Political Acticism

Let me know if you are going to next weekend’s Left Forum and want to meet up. I plan to blog on it if you aren’t. So you won’t miss out on what promises to be amazing. In case you haven’t heard of it, here is this years apposite theme:


Each spring in New York City, Left Forum gathers intellectuals and activists from around the world to address the burning issues of our times. The theme for 2008 is “CRACKS IN THE EDIFICE”. We will examine the context of an empire in the throes of collapse and discuss the possibilities for social movements to build a better world in its place.

We are living in a time of economic and political meltdown. Even once-stable governments in the advanced capitalist nations are not immune from decay, while in other parts of the world war and genocide have become the rule. The disintegration of the social fabric has brought insurgencies, some presenting a progressive alternative to corrupt regimes but others led by religious fundamentalists.

The U.S. President — with the collaboration of both parties in Congress — has pursued an agenda heavy on imperial interests despite the myriad domestic problems we face. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and U.S. military and civilians have been killed in this oil-soaked war, but the urgent needs of the majority of our own civilians remain unfulfilled.

How can we address and challenge such catastrophe when our collective voices often seem weak and our alternatives underdeveloped? Left Forum provides a unique space for the generation of ideas crucial to theorizing and building a resurgent Left. This year the Forum will include participants from all corners of North America, as well as Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. It will truly be a rare opportunity for a global left dialogue.

The primary questions are as critical as they are classic: What is the nature of the current conjuncture, and how can the Left intervene effectively?

Herbert Marcuse is best known as a philosopher of the Frankfurt School and leading theorist of the New Left. Those interested in a biography or his works- like the classic One-Dimensional Man- should go to his official website.

The documentary “Herbert’s Hippopotamus” covers the short but controversial period when Marcuse was professor at UC San Diego and was attacked by governor Reagan and other nut jobs who depicted him as a radical communist threat to the American way.

The film is worth watching for several reasons;

A) it shows that even as governor Reagan mobilized support, and in fact won his reelection, by mobilizing support against constructed radical threats. This rhetoric of course continued when he was in office on the domestic front in his demonization of liberals, his racism against “welfare mothers” ( a code for black people), and on the international front with the constructed threat of the evil empire of the USSR, which in reality was disintegrating faster then the subprime mortage market.

Recently, this tactic was especially operative in those heady days of hubris in the Bush administration, when french fries were freedom fries and leftists were in league with the terrorists in hating America. So, you could say it is a good case study of one of the main narratives of American politics in a time when we are still fighting the war on terror against what Mccain mysteriously calls the “transcendental threat” of Islamo-Fascism.

B) In the figure of Marcuse, interviews with his students like Angela Davis and footage from the time, it shows what political activity looks like. Whether it is protesting, communicating, thinking, writing or simply standing up for what you believe in these examples are a reminder that widespread apathy is not the natural reaction to an unpopular war and a country going down the toilet. We can fight for what is right.

C) The archival footage of Marcuse and the interviews with the German professor are simply remarkable in their combination of moral intergrity and hilarity.

Watch it here