Tag Archive: New Left

Reflection: Different movements, same problem.

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

The Right is unified.  Disparate issues, unified front–there are divisions (libertarians versus social conservatives, for example), but when the day is over, class issues unite them, and gender isn’t far behind.

The Left, however, is fragmented.

You have environmentalists, feminists, queer activists, union folks, civil rights and immigrants rights coalitions, anti-war protesters. . . many groups fighting for many causes, each prioritizing their own (in so many cases) and not drawing the connections between them strong enough to really convince the uncommitted why they should integrate new areas of concern.

This fragmentation has served the traditional Right strategy of ‘divide-and-conquer” well.

Towards a Stronger Left

How do we get beyond this for a strong coalition?  How does one become part of a unified movement?

Sexual practices and orientation, abortion rights, the ability to move safely from one country to another, and struggles for control over one’s workplace certainly don’t look like the same type of issue–but at their core, they are diverse threads of a singular political tapestry.

Each of the arenas of social concern and activism that characterize the New Left involve, in essence, one group with power fighting to control the life and activity of another group, that is, to use them instrumentally towards the acquisition of greater power.

Economic Power

Capitalists fight to gain political and intellectual leverage because they want ever-more-power to regulate the opportunities and possibilities for workers.  Control over workers’ labor, and over their ability to be independent from dependence on wage labor (preventing them from, say, going into business for themselves, surviving off their own plot of land, etc) are the primary ways that capitalists gain increased profits.

Their power, money, prestige, and influence are used to fight for a world in which:

(1) At least someone in your family needs to work for some boss for members of the family to survive (guaranteed through the erosion of welfare rights, Social Security, etc, so survival relies on wage labor), and

(2) That boss has increasing control over how they can progressively maximize your productivity and keep you working harder (eroding labor laws and collective bargaining, etc).  They want control over your activity for their benefit.

Gender and Sexuality

Traditional ‘separate sphere’ beliefs regarding ‘women’s place’ posit women’s ‘roles’ in society as (1) being a wife, and (2) mother of the husband’s children, while (3) taking care of the home, and (4) being perfectly sexually available.

Total deference.

These beliefs (which are enforced directly or indirectly) keep women subservient to men, giving men control over women’s activity.

Heteronormativity and homo/bi/queerphobia further leech into these considerations, inasmuch as free sexuality and reproductive autonomy are really harmful to patriarchal family structures.

Patriarchal family structures, grounded on men having control over women, rest on a monopoly of such control–no sexually free women, certainly no women having sex outside legally binding patriarchal marriages, no reproduction rights, and certainly no women in relationships with other women.


And men with men?  Men are supposed to exhibit and pursue control over women, and to deny all traces of activities or desires associated with women in a hetero-normative patriarchal society–so all non-heterosexual activity is prohibited.

These regulations stem far back, encoded into belief structures when families were the prime locus of production and holders of wealth, and so control over families (and the expansion of families through the prohibition of all sexual activity that didn’t result in babies) was important.

Thus, beliefs formed that chastised men and women for, and outlawed, non-reproductive sexual and relationship freedom, which became the dominant model of the ‘family’ (which, as it just so happens, gives collective power to heterosexual men over women and queer men).   Control over activity, yet again.

Intersectional Complexity

Civil rights issues are clear; racism is admittedly about the dominant racial group trying to control the subordinated racial group.  Anti-immigrant fervor is usually a thinly disguised racism, or a deep-seated fear (about terrorism or something), but either way the design is to control immigrant activity through either keeping them from one place to another or, alternately, to reduce their privileges while here.

Anti-environmental policies and behaviors, too, involve the unconditional domination of human beings (frequently capitalists nowadays) over the environment and all life within it.

In other words, all New Left movements can be unified into a movement of the Now-Left, built around freedom as self-determination, i.e. no group having control over another, but all individuals having control over the conditions of their own existence, living life with an egalitarian autonomy.

Only this is freedom.

Only this is democracy.

And other common factors connect to this notion (well being, sustainability, etc.), but freedom as self-determination could be a unifying guiding light for the movement we need right now, if we are to save what world we have left.

Toward a New Marxism

I’ve reentered school in the fall–a task which has kept me busy, however much I like it, and so I’ve let blogging fall by the wayside.  I really, truly, want to change that, to get back on the horse, so to speak.

The best way for me to start is to go where my heart has been in all this time since I’ve posted more regularly.

First of all, Egypt has inspired me.  From an internet based movement, sparked by the revolution and bravery of Tunisia, Egypt toppled a 30-year-old regime, despite opposition from the dominant party, precisely because regardless of difficulty, the Egyptian people never backed down, never resorted to violence, rape, looting (excepting the violence in defense from pro-Mubarak ‘supporters’), never strayed from message–they consistently would be placated with nothing less than ‘Mubarak, step down!’.  And step down he did.  That settled, and the military verbally guaranteeing reforms for a real democracy (whether they remain committed to such a vision remains to be seen), they proceed to clean up the mess that the protest has created.  This is how a protest should be–clear, revolutionary demands, without resorting to anarchy or being placated by red-herring false promises and impotent, minuscule changes.  And it was a neither a U.S. trained coup nor a militant, Islamist revolt against ‘secularization,’ but a multiparty coalition for democracy which has changed the face of the Middle East.  We should all learn from Egyptians. . . this is what hope and change look like.
In the West, we’ve gone so long without hope and change.  We’ve long felt impotent, and rationalized our inactivity.  “This is the way it’s always been. . . ” or “Americans aren’t willing to move with us for anything better. . . ,” or perhaps “It’s a Right Wing nation” or “Look at the obstacles to change!”  The leftmost phrase one can use to describe oneself is “progressive,” and that rather meaningless phrase is still labelled “Communist” in some crowds, depending on who you ask.  What does one do?
I am a committed Marxist, but not the “Old Left” or “New Left” kind.  The “Old Left” kind prioritized structures over agency, over the need to move in what Marxists called the “superstructure” to help people see the world they live in for what it is, and to pave a path to change it.  The “Old Left” prioritized class over gender, race, sexuality, environment.  The “New Left” hated the same systems of oppression, but saw gender, sexuality, race, and environment sometimes simultaneous to class, and sometimes instead of class.  They rejected authority, either Right or Left, and they fought for a world of TOTAL freedom.  But their overcorrection for the sins of the Old Left, their anti-authoritarianism, allowed them to descend into a rag-tag and decentralized band of competing struggles, each decidedly committed to their own ends and de facto competing against the ends of other New Left groups.  I consider the New Left generation of the 60’s to be the ‘Greatest Generation,’ whose war was not against fascism abroad but totalitarian unfreedom at home–fighting against alienation, homophobia, sexism, racism, capitalism, and for the oppressed, the exploited, the nonhuman animals.  But in their fight against all sources of oppression, the New Left so commonly devolved into a quasi-postmodern, infighting-prone, drug-dependent, and unprincipled band of uncoordinated movements, whose rejection of a capital-O Order resulted in the structural inability to meet their potential, their destiny.
It is our time to learn from their mistakes.  Inequality.  Environmental degradation.  Impotence in one’s workplace, country, city. . . life!  One drinks and lives vicariously through television and video games, playing Madden 2010 instead of football, watching James Bond instead of having martinis with beautiful women (or men, for that manner).  What went wrong?
I believe the New Left of the 1960’s had a lot right.  You cannot build a new society without abolishing racism, sexism, homophobia, traditional family structures, abandoning capitalism, reengaging the environment, seeking new spiritualities, rejecting war.  But the New Left maintained a definition of Freedom that was no more than an extension of the ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom into wider realms.  The ‘bourgeois’ notion of freedom defines freedom loosely as the freedom to choose within a constrained choice set.  Let me be clearer.  ‘Bourgeois’ freedom argued that if a person’s society and nature keep them able only to choose between ‘A’ and ‘B,’ and prevents them from choosing ‘C,’ ‘D,’ etc. up to ‘Z’, when under other social rules one could have choices from A to Z, ‘Bourgeois’ or capitalist notions of freedom considers you free—because, hell, you have a choice, right?

The “New Left” extended this notion–they argued that no one has a right to make you choose only A or B, between Green Apple Antibacterial dish soap or Orange anti-grease dish soap, when you could have not only antibacterial AND anti-grease dish soap, but way more meaningful choices than soap at the end of the day.  They wanted you to be able to choose between A and Z. But they rarely connected the different systems of oppression, and they never looked at the effects of the systems of oppression and exploitation as a whole, ignoring that alongside the need to have self determination for your nation, your relationship(s), and your workplace, is the need to have self determination over your full self.  And this is not the Christian notion of feeling bad for every time you enjoy a piece of cake or a good lay, but the humanization of one’s desires, making them truly yours rather than enculturated or contradictory pursuits.  So they wouldn’t listen to each other (who are you to tell me what to do?) and they tuned out, and blew their minds.  What do we do?

Like I said, I am neither an Old Left nor a New Left Marxist, but there is value to each.  Perhaps you could call me a Now Left Marxist. Here is a part of where I stand (and if you happen to want the theoretical backing, quotes and such, leave a comment).
Meaningful freedom is more than what you can do with a limited choice set–freedom is both external (your liberty to do what you want without external barriers) and internal (your liberty to do what you want without mental or habitual limitations).  One creates oneself through habituation (among other things), and so either external or internal limitations cripple the self–you are limited in your own self-creating potential.  And there are two types of barriers, natural and social, which can affect either internal or external freedom (I’m sorry if this is too heady, I just have faith in you–if you need clarification, please comment).  I’ll probably expand upon this later, but for now suffice to say that the ultimate freedom is both democratic influence over all the external factors that constrain your choices (social or natural, and for all external structures) and over all internal factors (ideologies, command over one’s own inclinations, habits, desires, etc).  This latter part, I believe, is a fundamental component of Marx’s ultimate project, as well as my own, extending into one’s relationships, consumer activity, etc., and most particularly NOT resulting in a denial of one’s desires, i.e. towards sex, drink, etc., but merely the use of all things as informed by ones fully free choices.

The point is making oneself fully the person one wants to be.  That is freedom.  And advocates of a limited freedom–libertarians, Republicans, capitalist apologists–they don’t advocate full freedom.  They advocate a conception of the lowest level of external freedom–choice within social and natural constraints–but even then an inconsistent version, where one’s external freedom can limit the external (and internal freedom) of another, but for no good reason.  For example, a speculator can buy the property of a family facing hard economic times, and use that power to raise the family’s rent until they can no longer pay.  The speculator has external freedom–no government or external force prevents them from buying the house–but their freedom to do so violates the freedom of the family to stay in their house, and that limitation is first social (social rules backed by force allow the speculator to take the family’s house) and natural (that force, personified by police, can remove the family at a very real physical danger to their lives). People who equate capitalism to freedom don’t get freedom–and I don’t think they want to.  But my Marxism, and I believe it stems from Marx himself, is founded in a fully, consistent, internal and external freedom.

You should be free in your work, government, relationships, beliefs, and over yourself.  You should be connected with your true goals, loved ones, community, environment.  You should manifest your creative power and develop yourself in all aspects of life, be it work or sex, eating or playing, or anything else under the sun, so long as at the end of the day it helps others do the same, rather than hinders them.  Now Left Marxism is feminist, queer, antiracist, environmentalist, and Buddhist (in its emphasis, with Buddhism, on control over the self), and founded in a demand for full democratization and full liberation.  It is this philosophy that I hope to develop here, and I invite comments.  Let Egypt show us that true change is possible, and lesson learned, lets change the world ourselves.