How quickly would you like to see society change in fundamental ways? How quickly do you believe it will, or ought, to occur? Do you believe that serious social change is literally possible within a matter of a few years?
What prevents the left from winning the changes that it seeks? The answer is that, by and large, the left is not seeking changes. There are segments of the left, to be sure, which are interested in massive social change. But broadly speaking, this is not the left's priority. That's why climate change continues unabated, why the troops are still in Iraq, why massive health care overhaul hasn't happened yet, why a woman's right to an abortion is on pace to vanish within ten years.
It's avant-garde on the left right now to smack the Democrats around. While the Democrats might be targets worthy of smack, is this really helping? Is this moving the left forward? Is this bringing us closer to broad, massive social change? It does not appear to me that this is the case. Moreover, there is absolutely no reason to expect that it would be the case.
If someone has COPD from years of smoking, then switching from Marlboro reds to Marlboro mediums or Marlboro lights isn't really a sign of someone who is serious about dealing with their underlying health issues. If we live in a society with an overwhelming democratic deficit ? a society where virtually no one has even minimal say in running the basic (yet immensely powerful) institutions that affect their lives - then the solution is not to suggest that the Democrats are not the party we wish they were. The solution is to build our own institutions that grant people a real voice in their running, and to change our existing institutions to do likewise.
We can't control what the Democrats do. We can't control what the media broadcasts or prints. We can't control what corporations do. But we can control, perfectly, what we do. So what do we do? Do we construct social analyses and organizations that represent a real threat to elites? Do they really have good reason to fear us? Or do they look at us, at best, with condescension or disrespect?
We could change the entire world in a matter of a few short years if we were serious about it. But we are not serious about it. We've switched to light cigarettes, but we're not dealing with our COPD. We're still smoking. In this case, what we're smoking is a shortage of democracy within the areas over which we have absolute control: what we ourselves do in the dominant institutions we run - which, in fact, most of us have little to no say at all in running ... just like in the "real" world.
People are so overwhelmingly ready, desperate even in many cases, for massive change. There's no shortage of desire in the U.S. population for systemic overhaul [ which would more honestly be called "revolution" if we were not so afraid of that word, or if we did not cede its usage to General Motors or Pepsico. But deep down, we don't want a revolution. Deep down, we just can't quite give up those little filtered cancer sticks yet, despite what they're doing to our respiratory systems.
Until we are serious about radical social change, about revolution, within our own organizations and institutions, then we will not win revolution in the broader society. And until we are serious about revolution within the broad society, we will not be able to win national health insurance, or positive climate protection aims, or ending U.S. imperialist policies (directly or by proxy) in Iraq, Haiti, Palestine, or anywhere else. Nothing short of a revolutionary movement will protect a woman's right to an abortion.
Why should elites care if we bemoan the sorry state of the Democrats? Does anyone really think they are threatened by this? On the contrary, they find it quite comforting - for as long as our attention is directed toward a mythical image of a political party that never really existed anyway (sort of as our attention is sometimes distracted to a mythical image of a news media that never existed), then our attention is not directed toward either elites, or the most important target of our attention: ourselves.
The most important target of our attention is ourselves.
We control our own actions. Once we start controlling our own actions in ways that seriously promote what we claim to want, only then will we become a serious threat to elites. Once we become a serious threat to elites, only then will we win the gains we seek.
And we will find that, in fact, we win those gains quite rapidly.
Eric Patton lives and works in Cincinnati, Ohio. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.