday evening panels on participatory society that discussed ideas and contributions from Chris Spannos’ new book, Real Utopia: Participatory Society for the 21st Century. It was Brian Dominick’s offering during the first session that I found particularly moving. Brian has such a command of the vision that formulating strategy to follow it up seems to flow naturally. I thought this was monumental because after all, that flow into strategy and action should be natural. For me, it articulated such a clear and needed step from discussing vision alone (not to discount the importance of that at all). So I started thinking about how to make participatory vision move in such a way that it makes sense (after all, the potential energy is clearly there), and not just to us, but to anyone. Like Brian said, when The News Standard was created, he wasn’t necessarily trying to join a movement—just wanted a good job that paid well and made sense to him.
These things should naturally make sense (as based largely on the uncontroversial values of solidarity and diversity that Michael advocates). It seems that if the vision does actually lead to a qualitatively better and healthier society, then pursuing it (if the environment allows) should be more of a natural and logical inclination—so the project itself becomes as much (perhaps more) a focus on creating space to allow it to happen as it is on marketing the vision. In that sense, the fact that people aren’t rushing in to sign up seems more of a reflection on our presentation than it is on their unwillingness. If that’s the case, we could stand to spend at least as much time with our strategy (and building up confidence behind it) as we do developing foundational arguments as to the benefits of solidarity and other aspects of our vision.
The other pivotal incident was brief, but involved Lydia Sargent venting her frustrations with the panel she was videotaping. I believe it was the panel on jumpstarting the black and feminist movements (something titled to that effect), and Lydia was venting about how the panelists were saying that leftist organizations (perhaps particularly publications, I’m not sure) have not been showing concerted efforts toward championing diversity in their workplaces (I’m sure this is an oversimplification, but the details are hazy).
I started thinking about the alienation that seems to follow much of Z that seems to be a result of their manner of operations amongst other alternative media—their commitment to a participatory work structure, balanced job complexes, etc. Underlying agendas of the other prominent alternative media outlets aside, I think the alienation/marginalization of Z’s operations is more a reflection of it being relatively hidden from a wide range of people who would be receptive. I’m not saying this to make any suggestions as to what to do with the Z model or to speculate on why it has not received more attention. Rather, I just want to merely point out that one of the problems when it comes to transitioning from vision over to strategy and practice is that it seems like the Left largely doesn’t really know (for whatever reasons and I’m sure many) what the Left is up to and what is already being done.
I say this because it seems to relate to a case Michael often brings up concerning talks he’s had with Argentinean factory workers. The gist of Michael’s story is that the workers took over the factories, got them up and running in a self-managed and participatory fashion to be more productive than ever, but sadly made the fatal mistake of not instituting balanced job complexes, so the empowering and disempowering work stratified and things largely returned to pretakeover labor conditions and collapsed. The moral of the story (one of them) is that the radical theory upon which you operate should be complete enough so that it accounts for as much complexity as possible. The Argentinean model was not complete, so when it began to falter, the only recourse (due to a lacking theory) was to fall back into despairing about the perpetual crappiness of human nature and lamenting over never being capable of ever really achieving such great things. Instead, as Michael explained, make the theory a little more robust and you can see more things than you could before—like seeing that things fell apart due to omitting instituting balanced job complexes, and not just because people inherently suck. Leaves a lot more room to maneuver.
So what I am saying? It seems more compelling to me that a lot of the frustration that Lydia was feeling was more a symptom of weak networking among the Left, perhaps the Left merely not being in tune with what is out there, or not honed in enough around an inclination to even look. Granted it’s a sad situation to be in, but correctable and can be built into strategy, unlike walking away with the conclusion that the Left is just lazy and fundamentally inept. And with what I think has been an increasing attention to praxis, efforts are on the horizon to start filling in the gaps.
So that's my next round of thoughts.
Oh, and can’t say its worth watching but found it: a strictly complimentary rap battle – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLbEPsO5Dww