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According to post-leftists, what defines the left?

+3 votes
asked 3 years ago by vaguelyhumanoid (530 points)

2 Answers

+5 votes
a. old and rigid forms of organization
b. specialization of roles, both within organizations, and between radicals and the masses(tm)
c. representation
d. ideological thinking
e. categorization of (or perpetuating the categorization of) people into state-sponsored identities (gender, skin color, religion, etc)
f. valorization of work
answered 3 years ago by dot (43,200 points)
+8 votes
I agree with dot, but I think some basics need to be examined even before her list of six characteristics.

The Left is usually considered by most (sympathetic) commentators to have something to do with a criticism of (the worst excesses of) capitalism -- naturally depending on how we understand capitalism. The Left is often therefore equated with a generic Socialism. We have to acknowledge that Socialism is internally incoherent enough to be able to accommodate such diverse ideas as Maoism, right-wing (anti-Marxist, anti-revolutionary) Social Democracy, revolutionary (or reformist) Marxism, the left wing of the Democratic Party (Kucinich), and some types of anarchism (NEFAC, syndicalists, pro-democracy folks like Milstein). What they all share is a desire to use and/or take over most of the functions of the state in ways that ameliorate those aforementioned excesses. In this way they remain within the authoritarian system common to all other forms of tinkering with institutions of hierarchy and domination.

The reason post-left @s dislike Leftist categories and strategies is that we (if I may speak for others for the moment) find those categories and strategies to be historical failures; we judge them failures not just because stupid people were doing them, but because of the inherent philosophical problems with them. So a rigid organizational form like a political party (point a) is a problem not because of its particular program or platform or internal decision-making process, but because it is organized as a supposedly representative body (point c) that requires a division of labor (point b).

Ideological thinking (point d) is a problem because it uses backwards logic. Ideologists begin from solutions or answers and only later formulate questions -- that just by coincidence happen to point precisely to those solutions or answers. The questions are only questions in a technical sense because they being with Why What Where Who Which When How, but they have the (desired/expected) answers  imbedded in them. Most Leftist questions are How statements rather than Why questions. In this way they remain in line with all other forms of authoritarian or hierarchical methods of so-called discussion.

Because most forms of Leftism begin as a reaction to the ugly aspects of capitalism, they all share strategies for curtailing its excesses. One way to begin that process is to valorize not just work (point f) but to valorize workers as workers, as those whose labor and effort produces the wealth that is expropriated (by providing workers with a wage lower than the value of the goods and services their labor goes to produce) by those own the means of production (whether capitalists or the state). Whether workers are conceived of as the Revolutionary Subject of History or just poor slobs who don't get enough pay and/or benefits, they are elevated as the primary object (or agent) of salvation.

All leftist strategies are predicated on a redistribution of wealth, which means that they all wish to maintain methods of calibrating value in labor, in commodities, and in exchange. This is economy, and along with retooled mechanisms of statecraft (whether enshrined as government or the voluntarism so beloved of NGOs), certainly is a decent way of understanding the primary problems associated with Leftism.

It has been pointed out by the left-anarchist critics of post-left @ that these are basic anarchist criticisms of capitalism and the state and authoritarianism in general. Fair enough; not many post-left @s trumpet their analyses as particularly new or ground-breaking. But one of the neglected points of post-left @ is that we are critics of *false opposition* to capitalism and the state. Where Leftists (and many left anarchists fall into this category) want to improve the lives of workers, post-left @s wish to abolish work (as a coercive and separate sphere of useful endeavor); where Leftists wish to expropriate the means of production to turn them to social use rather than as generators of profit, post-left @s wish to abolish economy, and at the very least facilitate a large-scale discussion of which technologies to maintain while destroying the ones that most folks don't want or need; where Leftists want to develop or extend protections or compensations for categories of people who have been historically oppressed, post-left @s wish to abolish the ideology of victimization (point e).

Naturally there a ton of questions that arise from this brief overview, but that's as it should be. For me the most interesting aspect of identifying with post-left @ is that we actually yearn for more questions than answers; with any luck, that's also a way of steering clear of ideology.
answered 3 years ago by lawrence (18,460 points)

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