Wanted: A Radical Left, by Ellen Willis
Source D. Ohmans
Date 99/05/01/21:54

/* Written 1:58 PM Jun 25, 1998 by in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "Wanted: A Radical Left" ---------- */
>From Ellen Willis, "The Nation" 6-29-98

"American politics generally works this way: As
radical ideas gain currency beyond their original
advocates, they mutate into multiple forms. Groups
representing different class, racial, ethnic, political
and cultural constituencies respond to the new movement
with varying degrees of support or criticism and end up
adapting its ideas to their own agendas. With these
modifications the movement's popularity spreads, putting
pressure on existing power relations; liberal reformers
then mediate the process of dilution, containment and
"co-optation" whereby radical ideas that won't go away
are incorporated into the system through new laws,
policies and court decisions. The essential dynamic here
is a good cop/bad cop routine in which the liberals
dismiss the radicals as impractical sectarian extremists,
promote their own "responsible" proposals as an
alternative and take credit for whatever change results.
"The good news is that this process does bring about
significant change. The bad news is that by denying the
legitimacy of radicalism it misleads people about how
change takes place, rewrites history and obliterates
memory. It also leaves people sadly unprepared for the
inevitable backlash. Once the radicals who were a real
threat to the existing order have been marginalized, the
right sees its opportunity to fight back. Conservatives
in their turn become the insurgent minority, winning
support by appealing to the still-potent influence of the
old "reality," decrying the tensions and disruptions that
accompany social change and promoting their own vision of
prosperity and social order. Instead of seriously
contesting their ideas, liberals try to placate them and
cut deals, which only incites them to push further.
Desperate to avoid isolation, the liberal left keeps
retreating, moving its goal post toward the center, where
"ordinary people" supposedly reside; but as yesterday's
center becomes today's left, the entire debate shifts to
the right. And in the end, despite all their efforts to
stay "relevant," the liberals are themselves hopelessly
marginalized. This is the sorry situation we are in
right now."

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