If I had written a critique of the Left circa 1992-93 when I first started drifting away from that milieu, this is more or less what I would have said. I’d like to think I’ve progressed since then.
First off, we don’t have a real Left in this country – haven’t since Eugene V. Debs and the Industrial Workers of the World back in 1912. After that we had some people actually thought copying a backwards, feudal Eurasian country was a good idea. Then we had New Deal liberal-corporatism. The “counter-culture” left was mostly childish, but to the degree it fought against the Vietnam war and for civil rights, it served a decent purpose. Since then, there’s been very little – some people thought the WTO protest meant something.
Anyway, so what’s left today is a thousand points of light of individuals, who live mostly in big cities and do some good stuff every now and again. There’s scant cohesion or coherence – all too often, there is scant seriousness too. They’re bourgeois by what American life has become – I don’t blame them – but, too often they simply live life as a negation – America and what its government does is really hurting them. So, sometimes they lash out, other times they stew in resentment. In my experience of 6 1/2 years with it – in what Cheney calls the “belly of the beast,” San Francisco – a lot of leftists are not only superficial, but selfish too. Sad to have to write this – because it’s the end of something I had hope in, and devoted a lot of energy and passion to –
The Institutional Framework
1. The vanguard-hetero-Commie Left – Not much point in even critiquing this. The only worthwhile thing they do is organize demos and so forth. They shout their idiotic, alienating rhetoric and collect money in trash barrels.
2. The Academic/Cultural Left – Also rather useless in too frequent, specific cases. Amazingly helpful and worthwhile in others. The critique here is not of people who are professors – not at all – the problem, I believe, after 9/11 especially, is starting to recede somewhat. That problem? The jargon-ridden, cult-stud, po-co, post-mod, post-interesting claptrap that gets churned out in reams and reams. It’s just boring careerism – they have to write something. Also, they do poison people’s minds at times against this country – they’re one-sided about American history – sometimes almost as one-sided as the Neocon right is all the time. Not that it’s all junk, I’m referring more to the annoying “literary style” in which simple things tend to get mystified. I think academia is coming around to the crisis in front of us – great, join the party for those book-smart stragglers.
3. The Anarchists – This is where I cut my teeth on the urban left. I retain sympathy for the historic sensibility of anarchism, as well as individual anarchists I’ve met over the years, but it’s essentially an insular youth subculture that spends as much time drinking and complaining as doing anything. It can be fairly interesting – particularly if you meet the older generation. As for the kids? They’re mostly a bunch of suburban brats having their little rebellion before it’s off to grad school so they can ‘help the world’ – or get their MBA. Whichever. I now know what Frank Zappa meant when he said he never participated in much counter-culture political activism during the late 1960s – he said: ‘I saw how superficial it was.’ Yup.
4. The Non-Profit Left – Again, I’m glad they’re there – some of them do quite good work too, of course. It’s very middle class, however, and the funding comes from sympathetic rich people oftentimes. So, it’s not terribly populist, except for the use of volunteers. They organized WTO and other important milestones – they can be quite creative – they are unfairly being attacked by the InJustice Department. They deserve the support of people of conscience. It’s just that their room to maneuver politically is limited by who holds their purse strings. Sad that more ordinary people don’t support such groups – or that the model chosen was: the grant financing route. Reform groups are always allied with one element of the rich or upper middle class – which is fine, but it is what it is.
5. The Colloquial / Relgious Left – This is probably the group that I have the most respect for – even though I’m not religious. They have a core – the Unitarians, the Quakers, the Mennonites, lefty Catholics, the Buddhists, Jewish community groups – everybody else too. But, again, I’m not religious, so there’s no point in doing that either. We can work together though. These are also the secular grassroots community-based organizations that don’t necessarily have to rely on a wealthy benefactor. Sort of like what was utterly common all across this country – among brutalized working people too – as recently as the early 1960s perhaps.
6. The Labor Movement – Well, it’s a mixed bag. Some unions – the ILWU, the SEIU and a few others – are quite good. Most are okay or mediocre. Some, like Hoffa’s kid’s Teamsters – will openly collaborate with Bush on certain issues – others are just a pack of frozen dinosaurs. Theoretically, the labor movement should be more ambitious – they don’t have the numbers or the money to do as much as they used to – but, I reckon it’s also a question of inertia and lack of creativity – I just have to look at the materials my union, the UFCW, sends out to see that they have scant concept of what younger people would find appealing. I have sympathy with this left too – since they do actually help ordinary people survive in this country – they actually serve a useful and helpful purpose – unless they don’t, of course.
So, I’ve gravitated towards the libertarians – not one of them, either – I look askance at capitalism – not one of anything – but at least they’re serious people and adults. They also happen to be nicer and more generous and mutually supporting than most leftists – which is funny, given all the ‘individualist’ talk and reputation. They’re certainly more secure and happy.
Any idea why the Left never gets anywhere? Because it’s a drag – who wants to spend time with a bunch of resentful, fulminating, self-righteous blabbermouths? Almost no one does, save other big mouths with little educations from privileged, fancy schools. 90% of the “hard core” leftists – of whatever stripe – that I’ve encountered over the years are upper middle class white people with a Masters degree about half the time. They’re so “bourgois” – but they hate “the bourgeoisie” – how hilarious is that! Beneath the surface they are what they hate – sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively, sometimes both. It takes an average working person about two seconds to see through that.
The left is soooo into categories. “Libertarians are evil” – but I’m “open-minded!” Har de har har. Many leftists are as close-minded as fundamentalist Christians. “Ever wonder why we laugh laugh at your lives?” goes an old Dead Kennedys song… So, among the most sophisticated libertarians, their critique goes right at the state and the corporation – to the extent that it acts unethically, say, in the conduct of American foreign policy – or in business dealings which scam investors.
The best among them are essentially grown up anarchists – they just want the obvious – for people to treat one another with dignity and respect so that no state is necessary. That’s my utopian dream too – won’t happen – social democracy is almost utopian under Bush – but that’s my goal in the pragmatic, electoral, real-world sphere. Something like a welfare state and the abolition of the warfare state – some libertarians are almost ready to split that loaf…
The Psychological Dimension
I’ve also found that I really don’t care for too many left-wingers personally. They’re so damaged by society that they can’t do much but complain, negate, piss and moan – they’re tiresome. Since their privileged their personal gripes are often childish – and boring. They’ve traveled the world – most drunk probably – there’s no global context in which their complaints are placed. They don’t think that their little credit card debt or little problem with a girl or boy are what they are – luxury problems. Some of them bother to do something sometimes – that’s fine. But it’s generally so far off base – extreme identity politics, silly class warfare sloganeering, nihilistic whining – pick your poison.
Do you think many of these unserious “radicals” spend much time talking to anyone who isn’t rather well-educated and middle class? It’s not just white people either, but, it’s mostly spoiled white kids who think that they’re “making a difference” and stuff. They recycle! They’re vegan! They would never hunt or fish – that would be a grave transgression against their dufus-lifestyle-morality code. They hike in nature! They buy socially responsible stuff at socially responsible venues! Aren’t they just so, so admirable? They rarely have any poor, immigrant or non-white friends or acquaintances though – but they’re going to get right out there and help those people. Suuuuure they are – maybe they could discuss the exigencies inherent in the terrain of the spiraling negativity implicit in the post-colonial mindset – keep masturbating.
Aside from being babies, some of these ones are really rather backbiting, rather betrayal-oriented, rather small, insecure and pathetic. They’re so unhappy and about the world and stuff – they just have to take it out on someone they’re close to. It’s hilarious – after a while. So, as I say, while their politics might or might not be agreeable – their negation values, their empty core – what they do when no one is looking – is for s__t, often times. They reflect in their own acts what they pretend to criticize when they talk. They’re all about “freedom” and “choice” – but look what they do with it: get wasted, take drugs, screw people over after the sack, lie, cheat and steal. Lot’s of ’em. They think that by being nice and conscientious in one sphere gives them carte blanche to be a jerk in another sphere. It’s quite funny how they push their insecurities and resentments on you and dress them up as “help” or “love” or “friendship.” When you’ve seen what Nietzsche calls subterraneanism – a kind of cowardly concealment – a hundred times over again: it just becomes annoying and wearying.
Sometimes – in flashes of anger – it occurs to some of us to “smash them like gnats” – how my best friend once put it. But then, we reflect; we figure it’s not worth it – it would take too much effort. And besides, the coldest approach is always silence.
Theirs is an interesting approach to life – of course, it makes them miserable – they debase themselves and those around them – they often can’t even help even themselves. So, there’s no point in trying to “save” them – let them walk their in their goofy circles, chasing tails. They’re getting their just deserts one way or another.
April 28, 2005
Stephen Bender [send him mail] is a writer based in San Francisco. You can find more of his work at his website.
Copyright © 2005 LewRockwell.com