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The Left's Spring Surprise

Ronald Radosh

This morning, I made the mistake of watching Up with Chris Hayes on MSNBC, since I usually watch Morning Joe on the channel during the weekdays. I highly recommend it, if a daily reading of The Nation website isn’t enough to keep you up to date on what the organized Left is planning. Indeed, watching the program is like a video version of that publication, since Hayes and most of his guests either work for the magazine or write for it.

Its format is similar to that of Joe Scarborough’s program, with one great exception. Scarborough has balanced panels and is himself an unabashed fiscal conservative, who most identifies with the politics and vision of Paul Ryan. But his regulars include certified liberals, and the discussion is most often civil and intelligent.

Hayes’ program fits MSNBC’s chosen left-wing profile. Today’s guests were Joan Walsh of Salon, Ann Friedman of some publication named GOOD magazine, and Van Jones, the now well-known former Obama team energy czar and once self-proclaimed revolutionary Marxist-Leninist. The sole token conservative was Josh Barro from Forbes.com. Including the host, the lineup was 4-1.

Most instructive, however, was the discussion about what the organized Left has in store for us this coming Spring. Called “the 99 percent go to spring training,” the segment revealed a massive plan led by Van Jones to train over 100,000 young people to engage in acts of massive civil disobedience throughout the country. It was a television version of The Nation’s April 2nd issue, devoted to different scenarios for reviving the OWS movement. The introductory article by Richard Kim, the magazine’s executive editor, outlined the possibilities. Kim writes:

Occupy's working groups are as busy as they were in the fall. Occupy Our Homes has resisted foreclosures and evictions in dozens of cities across the country. Occupy the SEC filed a public comment on the Volcker Rule urging regulators to strengthen this aspect of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act. Other groups have been hard at work on issues ranging from student debt to alternative banking to worker-owned cooperatives. Meanwhile, protests—against police brutality; against corporations like Bank of America, Pfizer and Walmart; against budget cuts; and against institutions like the Whitney Museum—have continued at an almost frenetic pace. Organizers have also been using the winter to incubate grander plans, among them a May 1 Day of Action that may turn into a call for a nationwide general strike and proposals to occupy corporate shareholder meetings, the NATO summit in Chicago, and the Democratic and Republican conventions at the end of the summer.

The solitary conservative on the panel, Josh Barro, raised the obvious point. When Martin Luther King, Jr. engaged in mobilization for peaceful civil disobedience, he was doing so against states in our own union that deprived African-Americans of basic civil rights, enforced segregation, and embarrassed the United States throughout the world. By juxtaposing the peaceful protest of non-violent citizens with the police state tactics of Southern police in highly segregated states, he brought pressure on Congress to act on behalf of all the people, not just Southern whites who benefited from segregation. He exposed the hypocrisy which revealed that the principles embedded in the Constitution were not enjoyed by African-Americans a century after the end of the Civil War.

What such principles are being violated by the Whitney Museum, the Pfizer company, Wal-Mart, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the political conventions of the Democratic and Republican parties? Yes, we know the answer: they are all either basic institutions of our democratic system — or corporations, which, by the Left’s definition, are inherently evil and oppressive institutions. As two of The Nation writers candidly explain the real goal: “the heart of the movement desires a different society.” That goal, although they do not name it as they used to in the old days, is revolutionary socialism, or the creation of Communism as the real agenda of the movement.

One of the points raised in the TV discussion was the danger of co-optation by the White House. The movement fears that the Obama administration will try to change the movement into a push to get him re-elected, and co-opt them by endorsing their rhetoric. As Joan Walsh explained in the discussion, during the New Deal the reforms of the Second New Deal (Social Security, the Wagner Labor Relations Act, etc.) did not come handed down from above, but as a result of outside struggle which forced FDR to respond to the labor movement’s sit-down strikes and the like.

I have argued elsewhere that this traditional left-wing interpretation of the New Deal is in fact incorrect; that actually, the reforms were favored by the largest industrial corporations, which brought stability and predictability to a formerly hostile environment, and that for decades thereafter provided a mechanism in which increased productivity through war production and later from pent-up consumer demand benefited both the corporations and labor.

Put that aside for the moment. The Left believes, as Jones again explained, in a “bottom-up, top-down” strategy, which starts from outside pressure that will force a second Obama administration to engage in policies demanded by the forces of the organized sectarian Left. What these Leftists do not seem to recognize, however, is that if they indeed succeed in pulling off serious disruptions this Spring, as the campaign for president heats up, the effect will be to harm the chances of Obama’s re-election.

Look at how the president will have to view what will be infuriating to most of our country’s people. They will find it hard to get to work and have to face disruptions that will make their everyday life at work harder to get to and engage in. They will come to view the Occupiers with growing hostility, as they did when the OWS first camped out in Wall Street. If the president is forced to criticize them, it will hurt his ability to get these activists to campaign for him and take to the streets and go door to door. If he endorses them as speaking for the country and praises them for their attacks on the so-called one percent, he will alienate the middle and swing voters whose support he desperately needs. How he will straddle these two possibilities of response remains to be seen.

Jones explained that Occupy needs to get the president re-elected. His hope is that their actions will make the president be firm, agree to what they want, and propose legislation in his second term that acts upon their recommendations. He does not seem to understand, however, that the actions he proposes will most likely have the opposite effect that what he favors.

So, now we know what is in store. The coming months will give us new and annoying action by the folks that Ann Coulter rightfully calls the “mobs” in her wonderful book Demonic. As the description by the publisher puts it, “The Democratic Party activates mobs, depends on mobs, coddles mobs, publicizes and celebrates mobs — it is the mob.” Watching Jones talk, I wondered if he was trying to provide more evidence for Coulter’s thesis.

So as I prepare to soon leave for the second night’s Seder, where Jews celebrate a real legacy of our people who were forced to fight over and over for real freedom against actual tyrants, I will try my best to forget about and laugh off this morning’s discussion on Chris Hayes’ program.

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