June 18, 2011


Filed under: American Revolution, Freedom, Reformism Can't Work — Russ @ 1:58 am


I’m not going to trash political “progressives” here. I’ve done plenty of that already. Instead I just want to make a few observations and ask a question.
Clearly the progress ideology, the belief that things will somehow keep incrementally getting better (in its strong form: that they’re historically determined to get better), remains a rampant source of proclaimed faith. This is peculiar, since the falsity of this faith and the failure of political prescriptions derived from it are obvious.
What’s even more strange is that in a world where kleptocracy’s assault hems us in ever more tightly, and where every possible future is strangled before our eyes, the trope of “progress” not only becomes false but becomes something hideous to behold, or at best a sick joke. Who can think of progress who realizes he has no future? To still be called upon to believe in it adds insult to injury.
While it’s true that to hold a faith, any faith, is normally a source of strength, progressivism is by now not in fact a faith in the future, but another kind of conservatism. A strong proof of the political progressives’ lack of faith in the future is their characteristic desperation to grab any crumb they can get right now, their inability to ever gamble the possibilities of the moment in expectation of a much bigger payoff down the road, and their delusions which turn the most empty words and the simulation of “access” into actual achievements. In all this, the progressives are even more focused on short-term gain than the banksters. (Of course the actual gains made in that short term are rather different between the two.)
So there’s one piece of evidence, from the political world, that the faith in progress itself is dying, even as so many still profess a superficial attachment to it. So what’s the nature of this continued attachment? I’ve already said it – it’s another kind of conservatism. “Progress” is another form of the ideology of clinging to what little one has and trying to prevent any change at all. Thus progressivism joins conservatism as a clod in the way of change, and also joins it in the paradoxical consent to the destructive rampage of capitalism which as part of its totalitarian wave of change shall submerge them both.
It’s easy to see that political progressivism has no future. It’s also clear to anyone who understands or even senses our predicament that progress is a pernicious psychological postulate. We who are under such vicious assault cannot find food and drink dreaming of a slightly better tomorrow, when every tomorrow brings ever greater travail, and ever greater clarity to our vision of the abyss gaping before us. That’s another measure of the wretchedness of progressivism. Anyone with a capacious soul would waste away under such a wrecked and measly faith.
And why would anyone want to believe in the progress of things which are so odious, all the crimes and lies and violence and ugliness and shallowness we see everywhere around us? Especially when we can take our lives and fates in our own hands whenever we choose? The elitist “progressives” have no answer for the question: Where’s the progress if humanity never emerges from the shadow of the rule of elites? It’s clear that to remain an elitist, of whatever nominal political stripe, is by now to be a reactionary.
The only solution to kleptocracy is its destruction. While it’s still unclear how to get there, some of the basic anti-kleptocratic principles are clear:
1. Political elitism is a proven failure and malignity.
2. Economic elitism is a proven failure and malignity.
3. Representative pseudo-democracy is a proven scam. (It was already admitted to be such by Madison.)
4. The only moral, rational, and practical solution going forward is positive democracy: Political and economic.
These anti-kleptocratic facts are also refutations of progressivism.
The definition of failure: Prosperity failed to improve for all; wealth didn’t become ever more evenly distributed; full, stable living-wage employment wasn’t achieved; political participation didn’t become ever more extensive and fulfilling; social stability didn’t improve; peace wasn’t achieved. These were the promises of capitalism and representative government. During the Oil Age, and even to this day, the wealth to achieve them all indisputably exists.
We know today those were all lies. We know that all ideas which were the source and the beneficiary of these lies are also lies. That includes “progress”, as a political and a psychological postulate.
It’s true that any voyage includes a goal and a departure, an aspiration and a renunciation. If humanity’s goal shall be to liberate ourselves from the tyrants who afflict us, to overcome the great challenge of Peak Oil, and to take hold of our political and economic birthright, if these be our aspirations, then we must renounce once and for all belief in “progress”. We must depart. 


  1. Russ, I think you have missed the central aspect of what “progressive” means in modern American politics, as I see it: increased equality, not automatic prosperity. When I read The Progressive (or The Nation, or Mother Jones or even The Daily Kos) I see that they are fighting primarily for civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, workers’ rights, etc. and against corporatism and the military-industrial-complex.

    Your assertion, “[Progressive] ideology [is] the belief that things will somehow keep incrementally getting better (in its strong form: that they’re historically determined to get better…)” is incorrect, if by “get better”, you mean everyone gets an increase in the amount, quality and sophistication of material goods available to them, the impossibility of which outcome is apparently the underlying thrust of this post (I agree!). In the first place, hope and desire are not the same thing as belief, and secondly—more important— you appear to be confusing legal standing and relative social standing with individual material prosperity. “The Progressives” do not “believe in” progress in material terms, by any stretch of the imagination; most are quite anti-materialist/anti-consumerist.

    You seem to be conflating two orthagonal things: progress towards social equality versus the more common obsession with material progress. I would argue the latter tends to originate from the business class and the right-wing extractor class—you know, the “American way of life is non-negotiable” folks—rather than anyone on the political left these days. Progressives believe in the possibility of progress in human co-operation and interaction, and insist that what wealth there is be more fairly distributed: pretty much what you seem to be hoping for, unless I am mistaken. Have progressives been victims of the universal indirect-representation scam, and the world-banking/”development” scam, just like everyone else? Sure, but you seem to be blaming the co-victim in this circumstance.

    While Martin Luther King did invoke the idea of an historical trend (which has since played out, if you contrast the America of the 1950s and 1960s wth the America of today), commenting that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. The arrival at social justice is what actual progressives desire, so you should consider making common cause with them instead of holding them up for “plenty of bashing.”

    When I think of how—within my lifetime:
    • schools and other public accommodations were segregated along racial lines
    • racial inter-marriage was illegal
    • a woman could not own property or have a bank account in her name
    • homosexual sex could be punished by jail terms
    …I look back and thank the progressives for what they have done.

    I will leave you with the mission statement of the magazine, The Progressive: “It steadfastly stands against militarism, the concentration of power in corporate hands, and the disenfranchisement of the citizenry. It champions peace, social and economic justice, civil rights, civil liberties, human rights, a preserved environment, and a reinvigorated democracy. Its bedrock values are nonviolence and freedom of speech.” Should progressives not be your natural allies?

    Comment by Lidia17 — June 18, 2011 @ 10:53 am

    • orthagonal => orthogonal

      Comment by Lidia17 — June 18, 2011 @ 11:03 am

    • It’s true that I merged political progressivism with the broader progress ideology, but I consider this procedure justified because it’s political progressives above all who believe that the political and economic status of humanity tends naturally to improve incrementally, and that this is the best way to seek change.

      And while it’s true that many progressives have emphasized social issues over economic ones, obviously the progress of the former assumes the progress of the latter. Otherwise it’s just a scam. Indeed, in this post I’m giving the progressives more credit than you are. I’m assuming for the sake of argument that their social causes are embedded in an economic consciousness. They’re often accused of caring about no such thing; they’re often accused of running a scam on behalf of the capitalist, drumming up social conflict to set the working class fighting amongst itself. They’re often accused of wanting at best social ameliorations within the context of capitalist domination, which doesn’t bother them as long as races, genders, etc. are equally enslaved. I myself have often accused them of this, since that’s exactly what their leaders at least usually have in mind. The Obama hacks are just the most extreme example.

      But like I said, for purposes of this post I was giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. That’s what I meant when I said I wasn’t going to bash political progressives.

      As for their being my natural allies – you’re right, they should be. If they really care about the well-being of non-rich people, then they should recognize the failure of progressivism (again, its features are belief in the gradual improvement of capitalism and representative government) at achieving this and move on to positive democracy.

      That mission statement’s great – it lists most of the things progressives have betrayed since Obama came in. (Indeed, going back further than that, at least whenever a Democrat was in office.)

      Regarding prosperity, we seem to have a misunderstanding over that. By that term and concept I mean freedom and equality at whatever material baseline is achieved by worker management and distribution. It certainly has nothing whatsoever to do with vulgar bourgeois materialism. Once basic needs are decently fulfilled, the key economic measure isn’t any absolute level of consumption, but rather equality. That’s the economic prerequisite for positive freedom in a truly participatory democracy.

      Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 11:47 am

    • Lidia,

      I understand where you are coming from.

      But when I look at the Nation or DailyKos, I see something very different than you do. I see Democrat partisan hacks and apologists for an Obama administration that just picked up where Bush left off. The fact that Obama has a (D) after his name instead of an (R) seems to eclipse the fact that Obama’s actions are exactly as hostile to progressives’ claimed goals as Bush’s were.

      About the only self-identifying progressives out there who leveled the same criticism at Obama that they did at Bush are Jane Hamsher and Glenn Greenwald, and the two of them should throw away the “progressive” label and embrace the “liberal” label, if only to rehabilitate it.

      Let’s face it, most liberals embraced the “progressive” label to appease conservative critics, who had made “liberal” a dirty word. Once an appeaser, always an appeaser.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 18, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

      • Russ seems to be continuing this game, though, by making “progressive” a dirty word!

        To wit: “They’re often accused of caring about no such thing; they’re often accused of running a scam on behalf of the capitalist, drumming up social conflict to set the working class fighting amongst itself. They’re often accused of wanting at best social ameliorations within the context of capitalist domination, which doesn’t bother them as long as races, genders, etc. are equally enslaved.”

        This is just unfair… “when did you stop beating your wife?” territory. Who exactly has done such accusing?
        Please post links to where these accusations lie.

        “I myself have often accused them of this…”
        Ahhh. Never mind.

        “…since that’s exactly what their leaders at least usually have in mind. The Obama hacks are just the most extreme example.”
        Obama never was a progressive leader. Where did you get that from? For progressives, he certainly seemed to offer a better alternative than Palin/McCain. Obama fooled some progressives, and most progressives are no longer supporting him. You may not be seeing what you don’t want to see, but at the recent NetRoots conference the anti-Obama vibe was apparently strong.

        I don’t have any great investment in any of the current machinations, which are indeed to a large extent futile.
        I would just ask Russ not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        In addition, Tao, I would not perpetuate whatever myth has been recently invented that Democrats= Progressives.
        The magazine, The Progressive, was founded in 1907, while Governor George Wallace was elected as a Democrat, and ran in Democratic presidential primaries.
        Texas, where sodomy was illegal and women could not open bank accounts as recently as the 1960s, was also a Democratic stronghold. Democrats gain by being conflated with Progressives; Progressives lose.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 18, 2011 @ 2:07 pm

      • Lidia,

        most progressives are no longer supporting him.

        They aren’t? So far as I can see, just a small fugitive minority have renounced Obama and the Democrats once and for all.

        You say don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater, but are you sure there’s a baby there? I don’t see it.

        I appreciate that you’re grateful for progressive social changes. There have been lots of great achievements there. (Of course today those same progressives are collaborating in rolling some of them back, for example the way they acquiesced in the assault on abortion rights in the health racket bailout, that’s how desperate they were to bail out the worthless health insurance companies.)

        You accused me of selectively naming things, but aren’t you doing that when you simply define Obama supporters (including at the Nation you cite, and probably the other places too) as not being progressives? That’s who we have today. Maybe they’re the same as in the old days, maybe not. But the fact is that being “progressive” is no longer progressive in the sense you mean.

        And I repeat that continued belief in the gradual improvement of capitalism and representative pseudo-democracy is to continue to believe in a failed faith, and in something unworthy of the full stature of humanity. Political progressives nevertheless continue to adhere to this failed faith.

        Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 3:29 pm

      • Lidia,

        We have to reject the labels, not embrace them. You defend the “progressive” label because you think it defines you, and you wind up defending a lot things that aren’t progressive under your definition. This confuses the matter, and that is what is intended to do. People collapse ideas down into icons and continue to follow the icons, the labels, even after they no longer represent the original ideas.

        As an aside, the Progressive Era wasn’t. It was merely an early instance of the shock doctrine where Gilded Age policies were entrenched and enhanced, which ultimately led to the Great Depression. The advances made for the common worker were more than offset by advances for criminal banksters and fraudsters. And that’s the lie of incremental change on a logarithmic scale.

        Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 18, 2011 @ 9:31 pm

  2. Russ/All,

    I’m pressed for time and apologize for not putting this into my own words, but I think the following quote from Badiou might be relevant to this discussion about progressives, if a bit dated:

    “In truth, our leaders and propagandists know very well that liberal capitalism is an inegalitarian regime, unjust, and unacceptable for the vast majority of humanity. And they know too that our “democracy” is an illusion: Where is the power of the people? Where is the political power for third world peasants, the European working class, the poor everywhere? We live in a contradiction: a brutal state of affairs, profoundly inegalitarian – where all existence is evaluated in terms of money alone – is presented to us as ideal. To justify their conservatism, the partisans of the established order cannot really call it ideal or wonderful. So instead, they have decided to say that all the rest is horrible. Sure, they say, we may not live in a condition of perfect Goodness. But we’re lucky that we don’t live in a condition of Evil. Our democracy is not perfect. But it’s better than the bloody dictatorships. Capitalism is unjust. But it’s not criminal like Stalinism. We let millions of Africans die of AIDS, but we don’t make racist nationalist declarations like Milosevic. We kill Iraqis with our airplanes, but we don’t cut their throats with machetes like they do in Rwanda, etc.” end of quote

    Isn’t a progressive someone who ultimately believes neoliberalism is the best possible system? Who believes that while neoliberal capitalism may have its problems, it does not need to be abolished, all it needs is to be reformed.

    In a nutshell, isn’t that the problem with the progressive ideology?

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 18, 2011 @ 1:35 pm

    • Frank, I like your citation, but it would seem to reflect a typical American bourgeois mentality, and certainly not a progressive one.
      Are you trying to tell me that progressives were not in the forefront in the fight against AIDS?
      Are you trying to tell me that progressives didn’t protest the war in Iraq?

      “Isn’t a progressive someone who ultimately believes neoliberalism is the best possible system?”
      No. What a laughable idea! What you are describing are conservatives! Is Milton Friedman now a progressive, according to you!!? This is pretty funny revisionism!!!

      “Who believes that while neoliberal capitalism may have its problems, it does not need to be abolished, all it needs is to be reformed?”
      No. A lot of progressive may be duped, though, just like anyone else.

      “In a nutshell, isn’t that the problem with the progressive ideology?”
      Since you can’t define it correctly, how can you evidentiate its problems?

      NEOLIBERALISM : “Neoliberalism seeks to transfer control of the economy from public to the private sector,[6] under the belief that it will produce a more efficient government and improve the economic health of the nation.[7] The definitive statement of the concrete policies advocated by neoliberalism is often taken to be John Williamson’s[8] “Washington Consensus”, a list of policy proposals that appeared to have gained consensus approval among the Washington-based international economic organizations (like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank).” (wikipedia)

      What does that have to do with: “stand[ing] against militarism, the concentration of power in corporate hands, and the disenfranchisement of the citizenry.”?? [Correction to my comment above: the mag, was founded in 1909, not 1907.]

      Compare to:

      >>”Obama is linked to the bankers”, Chomsky explained.

      “The financial industry preferred Obama to McCain,” he said. “They expected to be rewarded and they were. Then Obama began to criticize greedy bankers and proposed measures to regulate them. And the punishment for this was very swift: They were going to shift their money to the Republicans. So Obama said bankers are “fine guys” and assured the business world: ‘I, like most of the American people, don’t begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system.’

      People see that and are not happy about it.”

      He said “the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism” is what is fueling “the indignation and rage of those cast aside.”<<

      Comment by Lidia17 — June 18, 2011 @ 2:33 pm

      • “Isn’t a progressive someone who ultimately believes neoliberalism is the best possible system?”
        No. What a laughable idea! What you are describing are conservatives! Is Milton Friedman now a progressive, according to you!!? This is pretty funny revisionism!!!

        Now you’re just being ridiculous. Obviously it’s possible for more than one group to adhere to neoliberalism, and sure enough both conservatives and liberals/progressives do.

        Are you trying to tell me that progressives didn’t protest the war in Iraq?

        So where are they today?

        Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

      • There were hundreds of thousands protesting in 2003.
        The media just didn’t cover it.

        Just like the media didn’t cover the 70,000 protestors in Wisconsin, but focused on a couple hundred teabaggers like Bachmann.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 18, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

      • @Lidia17

        Obviously you and I are defining the term “progressive” in completely different ways. My understanding of the term is so far from yours that there’s no point having a discussion with you.

        The following article might help you understand what some of us mean by the term “progressive” (although probably not, so forget I mentioned it). Yes, hard to believe but for some of us it has become a term of contempt.


        What I would suggest is that you might consider starting your own blog and use it to discuss your ideas with like-minded pwogwessives.

        Have a nice day.

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 18, 2011 @ 4:23 pm

      • Lidia, I’m aware of the anti-Republican protestors from 2003. I asked, if there were actual anti-war protestors, where are they today?

        Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

      • Lidia,

        Neoliberalism was intended as a replacement for classical liberalism, which suffered from the embedded “communistic fiction” that capitalism must benefit society as a whole.

        Under classical liberalism there were conservatives and progressives. You even refer to some of them in your comments.

        All that has changed from classical liberalism to neoliberalism is the common center around which conservatives and progressives bicker.

        Robert Reich is a perfect example of a “progressive” of the neoliberal mold. Read Aftershocked and be gobsmacked by his complete lack of humanity.


        Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 18, 2011 @ 10:06 pm

      • Anti-war protesters:

        Someone complaining about “the colossal toll of the institutional crimes of state capitalism” is not a neoliberal, no matter how pretzel-ly your logic

        Comment by Lidia — June 18, 2011 @ 11:43 pm

      • The very fact that so few come out for these things proves my point, not yours. I asked where are the masses from 2003. (For the third time now.)

        Comment by Russ — June 19, 2011 @ 4:53 am

      • Russ, are you out protesting the wars? Why not? I can’t get angry at people who are not willing to do what I myself do not bother to do. And I have the feeble excuse of having left the US in 2000.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 20, 2011 @ 11:15 pm

      • So you implicitly admit you have no answer to the question. I wish you’d just frankly do so, and stop arguing over a term which no longer deserves it.

        Comment by Russ — June 21, 2011 @ 3:06 am

      • Russ, I’m not really sure why it’s important for you to corner me on this. I’m not out protesting the war in Afghanistan, and neither are you. What does that have to do with your poor definition of “progressive”? Look, I love most all of your posts, but this one just falls down on this definition.

        I know we may not find labels useful going forward, but that doesn’t mean that you can re-define words any way you like in the Orwellian double-speak I read here. Obama is bad, progressive is bad(?), so Obama must be progressive? Economic liberalism and political/social liberalism are two completely different spheres. They happen to reside where we all find ourselves—in a debt-based money system—but that is the express intent of the first ideology, and is extraneous to the second.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 21, 2011 @ 9:50 am

    • The modern progressive has taken up the banner of “neo-progressivism.” Just as neo-conservatives are more conservative neoliberals, neo-progressives are more liberal neoliberals.

      Both seek to appease the masses in order to maintain the status quo.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 18, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

      • It seems from your comment that you and some of the others here might be confusing the political term “liberal”, having to do with the American left of the past several decades, and the economic term “liberal”, having to do with free-market capitalism as discussed in the early 20th century by economic “liberals” like Hayek. The two meanings couldn’t be further apart: one having to do with civil liberties and social tolerance, and the other having to do with absolute freedom for capital.

        A neo-liberal isn’t a new and improved hippie.

        Comment by Lidia17 — June 21, 2011 @ 9:40 am

  3. Are you suggesting that believing in progress is foolish? Or are you just suggesting that assuming every movement forward in any direction, if assumed to be progress, is damaging? Or do you mean to say that we should seek to progress, but from a different starting point, and towards a different end?

    What kind of future are you envisioning? One where the human experience no longer contains the adventure possible when we stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants and advance human knowledge like science? One where the role of curiosity in motivating great minds to further refine our understanding of the world and the nature of consciousness, such as the study of ontology and epistemology are shunned? Are you really suggesting we should destroy everything in a bid to excise what is malignant in our culture?

    Suggesting that progress is dead is itself is a reaction to those who have abused the word and despoiled our world in its name.

    For this very reason I want to challenge you to further define economic elitism. A scale of wages within reason could facilitate those with the capacity and strength to push themselves to the limit, much like what we glorify athletes for, to advance our knowledge or production. Obviously we have seen numerous problems from this sort of economic configuration by those who try to cheat or succumb to tunnel vision, but can you really draw a strong relationship of causation between the economic configuration and the actions of the individuals. I propose that there must be other important factors involved in the decisions of individuals to game systems such as markets, that cannot be discounted, and if accounted for, would lead to modest material prosperity well distributed without sacrificing social equality: the understanding of logic and when knowledge is useful, the understanding of philosophy and the values that promote life, the capacity to meditate and connect with intuition, and the subsequent appreciation of beauty appropriate to the aforementioned.

    Further I would agree that we have seen a specialization inappropriate to the proper life of man in many arenas. Specifically in the political sphere, where representative democracy has failed and with regards to the lack of participation in the very essentials goods such as food that make our lives possible. Insanity is by definition the repetition of an activity in hopes that the results will differ, but that is not what we should be striving to do, we should be thinking about different methods of conceiving of society that preserve the best of what we have so far been capable of while still ensuring room for future growth; including the sustainability of the human project as a whole. With a more balanced approach there IS room for progress.

    Comment by Strieb Roman — June 18, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

    • I agree with most of that, Strieb. (Not with the trickle-down part, or with the notion that those who need special material incentives to “produce” are worth anything. We’re far better off without them.)

      I’m not at all saying we should stop striving for the ultimate. I think the record of this blog is that my aspirations have few limits. That’s precisely why I want us to break free of the picayune complacencies of the progress ideology, which smugly expects everything to incrementally improve along the status quo vector.

      On the contrary, I think we need a radical break, and I think it depends completely upon an act of political will. Without these, nothing will happen. (It’s not the very word “progress”, but the entrenched culture of it, to which I’m objecting here.)

      You asked me to further clarify economic elitism. My definition is simple: Any dispensation where a group directs the economic activities of others and extracts production it did not itself produce. (I regard it as long since proven that such elites add nothing to the production process but on the contrary destroy value. Certainly once a sector is mature, as all are by now, there’s no moral or economic justification for profit extractions to any longer exist. Not to mention how no one ever produced anything except as a cooperative social effort.)

      I think you get it just right in your final paragraph: Representative government has failed, economic specialization has failed, and insanity is to repeat what has already failed. It’s that insanity against which I wrote in this post. If you’d like to revalue the word “progress” along transformative lines, that’s fine with me. Like I said, it’s not the concept in isolation which is bad, but the place it has assumed in Western culture hitherto.

      Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 3:30 pm

  4. Perhaps the main progress the progressives who are going easy on Obama (and most are) are making is that of turning
    liberals and progressives into socialists, Marxists, anarchists and sundry other militants in practise when the collapse comes. If you call that progress.

    Comment by Ken Hoop — June 18, 2011 @ 2:28 pm

    • Funny!
      Ken, after seeing what Tao and Frank wrote, I think that what happened is that the Marxist, anarchist, socialist, etc. have always been there, and remain there, as—generally speaking—progressives.
      The problem lies in part in the recent re-definition of “progressive” as “anyone to the left of Michelle Bachmann”.

      Comment by Lidia17 — June 18, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

      • I have no use for Michele Bachmann, but since you mentioned her, you should go to Naked Capitalism and check out Michael Hudson’s post from Friday (several of my comments featured in the thread!).

        According to the quotes in there Bachmann is to the left of Obama and, yes, most progressives on the TARP.

        Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    • I hope so. Now that I would call progress.

      Comment by Russ — June 18, 2011 @ 3:26 pm

  5. I’m going to try to do my best Zygmunt Bauman impression here..

    Progressivism is a political atavism. The American Progressive era was characterised by advances in labour relations primarily constituted in factories managed on the panopticon model of labour control. That is to say, the capitalists themselves, or their immediate subordinates, were directly and closely engaged in supervision and management of labour. The traditional communities that the industrial revolution destroyed, and their dense network of farmers, labourers, and craftspeople, were replaced by factory-community simulacra. These were more rigid and oppressive than traditional communities had been, but they constituted actually-existing communities nonetheless, if only because the relationship between labour and management was persistent and concrete. In this historical context, progressivism made a good deal of sense. A persistent relationship between labour and management made it possible to engage in negotiations which iteratively improved the working conditions and economic position of labour. The greatest advances of the Progressives were made during the era of the Fordist factory, and it is fair to say that they were actually dependent on the Fordist production model. Persistent, inescapable relationships with ethical content between labour and management were absolutely required for the union movement to have any kind of leverage at all.

    The slow decline of the Fordist model, due in large part to the secession of the capital class, and subsequently the management class, into their rootless exterritorial offshore world, combined with the demonisation and cooption of the unions and the offshoring of most real blue collar labour, rendered the economic component of progressivism obsolete. That is to say, the ethical community of the workplace has been irrevocably shattered- relationships between labour and management are transient and ethereal where they exist at all. Anyone can be dismissed from their job at a moment’s notice, the capital class has long since disappeared into gated communities, and the management class is following. Notions of lifetime unemployment are regarded as quaint, if not dangerously inefficient. Social atomisation and “labour mobility” have resulted in fragmented groups of labourers who are often forced to manage and compete amongst themselves. No one has any responsibility to anyone else, and relationships are so transient that the effects of one’s actions on others are a secondary consideration at best.

    As the redistributive component of progressivism became increasingly difficult to pursue, progressivism retreated into the identity component (lifted, in large part, from the freedom/individuality rhetoric of the elites). This has been a complete disaster. Exhibit A, for me, is the proliferation of black/women’s/queer/whatever studies (“victim’s studies”) departments in the academy. Missing, of course, are homeless studies, poor studies, labour studies (relegated to a subcomponent of sociology dept’s or belatedly addressed in the renaming of the victim’s studies dept’s as “equity studies”). The pursuit of identity politics and the “rights” agenda is hopelessly divisive in the absence of redistributive/economic justice claims. The ghettos of black America are no more tolerable (in some cases, considerably less) than they were 50 years ago, despite the multifarious advances in “rights” which have supposedly been made on behalf of black Americans. Women are still absurdly poorly compensated for their work in spite of their supposed liberation. Inequality worsens and all the supposed “rights” in the world don’t get the poor and the oppressed anywhere without the radical redistributive claims that progressives have, by and large, abandoned. It’s worth noting here that the vast majority of the real advances in the identity/rights agenda actually occured while the progressive movement still had some economic leverage- ie prior to the 1970s. The record post-Vietnam has been pretty dismal.

    And so, replacing the ethical/normative communities that progressivism grew up in, are what Bauman would call the “aesthetic communities” of contemporary progressivism- transient, disposable arrangements of activist groups protesting the outrage-de-jour, disbanded as soon as some small concession is made by the elites in the stratosphere, or as soon as interest wanes. These aesthetic communities are the definition of ineffective political action. They build on nothing, relate to nothing. They are non-communities. There are no persistent, lifelong commitments to one another’s wellbeing. It should not surprise us that the leading lights of the contemporary progressive movement are not to be found in the poor communities of the West, but rather in overwhelming white anglo think-tanks and privileged gated communities. This is why, as Russ indicates, progressivism is an elitist ideology- it pretends that negotiation with forces that literally cannot be negotiated with, by and large for “rights” and identity claims, is an acceptable substitute for the pursuit of actual economic justice and redistributive claims. Progressivism has served its purpose, but the elites have simply seceded from the relationship which enabled progressives to make their advances. As the bourgeoisie becomes proletarianised, and the proletariat is increasingly atomised, but we are all expected to continue participating in this disgusting sham of a system without any ability to negotiate our position, we must effect our own secession from the system. There is no longer anyone to negotiate with.

    Comment by paper mac — June 18, 2011 @ 6:00 pm

    • lifetime unemployment -> lifetime employment.. obviously lifetime unemployment is now regarded as highly efficient!

      Comment by paper mac — June 18, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

    • Thanks, paper mac. This is one of the best comments I’ve read here in a long time.

      As someone who went from being a homeless person on the streets of New York City to becoming an advocate for the homeless (in another state), I’ve learned the hard way, over and over again, that those who call themselves liberals or progressives, generally do not give a shit about the homeless or anyone who is poor or working class.

      Most educated or middle/upper middle class Americans are so out of touch with the working poor that they have no idea even what it means to be poor in the United States. As Chris Hedges points out: the liberal class sold out the working class for corporate money, a long time ago.

      “They [Harvard academia] liked the poor, but didn’t like the smell of the poor.” – Chris Hedges

      In her book “Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America”, Barbara Ehrenreich gave a rare glimpse into a world that no one ever talks about:

      “…Maybe it’s low-wage work in general that has the effect of making feel like a pariah. When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I’m not just thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it’s easy for a fast-food worker or nurse’s aide to conclude that she is an anomaly — the only one, or almost the only one, who hasn’t been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment. Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor, if that tent revival was a fair sample. The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus out of the temple.” – Barbara Ehrenreich

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 18, 2011 @ 10:48 pm

      • Papermac’s is a good comment, and I bought Ehrenreich’s book and thought it excellent.

        Chris Hedges is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute. This is the baby I am talking about not throwing out with the bathwater.

        Comment by Lidia — June 18, 2011 @ 11:35 pm

      • Chris hedges – the pull it sir prize winner (like the drone dropper murderer in the White House) who used to write for the New York Slimes? That disingenuous scrotum sucking apologist lackey of the greedy gangster corporate elite?

        For your penance go read the definition of gullible 250 times.

        Good comments paper mac!

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        Comment by i on the ball patriot — June 19, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

      • i-ball,

        Funny. And you have point, kind of. At least you got me: Here I am criticizing progressives, yet Hedges has all the elite credentials of a progressive (Harvard, Harvard Divinity, NY Times, etc). Ehrenreich as well, I imagine. To the best of my knowledge neither one of them is anti-capitalist. Nevertheless, I stand by the quotes selected above. Even a stopped watch can be right twice a day.

        Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 19, 2011 @ 11:09 pm

      • It seems to me (in my non-comprehensive reading of him) that Hedges criticizes liberalism but clearly stakes out an ideological line he considers the “right” one, explicitly castigating anyone to the “right” of it (liberals), but also implicitly rejecting anything to the “left”.

        This line is clear because he repeatedly delineates it with a list of names – Chomsky, Nader, Wolin, and implicitly himself.

        Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 2:31 am

      • Describing Chris Hedges as an “apologist lackey of the greedy gangster corporate elite” is about as off-base as it gets, imo. He was fired from the NYT for his anti-war stance. He’s a vociferously anti-war, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist anarchist. He’s as skeptical about concentrated power as any public thinker I’m aware of, and his institutional affiliations are entirely vestigial. I sincerely recommend the Death of the Liberal Class, it’s a searing indictment of the status quo liberal elite and is very much along the lines of the discussion here. You can get a sense of the book from this talk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYCvSntOI5s
        In any case, if we can’t count Hedges among our allies because he was once speaking out from within the corporate system, we’ve hopelessly narrowed our base of support (and you may as well write me off too- I’ve got a bunch of useless credentials from an academic institution that’s very much a part of the academic/corporate/elite complex).

        Comment by paper mac — June 20, 2011 @ 2:39 am

      • Repositioning of the propaganda chess pieces is a dynamic process. That the New York Slimes is now touted as liberal is a joke. That Hodges was fired from there means nothing as the overriding propaganda meme of the greedy elite corporate pigs is ‘endear and sell the fear’. Getting fired has endeared him to you. Could it have been staged? Sure he endears with some great pap but the tell is he still sells the al qaeda boogeyman kool aid and his message is defeatist and surrender.


        “The game is over. We lost. The corporate state will continue its inexorable advance until two-thirds of the nation and the planet is locked into a desperate, permanent underclass. Most of us will struggle to make a living while the Blankfeins and our political elites wallow in the decadence and greed of the Forbidden City and Versailles. These elites do not have a vision. They know only one word: more. They will continue to exploit the nation, the global economy and the ecosystem. And they will use their money to hide in gated compounds when it all implodes. Do not expect them to take care of us when it starts to unravel. We will have to take care of ourselves. We will have to rapidly create small, monastic communities where we can sustain and feed ourselves. It will be up to us to keep alive the intellectual, moral and cultural values the corporate state has attempted to snuff out. It is either that or become drones and serfs in a global corporate dystopia. It is not much of a choice. But at least we still have one.”


        He relates and endears with the back to the land movement and sustainability to plug in his defeatist, roll over and give up, “the game is over” message. The game is far from over and these rich pricks are running scared. Going back to the land is laudable – that we never should have left it should have been a base requirement for forging ahead – but it must be done in tandem with a balanced amount of energy going to taking down the elite, rich, greedy, unpatriotic pigs, who, with their self serving greed and corruption of government, have forsaken the Constitutional alliance of America, and in effect created their own little tax free nation states to lord it over and exploit and oppress the rest of us. We should be trying the head of GE as a traitor, along with the rest of the scum bag pigs on wall street. Anyone that thinks that small monastic communities in the woods will be allowed to flourish and won’t be sucked clean and destroyed by these greedy pricks is demented.

        All the labels and deflective ‘endear and sell the fear’ bullshit dialog must be stripped away and we must come together as one and express our reality clearly and in simple terms. This is simple class war – rich against the poor and the riches must be clawed back.

        More skepticism please! And screw the fawningly transparent collaborationist pricks at “Adbusters”!

        Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

        Comment by i on the ball patriot — June 20, 2011 @ 9:00 am

      • It’s true, in the stuff I read I got a defeatist vibe from him. He’s one of the 99% of writers who, even where their diagnosis is sound, have no worthwhile prescriptive ideas at all. But then, I wasn’t looking to him for solutions in the first place.

        Anyone that thinks that small monastic communities in the woods will be allowed to flourish and won’t be sucked clean and destroyed by these greedy pricks is demented.

        I used to hang out at a Peak Oil forum which included a strong survivalist contingent (and where most of the denizens were ornery anti-political types in general). They mostly had the right ideas about banks, corporations, government, kleptocracy, and rejecting the system. But at the same time they rejected any idea of trying to fight back, as opposed to run and hide out. Part of the reason I gave up on the place was because I gave up on trying to convince those fools that hiding in ratholes isn’t going to save them, that all that would accomplish is their being rounded up one by one.

        Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 9:30 am

      • iball-

        Firstly, I’m not sure where the idea that I support the editorial line of the NYT or Adbusters or anything else comes from. I don’t. Secondly, I’m really not sure how Hedges’ vision of relocalisation differs from the one being articulated here in any significant way. He’s saying that we’ve lost the “game” in the arena of electoral politics and the corporate economy- that reformism is fundamentally bankrupt, and that the reestablishment of small, relocalised, independent communities is the best way to fight back against neofeudalism. If that’s “defeatist” to you, I’m not sure what to say. He’s one of the few people I know who acknowledge that the struggle must be undertaken regardless of its chances of success- that it must be undertaken as an act of faith, because it’s the right thing to do. Are you aware that Hedges routinely takes part in occupations of government and bank property? Do you take to the streets as often as he does? His prescriptions are simple- relocalise, assist the poor, resist the elites by direct action. He’s not a survivalist, he’s not a defeatist. Feel free to expend your energy fighting the elites in whatever arena you like, I guess, but you seem to be imposing some kind of ideological purity test on people with obviously allied goals that’s impossible to meet (I can’t even tell what the criteria are- you’re just asserting that he’s a tool of the elites due to his reporting work). It seems that you were tweaked by an article he wrote online and haven’t engaged with any of his long form work- engaging in internecine sniping on that basis is absurd and basically fratricidal.

        Comment by paper mac — June 21, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

    • Great comment, paper mac. I especially like the point about the absence of labor studies, poor studies, etc. That academic contempt percolates among the liberal establishment in general.

      Comment by Russ — June 19, 2011 @ 2:19 am

      • I think the education bubble has created a lot of nonsense degrees and make-work of the academic rather than industrial kind. But I have an issue with targeting “queer studies” as a central problem… I mean, Harvard has had a whole Divinity SCHOOL for hundreds of years. At least queers, women, laborers and the poor are real!

        While I think a lot of these “[insert group here] studies” could be construed as silly, at least these people aren’t getting advanced degrees in “human resources” or “executive compensation”, which they could otherwise be doing. I would suggest that rage is more coherently expressed towards the latter group, for the current purposes.

        Comment by Lidia — June 20, 2011 @ 2:53 am

      • Oops, I misread papermac’s comment. Apologies!

        BUT there are “labor studies”:

        There’s an entire Labor College:

        Comment by Lidia — June 20, 2011 @ 2:57 am

      • Yeah, just to be clear, I don’t want to denigrate identity studies. That point is really Bauman’s, but it’s one that really hits home for me- that a lot of well-paid academics have spilled endless ink on identity topics, in particular the freedom to choose and construct identity, but have not done very much to advance the redistributive claims that would alleviate the economic constraints on that freedom. It’s frustrating to me that academics can go on and on about the grinding poverty of black communities, or discrimination against women or queer people, or whatever, while simultaneously abdicating any political, much less economic role in rectifying these issues. Maybe they’re marginalised, or can’t get media coverage, or whatever, but as a tenured professor one has more real economic and political freedom than the vast majority of individuals in society, and it’s pretty shameful to me that the majority of them seem to be content to write papers about this stuff rather than engage in creating alternative economies.

        Comment by paper mac — June 20, 2011 @ 4:48 am

      • A bit more food for thought, I think this is a pretty good discussion of how identity/redistributive claims interact, as well as a refutation of the notion that redistributive claims can be pursued in the absence of identity claims (which I agree with): http://www.alcoff.com/content/chap2polcri.html

        All that said, because of the socio-economic reconfiguration I described above, I don’t think these claims can be successfully pursued within the context of the state corporatist economy. Critiques written from the academy can give us ideas, and unions and activist groups can be allies, but as long as the elites can simply pull the rug out from under a particular group which has successfully negotiated for slightly-less-insecurity, we’re never going to see the kind of transformation we want. I don’t know how it can happen, but I do know that if people with real economic power and freedom within the system, who are ostensibly concerned about the unacceptability of that system, can’t or won’t get out of the ivory tower and use that freedom to help those without any power or freedom escape it, we’re going to have a much more difficult time.

        Comment by paper mac — June 20, 2011 @ 5:19 am

      • Your point about tenure is a good one. If someone won’t speak truth even where blessed with such a relatively protected position, we can take it for granted he never will. He’s a criminal and/or a coward. (That’s part of why I can never understand people who claim Krugman wants to advocate far better things but somehow “can’t” do it. Who’s in a better position than he, if he wanted to do it?)

        Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 8:51 am

    • I’m a big fan of your comment, too, paper mac.

      Comment by Tao Jonesing — June 19, 2011 @ 11:15 am

    • Thanks for the kind words, folks, but I can’t take any credit for the majority of the ideas in that comment, as they’re a pretty direct reading of Bauman’s “Community” applied to the progressive movement. If you guys thought that comment was interesting, I sincerely recommend that book- it’s short, to the point, and contains a lot of extremely powerful ideas for thinking about communities. It also presaged the now-commonplace observations about the secession of elites by about a decade, so it’s interesting from that point of view as well. I think I’ll start a thread over at bulletin.mkyserv.com over the next couple of days discussing the book so you guys can get a sense of what it’s about.

      Comment by paper mac — June 20, 2011 @ 12:17 am

      • Cool. Looking forward to it.

        Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 2:29 am

  6. Apologies if this comment shows up twice. (I’ll try resending without the link)

    Thanks to Lidia for the Labor study links.

    Thanks to paper mac for pointing to Bauman’s “Community”

    As far as the politics of identity is concerned, rather than a lot of particular identities revolting separately, the problem is how to find something generic that can take the place of what the working class used to represent.

    In an interview in 2006, Alain Badiou (who has been very critical of the politics of identity) was asked the following question:

    Q: I’d like to ask about the politics of identity, which can be summed up in the thesis that for every oppression there must be a resistance by the group which is being oppressed – otherwise the oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, etc…) will remain unaddressed – this politics of identity is something you are quite critical of.

    Badiou: “The question of the political process is always a question that goes beyond identities. It’s the question of finding something that is, paradoxically, a generic identity, the identity of no-identity, the identity which is beyond all identities. For Marx, “proletariat” was the name of something like that. In the Manuscripts of 1844, Marx writes that the very nature of the proletariat is to be generic. It’s not an identity. It’s something like an identity which is non-identity; it’s humanity as such. That’s why for Marx the liberation of the working class is liberation of humanity as such, because the working class is something generic and not a pure identity. Probably that function of the working class is saturated. We cannot substitute a mere collection of identities for the saturated generic identity of the working class. I think we have to find the political determination that integrates the identities, the principles of which are beyond identity. The great difficulty is to do that without something like the working class.”

    And he concludes as follows:

    “If the idea of the working class as a generic group is saturated, you have the choice of saying that there are only identities, and that the best hope is the revolt of some particular identity. Or you can say that we have to find something much more universal, much more generic. But probably without the representative generic group.”

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 20, 2011 @ 7:07 am

    • PS – Russ’s idea of elites versus non-rich (or all the rest of us) is a step in the right direction, I think.

      Comment by Frank Lavarre — June 20, 2011 @ 7:34 am

    • The Badiou quote is good at summing up one of our great challenges: How to replace the idea of the industrial proletariat with a new idea similar in its comprehensiveness and inspiration.

      I do think elites vs. the non-rich is one of the criteria, but that’s only part of the puzzle. Man doesn’t live by bread alone, and although in my mind “elite” and “non-elite” are far richer terms than mere economic denotations, I don’t know how readily they can be understood on a more vast political, moral, and spiritual level.

      (I don’t like terms like “non-rich” and “non-elite” since they’re negative, but so far I haven’t found the affirmative term I want. I like citizen, but it suffers from the reverse problem of the others: For most people it has no economic connotation, whereas for me it’s an economic concept almost as much as a political one.)

      Comment by Russ — June 20, 2011 @ 8:49 am

  7. It’s all a sno job. Everything, even collecting taxes is “Busy work”.

    Comment by repstock1Paul Repstock — June 21, 2011 @ 7:02 am

    • You got that right, Paul. Thanks.

      Comment by Russ — June 23, 2011 @ 7:20 pm

  8. Everyone who’s in the US is going to this, right??

    Check out the right-hand side bar, even so, for possible allies.

    Comment by Lidia17 — June 22, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    • Well, that landed with a resounding thud.

      Comment by Lidia17 — June 23, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

      • I guess no one responded because some of your other comments in this thread left some question as to how serious you are.

        But I’ll say that it sounds good (and like something which, if I were in the DC area, I might consider attending), at least until this line at the very end

        11. In the event of a serious disagreement, we will withdraw from the action.

        which makes the whole thing sound like a joke.

        Comment by Russ — June 23, 2011 @ 6:31 pm

  9. […] result. Talk about the definition of insanity.   The fact is that a conservative (he may be a “progressive” conservative) who can think only of clinging to what little crumbs he has left completely fails to understand […]

    Pingback by Regressive Attitudes in the Food Movement « Volatility — February 13, 2012 @ 3:18 am

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