Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search

 


Undernews: Whose Left Is It Anyway?

Whose Left Is It Anyway?


By Progressive Review Editor Sam Smith

News that Christopher Hitchens had discovered his inner imperial self was greeted exuberantly by the Washington Post, which gave him Kissingeresque space to lash out at his former comrades on the left.

Coincidentally with proclaiming the Birth of Chris (although so far with no disciples in sight), the paper devoted even more space to a desperate but ultimately futile examination into how anyone could possibly be as morally consistent as Scott Ritter. The Post simply couldn't understand it.

As I read Hitchens' piece, two things came to mind. The first was Elmer Davis' comment about those on the hard left who had taken a hard right turn: it never seemed to occur to them that they might be wrong both times.

The second thought was of a Sunday long ago when one of my sons was being confirmed in the Episcopal Church so he would not later, as my friend Warren Myers once said, miss the exquisite pleasure of losing one's faith. The bishop did his job perfunctorily and then turned towards the altar.

Just a moment, our minister said, "We also have one to be received." The bishop suddenly brightened because those simple words signified true triumph: he was about to grab for his church a former servant of the Pope.

It is one thing to get little boys to pretend for a morning that they understand the Apostles' Creed; quite another for a real Catholic to defect. The editor of the Post Outlook section probably felt the same joy.

I, however, was troubled by a matter that lay beyond Christopher's view on Iraq, arguable as that was.

Once again "the left" was being defined by the habits, opinions, and proclivities of a tiny minority with whom the author had some familiarity. This tendency, predominant among writers at either end of the New York shuttle, is so misleading that it brings into question the other matters being discussed.

In fact, there are a number of lefts.

There is an ideological left centered in New York City, which seems barely aware that the socialist factionalism of the 1930s and 1940s is no longer relevant. If these leftists were baseball announcers, they would spend their time debating the relative virtues of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams rather than describing what was happening on the field. They tend to be tedious, trivial, and anachronistically tendentious. They are also, no matter what Hitchens and the Nation magazine say about it, largely irrelevant.

The intellectual left, in its academic variety at least, has also dried up, similarly a victim of too much discussion of archaic matters that leaves little time for today's work. It is probably not accidental that the best idea to revive black politics that some professors could come up with was the reparations issue; it is just so much more comfortable discussing slavery rather than the mass imprisonment of young black males, housing discrimination or the role of the black soldier in imperial America.

There are exceptions such as Howard Zinn and those medical professors working on national health care. But the campus has been corporatized and specialized like everything else and to the extent that there is a living left, it is one that has yet to graduate.

The institutional left, much of it headquartered in Washington, is largely engaged in sterile, ritualistic reiteration of what were once vibrant mechanisms for hope.

Then there is then what might be called iconographic left, which uses the power of images, sounds and words. It can be as useful as Rage Against the Machine and as stupid as Barbra Streisand. But it is rarely more than the semiotic quartermaster corps of a larger movement.

The most important exception is when the images, sounds, or words serve as a catalyst - a writer offering a new idea, a rock musician catching just the right lyrics, and so forth.

Even at their best, these lefts - ideological, intellectual, institutional, iconographic - represent but a final fraction of what is needed for significant social and political change.

The really important left - the idiomatic, colloquial left of people who never read the Nation, let alone have a column in it - is what really makes things happen.

And unless you happen to be Betty Friedan or Martin Luther King Jr. saying just the right words at just the right moment, the truth is that the left to which Hitchens alludes simply isn't that important.

I have always been far closer to the idiomatic, colloquial left than to the more elite varieties. In fact, I missed much of the conventional 60s because I was working with SNCC and running a newspaper in a community on the edge of riot, and helping to start a progressive third party that would actually elect people to office.

I have never gotten on that well with the Hitchens' former pals in the elite left because I never could find the time to straighten out my paradigm.

It turns out it wasn't all that important anyway, because the people who made the difference were not the famous talkers but the little known doers, ordinary people, who in Conrad's phrase, for one brief moment did something out of the ordinary.

They were people who had not studied Marx and Hegel and couldn't tell a Trotskyite from a troll. But they knew, in Pogo's words, when to "stand on the piano and demand outrage action." These are the people of whom Carl Sandberg wrote:


I am the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of this world is done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. and
then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns. . .

Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then - I forget.
When I, the people, learn to remember, when I, the People
use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget
who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool - then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: "The People", with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far off smile of derision.
The mob - The crowd - The mass - will arrive then.

Consistently, the east coast shuttle left from which Hitchens has departed has been indifferent about, ignorant of, or even in opposition to the issues of the idiomatic, colloquial left.

The people who are changing the way other people think about things are found scattered around the nation. And when some of them came together in the most effective progressive political organization of modern times - the Green Party - they were not only not welcomed into the club, they were frequently excoriated.

And as for the critics of an Iraqi invasion, they are typically just ordinary citizens who have learned without the help of Ramsey Clark to be scared to death of what their leaders are about to do to them.

Hitchens and his ilk will continue to have their little debates, all carefully framed in a manner that excludes most of the people they claim to care about and most of the people who actually produce change. It worked at university and it works now. But it has little to do with either America or the left as it really is.

– SAM SMITH


UNDERNEWS
Oct 22, 2002
From the Progressive Review:
Inside the Beltway, Out of the Loop, Ahead of the Curve
Since 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
Edited by Sam Smith
1312 18th St. NW #502, Washington DC 20036
202-835-0770 Fax: 835-0779
REVIEW E-MAIL:
mailto:news@prorev.com
REVIEW INDEX: http://www.prorev.com/
UNDERNEWS: http://www.prorev.com/indexa.htm
SUBSCRIBE: mailto:prorev-subscribe@topica.com
PROGRESSIVE LINKS: http://prorev.com/links.htm
LATEST POLLS: http://prorev.com/amline2.htm

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops Headlines

 

Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>

ALSO:

Buildup:

Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>

ALSO:

Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>

ALSO:


Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news