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Michael McIntyre
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Proust: four-volume, leather-bound Éditions de la Pléïade. Can Kindle ever match that? I'm wondering about this in the context of next term's course on social movements. Initial, very fragmentary thoughts: (1) In an era of virtual panopticality, the material becomes invisible. But the virtual is still parasitic on the material (someone has to make the hardware, after all), and organizing that takes place in that space escapes the virtual gaze. (Given its scale, what gets less attention than the organizing taking place among industrial workers in China?) (2) As virtual relationships replace face-to-face relationships, organizing that brings bodies into a common space becomes experientially bracing. Think of a more politicized version of the resurgence of vinyl or the slow-food movement. (Perhaps one day they'll do a remake of "The Graduate" in which "social media" takes the place of the word "plastics"). (3) And yet with all this, the reach and speed of virtual networks can't be forsworn. In an era (probably already arrived) in which data-mining and sock puppetry (formerly known as spying and infiltration) have become normal, we need to think about how to create clandestine virtual networks. This means more, not less, geekery, because the ability to create and maintain secure virtual networks now has to be part of our ordinary toolkit.
Toggle Commented Mar 4, 2011 on From swords unto mindshares at I cite
Alain - There are certainly "victories" that would leave the Wisconsin workers worse off than they were a few months ago. Even such a victory might dissuade other governors from following Walker's course. And then there is the imponderable effect of any kind of victory on popular mobilization elsehwere. Walker, last I heard, is not only refusing to make any concessions, he is refusing to talk to the 14 Senators who left the state. And the reports I get from comrades on the ground show tremendous energy and enthusiasm. So a great deal hangs in the balance here. I don't think any of us can see through to the end. As for desperation - I think we've been there for a good long time. This is a pristination of our desperate moment - perhaps a moment of clarity.
Yes, as long as. I've been pleasantly surprised by the staying power of the Madison protests, and their ability to expand the anti-Walker base. Now things get interesting. Will the blast of winter weather in Wisconsin dissipate the protesters? Will the Democrats hunkered down in Rockford stay south of the border until Walker caves? Will Walker cut a deal (already on the table) in which unions agree to deep cuts in return for continued collective bargaining rights? Or will the protests fizzle, the Dems cave, and all be lost? And, most importantly, how will this translate in the many other states (e.g., Ohio) where the same offensive is underway? Break the public sector unions and the last big pot of Dem money goes away. Hollywood and trial lawyers can't compete with the full panoply of post-Citizens United corporate cash (even if Wall Street keeps splitting its donations roughly 50-50). The Repugs are counting on a permanent advantage in resources that will restore their late nineteenth century domination. But what happens if they win? "Or does it explode?"
But Alain, how are we going to unite the left if we start by deciding that everyone who bears the dross of today's pitiful, failed left is to be excluded? I'm not saying that Solidarity and FRSO (and add the rest of your groups here) are going to form the nucleus of some future mass revolutionary formation. (One of the strengths of these two organizations is that neither regards itself as the Vanguard Party {tm] or the nucleus or kernel of some future Vanguard Party. Both see themselves as interim formations.) But if we're to create a left that is actually revolutionary and not composed of sectarian crazies, then we have to start by asking who today is really trying to do that? So, any "new" formation is not going to be entirely new. France's "Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste" is really an initiative of the Fourth International. So, for that matter, was the World Social Forum (it got its start in Porto Alegre because that city was administered by the Democracia Socialista faction of the Worker's Party, a group which, in turn, was affiliated with the Fourth International - though its status has become less clear since roughly 2003). Certainly Americans are not going to head to the streets waving pictures of Trotsky. Or Lenin, Marx, Gramsci, Zizek, Laclau and Mouffe, Bhabha, get the idea. And for that matter, even now my local branch of Solidarity doesn't take Trotsky as the measure of anything. Some of us still identify as Trotskyists, others (like me) don't, but none of us sit around wondering about the contemporary relevance of the 1938 transitional program. We operate on the terrain we have (and we have no illusions about that terrain), and we try to figure out if and how it might be possible to do more than react to the latest outrages, that is, within the very, very thin margin available to us, figure out how to act strategically. Any "new" organization would be faced with the same task.
Toggle Commented Feb 15, 2011 on Walk like an Egyptian at I cite
A few thoughts: (1) I don't think it's feasible to promote a confiscatory tax policy in a world where investment decisions are still in the hands of private capital and it is possible to move capital across borders. Changing the first is beyond the scope of this transitional program, and changing the second would be possible only if we could magically make offshore havens disappear tomorrow. One of the bloggers at Angry Bear (I'm not sure which one - and I may even have the blog wrong) has done some investigation into an optimal rate of marginal taxation from the point of view of economic growth, and it turns out to be far higher than it is today (62-63%, if I recall correctly). Why higher investment and higher growth with higher marginal tax rates? One possible explanation - because at those rates, there is less incentive to convert profit into personal income today, and therefore a higher incentive to reinvest profit. So I'd suggest that the transitional demand should be a top marginal tax rate in the 60-65% range. (2) "We" can't start building the left around a set of demands without identifying who the "we" is that is going to do the building. And that means identifying existing organizations that (a) have a real commmitment to revolutionary socialism and (b) are sane (that is, are not "line" organizations and have members who change their thinking in response to changing reality). In the U.S., there are really only a handful of organizations that fit the bill, most notably Solidarity (which comes out of the Trotskyist tradition, but is no longer dogmatically Trotskyist) and Freedom Road Socialist Organization. (Point of clarification: there are really two FRSOs, conventionally termed "hard-shell" and "soft-shell". Hard-shell FRSO has retreated to a sectarian Maoist position, while soft-shell FRSO has a commitment to "left refoundation" that has moved it past this point). ISO might evolve in this direction, but isn't there yet. Committees of Correspondence and the left wing of the Socialist Party might also be included. Other organizations that I can think of in this category are more local in scope. [Disclaimer - I'm a member of Solidarity.] There have been repeated attempts to bring groups of this sort together, none of them successful. The current venue that brings together these folks is an occasional gathering that goes under the name "Revolutionary Work in our Time" (RWIOT). If we're serious about this, then there is no way to issue demands, pretend that the pitiful U.S. left with all of its dross does not exist, and simply convince an amorphous "left" with no history to unite under these demands. We have to start within the existing left and work through it, frustrating as that might be. (3) I think Bourdieu has the best explanation of the impotence of the academic left. Radical academics try to leverage their political/intellectual commitments into careers in their fields. At the end of the day, the accumulation of cultural and symbolic capital within a field almost always trumps political commitment. Our locations within our fields (pre)dispose us to develop an appreciation for those radical theorists whose cachet will advance us within our fields, rather than those who will help us bring down capitalism. Not infrequently, radicals who are somehow associated with universities hold non-faculty positions: think of Hal Draper at Berkeley or even Lou Proyect at Columbia. (For that matter, the organizer of my local branch of Solidarity was the head archivist at a university library). At a certain point, Bourdieu went as far as to claim that there was no way out of this academic faux-radicalism, although later, when he had accumulated just about as much symbolic and cultural capital as it was possible to accumulate, he inaugurated far more overtly political interventions that seem to have been his way out of this iron cage. For us left academics, I think this means being acutely aware of how easily our radicalism can slide into self-serving careerism, and developing strategies and institutions that allow us either to slip out of the noose or negotiate its constraints more self-consciously. That is, if we're serious.
Toggle Commented Feb 15, 2011 on Walk like an Egyptian at I cite
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Feb 15, 2011