There is no left in North America part II

Tonight I had the night off so I got to read some more Deep Green Resistance. I went back to Chapter 3 again, which I read once before but didn’t write about yet—I felt I needed to read it again before it could really sink in. This chapter is called Liberals and Radicals and it’s written by Lierre Keith. It’s really full of thought-provoking stuff—just reading about four or five pages makes me sit back and think, then take some notes, then think again. At one point while reading, I started enthusiastically pounding my fist on the table. My partner, alarmed, asked “What’s wrong?” and I said “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just agreeing with Lierre Keith.”  😉 (My partner thinks it’s rather amusing that I have begun claiming that I want to blow up civilization. She knows I am a lazy ass who can barely get off the couch, so what are the odds I’m going to blow anything up? Anyway…)

Part of this chapter explains what liberalism is, especially the liberalism of the United States. Liberalism believes that the individual is the basic unit of society and promotes the sovereignty of the individual within the free market. The United States of America was built on liberal ideology and white male landowners who stole other people’s land and labour to create private wealth. The government exists to protect their private property and to enforce their contracts. Keith did an excellent job describing the liberalism of the United States and this helped me to understand why there is no left in North America. Here is an important quote from this section:

“The big split between liberals and the true left came in the 1940s: as liberals took up an anti-Communist position, the actual leftists were purged from liberalism, especially from labor unions and the New Deal coalition. From the beginnings of classical liberalism, liberals have embraced capitalism. Indeed, classical liberalism was foundational to a capitalist economy. Hence, unlike in Europe, there is no real left in the U.S., as a true left starts with the rejection of capitalism. There is no political party in the U.S. that represents a critique of capitalism. Congress is essentially filled with two wings of the Capitalist Party.

After the disaster of the Great Depression, liberalism shifted to the idea of government intervention to regulate business in order to assure competition and to enforce safety and labor standards. This was an attempt to make capitalism work, not to dismantle it. This approach is very different from state socialism, in which the state owns (not regulates) the means of production (and which has produced its own environmental and human rights disasters)” (p.68).

Like, holy fuck, actual leftists were kicked out of unions in the 1940s? No wonder there is no left in North America! Can you imagine kicking leftists out of unions? This explains so much about the state of unions around here. And after that came the McCarthy era where anyone suspected of being a communist was imprisoned or fired from their jobs. This totally makes sense when you consider what we have now, which is, indeed, the two wings of the Capitalist Party. When citizens of North America go to the polls, they have a choice of voting for either someone who wants to completely deregulate big business or someone who wants to make capitalism a tiny bit nicer. There is no such thing as actually naming capitalism as a problem and organizing against it, except for in radical groups. And of course, since the entire government is in favor of capitalism and exists to serve the interests of the ruling class, there is no such thing as voting an anti-capitalist politician into government. A true left will never be electable in North America.

I still know hardly anything about what it means to really be on the left. In high school I read Les Misérables, and I was full of rage at the class system, and I decided that Jean Valjean was completely justified in stealing food to feed his sister’s children, and that his imprisonment was a crime perpetrated against him by the ruling class. I do not consider it theft if a poor person steals from the rich. The only thing that is morally wrong is that he was poor in the first place. When I turned 18 and an election came along, I read the platforms of the three major political parties, and I knew immediately that I was going to vote for the one that wanted to strengthen social programs. I remember getting into an argument with a friend who claimed that the only incentive people have to work is the possibility that they could get rich; that without the possibility of wealth, no one would have any motivation to do anything. I thought this was a load of fucking bullshit, and I argued that rich people are lucky, not hardworking, and that they don’t deserve to have way more than the rest of us. Eventually I figured out that my opinion was called “left” and my friend’s opinion was called “right.” But around here, the farthest to the left we get is the people who want to make capitalism a little bit nicer by strengthening social programs, and I’m beginning to understand that this is not left at all. Social programs merely make capitalism work—they give the working class just enough stability that they can continue to work for capitalism, but we are still oppressed by the system. A real left is built on an anti-capitalist foundation and its goal is not to make capitalism work, but to make it stop.

I really, really, really need to read some Marx. I don’t think I’m a communist, I think I’m a DGRist, but I definitely need a Marxist education to understand what the left is supposed to be. It’s terrible that I’ve never been taught this before. And someday I need to get my ass off the couch and get around to blowing up civilization. 😉

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4 thoughts on “There is no left in North America part II

  1. It’s striking that Sanders is so widely seen as a socialist, yet he’s never argued for nationalizing anything. He’s more like a mid-twentieth century Democrat, but the Democrats have drifted so far to the right that he seems alien to them.

    Additionally, it’s not common for USians to understand that capitalism and socialism are economic systems, and democracy and totalitarianism are systems of government. Most of us seem to have socialism and totalitarianism confused. But also there is a lot of conflict over what to do about the chronically unfortunate, and whom to blame for them. Blame is very big in the USA. We want things charged to the right accounts, but ultimately such bookkeeping can become prohibitively expensive compared to just collectively owning such costs.

    Also, ownership by the state is not the only system of collective ownership, and there are those who consider ownership by the state to be hopelessly prone to corruption.

    As for blowing up civ, my favorite imagery about this is something Derrick wrote about in one of his books, about how to get rid of a cell phone tower. Do you loosen all its bolts? Go at it with a blow torch? Dig under it until it falls over? Paint it with something shiny that is secretly corroding it? Move to where there aren’t any cell phone towers? Work to make cell phones unpopular? Create and spread myths about monsters living in cell phone towers? Go after people who build them, go after people who mine and manufacture what they are made out? It works nicely as a metaphor for thinking about the dilemma of what to do about this culture.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Drop me a line when you get off the couch–I’ll help you light the fuse. 😉
    I had to do some reading on communism myself and when that didn’t seem like it fit, anarchism was the closest thing. I still march to the beat of my own drum on that one and hope others do as well.

    The U.S. was built on oppression and continues to thrive on it. Even so-called progressives who support Bernie Sanders still believe certain groups deserve to be oppressed. Many have distanced themselves so far from our country’s history that we fail to see the cruelty on which it has run for hundreds of years. We need to take a good hard look at ourselves before we can move forward.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. @Purplesage

    ” It’s terrible that I’ve never been taught this before. “

    What informed much of my political consciousness was/is the writings of Noam Chomsky. His works are almost always meticulously referenced. The biographies of his books provide a wealth of primary sources and secondary sources that are invaluable in learning about how things work in the world.

    Much of his writing is academic in nature, but a sampling of his op-eds and short pieces that are more approachable can be found at chomsky.info.

    Tom’s Dispatch is an excellent site/news letter that is always insightful and provocative.

    Counterpunch is similar, but features shorter pieces. (See here for an article by Derek Jensen and Lierre Keith)

    And of course, Trouble and Strife archive/online magazine.

    Those links are by no means the definitive list for expanding one’s political consciousness, but I don’t think its a bad place to start. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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