Magazine article Dissent

Editor's Page

Magazine article Dissent

Editor's Page

Article excerpt

What keeps us going? Max Weber's famous definition of politics as "the slow grinding of hard wood" seems to apply especially to us, the men and women of the Left. For the powerful and the rich, and for the demagogues and charlatans who serve their interests, the wood has always been softer. Tyrants and warlords don't grind at all; they saw right through the wood. Even the word "slow" seems an exaggeration for us, since it implies "steady," whereas our experience of politics - as in, say, 2008 and 2010 - is more like one step forward, two steps back. So why do we continue to hope for and work for that next step forward?

Let me tell a story about my hometown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where I lived from the time I was nine years old until I left for college. Johnstown was a Bethlehem Steel town, and it was the place where the Little Steel Strike of 1937 was broken, the attempt to organize a union decisively defeated. But the fight continued, with help from Democrats in the state capital and liberals in Washington. The LaFollette Committee launched an investigation into what had happened in Johnstown; its report condemned the mayor and members of the City Council: they had been in the pay of the steel company. And during the war, with help from the federal government, a union was organized.

But the passive voice isn't right. For what really happened in Johnstown, on the ground, starting in the late 1930s, was a political mobilization. Organizers came from outside, but it was the men and women who responded to their efforts who counted - and who should count for us, still today. …

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