Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Why is the Left So Boring?" by David Rovics

Shorter David Rovics: Left is boring, left is boring, dominated by sectarian groups, doesn't like music, the IWW was God, the Communist Party stole the IWW's cultural ideas, the left is boring, ANSWER sucks, you need music.

I always think that folk singers who would probably be despised and spat on by the actual folk are interesting.

But with this article by David Rovics there's an interesting subtext, which is to say that it's implied that most of the problems relating to cultural events or lack thereof on the left stem from sectarian groups. He never comes out and actually says this, but since he devotes paragraph after paragraph to the influence of sectarian groups on the left and only a few sentences at the end to pointing out that the problem is more widespread I think you can infer it pretty well. The problem is that that attitude is too easy an answer both to issues of not having a vibrant political culture and to political problems in general.

What I'm talking about is the belief that if something goes wrong in the planning of an event or something in the event comes out stilted, like Rovics' talking about a Portland protest renaming a "Festival" (even though it was one day) of music an "Action Camp", the fault is with sectarian thinking and could not be the result of anarchists and anti-authoritarians acting like sectarians.

Even if we got a time machine and transported all the IWW organizers from before World War I to the present day we'd still have both interpersonal conflict and people who want to do things that in retrospect seem to have been counterproductive.

There's no magic wand that you can wave, like making sure that more anarchists participate in the planning of these things, that'll make problems that recur all over the place suddenly disappear, and it's naive to think so.

Even if ANSWER suddenly disappears and is replaced by something stellar we'll still be dealing with human beings who have egos and who have interpersonal problems with each other, agendas, and every other flaw that makes us human and not super beings. Maybe, in my ex-cathedra way of saying things, it would be better to learn how to collectively work through that in order to make a more invigorated left culture.

*on edit: a big part of Rovics' post deals with the CP supposedly ripping off the IWW's culture, repeating the kind of lie that paints the CP as coming out of nowhere, suddenly becoming sectarian, and suddenly starting to fuck up the entire radical culture.

The truth is that the CP came out of the Socialist Party of Eugene V. Debs and Victor Berger, who was the first Socialist elected to the House of Representatives and who pioneered municipal socialism. What happened in the U.S. with the split in the Socialist Party was the exact thing that happened in parties all over Europe. There was one big difference, though, and that is that in the U.S. the majority of locals in the Socialist Party went over to the Communist Party, leading to the new CP getting the party printing press and newspaper among other things. This is recounted in the book "The Roots of American Communism" by Theodore Draper, a third party academic in all of this. Likewise, the IWW itself split, with a minority going over to the new Communist Party. This is documented in the memoir "Break Their Haughty Power" by Joe Murphy, long time IWW back in the day describing his entire association with it from beginning to end. The Socialist Party in the United States certainly had working class members and backing, particularly in poor immigrant communities like the one Emma Goldman came out of.

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