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Why is focus on the individual consistently assumed to be bourgeois by leftists?

+4 votes
asked Sep 18, 2010 by enkidu (6,690 points)

4 Answers

+1 vote
partial answer:
the emancipation of the individual is already a major concern of standard u.s./enlightenment values. there are ways that the individual is what tons of u.s. (etc) propaganda is aimed at/based on. so to the extent that anarchists echo those values, we're not challenging a foundational u.s. paradigm.
(for more info, watch adam curtis' the trap series. the way that heads of state talk about promoting individual freedom is mind-boggling and creepy)
answered Sep 18, 2010 by dot (50,520 points)
The fact that US propaganda feigns individualism isn't a point against real individualism any more then Nazism is a point against real socialism.
calling something fake because you don't like it is not an argument.
i believe that they think they are actually promoting "real individualism", but that it's different from what i (and probably you) think of as "real individualism". why/how are both of these "real individualism"s different? what can we learn from the differences? assuming bad faith from people you disagree with is sloppy thinking, and doesn't challenge yourself (or your friends).
–3 votes
Because certain leftists see social/class awareness and individualism as somehow incompatible. However, society (and social classes) are an outgrowth of individuals, so this is fundamentally flawed.
answered Mar 12, 2011 by vaguelyhumanoid (370 points)
positing a linear and/or causal relationship between individuals and groups is simplistic.
I did not claim that society does not influence individuals.
nope, you didn't say it. it's just that sometimes omitting something implies something. i'm not accusing you of anything, honest.
Vulgar libertarianism has given individualism a bad name by essentially equating individualism with capitalism.  In hopes of countering this damage, I coined the term "thick individualism;" see http://n8chz.blogspot.com/2010/08/toward-thick-individualism.html
–1 vote
Because they forgot about the humanist and enlightenment anti-authoritarian origins of socialism and most likely adopted too much marxism. And so because of that they created bureaucratic mutants like the soviet union or north korea saying thing like "talking about the individual is bourgoise". Actually the individualist anarchist Renzo Novatore was a son of poor italian peasants and later in his life he had to live through stealing, scams and similar lumpenproletariat means and he was ll the time running from the police. Another interesting case was the french individualist anarchist Albert Libertad who was abandoned by his parent as a child and was sent to public charity. Nothing bourgoise at all as you can see.

But something like individual and collective free-thought and autonomy is feared by populist personality cults and autocrats like Stalin, Mao, Lenin, Lim Il Sung and those who wanted to be like them in the future like for example Sendero Luminoso´s leader Abimael Guzman. It is why there are anarchists and why anarchists critique marxist-leninists. These leftists  say things like freedom of expression are bourgoise liberal things because they don´t want their views and that of the one-party elite system challenged. Anarchists embrace free-thought and individual autonomy.

The difference between this anarchist liberty and the liberal liberty is that they think working for bosses is not a form of opression and that people should enrich themselves as far as they can while anarchists think working for bosses is humiliating and that individual freedom does´t mean material things should be let to be accumulated by a few or a minority.

But on things like freedom of speech or freedom of sexuality and other types of "civil liberties" like that anarchists and liberals will agree. Nevertheless many times anarchists are more libertarian than liberals on these things also and so while liberals might agree with gay marriage for example, anarchists will go even farther and question legal marriage and sometimes even long term monogamy if not monogamy itself.
answered Apr 2, 2012 by iconoclast (3,380 points)
edited Apr 3, 2012 by iconoclast
+2 votes
Leftists is a large and ill defined grouping. Leftists include liberals, marxists and many anarchists. "The individual" is also a loaded and poorly defined term. To answer this question in my own way I will assume that by individual you mean something consistent with the thoughts, passions and writings of egoists and nihilists.

The are a number of reasons why a focus on the individual could be decried as bourgeois by people who identify as leftist. The extent to which a notion of humanism, a concern for the whole human community or the central importance of humans in the world, inflects the political positions of these groups it signals the degree to which the abstraction "whole human community" or "humanity" is the sacred cow of their politics. To focus on the individual or oneself or the unique is a turn towards decadence and a failure to properly value the human community/humanity. It is putting one's own interests ahead of the abstract groupings (the people, the party, the masses, humanity, etc.).

To the extent that leftist political positions harmonize with enlightenment myths of progress (to the extent that they fail to challenge a progressive unilinear historical narrative) they will be judging thoughts, actions, intentions, and peoples effects in and on the world from the standard and position of this thing called progress (however they define that abstract notion). To betray a commitment to the unified story that progress implies (in reality, demands) is to sacrifice the needs of all or the needs of the many for one's own selfish interest. If we turn the rhetoric of the last sentence upside-down in the interest of demystifying it we get the statement, "people/individuals must sacrifice themselves and their interests for the greater good, for humanity, or for progress". These three abstractions are foundational to the stories and moralities that dominate us in this world.

If we are talking about revolutionary leftists the concern is slightly more nuanced. Revolutionary leftists are concerned with finding the form of social organization that is capable of overturning the world as we know and hate it. In some theoretical and activist circles this is referred to as the revolutionary subject. This is the collectivity that, in theory, will be capable of applying enough force in a concerted manner to destroy the order and systems that dominate us. From this revolutionary perspective there is no set of individual actions capable of coalescing into a force capable of smashing the state or destroying capitalism and focusing on the individual is either bourgeois or even counter-revolutionary. In this scheme, the revolutionary subject or party is the abstraction or political form that allows for the utopian revolutionary dream. In this case the revolutionary body is the force that determines good and bad and our morality and revolution is the progressive narrative that captures and stultifies our unique passions or our singular drives to experiment and exult in life in ways not subjugated to masses and herds, party or platforms, abstractions or causes.
answered Jul 21, 2012 by nothing resonates (900 points)
edited Jul 22, 2012 by nothing resonates