More Radical Than Thou

opensource.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)

opensource.com (CC BY-SA 2.0)

JMP writes at M-L-M Mayhem!:

Due to the upcoming provincial elections in Ontario, I have again found myself reflecting on something that has become a common theme, either explicitly or implicitly, of this blog in the past few months: the default social democratic and/or opportunist consciousness of the self-proclaimed left in Canada and the United States.  Generally, I have been concerned with that gap between theory and practice where on one hand, anti-capitalists will proclaim that capitalism must be superseded but, on the other hand, will focus most of their energy in building social democratic coalitions and organizations.  And though I have tried to qualify my critique by pointing out that leftists should be prepared to support initiatives that defend social democratic rights, but must do so in a principled manner, I have still found that even this nuanced perspective is met with hostility by self-proclaimed anti-capitalists who should know better.

In this context of excavating the opportunistic consciousness that seems pre-programmed amongst large sectors of the North American left (and please note that I also hold myself guilty of often possessing this consciousness), I have also encountered two troubling ideological trends.  The first is the tendency to attack any principled anti-capitalist critique of practice as “sectarian” and/or “dogmatic”: this tendency speaks, ironically, to an unquestioned dogmatism (that I briefly described here); it also conflates the categories of sectarianism and political commitment, a category mistake that the revolutionaries of yesterday––those committed communists who coined the concept of leftwing sectarianism––rarely made.  The second trend, of which today’s post is concerned, is the tendency to proclaim the most radical position in speech and theory, and to use this theoretical position to critique other progressive organizations and initiatives, but to continue to practice the same social democratic approach to activism when it comes to actual practice.

There are multiple groups and activists who have nothing but criticism and scorn to expend on other groups and activists.  A “more radical than thou” discourse has emerged amongst the left that is self-righteous and often terribly destructive to organizing.  A group or individual will write a devastating critique of another group or coalition, mobilizing all the proper radical language of feminism, anti-racism, etc., thus disparaging organizational activities that aren’t up to par with some Platonic notion of an advanced revolutionary consciousness.

I am not arguing that feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, etc., critiques should not be made––if that was the case, then this post would be in contradiction with the majority of the blog––but rather that sometimes the way in which this language is often used: a) demonstrates a self-righteous dismissal of all activism; b) ultimately represents political hypocrisy.  After all, I think that a principled political position must be willing to question itself, to confront the problems in the movement, and to grow through a process of ideological intervention alongside radical practice.  But just as dogmato-revisionist groups spend all their time working on correct slogans and hoping that the “stupid masses” will just figure things out and join them, being principled can often lead to a political puritanism that––even amongst the supposedly non-dogmatic left––leads to another type of sectarianism and political paralysis.

Read more here.

  • Tchoutoye

    Anyone who thinks that the Left is going through a self-righteous and destructive “more radical than thou” phase right now obviously hasn’t lived through the ideological battles of the 1970s and early 1980s.

    Left wing infighting is all rather moot though, the only force that can defeat capitalism is capitalism itself. The question is, will it do so before or after taking the planet’s complete ecosystem down with it?

  • Mr B

    ‘I am not arguing that feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, etc., critiques should not be made…’ http://i.ytimg.com/vi/6wN78_E4AAs/maxresdefault.jpg “Curiously, we routinely are.”

  • Simon Valentine

    [sic]
    [money]
    [attitude]
    [character]
    [value]
    [x]

    what’s the difference?
    traingles and tetrahedron?