Some postulates for the New, New Left(s)
Posted by El Mono Liso
For all those people who despair in the idea that the “Left is dead; Long Live the Left” I want to focus on the second half as so many have solely focused on the first. The question becomes what does a new emancipatory politics look like? Obviously, we see the roots of it spreading out everywhere in the Arab Spring, in #Occupy, in the austerity revolts, in the “return to Marx,” and so forth. In recent debates I have been hosting, I have been trying to sublate various dialectical problematics in a way that is useful as a set of axiomatic guide posts.
The “New, New Left” as I see it needs to be derived from both practice and theory, not practice as opposed from theory nor theory as a opposed from practice, nor should be a theory as the master signifier of practice nor as practice as prime generator of theory. All those binary relationships are false as both practice and theory are produced by ideas emergent from social relations. Practice and theory are mutually co-emerging and should be tested off of each other in the movement. Now, necessarily, the downside to this is 1) we can never know the necessary theory for the future in the current but only in the moment of shifts from the current to the future, and 2) we can have no blue print other than hypothesis and experimentation.
In other words, we are to operate both in a dialectical and scientific matter, but not necessarily in the simple 19th conception of the words. In other words, there can be not complete rupture with the past nor can there be a return to it, there can only be the manifestation, elimination, and sublation of contradictions in the current movement.
This is all too abstract: there can be only praxis as the unity of theory and practiced. To think and to do is important, criticize and to act, to have positive and negative dialectics, to acknowledge the double bind of history and transcend it. In practical terms, this means we avoid trying to slavishly bend “reality” to theory and pretending that action without a theoretical framework is meaningful. Both are co-emergent from social relations.
This is my caveat and methodological assumption. I am done with the obscure phrasing for a moment, let’s get to the postulates:
1) Neither idolize the past nor ignore it. You may see this as the tension between primitivists and futurists or even Marxists and Anarchists. As the cliche goes, those who are ignore the past are destined to repeat it, first as failure, then as farce, then as fossilizing pathology of farce and failure. But those who obsess of the minutiae of the past movement movement are also just as likely to repeat it. A social “movement” is neither a futurist society nor a historical reenactment society, it is informed by both gestures, but must in a sense be neither.
2) The debates between Marxist and Anarchists on the left, whatever their worth, have been wrought out by history. The Marxist no longer has the “right” to say to the anarchist, “Look, We actually won our revolution” because in the tentative “end” all the Marxist politics of the emancipation has been their reversion to capitalist troupes while the anarchists have never had such defeat because they have never suffered the indignity of having to actually deal with maintaining power. The liberal and conservative are not wrong to point out how silly this drive ultimately ends up being. To both, we are socialists and communists both–our division is one of history and of implantation. It is good for Marxists to critique anarchists and anarchists to critique Marxists, but only if those critiques are in good faith and not rooted in recantations of prior polemics which no bearings on the contemporary situation.
3) Criticism should not shut down solidarity nor should criticism of tactics be used as a means for scabbing. Criticism should only be done in solidarity with the goals of a movement. If one does not share such goals, then simple opposition suffices. If one shares such goals, then there must be a limit of criticism to the constructive.
4. One must work from both axioms and empirical data. There is nothing wrong with the subjective if it is acknowledged as such nor is there anything wrong with empirical data on axiomatic goals.
5. Do not confuse tactics and goals–i.e. means and ends. The strict binary of means and ends are artificial as there is a limit to tactics must contain the roots of the goals, but one must not thing that there is no difference between means and ends. The consensus process is not an equitable society, it is the means to an equitable society. The dictatorship of the proletariat was not the end point of communism, it was a transition to the goals of communism. Any revolutionary who becomes merely considered with conserving the revolutionary gains of the past is not only now acting as a reactionary, but also not progressing towards the goal. This has been true for anarchists, communists, and Social Democrats at various times.
6. Do not insist on false unity nor refuse to make concessions with other groups. Even within an event or rupture with the contemporary moment, there will be plurality of ways to respond to it. Not all are legitimate, but it is not merely liberalism to support a variety of differing points of view. IT is a trick of the contemporary moment to say that only its claim to plurality is valid.
7. No theory should be held against the central axiom of one’s politics. One alliance is to the truth and possibility of a different current. That is the guide post. Any idea that holds beyond that is irrelevant.
8.Subjectivity is collectively defined. Words are co-emergent with subjectivity. One cannot change language and change consciousness because consciousness collectively defined creates and reinforces language. This is a feedback loop. Therefore the move should not be save a word–such as “communism” or “anarchism”–but to embody the principles in that word in a way that makes others acknowledge it’s value. When one tries to save a word through external re-definition, the euphemistic phrase is not seen as a signifier for the concept renewed, but a psuedo-signifier for the “real signifier” in which the old definition remains. This is why almost everyone rightfully bristles at “politically correct language,” it has the order of operations exactly backwards.
9. Things tend to be both neither/nor and both/and. Remember this.
10. Desire must be willing to be armed-in the ballot box, on strike, and on the barricades .
11. Never fall to realize that the left of the past has much to say of to the left of the day, but it does not dictate it. Our situation is different because our history is manifested in a different way and our social relationships are different.
This is why I am say, Marxism is a way of thinking, not a set group of answers. In so much as it is the latter, it belongs in the dust bin of history. The point of “The Left is Dead; Long live the left” is not just the left’s death, but also its re-emergence. It’s time to stop mourning the zombie left, and starting seeing where the new one lies. We’re fail more than we’ll succeed at first–in Occupy, during the Arab Spring, etc–but it is now in which a new, new left can be built and defined, and now in which we can built on it false notes or true ones.