Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The Death Spiral Of Futile Leftism

Posted by Phoenix Woman on June 24, 2013

This is a few months old, but it resonates strongly with me:

The biggest challenge facing the left or any minority movement is convincing people to spend their time, energy, and other resources working with them. Most people, especially those people you should want to attract to your side, do not want to waste their time doing things that will achieve nothing. It is hard enough convincing someone that a minority movement can win, but that difficulty is compounded many times over when the movement itself is full of the type of people who do not actually care about winning. A person who remarks that they do not want to get involved because it looks like a bunch of self-congratulating actions that never lead to anything has a totally accurate assessment of the state of things.

What you get when the futile purity cultists take hold is a death spiral of increasing incompetence and futility. Those interested in futile nonsense are basically the only people attracted to thing: so their numbers hold steady or swell. Those opposed to futile nonsense flood out or never join to begin with. Futile leftism just begets more futile leftism because anyone halfway sensible would never bother to waste their time with it.

Let’s go back to something Professor Richard Wolff said over two years ago:

Organisation is what the US left lacks. Not issues, not members, not a wide public audience: the US left now has all of them in abundance. Indeed, the economic crisis that exploded in 2008 – now becoming a social crisis because the “recovery” bypassed the majority that needed it most – has only enhanced that abundance. Yet, a deeply rooted and continuously nurtured aversion to unified organisation undermines the US left’s social influence and collective action at every turn. The decline of past left organisations – the socialist and communist parties, student groups such as SDS, SNCC, major segments of organised labor – has fostered a sense of the futility of organisation. The demonisation of those and other left organisations, by liberal as well as conservative voices, renders individual left thought and action sometimes acceptable but collective criticism and activity always deeply suspect.

Or what he said more recently:

In contrast, US history after 1945 displays a relentlessly effective destruction of those organizations whose alliance had forced the New Deal on the Roosevelt government. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the socialist and communist parties had then articulated a powerful opposition to austerity intertwined with serious anti-capitalism. Their opposition to austerity was successful. Very high taxes were imposed on corporations and the rich to pay for a major expansion of social welfare for the masses (social security, unemployment compensation, and a huge federal jobs program). The contrast between FDR’s expansive response to a collapse of the capitalist economy then and those of Bush and Obama now could not be starker. What the labor-left alliance of the 1930s failed to achieve, however, was any change at the micro-level of the capitalist system. Major shareholders and their boards of directors remained in full command and control of capitalist enterprises.


Thus, US opposition to austerity and capitalism since 2009 differed from European oppositions. The US left had been systematically disorganized, demonized as traitorous, and fragmented. To survive, those who did not abandon their previous political commitments altogether splintered into single-issue social movements (against racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental degradation, etc.). Many sought refuges in more or less safe social enclaves such as the academy, religious institutions, and the arts. When large demonstrations occurred they focused on single issues, minimized or excluded direct criticisms of capitalism, and marginalized or excluded advocacy of alternative economic systems.

For half a century, the capitalist system in the US enjoyed a free pass from the kinds of debates and criticisms that other systems in the US experienced. The educational, medical insurance, transportation, energy, and other systems comprising US society had hardly been damaged by those debates and criticisms. Indeed such debates and criticisms are widely believed to be signs of social health, indispensable to the improvement of those systems. In contrast, criticism and debate over capitalism as a system were considered taboo and replaced by celebration and cheerleading. Protection from criticism and debate enabled capitalism to indulge its darkest tendencies (deepening inequality, speculation, cronyism, corruption, etc.). Any component system within any society rots when kept immune from criticism and debate.


The same culture produced a left that is chronically disorganized (a condition often repackaged as anti-authoritarianism to disguise its impotence). It also produced a long left hibernation in a few safe social enclaves mentioned above. These afflictions rendered the left ill-equipped to recognize, let alone mobilize or lead, the US population’s increasing alienation from its economic and political leaders and institutions.

That is all.


2 Responses to “The Death Spiral Of Futile Leftism”

  1. Charles II said

    When Occupy could not come up with any organizing principles, much less a mission statement, it was clear that it was doomed to be of short-lived consequence. They did create a good decision-making technique, relying on consensus, that was effective for short-term goals. But…sad.

    • If you want real blathering, watch pretty much any speech made by Louis Gohmert or Jim Inhofe. :-)

      As for Occupy, its main service in 2011 through 2012 was to shut up the austerity junkies among the elites. Up to the fall of 2011, the let’s-keep-cutting-taxes-on-the-rich-and-services-for-everyone-else crowd dominated the corporate-controlled public discourse in the US. Occupy made it possible and even fashionable to notice things like income inequality and how the 1% have got richer even as the 99% of us have for the most part got poorer.

      That being said, its current work — that of Occupy Sandy — is probably the most concretely useful right now, and precisely because it’s efficiently and effectively organized. The NYC contingent had learned from its mistakes (many of which were the result of letting glibertarians of the Reason sort get things bogged down with endless debates) and the core that survived the efforts to suppress it and the internal bickering was ready, willing and able to hit the ground running as Sandy churned towards New York and New Jersey.

      Because of this organization, the Occupy Sandy folk — people who in many cases had been arrested at the Zuccotti Park encampments less than a year earlier — became and still are trusted and valued allies of their local communities.

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