CounterPunch recently carried a lament for The Silent Death of the American Left. It 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
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
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
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.