Lessons From The Crisis

As of press time, the United States government remains shut down.

How we got here is long, complicated, and a little hard to pin down, but it goes something like this: Republicans in Congress threatened to refuse to fund the government or pay its debts unless they get something in return. For us on the left, this is proof positive of something that actually inspired this blog in the first place: we cannot afford to sit out on electoral politics because the Democrats are not progressive enough.

Let’s look at the story so far. At first, the fight seemed to be over the Affordable Care Act, Pres. Obama’s remarkably centrist health care reform (also known as Obamacare, Barack Hussein Obama’s far-left fascist attempt to take away health care and end American liberty). Republicans in Congress refused to pass any spending bills that did not “defund Obamacare”; Ted Cruz even pretended to kinda-filibuster, speaking for 21 hours against Obamacare while blocking debate on the “defund Obamacare” bill that he proposed, because we apparently live in a Franz Kafka novel. But the picture that seems to be emerging now is slightly different. Based on recent interviews and press conferences, it seems that the Republican strategy is to use a government shutdown as leverage when they demand something in return for raising the debt ceiling.

This being the Age of the Internet, the saga has been exhaustively detailed, and is way too elaborate, dense, petty, intricate, Byzantine, twisty-turny, and downright straight-up confusing to go into in any comprehensive way. Matt Yglesias at Slate has had great coverage, and Robert Costa of (retch) The National Review provides an excellent view from behind Republican lines. But while the context and details may be too much to delve into here, the basics of this unfolding story illustrate a critical point that we at Sewer Socialists cannot emphasize enough:

Politics. Matters.

I couldn’t tell you how often we hear that Democrats and Republicans are the same. They’re both the ruling parties. They both serve capital interests. They’re all the same, they don’t listen to us, why should we vote for any of them? A pox on both their houses!

This shutdown should put that line of reasoning to rest permanently.

Don’t get us wrong, the Democratic Party is absolutely a capitalist party, with varying centrist and left-of-centrist elements. The Democratic Party has been too often in bed with institutional racism (see: Clinton’s expansion of the War on Drugs, Obama’s deportation policy), American imperialism (see: Obama’s drone policy), and misogyny (see: Bob Filner, Anthony Weiner, any pro-life Democrat), among countless other social evils. But it is one thing to say, correctly, that Democrats and Republicans are not different enough. It is another thing entirely to say that they are not different.

As we speak, one party is demanding political concessions for the continued functioning of the federal government. One party is holding the US government and the global economy hostage, and demanding as ransom that their (thrice-rejected) political platform become law. One party is intentionally inflicting pain on American families, hoping their hardship will force the government to give them concessions they could not win through elections. Their opponents may not be ideal, but that’s not enough. When you have a party that inflicts pain and shame on its own people because they want an extra bargaining chip, the self-righteous luxury of dismissing them evaporates. We can’t just ignore them.

We must beat them.

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The New And Improved New Left

Perhaps you’ve already seen this article over at the Daily Beast by Peter Beinart. If you haven’t, read it right now. We’ll wait.

Ready?

Good.

Probably one of the best points in that article is that, since Reagan, there hasn’t really been a nationally significant left-wing party in the United States.  We’re all neoliberals now, the pundits have said (ad nauseum).  The GOP has drifted steadily farther and farther towards some kind of strange populist reactionary anarchism while the Democrats have mostly been content to take up right-wing positions that would have given FDR a heart attack to go with his poliomyelitis.

But what Beinart’s article is trying to say is that this might be changing in a big way very soon, because of a very peculiar new cohort of Americans in the labor force.  You know some of them.  Shit, chances are pretty good that you are one of them, if you’re reading political blogs on your work computer while you’re supposed to be doing your job as a “social media expert”. But it’s not because of the year you were born in. Not directly, at least. See, one of this piece’s other main points is that generations are defined not by decades, but by the political events that shaped the world during their most formative years:

To understand what constitutes a political generation, it makes more sense to follow the definition laid out by the early-20th-century sociologist Karl Mannheim. For Mannheim, generations were born from historical disruption. As he argued—and later scholars have confirmed—people are disproportionately influenced by events that occur between their late teens and mid-twenties. During that period—between the time they leave their parents’ home and the time they create a stable home of their own—individuals are most prone to change cities, religions, political parties, brands of toothpaste. After that, lifestyles and attitudes calcify. For Mannheim, what defined a generation was the particular slice of history people experienced during those plastic years. A generation had no set length. A new one could emerge “every year, every thirty, every hundred.” What mattered was whether the events people experienced while at their most malleable were sufficiently different from those experienced by people older or younger than themselves.

Grouping people into “generations” by age might be useful if you’re trying to sell time shares or iPhones, but it’s less useful when you’re talking about political consciousness.  The Reagan generation, Beinart says, was a lot longer than 20 years. In the 1980s, Reagan defined the parameters of political discourse. In the 1990s, Clinton operated in those same parameters. So everyone whose late teens or early twenties happened some time between 1980 and 2001 was shaped by that paradigm of discourse. That’s what we’re talking about when we say “The Reagan Generation”.

But we, the Millennials, are a different generation. We started coming of age in the early 2000s. And our formative years?  Let’s not mince words here, shall we? They sucked.

We’re the recession generation, folks.  Second cousins to retrenchment, in-laws to austerity.  Our parents had “Morning in America” and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  We got Iraq, TARP, Hurricane Katrina, and a Congress that’s about as effective as treating cancer with ibuprofen.  Every single day there are millions of us with college degrees who get up in the morning and go to work for jobs that don’t pay much money, don’t require a lot of skill, and don’t have anything to do with what we studied.  That’s for those of us lucky enough to have jobs at all.  The American Dream to us is either history or a sick joke, depending on how cynical we’re feeling.  We’ve developed this weird generational disquiet, this feeling that something is fundamentally broken.

This piece by Adam Weinstein is a pretty fine example. After years of unemployment, underemployment, and debt, we simply don’t buy the American Dream anymore. We’re not the first generation for whom the American Dream has been a lie, nor are we the first generation to realize it. Ask Angela Davis or Malcolm X. But we are the first generation, at least in living memory, where it’s been a lie for almost everybody. More and more of us are confronted with the hard truth that financial success is more often inherited than earned.  More importantly, we are the first generation, at least in living memory, where everyone’s starting to realize it. Even those, like Adam Weinstein, who played by the rules, who “did everything right”, and had their white-male-ness to help them, cannot win. And when an entire generation–especially one with as much education and access to information as ours–realizes that even playing by the rules cannot help them, we start talking about writing new rules.

So if you hear someone asking why we seem so driftless and unfocused, that’s why. Because we don’t have a default idea for what society should look like.  We rejected the idea of the way things were.  We’re looking for something new.

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Out Of The Sewer

Well, you’ve found your way to the home of the Sewer Socialists, two Midwestern guys who write about things. Don’t let the S-word fool you, though. We’re more interested in grappling with real political problems than debating reification. If you’re looking for a discussion of dialectical materialism or the Frankfurt School’s theories of language, you are in the wrong place. One of the reasons we’re writing this is because the left has a very well-documented history of paralyzing itself by bickering over rhetoric and ideology, and then losing. We’ve got no time for that shit. If you want to talk about post-structuralism or call us revisionists, go to r/communism. If we wanted to get yelled at by a bunch of Stalinists, we’d post a comment about Edward Snowden on RT.com.

So what does this blog write about? Politics, culture, race, language, probably professional sports.  The thing is, there’s a growing sense in the United States that something isn’t working.  Like, just to pick a few examples, the economy, the schools, the prisons, the government, and everything fucking else.  And in case you’ve just arrived in a DeLorean from 1995 the government isn’t doing anything about any of these problems. Also, if that’s the case, we should probably get you up to speed: there is a massive, easily-accessible network of all the information and entertainment ever recorded, grunge is dead, and Cleveland sports are somehow even more depressing..  Friends is off the air now, though, so not everything sucks.

But the reason we’re writing this blog is that if we look back in American history, we’re reminded of an ideology that’s mostly been forgotten outside of a second-level Midwestern city that probably made one of the beers in your fridge. The ideology was called Sewer Socialism and it actually started out as something of a joke.  Essentially, Milwaukee was the only big city in the country that ever had card-carrying socialists running the town, and they did a pretty damned good job of it.  They also apparently never shut up about the awesome public sewer system they put in, and the nickname stuck.  Sadly, socialism didn’t, despite what you may have heard.

What exactly we mean by “socialism” could be a whole other blog. But we want to avoid getting too caught up in it, because fights about definitions and labels have been the curse of the left since ever.  See, since socialism has become the kiss of death in political discourse, it has pretty much retreated into academia in the United States.  Now, that’s great if you want to build a tenure position on your thesis critiquing Jurgen Habermas, less good if you want to accomplish, well, literally anything of substance. But again, we don’t have time for that shit. Academia aside, we think there’s still value in that pragmatic, realistic, down-to-earth version of socialism that did so much for our home city.

So that’s what we’re here to write about. We’re not experts, and we don’t pretend to be. We just think that the government and the economy should work for us. We think that everyone—really and truly everyone—should have a say in how their society, economy, and government are run. And we think that our focus must always be on finding real solutions to real problems, and making them really work. Otherwise, what’s the fucking point?  We can write academic treatises all we like, but socialism, Sewer Socialism, was about getting things done.  So let’s get to it.

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