Are recessions better for the left or right?

On my mailing list, we have had a debate about whether the current crisis is good for the left or the right.  I am only now jumping in.

The Chinese character for crisis supposedly combines danger and opportunity, although I’ve been told that it is not true. Even so, it should be true.  Uprisings occur during good times, such as the 60s, when people expected better. I’m not sure whether any such uprising ever created lasting changes.

Bad times make people desperate.  Desperation makes people vulnerable to demagogy, but it can also create opportunity for long-term organizing.  Here, the Great Depression offers the most obvious example.

Opportunity is no guarantee of success.  Sometimes demagogy wins out. Sometimes organizing can, but I suspect that generalizations are impossible without looking at context. How would the New Deal have turned out without the prior existence of the Communist Party in the United States? As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to drive Norman Thomas around Ann Arbor.  He thought that Roosevelt had appropriated the Socialist party platform.

Here in the US, the corporate-oriented Democratic Leadership Council might be the strongest operative “left” organization.  We have bloggers and e-mail lists on the left, unfortunately only a few of us have any record of organizational successes.

In any case, I suspect that we have little grounds for optimism within the context of the current crisis in the US economy.

4 comments so far

  1. political economist on


    I have to agree with your analysis, however we must keep an “optimism of the heart” and keep on keeping on in whatever ways we can.

    i may be wrong but i believe that the issue of health care is a good one for the left. It highlights a major weakness of the current apotheosis of the market which like Dracula refuses to die even as it sucks the life from the large majority of people–i.e., the ninety percent who live off of their labor.

    This issue is quite alive in various states and Single Payer has passed twice in California only to be vetoed by your gov. Pennsylvanians have also had some success in pushing this issue forward. Its passage in California would likely lead to other states’ politicians being forced to enact it in their states as well.

    Some correlative benefits: direct improvements in peoples’ lives, weakening of the DLC, bolstering the power of the majority, putting a lie to market mythology, perhaps even shifting priorities to “starving the beast” of empire.

    Anyone interested in taking action should go to the website and/or the physicians for national health care’s website at . The passage of PPACA has helped mobilize a lot of activists on this issue so that a relative small amount of funds could defeat the corporate forces backing the current for-profit expansion of health care.

    Political economists might also try to push some economic sense into politics although this is difficult as even teh Green Party types and the DSA do not seem able to come up with Roosevelt type solutions such as having the government directly loan funds or raising the minimum wage to counteract deflation (together with their idea of a jobs program).

  2. mark hansen on

    first, could you write out the name of the organization which you label the “DSA”, i, for one am not familiar with it.
    the green party has been pushing for nationwide “single payer” health care for years.

    the only change i can see in the recently passed “healthcare reform” is that now the federal government will be subsidising the for-profit health insurance companies to get them to insure the previously uninsured.

  3. political economist on

    The Democratic “reform” was certainly a farce. My suggestion is that single payer movement could by itself be beneficial by changing the limits of acceptable discourse, something the Obama administration is unwilling to do. This would be the primary political benefit of supporting those pressing for a single payer health insurance plan. There would other correlative benefits as well, such as improving health care.

    As to the overriding political dimension, building a party versus taking it over — i.e, the Green Party strategy versus the Democratic Socialist of America strategy, I have no idea which side is better. However, by changing the conversational discourse, the left — and the great majority of people, will benefit either way.

  4. javier hernandez-miyares on

    micheal: when the u.s. empire goes down, it will not be like the soviet union and the eastern block, which collapsed like a souffle.

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