By Caitlin Johnstone
June 3, 2023
The biggest problem with the western left is that it doesn't exist.
To look at leftist discourse you'd think the left's biggest problem is that some leftists have the wrong beliefs about this or that issue, or that the left pays too much or not enough attention to identity politics, or places too much or not enough emphasis on electoral politics, or is too sympathetic toward enemies of the US empire or not sympathetic enough, or that this or that faction gets it all wrong — but it's not. The biggest problem is that there aren't anywhere remotely close to enough leftists to get anything done in the west today.
And by leftists I of course don't mean Democrats or « progressives » or anyone who just wants a few adjustments to be made to the capitalist empire so that they can afford medicine or a college degree or whatever. I mean real socialists, communists and anarchists who oppose capitalism and imperialism and seek the drastic, revolutionary changes this civilization urgently needs. Those who understand that the system is not broken and in need of repair, but is working exactly as intended and is in need of complete dismantling.
This latter category has barely any meaningful existence in the western world. The « western left » in modern times is either controlled opposition or what amounts to a glorified online message board. That's not our fault; the empire has poured vast amounts of wealth and effort into making that happen. But we do need to be real about it, and we do need to fix it.
And it's just so strange to me that this doesn't dominate all leftist discourse all the time. The fact that the western left is a tiny politically impotent minority with nowhere near the numbers needed to accomplish its goals is the single most significant thing about the western left, by a long, long way.
CPUSA meeting celebrating Lenin's birthday.
Madison Square Garden, New York, 1931.
We are sure that such meetings will be held again in the United States!
I mean, if you were a general who was setting off to war, and you only had a handful of soldiers to fight against an entire enemy nation, that would be the single most glaring fact in your attention. You wouldn't be spending your time arguing about military strategies or the history of equestrian combat, and you certainly wouldn't be wasting your energy fighting against those who are basically on your side. Front and center of your attention would be the fact that you don't have enough troops to fight this war, and how can you get more.
If you're an architect who's been hired to construct a skyscraper, and your workforce shows up and it's just one guy with a plastic toy hammer, that's going to be the focus of your attention. You're not going to be poring over your blueprints and books on architectural theory and musing about the finer points of foundational integrity, you're going to be trying to figure out how to get more workers to build this damn thing.
So you'd think that would be the case with the western left as well, because we find ourselves in more or less the same kind of situation. But it isn't. To look at the writings of a lot of western leftists you'd think the best way to enact your ideology in the world is to spend your time arguing with other leftists using esoteric Marxist jargon about obscure points that nobody outside your tiny echo chamber knows about or cares about, or to sit back smugly knowing better than everyone else while waiting for the contradictions inherent in capitalism to bring about its demise.
If you look at organizing and demonstrating it's not much better. You've got sparsely attended meetings with increasingly atomized sects, antiwar protests with a handful of people and one banner, and some LARPers dressed in black punching racists and transphobes here and there to make believe they're fighting a real revolution against real power. Which is the same as nothing.
The first and foremost goal of the western left should be to create more western leftists. You don't do that by having all the correct opinions and reading all the correct books and proving yourself the most correct in argument after argument, and you don't do it by waiting for western material conditions to deteriorate like a bunch of fundamentalists awaiting the Rapture. You do it by reaching out to people, winning hearts and minds, showing them that everything they've been taught about their nation and their world is a lie, and showing them that things can be better.
I don't claim to have all the answers on how to address this dilemma, I'm just highlighting a massive, glaring problem that doesn't get the tiniest fraction of the attention that it should get. I address this problem the best way I know how with my own work, but I'm just one person with one mind. I hope to see many more minds pointed at this issue in the future, so that we can all come up with solutions and fix this thing.
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