Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Left? What Left? (Second Verse, Same As The First)

A few years ago, it seemed that every so often we would see one of these rants over that the Big Box Blogs complaining about attacks from the so-called "centrists" within the Democratic Party. Certainly I found myself in agreement with the absurdity of referring to someone like Jack Murtha or Howard Dean as on the "far left" to the extent that such a term is meaningful. The commentary started with a very extensive and well-written post at L'Hôte, the blindspot, with some relevant follow-up commentary by Yves Smith (naked capitalism), and emptywheel and Steve Hynd of FDL brings me back to a different but related question that has continued to vex me: where would I go in the US to find a viable, organized leftist party - one that could field candidates and/or play a role in national politics? Where might I go in the US to find viable, organized leftist organizations that can organize workers and activists on a mass scale in times of crisis? We can, I suppose, find the occasional prominent nominally socialist politician either in the House or in the Senate, but in order to function, that individual must caucus with one of the two parties that rule DC with an iron fist. Otherwise, leftist sightings seem to be rarer than Big Foot sightings in Death Valley. But I digress.

A lot of us call ourselves "leftists". I wonder sometimes how we're defining the term, and I wonder more about what exactly we do have in American politics. When I think of a "leftist" I'm likely to think along the lines of the myriad forms of anarchism, to the various forms of communism, (ranging from classical Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyite, Maoist, etc.), socialism (be it the populist socialism advocated and practiced by Hugo Chavez to the sort adhered to by European Social Democrat parties). Although these various "leftisms" diverge in terms of the relationship between person and state (e.g., for the anarchists there is ideally no state), there is as I see it a great deal of overlap in terms of their shared views of the relation between people (cooperative rather than competitive) and in their shared distrust of capitalism in its numerous forms (from "pure" laissez-faire capitalism, to fascist capitalism, to neo-liberal globalism).

If we take the above as a decent quick-and-dirty description of "leftism" that leads to the question of where this "leftism" resides in the US. My short answer, as I've stated on other occasions: nowhere any more. There really hasn't been much of an organized left that would be recognizable as such anywhere outside of the US - we can call it the fruits of two "red scares" plus COINTELPRO. I'm definitely not alone in my assessment (and those are just the comments on the margins of the Big Box Blogs - go outside the big boxes, and one will surely find more).

So what are we left with? One major party that currently controls the House of Representatives that looks strikingly like the UK's British National Party or Germany's National Democratic Party and another major party controlling the White House and Senate that looks strikingly like the UK's Conservative Party (i.e., Tories) or Germany's Christian Democratic Union. In other words, our politics nationally is distinctively right-wing, with a range of choices limited to right-wing hardliners (GOP/Tea Party) to somewhat more moderate populists and neoliberal globalists (Democrats). Our "center" in the US seems to be those Democrats who have bought into the whole neoliberalism theory and practice hook, line, and sinker; those espousing somewhat more populist - albeit capitalist - approaches to governing and economy tend to get labeled as "left-wing extremists" by Serious pundits. No one from either party dares question the wisdom of corporate capitalism, varying only in flavor: Neoliberal globalism is the favorite of the DLC crowd and the some of the GOP crowd; some form of populist capitalism is espoused by some elements of both the Dem and Republican parties, usually in the latter tied to taking a hard line on immigration and ethnic minorities; still others would like a Mussoliniesque fascist capitalism, which to a degree fits the neocons and assorted others mainly in the GOP; and of course there are still a few good old fashioned laissez-faire capitalists who comprise the libertarian element within the GOP. Some might be a bit more favorable to organized labor or to providing some sort of financial safety net for those in need, but regardless, capitalism is a sacred cow.

Nor is there any real question about the "necessity" of a vast military in order to pursue the building of empire (some may voice uneasiness about that word) as "we" continue to take on "the white man's burden" of bringing "democracy" to the "uncivilized" dark corners of the planet. Some may vary in the degree to which military force should be actually used in the process of maintaining and expanding hegemony, but there is little quibbling over the "exceptional" character of our nation as the government to varying degrees bombs and starves others competing for whatever resources "we" covet.

As for the Big Box Blogs, my short take is that they could be considered "leftist" only if one thinks within the framework of Beltway elites. DK, BT, MLW, Political Animal, etc. are best thought of one a broader level as Tory blogs in which there may be a bit more room for populism and a bit less preference for corporate swindling and bombs. But "leftist"? If anything, as many of us have learned the hard way, the left is, well, left out. Given these blogs' role as providing support for the Democratic Party, it's not too surprising that these blogs, their owners, and moderators, have little use for or tolerance of actual leftists. The rest of us simply remain isolated.

But I suppose ultimately, I look at blogtopia as a microcosm of our own highly dysfunctional political discourse in the US, which having essentially excised its left wing many moons ago, is woefully out of balance. Although I think the clarion call to genuinely include leftist voices within the confines of blogtopia is necessary, I think the more important and pressing need is for the rebuilding of genuine leftist organizations within the US. The forces against such an effort would undoubtedly be enormous and considerably more entrenched than a generation or more ago, and our culture has changed to one in which necessary concepts such as collective action and solidarity have been lost and would need to be relearned. Although I'm hardly optimistic in my expectation that something that the rest of the planet would recognize as "leftist" will somehow arise from the ashes, I am convinced that our ability to survive the turbulence of the next decade or two will depend upon it.

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