The Choice Facing the Hard Left

by Bob Morris on July 14, 2012

Christian Wright sums up the problems with the American hard left, which has succeeded magnificently in becoming almost entirely irrelevant, locked into outmoded ideas, and unable to act:

The American left barely exists. The self-consciously “anti-imperialist” American left, in a country of 300 million people, can probably be housed in its entirety in one of our smaller to mid-sized sports areas. Its influence is marginal, but unfortunately this rarely translates into approaches of humility.

“Marx said it. I believe it. That settles it,” is too often the credo of the hard left, either consciously or unconsciously. The Communist Manifesto was written 164 years ago. Parts of it are outdated and need revisions. But the hard left can cling to it like a fundamentalist to the Bible.

I was a member of a hard-left Marxist grouplet  not too long ago and walked away/was purged because I could not accept their doctrinaire mindset and refusal to permit any competing ideas or views. They were as convinced of their infallibility as the Pope, and just as wrong.

The U.S. “hard left” is a collection of aged and unsuccessful revolutionaries who developed politically in the 1960s and 70s. They grew up with a view that authoritarian one-party states, and charismatic Third World dictators ought to be supported as liberators because they were fighting against capitalistic exploiters.

A ranking member of that Marxist grouplet once told me in apparent complete seriousness that Mugabe of Zimbabwe should be supported because he stands “against imperialism.” His deranged comment speaks volumes about how out of touch, morally empty, and fanatic the American hard left can be. Mugabe is a thug who has brutalized a country. But since he has uttered words against America, some Marxists zealots feel compelled to support him. Then they wonder why most think them lunatics.

I might also take this opportunity to remind our laptop revolutionaries that an actual revolution is a bloody awful and horrible thing. If you embark on a revolution you know that you are going to risk everything and everyone that you love and that is important to you. You may even lose yourself, and you may find yourself doing terrible things in order to prevent them being done to you.

Revolutions, like what we are seeing as a result of the Arab Spring, are tumultuous, often bloody, with no guarantee of victory. The hard left could still play a major role in the coming version of the Arab Spring in the U.S. (something I see as inevitable.) But to do so, it needs to leave its self-imposed cloister of debating how many Marxists can dance on the head of a pin and get involved in the real world again. That means finding allies wherever they may be and forgetting the group-think.

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Diana Barahona July 14, 2012 at 11:29 pm

This piece is long on colorful criticisms but short on specifics. Just because the Beckers were wrong about Mugabe doesn’t mean they are not right about a lot of other things (their support of capitalist China being one issue they should rethink). What the Beckers are right about is their opposition to U.S./NATO imperialism. They are also right that a revolutionary party in the United States should not PUBLICLY criticize progressive or socialist governments, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Bolivia. If they have problems with the pink tide governments they simply don’t say anything except to denounce, as they should, U.S. imperialism in those countries. The reason this is right is simple: the corporate media and college professors inundate the U.S. public with propaganda against these governments 24/7. Why would anyone on the left think it’s a good idea to join in that? Furthermore, the Beckers don’t think, as apparently many others on the left do, that they could do a better job making a revolution in an underdeveloped country while simultaneously fighting against imperialism on all sides.

Regarding the final, ambiguous paragraph, I don’t think the PSL is going to change. While it has the best international positions, the best newspaper and is also the most active in the local struggles, it is not likely to abandon its paranoid, cult-like organizational culture. I do see the PSL working with many different organizations in the community on the basis of principles, so I don’t think you can say they’re not involved in the real world or finding allies. However, internally, all decisions are top-down and there is no real discussion allowed. In short, it treats cadres exactly like Wallmart treats its employees. To my way of thinking, this culture, as well as their habit of summarily purging people, is going to limit their growth as a party. People want more democracy, more respect for different points of view, more inclusiveness, more freedom, not less. I’m not sure why you would want the traditional left to play a major role, given that their goal is to replace an undemocratic capitalist system with an undemocratic socialist system. If they don’t understand participatory democracy within their own ranks, how can they be expected to put it into practice in society? The ones that are really leading the struggle at this time are the anarchists. Perhaps we should try to learn from them.

Reply

Ben July 16, 2012 at 1:45 am

“the corporate media and college professors inundate the U.S. public with propaganda against these governments 24/7. Why would anyone on the left think it’s a good idea to join in that?”

For intellectual honesty? To encourage open debate and discourage a “cult-like organizational culture”? So you don’t come across as one-dimensional propagandists like the capitalists you criticize? Or, as you yourself say, because: “The ones that are really leading the struggle at this time are the anarchists. Perhaps we should try to learn from them.”

Reply

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 16, 2012 at 10:08 am

“They are also right that a revolutionary party in the United States should not PUBLICLY criticize progressive or socialist governments, such as Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Bolivia.”

Governments and movements that cannot withstand criticism are not going to be able to withstand imperialist or capitalist counter-revolution. Sometimes criticism is necessary; sometimes to stay silent is to betray the cause of revolution. Rosa Luxemburg supported the Russian revolution led by the Bolsheviks but did not hide where she disagreed with them.

I agree that a lot, perhaps even most U.S. left criticism of Bolivia, Cuba, and so on crosses the line from support to condemnation. My former organization, the ISO, goes out of its way to criticize the Cuban government which to me is ridiculous even though I share their analysis because: 1) socialists who are supportive or critical of the Cuban government are pretty much locked in their views on the question; no amount of witty polemics is going to make a whit of difference 2) the main arguments on the left around Cuba should be about ending sanctions and normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuban governments and 3) many leftists are inspired by the Cuban example, so why fight so hard to take away people’s inspiration?

“However, internally, all decisions are top-down and there is no real discussion allowed. In short, it treats cadres exactly like Wallmart treats its employees. To my way of thinking, this culture, as well as their habit of summarily purging people, is going to limit their growth as a party. People want more democracy, more respect for different points of view, more inclusiveness, more freedom, not less. I’m not sure why you would want the traditional left to play a major role, given that their goal is to replace an undemocratic capitalist system with an undemocratic socialist system. If they don’t understand participatory democracy within their own ranks, how can they be expected to put it into practice in society? The ones that are really leading the struggle at this time are the anarchists. Perhaps we should try to learn from them.”

The ISO has the same set of problems that manifest themselves in different ways, although their formal politics are not identical to PSL’s. I’ve been saying for a while now that we have a lot to learn from the anarchists and/or occupiers:
http://links.org.au/node/2657
http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1003

What’s needed is a new left organization or loose-knit network that can unite all of the squabbling three-letter groups as well as the revolutionary elements in the unions, initiatives like the Working Families Party, Peace and Freedom Party, the I.W.W., Occupy, and local protests like the rent strike in Queens, New York City. As it stands now, each left group’s newspaper is just an echo chamber to carry the party line, not a place for vibrant discussion, debate, and dynamic interaction between people/political trends that come from different places but have arrived at similar or congruent conclusions. That’s one reason why The North Star was started and there’s lots to be done to make it better so that it can really make a contribution towards this goal.

Reply

Tony July 16, 2012 at 1:45 pm

What your reply to Diana’s comments does not take up, is the CONTEXT which that criticism Left criticism might be in, Pham. If US Left criticism of a Left government elsewhere comes into play in the context of US imperialist propaganda piling on with their Right Wing criticism of a Left leaning regime, then you are wrong to want to scream, shout, and throw a ‘Left’ temper tantrum. For example, just because a Mugabe is a brute, if you begin also piling your ‘ US Lefty/ liberal’ criticisms onto the criticisms of that regime coming from the British government and US government’s whose plans for African imperialist interventionism are continent wide, you do nobody in Africa any great favor. You in effect are giving mainly ammo to the Pentagon propaganda AMONG the US and British populations calling out to continue their militarism African wide, Somalia to Libya, to Ethiopia to Morocco to Congo to all over. Get it?

Of course if you want to be IQ challenged and merely see it in the context of I USA I don’t like Mugabe and I gotta run my leetle ‘Lefty’ Goody Two Shoes mouth about it instead of actually work to build any US antiwar movement, then who can stop you? Certainly the US government won’t try to do that to you. Nor will the British.

Reply

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm

You criticize me for failing to mention context, but that is exactly what comrade Diana failed to do and why I objected to what she said. Based on what she wrote, I don’t think she believes that we should ever criticize left governments abroad. She is free to correct me if I am mistaken.

Reply

Aaron Aarons July 18, 2012 at 3:07 am

I have no idea if Diana Barahona would agree or not, but any lefty should be more than willing to criticize the government of Hugo Chavez for turning Colombian revolutionaries over to the Colombian government, while not joining in the various ruling-class attacks on Chavez for his moves against, for example, the reactionary control of most of the private media in Venezuela.

In other words, criticize a left government for its unprincipled deals with and conciliation of imperialism and reaction, but not for its attacks on the latter, except perhaps for their inadequacy.

Reply

Diana Barahona July 20, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Please don’t call me your comrade.

Reply

Pham Binh of Occupy Wall Street, Class War Camp July 20, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Unless you’re scabbing at Con Ed, why wouldn’t I call you comrade or vice-versa?
Things like this are exactly why the traditional left failed to come up with something as powerful as “the 99%.” We exclude everyone who doesn’t agree with us until we’re down to a few hundred people and then wonder why we keep getting steamrolled by American capitalism.

Reply

Tony July 20, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Thank you, Comrade Pham.

Reply

Aaron Aarons July 24, 2012 at 1:21 am

So, Pham Binh wants to include the ‘Working Families Party’ — a party that mainly provides a second, pseudo-left, ballot spot for Democratic Party candidates in New York, including Barack Obama in 2008 (and, I’ll bet, this year) — in his ‘left’ unity? Why am I not surprised?

Reply

Ben July 24, 2012 at 2:13 am

WFP people were pretty heavily involved in getting OWS off the ground (although you probably don’t like OWS either). WFP also happens to have a ballot line, which is nothing to sneeze at. If the left ever got to the point where it wasn’t an embarrassment, it seems likely they might use their ballot line for left purposes instead of redundant Democratic nominations (which they only do to keep their ballot line). Given the absurd ballot access laws, you would have to be pretty sectarian to not even consider working with them.

Reply

Aaron Aarons August 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm

There’s a difference between working with people like Working Families Party supporters and even so-called ‘Progressive Democrats’ on specific issues, such as strike support, eviction defense, etc., and, OTOH, forming a multi-issue political party or group with them. Even when dealing with single issues, it is generally incorrect for revolutionaries to put out joint propaganda with those who aren’t committed enemies of capitalism and imperialism, since such propaganda will inevitably exclude the necessary subversive critique of the forces we are fighting against.

Reply

Tony July 15, 2012 at 12:40 am

Bob Morris seems now to have become part of the Cartoon Caricature ‘Left’, and makes it even worse because he also likes to PSL bait (a close cousin to red baiting) as well as to yap up a big bla bla bla of nothing in the service of combating ‘group think’? Give us a break, Bob. You come off here as being a mere Right Winger twit.

Who in the world is actually defending Mugabe anyway? All of us who happen to notice that US and British imperialists talk it up as if they hate the guy? So what? Everybody hates Mugabe. Actually, I think that the US and british governments like having him around so that they can pose themselves off as saints for people like Bob Morris, for example. Sad… Just pretty damn sad, this sort of idiotic say nothing commentary laced with thinly concealed red baiting.

Reply

Brian S. July 15, 2012 at 10:41 am

Getting a bit unpleasant Tony. Criticising another goup is not “red baiting it (even if it is your pet one.)

Reply

Tony July 15, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Brian, I know that it is de rigueur within your tendency of thinking to denounce PSL and WWP as some sort of red baiting loyalty oath, but that perhaps would be OK if there had been substance to anything that Morris had said about them or any sort of context to it other than his own personal nastiness. And Brian, whatever have ever I said that makes you think that PSL is my own little pet group? Nothing really, have I?

FYI, Brian, I have never ever been a member of WWP or PSL and have a totally different marxist group background in my activism completely than with association with either of those 2 groups. That having been said, can anybody point out any group on the US Left that has made any tiny attempt to organize IN THE LEAST an antiwar movement in the last 4 decades than the small and organizationally inept WWP and PSL? Brian? Bob?

Reply

Brian S. July 15, 2012 at 3:59 pm

Sorry Tony, you just seemed so protective of them.And what is my “tendency”? I have never denounced PSL in my life (in fact I’d never heard of them until recently); and only last week I was posting a link on a blog to Sam Marcy on the Portuguese revolution: http://www.workers.org/marcy/cd/samport/port/port05.htm
I’m afraid that I have to repeat myself: one more “red-baiting” accusation and your off my Christmas list.

Reply

Tony July 15, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Brian, to to be clear here, you are not in agreement with Bob here that PSL is nothing but a bunch of ‘lunatics’?

‘Then they wonder why most think them (in the PSL) lunatics.’ ….from Bob.

I sure want to stay on your Marxmas list!

Reply

Brian S. July 15, 2012 at 6:50 pm

As I say, I know very little about the PSL. And I would distinguish between ad hominem and political judgements – the position that Bob outlines re Mugabe (if its accurate) seems similar to one of yours that I have been arguing against at length; I might think the argument is lacking in logic, but I would never call you a lunatic. I seem to remember having quite a vigorous argument with some Workers World people in Buffalo about 40+ years ago (given the date probably about Vietnam). but that doesn’t stop me quoting Marcy when I think he’s right.
All I ask is that we keep our exchanges comradely, even if our disagreements are sharp, as you kindly explained to me some time ago is your intention.

Reply

Aaron Aarons July 15, 2012 at 8:40 pm

The editors of The North Star seem to be running out of material with which to drown out the anti-imperialist left. First, Christian Wright wrights [sp?] an extremely lengthy comment on the page:Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1097). (If you look for his comment there, it’s under his first name only.)

Then his comment is posted as a separate article as:
Dogma or Revolution? The Choice Is Ours (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=1139)
where a number of anti-imperialists responded to his arguments. (Should we have to do so again on this page?)

Finally, a few excerpts from that comment-article are reposted here with some comments attacking the PSL, including for a private comment some unidentified leading PSLer allegedly made to poster Bob Morris and which Morris paraphrases here. SInce the PSL has published numerous articles about Zimbabwe, why doesn’t he just refute their arguments therein, instead of gossiping and appealing to what people presume to know about Mugabe and ZImbabwe that they absorbed from the media environment we’re in?

Write is quoted above saying: “I might also take this opportunity to remind our laptop revolutionaries that an actual revolution is a bloody awful and horrible thing. If you embark on a revolution you know that you are going to risk everything and everyone that you love and that is important to you. You may even lose yourself, and you may find yourself doing terrible things in order to prevent them being done to you.”

But the same logic can be used by those defending their state from what they see as an attempt by powerful outside powers and internal enemies to overthrow them. Probably the Sandanistas should have done a lot of the terrible things they failed to do against the imperialist-sponsored counter-revolution that forced them out, as should the Eastern European regimes have done in 1989-91.

BTW, I’ve had my own disagreements and conflicts with Workers World and the PSL going back to the early 1960’s, and still do, but they are the only major groups on the left that have been capable of organizing mass anti-imperialist demonstrations in recent years.

Reply

David Berger July 16, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Boy what a bunch of bullshit, as if PSL or WW mean jack-shit. Let me give you a criterion for which groups or individuals are running their mouths and which are “for real.” Right now, there are efforts within the Occupy movement to both relate it to the working class. This means active support, not writing articles. It means working within Occupy itself, plus working with unions, labor centers, immigrant groups, etc. This is the task of the moment. It doesn’t mean showing up at a union picket line with your presidential or vice presidential candidate for a photo op (PSL). it doesn’t mean showing up at a May Day march with leaflets when you did nothing to build that march (WW). And it doesn’t mean coming into a early-stage solidarity movement for a strike and trying to tell others what to do when your group dropped away months before (LRP). And it doesn’t mean portraying yourself as an Occupy Wall Street activist when you aren’t one.

Time to put up or shut up.

Reply

Tony July 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Bob Morris on the theme of ‘The Choice Facing the Hard Left’ came off as being rather simplistic and moronic sectarianism mainly directed at the PSL. However, there really is a choice facing the so-called’hard Left’, and it has absolutely nothing to do with PSL or WWP baiting others at all.

Edward Herman, published and republished again on Znet, examines the problem of much of the US Left jumping itself onboard the humanitarian imperialist bandwagon, from Yugoslavia to Iraq to Libya to Syria now. He discusses how the idea of regime changes being promoted by the US government through support of terrorist activities to promote the overthrow of other governments, violates all the international law the Nuremberg Conventions had erected to stop this sort of violation of National Sovereignty and National Self Determination erected post WW2, that was done previously by the German government of Hitler. See the you tube video of the Edward Hermann interview @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=raqOLvjz-E8&feature=player_embedded

No, the ‘choice facing the Hard US Left’ has to do with whether we are going to be supporting the US government’s violation of the Nuremberg mandated international laws prohibiting creating ‘regime changes’ in other countries, or whether we are going to cheerlead for these regime changes, cover up with our own supposedly marxist propaganda for these US imperialist violations of international law, and pretend that we are actually carrying on Trotsky’s, Lenin’s, and Marx’s legacy of anti-capitalism while doing so?

Reply

Aaron Aarons July 18, 2012 at 3:14 am

Can’t we oppose imperialist attacks on weaker nations without invoking “international law”? I don’t know about anybody else, but I want to see world capitalist imperialism defeated by any means necessary, and those means will certainly include violations of “international law”.

The only valid reason to bring up “international law” is to point out the hypocrisy of the imperialists who invoke it or violate it according to what serves their interests at the moment.

Reply

Tony July 18, 2012 at 4:44 am

I think that Edward Herman sees in this one particular international law defending nation states’ national sovereignty something worth defending and not allowing the US imperialists to just tear the law up ad lib, while many on the US Left actually are even cheering for that. And I agree with him totally about that, Aaron. We are defending the self determination of weaker nations when we say that this international principle and international law should not just be allowed by us to just be thrown in the garbage can without our fierce protest of their US imperialist efforts to do just that.

I also find it sadly amusing that so many of these same Leftists and liberals that now whole heartedly support US imperialism as it imposes regime changes that violate national sovereignty in Syria and Libya, back in the case of when imperialism was attacking Yugoslavia supported the complete opposite, claiming then that they were defending ‘self determination’ by supporting the US and Western elites’ political actions that led up to the US bombing of Yugoslavia. Well what do they now think is happening when imperialist governments and their allies can allow themselves to run rough shod over the self determination of nations like Libya and Syria? It violates self determination of non imperialist nations.

These humanitarian imperialist Lefties all idiotically claim that those on the Left that are opposing these regime changes that they support, shows somehow that we are having some sort of love affair with Gaddafi and Assad which they tell us they are not, echoing the insipid Right Winger line that previously claimed that opposing the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by US imperialism was simply because many of the Leftists and liberals were doing that just because they were somehow friends with dictator Saddam Hussein and the Taliban! We were weak on understanding how bad these folk were, the Right Wingers lectured us back then. A line of crap it was, too. Same as it is now when done by our supposedly marxist ‘comrades’.

I know I know… the US humanitarian imperialist Leftists will all try to pretend that the rebellions have been all almost completely home grown with totally indigenous origin, but any study of the composition of the actual top leaderships of the anti government Libyan and Syrian forces and what they have been doing in the recent past, definitely shows us that nothing like that is even remotely close to being true. These were people who were in mainly places like France, Britain, and the US, receiving financial assistance in their organizing of an opposition against their own governments who had offended the imperialists. Pretending that their situation is analogous to Lenin when he was in exile in Germany is simply a nonsensical idea from those marxists who have argued that. Lenin did not get money from the foreign imperialists when he was run out of WW1 Tsarist Russia. The Germans did not organize the Bolsheviks like the US government has organized groups led by people like Mahmoud Jibril, head of the new Libyan government. It is not an analogous comparison at all.

I think it quite right that China and Russia are opposing US military actions based on the vocalized idea that the US government has simply torn up most of the previously somewhat respected ‘international laws’. The whole world knows that to be true, minus our simple minded group of US based humanitarian imperialist ‘marxists’.

Reply

Aaron Aarons July 24, 2012 at 2:10 am

If “the American hard left, […] has succeeded magnificently in becoming almost entirely irrelevant”, why are Pham Binh, Clay Claiborne, Bob Morris, Louis Proyect and the rest of the soft left putting so much time and energy into attacking us? Are they just trying to establish their bona fides with mainstream liberalism?

Morris also writes:
‘“Marx said it. I believe it. That settles it,” is too often the credo of the hard left, either consciously or unconsciously. The Communist Manifesto was written 164 years ago. Parts of it are outdated and need revisions. But the hard left can cling to it like a fundamentalist to the Bible.’

What a caricature! There may, indeed, be a small number of leftists who think and talk almost like that, but there’s no reason to believe that most such doctrinaire types would be part of the anti-imperialist hard left. They’re just as likely to be doctrinaire believers in “democracy”, quoting Marx to justify that particular fetish.

Morris quotes Wright:
‘The U.S. “hard left” is a collection of aged and unsuccessful revolutionaries who developed politically in the 1960s and 70s.’

So, who are the “successful revolutionaries” who Morris can contrast with us “unsuccessful revolutionaries”?

Reply

Wheemnave December 7, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Rejuvenating cells in body, preventing fatigue problems, relaxing muscles and promoting blood circulation throughout the body are other benefits of including horny goat weed extracts in diet.It is much better than man-made substances like TPE (Thermal Plastic Elastomer) or plastic.It is also recyclable and biodegrade over a long period of time. [url=http://www.maydown.com/newbuttons/german/mid-nav/german.php]lululemon outlet stores[/url] While yoga mainly helps correct the spine thru asanas (poses), a chiropractor utilizes adjustments to make these spinal corrections.Breath deeply as you stretch. [url=http://www.attentionb.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/skins/bekle/playlist/timeSliderCapLeft.php]lululemon outlet[/url] Celine Purse Coach Factory Aot regarding deal retailers provide you bargains whwn purchased a certain quantity.LOLA Fest: A live arts festival featuring well-known and emerging artists

Reply

Viaggloda December 7, 2014 at 10:12 pm

Caslon, Garamond, Zapf for example.By reading reviews it is easy to determine whether a product will work well or not. [url=http://www.janejackson.net/wp-includes/js/tinymce/themes/modern/theme.html]cheap mac makeup[/url] Warm and additionally snug months sai to make sure you u .oapply lightly from lash line to just beyond the crease [url=http://www.healthsport.com/wp-includes/js/tinymce/plugins/media/about.php]cheap mac makeup[/url] Buy from trustworthy specialty retailers who do the hard work for you and sell only carefully-selected safe productsNow, nearly most gals out there love to wear make-up.

Reply

u people are crazy April 20, 2015 at 9:26 pm

Assad is a butcher and the rebels are even worse. The rebels have set up religious fanatical system in the areas they control, and Assad has an authoritarian dictatorship that jails people for speaking up against him. The FSA supported by the US almost no longer even exists. The only chance now for the syrian people is a truce, and to move toward some sort of eventual election. How wrong leftists were to support the foreign jihadhi backed armed revolt and the authoritarian state’s violence- both cost the lives of innocent people and plunged the country into complete chaos.

Reply

Adlib June 24, 2015 at 4:32 pm

I will immediately grab your rss as I can’t to find your e-mail subscription hyperlink or newsletter service.

Do you have any? Please permit me recognise
in order that I could subscribe. Thanks.

Reply

Hentai July 13, 2015 at 1:51 am

There’s certainly a lot to know about this topic. I
really like all the points you’ve made.

Reply

jailbreak untethered September 30, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Hi to all, the contents existing at this web site are truly
awesome for people experience, well, keep up the nice work fellows.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: