Why Criticize the Left So Much?
It's a fair question.
On my podcast Fucking Cancelled and on social media I spend a lot of time criticizing the left. Some people have asked me why I mostly discuss leftist dysfunction, rather than going after the right instead.
It's a fair question.
First, maybe I'll just say what I think about the right. In general I think the right is defined by its appreciation for authority and hierarchy, the far right by its obsession with them. Capitalism is a system wherein a tiny number of people own virtually everything in the world, exercise near-total authority over the disbursement of the world's capital, and have built for themselves some of the most precipitous hierarchies ever known to humankind. I oppose this on the most basic level. I find it unaccountable, undemocratic, extraordinarily dangerous and in general morally appalling. Currently, proponents of this system dominate the political spectrum across the world, and in the Anglosphere, no political party I know of which has a seat in any national-level legislative body is opposed to it. However, parties more to the right are the most enthusiastic about the rapaciousness of capitalism, and wish to bring about the total, final, irreversible dominance of capitalism over all life on this planet.
The right also defends various other sorts of hierarchies and unearned authorities, often couched in the language of traditional values and law and order. In many cases they are fighting a losing battle with regard to 'traditional values', which are of course obliterated by neoliberal capitalism, the very system they so enthusiastically support. Neoliberal capitalism requires large numbers of immigrant labourers; most women to earn a wage; as many consumers as possible regardless of their ethnicity; freedom of the state from any latent anticapitalist impulses still lurking in the church; endless stylistic choice as a cardinal right; and, like some kind of zombiefying ameboid, the ingestion of subversive movements and their repackaging as consumer subcultures. Some radical traditionalists will turn to fascism, seeing in it a kind of right-wing pseudo-anticapitalism which could restore a golden age. In the Anglosphere at least, they will be stymied by the other hallmark of the mainstream right: law and order. Over the years we have had built up around us the corporate police state, a gigantic apparatus dedicated to protecting the interests of the capitalist class, very few of whom are interested in the messiness and unpredictability of fascism when they already exercise unparalleled control over the world's economies, hold all the important levers of power, and can literally track practically everyone's movements and opinions with the technology they totally control and to which we are completely subservient.
Some people just drift into the right because they hate what’s going on. I have sympathy for people who are dismayed at the state of the world -- its glaring absence of a moral compass, the cynical money-grubbing, the shadowy power-brokers, the free-fall collapse of meaning and authenticity -- and wish to return to something they imagine was better. I think they are being duped by a right wing that can never deliver. I think we can reach some of these people and explain that socialism would much more effectively protect many of the things they find important, while also giving them a more secure life and treating their fellow people with dignity.
I have sympathy for people who are pushed to the right because they have been fed the line that the right stands for freedom and the left stands for censorship. In many cases if you look around, you will see people who call themselves leftists crying out for censorship and people on the right pushing back. I think we can stake out a position on the left -- or reclaim it, really, since it was always there -- which stands for freedom of speech and freedom of opinion and freedom of expression and against the bullying, tyrannical impulses of people across the political spectrum. I also think we can explain to some of these people that the biggest censors in the modern world are unaccountable tech companies which will pursue their own aims ruthlessly.
I don’t have much sympathy for anyone who really understands capitalism and wishes to see more of it. I have no sympathy at all for anyone who sees the past’s brutal stratifications based on gender, 'race', sexual orientation and so on and wishes to restore them as their main political project.
Some segments of the right are as amenable to socialism as many liberals are. They should be communicated with and won over. Some are not.
However, in order to win anyone over to the left, we need a left to win people over to. In order to actually challenge capital, we need a real challenge to capital. The main reason I spend so much time discussing the left and analyzing its dysfunction is simply that we very badly need a functional left and don’t have one. Right now, what we have is mainly a collection of subcultural stances, some interesting public intellectuals and some embarrassing ones, a few dozen insular Leninist cults that couldn’t organize a picnic, a couple of mediocre centre-left parties in some countries, the evil black hole of the Democrats in the US, and the locus of seething online dysfunction people call ‘social justice’ culture or ‘woke’ politics or neoliberal identitarianism. We need green left populism, unbeholden to established powerbrokers and broad-based enough to actually appeal to most ordinary working people. Without that, we are fucking toast.
If we don’t know what it is we’re dealing with, we don’t have any hope at all of changing it. And if we don’t have any hope of changing it, we don’t have any hope of winning people over, whether from the right or from the masses of disaffected apolitical workers. It also makes it incredibly difficult for us to retain defectors from the woke crowd, who frequently get sick of getting cancelled by their besties on Instagram, look around for someplace else to stand, and find Jordan Peterson on one side and crickets on the other. Those people need a place to land that is welcoming to them but is also sane and has a functional analysis in place preventing the kind of dysfunction prevalent in ‘social justice’ land.
Analyzing the failures and dysfunctions of the right, while incredibly easy, often very satisfying, and certainly something that socialists should be doing in general, doesn’t really help us understand why the anti-capitalist left is in such a state of collapse. Spending too much time doing it can also lock us into the endless Coke-vs-Pepsi spectacle of liberal-conservative politics where we just point fingers at high-profile individuals and shriek indefinitely. On the other hand, maintaining a principled stance within the left, challenging bad ideas, and analyzing the problems we see, can help us rebuild something worth recruiting people into.