Real politics

Published online 24 December 2010.

On this momentous Christmas Eve we would do well to reflect upon real politics, politics which has as its standard a fundamental efficacy in dealing with life-issues.

One of the things I like most about DKos is the occasional Reclisted call for help.  Someone will post up a diary about how things are screwed for so-and-so, and here’s what you can do to help.  It then gets reclisted, and oh sure there are a lot of people who just come by to tip and rec, but at least it gives the appearance that someone will eventually connect with those who need help, and not in a “hi I’m here to get ripped off by an Internet hacker” sort of way.

Just as a side note: is DK4 going to mess with this arrangement?  Will we be so balkanized into little groups by DK4 that we won’t be able to come together?  It bears some thought.

So that’s what real politics is.  People need stuff, and if we can create communities of sharing in which those needs are satisfied, well then that’s something solid.  This isn’t solid, it’s not real politics.  As with any elementary-school playground fight, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot who started it, even though it does, because by the time the playground monitors find out about it, it’s already out of hand.  This, as well as the other “politics is about Obama” diaries, isn’t real either.  In fact, the real shame of these diaries is that TomP had to waste precious toenail-clipping time to write this one.

OK, some definitions.  Food.  People need food, so there is a real food politics.  If the government is not going to provide everyone with a right to a bite, then we take things into our own hands: Food Not Bombs.  This is not a right-wing ideological message about private charity.  Look at it instead through this lens: if the political class is too busy handing money to its bankster friends to do anything about definitively serious about hunger in America, it’s far past the time we quit our careers campaigning for the lessers of two evils, and took matters into our own hands.  Oh, and NB: the hungry don’t just eat on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

Shelter.  If you freeze to death when sleeping outdoors, well then there’s no you.  So everyone needs a living situation.  Outdoors is nice in the garden of Eden, and not so nice when it’s snowing.  It’s easy to see a future with lots of vacant buildings and people living outdoors.  Real politics, then, is organizing squats, or homeless shelters, or in taking homeless friends into homes.  Wait until the G20’s prescription of G20’s austerity planning comes to the US.  It will happen eventually — it happened elsewhere throughout the ’80s and ’90s, when the IMF could push it on debtor nations.

Nature.  If we had access to nature, we wouldn’t be in the soup we’re in.  Nature is the ultimate source of our basic needs, and so needs to be communed wisely.  Environmentalism is too often a cheap trick: “look!  We can screw up the environment and have our nature too!”  This version of environmentalism needs to be pushed aside, using what Joan Martinez-Alier calls the “environmentalism of the poor,” environmentalism because we live here.  This includes the environmental justice movement — get the toxic polluters out of your neighborhoods and so on.  Ecology is, then, also a basic need — and this is perhaps why you have houseless people going off to live in national forests and parks and such.  I won’t name names.

Medicine I suppose, though this has been amplified by the medical industry’s twin obsessions with drugs and surgery.  Remember, we discussed this in the run-up to the passage of the PPACA.  Health insurance is not a guarantee of affordable health care.  Medicaid can only be such a guarantee if the doctors will accept it.  Well what is medicine besides taking care of your fellow human being?  How did that become an expensive commodity, and how can we ease it out of being so?

This is real politics, then.  What do we really need?  With historical development we’ve allowed ourselves to imagine that this is merely “economics,” and that all of these problems are solved through “the market.”  Well “the market” is itself a political construct, and so you have stuff like:

  1. Everyone has to make a living selling stuff, maybe their labor-power or whatever, and so “the market” is stuffed full of ideological crap telling people to buy stuff they don’t need so that someone else can make a living off of “the market.”  The ideological crap to which I refer is of course advertising.  You don’t think this is political?  They’ve created an environment without nature, full of roads and lawns and parking lots, so that we can be deprived of nature and drive around buying stuff after they’ve sold nature back to us as sensuous consumption.  What is everyone doing right now?
  1. Invariably “the market” is going to produce losers.  It has done so in all periods of history.  The ability to churn out people who want useless crap can only go so far, and then you have people who have nothing to sell because there is nobody to buy.  These people could go back to subsistence farming if “the market” weren’t so damned important.  Instead they have to sell stuff, which they can’t do.
  1. If you’re going to have “market exchange” you’ve also got to have property law.  There’s some politics there.  Who gets property is typically a matter of who’s being protected by property law.  Think it doesn’t matter?  Ask Bill Gates.

As I said in this diary:

We should want whatever power we have to be unalienated power, power which is ours and which we can direct to our ends.  We will be effective in politics to the extent to which we focus upon creating authentic collectives in which our power goes toward ends which we specify.  ActivistGuy’s diary of Sunday, long as it was, pivots upon an important point: you may vote or you might abstain from voting altogether, but odds are you feel alienated from the system, generally unable to affect its outcomes.

ActivistGuy’s solution is apposite as well: form activist communities which exist to defend their own interests.  Electoral organizing is fine — but the point is to create a politics which is about its participants, not a politics which can just be given away to the next charismatic political figure who flies in.

We’ve been giving away our political power for decades now.  What’s left are what Elizabeth Janeway called the “powers of the weak” — disbelief, banding together, resistance, rebellion.  We can start rebuilding with what is called the affinity group model of organization.  Making it happen will require that we devote the long run to real politics, so don’t put too much stock in election results.

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