Ned Ludd

(submitted by Karl Patten)

This little poem is not intended to affront anyone or to assail the project of radical blogs. It simply presents a minority opinion, expressed with a concern for language.William Blake (a contemporary of Ludd’s) is behind it, who made “dark satanic mills” a familiar term. But Blake also said “without contraries is no progression” and “opposition is true friendship” and even “the tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction,” though I hold no wrath or wisdom. And one should always be aware of Socrates’ notion of the gadfly.

The immediate inspiration is, of course, Wordsworth’s sonnet “Milton thou should be living at this hour,” in which he sees England as a fen and yearns for a return of Milton’s powerful, clear language to cut through the fetid swamp. Wordsworth was another contemporary of Ludd’s, so I guess I’m dating myself at about 1800. So be it.

I do not intend to offer this as a blog, just something for lunch.


Ned Ludd, by God, destroyed
The stocking-frames
By shooting his boot
Into their turning, turning.

Tormented by the foreman
To faster, faster, faster
Spin, Ned Ludd threw awry
The wool-works, unwound
Them to full stoppage.

Saboteur Ludd’s my man,
Wrecker of the spinning
Of the system, provides
Us outstretching hopes.

Never, never process one.
Each has a body, a thickness,
A feel rough on the palms,
That’s lost on green screens
Clacked out in square letters.

How can words breathe
In those machines?

Idiot boy perhaps, we need
You now. You’re not a god,
But smashing stocking-frames
Instructs us how to act:

Make fuses blow, pull plugs,
Scramble wires, twist red
To yellow, both to blue,
Unhook the jacks,
Put boot to screen,
Unscrew or screw up
Whirring, grinning machines.

from Spaces and Lines
by Karl Patten


Winning with the Left, Governing from the Center

As President-Elect Obama goes about naming more and more of his cabinet and senior advisers, many of his left-of-center supporters are expressing increasing unease at the absence of certified progressives in the mix, and the prevalence of centrist Clintonites, including Hillary herself.  This is very much in contrast with what happened eight years ago, when movement conservatives were very prominent in the initial appointments of the Bush administration.

This is a difference of long standing between the parties.  While the Republican Party has come increasingly under the sway of extreme social conservatives, the Democrats have pretty much stuck with the conventional wisdom of staying close to the center where the majority of voters are to be found.  Although Reagan-era Republicans successfully demonized liberalism, with the sole exception of George McGovern in 1972, the left wing of the party has not controlled the presidential nomination since the Populist William Jennings Bryan ran in 1900.  By contrast, the right wing of the Republican Party has determined the nominee in at least four of the elections since 1980 (1980 1984, 2000, 2004), and has held veto power over the others (including this year, when John McCain never escaped the need to play to the party’s right wing base.

Public opinion polls show consistently that there are about twice as many people who declare themselves conservatives, as those who call themselves liberals.  Thus it is easier for a right winger to get enough centrist voters to win: the bar is lower for conservatives.  That’s exactly what happened under Reagan and George W. Bush.  Obama’s achievement was to be sufficiently inspirational for the liberal/left base of his party, while eschewing real liberalism (much less socialism or social democracy!).  He thus had a highly mobilized liberal base and a majority of centrist (self-described moderate) voters.

It should thus be no surprise that Obama’s first personnel decisions should be decidedly centrist.  There will surely be “movement progressives’ in the administration, but they are not going to occupy the top posts.  We don’t know yet what policies the new administration will adopt; we may hope that the policies will be more liberal than the personnel.  But fundamentally, progressives should reorganize themselves to articulate and promote such policies.  We should not wait for the administration to produce them.

In foreign policy, for example, it appears likely that Obama will move away from the unilateralist militarism of the Bush administration, but how far he moves toward antimilitarism will depend on how vigorous and thoughtful his progressive supporters are.  Similarly, policy toward rectifying a generation’s slide toward obscene levels of inequality will reflect progressive priorities only to the extent that progressives can generate pressure in that direction.

Obama could not have won without our activism, and we should not let him forget that.  He also could not have won without all those moderates, and we should not let ourselves forget that.