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The problem with old radicals

DCblogger's picture

Todd Gitlin

I have no quarrel whatsoever with a critique of Democratic policies & the two-party system. I’m at that a lot, & I don’t think anyone could read the book & say that I pulled punches on either Reaganomics or Rubinomics. A campaign for full public financing of elections would get my intense support. But it’s a hard fact that the two-party system is esp. entrenched by the fact that we have a presidential rather than parliamentary system. To uproot it strikes me as plain impossible.

Big changes always seem impossible, until they are inevitable. Who could have been more entrenched than Galtieri, Marcos, or Pinochet? What could have been more solid than the Berlin Wall? But at some point rotten systems collapse under the weight of their own rot. That is why it is so important to build alternatives NOW, not just to vote for emergent party candidates, but the build alternative institutions in civil society so that when the collapse comes, as it will, there is something healthy to put in its place. Otherwise you get Robespierre.

The other thing about rotten regimes is that when the collapse comes, it comes all at once. It won't be gradual. One day the Soviets have complete control over Eastern Europe, that evening people are tearing down the Berlin Wall. The collapse won't be gradual, it will come all at once.

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par4's picture
Submitted by par4 on

was wrong with Robespierre? This country needs a cleaning out that would make him look like a piker.

Submitted by Lex on

The fall of the USSR only looked sudden because we were on the outside and our intelligence analysis was pitiful. It was very much a gradual process that people on the inside could feel even if they couldn't predict the how or when exactly.

And that's why (one of the reasons) Russia didn't fall into complete anarchy when the USSR dissolved. The population had long since built parallel institutions to cope with a collapsing state; they were necessarily hidden until they became the only means, and even then retained enough of their earlier facets that they were still hard to quantify.

In other words, the black market. And that's how it generally is with collapsing(ed) states. It means that criminal elements gain significant control from collapse, not least because they're prepared and willing to exert the necessary force to expand their control. The US has a huge black market economy, and if you look closely at inner cities, it extends beyond the classic example of the drug trade to all sorts of businesses like hair styling and auto repair. Hell, a good chunk of the local food craze is technically black market. It's illegal to buy meat, eggs, cheese, milk from farmers (unless they have a commercial, inspected, certified kitchen, etc.). Google news stories about the FBI infiltrating raw milk rings.

But back to collapse never being sudden, even Rome was not a sudden collapse. Dig just a little deeper than the standard history text fare and you find serious economic and agricultural problems leading up to the barbarian conquest and basically allowing for it/setting the stage for it to happen.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

I was in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1989, and it was clear the fear was gone and the end would be soon. However, the actual collapse comes very quickly, so quickly that the actual revolutionaries themselves are stunned. I remember the winter of 1989 very clearly, I knew many Hungarians, Pols, etc., who had been active in the dissident movements in their countries and they were all stunned by the speed of the collapse even though they had been working for it and preparing for it.

Arab spring in Tunisia and Egypt took the kleptocracy by surprise, but tragically, by the time it came to Libya and Syria the kleptracy was able to co-opt it to their purposes.

mtngun's picture
Submitted by mtngun on

The right has think tanks that sit around and prepare for just such a moment.

Submitted by Hugh on

Democrats point at those crazy obstructionist Republicans, moan, and throw up their hands.

Old radicals point at the two party system, moan, and throw up their hands.

Both are ways of pointing away from what the real problems are: kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war.

What makes this interesting is that rather than using these fundamental problems as a rallying cry the more superficial ones are being used as an excuse for surrender or inefficacy, which amounts to the same thing.