Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Please Please Me

In "Too much Alinsky, not enough Lenin", a post commenting on the influence of Saul Alinsky on the American left, as observed in the context of last week's student walkout at UC-Berkeley, Voyou writes about the left's dysfunctional attitude towards power:
This confused me when I first moved to the US; looking for the left in the Bay Area it seems at first like there’s no there there. The general left-wing sentiment in the area doesn’t seem to be matched by the existence of left-wing organizations. It turns out that that’s not quite right; it’s just that these organizations aren’t political organizations but are, rather, community organizations and non-profits. Some of these have radical rhetoric and a revolutionary pedigree, but they all share the weakness of the Alinskian (non-)understanding of power, where power is not conceived of as something that could be appropriated collectively and used creatively to common ends, but where power is something someone else (the state) has, and the limit of collective action is to force concessions from those who do hold power.
I particularly like that last sentence: the limit of collective action is to force concession from those who do hold power. It's true, isn't it? Power exists out there, and our responsibility, at best, is to force concessions. But even that's a bit strong--we don't force concessions, we ask, we beg, we beseech. Witness the spectacle of liberals, prominent or otherwise, writing open letters, or blog posts, addressed to Obama--please close Guantanamo, please end the occupation of Iraq, please take time to consider single payer healthcare, please keep your promises, please fulfill our hopes and dreams, please please listen to us!

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