By Keith Keller at Feb 23, 2011
I tend to think of myself as being on the left, however, I’m not sure exactly what that means. I have come to believe that many "lefties" misperceive what the designation refers to, erroneously imputing some sort of shared ideology. The reality is that the term "left" is a historical designation referring to the location in the French legislative assembly of various factions. On the "right" were the monarchists, on the "left" was everyone else usually thought to be reformers because of their opposition to the monarchy. That’s it. In its present usage, the "left" refers to widely divergent groups of people and ideological perspectives who, curiously, feel that they have much in common when, in fact, they don’t.
If the term "left" refers to a historical grouping, what can we say about the ideological orientation of "the left." For starters, much of "the left," the communists, Marxists, Stalinists, Leninists and Trotskyites are ideological right-wingers camouflaged by progressive rhetoric. Think about it. The phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" is a contradiction in terms. Was the former Soviet Union socialist? Was the National Socialist (Nazi) party socialist? Were Hitler and Stalin a couple of well-meaning lefties? Virtually everyone on the left (but not the right) would agree that Hitler was the ultimate right-winger, but what about Stalin? A one time hero to many so-called lefties, I might add. Sure there were differences between Nazi Germany and the former Soviet Union, but there were also a lot of obvious and significant similarities. Similarities which were ignored by the party faithful for far too long. Similarities which were the logical consequence of their authoritarian ideologies and organizational structures, with their strong emphasis on party loyalty and discipline.
I have a real problem with the prevalence of a Marxian perspective in much of the left. I say "Marxian" rather than "Marxist" to refer to those who share a Marxist outlook and bias, but not necessarily an acceptance of Marxist ideology. Those, for example, who are infatuated with class analysis. Or who see capitalism and profits as the source of most social evil. People who do not self-identify as communists or Marxists, yet who quote Marx and Lenin and accept the Marxist framework of anti-capitalist critique. In other words, people who analyze current social reality from a narrow and archaic ideological perspective.
It is not my intent to be overly critical of Karl Marx. He wrote The Communist Manifesto a little over 150 years ago when the Industrial Revolution was in full bloom and most of the workers worked in factories, the very symbol of western industrial power and might. At that point in time, it may have seemed realistic to organize factory workers into a class-conscious group that self-identified as "proletariat" and thereby usurp the capitalist elite. The Marxist elites would then assume power and establish a dictatorship. Out with the oligarches, in with the commissars. Why a dictatorship would be better than an oligarchy is a bit of a mystery to me. Personally, I don’t care for either. My main point, however, is that from an intellectual perspective, Marxist analysis may have seemed somewhat plausible in 1850.
Folks, with over 150 years of relevant historical experience, I am of the opinion that Marxist social analysis is so far removed from reality as to be detrimental to understanding current social organizational dynamics. For starters, the very notion of a class-conscious proletariat (factory workers) rising up to seize power is absurd. Yet, many on the left continue to base their hope for change on organizing the masses who, they believe, when confronted with Lefty Truth, will finally see the light, denounce Fox News, turn off the football game, fold up their flags and march hand-in-hand with their lefty comrades to form cooperatives. Marxist ideology has become a sort of secular religion where the followers engage in mind-numbing ritual incantations of the holy Marxist-Leninist scriptures. The one-hundred plus year old writings of Marx and Lenin are treated as revealed truth rather than outdated insights of questionable validity. Arguments are supported by scripture quoted from the book of Marx. Enough already!
To have any chance at all of achieving our worthy goals, progressives must be insightful and creative. The forces of empire have immense resources. Our one big advantage is our ability to perceive reality for what it is and to act on that knowledge. We must out-think the elites, un-hobbled by ideological constraints. We cannot continue to do the same old thing, to redouble our efforts in the same losing strategy. We need to understand basic social dynamics. Why do most people go along with elite rule? Why do most people accept crude propaganda rather than critically rejecting it? Why are Americans so patriotic? What can we do to counteract the social control mechanisms of our elite run society? We need to understand why society is the way it is, then act creatively to change it to be more like the way it ought to be. The understanding comes first.
There are several critically important points I am trying to make. The first is that "the left" is not an ideologically homogenous group. Attempting to crunch us together into a classical centralized organizational structure is counterproductive, yet, that is the recurring organizational philosophy. The second point is that those who do share at least a minimal intellectual kinship need to somehow communicate with each other to develop a cohesive social analysis and philosophy to guide their actions. Hopefully, there will be many different perspectives and insights. Diversity as strength, not weakness. Finally, we need to emphasize networking ( as opposed to organization building) as a means of coming together on specific issues. People who have significant differences can nonetheless work together on common goals.
See also "Keith's NO EMPIRE Blog" at http://saskck.blogspot.com