Splintered under the righteousness of our own views is “Divide & Conquer” 101
This isn’t another “Left Unity NOW!” post, I promise you. I don’t want all of us to coalesce behind some candidate who makes us feel good because s/he looks good and sounds good. I’m not saying that we should put aside our differences to defeat the Big, Bad Trump or the Scary GOP. I’m saying that we should embrace our differences, and find the common ground we have within those differences, because we need to find an actual direction. Every issue is important, but we can’t make any issue important until we realize that no single issue is more important than another. They ALL deserve attention, and we can fight for ALL of these issues at the same time.
I see it all the time. As a member of many different social media groups focused on growing the Progressive Movement in the United States (and the world), I see it everywhere. Constant bickering and arguing over minutia and irrelevant details that can all be ironed out later. Failure to grasp core concepts as a focal point and instead arguing over .25% of revenue or using wildly spun statistics as “proof” without the benefit of critical thinking.
Or, even worse, identity politics, which should be an effective tool in building support for The Left, instead gets wielded as a weapon against allies of The Left, and they become more damaging than the systemic racist/sexist/genderphobic/etc policies that we oppose.
Nobody can agree on anything, and usually “discussions” devolve into name-calling and personal attacks. Or someone is backed into a corner and brings up some other point wholly unrelated to the current topic. Or appeals to authority – so and so says such and such about this and this – rather than using actual researched factual data. The logical fallacies abound.
This is just The Left that I’m talking about (“The Left” is used loosely here because, as we already know, there are plenty of people who claim to be The Left who are really just centrist corporatist shills, or shills for those who shill themselves to corporations). And these arguments are why The Left keeps losing.
There are plenty of other reasons why The Left keeps losing – one example among many would be the “allies” that align themselves with Progressive values on the campaign trail and then pivot Center, or even Right once their seat of power has been gained. But when it comes to getting power into the hands of the People, which is the true goal of The Left – or it should be, anyway, in my opinion – we just can’t seem to agree on how to do that.
As a quick aside, here: it is worth noting that I do not include the aforementioned NeoLiberal Centrist Corporate Shills when I talk about The Left, but it is equally as important to note that those Centrist NeoLiberals are a symptom of the splintering of The Left. A NeoLiberal attempts to compromise their way into office, trying to please everybody on The Left as well as making concessions to The Right on certain things, all the while propping up The Center, which, contrary to popular rhetoric, does not represent the bulk of US citizens. Look at polling data if you disagree with that – by and large, Progressive populist agendas and policies are extraordinarily well-liked by both The Right and The Left.
But, here’s the worst part about it – for all of The Left’s honest (and somewhat accurate) criticism of The Right, we fail miserably at self-criticism, and react brashly to receiving any sort of criticism from others. We are so god damn convinced that we have it all figured out and everything would be fine if these idiots would just shut up and listen that we forget to do that very thing ourselves.
And, to top that off, The Left will criticize The Right all day long, putting ourselves on a “higher moral ground” than The Right, believing that we are somehow better than they are, and we’ll do this while we keep losing!!! It’s like saying “Well, we lost the Super Bowl, but we didn’t get as any penalties like the other team, so we’re the better players”. Nice thought, I guess, but doesn’t really matter in the end, does it?
But that leads to a very important question – How come The Right doesn’t argue like this? How come they can come together when it matters and win the Big Show?
And the answer to that makes The Left just that much more pathetic – The Right does argue like this. They don’t always come together. They don’t always agree on everything.
But they can get beyond that and make the big push when it counts. And that’s because, regardless of how it has to happen, they have a common goal in mind – drinking Liberal tears.
Ok, a bit dramatic, I agree, but the point is valid. Conservatives believe that as long as a Conservative – any Conservative – is holding public office – any office – things will be better for them than things would be if a Liberal or a Progressive is in office (there is a huge difference between Liberal and Progressive, but that’s a debate for another time). And they believe this is true even when they disagree with the candidate on any number of issues. I personally can spout off 15 different reasons why that isn’t true just off the top of my head right now, but when I do…
That’s when the infighting starts. And it happens all the time in much this way – Conservative says something, I respond, we go back and forth a couple rounds, and all of a sudden a Leftist “ally” will chime in and say something that disagrees with what both of us are saying. The Conservative sits back and watches while we “prove” each other wrong, secure in his knowledge that there is something fundamentally wrong with what both of us Leftists are saying and nothing at all wrong with his own stance.
This loyalty that Conservatives have to their preferred Party is virtually unbreakable (and, no, I don’t usually lump all Right-leaning voters in together, but for general purposes and simplification of a greater overall problem, I am doing so here). This is the basis for the success of the Tea Party – they are a faction of the Conservative Right, but they still vote Republican no matter what. The merits of this are debatable, seeing as Republicans have no problem turning their backs on their base as soon as the opportunity presents itself. But, then again, neither do Democrats, and Republicans actually win seats, so what does that tell you?
The point is this – Conservatives have just as many problems with each other as Progressives do. They don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but in the end their common goal is to best their enemy – Liberals – in whatever way they can. They will ignore their own personal differences on anything and everything in order to accomplish that goal.
But here is where we on The Left gets into a bind. We don’t view Conservatives as our mortal enemy to be bested at any cost. We do view Conservative policies that way, and we know that people who aren’t in the 1% who vote Establishment on either side are voting against their best interests. We view the Establishment that way – both Republicans AND Democrats (remember when I said that I don’t include Centrist Corporate Shills in “The Left”?) – and we understand that if you aren’t part of the Establishment, you will never benefit from supporting the Establishment. But convincing Conservatives of this is almost impossible.
Why, though? Why is that so hard to do? Well, some will point to this study or that research that shows that Conservative voters are more likely to be X, Y, or Z. But the biggest problem that The Left has in convincing others of the virtue of our platform is that we can’t even agree with each other on what that platform is supposed to be.
Now, I’m not about to sit here and extoll the benefit of voting for a poor candidate on the basis of being slightly better than another candidate – if The Left wants to regain power and control of US Government, they are going to have to do a much better job of finding and supporting truly Progressive candidates, not these wishy-washy centrist politicians who are afraid to stand up to the Republicans and the Donor Class. But, as a voter base, The Left needs to actually know what it is that we want in those candidates, and, more importantly, what we want from those candidates.
Looking at the Big Picture, we on The Left agree on a lot of things. We all want less/no war. We all want investment in education. We all want adequate health care. We all want gender/ethnic/cultural/spiritual/economic equality. But we disagree on how. There are lots of roads leading to Rome, but for some reason we will look at the person on the road that runs directly to the same goal we are heading toward – a road running parallel to our own – and tell them that they’re doing it wrong.
Look at what happened after the Democratic Convention. Dozens of new political “Parties” popped up, and dozens more got a new influx of life and funding. THIS IS A GOOD THING, PEOPLE. But almost immediately, as will happen any time separate factions that are almost identical ideologically are struggling to break through that Third-Party wall, the bickering among those groups and parties got out of control. Now, there are 8,000 flags with just a few people under each. Now, the new life and funding in these other parties have each other to contend with as well, and focusing on the real enemy – the Corporatist Establishment – is all but impossible.
I’ve been told by people on The Far-Left that I’m not Far-Left enough, though I claim to be a Socialist. But, for me, the reality is this – we have a system in front of us, and we can fight that system from within and from without. And until the Revolution comes, or Capitalism finally crumbles into the unsustainable mess that it is destined to crumble into (or both – these events aren’t mutually exclusive), this is the system that we have to work with. “Lulz, electoral politics, don’t you know that doesn’t change anything?” Ok, I get what you mean, but look at what’s happening right now – seems electoral politics can change a whole lot of things.
As much as I’d like to see the whole thing burned to the ground so we could just start over from scratch and build a new egalitarian society – free from class oppression, free from masters, free from the destructive capitalist grip of money itself – that isn’t happening right now. It might eventually, but until then I also have to look at what is directly in front of me. And, no matter what “true” leftists (what does that even mean?) want to tell you, you can actively work towards changing the current structure and simultaneously advocate for a Socialist Revolution. What good would a Revolution do if we don’t take advantage of the structures we already have in place? Both of these things can happen, so don’t let Far-Left “Purists” distract you from what you are working toward.
To be perfectly honest, though, I’m guilty of it, too. I’ve attacked people that I should be aligning myself with over the simplest of differences in ideas. I’m not preaching from a pedestal, here, I’m speaking from personal realization and self-criticism (admittedly spurred by a conversation I had earlier today on Twitter). And I realize that if we are ever going to make a difference – a real, tangible, meaningful difference – in this country and in the world, we aren’t going to do it by bickering with each other over things that can be figured out later. This is exactly how The Right keeps winning, and it’s the best way for The Left to keep losing.
Take it for what it’s worth – I mean, it’s just the opinion of a lowly amateur political and social commentator, but it’s one that is based on personal observations from my own journey of self-discovery. And I can tell you this, with 100% certainty – if we don’t get some unity on The Left, we are doomed. As a loosely associated group of people who (mostly) demand equality for all, regardless of any demographic separations forced on us by the ruling class, we should be finding that unity not in spite of our differences, but because of them.
Either way, without finding some semblance of unity, The Left will continue to lose while The Right will continue onward with their steady march toward NeoFascism – characterized by corporate authoritarianism, mandated reverence to profits over people’s rights, and systemic racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. “Divide & Conquer” is so much easier when we are already dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller fragments with each passing day. And that’s no way to go about having a Revolution…
Richard Waite is the author of A Mostly Accurate View and the producer/host of AMAV Revolution Radio podcasts. He has some new projects in development, which will be announced here on AMAV as well as on the podcast as more details become available, so don’t forget to subscribe via email and on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio, or TuneIn.