Wednesday, June 05, 2013

An Obituary for the Left

CounterPunch recently carried a lament for The Silent Death of the American LeftIt offers useful insights for the gristled remnant of Canada's once proud political Left that has now fallen happy victim to the black hole of political compression, the flaccid centrism that afflicts us today.   The question stands for us as well - is there really a Left movement in Canada any longer?

There is, of course, a Left ideology, a Left of the mind, a Left of theory and critique. But is there a Left movement?

Does the Left exist as an oppositional political, cultural or economic force? Is anyone intimidated or restrained by the Left? Is there a counterforce to the grinding machinery neoliberal capitalism and its political managers?

Instead the Left seems powerless to coalesce, to translate critique into practice, to mobilize against wars, to resist incursions against basic civil liberties, powerless to confront rule by the bondholders and hedgefunders, unable to meaningfully obstruct the cutting edge of a parasitical economic system that glorifies greed while preying on the weakest and most destitute, and incapable of confronting the true legacy of the man they put their trust in.

This is the politics of exhaustion. We have become a generation of leftovers. We have reached a moment of historical failure that would make even Nietzsche shudder.

We stand on the margins, political exiles in our own country, in a kind of mute darkness, a political occlusion, increasingly obsessed, as the radical art historian Tim Clark put it a few years ago in a disturbing essay in New Left Review, with the tragedy of our own defeat.

Consider this. Two-thirds of the American electorate oppose the ongoing war in Afghanistan. An equal amount objected to intervention in Libya. Even more recoil at the grim prospect of entering the Syrian theater.
Yet there is no antiwar movement to translate that seething disillusionment into action. There are no mass demonstrations. No systematic efforts to obstruct military recruiting. No nationwide strikes. No campus walkouts. No serious divestment campaigns against companies involved in drone technology.

Similar popular disgust is evident regarding the imposition of stern austerity measures during a prolonged and enervating recession. But once again this smoldering outrage has no political outlet in the current political climate, where both parties have fully embraced the savage bottom line math of neoliberalism.

Homelessness, rampant across America, is a verboten topic, unmentioned in the press, absent from political discourse. Hunger, a deepening crisis in rural and urban America, is a taboo subject, something left to religious pray-to-eat charities or the fickle whims of corporate write-offs.

The environment is unraveling, thread by thread, right before our eyes. Each day brings more dire news. Amphibians are in stark decline across North America. Storms of unimaginable ferocity are strafing the Great Plains week after week. The Arctic will soon be ice-free. The water table is plummeting in the world’s greatest aquifer. The air is carcinogenic in dozens of California cities. The spotted owl is still going extinct. Wolves are beginning gunned down by the hundreds across the Rocky Mountains. Bees, the great pollinators, are disappearing coast-to-coast, wiped out by chemical agriculture. Hurricane season now lasts from May to December. 
And about all the environmental movement can offer in resistance are a few designer protests against a pipeline which is already a fait accompli.

Our politics has gone sociopathic and liberals in America have been pliant to every abuse, marinated in the toxic silt of Obama’s mordant rhetoric. They eagerly swallow every placebo policy Obama serves them, dutifully defending every incursion against fundamental rights. And each betrayal only serves to make his adoring retinue crave his smile; his occasional glance and nod all the more urgently. Still others on the dogmatic Left circle endlessly, like characters consigned to their eternal roles by Dante, in the ideological cul-de-sac of identity politics.

How much will we stomach before rising up? A fabricated war, a looted economy, a scalded atmosphere, a despoiled gulf, the loss of habeas corpus, the assassination of American citizens…

One looks in vain across this vast landscape of despair for even the dimmest flickers of real rebellion and popular mutiny, as if surveying a nation of somnambulists.

We remain strangely impassive in the face of our own extinction.


Kirbycairo said...

We used to rely on the young to foster passionate dissent but everywhere I look i see youth that has given up on change. My two older kids are both far left on the political scale (as are many of their friends) but they are not at all politically active. It is, I think, what Peter Sloterdijk (in his book Critique of Cynical Reason) referred to as "enlightened false consciousness." It is the state of knowing things are terribly wrong but believing that resistance is futile.

Owen Gray said...

Chris Hedges makes the same argument, Mound. A "generation of leftovers" is an apt -- and very sad -- phrase.

The Mound of Sound said...

I agree, Kirby. My own (25 and 30) seem, at best, apathetic. This I find particularly remarkable given that it is they and the children they will eventually beget who will have to live with the consequences of their complacency.

Is this a pre-revolutionary condition? Instead of working for change, demanding reform, within the existing order, they lay dormant until something snaps, triggering chaos out of which some successive order, not necessarily benign either, emerges.

The Mound of Sound said...

I have a personal sense of loss, Owen. As a lifelong, left-leaning Liberal, it was disheartening to watch the last embers of progressivism extinguished in the party's shift to the centre-right. Yet who would have imagined even 10-years ago that the New Democrats would take the same path?

The New Dems have fallen silent on the fight against inequality of all forms, the need to break the stranglehold of our corporate media cartel that undermines our democratic freedoms, the need to dismantle corporatism's hold on our Petro-Parliament.

Look at how many of our fellow bloggers proclaim themselves progressives and yet support parties that plainly aren't.

Anonymous said...

When was there a left in Canada? Why do clapped out boomers blame others for what they created? Why do old men confuse their impending end with the end of the world?

The Mound of Sound said...

Valid questions, Anon. You need to find the answers to them but that's something best done on your own. Try reading and learning about your country's history and the role the Left played in that.

Anyong said...

It's the death of the liberal class which began after the second world war.

Anyong said...

It's the death of the liberal class which began after the second world war.

thwap said...

It's not the young. It's everyone.

I've tried to get people my age and older to try something besides ceremonial protests and online bitching.

For 20 years, the left-wing brain-trust has just stared stupidly at me.

Fuck it all.

Kirbycairo said...

You know Mound, speaking of a "pre-revolutionary period," in the lead up to the revolutionary period in Europe (the one beginning in 1789) things were getting very bad for the working-class and the super-elite in Europe were making a big show of flaunting their wealth, particularly with larger homes and carriages. Meanwhile many working-class groups were so busy trying to keep their heads above water that there was surprisingly little radical consciousness. The back-ground radical ideas of thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau were very slowly seeping into people's minds and they exploded when the Bastille was taken and people woke up to the possibility of change. I wonder if we are seeing a repeating pattern?

Anonymous said...

To find the the root cause, just follow the money.
That money is used to manipulate and brainwash populace especially in US, Canada and to a lesser degree UK.
Most high ranking politicians are just "front men."

The Mound of Sound said...

Anyong, I don't know how you did it but I cannot delete your 1:04 comment.

Thwap, yes I know what you mean because I was, perhaps still am, one of them. I think we will still mobilize to oppose the Northern Gateway when Christy Clark folds but in terms of the seismic sort of change we need that's symbolic.

Kirby we might be entering a pre-revolutionary period but what's unclear is how protracted that might be. These things need a certain momentum to be able to continue through the inevitable set backs.

Lorne said...

Despite what Thwap says, Mound, about older people, I can't help but feel that part of the problem lies in the corporatisation of the media. When we were young, there seemed to be a much more aggressive and free press that was able to disseminate the discontent that was percolating in society. That freedom gave rise to a very informed population that was emboldened to mobilize, demonstrate and organize.

Even as we approach the finish line, the context that we have, thanks to our years, places a special responsibility on us to continue fighting the good fight, no matter how futile that battle may seem today.

Anonymous said...

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over-
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

The Mound of Sound said...

Lorne, the corporate media cartel plays an instrumental role in building public apathy. There was a time, certainly through the 70s and into the 80s, when Canadians understood that a very broadly held mass media was key to ensuring the public access to the broadest range of information and opinion, itself the cornerstone of an informed electorate and a viable democracy. We recognized that concentration of ownership and excessive media cross-ownership imperiled these objectives and undermined democracy.

What do we have now, three or four major media organizations that speak to Canadians through a very narrow window in the political spectrum?

This has been fundamental to the media's transformation from political watchdog into political lap dog. It has also resulted in a media less concerned with information than with selling messaging.

Now, Lorne, ask yourself this. Which parties are committed to reversing this? The New Democrats? No. The Liberals? Hardly. Only the Green Party has this as a core element of their platform. What does that say for the state of Canadian democracy in the era of the Petro-Parliament?

Anyong said...

I know MOS, I tried to delete it as well but couldn't. Sorry about the blank.

Anyong said...

Loren: There's a move afoot to get rid of CBC in this country as well. There appeared a peace by a journalist in a local Alberta paper where the writer was complaining about the Senate Doings in support of Wild Rose and then went on to say we need to get rid of the CBC. Wasn't it the CBC that broke the Senate affair? How pudding headed is that? A bit of an aside...last evening on CBC's Ideas broadcast, a very interesting debate took place....Be it resolved: Should the rich be taxed more? That's the resolution at this spring's Munk Debate. Featured are Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist, Nobel Prize winner, and global authority on economic inequality; George Papandreou, the current President of the Socialist International and the past Prime Minister of Greece; Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and presidential candidate; and Arthur Laffer, economic adviser to President Regan. The debate took place in Toronto at Roy Thompson Hall on May 30th. The debate was moderated by Rudyard Griffiths. Give it a listen. Cheers