Friday, June 8, 2007

Frances Fox Piven on "The Vanishing American Left"

From Dissent :By Frances Fox Piven

...On the other side, the political bulwarks of the New Deal–Great Society era are weakened, in part simply by ongoing changes in the American economy. The mass-production industries are shrinking, and the unions that emerged from them are on the ropes. The working-class communities once nourished by jobs in nearby factories and mills are unraveling, weakened from within by the influence of television, and from without by suburbanization and dispersal. The Democratic Party, once it had been shorn of its southern wing in punishment for caving in to civil rights demands, might indeed have become something like a working-class party. Instead, it is penetrated, and its messages diluted, by the influence of big money and by the compromises promoted by the Democratic Leadership Council.

ALL THIS IS TRUE, and I suppose it is what is meant by the vanishing American left. Still, I understand the left as a constellation of political forces dedicated to greater social equality—of material goods, of respect, of cultural recognition, and of political access and influence. Understood in this way, there are many lefts. If the New Deal Left saw the working class as its vanguard and the workplace as its context for organizing, other lefts identify different vanguards, organize in different institutional contexts, and advance different ideas and programs....

THE OLD NEW DEAL LEFT, and indeed the labor movements spawned across the globe by industrial capitalism, were galvanized by a dream of power through the mass strike. Organized workers could shut it down, and because they could, they had the power to transform society. The variegated contemporary left has not yet settled on a comparably electrifying idea. Still, the awesome possibilities are there in the complex and fragile organization of a global political economy that depends on the widespread cooperation of ordinary people everywhere. We may look back on these years to see not the vanishing left of the New Deal but the birth of a new era of left power made possible by the institutions of a complex global society.

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