Reflections on Wisconsin

Paul Street:

The radical American historian Howard Zinn offered equally sage advice, arguing that “The really critical thing isn’t who’s sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in—in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating—those are the things that determine what happens.” Adding “or the governor’s mansion” to “the White House’ in this quote, we should further consider the following related counsel from Zinn’s eloquent case against the “election madness” he saw “engulfing the entire society, including the left” in 2008:

“The election frenzy seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us.”

“…Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes -the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth.”

“But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools…..”

“Let’s remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush [or Scott Walker-P.S]), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House [or the Governor’s Mansion-P.S.] will find it dangerous to ignore…..Today, we can be sure that the Democratic Party, unless it faces a popular upsurge, will not move off center. ….The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties.”

The most exciting thing about the Wisconsin moment last late winter was the significant extent to which masses of workers and citizens seemed to be acting on an innate Zinnian understanding of the need to develop and expand popular rebellion from below, beneath and beyond elections (even specially called ones forced by labor-directed insurgency) and the direction of elites from either of the two dominant business parties. It is important that that spirit be kept alive whatever the “better” or “worse” outcome of elections and machinations of politicians.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on Wisconsin

  1. Unfortunately the time for this has passed. We are now in real time, within a global capitalistic circulation of sex, money, information, etc. We must develop new models of challenging that cannot be absorbed into global capitalism. DeLillo has Vija Kinski explain this to Eric Packer and Kinski is the voice of Baudrillard.

    I’m working on it. But I tell you it’s fun! I think your blog is doing it. You are non-authoritarian, non pedantic, a quick hit multiple times a day, and a message that repeats and repeats in all different ways.

    Leave Zinn and go to Zizek.

  2. At its core Zizekism is but the overthinking of the final battle between the forces of the Sons of Light and the forces of the Sons of Darkness. IF Karamazov confuses Marx’s “means of production” with something Karamozov calls the “mode of production” a concept Marx couldn’t have cared less about. Marx was concerned with ownership not process. What Zizek and Karamazov both fail to grasp is that, in practice, free will and power have very a limited impact on how ‘things’ progress. In other words the overlords (those who believe themselves to be all knowing) can slow things down but they cannot prevent how it will all ultimately end. “The first one now will later be last.”

  3. The Democratic Party has broken with its historic conservatism, its pandering to the rich, its predilection for war, only when it has encountered rebellion from below, as in the Thirties and the Sixties.”

    Exactly! That is why they keep telling people to sit down, shut up, and go along. And this is why we can’t think of playing the political game with them, playing off this and that to get somebody to do the other thing. You can’t even be part of their system. You have to set your own goals and put pressure everywhere to accomplish the goals, the way the civil rights movement did. MLK planned his demonstrations and then let the parties come to him.

    In 1960 it was an open question whether he would support Kennedy or Nixon, the candidate of the traditional party of civil rights. Kennedy was finally persuaded,against all his political instincts, to call Mrs. King to offer her support when MLK was in jail. This made the democrats the party of the civil rights movement.

    The movement lost its energy and direction when it let itself get taken in to the party structure and be used as a political block to get votes. That’s when they began trading and compromising, lost their way and let their leaders become puppets.

    The same thing happened with the progressive and liberal movements in the 1930’s. Once the war became a focus of FDR’s attention they were sidelined and forgotten. Likewise with LBJ when the Viet Nam war sucked the energy out of the War on Poverty.

  4. Avoid any kind of thinking that has “-ism” on the end! Its advocates just want to pull everyone down their own little rabbit hole.

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