By Greg Godels
June 16, 2023
It should be obvious to everyone that the US left is in difficult straits. It is not even remotely clear who or what counts as left in this country.
To most — encouraged by the capitalist media — the left is the Democratic Party. But that must undoubtedly be mistaken. To be left, one surely has to be outside of the centers of power, looking in; and that certainly is not true of the Democrats and their leaders. Since the beginning of the modern two-party system, the Democrats have been the Pepsi to the Republican Coke, taking its turn in ruling. There may be an estranged left wing of the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party itself is not a left organization. Only deranged columnists for The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal could believe that fantasy.
Aside from dismissing the Democratic Party as an example of the left, it remains difficult to capture what is left in today’s political life. Historically, the thread that united the “left” politics of the last millennium was its rejection of existing political and/or socio-economic formations. Looking back or forward from the eighteenth or nineteenth century, opposition to the existing order generally defined the left, whether that opposition was broadly democratic, liberal democratic, anarchist, or socialist.
Today, that is no longer true in the US.
Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, self-proclaimed US leftists had lowered their designs from advocacy of a new order to a defense of the more “progressive” old order: The New Deal, the Great Society, and a human rights-based foreign policy.
James Carter’s presidential administration was perhaps the high point of and the point of departure from expanding the social democratic vision of a better world. Carter’s electoral platform captured the highest aspirations of the non-revolutionary left to date, with job guarantees, national healthcare, and reduced militarism. Within two years of his presidency, Carter had jettisoned his platform and Ted Kennedy picked up the tattered banner.
Since the election of Ronald Reagan, the broad left has been in retreat, engaged in a defensive posture, lowering its expectations with every electoral cycle.
Marginalized by the Red Scare, ostracization, official repression, and petty-bourgeois self-indulgence, the radical, revolutionary left clung to the margins of political life, advocating a new world against the cynicism and despair fostered by the rout of the “progressive” hordes.
Of course, the fall of the Soviet Union only added to the difficulties of the radical left with the flight of careerists, opportunists, and fair-weather friends from the Marxist-Leninist left.
“Lesser-of-two-evils-ism” became the guiding light of most of the left from the Reagan era onward. With an emboldened, more radical Right emerging, this posture had some merit. The idea of thwarting the rightward march above all other considerations appealed to many. But far too many equated a new Republican-initiated aggression against the gains of working people with Mussolini’s March on Rome.
But nearly half a century later, it has only hardened into a policy of settling for any concession — no matter how small or of little consequence– that the ruling elites will grant. “Lesser-of-two-evils” has inexorably moved the US left to begging for a place within the respectable tent, into a role as the loyal opposition. Too much of our left substituted “please” for “we demand.”
We see this in recent lows in left journalism and commentary. The website Portside — a creation of 1991 dissidents from the Communist Party USA, recovering members of the New Communist Movement, and assorted other activists — illustrates this decline. Portside proves the futility of combining loyal opposition to the Democratic Party mainstream with nostalgia for the New Deal and the Great Society.
While the war in Ukraine has exacerbated and exposed the weaknesses of the US left, there has been slow, but encouraging move toward opposition to the war and the demand to negotiate an end (nearly the entire organized US left picked a side early on and hesitated in calling for the war’s end, with the notable exception of Code Pink).
So it was disappointing, but not surprising to see that Portside recently reposted a provocative article, The Surprising Pervasiveness of American Arrogance, from Foreign Policy in Focus. Author John Feffer attacks those within the generic left who dare to challenge the rigid narrative on the Ukraine war established by the US State Department and slavishly followed by the mainstream media.
Feffer finds arrogance because the US left– undoubtedly justified in believing that the US manufactures consensus– does not embrace the views of the Ukrainian “left” (part of an equally manufactured consensus). Feffer suggests that first hand, authentic opinions of those who are living in Ukraine trumps the opinion of outsiders, while concealing the well-known fact that the Ukrainian government suppresses those who oppose the war. With eleven parties banned in Ukraine, it is surely likely that public opinion in Ukraine is stifled by this reality. It would be equally silly to value the opinion of the Russian left on the war over what we can independently establish, given similar official pressure.
Feffer’s argument is pure sophistry– a variation on the fallacious argument from authority (ad Verecundiam) as taught in beginning logic textbooks.
Further, Feffer denies that there is a place for US pressure in ending the war. He mocks those who may well exaggerate the possibility of a quick, decisive end to the war, but asks us to believe that it could continue indefinitely without US material aid and encouragement. To promote this view, Feffer pictures the US as a mere ineffective leaf blowing in the global political winds– a vulgar reversal of the real US situation. He conveniently forgets the consequential effects of the international anti-war movement in the 1960s.
If Feffer mounts the best case for Portside’s siding with the US State Department, the editors have no case at all.
But a week later, Portside stoops even lower.
Reposting an incendiary article worthy of Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, or Red Channels, the editors returned to the era of guilt by association and Moscow Gold. “People’s Media” Network, but Pro-Russia and Pro-China— taken from The Daily Beast, the self-described “high-end tabloid”– purports to connect a media outlet and a number of left groups and personalities to a wealthy funding source, Neville “Roy” Singham.
Author William Bredderman desperately wants to foster the impression that these entities take the positions that they take because they are directly or indirectly on the payroll of the Russian Federation and/or the People’s Republic of China, that they are Putin’s or Xi’s puppets. His sole evidence is a two-year old raid and accompanying allegations by the Indian authorities that Singham served as a conduit for foreign money to an Indian opposition media outlet. Even the two-year-old Times of India article cited by Bredderman puts the “link” between Singham and the PRC in quotation marks.
But of course, a link between foreign monies and the Indian medium, NewsClick— should it be established with Singham as an intermediary– would have little evidentiary bearing, other than innuendo, upon the relationship between US leftists and the RF or the PRC. No further evidence is introduced.
Bredderman goes to great lengths to show that the organizations and individuals cited all oppose US foreign policy toward the RF and the PRC. He wants the reader to conclude that this opposition is due to influence, rather than principle, despite the well-established fact that these groups and individuals have long been consistently critical of US foreign policy!
The experts that Bredderman surfaces are all deeply hostile to the left, including the discredited Alexander Reid Ross, the popularizer of the laughably imaginary Red/Brown alliance– a particularly nasty notion that served to divide the left since the 1930s.
Many of us have seen this before: the charge that the civil rights movement was directed and funded by Communists, that the anti-war movement was guided by Moscow, that opposition to US foreign and domestic practices must have insidious origins kept from the general public.
The temptation to point to the source of support is especially tempting when power and wealth bear such overwhelming influence through think tanks, institutes, foundations, grants, non-profits, and a host of other ruling-class fronts posing as “independent” voices. Exposing their hypocrisy is a useful service to those who naïvely take their products at face value.
However, “Gotcha” journalism can be an impediment to critical thinking, a diversion from the substance of unconventional views. Since we cannot know if donors support the left because they agree with them, because they insist on compliance for their donations, or if they are solicited by those they fund, we cannot judge the effect upon the recipient’s independence, nor should we be obsessed with it. To be sure, the money won’t come from the US ruling class to seriously subvert itself!
And that should have crossed the minds of the editors of Portside who posted this scabrous assault on the left. And it should be understood as an attack on the left, since it serves no purpose beyond casting a shadow on a section of the left and raising distracting questions about the rest of the left.
Are the editors still mired in the nonsense of RussiaGate? Do they still see foreigners under our political bed?
History will decide many of our differences, without help from ruling-class apologists and hucksters.
1. While this was being written, Portside reposted an hysterical, crude revival of the RussiaGate nonsense and related conspiratorial gibberish by radio host and spiritualist, Thom Hartmann. By revisiting every discredited, distorted, and misleading claim, Portside demonstrated that it will stop at nothing to get a Democrat elected President in sixteen months.