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Don't Blame the People

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  • Dan Clore
    News & Views for Anarchists & Activists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo November 08, 2004 ZNet Don t Blame The People by Andrej Grubacic I have to start
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 9, 2004
      News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
      November 08, 2004

      Don't Blame The People
      by Andrej Grubacic

      I have to start this short piece with an apology. My
      knowledge of the situation in the US is, indeed, very
      limited. After all, I have just moved here. However, I think
      that my political work back home, in post Yugoslavia (that
      is the term that few of us enthusiasts have chosen to call
      this political and geographical space in order to fight
      nationalist and ethnic discourse), allows me to be brazen
      enough to offer few analogies that might be of some use to
      US readers. Namely, after reading a good numer of essays on
      ZNet, permeated with understandable feelings of
      desperateness and powerlessness, I couldn't help notice an
      approach which we ourselves, in Yugoslavia, in the time of
      Milosevic, also tended to surender to.

      Activists were too often, and too loudly, "disappointed in
      people". People voted for Milosevic. It was obvious that the
      guy was a ruthless thug. So they are to be blamed. After the
      second electoral triumph of Milosevic a good number of
      Yugoslav leftists actually moved to Canada -- the same move
      that many of my American friends seem to be suggesting after
      Tuesday's elections. We were disgusted by the
      "fundamentalist, church-going, uneducated masses" who live
      somewhere outside of Belgrade (capitol of

      Contrary to "them" we were developing "our" own, "urban"
      cultural forms, of life and resistance, contemptuous of
      "those common people in Serbia's countryside". Milosevic was
      in power all the way to the 2001. There were only a handful
      of activists who did try to suggest that this, well, elitist
      approach, is probably not ideal. I was myself almost
      crucified by the Yugoslav "progressive community" (official
      speakers for the "civil society") and later, after
      Milosevic, was kicked out from my University, because I
      dared to suggest that there is a bizarre congruency between
      the politics of cynical and manipulative contempt of the
      masses employed by Milosevic and the politics of genuine
      contempt of the same masses employed by "civil society" and
      so-called democratic parties (isn't that an amusing oxymoron?).

      Our suggestion was very simple: it is not "people" who are
      to be blamed but activists and arm-chair privileged radicals
      who are not willing, or able, to communicate with the people
      and live up to their responsibility; all of us, in other
      words, who are speaking in the name of an "enlightened and
      radical few" but unable to destroy the barriers between
      activism, work, and life.

      The experience, in trying to do so, altered our activist
      identities. We came to see part of the struggle against
      capital as a struggle to dissolve the separation between
      'activism' and 'life', to transcend activist/non-activist
      identities, different from those of old left -- preparing
      people for their historical mission -- but also from "civil
      society" folks imposing the view of "us" versus "them".
      People -- American or Serbian -- are not to be condemned but
      understood. It would be much more salient to try to listen
      and communicate with people, not to treat them as "others",
      to understand those "moral values" who maintained Milosevic
      (or Bush) in power for so long. Not just to condemn
      homophobia, conservativism, and misogyny.

      Incidentally, one of the criticisms which was leveled in
      Yugoslavia at people who, like myself, endorse participatory
      economics (http://www.parecon.org ), was that we are somehow
      vanguardist when arguing that we should offer a coherent and
      meaningful alternative vision to people, related to class,
      gender, and race, which would arise as a result of our
      involvement in real struggles, local and global.

      I think that those critics had missed the point and that is
      one of the more useful post-electoral lessons for US
      activists. We have to embark on an adventure of
      understanding the everyday habits and mindset of so called
      common people. To understand the way a certain mental
      atmosphere is being formed or transformed. Not to engage
      ourselves in post structuralist interpretation of Max
      Weber's "Protestant Ethics" or in a subtle elitism which
      insists that an enlightened few should secede to Canada, but
      to develop meaningful communication with people from "red
      counties" we too easily condemn.

      Many of the reactions after the elections reveal what I
      would call a "coordinator tendency" among activists
      (http://www.zmag.org/bernardoclass.htm ). We have to focus
      and address real problems that we face. I don't think that I
      would be off the wall if I say that one of the greatest
      mistakes of Kerry's campaign was a lack of focus on serious
      issues of economy (a pretty amazing mistake if we take in
      regard that Bush had left 400 000 people without jobs).

      But let me come back to my analogy. What happened in
      Yugoslavia? I guess for quite some time we were guilty for
      all the approaches above. But political parties did, after a
      few unsuccessful election attempts, realize that they had to
      get beyond Belgrade. They did what activists in Yugoslavia
      were trying to do before: they went in to the Serbian
      countryside to meet those "uneducated and fundamentalist"
      Milosevic voters. I dare to suggest that they even might
      have learnt something from them.

      After few years spent in the "desert of Serbia", activists
      and political parties have managed to find a model of
      communication which precipitated a shift in general mood,
      and, in final consequence, led to a mass refusal of
      Milosevic's agenda. But how does all of this relate to the
      US today? Aware of the possible criticism that I am an
      irredeemable populist, I would suggest that instead of
      moving to Canada we should move to the Mid West, move, that
      is, in a sense that activists should go where they are most

      I am sure that they are many wonderful and exciting
      initiatives already happening. I mean, I was yesterday at
      the launch party of Binghamtons indymedia -- in an
      impoverished up state New York town which used to be
      dominated by Republicans. It was an event full of hope.

      I have to confess that I don't have much faith in political
      parties. As a stubborn anarchist I am protected by my moral
      values from a liberal belief that meaningful change is
      possible through political parties or elections. But I do
      believe in our movement, in building alternative, grassroots
      institutions and programs, in constructing a politics from
      below, a politics of asking questions, in a language
      understandable to everyone, nourishing a dialogue with the
      common people who some of us wrongly dismissively castigate
      as living in "Jesusland" (see maps on
      http://www.counterpunch.org ).

      Am I completely mistaken? It could be. But that kind of
      going to where people are is what brought about a serious
      political change in Yugoslavia. I am in the US for far too
      brief a time as yet to give any advice. In spite of that,
      perhaps the Yugoslav lesson has some merit for the US
      context. And that lesson could be summed up very easily:
      don't blame the people but those on the left who think that
      "the people" are always to be blamed.

      Dan Clore

      Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
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