What Is Progressivism?

Published on Dissident Voice, by Kim Petersen, co-editor of Dissident Voice, January 29, 2013.

Progressivism is a term that encompasses a wide spectrum of social movements that include environmentalism, labor, agrarianism, anti-poverty, peace, anti-racism, civil rights, women’s rights, animal rights, social justice and political ideologies such as anarchism, communism, socialism, social democracy, and liberalism … //

… The corporate media shuns progressivist views simply because they clash with the corporate interests of the media owners. In this manner, opponents of progressivism have inverted the process of political designation. Right-wing ideologues, through ownership and control of the corporate media, have been able to turn leftist-identifying terms into slurs and thereby denigrate leftists. Political opponents use the leftist label to tarnish non-leftists. Thus, in the minds of Tea Partyers, one can simply defame president Barack Obama by calling him a “socialist.” No evidence is necessary to adduce Obama as a socialist (an extremely challenging prospect in the face of his steadfast toting of the neoliberalism line), and neither is any evidence or coherent argumentation produced as to why socialism should be so fear-evoking. In the presidential campaign of 2004, Democratic Party candidate John Kerry abjured the “dangerous” labeling of being a “liberal.”3 The importance of labeling is manifest. In a world where many people maintain that perception is reality, labeling has importance.

After all, who wants to be known as a Red, a Commie, or adhere to a socialism that failed in the Soviet Union, or a bleeding-heart liberal supporter of lazy, good-for-nothing welfare bums (as the monopoly media depicts things)? Anarchists? Aren’t those the black-hooded hooligans who run around throwing rocks through store windows? What person in their right mind would call himself an anarchist? Yes, but being a progressive … isn’t everyone for progress?

Dictionary.com defines progressivism as: “the political orientation of those who favor progress toward better conditions in government and society.” This is a term that carries very positive connotations and would be difficult to defame. If right-wingers wish to strategize against progressivism, the best bet would seem to be to co-opt it. An obvious example of this was adding the label “Progressive” to the Conservative Party in Canada, a party that once was a major force in the Canadian political establishment. The oxymoronic labeling eventually became self-evident to Canadians and the party imploded in the election of 1993 and disappeared completely from the federal political scene in late 2003.

In the US, some people attempted to claim that the New Democrats (i.e., the Clinton Democrats) espouse progressivism.4 Genuine progressive standards cannot substantiate such a claim; in fact, the regressivist Clinton record stands for itself as rolling back the social security net and pursuing militaristic solutions to attain U.S. imperialist ends.

What separates progressivism from other political ideologies?

Progressivism is not rooted in politics but in principles. The well being of all the people is primary and at the heart of progressivism. People are not at the whim of markets guided by preternatural forces to bring theorized widespread prosperity somewhere in the retreating future. A progressivist society prioritizes meeting the needs of all the people first. There will no underclass and no people falling between the cracks. Under progressivism, there is no acceptable unemployment rate; workers will not be made to suffer because of economists’s hypotheses pinned to a target inflation rate or other recurrent crises within capitalism; the target will be no poverty; there will be no accumulation of material wealth confined to a societal few. Every person who wants a job will have a job that respects the dignity of labor.

The needs of humanity are primary and not the needs of businesses. Humans are living, breathing, sentient creatures endowed with feelings. Businesses are human constructs. They do not breathe. They do not think. They do not have emotions.

The classist theory of money trickling down to the masses of people is morally unacceptable. Trickle-down economics does not supersede the immediate and inalienable rights of living humans. The progenitor of modern capitalism, Adam Smith, theorized on the primacy of a market economy that conjures an “invisible hand” to smooth out the flaws in the market.5 Yet, in the two-and-a-half centuries since Smith’s theory, no one has seen the invisible hand and none of the downtrodden have demonstrably benefited from its effects.

While capitalists have invoked and held on to a faith-based mechanism to even out the gross inequalities that are bound to arise in a market economy, progressivist tenets base their foundation on dialectical reality. The right to a decent life begins with living people. While altruistic intentions might induce current generations to sacrifice so that people in the future might benefit, to demand such sacrifice is antithetical to the precepts of progressivism. Egalitarianism is central to progressivism. Consequently, the people alive today have an equal right to the enjoyment of life as do the future generations.

Because egalitarianism is a fundamental principle, and given that ethics and morality underlie progressivism, then principles in progressivism should derive their preeminence from the conscious adoption of ethics and morality. They should not flow from progressivism but direct it. This is fundamentally contrary to the so-called free market, whose advocates speciously postulate that a free-and-open competition among individuals, businesses, and societies will lead to a meritocracy in which those who are most skilled and hardest working will naturally rise to the top. In this scenario there must also be a middle and a bottom, and it is considered/implied that people occupy the lower rungs because of a lack of merit.

Nonetheless, the notion of a meritocracy is patently false. It does not take into consideration that people in capitalist societies do not compete under equal conditions. So while a child born into a poor household may be very skillful and hard working, he or she is competing at a disadvantage relative to the child from a wealthy family who has immediate access to the best nutrition, teachers, books, and whatever other equipment or conditions are desired. Obviously, the offspring of a queen is guaranteed an opulent and sheltered life within the monarchial system, whereas the child born in a ghetto to a single, unemployed mother will be severely challenged to escape his circumstances. Forcefully, meritocracy does not exist in anything approximating a universal or meaningful sense of the term.

Under progressivism, many of the enmities arising from the law of the jungle that plagues capitalist society — such as classism, clashes over immigration, open versus closed borders, racial targeting, religious scapegoating, and conflict over preferential hiring practices — should cease to exist or diminish to negligibility. A progressive society is about acceptance and inclusion. Since all people and peoples are equal in principle and practice there is no reason to clash over matters that can be settled through cooperation and sharing.

While egalitarianism is fundamental, just as fundamental is the right to live. Progressives, therefore, are staunchly opposed to wars of aggression or the use of violence to solve disputes. Interminable warfare wreaks havoc on people living in war-ravaged zones and destroys the economic infrastructure and environment required to build and sustain a prosperous future.6

The preamble of the United Nations Charter enshrines the organization’s raison d’être of preventing the scourge of war. But, contrary to its stated principles, the UN has been involved in the warring effort itself, from the 1950’s US-China-Korea War to the 1991 attack to “liberate” Kuwait from Iraqi forces, and opening a non-existent loophole for NATO to lethally exploit in bringing about regime change in Libya in 2011. Following the 2003 assault and occupation of Iraq, the UN was involved in collaborating with parties to the “supreme international crime” as defined by Nuremberg Law: the crime of aggression that contains within itself the “accumulated evil of the whole” … //

… One manner of expressing the collective will of a people is through mass social movements. Undoubtedly, the key to achieving a world of progressivism is solidarity. Progressives must regard this vision of a progressivist world realistically and not with unfounded rejectionism. It is extremely unlikely that the “haves” in society would be willing to equitably share “their” wealth, power, status, and perks with the entirety of society. The “haves” adhere to a different concept on division of wealth, one that does not favor equitable sharing, otherwise they would not have embarked upon and stayed upon a path that saw them accumulate preponderantly greater wealth than the masses of people.

A common refrain that objects to progressivism is that human lust for power and wealth is a part of human nature. This assertion ipso facto denies or diminishes redeeming qualities as a part of the human character. It frustrates morality and guiding principles. This view is deterministic and denies choice. The fact is that some humans decide to pursue selfish motives while others practice altruism. Progressivism is a rejection of humans as solely ego-driven beings. It appeals to the logic of the masses seeking a better life together in harmony with nature.

It is about social justice for the masses. But the focus of justice is not fixated on just punishing criminals rather it is about freeing the masses, sharing resources, and fostering the conditions for universal equality in life and living standards. It is the revolution for a just society in which peace will prevail.

Through solidarity and the building of mass social movements, people gain the power to begin to revolutionize societies and the world. The answer is simple, but it will require great sacrifice. Attaining a world based on progressivist principles, however, will be a most worthy outcome.
(full long long text and notes 1 to 13).

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