The Left’s Small Tent

The Left in the United States has been marginalized for over five decades, which has forced leftists to develop tactics and strategies within the constraints and context of that marginalization.

One development has been the fostering of various Left identities premised on ideological leanings, opinions on tactics and strategies, spheres of work (anti-war, environmentalism, feminism), positions on the use of violence, etc. These identities commingle and co-define one another.

The formation of these in-groups served a number of vital purposes. Personal relationships and coordinated communities enabled strong ties to develop among organizers, providing them with moral and technical support. In-groups helped bolster accountability and responsibility and provided much needed emotional support for marginalized leftists who felt entirely at odds with the very structure of the world around them and alienated from the majority of their peers.

The legacy of COINTELPRO as well as personal experiences with law enforcement aided in the formation of in-groups as a means of protecting ourselves and others. Small, tight-knit organizations and friend groups enabled vetting new participants and created an intimacy that at least felt more secure than having random people filter in and out.

In-groups also served the practical function of streamlining organizational activity. Trying to coordinate activities with people from various backgrounds with differing politics, different priorities, and various experience levels while maintaining a sense of participatory democracy within the organization means that a lot of time is spent getting everyone on board. Being selective about who participates enables organizations to enlist only those people who are either already on board or are near enough. This enables organizations to narrow the focus of internal education – as everyone is at a similar level with already established mutual aims – and to get right down to the work of organizing.

Here I should note that though I reference organizations, in-group formation has also developed on a more general level as an identity, especially for those leftists fully immersed in social media.

The establishment of in-groups has spawned a number of issues that are detrimental to the Left. Insularity, defensiveness, and the distortion of self-perception/understanding. These three are actually abstractions of one totality. Briefly – we are over-critical of those who do not meet the litmus test for claiming our identity as their own, we are overprotective of our identity and lash out at good faith criticism, and because we have so carefully demarcated the difference between ourselves and everyone else we operate under the false assumption that we are unaffected by the same neo-liberal influence as everyone else and that, in fact, our infection might be all the more pernicious for our unwillingness to admit that it exists.

Firstly, this is not the same as when some smug rightwing dick claims that the Left is a “cult”, that leftists are ideologues, or that we are hypocrites. This is not an external attack with the aim of spreading soundbite critiques among the masses (look at this blog, I’m clearly not leaning toward mass appeal). I am implicated fully in all of these criticisms and the impetus for starting this blog was something in the vein of criticism/self-criticism.

Secondly, identity formation on the Left has occurred reflexively, in reaction to the conditions we have been organizing under. I’m not interested in assigning blame, and we should not be much interested in guilt or its ugly defensive friend.

What we should be looking toward is maturation. An acceptance and understanding of the phases we have already gone through, questions and anxieties about what tomorrow will bring, and one firm footstep forward regardless of our preparedness for the next phase.

Raccoon raising fist
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The Neo-Liberalism Within


Note: This isn’t a post about “purity politics” although there is a lot to unpack there, as well. This isn’t a post about the election, either, where questions of purity politics have arisen both from legitimate quarters as well as from moderate/corporate factions who weaponize the concept to divide us. This is a necessarily vague introduction to a theme that will persist throughout future posts.


This is just a reminder that they put it inside of us, and that is why we are so eager to usher in a New Pure Age – because we are filthy.

It is everywhere. We know this.

We have an endless index of the structures saturated in market sewage. Whole volumes of analyses. Anarchist book stores brimming over with the minutiae of the military-industrial monomyth. Parse the inner-workings of the Subject of the Day, the Uber-but-for-Theory, and apprise us of how total is our subjugation; such that we cannot breathe a single breath without profiting some Other.

The floor is lava. We know this.

We are submerged in the stink of neo-liberal decay. We cannot touch a thing in this World without staining our fingers, and we act in vain to sterilize our lives even as we cover it with our own dirty fingerprints. It is around us, it is on us, yes, but we forget that it is in us.

It was present in our parents and their parents before them, whispered into unhearing ears. Passed down as a Great Invisible Obvious, so transparent we cannot see it, it infiltrates our thoughts through our words and builds walls and narrow alleys and dark corners in the streets of our minds.

It is in our communisms and anarchisms and the whole array of worldviews related and in-between, the very same we hold as Pure and wield as a cudgel against the unwashed heretics. We are the clean, though we are filthy, and throw bricks through mirrors in the name of the revolution.

Summary:

  • We are all conditioned by innumerable factors that collide at every moment to create who we are.
  • Neo-liberalism is an all-encompassing system that pervades our lives at every level: economic, political, social, etc.
  • We, in turn, are shaped by neo-liberalism in ways that we are both unwilling and unable to perceive.
  • The Left has attempted to position itself as operating outside of neo-liberalism, in opposition to it, by means of purifying our ideologies and actions. We are aware, to great extent, of its far reaching grasp.
  • We are most conscious of “external” neo-liberalism – that which can be observed in systems of power, organizations, media, etc.
  • Our opposition to the dominant order distorts our perception of where we – as individuals and communities – sit in relation to neo-liberalism. We operate (unconsciously) as though neo-liberalism is “over there” somewhere external to us.
  • We are, in fact, all situated firmly within the grasp of neo-liberalism, regardless of our antipathy toward it, and it is this very blindness to its impact on our thoughts and actions that causes us to reproduce neo-liberalism under the guise of radicalism.
Raccoon raising fist