The article is full of insight with respect to the limitations of the Left in the United States. It maintains that the Left is oriented to speaking truth to power, rather than speaking truth to the powerless, and organizing them in order to isolate the Right..
The article identifies the Left’s fragmentation. It maintains that the Left “lacks any recognizable center . . . . It appears in and around the Democratic Party in unconnected, isolated circumstances, fragments of the population.”
And the article notes that the Left today is disconnected from the struggles of the past. “Not only are the fragments disconnected from one another, they also suffer from isolation from the previous generation, which in turn had lost touch with its own predecessor.” I would elaborate: The Left today has not sufficiently reflected on the popular movements of the 1960s, analyzing their successes and failures, discerning lessons for today. The Left of the 1960s, however, was not disconnected from its past in the same way; rather, it defined itself as a New Left, deliberately rejecting the thinking and strategies of the generation of the Left that came of age during the Great Depression, the Second World War, and the birth of the Cold War. I view the disconnection of the Left today from its past as a dimension of the more general problem of the lack of historical consciousness of much of today’s Left.
Young maintains that the Left has a self-righteous attitude, giving rise to a focus on language as an indicator of membership in the club, rather than giving priority to the development of effective organizing strategies.
Those radicalized, upon discovering the harsh limits to advancement for their particular demographic, expect everyone else to join their fight. Justified grievances become moral tests. Groups form protective subcultures that grow ever more enclosed and self-referential, and self-righteous in their approach to the rest of society. Club rules take precedence over politics. Language and etiquette become more important than working out effective strategies and organizing skills. Wagons are circled against transgressions that are seen as outright attacks, or more precisely, sins.
For Young, what is going on here is not the sectarianism that has periodically plagued the Left. Rather, it is “a cultural phenomenon that is part of the quest for safe spaces by newly radicalized individuals with no political home to call their own.” Although it is understandable that people will search for safe spaces, it has dysfunctional consequences when it becomes a substitute for organizing and effective political action.
This search for an island of solidarity and safety actually defines the Left. The Left lacks a “vision.” Although most identify with socialism, there is little understanding of socialist history or theory. . . . Radicals more often seek solace than power. In their own grooves, they comfort each other and lash out at critics. They pride themselves for moral superiority over the rulers, and will even stand in judgment over those who are ruled. They create a setting where affinity of a few is substituted for mass political action (taken not by thousands, but millions) as the engine of social change.
Young maintains that the Left must form a united front against capitalism. I, however, would like to express differently what the Left must do: we must form a popular coalition in opposition to the neocolonial world-system.
In renaming the system against which we must struggle as a “neocolonial world-system,” I am taking the vantage point of the majority of the peoples in the world, who have experienced modern capitalism as an economic system imposed by European colonial domination, and who experience domination and superexploitation through global economic, political and cultural structures that evolved during the twentieth century to a neocolonial world-system. The neocolonized peoples of the world perceive the systemic enemy today as both capitalism and colonialism, such that Third World revolutionary movements struggle against both class exploitation and imperialism and for both socialism and true national sovereignty; they seek a world in which the people control the governments, the governments protect the social and economic rights of the people, and the international system respects the sovereign equality of all nations.
Why should Third World revolutionary movements matter to the popular movements of the North? In part, it is a question of appreciating that wisdom emerges from the oppressed and that social scientific knowledge is developed on a foundation of encounter with movements from below, as Marx implicitly understood. A global and integral social scientific knowledge, based in encounter with the movements of the neocolonized, would enable us to understand (1) how colonial structures promoted the underdevelopment of some regions of the world and the development of others; and (2) how some nations of the North, for a brief period, were able to provide a relatively high standard of living to a good part of the people, through the exploitation of the natural and human resources of other lands, supplemented by government deficit spending. And it would enable us to understand that the conditions that made possible concessions to the popular classes of the North and to the governments of the South are no longer present, thus pushing the global elite toward a rollback of these concessions; and that the neocolonial world-system is no longer sustainable, because it has reached the geographical and ecological limits of the earth, and because the neocolonized peoples of the planet are in movement in opposition to it.
We in the North must develop structures of popular education in order to de-legitimate the ideological distortions of the corporate elite, their political representatives, and the Right; and we must develop such popular education on a solid foundation of integral historical social science. Through such structures of popular education, we must seek to explain to the people that the neocolonial world-system has reached and overextended its limits, and that is why the global elite has abandoned the popular classes in the nations of the North. If we can effectively teach our people these fundamental historical facts, they would have the foundation for taking effective political action on their own behalf, led by charismatic leaders whom they have lifted up, precisely for their clear articulation of these fundamental facts, as well as for their commitment to a more just world order. Our people already understand that the global elite has never cared about them nor the peoples of the Third World, so when they understand the global dynamics that have led to systemic global crisis, they certainly will be able to grasp that the global elite has responded to the crisis in amoral ways that have ignored the rights and needs of the peoples of both the global North and global South, have violated the sovereignty of nations, have damaged eco-systems of the planet, and threaten the survival of the human species, all in defense of its particular interests. With such popular consciousness, the people would understand the need to mobilize for the taking of political power, so that power can be placed in the hands of delegates of the people, who are from the people and are committed to the defense of the people and the earth.
When I say “popular coalition,” I mean to imply two things. First, the revolution is formed by all sectors of the people, and its leadership can come from any and all sectors. In today’s conditions, there is no reason to give emphasis to the working class, as did Marx, Lenin and Trotsky; nor to blacks, Latinos, indigenous persons or women, as does today’s identity politics. All of us have a common interest in the establishment of a government that develops domestic and international policies that are faithful to universal human values, regardless of the sector of the people to which we belong. If the emerging revolution is to succeed, all of the people will be invited to the party, and leaders from all sectors will be lifted up by the people, in accordance with their gifts and commitment.
Secondly, when I use the phrase “popular coalition,” I intend to emphasize that the people of the United States are diverse; we are many peoples who also must form one people. So we must unite in ways that do not deny our diversity, that is to say, we form a coalition, a popular coalition.
The people have said of the Left that we are idealistic, and they are right. We are naïve, for example, when we propose peace without recognizing the short-term benefits of wars of aggression against recalcitrant Third World nations, given U.S. economic dependence on a permanent war economy and on the exploitation of the natural and human resources of the planet. Often, we are hoping for peace, but we expect to maintain the material advantages that war and conquest have brought us. And the people discern our naiveté. The people are more connected to their concrete needs, and they want to protect what the nation has won through conquest or through its positioning itself to benefit from wars of conquest undertaken by other nations.
We must win the confidence of the people by demonstrating that we understand how the world-system works. We must explain to our people that the system of war and exploitation is no longer sustainable, and that we are capable of forging of world of peace and material security through cooperation with the peoples of the world, who have been organizing themselves in a revitalized form for the past twenty years, organizing not against us, but for a more just, democratic and sustainable world-system. We must demonstrate to our people that we understand the sources of the denial of their rights, and that we know how to address them; that the elite does not know how to respond to the sustained global crisis, because it has looked at it only from the vantage point of its own short-term interests; that we know how to respond, because we have looked at the world-system from the vantage point of universal human values and the needs of the people; and that we could lead the nation toward the development of a more just and sustainable world-system, in cooperation with other nations, if we were to have the support of the people. We must convince our people that we have an understanding that is rooted in commitment to the people and that is capable of responding to the challenges that humanity confronts. We must ask our people for their support in an alternative project to save humanity. And even though we are convinced that we are right, we must be patient with the people, for they have been victimized by ideological distortions, as many of us have been. We must not shout, but patiently explain.
Young hopes that the Left will be able to build itself as a political force. Its form will likely be determined by “the ways social movement activists move towards serious politics working through existing institutions.” The difficulty here is that movement activists do not do enough intellectual work, through which they could obtain insights from revolutions in history, from historic and present-day revolutions in the Third World, and from the speeches and writings of revolutionary charismatic leaders. The Left in the United States is not only ahistorical, un-theoretical, fragmented, self-righteous, orientated to finding safe spaces of solace, and given to self-expression rather than reflection on effective political strategies, as Young maintains; it also is Eurocentric, examining mostly developments in the North, and not giving sufficient attention to what can be learned through encounter with the renewed Third World movements of national and social liberation.
For further reflections on the meaning of socialism and on the possibilities for socialist revolution in the United States, based on observation of and encounter with Third World movements, please see previous posts: “A just, democratic & sustainable world-system” 1/12/2016; “The twelve practices of socialism” 1/14/2016; “Popular democratic socialist revolution” 1/15/2016; and “A socialist revolution in the USA” 2/1/2016.