Friday, August 24, 2007

Trojan Horse Pragmatism: Markos Moulitsas as Vanguard of the Revolution

Peter Beinart has a very interesting analysis of Markos Moulitsas and the netroots up at the New Republic.

Beinart notes that in dismissing the most left-wing candidates in recent presidential elections, Moulitsas is illustrating the netroots movement's political pragmatism, its willingness to coopt the Democratic Party as a mainstream institutional vehicle to advance its progressive cause.

What explains this? Mostly it's the historical marginalization of the radical protest fringe in mainstream electoral politics. Beinart provides an excellent historical review of the failure of new left and militant forces to bring about radical change. With the possibility of utopian revolution more distant, hard left forces today see opportunity in capturing the Democratic Party for their own left-wing fundamentalism.

Beinart summarizes this shift, arguing that the Daily Kos netroots represent the most viable radical movement in decades:

It's the first broad-based liberal movement to emerge since communism's demise. In the Progressive era, it was conventional wisdom on the American left--asserted by everyone from Eugene Debs to John Dewey--that socialism was historically inevitable. Then, during the Depression--until Stalin's alliance with Hitler and the news of his terrible crimes brought most leftists to their senses--the Soviet Union became a real-life model of what revolution, as opposed to mere reform, could achieve. Even in the '60s, the shift towards outright resistance coincided with an enthusiasm for revolutions abroad. In Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Frantz Fanon, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh, the New Left saw blueprints for the revolution it desired at home. Tom Hayden and Staughton Lynd visited Hanoi, and Stokely Carmichael moved to West Africa, where he took the name Kwame Toure in honor of the leaders who had brought independence to Ghana and Guinea. "For generations," writes Todd Gitlin in his excellent book The Sixties, "the American left has externalized good: we needed to tie our fates to someone, somewhere in the world, who was seizing the chances for a humane society."

Now that's impossible. Sean Penn can embrace Hugo Chávez and Michael Moore may swoon over Cuban health care, but such radical camaraderie pales in comparison even to that of the Reagan years, when every major campus boasted a branch of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, which championed El Salvador's Marxist fmln. The Soviet Union is gone, and, virtually without exception, leftist revolutions in the third world have ended in tears. (Nelson Mandela, perhaps the only recent foreign leader to enjoy demigod status on the American left, underscores the point. Post-apartheid South Africa may be anti-American, but it is more capitalist than it was under white rule.) Even the social democracies of Western Europe don't shine as brightly as they did a few decades ago. With the cold war's end, there is simply no compelling ideological alternative beyond America's shores.

On the right, this has produced a utopian spasm: a belief that communism's demise proves capitalism's perfection, vindicating its purest, most deregulated form. But, on the left, it has made revolutionary rhetoric sound absurd. The netroots feel the American system has gone fundamentally wrong; that, in some profound ways, it has become less just, less decent, less free. And yet, the American system is all they have. It can be reformed, turned into a better version of itself. But it can't be overthrown because there is nothing with which to replace it. Markos Moulitsas is an idealist in a post-utopian age.
Beinart's analysis can be taken a step further, however. Perhaps we might see Kos in the light of Marxism-Leninism. Kos's netroots movement is analogous to Lenin's vanguard of the proletariat.

Moulitsas himself - not unlike Lenin - demonstrates a tremendous level of confidence in his political skills, and the rightness of his cause. This outlook allows him to dismiss centrists, such as Joe Leiberman, as outside the true constituency of the Democratic Party. In his recent
writings and appearances, Moulitsas has evinced what I consider elements of megalomania. He's got an essentially irrational faith in the power of his movement, and his trumpeting of fake successes nicely illustrates delusions of grandeur.

Yet, in the event of Democratic Party successes next year, Moulitsas will claim the party's victories resulted from the efforts of the netroots and the appeal of its ideology. Kos will claim he and his acolytes alone possess the true progressive insights and credentials to achieve a long-lasting hard left agenda in the American political system. Rather than staying with the party's mainstream, electable functionaries, Kos will use his netroots hordes to purge party centrists, and they'll threaten to bludgeon the Democratic Party hierchy if it deviates from the netroots' Leninist line. A reign of democratic centralism will follow.

Kos' pragmatic political project is an ideological Trojan Horse. His pragmatism seeks to commandeer the official Democratic Party establishment to bring his movement to power and usher in a socialist revolution from below. As improbable as that might sound, Kos - in his drunken stupor of perceived power - certainly sees promise in the netroots's ideological role of as vanguard of the revolution.

No comments: