The American Revolution was consolidated as a bourgeois revolution, in spite of ample popular participation and local control of the revolution by the popular sectors during the two years immediately prior to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The reestablishment of bourgeois control of the American Revolution, symbolized by the Constitution of 1787, meant that political and economic structures of the nation would serve elite interests, and ideological justifications of the political-economic system would emerge (see “The US popular movement of 1775-77” 11/1/13; “American counterrevolution, 1777-87” 11/4/13; “Balance of power” 11/5/13).
As the new nation experienced a spectacular ascent in the world-economy for the next two centuries (see “Slavery, development, and US ascent” 8/30/2013; “Cotton” 9/9 2013; “The military-industrial complex” 8/29/2013), the dominant narrative portrayed it as a land of opportunity, obscuring the fact that its economic development was based on: a lucrative trading relation with slaveholders in the Caribbean and the U.S. South; a territorial expansion through conquest of indigenous nations and Mexico; and imperialist penetration of the Latin American republics. The narrative effectively denied the role of slavery, colonialism and neocolonialism in providing economic opportunities for European settlers and migrants and their descendants in North America. Popular movements formed by workers, farmers, African Americans, women, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans challenged the dominant narrative, but they were successful only in forcing political and ideological adjustments, and not in constructing an alternative narrative that would comprehensively understand the global structural sources of the U.S. ascent and provide a more progressive and democratic alternative.
During the last 150 years, cultural structures have emerged that have facilitated the continued obscurity of the bourgeois and colonial character of the U.S republic. The bureaucratization of the university fragmented knowledge into the disciplines of philosophy, history, economics, political science, sociology and anthropology, preventing the emergence of a universal philosophical historical social science capable of grasping the essential character of the nation. At the same time, the development of a consumer society facilitated individualism, materialism, and ahistorical and a-theoretical popular consciousness.
The U.S. Left has been victimized by these dynamics, rendering it incapable of responding to the crisis of the world-system in a form that could lead the people in the development of a more democratic nation with a commitment to international solidarity. Seven errors of the Left have contributed to its incapacity to offer to the people a scientifically-informed and politically-effective alternative.
(1) Subtle Eurocentrism. For the most party the U.S. Left has not studied revolutions of the Third World and the speeches and writings of Third World charismatic leaders and intellectuals. It thus does not understand the historic development of the fundamental structures of domination of the neocolonial world-system, so clearly understood from the vantage point of the colonized and neocolonized. This blindness leaves the Left confused about the world, unable to discern meaning in human history (as Marx did); or to grasp the necessary strategies for political action (as did Lenin). Its commentaries are ahistorical, a-theoretical and superficial, not having explanatory power.
(2) Protesting and protesting. The Left is oriented to protesting, to speaking truth to power, rather than seeking to take power, so that control of the state could be used to transform society in accordance with the needs and interests of the people. It shouts slogans, persuading no one; and it disdains explaining to the people the necessity and the possibility of taking power.
The ahistorical, a-theoretical, and vocal Left likely will be visible in abundance in the United States with the taking of power by Trump and his team. The Trump team will behave badly, and the Left will shout disapproval. But the Left is not able to offer an historically informed and practical alternative that makes sense to the people.
(3) Tendencies to post-modernism and post-structuralism. The Left discerns that knowledge is rooted in social position. But it incorrectly moves from this insight to a rejection of grand narratives and of any hope for universal knowledge. It disdains any effort to find meaning in human history and in the history of each nation.
As a result, the Left does not discern the possibility of formulating a universal understanding on the foundation of personal encounter with persons of different horizons. Seeing all understanding as partial and interested, the Left is not aware that there are persons driven by a desire to understand and not by defense of particular interests, and that from such commitment to understanding, universal knowledge emerges. It does not see that, in other lands, the formulation of universal knowledge and universal values has been the foundation of movements and revolutions dedicated to the emancipation of the people.
Similarly, the Left views nations and states as social fictions, not recognizing that the nation, although a social construction, fosters real emotions among the people; nor seeing that the state is a principal actor in the world-system. Disdaining all efforts to define the nation-state as a major actor in a world-historical narrative, the Left forfeits any possibility of leading the people toward the taking of political power in order that it can act in defense of the people, transforming states that promote and defend bourgeois and corporate interests.
(4) Romanticizing the people. The Left does not know the strengths and limitations of the people. Although the people possess a dignity that enables them to persist in daily personal struggles to attain their human needs, the people cannot figure out for themselves what needs to be done to protect their rights and to provide for their needs. They must be led to an understanding of the necessary road by a vanguard, which comes from the people and which possesses the personal, intellectual and moral qualities that enable it to discern what must be done. The people are capable of recognizing the correct road when it is formulated by their leaders, and they are capable heroic sacrifice in defense of the necessary road.
(5) Subtle anti-intellectualism. The vanguard is formed by charismatic leaders with exceptional capacities to understand, whose consciousness was formed by reading the writings of intellectuals that were driven by a desire to understand and to defend social justice. But the Left does not appreciate the necessary role of intellectual work in the formation of the leaders of the people.
(6) Localism. Having lost faith in the capacity of national projects to attain the emancipation of the people, the Left celebrates local projects, such as cooperatives and alternative communities. These are good things to do, but by themselves, they will not be enough.
(7) Cynicism. The Left tends to believe that revolutionary leaders betray the revolution and the people when the people have brought them to power. The Left comes to this conclusion quickly, without analyzing the complex situations that triumphant revolutions confront, including the opposition of national and international elites as well as global structural patterns that reinforce the dependency of the nation and the poverty of the people.
In periods prior to the popular revolutions of the last 200 years, similar kinds of confusions abounded. But charismatic leaders emerged, drawing upon the insights of intellectuals, to lead the people toward that unity of thought and action necessary for social transformation. In the present situation of generalized confusion among the people, intellectuals of the United States ought to engage in sustained encounter with the revolutions of the Third World, seeking to establish the intellectual conditions that would make possible the emergence of charismatic leaders in the nation.
On the basis of such encounter, the Left would be able arrive to understand that it must form an alternative political party, capable of explaining to the people the necessary steps. The alternative political party would develop in the context of representative democracy, but it would be unlike other parties, because it would be oriented to the education and organization of the people, generating pamphlets and organizing people’s schools. The leaders of the new party would model an alternative and more genuine form of political leadership. The alternative political party would be preparing itself for the taking of power, a process that likely would be pushed forward by the inability of the power elite to respond to the contradictions of the neocolonial world-system.
For more reflection on an alternative political party, see “Popular democratic socialist revolution” 1/15/2016 and “A socialist revolution in the USA” 2/1/2016 in the category Revolution as well as the concluding paragraph of “The infantile disorder of the Left” 12/19/2016.