NO, THE LEFT IS NOT EQUALLY AS EXTREME AS THE RIGHT
I had to interrupt a conversation the other day. I just had to.
The leader of the conversation said, “the problem is that both the Democrats and the Republicans are spending too much time listening to their crazy extremes…”
Two other people were there, nodding mindlessly. Clearly, this guy was being sensible. After all, he was blaming both sides for our political troubles. That’s the reasonable, unbiased position.
So I had to break in. I excused myself and then asked, “let me ask you. What does the extreme right want?” He answered honestly with a description of the Alt-Right. He even mentioned apartheid.
“Okay,” I said, “now what does the extreme left want?”
He stuttered, so I filled in the blanks, counting on my fingers. “Single-payer health care, publicly funded tertiary education and livable wages.” I could have thrown in a clean and healthy environment, and green-energy New Deal and…um…peace, but I think I made my point.
Look, I understand that this isn’t really the far left. We can definitely go further than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. To which I have two responses:
- The extreme left does not have a voice within the current political discourse that the extreme right enjoys. The Overton Window extends only about as far as Democratic Socialism. Communism and anarchism are outside of the realm of acceptable discussion. In the meantime, the President of the United States is referring to members of the Alt-Right as very fine people. Come on!
- Even if we extend the Overton Window to the extremes, what is it that the communists and the anarchists want as compared to the militia-driven, heavily armed apartheid ethno-state advocated by the likes of Richard Spencer? The extreme left ultimately wants a classless and stateless society in which, to paraphrase Marx, everyone contributes according to their ability and everyone benefits according to their needs. Which utopian vision would you rather find yourself in?
But, AntiFa! AntiFa!
Yeah. I’m not a fan of AntiFa, either. Even here, however, there’s no equivalence. AntiFa believes in using violence to defend the freedoms of marginalized groups. Many advocate offensively seeking out fascists for violence as a way of protecting the country from being taken over by Nazis. There’s some precedent supporting this position. If the Nazis do take over, and they can, it will be much harder and require a great deal more violence to dislodge them. Either way, despite the fact that I disagree with AntiFa’s, it’s intent is to protect the marginalized. The Alt-Right’s intent is to use violence to victimize, drive out and segregate the marginalized. There’s a difference. After all, the last time systematic violence was used against fascists, we refer to the perpetrators as The Greatest Generation.
The next time you see this false equivalence on social media, please feel free to use this meme to counter it. When you hear it in conversation, please say something. Equating the extremes of the left and the right may sound sensible, objective and unbiased, but it’s clearly and example of lazy thinking.
As one reader pointed out (see comments below), there is a slimy underbelly of the left that must be addressed, but was not specified above. Namely, the kind of state socialism represented by the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and the Maoist movement in Asia and now, arguably, playing out with the Chavez movement in Venezuela. Indeed, state socialism has been a bloody bane and a stain on left-wing discourse for the last hundred years. It is tantamount that the left soundly rejects this paradigm. Fortunately, I believe the vast majority of the left does reject this approach.
I might also add that there is a brand of militant anarchism, touched upon in the post above, but not really elaborated. This movement had its heyday in the early 20th century and was responsible for significant violence including the assassination of multiple world leaders, one of whom was American President William McKinley. This brand of anarchism was soundly rooted out as a result of the Palmer Raids and persecution of radicals in the twenties culminating in the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti.
That being said, I’m sure there is a corner of the left that does embrace the Leninist/Maoist approach. It can be argued that AntiFa echoes some of the themes of militant anarchism. Since my essay at Scum Gentry, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with some anarchists who are having a difficult time imagining a scenario in which capitalism can be overthrown without violence. I acknowledge that these currents exist, but they are minuscule and marginal voices as compared the Alt-Right. Their existence, in my mind, does not constitute an equivalence to an extreme right-wing movement that has a significant voice in one of our major parties and is at the very least acknowledge as legitimate by the Presiden of the United States.
I’m not sure I completely agree with your assessment. Here’s why. You allowed your interlocutor to list the aims of the extreme right and evidently he offered a reasonably complete list. When he couldn’t provide a similar list for the extreme left you provided it.
I’d argue that your list, while accurately cataloging the most progressive goals of the Democratic Party (if we’ll allow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to serve that role) stops short of the most extreme views on the Left. Though you offer an explanation, I find it unsatisfying.
For me, invoking the Overton window seems like a rhetorical maneuver. I say that because it introduces a filter that effectively distracts from the point that the rules have changed and unlike things are being compared.
Even when you allow for the existence of more extreme positions on the left, there’s a bound at the thinking of 1848. I might be okay with that if the literature of the extreme left did not include such visionary, peaceful theorists as V.I. Lenin, Mao Tse Tung and Pol Pot.
While it’s easy to say those folks are discredited, or don’t represent the American far left, there exists an undercurrent in which their ideas thrive. Even on Facebook it’s easy to find US citizens who, for instance, claim that the current situation in Venezuela represents a war by monopoly capital against the common man and woman in the form of the Maduro (neé Chávez) government that ought to be met with force.
I detest the current administration. I hate Spencer and his goon squads. But I do believe they have their equivalent on the left and I’m no fan of those, either.
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I must say that I am suspicious of everyone who agrees with me completely!
But you do make a fair point that does deserve to be addressed.
First, you are correct. The left must address it’s darker side, namely Bolshevism/Maoism as well as militant anarchism. Because you are right about this, I will add an addendum to the original post pointing this out.
Secondly, I believe my overall approach to be valid. Yes, we can find the extremes in left-wing discourse, but you really have to look for them. That’s why I use the Overton Window as my filter. As it stands, the extremes of the right are much better represented in the current public discourse than is the underbelly of the left. The most common reference of Bolshevism in the our current debate can be found on the right as a shallow attempt to discredit fairly reasonable progressive/DS policy proposals. Venezuala is, in the United States, largely a right-wing paradigm, a strawman designed to attack the left. I can think of no significant social movements in the United States advocating Leninist State Socialism. Are there such voices out there? Sure. But they are marginal in ways that I wish the Alt-Right was marginalized.
The possible exception to this rule may be the AntiFa or previously the Black Bloc movement mentioned in this post and criticized on this blog in previous posts. They borderline on the militant Anarchism that was popular in the early 20th century, but since then discredited. Even at that, their milarism is pretty focused against those who are, not unreasonably, a perceived threat to the goals of freedom, justice and equality. I believe the militant anarchists wrong in their approach, but their concern in merited. This merit has no counterpart on the right.
Thirdly, and with more nuance, the focus of this post is on goals. That’s why I mention the utopian goals of the left as compared to the right. I think, sometimes, that the left often forgets the ultimate ideals they are fighting for: a free, just and egalitarian society in which individuals interact without coercion structured by class interests. That is the unifying goal of all actors on the left. Even among the most devout Leninists, the brutal state-based authoritarianism that became the face of socialism in the 20th century was never the end goal. It was always considered to be a temporary condition until the classless, communal society could be constructed. As such, it was not only a gross misreading of the Communist Manifesto, but also a gross misreading of power dynamics. A sociological critique of this strategy, such as that offered by Bakunin over thirty-five years before the rise of the Bolsheviks, turned out to be one of the most prescient theories of the left.
To cap. Yes, Spencer and the Alt-Right do have an analogue on the left. This marginal position, however, hardly qualifies as an equivalence.
But thank you for the well thought out response.
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I enjoyed your considered response. And thank you for reminding me of Bakunin. I understand you were talking about goals. And I agree, the goals of the extreme right are a grotesquery of their own.
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Only thing is that when you use that false equivalence image, try not to create strawmen that look like you’re not biased by any means. If you think that “free education and healthcare” is the reason to go left, you’re truly ignorant to how that stuff truly plays out: low-quality product is what you get out of “free” services. Not to mention that leftists believe race is a social construct (despite believing in so-called white privilege) and think that there are more than two biological genders, you really want these ungrateful idiots in your country in the first place anyways?
Thank you for commenting. A couple things I might suggest next time you choose to comment. 1st, check out my “about” page. I never profess to be unbiased. I don’t believe that’s even possible in such a format. 2nd, get better informed on the issues and the actual positions taken by those whom you are referencing. 3rd, if you are going to critique social construction theory on a sociology blog, you might want to inform yourself on the theory itself and how it actually applies to an understanding of race and gender. Otherwise, you may come off as uninformed and your position rejected out of turn. Just some friendly advice.
On the left you have a politician, but don’t list her most extreme views and on the right you show a non-politician and list the views of a non-politician. I see a pic that doesn’t make sense right now. Take out the OAC pic and it’s better but still seems a failure of equals. OAC has more extreme views than those you listed relating to environment and some other things. I get your point which is the extreme right appears more racist and violent. But of course if you want to hunt extremists you’ll find left racists who want to use violence against whites to get what they want for their people. There just aren’t many of them. They’d be the equivalent to the shooter in El Paso. Once these individuals start shooting white people you’ll have a face to wave around. You can certainly find cops and minorities who have shot and killed each other. They both can be guilty of hate and violence.
So, what are AOC’s and the Democratic Socialists’ more extreme views? Give me examples. Also, I admit in the article that there are some pretty extreme positions on the left, but those positions are not as incorporated into the mainstream as is the extreme right. I don’t see Bolsheviks or militant anarchists holding rallies. We do have AntiFa and what used to be referred to as the Black Bloc who do not shy away from using violence. I’ve argued against such a strategy myself, but even at that, the violence advocated by AntiFa hardly equates to that advocated by the proto-fascists on the right. You are correct. When I do start seeing left wingers driving their cars through crowds and shooting up conservative churches, etc, I will certainly reconsider my position. Yes, there was that attack against Republicans at the softball game. That was atrocious, perhaps a left-winger, though that’s not clear. Hardly a pattern of behavior, however. Also, when it happens, such violence is soundly condemned by the left. If you can show me some evidence, perhaps I’ll see the equivalence.