By Danny Haiphong
April 25, 2017
The first 100 days of Donald Trump’s Presidency has revealed much about the state of political thought and action in the United States. Mainly, Trump’s ascendancy thus far has been a hard lesson on the still ambiguous and disorganized condition of the left.
But what, or who, is the Left? This broad but critical question still warrants an answer. However, the question cannot be answered unless the left’s state of purgatory in the US is fully understood.
Purgatory is often referenced in Christianity as the space between the divine light of heaven and the profound darkness of hell. Purgatory has another definition rooted in mental anguish. For the left, purgatory can be better described as ideological anguish. Little clarity exists among left organizations and groups on the most pertinent questions of the historical moment, leaving the left in an ineffectual “no man’s land.” One consequence of the left’s purgatory has been the complete entrapment of politics inside of a US-Eurocentric quest for purity at the expense of political principles.
The Trump Administration verified the left’s entrapment with its recent war maneuvers against Syria and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). While the Administration bombed Syria and threatened to do the same to the DPRK, the US mainland remained relatively silent. The few protests that occurred after the US bombed Syria in early April drew few newcomers, at least from the vantage point of Boston. Organizational pitfalls controlled, the lack of spontaneous anger surrounding US warfare is a product of the nation’s imperialist and white supremacist foundations.
More subtle than the outright Orientalist and racist characterizations of Bashar Al-Assad and Kim Jong-Un as murderous “dictators” is the inability of the US leftists broadly to lend critical support to oppressed nations under siege. The former is the dominant mode of thought in the corporate media and Washington, while the latter is the dominant mode of thoughtlessness in many left-oriented organizations. These developments are interrelated. The complete suppression of internationalist ideology in place of full spectrum Empire has infected all sections of the left. US imperialism’s mission for full spectrum dominance has immeasurably increased the compulsion of masses of people to define the world in the image of the dominant system.
This is why only a few organizations such as Black Agenda Report, the International Action Center, and the United National Anti-War Coalition (UNAC) have lent critical support to the Syrian peoples and peoples of the Korean Peninsula.
Many so-called left journals and organizations oppose such support on the basis that the North Korean and Syrian governments are oppressive in their own right. These organizations include Democracy Now, International Socialist Organization, and even the Intercept. The words “regime” and “dictator” have become popular terms among these currents to describe the leaders and governments caught in the cross hairs of US imperialism. Each of these leftish factions uses dubious sources at best to slander the Syrian government without any thought as to the consequences of their actions.
It took a Democratic Party presidency dressed in Black face to make it fashionable to align with imperialist war as long as it was for “humanitarian” purposes. Such was the case in Libya, where an alliance of human rights NGOs and Western governments destroyed the socialist African country in 2011 through the use of foreign terrorists.
The same labels of dictator and regime used to describe North Korea and Syria were thrown around by the likes of Democracy Now, giving even more impetus for progressives to support intervention in Libya. Obama’s presence so intensified the left’s rightward lurch that not even a GOP-driven administration has been able to reverse the trend. In fact, Trump has been embraced by the corporate media and ruling class liberals who see his assault on the DPRK and Syria as essential tenants of the “American way of life.”
And much of the left has followed along. If not outright promoting regime change, many organizations have tried to stagger the playing field by opposing both imperialist war and the targeted governments. This type of purity politics merely reinforces white supremacist, imperialist dogma. Purity in this context can be defined as white, with the Syrian and North Korean states held to standards set by Western, mostly white activists. These standards are often undefined and the reasons for opposing independent, sovereign states difficult to differentiate from the US State Department’s justifications for war.”
In a period of deep confusion, it becomes all the more necessary to root politics in science. Blind opposition to oppressed nations negates genuine study of the broader geopolitical situation or the specific character of the countries in question. The dehumanization of Syrians and Koreans only serves the material interests of the ruling class bankers and war profiteers. People considered incapable of governing themselves make the perfect targets of war. So-called left organizations, scholars, and journalists in the US only lend legitimacy to this colonialist notion when they promote anti-Assad or anti-DPRK propaganda on behalf of empire.
Even more striking about the US left’s complicity with empire is the confidence so-called scholars lend to the imperialist narrative. Noam Chomsky is one of the most prominent scholars on the left. He has likely studied international questions with more vigor than the vast majority of people in the United States. Yet Chomsky repeats the imperialist line on Syria whenever possible. His constant need to refer to the Syrian government as the “Assad regime” shows broad disdain for peoples who decide to chart their own course of history independent of US imperialist domination, especially those in the Arab world.
Syrians support the Syrian government for similar reasons the DPRK enjoys broad support from Koreans in the North, regardless of what Western bourgeois intellectuals or leftists believe. Both governments privilege state ownership over private ownership in order to best provide housing, education, and healthcare to its citizens. Unemployment is relatively low. Even though sanctions have hindered Syria and the DPRK, economic growth has been the norm. However, it is extremely difficult for many in the US to conceive of economic development outside of imperialism’s orbit mainly because all peoples outside of the banner of whiteness have been dehumanized by the US corporate press and political establishment.
Ideology is a reflection of reality. White supremacist ideology has thrived in a time of crisis for US imperialism. The intensification of white supremacy should not exclusively refer to the Trump phenomenon or the Brexit vote in the UK. White supremacist and imperialist ideology cannot be confined to the “far right” when a profound state of disarray exists among workers and oppressed peoples inside of the US. Over three decades of corporate consolidation, privatization, and technological advancement has come at the expense of the material and psychological position of workers and poor people.
The vast increase in war spending abroad has paralleled draconian police and prison expansion targeting the Black and undocumented working class in the US. A comprador class of Black elites and non-profit managers has helped further neutralize radical politics where the corporate media and state repression failed. These conditions have made it difficult for genuine and organic revolutionary politics to emerge, leaving only rot to occupy the many cracks of this crumbling system. All aspects of this development trajectory of US imperialism should be given equal weight when assessing the ideological maladies of the US left.
To escape this state of purgatory will require a new formation of left political thought and action based on solidarity with oppressed peoples abroad and a deep connection to the condition of the oppressed in the US. It is a complete and utter waste of energy to pontificate on the purity of the Syrian government when masses of people are being murdered by the US war machine each day.
Black America possesses a net worth of $1700 USD. Nearly eighty percent of all people in the United States could be considered “near poor.” The material basis for a radical anti-imperialist movement to emerge already exists. However, ideology will remain restrained in a state of purgatory by the Empire’s crisis until an organizational force emerges that is strong enough to combat the purity politics of what currently passes for the left in the US.
Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org