Unity for what and with whom? A polemic against left unity

Unity for what and with whom? A polemic against left unity

An analysis of the contemporary situation in the United States, the conditions of the left, and a critique of promotion of activity unifying the left. It ends looking to another form of political action in today's environment.

The absence of any organized popular force acting on the political landscape is the defining feature of the previous decades in the United States. The alienation of the general population from politics, let alone liberatory politics, creates great difficulties for any radical aspirations, and shapes the actions of all of those who work to overcome not only their immediate grievances but also the system itself. Historically speaking, these sorts of situations are likely to have been common. Little has been written or discussed about what to do in similar circumstances however, at least little that I’ve been able to find. Most revolutionaries today look to the lessons and ideas of humanity’s revolutionary moments; inspiring and important teachings though the context that gave them their reality couldn’t be further from our own.

This wide gap between ideas and action gets played out in countless aspects of revolutionary projects, The difference is so extreme, it takes on tragic and comedic proportions. One of these areas is around the so-called left. Left unity is an obsession frequently stumped for, generally drawing from historical sources in the most radical of scenarios. Looking to history, many fear the tragic missteps of their predecessors who allowed reactionaries and authoritarians butcher whole populations. Left unity is seen as an antidote against the enemy to unite all the forces of progress and humanity against reaction and tyranny.

There are a number of problems with this way of thinking though. Unity to do what? With whom? Whether a left exists, at least in this country, should be questioned deeply. At the most minimum the left should be seen as aspiring to transform society towards something freer and more equal, and do so by building movements by the exploited and oppressed to fight their own fights. This is incredibly vague and broad and could incorporate gradualist socialists, eurocommunists, insurrectionists, anarchists, etc. Still by that definition there is nearly no organized social force we could identify as left. Many have aspirations, yet nearly no one is actually working with people directly and connecting their politics to that work. Tiny localized examples exist, but in a given city there’s likely only one or two small projects. You may see one or the other (action/organizing or political sects with aspirations), but rarely both together. In cities like New York, Oakland, or Portland huge numbers of activists can gather and give the appearance of movement, but when one looks below the surface it becomes apparent that there is little work being done to constitute concretely one’s politics, whether insurrectionary or gradualist. By and large political activity in the US remains alienated from the population and merely confined to the circulation of ideas within activist subcultures. Left unity is a particularly bizarre and utopian idea in this context. The pantheon of the left is a series of highly individualistic sects built around the personalities, interests, and cultural circles of small groups of self-defined individuals.

Even going against and setting aside my suggestion that nothing like the left exists in a social form, the why question is strong. Why unify these people? To do what? Generally, the answer is to try and settle scores against rivals or generate some common denominator politics for deferred action (that basically never comes together). The effect of this recirculation of ideas and activities within the cliques of aspiring leftists is that it reinforces small group personality dynamics, and withholds the kinds of experiences that tend to develop people as political actors.

Collective struggle carries with it the potential to transform people and increase their capacities. When people struggle against the dominant form of political and social being, they are brought into conflict with the ideas and the norms of that society. This clash brings to the surface things we don’t normally see, and it creates pressure for those fighting to take actions they wouldn’t normally take when the stakes were lower. It creates space for reflection and new forms of social organization to emerge in the spots where the social order becomes weakened and disorganized even temporarily.

In a sense, the world of the left is internalized within the power relations of capitalism. Protests, meetings, conferences, and organizations have their place within the defined opposition which capitalism readily contains in stable periods. The obsession with dominating, unifying, and expanding micro-traditions within the left reinforces the reliance on politics as usual and minimizes the potential for participants to encounter new situations and activities that could create new militants and improve existing ones.

If by left unity they mean taking people engaging in activity to collaborate on specific actions because they agree on how to carry them out and can achieve more by doing so, then left unity is obvious. Calls for left unity essentially are never this though, unless it’s to engage in ritualized static forms of left culture like rallies, protests, bookfairs, and conferences. More importantly left groups do not tend to engage in the kinds of actions which would justify unifying (such as collaborating on specific activity within some mobilized social force), which makes the proposal spurious. Even when they do, typically there will not be more than one group engaging in activity you could unify with. The alienation of the left from collective action is the deepest critique perhaps of the disproportionate energy spent trying to unify leftists. In many ways the desire for left unity is an expression of the desire that an idealized left exist to unify. By doing that work you help ensure it will not occur.

These sorts of situations come from trying to escape your situation and put yourself into another, whether religious or borrowed from history. It is a form of political escapism. There is a real need for collaboration to solve the concrete issues that are slamming people across the globe without nearly anyone offering solutions that speak to their situation. Our ultimate work must be to build daily struggle guided by and intimately expressing our revolutionary aims for this society. Only then can we collaborate, and only then will the deep sectarianism of hollow left unity be exposed in practice.

Posted By

s.nappalos
Feb 28 2014 15:47

Share


  • Our ultimate work must be to build daily struggle guided by and intimately expressing our revolutionary aims for this society. Only then can we collaborate, and only then will the deep sectarianism of hollow left unity be exposed in practice.

    Scott Nappalos

Attached files

Comments

johnbessa
Mar 14 2014 23:11

I cannot agree more that the Left is an anachronism in the West because it has a wholly different meaning in the former Soviet territory (Stalin), and most definitely in Asia (Mao).

Here is my version of Scott's, well, lament: Why the American Left failed
http://occupy-critical-inquiry.blogspot.com/2014/01/why-american-left-failed-hippies-where.html

My temptation is to look back at my "leftist" experience in the East Village and Lower East Side of NYC to redefine it, but, as I recall, I never for a millisecond bought into the rhetoric--I was just there for the party! (And party we did, Central Park bandshell, CBGBs, Tompkins Sq Park, etc, etc)

My issue is with revolution itself, because, as I find in Occupy, it is dialectical, which I learned from cognitive/behavioral therapy, is the Socratic method. Thus, the dialectic is the method (of madness) of "alternate" thinking --Socrates was a raging queen w/ a taste for young boys (according to Plato, many references) and his "alternative" for the youth he met in the markets could only have been one thing...

What we have is EVOlution --it brought us where we are (duh). It is cyclic (like revolution) but moves forward, and is thus logically (math) defined as a wave --seriously.

Scott Nappalos correctly uses the word "collaboration" (as the social agent) but I don't like the collab word being used in the same sentence as REVOlution because collaboration in the emotional context is the EVOlutionary social agent. Cooperation, in my opinion, is the word correctly associated with REVOlution.

http://thinman.com/empathy/

But, true to what Scott says, the Left is a wash, and I am beginning to think it was simply infiltration by the over-educated young of the East European immigrant bourgeois, which, largely belonged to a single culture (not Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist) that presently dominates the financial capital of the world: Wall Street

Chilli Sauce
Mar 15 2014 10:18
Quote:
the Left is a wash, and I am beginning to think it was simply infiltration by the over-educated young of the East European immigrant bourgeois, which, largely belonged to a single culture (not Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist) that presently dominates the financial capital of the world: Wall Street

Is it just me, or is this sounding dangerously close to anti-semitism?

Maybe I'm misreading this here - and, if so, tell me - but if not, you can get the hell off the site right now.

As for the rest of your post, I honestly have no idea what you're on about.

Black Badger
Mar 15 2014 15:23

It's not just you Chili; it's 100% bona fide Jew-baiting racism. Your have to be as stupid as Drak to miss it.

radicalgraffiti
Mar 15 2014 16:16
johnbessa wrote:

My issue is with revolution itself, because, as I find in Occupy, it is dialectical, which I learned from cognitive/behavioral therapy, is the Socratic method. Thus, the dialectic is the method (of madness) of "alternate" thinking --Socrates was a raging queen w/ a taste for young boys (according to Plato, many references) and his "alternative" for the youth he met in the markets could only have been one thing...

Your against revolution because Socrates wasn't straight?

johnbessa wrote:
What we have is EVOlution --it brought us where we are (duh). It is cyclic (like revolution) but moves forward, and is thus logically (math) defined as a wave --seriously.

I have to doubt you understand logic or maths.

johnbessa
Mar 15 2014 21:57

actually the problem is neo-platonism, which I cannot link to a culture except the man-boy child abuse that is academic education since 500BC --your culture? tell me...

bastarx
Mar 15 2014 23:06

Bring down the banhammer.

johnbessa
Mar 16 2014 01:34

if it makes any difference, this is what I am working on right now: basically a way to detect nazi-type social disorders by abstracting Germany's Freikorps and finding groups with the same attributes in other nations, specifically, the US but also any nation, capital's mercenaries

the interesting thing is that genetic correlations have emerged for a cattle->chattle->capital continuum (CLICK)

your problem right now is that the revolutionary target d'jour is Koch, founder of the Tea Party, leading Libertarian and 1st richest person in NYC, so what you are telling me is that I need to look into HIS cultural background. A waste of time because I am looking for social-neurological DNA markers, not mental illness' poltical-capital manifestations

my other direction is the market itself, but then there might be a problem that I can only guess at

R U Freikorps?

Chilli Sauce
Mar 16 2014 02:01

This is so mad it's gone beyond trolling. You can't even make a half-assed attempt to justify what seems to be pretty blatant anti-semitism. Seriously, fuck right off.

johnbessa
Mar 17 2014 14:13

OK, that's over the top -- I have NOT attacked anyone on this site, I only gave personal opinions against attacks against directly against me.

Having-said-that, I do NOT personally feel (or agree prob. w/ the vast majority of humanity) that you, CS, should be censored, kicked-out, etc

ALL information is good information, incl. erroneous --and MOST especially incld'n maladaptive (which this most definitely is with CS's words "F* right off -- the right part is interesting, it resembles another angry response I got (to cultural digging) which was "piss off" as both sound British (are you there? are you he? PK?)

Having said that (phew!) #9 was historically 100% for Palestinian rights with only a minority supporting Israel's "right to exist" (we did not actually oppose Israel, we were just attempting arm-twisting for the benefit of the "Filistines") We were the urban country-style racial-fusionists who esp liked Bob Marley and family and were so plentiful that we did not actually need a name, racial fusion is my tag) More about that:

Now that #9 closed and that Dana Beal got jail time, and entire new #9 emerged on FaceBook apparently led by the JDO dope-dealer/leader that recently revealed himself to be 100% anti-Black with slavery-level racism -- I strongly feel PK (you have to read my material to know who) has a racist component that I cannot prove, but what I did was introduce language to the "virtual" and newly-racist #9 (that I never met in all those years) and then looked at Wall Street writing to see if the specific language emerged, and it did... there is a racist contagion. I don't need to prove that there is, I only need to work with the environment AS IF there is to help assure good outcomes incld'n and end to casino-style investment (words of a high-level risk manager I worked for).

Anyway, as interesting as this is, it s not my real goal, as I mentioned, and it is becoming kind of a millstone around my neck: I really enjoy nazi-hunting... which assures that the pre-racist bonds can be re-cemented.

Pennoid
Mar 17 2014 14:49

Hurray, this thread is continuously derailed!

Battlescarred
Mar 17 2014 14:54

This poster should be banned. Follow Makhno's example and stamp on anti-semtiism as soon as it rears its ugly head.

Kureigo-San
Mar 17 2014 15:12

No, no, let the guy continue. He is proving the argument of the OP to be as relevant as ever.

Entdinglichung
Mar 17 2014 15:30

don't insult Socrates!

johnbessa
Mar 17 2014 15:54

hahahaha, very good, b seeing you!