As someone who views himself as far to the left of most who would self-describe as liberal, here is my general impression of what’s wrong with the left and a list of things I need to research more to see how far off I am:
1. Internationalism has given way to provincialism: trade unions have no effort to fight for all workers everywhere, or engage in the conflict as one of class, but use the state to accrue special benefits for their small group.
2. Internationalism has given way to isolationism: the left seems to have no backbone or willingness for war, even if it means sticking up for women in Afghanistan or socialist democrats in Iraq or the world’s largest minority without a state (the Kurds) against a religious fundamentalist force that represents the complete antithesis of liberal democratic culture.
3. A lack of internationalism breeds a lack of contextual understanding to issues that affect Americans: the left worries about the U.S. becoming a theocracy (won’t happen) rather than worry about actual theocracies that really exist at this moment.
4. The left worries about the impositions of capitalism while enjoying its benefits, but don’t seem to have much to do or say about workers in other countries where international law is struggling to apply itself and capitalism really is the monster it cannot be in America. And the left places faith in NGOs which seem to only provide a buffer for corporate internationalism and placate local populations (see: NGOs “saving” women from sex work and placing them, instead, in the wonderful garment industry).
5. If the true enemy is globalization, then the war against it would need to be fought globally. Corporations certainly have a sense of how their struggle must be an international one. How does one expect to fight them, except internationally?
6. The American left underestimates the threat of Islamic fascism — a threat which, like corporatism, understands their struggle as an international one, and so they are constantly plotting to take the war to all sides at once while the left continues its self-obsession.
7. Self-obsession born of the narcissism of the small difference: identity politics. The humanism that defined the left from Thomas Paine to Martin Luther King has given way in the 20th and 21 centuries to the idea that we are defined by the most trivial bits of information about us, by parts of us that we had no choice or effort in creating, and parts that have little or nothing to do with existing power relations.
8. The corporate media plays into this narcissism by turning Americans against one another on the basis of these small differences while the real exploitation and oppression in the world, and even in this country, go on unfettered. And while the left might normally be expected on the front lines in speaking out for the underprivileged and speaking up for would-be democracies, they are instead distracted by the false left vs. right dichotomy that corporate medial revels in and profits from.
The idea that the left has lost its way over the course of the 20th century, and now into the 21st, is not a new one. I would like to understand it to in order to know how and why it happened, and what we can do to reestablish the old tradition of internationalism, humanism, and democracy.