Is Newt Gingrich a Closet New Leftist?
By Jerry Harris and Carl Davidson
Chicago Third Wave Study Group
is leading the most successful attack on the capitalist state
since the 1960s. Tearing apart bureaucracies, desanctifying
authority, de-legitimizing the corporate liberal political system,
decentralizing power closer down to the grass roots—these
are all the battle slogans of the first 100 days of power for
the new Speaker of the House and his new Republican majority.
Are we missing
something here? Is Gingrich a hidden 1960s new leftist in 1990s
conservative clothing? Not only is he using some of our old
slogans, he also appears to be invading our political space.
After all, it was only after the antiwar and civil rights movements
of 30 years ago that it became possible to badmouth the White
House and the federal government the way it's being done today.
object that Gingrich and the new left would have parted company
on the question of capitalism. That's true for some. But for
most of the antiwar left, it was "Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many
Kids Did You Kill Today," and not "Hey, Hey Corporate
Capitalism . . . " Moreover, the Vietnam war spread the
mistrust of government far beyond the left. Follow that with
Watergate, CIA intrigues in Central America, the S&L Bailout
. . . and you get the picture.
has been anti-government in its sympathies at least since Karl
Marx, who saw the state as rooted in the defense of private
property and an oppressive tool of the capitalists generally.
Getting rid of the state was part of the final aim of communism.
Lenin's writings on the topic also call for totally deconstructing
the capitalist state and starting afresh with a workers' state,
which was also viewed as a necessary evil during the transition
to a classless society. The anti-Stalinist left also developed
a theory of statism, which blamed the failure of socialism in
part on the control and manipulation of the government bureaucracy
by a new statist political class.
has joined our ranks--except he's blaming the stagnation and
failures of capitalism on the rise of a statist political class
in Washington, D.C. The media is awash with Gingrich's polemics.
No wonder it's tough being a Marxist radical in America: Newt
gets more TV time in a week than we get in 30 years!
a serous point here. We need to avoid knee-jerk reactions to
the new victories of the right. We especially need to avoid
those reactions that would have us oppose the right by simply
defending liberals and the government. Politics starts by taking
the current consciousness of the people seriously. The American
people today know something is terribly wrong with government
and the corporate liberalism guiding a good deal of it. Politics
as usual is causing them nothing but grief; it deepens their
anger and alienation and sets the conditions for radical change.
The danger, of course, is that radical change can take reactionary
directions as well as progressive directions.
of class-consciousness stemming from this frustration are in
vogue among many journalists and pundits these days. A recent
piece in the New York Times by Louis Uchitelle offered a better
one than most. As he sees it, both working-class and middle-class
people share an awareness of insecurity and anxiety. But he
adds that they lack "two crucial elements of class consciousness
as the term has historically been used: a class vocabulary and
a class enemy."
this sort is not directed at business, but at government, immigrants
and people of color, and the poor. When people lose their jobs
or see their income shrink, they don't march on the banks or
seize a GM plant; instead they vote out their incumbent representatives
in Congress. Their anger, stoked by the likes of Rush Limbaugh,
directly fueled the GOP victory at the polls.
is that the Republicans have had nothing to resolve the people's
anger, either. Here's where Newt steps up and offers a new way
of looking at the world. He's not a traditional conservative,
he says, but a futurist conservative. Some might say that's
a contradiction in terms. But we know exactly where Newt is
coming from: he's an independent thinker who's been influenced
by Alvin and Heidi Toffler, the prime futurists of our day.
He's personally acquainted with the Tofflers, authors of The
Third Wave, Powershift and many other seminal works on the social
impact of the information revolution. He's not alone; a good
number of political thinkers, leaders and activists from across
the entire political spectrum have based their perspectives
on the work of the Tofflers and others on the overwhelming importance
of the current revolution in society's productive forces. The
Toffler's description of that event as the transition from a
second-wave industrial society to a third wave information one
is best analyses out there. A rereading of The Third Wave, written
15 years ago, reveals a remarkably astute book full of fresh
insights that sounds like it was written yesterday.
his core followers are campaigning hard to stake out the right
wing perspective within an emerging third wave society. They
understand that a Republican party that gets stuck merely defending
a stagnant and declining second wave business elite has no future.
There are liberal Democrats with similar views--Vice President
Al Gore, Labor Secretary Robert Reich, Former California Governor
Jerry Brown, to name a few. From the libertarian right, George
Gilder has become a noted devotee and theoretician of cyberspace.
As for the third wave's left wing, we like to include ourselves
and the other editors of Cy.Rev, along with many other groups
such as the IGC Networks, the Electronic Frontier Foundation
and Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.
doesn't always speak as a Third Waver. But where and when he
does, the left would do well to seriously reexamine its approach
to many issues. Take the issue of downsizing government. It's
an inevitable and progressive outcome of the third wave: networked
computers as opposed to mainframes have an inherent tendency
to flatten organizational hierarchies and eliminate much of
middle management. Rather than resisting downsizing, we should
support it but in a way that affirms egalitarian values, popular
democracy and the interests of the unemployed.
a lot of hypocrisy in the right wing's approach to government
cutbacks. The biggest second wave bureaucracy around, for instance,
is the Department of Defense, the CIA and their far-flung military
and counterinsurgency budgets. These two have wasted more treasure,
destroyed more lives, stagnated more industries, inflated more
currency and deepened more deficits by far than any other component
of government. For example, about 50% of the federal budget
is spent on military security, while about 1% goes to welfare
mothers to feed and house their children.
for the Rich
makes cutting off welfare his top priority at the same time
as he calls for wasting more money on Star Wars. This is the
sham anti-government stance of the right wing, whether they're
of the third wave or second wave variety. When the chips are
down, they want the free market for the workers, the poor and
their competitors; for themselves and their little clusters
of special interests, they want protectionism, bailouts and
subsidized privileges. On of Labor Secretary Reich's better
moments was his recent attack on the "corporate welfare"
of the rich that was being ignored in the current climate of
polemics against the poor.
welfare reform is needed. But let's remember that welfare "as
we know it" is the product of corporate liberalism's efforts
to dampen class struggle and buy social stability; it's never
been a prototype of socialism or a even a decent method for
redistributing income. We also need to address the issues of
crime and gangs, which Newt and the right have been using to
gain a foothold among the working class with hardly any challenge
from the left. For example, we need to show that the GOP plan
for prison expansion only deepens the problem of crime. It would
sweep millions of young men from the streets, brutalize them
for several years, deny them schooling and job training except
for the advanced crime skills they would learn from more hardened
criminals, and finally dump them back on the street with no
support but the "free market." The GOP expects this
program to stop crime, rather than create more crime. If it
wasn't such a tragedy, it would be a joke.
prisons as a key program doesn't do much for Gingrich's reputation
as either a third waver or a libertarian. So when an issue gets
hot, he retreats into decentralism--"let's leave it up
to the states" --to avoid controversy. There is nothing
wrong with returning many government programs to the state or
municipal level. Local politics is more accessible to grass
roots' movements. A good amount of decentralization, moreover,
is an inevitable consequence of telecommunications and its impact
on the economic base of society. Gridlock in Washington is partly
a result of federal bureaucracies being too distant and too
clumsy to handle regional and urban realities.
in charge, the next few years of GOP politics will be anything
but dull. In addition to the tension between second and third
wave thinking, the party is already divided three ways between
the traditional pragmatic business owners, the quasi-fascist
theocrats of the Christian right, and the libertarian entrepreneurs.
Each of them believes, with some justification that a piece
of Newt's personality belongs to them. What happens as the issues
sharpen and the upheavals arrive will present immense challenges
for all of us.