I am not a great fan of New Year's Eves. It is many years since I actually stayed awake long enough to welcome a new year in. And the rare resolutions I do make, principally having to do with my weight, never coincide with a turnover in the calendar. Indeed, as I explained in the first Chapter of Volume One of my Autobiography, a lifetime in the Academy has so shaped my perception of time that I understand the year to run from September to September, rather than from December to December. Nevertheless, now that the maintenance of a blog is my principal occupation, I consider myself to have some responsibility to look back from January 1st and see whether I can identify anything in the past twelve months that is cause for hope,
For some time now, I have been taking a dour view of the prospects for social justice. My paper, "The Future of Socialism," despite its cheery title, is in fact a rather bleak assessment of my lifelong hopes for a socialist world. Like Herbert Marcuse in the Preface to One-Dimensional Man, I believe that useful social critique must arise out of actual progressive developments on the ground, and their absence in the past thirty or forty years has condemned me, Like Marcuse, to abstract intellectual analyses.
And yet, and yet -- there are developments in the past twelve months that suggest the possibility [I emphasize the possibility] of a rebirth of genuine progressive energies. I have in mind first the eruption of massive progressive protests in Wisconsin, Ohio, and elsewhere to the truly appalling efforts by newly elected Republican governors to kill what little remains of collective bargaining rights and basic democratic voting protections. There have been several dramatic victories -- the recall of two Republican state senators, the repeal of a newly enacted law. More important than the content of these victories has been the discovery by hundreds of thousands of progressive Americans that they are not alone, and that by joining forces, they can alter the nation, however marginally.
But far more important still is the sudden, unexpected eruption of the Occupy movement. This has the potential of being the most important political event in America of the past half century. What makes the Occupy movement so powerful is precisely its lack of specific, identifiable legislative or administrative goals. Unlike the protests in Wisconsin and Ohio, unlike the anti-war movement of the late 60's and early 70's, unlike the movements for Women's Liberation and Gay Liberation, indeed even unlike the great Civil Rights Movement itself, the Occupy movement takes as its target a deep structural evil in American economy and society so fundamental that there is no plausible Congressional legislation that could address it successfully. This is, I repeat, its strength, not its weakness. The Occupy movement cannot be co-opted because to change the distribution of wealth and income in America would require nothing less than a socio-economic revolution.
It is easy for me to imagine a positive outcome of the Wisconsin and Ohio protests -- the recall of Governor Walker, the recapture of the State Legislatures. But I cannot even imagine a believable positive outcome of the Occupy movement, short of a gut-wrenching change in the way the American economy is organized. I have no idea at all whether the Occupy protestors understand this, and it is certainly way too soon to imagine the protests morphing into a political movement with identifiable goals. But with a brilliant intuitive grasp of the underlying reality, the Occupiers resist either laying down a list of demands or allowing themselves to be recruited into a political campaign.When one conjoins to these promising harbingers the extraordinary eruption of the Arab Spring across Northern Africa and into the Near and Middle East, it does seem that the calendar year 2011 gave us the first hope in a very long time of fundamental changes in world politics. I think that ought to be enough to justify a sliver of optimism