Thoughts on the Peripheral Left


I was reading the blog of JMP lately, and though I have my differences with his articulation of Maoism, I found his piece on “Saving the Left from Itself” to be a useful read. In this short post, though, I want to go in a slightly different direction and talk about another incarnation of Leftists against the Left that I feel has not been talked a whole lot about.

Lately, I have seen a decent amount of sentiment from people– mostly online only Leftists, but some real world activists as well– who have been ‘fed up’ with the Left. Their angst about the left is not unfounded, but it is a kind of misapprehension.

A lot of self-proclaimed Leftists who talk about the dismal state of the left hone in on certain topics: Lenin Complex (the idea of people believing themselves far more important than they actually are, a codification without doing anything), sectarianism, differing views exacerbates, and simply acidifying personalities making the left, in their eyes, appear infantile.

I have been thinking that part of the mistake that these people make when complaining about these facets of reality is that they are mistaking the part for the whole. To explain, let me talk about the Democratic Party (U.S).

The American Democratic Party is a mass-party. It has official branches in every state along with a host of unofficial apparatuses; ideologically, their thought is disseminated both consciously and unconsciously. Moreover, there is a host of groups which are not joined to the party in any conceivable way except for the support of a vaguely neoliberal policy.

Because of its widespread nature, the Democratic Party has many figureheads and functionaries. Many of these functionaries are only noteworthy for their local presence on both the online forums and the local grassroots assemblies. Other such figureheads are not even concrete: they are those ideological mouthpieces– such as Jon Stewart, but certainly many other lesser known people, from politics to entertainment– that espouse the Democratic Party’s goals.

The thing is, these other people advocate the position of the Democratic Party in myriad ways. But what happens with these lesser figureheads is that the Party itself is never directly implicated– it is always the mouthpiece themselves.

(I would not go as far to say that this is a general ‘law’ or anything like that)

In the Left, however, this course is reversed: it is the Left itself– and all of the accompanying parties, as divergent as they are– who are implicated, not the various minor figureheads and representatives.

When these people who say that they are ‘fed up’ with the Left start talking about what irks them, it is always the macro standing in for the micro. It never seems to occur to them that their experience with the left is a tiny piece of a much larger political formation, one which is greatly abstracted from anything representing the tangible reality of a mass organization. In other words, their micro piece may not– does not– represent what is the much larger (macro) reality.

A few real world activists here, some online drama there, a bit of sectarianism, and a dash of champagne socialism, and all of a suddenly, the left is some useless, or in the very least, dysfunctional, current no longer worth engaging; it becomes something that is hypocritical, immature, unrealistic, irrelevant… weak.

You will notice that this is not the approach taken with the ruling apparatuses. Why this is of course relates to ideology and power, but the standard code of conduct could nevertheless apply, so it is a bit mystifying why the left feels the need to judge their own ‘comrades’ on such an irrational basis, while the bourgeoisie manages to firmly demarcate the micro and macro.

Part of this, I feel, relates to the abstraction of real world leftism and the prevalence of online communities, where one invests so much effort into the ‘side-show’ that they forget that the real ‘show’ is where the thought actually counts; in short, that there is a complicated dialectic at work between the virtual and real, and that this dialectic is not to be ignored.

So when we talk about the Left against the left, I think we should also remember that those on the periphery, both in the real world and online, should take into consideration the great dialectic at work in society. Under a period of decaying ‘late’ capitalism, the ruling ideology has reified relations in different social sectors and made differentiation, and as such, political organization outside of the acceptable fold, more difficult to not only conduct, but merely initiate. Revolutionaries should remember that representation and reality are connected by a complicated series of aspects and inter-penetrative systems, and we should take our time in discerning what the total sum is before making grand pronouncements.


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