One of the problems for “leftists” – as we are called – is that, when one criticises structures of power, people recoil because they can think only of the individuals who operate inside these structures. Exxon is a psychopathic corporation pillaging the planet, but we know someone who works in accounts or human resources and she’s pleasant and caring towards her kids – so the naysayers about Exxon must have it wrong.
The media (the corporations’ publicity departments) play an important role in cultivating this misunderstanding about power. They personalise stories of corruption and misdeeds, so it seems as though the problem is a bad apple or two rather than that the structure itself is rotten. Those who try to keep pointing this out to us, like Noam Chomsky, are belittled or derided.
The point is that all the people inside a global corporation could be delightful, and the corporation itself would still be psychopathic. In other words, the corporation has a life, motive and ideology entirely independent of the people inside it. That is because it lives inside a structure – corporate capitalism – that dictates these features of its life. Just like you can’t be human and choose not to breathe. It’s simply an immutable feature of being human.
A reader pointed out to me the article below by William I. Robinson, which prompted these thoughts. I recommend all of it, but here is a striking section:
The Obama project from the start was an effort by dominant groups to re-establish hegemony in the wake of its deterioration during the Bush years (which also involved the rise of a mass immigrant rights movement). …
The Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of passive revolution to refer to efforts by dominant groups to bring about mild change from above in order to undercut mobilisation from below for more far-reaching transformation. Integral to passive revolution is the co-option of leadership from below; its integration into the dominant project. Dominant forces in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North America are attempting to carry out such a passive revolution. With regard to the immigrant rights movement in the United States – one of the most vibrant social movements in that country -moderate/mainstream Latino establishment leaders were brought into the Obama and Democratic Party fold – a classic case of passive revolution – while the mass immigrant base suffers intensified state repression.
Obama’s campaign tapped into and helped expand mass mobilisation and popular aspirations for change not seen in many years in the United States. The Obama project co-opted that brewing storm from below, channelled it into the electoral campaign, and then betrayed those aspirations, as the Democratic Party effectively demobilised the insurgency from below with more passive revolution.
In this sense, the Obama project weakened the popular and left response from below to the crisis, which opened space for the right-wing response to the crisis – for a project of 21st century fascism – to become insurgent.
In short, the danger is that, if we cannot persuade people to understand that the problem is about structures of power, they will continue chasing the illusion that it is all about a few rotten apples. And then they will be susceptible to the right’s fascistic ideologies that are so comforting precisely because they argue that our fortunes can be revived simply through a change of leadership.