Journalism is the lowest-common denominator of left-wing activity. This is not the same as saying it’s valueless, or not indispensable. Journalism is crucially valuable and necessary. But by itself, a left based on pure journalism will never be strong enough to win even a minimum wage increase, much less Medicare for all, much less the overthrow of the capitalist system itself.
In many cases, journalism is telling people things that, deep down, they already know to be true, even if they weren’t clear on the particulars before you filled them in. But everyone appreciates good reporting, and plenty of people are willing to donate money to fund it. That’s a good thing. However, it being a good thing also leads to issues.
The United States is a market economy. Market economies, with or without private ownership of workplaces (meaning capitalism or market socialism — capitalism being a private-enterprise market economy, and market socialism being a public-enterprise market economy), are always fundamentally gargantuan fights over money. Put in other words: Do you ever worry about money? If you answered yes, which you did, then you should know that the reason you worry about money isn’t because of some act of God, but because you live in a market economy.
In any market economy, people without money die and firms without money go out of business. The left is a collection of small firms operating in a market. They either make money or they go out of business. This doesn’t make left-wing business owners money grubbers or bad people. It’s just how the world of market economics is.
In any market economy, firms must gravitate to the lowest-common-denominator offerings in order to be viable. This is what causes market economies to tend toward homogeneity. Markets make everything look and feel the same because of the structural need for firms to compete in order to survive.
These market presses affect the left as well. And since everyone agrees on the need for good reporting and appreciates it (even while they may differ on what actually constitutes good reporting), the left becomes a repository of generally good information, while offering not much else in the way of meaningful strategy to achieve social change like, say, Medicare for all.
I call journalism first-level strategy. It’s basic, indispensable, crucial, and necessary — it truly is a necessary condition to achieve meaningful social change. But clearly, it is not sufficient to achieve social change.
To me, second-level strategy to achieve social change is that expounded by Jimmy Dore when he says, correctly in my view, that everyone on the left needs to stop voting for Democrats and stop donating to Democrats. I believe this strategy is also necessary to achieve social change. The jury is still out on whether this will be sufficient to achieve change, but I don’t think it will be, at least not on any grand scale. Basically, I think his strategy might be able to win a minimum wage increase, but I don’t think it will prove powerful enough to win Medicare for all.
However, as it pertains to this essay, his strategy is not a “lowest-common-denominator” approach. There are many on the left who disagree with it. There are still many on the left — in fact, it’s probably still the majority of the left — who are either unable or unwilling to completely and totally break with the Democratic party.
These lefties can be identified by the ease with which they criticize establishment Democrats like Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, or Hillary Clinton — yet engage in constant excuse making and defenses for “progressive” Democrats like AOC, Bernie, or the Squad. It’s tempting to say these lefties do this only for financial reasons, as establish Democrats (or people with ties to establishment Democrats) do fund a great deal of left-wing activity in the United States.
Criticizing Pelosi while defending AOC or running articles by Ro Khanna1 does not incur the wrath of Democratic funders. Pelosi might suck, but if you are making excuses for Bernie’s votes for war, you are still serving to funnel support into the Democratic party. You are therefore not an actual threat to the Democratic establishment, and you may therefore still safely receive financial support from them.
However, I don’t think the financial angle totally explains what’s happening here. I think that these outward-critical-but-subliminally-still-supportive-of-the-Democrats businesses are run by people who, ideologically, really are Democrats. They’re not cynical, or just acting like they support AOC in order to keep the money rolling in. Such people would not be religious true believers — they’d be people you could actually have a meeting of the minds with and say, “You’re just doing this for money, right?” and they’d agree, “Yeah, but what else can we do?”
Rather, these people — whom in my experience have in common that (1) they are all children of the managerial class, not the working class, and (2) they all have adequate disposable income, and don’t actually need Medicare for all or any other type of social safety net for themselves2 — seem to really ideologically identify with the “progressive” wing of the Democratic party.
That is, rather than be cynical, self-aware, self-conscious business people (or even money grubbers), they’re actually dyed-in-the-wool Kool-Aid drinkers with a secular religious belief that, if only we would just love progressive Democrats a little harder, then they will stop beating us. As I see it, these people are the embodiment of Malcolm X’s “white moderates,” and while they may make pretty-sounding noises on issues like Medicare for all, the reality is that they are your enemy and, in the long run, if you ever begin to have any organizing success, they will be the first and most enthusiastic people to oppose you, because you represent an existential threat to their existences both financially and, particularly, ideologically.
In any case, I have so far identified two levels of strategy: (1) journalism, and (2) a break with the Democrats. I have said that level-one strategy is ubiquitous because of its minimal offensiveness and utility in left-wing business operations. I have said that level-two strategy is more contentious, partly for financial reasons, but even more so for ideological ones.
I have further said that both are necessary to achieve social change, but that level-one strategy (journalism) is clearly not sufficient to achieve change, while level-two strategy may be sufficient for “small-scale” items like a minimum-wage increase, but will not prove sufficient for weightier changes like winning a true national health care system in the United States.
So if I’m right, how then do we actually win Medicare for all? To that end, I’m going to propose my level-three strategy: Acknowledge the existence of pareconish (participatory economics) theory.
Without discussing parecon here, the strategy is simple: Pareconish theory says things about what a good society should look like. Basically, in a good society, will everyone do their fair share of shit work? To that, we might also add: What determines how much people get paid? But if that’s the kind of world we think constitutes a good society, then why aren’t we doing those things now, in the present? There might be legitimate reasons, of course. But why are we not even grappling with the questions?
The reason for the strategy is equally simple: You need an actual sufficient condition to win Medicare for all (or whatever), not a collection of necessary ones. Pareconish theory is the trump card, the ace up your sleeve. It’s the hammer, because it’s the only weapon strong enough to threaten the roots of the capitalist system itself.
You can disagree with this, of course. Most will and do. Everyone loves and agrees with level-one strategy. An okay number of people are warming up to the idea of level-two. But everyone hates level-three, or at best simply can’t see its utility.
Nobody makes any money talking about participatory economics. Indeed, you should ask yourself where I get my money from, and realize that it’s not from talking about parecon. But you should also ask yourself if you really believe, in your heart of hearts, that we’re really that close to winning Medicare for all.
None of the three strategies I’ve outlined contradict one another. They can all be pursued concurrently, and in my view should be — must be. You can disagree because you don’t like the implications of parecon. Fine. But can you honestly say the left has anywhere near the offensive power necessary to compel fundamental changes in the United States? You know in your heart the answer isn’t just no, but hell no.
To me, the left is the alcoholic who just can’t admit he has a problem. The first step, as I see it, is to honestly grapple with the implications of pareconish theory. To me, this step is necessary. But more importantly, it’s also sufficient. I can’t prove that, of course. But I’m not asking for money. And any left that was truly sick of losing and ready to do anything to climb out of the bottle would be hungry for conditions sufficient to bring about the social changes the left always says it really wants.3