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Dialogue on Reclaiming Populism
Populism can be defined as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”
Populism is an extremely contentious word that has in recent years been unfortunately associated with xenophobia, authoritarianism, and racism. But it can also mean a multi-racial working and middle class movement that seeks to unite people based on their common needs.
We want to open a discussion on populism, which we understand as an overarching political movement that is meant to elevate those without power and to challenge established interests that marginalize all of us in the 99%, across all boundaries of race and identity.
Many of us have become estranged from our traditional political ideologies due to elite control, identity politics and petty theoretical squabbles. We believe a populist-universalist approach to politics is necessary to unite us based on common interests and to overcome superficial differences.
We’re not presenting ourselves as credentialed experts on the fine points of academic political ideology. We know that we humans seek safety and comfort in adopting labels and signalling our adherence to some particular group or ideology. However, obsession with labels can lead to idea checking and endless squabbles over theoretical principles rather than a focus on concrete issues.
We are not interested in theological arguments as to how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. And to be clear we aren’t fixed on the purity of specific labels or empty virtue signaling. We simply want to open a conversation among plebes about what ‘populist’ principles might mean to some of us and exchange ideas on how these ideas might emerge in a post-woke world.
What do you think you think is needed to improve the lives of the 99 percent?
How do we revive the focus on mass solidarity?
As you go through your day; work, school, paying your bills; how would you redesign your everyday world to make it populist?
What defines your community and what would you do to make it better?
What do you think are the right questions?
Use the comments below or send your submission to [email protected]!
We live in a political democracy, as imperfect as it is, so why shouldn’t we work in one? We elect the person who has control of the most powerful nuclear arsenal in the world, why shouldn’t we elect the person who signs our paychecks? Democracy in the workplace should be supported by anyone who believes that democracy is the best political system.
We need democracy in the workplace. We as employees should have the right to elect our own bosses. This should be at the heart of a new left, and of any political ideology that aims to improve the lives of regular people. Nearly every working person, if not every, has experienced disrespect and low pay for long hours at work. No president, senator or any other elected official is likely to change this. To improve our own lives, we need some measure of self autonomy and control. Our bosses should be accountable to us.
If employees have a stake in their own companies it seems logical that they would be more productive. After all, if they elect their bosses, in a sense they will own their place of work, and people tend to work harder when they have a sense of ownership.
We can debate precisely how democracy in the workplace would function, but it should be the cornerstone of a new left that overcomes racial, religious and petty political differences. All of our lives would materially improve. We would be more likely to be happier because we would have greater control over our own lives. After all, the current workplace is essentially a dictatorship where our bosses or managers can largely treat us, or fire us, as they please. We would also be able to exert greater control over our salaries and take home earnings that actually reflect the profit we make for our organizations.
This democracy could take many forms, and its specifics should be debated. Perhaps employees could elect the CEO, but specific departments could elect their own managers. For example, the IT department could elect the head of IT. This democracy could be a mixture of direct and representative; the CEO after being elected could appoint certain positions, perhaps employees could vote on certain propositions for the organization’s business plan and policies. Maybe employees could literally own a stake in the company in the form of a co-op. There are endless possibilities, but the way forward should be clear, workers of the world - democratize!
Silicon Valley-powered social media platforms have become our commons, our place of public discourse—what used to be the public square. Now, in addition to extracting our material wealth, they arrogate to themselves the power to control our speech. However, on the left it has become commonplace to call for increasing levels of censorship, which further feeds the consolidation of power by these corporations as this censorship is being carried out by a small number of the richest men on earth with no democratic accountability. They are not only allowed but cheered on as they make opaque decisions about what is and is not acceptable public speech.
The liberal left is destroying itself over purity arguments of identity politics and mandated correct speech. It turns on anyone who does not accept its entire identity package of beliefs. It has discovered a new authoritarianism in cancel-culture, all under the beautiful multi-color banner of inclusiveness and anti-racism.
There is a way to take back our common spaces and work toward genuine democracy and equality. The first step is to understand consumerism as a political act.
Start by imagining the idea of a people’s Silicon Valley… a crowdfunded power center that fuels cooperative alternatives to each of the increasingly monopolistic power centers—Google, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter and all the other titans of our tech world. Our consumerism makes them powerful. It is this that grants them their monopolistic mandate. Likewise, it is our consumerism that can take it back.
A longer piece on plebity discusses this here.
Notice how the corporate world has completely adopted the ideas and language of woke culture. And why should we be surprised that they have found it very useful to co-opt a toothless left that is intent on cannibalizing itself in a fratricidal war rather than questioning its corporate masters? In 2008, people across the political spectrum began to unite around the useful slogan of the 99% and the idea of real opposition to the banksters and the oligarchy. Uniting over issues that join us together is genuinely dangerous to the dominant elites. Not surprisingly, the banksters and the oligarchy are perfectly fine with diverting real challenges to their dominance into endless virtue signalling around issues of identity.
There has to be a time when people of genuine good will, who value critical thinking and fundamental ideals of social justice for everyone, are ready to stand up and say enough is enough. Anyone who can find the strength to stand and raise their voice against the mob makes it just that much easier for the next person to find the courage to join this rising chorus.
For those who are afraid of, or have even learned to hate the word ‘left’–let’s agree that as different as we may see the world, most people really do want things to be better for everyone. To the extent that labels get in the way of progress we should all learn to shed the labels. We’re all labelists, and working on that is a job for everyone.
A longer piece about cancel culture and intolerance is here.
When Populism Meant Collective Strength Against a Rigged System
“Wall street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street, and for Wall Street.” -Populist leader Mary Elizabeth Lease (circa 1890)
The word populism gets thrown around these days to mean many different things. But one particular social movement that occurred here in the U.S. and was known as the populist farmers revolt of the 1880s deserves special attention and has many lessons for us today.
In contemporary times we see inequality has only continued to rise and has reached unprecedented levels. Our diminishing and downwardly mobile middle-class, forever unable to ‘get ahead’ in the way that was commonly expected thirty years ago has much in common with the land-owning farmers of the populist revoltof the southern farmers of the 1800s. Labor unions have been destroyed. Gig workers are completely at the mercy of the employers. We pay into a ‘healthcare’ system like the farmers paid the merchants and each year we get deeper in debt until in the end we give over all our assets, just like the farmers handed over the title to their farms. Like them, we pay into the system throughout our whole lives until in the end biology catches up; the system waits patiently for us to inevitably fall ill and in the end it squeezes our last assets out of our hands to pay our final medical bills.
In A People’s History Zinn points out the great advances in productivity that technological innovation brought into the world. Consider this simple fact: “Before the Civil War it took 61 hours of labor to produce an acre of wheat. By 1900, it took 3 hours, 19 minutes.”
This is the sort of fact often highlighted by proponents of capitalism as proof of its success and efficacy. But the question leaps out, where did the benefits of this increased productivity go? The question isn’t whether we have a middle-class that has become marginally or even significantly better off than those at the bottom of the economy. The question is, where has the vast majority of this wealth that has been created since the beginning of the industrial age gone?
The populist farmers brilliantly identified the weak underbelly of the system, and sought to work against it by leveraging their collective purchasing and selling power. Our fundamental problems are not different than theirs. We have the same dilemma and also a way out if we can organize our own collective power as both consumers and workers. We are nothing as individual materialist consumers or atomized gig workers. If we can find common cause and put away the divisive labels we have enormous power.
See the full article here
Populism does indeed have a set of prevailing principles that characterizes it. These principles cut across all political cloths, often garnering support from left- and right-wing proponents. Some of the basic principles include: circumventing power from Wall Street, ending corporate welfare and crony capitalism, ending mass surveillance programs, ending military interventionism and occupation, and opposing corporate trade agreements. These principles don’t describe just one political identity, and that is why they tend to attract a broad following of people from all political persuasions.
Read the full article here.