Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Populism, electoral politics, and war always strengthen the oligarchy

I'm takin' my country back! 

That's the appeal of populism ... and I admit, I understand that appeal.  I spent a year of my own life campaigning for a populist candidate for the US Presidency.  I met that candidate, personally, on the campus of a university in Huntsville, Alabama.  I was introduced to him by the state campaign committee as "a man who has done a lot for this campaign in Alabama."  I shook his hand firmly, looked him straight in the eye – which is how I was taught to judge a man's character – and I looked for the lie in that man, and didn't find it.  To this day, I believe he is honest, sincere, and trustworthy.  And those traits, alone, are what made his election an impossibility.

His campaign was used, I believe, to mobilize young voters who would eventually support an establishment candidate; one selected (probably years before) by those who hold the real power.

That's what populist candidate are for ... and to convince the voting public that the choice is really theirs.  It isn't.  The winner of the current presidential election (in my opinion, and I offer this as just my opinion) was selected a very long time ago.  The populist candidates are playing their roles ... they are preparing the way for the true candidates, who (in most cases) will appear far more "electable" than the crazies that are making headlines now.

There are populist candidates in every US election.  It's part of the process.  And they are part of the electoral system, which I believe is tightly controlled and carefully manipulated toward a pre-determined outcome.

Unless I'm mistaken, no populist candidate has won the US Presidency in our lifetimes.  And none will this year, or ever again.

Populism is a placebo.  It gives the impression that societal change can be enacted through the election process.  It's a lie.

It's a lie that the greatest achievements of any social movement (the American labor movement, for example, or the movements for black civil rights or woman's rights) were won through elections.  They were not.  They were largely won through strikes and demonstrations.  Activism, not politics.  In fact, during the period in which American labor won the most concessions from the "robber barons" of 19th century capitalism no more than 10% were represented by labor unions, which were mostly "trade unions" that protected defined classes of workers. 

Concessions were won by the working class because people refused to be divided by politics – farmers, journalists, lawyers, merchants, shopkeepers, skilled tradesmen and unskilled factory workers – they were united in one goal.  And that goal wasn't winning elections.  
It was politics that ended the greatest populist movement Americans have ever seen.  The Populists were absorbed into the Democratic Party, their message "co-opted" by the Party, and electoral politics took the place of activism.

Howard Zinn wrote about the election of 1896:

Once the Populists became allied with the Democratic party in supporting William Jennings Bryan for President in 1896, the movement would drown in a sea of Democratic politics. The pressure for electoral victory led Populism to make deals with the major parties in city after city. If the Democrats won, it would be absorbed. If the Democrats lost, it would disintegrate. Electoral polities brought into the top leadership the political brokers instead of the agrarian radicals.

In the election of 1896, with the Populist movement enticed into the Democratic party, Bryan, the Democratic candidate, was defeated by William McKinley, for whom the corporations and the press mobilized, in the first massive use of money in an election campaign. Even the hint of Populism in the Democratic party, it seemed, could not be tolerated, and the big guns of the Establishment pulled out all their ammunition, to make sure.

And always, as a way of drowning class resentment in a flood of slogans for national unity, there was patriotism.

McKinley had said, in a rare rhetorical connection between money and flag:

This year is going to be a year of patriotism and devotion to country.
I am glad to know that the people in every part of the country mean
to be devoted to one flag, the glorious Stars and Stripes; that the
people of this country mean to maintain the financial honor of the
country as sacredly as they maintain the honor of the flag.

The supreme act of patriotism was war. Two years after McKinley became President, the United States declared war on Spain.
From: A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn, 1980, revised 2010

Elections (and appeals to nationalism) are a remarkably effective way to keep Americans divided against one another, and to keep their focus off of their real and common enemy.   Elections never fail to achieve that objective.  The next 9 months will bear witness to that. 

I've been duped in the past; but I can tell you this:  Electoral politics won't waste any more of my time, energy, and resources. 

Vote in one hand, crap in the other.

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