What happened to the modern left?
Letter to the Editor | Thursday, August 25, 2016
What disappoints me the most about politics in the U.S. is not the corruption, bigotry or austerity that seems inevitable within any public sector. It is what we would call the contemporary “left.” The passion that could be felt in every self-proclaimed progressive mind is often a fleeting one; those who once trembled with the indignation of worldwide injustices are expected to fall in line once they are convinced that the current socioeconomic system cannot be resisted. It’s a self-fulfilling loop: We openly embrace folk politics because we believe that there’s no other choice, and because it seems nearly impossible to organize full-time workers to express their disdain of the state.
“Folk politics” refers to the relatively small-scale efforts seeking to resolve the wrongdoings of a government or company, only to have more pop up later. The contemporary left in the U.S. remains complacent in chiefly reactive actions to injustices, fleeting tactics and occupations that lack a definite end-goal. By acting within the system to change the system, by protesting in a manner that’s convenient for those in power to ignore, and by settling for campaigns on a local scale, we remain in political purgatory, unable to entirely overcome neoliberal policies enacted before our parents could walk. We settle for political parties that are more than happy to resolve an issue from time to time if it will prevent any real revolt from occurring. Your modern-day “revolt” consists of people expressing disgust towards an issue, a politician “hearing them,” and the people receiving some “reasonable” compromise.
Mainstream left-wing political parties will only appeal to marginalized groups if it means that they could buy your loyalty, substituting real social change for reform that allows for further problems to exist later.
Moreover, we’ve become so afraid of our ideas coming off as too “radical” or “idealistic” that we settle for compromises and immediate solutions to injustices. We’re taught from a young age that all American values must be followed, and that criticism of these values provide threats to our collective well being. Our entire paradigm of political discourse revolves around some common, arbitrary goal of “liberty” and “freedom” that we never question the nationalist ideals once recited every morning in grade school. We constantly praise capitalism as the means by which people succeed, how people interact and the source of all gadgets and services we enjoy today, as if these notions are not constantly debated. Your modern day “revolutionary” will often refuse to stray too far from the empirically false ideological concepts spouted in their introductory economics course.
Class is a social stratification that is almost never questioned in modern discourse. People who lack a basic grasp of alternative economic systems are allowed to criticize and misinterpret them, lest they become apologists to foreign leaders who have used them as a means to gain diplomatic control.
We’re stuck in a cycle where people have to continually place bandages on the injustices faced by people worldwide, rather than fixing the social and economic systems that are the byproduct of outdated paradigms. Why? Because doing so may cause us to reflect on how exploitative these western paradigms of thought are, and because the imperialist intervention promotes U.S. trade investments abroad. Our relations with Ngo Dinh Diem, Yahya Khan, Fulgencio Batista, Pinochet and Suharto, all of whom represented atrocities and authoritarian regimes backed by the U.S. in favor of strategic and economic interest, are never brought up.
What “the left” is left with is liberalism, whose proponents give the impression that it’s an advocacy for an end to the social injustices faced by workers of the lower class. Liberalism seeks to alleviate these injustices through economic reformist policies while supporting the values of capitalism under a mixed-market economy. It views this economic system as the means by which society can rectify class discrimination; through economic and social interventions by the state, “left” liberals seek to establish a social democracy that promotes social justice within the framework of a capitalist economy. This mindset is troubling for two reasons: It buys into a system that fails to address the systemic issues inherent to capitalism, and, consequently, serves to legitimize and prolong the exploitative and contradiction-laden system of a capitalist welfare state.
Reform can only work so far. If we were to “improve” other countries by instilling western values, then we have only obtained complacency through concession. By then, it will be too late to question inequalities and their prevalence in society. We would have reduced institutional power to those privileged under the status quo … without actually changing the status quo.
In conclusion, I implore modern leftists not to abandon all causes which seek to remedy the effects of social hierarchies, but to also channel discontent towards a system that enables their existence in the first place. The strongest barrier to social change for the better is not the reactionaries, the fascists, or the authoritarians, but an opposing force to them that lacks any real force. The current “left” in the U.S. not only poses no real threat to the system, but also perpetuates it by making those who are subjugated to it more comfortable with their subjugation. In order to seek an eventual end to this game of tug-of-war, we have to split from the center-left of social democracy, even at the risk burning our hands.
Liberalism has merely loosened up their chains so the chains could become easier to ignore.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.