Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Liberals vs. Progressives

I have been studiously avoiding the label "Liberal" since my college days when I discovered that some of our finest examples of "Liberalism" could be utter monsters on the subject of Vietnam.  This was Minnesota.  I had a mother who was an über-fan of Hubert Humphrey and considered his civil rights speech to the 1948 Democratic convention (youtube, text) to be a sign that God wanted him to be president of the United States (I am NOT making this up).  She was not pleased when I started to chant "Dump the Hump" when he became the candidate of Richard Daley and police riots at the 1968 Chicago Convention.

During this time, I was introduced to economic thinking when I got hold of Galbraith's New Industrial State in high school.  Galbraith is one of the founders with Humphrey of the Americans for Democratic Action (Youtube channel).  Galbraith got Vietnam right.  Galbraith got Keynesianism right.  Galbraith was a delightful writer.  He helped restore some of the lost shine to Liberalism in my mind that Cold War ethical monsters like Humphrey had done so much to destroy.  But it wasn't enough.  I couldn't call myself a Liberal any more--I had to find another label for my political beliefs.

Fortunately, I didn't have to look far.  I soon discovered that Minnesota had all these "liberals" because we had a long and interesting history of radical and progressive movements that stretched back to the settlement itself.  Ou forebears gave their movements lots of names.  The best-known was the Peoples Party of 1892 who called themselves Populists.  But Robert La Follette over in Wisconsin believed the state university should be the intellectual foundation of good government and in Madison, it was just down the street.  He combined the politics of the Populists with a world-class university and called his movement Progressive.  When I discovered this in early 1980s, it didn't take long for me to decide that I could embrace the label "Progressive" as defined by the founder of the movement.

Now days, there are LOTS of former Liberals who now call themselves Progressives.  Most of it is just a way to escape the negative associations that have grown up around the Liberal label.  I mean, damn few of these Progressives-come-lately have ever heard of La Follette much less understand what he was trying to accomplish.

Moreover, most Liberals turned Progressives still believe there is nothing especially wrong with Liberalism as it came to be practiced in USA--it is just that slander from the Right Wing has destroyed the label beyond repair.  Here they are mostly wrong--relentless Right Wing assaults on Liberalism are a fact, but Liberals did a fine job of trashing the label on their own.

Here Chris Hedges--a serious old-fashioned Liberal--provides us with a pointed come-to-Jesus critique of what went wrong from the inside.  I believe Hedges is profoundly correct in his assessments.

Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand
Posted on Mar 14, 2011
By Chris Hedges
The liberal class is discovering what happens when you tolerate the intolerant. Let hate speech pollute the airways. Let corporations buy up your courts and state and federal legislative bodies. Let the Christian religion be manipulated by charlatans to demonize Muslims, gays and intellectuals, discredit science and become a source of personal enrichment. Let unions wither under corporate assault. Let social services and public education be stripped of funding. Let Wall Street loot the national treasury with impunity. Let sleazy con artists use lies and deception to carry out unethical sting operations on tottering liberal institutions, and you roll out the welcome mat for fascism.
The liberal class has busied itself with the toothless pursuits of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, identity politics and tolerance—a word Martin Luther King never used—and forgotten about justice. It naively sought to placate ideological and corporate forces bent on the destruction of the democratic state. The liberal class, like the misguided democrats in the former Yugoslavia or the hapless aristocrats in the Weimar Republic, invited the wolf into the henhouse. The liberal class forgot that, as Karl Popper wrote in “The Open Society and Its Enemies,” “If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.” 
Workers in this country paid for their rights by suffering brutal beatings, mass expulsions from company housing and jobs, crippling strikes, targeted assassinations of union leaders and armed battles with hired gun thugs and state militias. The Rockefellers, the Mellons, the Carnegies and the Morgans—the Koch Brothers Industries, Goldman Sachs and Wal-Mart of their day—never gave a damn about workers. All they cared about was profit. The eight-hour workday, the minimum wage, Social Security, pensions, job safety, paid vacations, retirement benefits and health insurance were achieved because hundreds of thousands of workers physically fought a system of capitalist exploitation. They rallied around radicals such as “Mother” Jones, United Mine Workers’ President John L. Lewis and “Big” Bill Haywood and his Wobblies as well as the socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs.
Lewis said, “I have pleaded your case from the pulpit and from the public platform—not in the quavering tones of a feeble mendicant asking alms, but in the thundering voice of the captain of a mighty host, demanding the rights to which free men are entitled.”
Those who fought to achieve these rights endured tremendous suffering, pain and deprivation. It is they who made possible our middle class and opened up our democracy. The elite hired goons and criminal militias to evict striking miners from company houses, infiltrate fledgling union organizations and murder suspected union leaders and sympathizers. Federal marshals, state militias, sheriff’s deputies and at times Army troops, along with the courts and legislative bodies, were repeatedly used to crush and stymie worker revolts. Striking sugar cane workers were gunned down in Thibodaux, La., in 1887. Steel workers were shot to death in 1892 in Homestead, Pa. Railroad workers in the Pullman strike of 1894 were murdered. Coal miners at Ludlow, Colo., in 1914 and at Matewan, W.Va., in 1920 were massacred. Our freedoms and rights were paid for with their courage and blood. more

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