[sixties-l] Fwd: What does the new left stand for?

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/04/00

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    >Complacent Too Long: Protest Too Little
    >By Robert Krause    Robert.Krause@aya.yale.edu
    >"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution"
    >-- Emma Goldman
    >Outrageous charges have been levied against the "New Left" by the
    >popular press and even by presumably left leaning press. The New
    >Republic Journal last spring ran an article whose title sums up the 
    >attitude of
    >the press left, right and (?) center, "The New Left: Bold, Fun, and
    >Stupid." <http://www.tnr.com/050100/foer050100.html>
    >In much of the presses depiction of the new left the activists
    >are described as being theoretically and politically naive, even
    >"stupid". The attacks directed at a whole group of people are either
    >misinformed or are
    >attempts to misinform the readers about a current political movement.
    >Perhaps the writers of these political journals have been reading too
    >much of their own rhetoric.
    >Both the editors comments and Mr. Foer, the author of the New Republics
    >article "The New Left: Bold Fun and Stupid" begin their polemic with the
    >accusation that the "New Left" doesn't have a "deeper critique of global
    >capitalism. In fact, claims Foer, "they've (the New Left) absorbed the
    >central lesson of the consumerist ethic they claim to loathe: Pleasure
    >sells". Foer goes on to state that he asked an anarchist (presumable
    >during the (Washington direct actions) to define their ideology, they
    >responded according to Foer, "Anarchism is like socialism without the
    >state." Foer sees this answer as naive and insufficient. I wonder what
    >he expected during an action? A strategy for fielding questions of
    >political actions throughout the political spectrum is to respond with
    >slogans and Sound-Bits. One never knows what sort of answer a person who
    >is asking a question like that is likely to be able to receive. After
    >all a protest or direct action is not a final exam of a graduate class
    >in radical political economics.
    >What I would like to do here is respond to these criticisms with a brief
    >outline of what I understand to be the range of conceptual foundations
    >of this new left and their critique of capitalism. It is important to
    >preface this with the comment that in any movement participants will
    >differ in their individual interests and capabilities. Some will not
    >have as developed theoretical perspectives as others. Everyone is not an
    >tower academician, and that's wonderful. The grassroots and broad based
    >quality of this "New Left" is a sign of its strength. Unlike some of the
    >talk-till-we-drop leftists infighting well into impotence this new left
    >is content with being perhaps under-theorized (perhaps) and with
    >protesting along-side people who may differ in some way that could
    >significant in the future. Having said that, there are some important
    >criticisms that the "New Left" is making, that the liberal left for the
    >last 20-30 years has failed to pursue.
    >Lets begin with Foer's claim that incorporating a "Pleasure sells" or
    >"Fun" attitude is conceptually naive to the point of embracing the
    >ideology they desire to subvert. The left political analysis embraced
    >from the puppeteers to the anarchists is a long tradition from Kropotkin
    >to Foucault.  The New Left according to the words of Utah Phillips and
    >Ani Difranco seek not only "Bread but roses". Not coincidentally one of
    >the best known of the puppeteer groups is called "Bread and Puppet".
    >This sound bite strikes to the heart of one of the New Left's core
    >beliefs: we fight not only for livable wages, just and representative
    >governing bodies etc. but we also fight for quality of life: Roses.
    >Explicitly we seek a world of social and economic justice and a world
    >that has room for humanism, joy and beauty. Issues the serious academic
    >left of old often overlook. Foucault's "Dandy" is a possible icon for
    >this position. Along with this superficial and idealistic critique comes
    >a more serious discussion regarding the difference between the politics
    >of "pleasure" and the politics of "desire".  As Foucault, Deleuze and
    >Guatarri, and Baudrillard point out, desire is the insatiable commodity
    >capitalism essentially deals with. That is, desire is productive,
    >because the cultivation of endless new desires (a never ending stream of
    >products) sucks individuals in our culture into a never ending morass
    >where they must forever produce more and more so they can continue to
    >consume more and more. This same ideology is our chief export. This
    >culture colonialism by the capitalist first world throughout the world
    >seeks to transform the world into a global version of the Roman
    >vomitoriums.  The drive that the Republicans, Democrats, (and yes, even
    >Marxists) have to continue to grow the economy ours, theirs and the
    >worlds, by having our every experience of life mediated through
    >capitalism is itself a serious problem.
    >Once we sang songs after dinner around a piano at home, now we watch
    >TV, and buy CD's of professionals we don't know and who aren't
    >accessible to us. This cultural change creates people who are afraid or
    >unwilling to
    >sing,dance, or do art unless it is "professional."  We used to go for
    >walks in the woods to experience being with nature. Now our very
    >experience has been co-modified by ever increasing consumer crap needed
    >to enter nature: Gortex, hiking shoes, mountain bikes, ad nauseum.
    >Desire is productive because when you desire you work to obtain the
    >product that is believed will satiate this insatiable need and in doing
    >so you produce.  Pleasure is not productive, pleasure is an end in
    >itself:  Roses.  Punks, know their artists.  Their artists are often
    >accessible to them.  I have friends who have gone out with Ani after a
    >show.  Part of the new political left's agenda then is a serious
    >introspective critique about how capitalist desire for wealth, power,
    >and respect (Weber) often through a naive and unexamined embrace of the
    >technological perspective (Heidegger) can be mitigated through
    >deliberately cultivated relationships with self, others, society,
    >technology and the world (Heidegger, Foucault).  This micro analysis
    >frequently is combined in the new left with a macro critique that
    >economic growth and the ecstatic orgiastic celebration of the "triumph
    >of capitalism" and promotion of this growth all over the world will have
    >serious if not deadly (as in world deadly) side effects.  That is, we
    >cannot continue the level of consumption and growth without 1) running
    >out of non-renewable resources and 2) damaging perhaps beyond repair our
    >Now these are serious global economic critiques not only of capitalism
    >but also of Marxism and any economic ideology that holds that continual
    >growth is a desirable social end.  The fundamental policies of the
    >IMF/World Bank and the WTO then on this account are seriously flawed.
    >The goal to open and keep patent world market with the ends of
    >increasing the "standard of living" both for the first and third worlds
    >is environmentally catastrophic if we maintain an ideology of insatiable
    >desire.  We will kill ourselves and perhaps the planet.
    >As far as the workers of the world go, while it may be true that the
    >threat to first world labor is the growth of a competitive third world,
    >it is also true that the policies of the World Bank in particular have
    >left many third world countries terribly in debt.  And while it may be
    >argued that significant portions of loaned monies have been misused and
    >mismanaged by the dictators and corrupt state governments, it is also
    >the case that the structural adjustment programs of the IMF/World Bank
    >have wreaked havoc in many states with existent and previously more
    >functional infrastructures than after the conditions and specifications
    >of loans from the World Bank and IMF.
    >The details of those this is not the proper context to delve into,
    >however, readers might want to consult Joseph Stiglitz's article
    >entitled, "The Insider" (April 17&24, TNR) that addressed some of these
    >The critiques of this IMF/World Bank offered by demonstrators and
    >activists offered in the form of slogans "More world, No Bank" are
    >simplifications of complex and often diverse opinions regarding what
    >should be done. Radical revision of existing systems, altogether new
    >economic systems and regulatory bodies that are democratically elected,
    >and getting rid of the IMF/World Bank altogether are examples of the
    >range of opinions held.  It means little to say that some positions are
    >better thought out than others, but the depth of thought is hardly the
    >point.  No one is about to say OK anarchist generation Xer, go ahead and
    >create a new economic system.  Capitalism is hardly about to roll over
    >and die.  That being the case the entrenched nature of the existing
    >system speaks to how it is that anarchist punks, union workers, Earth
    >First!ers, the Green Party, and so many others can stand united despite
    >differing agendas. As progress is made and policy changes or institution
    >changes occur the groups that stood side by side will be forced to
    >reconcile or separate. Until then however groups with differing
    >ideologies and agendas can stand together unified unlike the stupid
    >infighting among the intellectual subdivisions of the political left for
    >the last who knows how long. Stupidity, Mr. Foer, is not individuals
    >with differing agendas (many of whom may have not read Baukunin or
    >Kropotkin or even Marx) standing together united in an understanding
    >that something has gone very awry. Rather stupidity is well read
    >leftists arguing forever about whether Trotsky, Lenin or Mao have it
    >right and so do nothing in the face of environmental disaster or
    >oppressive non-democratic bodies imposing economic burdens on the people
    >of the world.
    >Robert G. Krause, teaches philosophy at Quinnipiac University and at
    >Western Connecticut State University. He is a Clinical Instructor at
    >Yale University where he lectures and instructs in Bioethics and in
    >Psychotherapy. He is also the Faculty Advisor at WCSU for a student
    >activist group Youth for Justice and he is a member of CGAN.

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