THE LACK OF UNITY ON THE LEFT


WOMEN'S MARCH, 2017


The first Women's March was a powerful and most welcome event that counteracted the awfulness everyone was feeling about Trump's victory. It reminded me of the moratoriums of the sixties, the sense of accomplishment, the joy and fellow feeling. It made me think change was possible and inevitable.


The second march had already begun to show cracks in the alliance. Black women were accusing white women of racist exclusion and Jews were accusing blacks of anti-semitism. The march split into two different marches. Finger-pointing and blaming superseded any kind of dialogue, any kind of attempt to separate the true offenses from the misunderstandings.


I argue that this is the major problem on the left, a problem that will weaken it at a time when unity is urgently necessary. The academic left has supplied most of the language of bickering: people are obsessing over being "triggered," are desperately looking for "micro-aggressions," which are often mistaken, exaggerated, or vindictive. Identity politics have deepened the trenches between diverse groups. What happened to the term "multi-culturalism" which suggested a range of cultural accomplishment that celebrated difference instead of building armed camps?


People of good will are being excoriated over petty shortcomings or misunderstandings. Women's contempt for men is at a record high. Progressives are bickering with centrists the way religious sectarians have always done it. Purity politics has reached a level of absurdity so that people are obsessively looking for flaws in their brothers and sisters. Pluralism is no longer viable to many. The idea of a "politics of imperfection" is not even in the conversation. Let's face it: everybody is likely to slip, to fuck up, to unconsciously offend. The young blame the old for everything is that is wrong today without understanding who the old are, what they have done as activists, or the historical context from which they come. Many people have an appalling ignorance of history.


A woman friend suggests a starting point: assume everyone is racist or misogynist and work on one’s self. This is the position of people of good will.


I guess I'm appealing to all of us to drop the petty shit and get unified. The midterm elections are coming and the negative possibilities are really scary.


Addendum: just received this superb response from Professor Jerry Phillips at the University of Connecticut:


"For me, a big problem with the Left is that too many people have true religion. They are dogmatic and they are unable to deal with nuance, ambiguity and complexity. And yet it is not surprising that some Leftists are this way. Political ideology as religion is both a modern and a peculiarly American problem. It's a modern problem to the degree that modernity is the ruin of metaphysical "grand narratives." But the impulse to grand narratives did not die. It reemerged for many people on the terrain of politics. This is true for both Leftists and Rightists. Political religion is a peculiarly American question to the degree that the United States is still a religious culture. The USA is much more religious than European countries. Religion infects everything. Not theology as such. But the religious cast of mind. American Leftists are Leftists but they are also characteristically American. They can't help being made in the image of the larger culture. I agree with you 100% that more humility is wanted among the Left and also more pragmatism. I would not go in for pure pragmatism because that leads to opportunism and adventurism. Central principles do matter and they ought not to be compromised when a lot is at stake. The trouble with too many Leftists is that they engage in penny ante conflicts that just aren't worth the energy. We need all the energy we have to fight a rising fascism. I share your annoyance. I think the Left would fare better if we all admitted an irrefutable truth: that the contradictions are in all of us, as the Marxists used to say." Jerry Phillips, PhD, University of Connecticut English Department


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