Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Battle In Seattle: "It Changed Their Lives. It Changed A City. It Changed History."

I was going to say, no, it changed absolutely nothing, but that wouldn't be quite true. It did mark a major milestone in the degeneration of serious mass politics into the narcissism of theatrical catharsis. While the film's producers are honest enough to disclaim that the movie is merely "based on true events," I suspect it will be sufficiently convincing in its revisionism that it will serve the entwined purposes of ennobling an utterly useless and failed project, and being splendidly entertaining in the bargain:


Blogger Will said...

Forget that hollywood shit. Here's a present for you -- some détournement if you please...

"In both its social-critical content and its self-critical form, it presents a striking contrast to the reformist whining and militant ranting that constitute most supposedly radical media. By turning the persuasive power of the medium against itself (characters criticize the plot, their own role in it, and the function of spectacles in general), it constantly counteracts the viewers’ tendency to identify with the cinematic action, reminding them that the real adventure — or lack of it — is in their own lives."


4:16 PM  
Blogger Andony Melathopoulos said...

This contibution is mostly from Facebook thread on the NDP Group. Seattle and the Green Party have much in common to me, so it will straddle both. Bare with me... not only is this is long, but is pretty speculative. Nonethless, you will be rewarded with a good juicy quote by Fred Halliday on Seattle near the end.

First a quote that I dearly love:

"Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of mankind... to try to take its history into its own hands; instead of remaining a will-less football, it will take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history."
- Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis of German Democracy (1915)

This quote embodies what socialism *should be*... it goes beyond the traditional conceptions of socialism that are centred on a more equitable distribution of the social surplus. It goes much further. It is, more broadly, an attempt to to take hold of history itself, rather than indirectly having self-generated forces (ie. capital) determine it.

But Luxemburg never disavowed party politics as a means of getting from here-to-there. Nor did she disavow the important work of ideology. This is in sharp contrast to the positions I hear coming from the Green Party.

I have heard many Green's declare that their politics is neither Left nor Right, but rather simply a pragmatic response to solving environmental and social justice issues. Here is an example from a discussion on the Party website:

"Old political thinking looks at the left-right spectrum and categorizes parties and ideas. But the thinking completely breaks down with the Green Party – because we are fiscally responsible (traditionally associated with parties on the right), socially progressive (traditionally associated with parties on the left), and committed to environmental sustainability -- in essense our very survival on this planet (unique in this)".

Also enlightening is a discussion from a thread titled: "How is the Green Party different from the NDP"?

Luxemburg understood that the obstacles to human emancipation where not of some "big other" (an ethnic group, the corporation, the king), but rather, in the best traditions of Marxism, were self-generated and not immediately apparent. Socialism openned the possibility to overcoming this self-domination through establishing an understanding of the dialectic relation between a theory to reveal the nature of this self-domination (ideology) and the political practice to overcome it (political and economic struggle)... the horizon of possibilities only advancing in a mediated fashion between the two... the constraints on theory being the absence of political struggle, the constraints on political struggle being ideological advancement. There is no substitute for the difficult job of doing *both*.

The complete revulsion of ideology inherent in Green pragmatism is something that came into sharp focus in Seattle 1999:

"What we saw in the 1990s was a postulating of a global movement, but one that was noticeably sketchy in form, ranging from ecological and indigenous groups in India, opponents of corporate capitalism in Western Europe and the USA, and residual guerrilla movements in Chiapas. In realistic terms, these did not amount to much. Moreover, one must ask where is the *analysis* of structure in all this easy anti-hegemonic: in theoretical terms, no theory of agency can be divorced from analysis of structure within which, and against which, these movements are protesting. Yet, the latter remains singularly vague, and without analytical import: denunciation of 'capitalism' without Capital, environmental groups which range from practical to the most romantic and often reactionary, and a diverse set of other protest movements, which one critic aptly termed ''... In much of the pro-protest coverage of the WTO, both before and after the event, there is an exaggeration of either intellectual coherence or policy relevance. Not, by any but the most random criteria, a plausible alternative to, let alone a plausible analysis of, the contemporary world".
- Fred Halliday, Getting Real About Seattle (2000)

The biggest problem with my beloved NDP, by contrast, is not that we are too ideological, as the Green's insultingly charge. It is, rather, that we *also* avoid the questions of ideology. But this avoidance leads to a problem of a different nature: we remain saddled with the crumbling ediface of the 1960s New Left.

This leads to many problems, exemplified in our reluctance to debate May. Our ideological blockage has made it impossible to understand environmental problems with respects to the historical development of capital. It is simply a problem of big oil. Consequently, we poach environmental policy from the Right and opportunistically try muscle out the crowd. The inability to develop environmental policy from the Left, however, has more tragic consequences, in that it blocks the only lasting solution to the problem, one that allows us to "take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history".

11:54 PM  

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