(crossposted on FDL)
Rebecca Solnit's recent piece "The Rain on Our Parade," featured in TomDispatch, needs to be read in the context of her book A Paradise Built In Hell. Solnit's book is about how disasters can often inspire proactive, positive movements for social change.
Solnit's intention, both in the book and now, is to restore optimism to what she sees as the "Left" in America. "Rain on Our Parade," however, is based on a profound misreading of politics in America, and so we can only return to the wisdom of A Paradise Built in Hell by remembering that the disaster that the elites will foist upon the world in the decades to come is not merely a product of the Republican Right but rather of the system as a whole. Optimism, moreover, needs to be based on something solid, which isn't coming from the current system at this time. The optimism of Solnit's book is more solid than that of her recent piece.
In Solnit's argument there is a presupposition of a "progressive" trend, a trend that isn't present in the economics of the day. Whereas in earlier eras an expanding capitalism was compatible with "progressivism," in this era a capitalism in decline works against everything we know and love, and so campaigning for the better defenders of the capitalist system (e.g. Obama) has become an exercise in futility.
This futility has become self-evident, and so one might argue that a "dismal left" has arisen to complain about it. Solnit's complaint about the complainers, then, appears as a nostalgic wish that we return to the attitudes of an earlier era of expanding capitalism in which "progressivism" was compatible with the capitalist status quo.
First let's discuss the title. Rain on whose parade? The Obama re-election victory parade? See below. The parade we'll be having when the global-warming-induced famines hit, or the parade we'll be having when the capitalist system finally ends in dictatorship and permanent class segregation, nobody having really resisted it beforehand? I do realize that Solnit's magnum opus is about the silver lining to be found in disaster relief, but how is impending disaster a cause for celebration?
Then let's discuss Solnit's reasoning. Her "grand goal":
I have a grand goal, and that is to counter the Republican right with its deep desire to annihilate everything I love and to move toward far more radical goals than the Democrats ever truly support.
Is the idea here that if we counter the Republican right while the Democrat right annihilates everything we love, it's all good?
Emptywheel has already discussed Solnit's faux pas on Kamala Harris. The rest of Solnit's argument implies nostalgia for capitalism's past, as follows:
Can you imagine how far the Civil Rights Movement would have gotten, had it been run entirely by complainers for whom nothing was ever good enough? To hell with integrating the Montgomery public transit system when the problem was so much larger!
Does Solnit remember the actual Civil Rights Movement? There was plenty of complaint then, too. The difference, I suppose, is that the Civil Rights Movement occurred in a different era of capitalism, one in which nobody complained about complainers like they do now.
That’s why the perfect is the enemy of the good.
This is the standard argument used to silence those who contest the idea that "the good" is really all that good. In an era in which things are getting worse this is a proper thing to contest. Nobody is arguing for perfection -- but many ask (as they well should) why "the good" has to be outweighed by the undertow of bad that appears in an era of declining capitalism.
If I vote for a Democrat, I do so in the hopes that fewer people will suffer, not in the belief that that option will eliminate suffering or bring us to anywhere near my goals or represent my values perfectly.
This might be an appropriate argument if the word "Democrat" were changed to "Green." The Democrats, however, will be supporting Obama's Grand Bargain, with the austerity it implies. Welcome to the new era.
Or maybe it’s that the people in question won’t be the ones to suffer, because their finances, health care, educational access, and so forth are not at stake.
Whose finances are at stake in a Democratic victory? Are they those of the investor class, who have reaped nearly all of the benefits of economic growth since Obama was elected? Whose health care is at stake? Is it health care for those who will be obliged to buy insurance they won't be able to afford to use? And whose educational access is at stake, when Race to the Top substantively privatizes the public school system without improving education in the aggregate?
An undocumented immigrant writes me, “The Democratic Party is not our friend: it is the only party we can negotiate with.”
Four years of record deportation does not a negotiation make.
People who told me back in 2000 that there was no difference between Bush and Gore never got back to me afterward.
In 2000 the elites wanted a "solution" to the Saddam Hussein problem, and a re-invigoration of the military supremacy schtick. Clinton didn't give them these things in the quantities desired. So a Republican victory was engineered, ultimately with the assistance of the Supreme Court. Should we blame those who speculated about Bush and Gore?
The "progressive" vision is toast. If we continue to do what we do, we aren't progressing toward anything but disaster. Therefore we need to be doing something different. Solnit convincingly showed in her book how disaster can have a silver lining -- people get together and work for each other rather than for the system. Those of us who hope for a decent future are counting on that sliver lining, because not enough people are doing anything different.
Sure, we could work for a decent future now, with an effort Solnit describes with vigor:
Because, really, people, part of how we are going to thrive in this imperfect moment is through élan, esprit de corps, fierce hope, and generous hearts.
But to do this we'll need a more meaningful vision than the "progressive" one. We can no longer piggyback visions of a better world upon the continued operation of the capitalist system. The "Left" complainers are the ones who seem to be closest to understanding this. Their complaints look petty to Solnit because they aren't at the point of repudiating the prime mover of the source of their complaints. They aren't, in short, proactive. Only time will tell, however, if they actually get there.