[p2p-research] Who Rules America: Fresh Start For the Left

Michel Bauwens michelsub2004 at gmail.com
Sat Aug 15 06:18:12 CEST 2009

By the way, I've been doing a super-marathan to go through my backlog of
emails and links, and am really exhausted now,

could I ask a volunteer to post this domhoff quote on our blog, perhaps with
the previous quote that paul mentioned, from the same author, just before?


On Sat, Aug 15, 2009 at 6:02 AM, Paul D. Fernhout <
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com> wrote:

> It seems to me that this section of Domhoff's work could be rethought from
> a peer context?
> "Fresh Start For the Left: What Activists Would Do If They Took the Social
> Sciences Seriously" by G. William Domhoff
> http://sociology.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/change/science_freshstart.html
> """
> #6. Redefining Who Is Us and Who Is Them
>  Social scientists have done a great many studies documenting the
> inequalities and injustices of the class-based social structure of the
> United States. However, the evidence for class domination and extreme
> inequality doesn't mean that it makes good political sense to frame
> political conflict primarily in terms of one economic class against another
> in trying to bring about egalitarian social change. It tends to reduce
> political struggles to economic issues, and to create problems of defining
> who is us and who is them that have led to endless arguments about who is a
> worker, who is a petite bourgeois, and who is a capitalist.
>  If the problem is developing new policies and gaining political power,
> which it is, then the struggle should be framed from the start as a conflict
> over power and values, not as a struggle between social classes. The
> in-group should be all those who come to embrace the program of the
> egalitarian movement, and the out-group should be all those who oppose such
> changes. If the conflict is framed in this way, an egalitarian coalition has
> a chance to win over the moderates, neutrals, and independents who currently
> identify with capitalists, and who might be offended by blanket criticisms
> of them as a class. It may even attract dissident members of the capitalist
> class who transcend their class interests, and in the process become very
> valuable in legitimating the movement to those in the middle who are
> hesitant to climb on board.
>  But a class framing is not just a problem in terms of labeling all
> capitalists as enemies. Once the conflict is framed in class terms, those
> defined as members of the working class take on all virtue, and those
> outside the working class are ignored or demonized, whether they are rich or
> not. In fact, it is very difficult to decide who is in the working class and
> who is not, which leads to further problems for the movement. For example,
> those who are neither capitalists nor workers are sometimes called the
> "petty" bourgeois, which in theory means those who own their own means of
> production but do not exploit the labor of others, but in practice ends up
> meaning those people who are believed to be potential right wingers, a
> demonization which almost guarantees that they will become enemies of the
> left whether they started out that way or not.
>  Doing politics in terms of class categories also make little sense because
> it does not sit well with most of the everyday working people to whom it is
> meant to appeal. The whole thrust of the average Americans' experience is to
> break down class distinctions, not heighten them. They do not like to think
> of themselves in terms of their class situation, which immediately reminds
> them that they are not rich and have a lower status than they might like.
> Americans never have liked the idea of class, and this is not simply a
> denial of reality or the product of ideological hype. It is a matter of what
> social identities people prefer to emphasize, which in the United States
> have not included class for a variety of historical reasons.
>  Most Americans below the wealthy and professional classes understand that
> they have differing interests from the upper levels when it comes to wages,
> working conditions, taxes, and government benefits. Poll after poll shows
> that they would like to see their own interests realized, but not by
> defining one class against the other. It therefore makes no psychological or
> political sense to try to impose a class identity on people just because
> there's a social structure out there or some theory says it's a good idea to
> do politics in class terms.
>  In addition, a class framing is problematic because many egalitarians who
> agitate for social change do not come from the working class, however
> broadly it is defined, which makes them look like they are practicing a form
> of noblesse oblige. They often come from professional or wealthy families,
> obtain good educational credentials, and find work in or around university
> settings. Rather than claiming that they speak in the name of the working
> class, which rings hollow with most blue-collar and white-collar workers,
> they should put forth a program based on planning through the market that
> alters the class structure, and then try to develop a value-based coalition
> that includes everyone willing to support it.
>  The ideal model for a more open-ended framing of a social conflict is
> provided by the civil rights movement, which refused to define "whites" as
> the enemy, but only "racists" and "bigots." Racists and bigots included most
> whites in the South at that time, of course, so there was a clear opposition
> out there, but at the same time there was room for pro-integration whites.
> Drawing on the Christian tradition, the movement therefore was able to
> utilize the concepts of forgiveness, redemption and conversion in the
> service of strategic nonviolence to forge a black-white coalition. By
> opening its doors to people who believed in equal rights for
> African-Americans whatever their class, race, religion, or previous beliefs,
> the movement was able to use these concepts to make it permissible for
> people to change their attitudes without violating their self-images as
> decent people ("saving face").
>  This strategy also had great appeal because it made sense to the many
> "third parties" -- bystanders and observers -- outside the South who were
> witnesses to the struggle. In similar fashion, if a "cross-class" coalition
> is going to be necessary to assemble a majority for an egalitarian program
> in the twenty-first century, then it is better to begin with a political
> framing of the Us vs. Them issue that does not define one class or another
> as the enemy.
>  This approach to social change receives strong support from a long
> tradition of experimental studies of in-groups and out-groups in social
> psychology. First, studies of in-groups and out-groups show how readily
> people create such categories, even when the basis for distinctions are few
> and minor, probably because being part of an in-group reduces social
> uncertainty, enhances self-esteem, and satisfies psychological needs for a
> sense of belonging and identity. Such studies also reveal how quickly people
> invest strong emotional energy in the categories, feeling positive toward
> those they define as in their group and, with the wrong kind of
> encouragement, highly negative toward those in the out-group. It is clearly
> quite easy to become extremely antagonistic toward opponents due to this
> form of thinking, which is why who is us and who is them has to be defined
> very carefully from the start.
>  At the same time, experimental studies by social psychologists show that
> an Us v. Them framing is a powerful basis for a social movement. An in-group
> definition provides a strong sense of solidarity. It makes possible social
> comparisons with privileged exclusionary groups, which can generate a sense
> of injustice and contribute to a willingness to act. The problem, then, is
> to define the out-group in such a way that it is possible for people to
> abandon this group and join the in-group. Thus, the out-group should not be
> defined by characteristics that it cannot relinquish, such as gender, race,
> ethnicity, sexual orientation, or class origins. So, how should the conflict
> over transforming American society be framed by nonviolent egalitarian
> activists?
>  Given the changing social composition of the Democratic Party, and the
> need to avoid a class framing of the in-group and the out-group, it is the
> "corporate-conservative coalition" and the Republican Party that should be
> the designated opponents of egalitarian activists. Indeed, they are the most
> clear, vocal, and organized opposition to any form of progressive social
> change, as evidenced by their economic and social policies since at least
> the 1970s. Framing the general conflict in terms of egalitarians versus
> corporate conservatives, and of Democrats versus Republicans in the
> political arena, has two distinct advantages in addition to avoiding a
> demonization of "the rich" or the capitalist class.
>  First, these are categories from which people can remove themselves. They
> can change their minds and become Democrats, as many former Republicans in
> the Northeast already have done over the past 35 years. Second, these
> categories leave a great many people as "third parties" who do not feel
> labeled as enemies and put on the defensive by criticisms of the
> corporate-conservative coalition and the Republican Party. In exit polls in
> 2004, 37% of the respondents identified themselves as Republicans, 37% as
> Democrats, and 26% as Independents. At the same time, 34% said they are
> conservatives, 45% said they are moderates, and 21% said they are liberals.
> Thus, a focus on the corporate-conservative coalition and the Republicans as
> the opposition leaves egalitarians with a potential majority of liberals,
> moderates, independents, and Democrats to win to their side.
>  But who is the egalitarian "we" who do battle with the
> corporate-conservative coalition if it is not "the working class?" It starts
> with the multiple we's who currently make up the nonviolent insurgent groups
> in the United States, the coalition of white progressives, liberal people of
> color, progressive trade unionists, feminists, living-wage activists,
> environmentalists, gay-lesbian activists, global justice and anti-war
> activists, and anti-sweatshop activists who work together on many issues.
> From there the coalition has to build out to the neutrals, bystanders,
> moderates, and skeptics who are the majority at the present time. Within
> this context, the movement has to offer everyone a shared common political
> identity -- "egalitarian Democrat" -- that does not attempt to downplay or
> erase their current social identities. It should be possible to be a
> feminist and an egalitarian Democrat, or a gay activist and an egalitarian
> Democrat, without feeling any sense of competition or contradiction among
> social identities.
> """
> So, is it egalitarian decentralist peerists versus inequalitarian
> centralized hierarchicalists? :-)
> Although, still, I like Manuel de Landa's idea of a Meshwork/Hierarchy
> balance, so maybe it should be egalitarian balanceists versus peripheral
> extremists? :-)
> Anyway, just trying a few terms. No doubt others here could do better. And
> we might not even agree on what these should be, because they do depend in
> part on perspectives and emphasis.
> Anyway, the above is framed in terms of US politics, but no doubt these
> same trends apply to varying degrees globally.
> --Paul Fernhout
> http://www.pdfernhout.net/
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