Postcapitalism and the “Left”

Published online 13 October 2013.

As I have edged around this concept in several previous diaries, now is a good time for me to state outright what I have only hinted previously.

There really isn’t a “Left” in the United States, or more specifically in actual real-life US politics.  Sure, there is a symbolic Left — a left which can be gotten to pony up $40 annually for Sierra Club memberships or which will sympathize deeply with the promoters of identity politics.  Maybe some times this “Left” can organize benefit concerts, or a Food Not Bombs local, with a few partisans now and then, in some of the local havens of “Left” concentration: Santa Cruz, Oakland, Vermont, New Paltz, and so on.  Jeffrey St. Clair, from May of this year:…

…the Left is an immobilized and politically impotent force at the very moment when the economic inequalities engineered by our overlords at Goldman Sachs who manage the global economy, should have recharged a long-moribund resistance movement back to life.Instead the Left seems powerless to coalesce, to translate critique into practice, to mobilize against wars, to resist incursions against basic civil liberties, powerless to confront rule by the bondholders and hedgefunders, unable to meaningfully obstruct the cutting edge of a parasitical economic system that glorifies greed while preying on the weakest and most destitute…

We will see this reality even more vividly after the Grand Bargain comes into being.  As I suggested in this previous diary, American politics is dominated by two right wings, a corporate Right, and an antipublic Right.  If there were in fact a Left in this country, you’d see some actual traction on this issue — in an era of declining global growth, our corporate-owned politicians have fetched gains for the top 7%, but what about the rest of us?What we see of Left expression (i.e. that which some here would call the “far left”) on this blog is a chronic complaint that there isn’t really a Left.  Does this pose strike anyone else as contradictory?  At any rate, it’s not the Right’s problem that there really isn’t a Left.  They’re right-wingers!  Ask them if they care.  Oh, sure, occasionally there appear champions who display Left symbolism while at the same time joining Congress — but when practically everyone in Congress voted for some version or other of an austerity budget in 2011, we have to ask what we are in fact getting.  And, to be sure, there exists what we could call the “masquerade Left,” the Left that pretends it is a Left but is really interested in right-wing stuff.  The problem is solved by recognizing that the “masquerade Left” is merely a version of the Right using Left symbols as advertising slogans.  If the Left is dead, more seductive advertising using symbols, words, and communicated images of a “Left” brand is not going to bring it back.  Only an actual Left political movement will do this.

However, the fact that the conceptual Left is only a conceptual Left does not mean the concepts are themselves no good — it only means they don’t work to advertise us.  Rather, realization is our problem.  The Occupy movement solved this problem for awhile, but it didn’t spread far enough, and so the remnant left over after it was crushed by a coalition of mayors coordinated by the FBI remains small.

A lot of our realization problem lies in our inadequate understanding of history.  What was appropriate about having a Left in the political world was its basic humanism, its concern for the well-being of the whole of the human race.  Toward this end, the Left offered material aid and support to a number of other important human virtues: creativity, versatility,  love, happiness, open-mindedness, solidarity with the less-well-off, basic rights, ecosystem integrity, and others.  At some point what used to be called “the Left” missed what the corporate Right recognized: that money and power and what Antonio Gramsci called “hegemony” were and are the movers of history.  At some point it became cool to acquiesce in hegemonic thinking, per Thomas Frank’s The Conquest of Cool.  The rest is a historical addendum.

As for the antipublic, Tea Party Right, this analysis seems to be on-target.  Their meanspiritedness comes from the zeal of ideologically-obsessed local elites intent upon being the vanguard of the war upon the working class.

A universal Right would indicate, to historians at least, a universal fear among the political class of what is to come.  All conservatives have in common the fear of the future, and the clinging to what is old and trusted.  The historical record displays no shortage of political classes united in fear of the new — one recalls, first, the political coalition united against the French Republic in the days after the French Revolution.  However, our own difficulty here is in actually opposing the current coalition, united by what Philip Mirowski calls the Neoliberal Thought Collective, with a “something new” of our own.  As Mirowski points out, today the neoliberals are way ahead of anything that could claim to oppose them.

I have chosen to call this something new “postcapitalism” because any other formulation would be hampered by its ties to old political formations, all of which have been co-opted (in some form or another) by neoliberal forces.  Sure, a lot of these old political formations can be described in ways that should be rehabilitated.  I’ve spent a lot of time trying to rehabilitate one such term, socialism, and if you look through my history here at you can see this.  Another such valiant effort can be found on pages 291-295 of David Graeber’s The Democracy Project, with the term “communism.”

All it requires is to stop imagining ‘communism’ as the absence of private property arrangements, and go back to the original definition: “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.” (293)

No doubt we will have to rehabilitate these terms, and many more such, if we are to create a new New Left that will actually do something.  As I’ve pointed out before, however, we will be doing this hard work in the context of a capitalist system that nears the end of its tenure on Earth, and hopefully in the context of a thought collective that will rival the one the neoliberals built out of the Mont Pelerin Society.The elites have their own idea of what is to come after capitalism.  Mostly it has to do with rent extraction — they will go back to being the gentry, like they were under feudalism, and we will have neofeudalism.  Your boss will also be your landlord, and part of your labor will go to paying your rent while you feed yourself with your own hard work — if, that is, you survive the climate, economic, and political disasters to come.  We clearly deserve better than this.

OK, so now it’s your turn.  Write about:

1) The thought collective you want to build to rival the one the neoliberals have built

2) The terms you want to see rehabilitated in support of a new “New Left”

3) The actions you want to perform, with the support of a collective, toward the re-creation of a “Left”

4) Your most counter-hegemonic thoughts


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