Monday, February 04, 2013

I'm a Kushnerite

Writing that long post about a biography of Micheal Harrington a few days ago, I found myself thinking something like this: Harrington adopted a kind of leftism that drew him into sectarian backwaters and then, at the key moment of political opportunity, unfitted him for working with effective mass mobilizations. This is not a pretty trajectory and certainly not where this exponent of democratic socialism wanted to end up. It's the kind of story that has given "the left" a bad name in the US (actually, it is one of the better variants; Harrington had more influence for good than many.)

So I have to ask myself, what sort of leftist am I? Some kind I think -- I think politics is about increasing justice, equality, democratic citizen empowerment, and peaceful national choices. I believe people can and will make their societies better -- or worse -- and it is worth trying to move people and nations in better directions.
These days I'm catching up on podcasts of Moyers and Company and so just encountered the writer Tony Kushner talking with Moyers about the film Lincoln. And lo and behold, I found an answer, at least for today, to the question, what sort of leftist am I. Here's Kushner passing on a perspective I profoundly agree with:

TONY KUSHNER: ... I think that the left at this point and progressive people have a complicated job which is to figure out how we do our jobs as citizens of saying, you know, the drone strikes are terrifying-- the drones are a terrifying new weapon, and how is this to be used responsibly? And Guantanamo still being in operation is a horrifying thing and why is this-- you know, there's a lot-- why are we still leasing deep water offshore oil wells and nuclear power plants and so on.

But at the same time that level of criticism has to allow for the possibility that during election cycles people who have maybe not done everything we wanted them to do can get reelected so that we can build a power base so that we can actually do things. And I think we have a balancing act. And I think we've gotten unused to that balance we've spent the entire years of the Reagan counterrevolution out of power. And so we've become critics. ...

BILL MOYERS: I think you said to [an audience of young people] if you don't commit and get active the world's going to end.

TONY KUSHNER: Absolutely, well, and I believe that. I believe that literally. I used to say that hyperbolically, but now with climate change I believe that absolutely literally. But being active as a citizen doesn't mean being, you know, sort of mindlessly in opposition. And you know, anarchism's much more romantic than, you know, electoral politics.

You get to wear sexier clothing and hang out in parks and, you know, really scream about the revolution, and that's thrilling. But if you don't actually believe that we're in a revolutionary moment and if you've read the history of revolution you might have some questions to ask about what comes often out of violent revolution. I'm not saying that I don't believe in revolution, but I think that there's some questions to be asked. Apart from the sort of romance of revolution and the glamour of it and the hope that it brings because it gives us the sense that evil can be done away with instantaneously, what is, you know, what Lincoln said, "The last best hope of mankind is democracy, is electoral politics." And that means licking-- oh well, nobody licks envelopes anymore, but figuring out emails chains and so on. And it's boring and it's tedious and it's harder to do than I think when you're young than when you're an old person like me.

But the abandonment by the left of the possibility of radical change through democracy which ironically because, I think, of the Vietnam War happened at the apogee of the democratic process as an engine for change, at the moment of the civil rights-- African American civil rights movement culminating in the voting rights act, Civil Rights Act, the beginning of the great society.

And then the left said, "You know what? Democracy doesn't work. Let's take to the streets." Well, always take to the streets, but always make sure that there are people in the halls of power who can listen to what you're saying on the streets and say, "Okay, I get it. I'm going to do something about this."

Which means surrendering to some degree the romance of revolution. I hope that I'm not less radical in terms of what I'd like to see transformed. I believe that we can live in a more economically and socially just world than we live in. I think we have to save the planet and I think that's going to call for enormous sacrifice and a transformation of society where we really come to terms with what has to happen in order to stop global warming or reverse it.

Perhaps it befits the times that I find my leftist inspiration not from a "scientific" socialist or a Democratic Party politician, but from a gay man who is an artist with words. I'll take what I can get!

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