Ghastly Jargon: Why I learned to quit caring about who is or isn’t “left”
I have, increasingly, stopped writing about “the left.” This hypostatization is almost meaningless now: the idea of utopia have little pull with most of those who call themselves leftists be they Marxists, primitivists, anarchists, liberals, progressives, or whatever. The arch-liberal jeremiad writer, Chris Hedges, has picked up the a title that one could have attributed to Edmund Burke, “the myth of progress.” Nor can one easily say that there is no left without committing akin to a etymological fallacy: a word means in the current how it is popularly used, and its current context should be that. By “left” is almost an empty signifier like “God” in mentioned in the public square without a coherent theology backing up the reference.
At the end of the day, the political praxis I want does not yet exist and it is my goal to work towards it: I suppose this is always the goal of both the cynical and the idealist, who are two manifestations of the same notion of critique. So I may talk about “the left” as it is, as people use the term, but in reality, the term means little to me.
As such I no longer am particularly worried about political purity tests for this praxis nor do I want to superficially disavow the idea of “Left” like Occupy Wall Street did to create an inclusive moment. Furthermore, despite the relevance of understanding Das Kapital to the current crisis, I also don’t think “Marxist” does the trick either. In the game of family resemblances that is Marxist discourse, we who have been influenced by Marx have never had more influence on academic and activist critique since the 1970s, and yet politically we have never been more utterly irrelevant. In countries with explicitly Marxist parties, no where does “Marxism” or even “Marxist-Leninism” or “Marxist-Leninist-Maoism” really dominate a school of thinking, and while Marxists will never stop disparaging “Liberal concessions to reality” as reactionary, Maoists will make the same arguments for contradictions between theory and praxis in Mao, Stalinists for Stalin, and Trotskyists for early periods of Trotsky’s political development, although Trotsky having been marginalized by Stalin and Trotskyist parties have almost no success historically in leadership have spared them such later hypocrisy in practice.
What I am interested a “left”–or more specifically emancipatory–virtue ethics mixed with a knowledge of material conditions and class relationships in one’s life and the structural critique of various social forms outside of this. By this I mean to acknowledge the tension between collective identity formation and individual agency, and to reduce that tension and the systemic limitations to it. I expect this will continue from the failures of the historical socialist tradition in both social liberties and in acknowledging the structural necessary of systemic blocks in our means of production, social relations, etc. But this can only be based on a clear set of axioms, and understanding a clear set of family resemblances, it cannot be based on any a prior political mystification.
So chattering endlessly about the existences or pure form of the “left” is a waste of time, and now is largely semantic almost to the point of re-defining if a one-eyed monster in Dungeon and Dragons is a cyclops or a beholder: It’s an imagined form now anyway. In the battle to fight the bewitchment of language on the matter, I learned to stop giving a shit about “the left” and to start caring about the political and ethical praxis that let me to be a part of “the left” in the first place.
In this one must abandon hope in order to find it. To all others, I give simple advice: do not care about your political nomenclature so much as having meaning and coherent political axioms in the first place. Incoherent axioms will most likely lead to incoherent results.
Now, gentle readers, I have some poems to write.