YDS: The Clare Spark Blog

November 24, 2009

Perceptions of the enemy

Cindy Sherman, Untitled (1990)

 

I have reformatted this blog and added material: see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/16/perceptions-of-the-enemy-the-left-looks-at-the-right-and-vice-versa/. Ignore this version.

 

Some mistaken identities. I don’t think that some “Right-wing” partisans understand Leftists, often conflating revolutionary socialists, anarchists, and [anticommunist] social democrats. And yet media pundits constantly refer to “the Left” as if it still existed in its historic 19th and 20th century red-hot formulations and in the same numbers. What is lost is the memory of moderate conservatives or conservative reformers like FDR (descendants of New Dealers, now called “the Left”) and their practices of lopping off those who were to their left, that is, the structural reformers, unless there was a “Popular Front” against looming internal and external fascism, as did exist from 1935 until the Hitler-Stalin Pact in 1939.  At what point did these “moderate conservatives” as they called themselves  metamorphose into “the Left” as sole defenders of the little guy? I am guessing around 1919. More on that another time, or see chapter two of my book on the Melville revival. 

From long experience with leftists and the entire socialist-communist-social democratic traditions, however, despite their sharp differences in goals and tactics, I can generalize about them as follows:  All factions of “the Left” believe themselves to be the true bearers of morality and that conservatives are heartless fascist* murderers. By contrast, as progressives they see themselves as sacrificing their own personalities, economic interests, and happiness for “the public good” or “suffering humanity”; to be one of them, you must “stand with the oppressed,” even if that means helping Hamas. In other words, they seek to uplift those whom “the Right” (e.g. Israel) knowingly and viciously victimizes. And unless they follow Kant and Rosa Luxemberg, they may accomplish this grand goal “by any means necessary.” (e.g. see Trey Ellis in HuffPo, 12-16: “The Obama administration needs to course-correct immediately. He needs to make a series of bold, muscular, ruthlessly political moves immediately (reconciliation anyone?) to put the fear of god into all those puny adversaries out there that have been pushing him around with impunity.”)  So they are the true humanitarians in their own eyes and the antitheses of the “fascists” they valiantly oppose.

 Also, do not minimize both continuities and ruptures between the factions of what is loosely called “the Left.” Anyone who has studied or had contact with revolutionary socialists knows about their history of sectarianism. It makes Protestantism look demure and pure. They have killed or sacrificed  each other without hesitation: just look at what the Stalinists did to Trotskyists and Anarchists during the Spanish Civil War, or the notorious Stalin purges of his former comrades, not to speak of other communists with Jewish backgrounds, a process that ceased only with his death in 1953. But mixing them in with social democrats is absurd, for the motley Marxist-Leninists inhabit mostly such outposts as Pacifica Radio, a few journals, and increasingly-criticized departments of comparative literature and other humanities.
    
 But most crucially, “right-wing social democrats” (as some Leftists call them, distinguishing them from the Second International left-wing social democrats favoring incremental reforms) have an entirely different lineage from the Marxist-Leninists.  As I have shown in other blogs, European aristocrats, following Bismarck and before that, reformers in Great Britain, “christianized” the new ["jewified"] industrial society with social insurance that we now call the welfare state. (See my blog The Enigmatic Face of Philosemitism http://clarespark.com/2009/10/29/the-enigmatic-face-of-philosemitism/.) 
    
As for those artists who once were reds in the 1930s, many of them shifted to populism/progressivism when they saw that the Communist Party wanted to control their work. Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan are two examples. I was particularly disturbed by their film, A Face in the Crowd (1957), that pinned fascism on the media-worshipping mass audience that had elevated the loutish “Lonesome Rhodes,” whose meteoric career had been aided and abetted by a female sentimental liberal–a stand-in for the moral mother, perhaps the figure who had driven them into the arms of the 1930s authoritarian Left. In other words, though Schulberg and Kazan  professed themselves to be progressives, they replicated the aristocratic explanation for fascism as “the revolt of the masses,” bamboozled by the new mass media (radio and television), and shadowed by anti-progressive old money, particularly as embodied in immoral and hidebound Southern politicians.
    Here are some quotes from the screenplay: Lonesome Rhodes (the demagogue who has risen from the People):  “You made me, Marcia.  You made me, Marcia, I owe it all to you.” [Marcia, the arty, sentimental Liberal]:”I know it.”  Marcia, explicitly linked to “marshes” (i.e., quagmires) and ever the guilty mother, finally aware of the duplicity of her monstrous birth, opens the microphone to expose Lonesome’s secret contempt for the TV audience (the common folk) who adore him and who would turn the State over to his fascist backers. [Lonesome Rhodes is ruined:]  “It was the sound man.  I’ll get that dirty stinking little mechanical genius [who did this to me].”  [Marcia:] “It was me.”  The Muckraker’s last words rectify the sentiment of Lonesome’s banner (“There’s nothing so trustworthy as the ordinary mind of the ordinary man.”)  [Muckraking journalist to Marcia:] “You were taken in.  But we get wise to him [the Lonesome/Hitler type]; that’s our strength.”  Mama’s boy, a.k.a. Lonesome’s last words wailed from a balcony (and the night) as Marcia and muckraker depart:  “Marcia, don’t leave me…come back.” That Marcia destroyed her monstrous birth is missing from Nicholas Beck’s “bio-bibliography” of Schulberg, where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase).
  
Stand-ins for the controlling parent? Conservatives must read their antagonists without caricatures and without mistaking their objectives.  Revolutionary socialists and social democrats are not simply “elitists” who think they know what is best for others (though many think that “the Right” is not only monolithic, but selfish, square, dumb, and fanatical, unlike, say, those who run National Public Radio, while many on the Right return the favor, lumping all leftists and social democrats together as elitist conspirators/fascists). It is more complicated than that, though reds and “liberals” do favor various degrees of statism to rectify social inequities and achieve what all call “social justice.” In the end, we could make the public discourse on politics more rational by specifying competing theories of the good society:
Libertarians find wealth creation through free markets a good thing and, in the case of the better educated, believe that the state should protect this process through sound monetary policy. The social democratic Left (a.k.a. the moderate men) sees the state as planning rationally to compensate for what they believe to be a weak and unstable system: capitalism. Nothing is so scary as great gaps between rich and poor, for that portends another bloody French Revolution. If that means that everyone is relatively poor in the quasi-socialist utopia, such asceticism is better than the suffering of the victims du jour while the ever libertine rich feast and thoughtlessly indulge their animal appetites for glitter and other luxuries, hence “bourgeoisifying,” i.e., corrupting, the tastes and desires of the working-class. And some conservatives, angry combatants in the culture wars, even as they invoke the Constitution as written by the Founding Fathers, seek to impose their own morality on those who don’t share the same “values,” (e.g. pro-life, anti-gay marriage, opposition to stem-cell research using frozen embryos, creationism or intelligent design, the superiority of a rural way of life), thus nullifying the separation of Church and State that has served us so well. But I caution my readers who remain somewhere on “the Left” that conservatives are not evil or demented when they find such developments as the hyper-sexualization of women and children to be dangerous and destructive, or wonder, as I do, how it happened that sadomasochism became acceptable, even fashionable. And remember that Lord Maynard Keynes thought that his measures to relieve a depression were not to be permanently institutionalized. 
POPULISM. According to Rasmussen Reports, 55% of the American public is populist, i.e., they believe that government and big business are in cahoots, which makes sense if you understand that small business and big business are in conflict. Interestingly given our generally anticommunist polity, this is the analysis of the Marxist-Leninist Left: the state is an executive committee of the big bourgeoisie (as opposed to the state being an independent institution with its own interests, see sociologist Michael Mann’s books). Populism is a subject I have written about extensively on this website. It claims to speak for “the people” against “the special interests” or “Wall Street” or “the military-industrial complex” or some other dread agglomeration such as “the Jews” or “white males.”As such, it speaks to class resentments and is irrational. Whether of the Left or of the Right, populism is not good for analyzing concrete institutions and their policies. Moreover, as indicated above, it does not distinguish between fractions of those who make decisions for the rest of us, each of which has different and possibly clashing interests with others in the so-called “ruling class.” Populists are incapable of writing accurate histories, but seem content to follow their leaders. And their leaders, insofar as they resort to demagoguery, don’t really care about the folks.
*Contending defintions of “fascism.” By “fascists” the social democratic ‘left’ means a society practicing “laissez-faire” economics, militarism, hypernationalism (“national chauvinism”), the manipulation of public opinion through heavy-handed propaganda, and imperialism/racism. This absolves social democracy of continuities or comparisons with statist fascism and Nazism, not to speak of their zealousness in attacking “rugged individualism,” the American unpardonable sin that is imagined to persist beyond the pioneer period. By contrast, revolutionary socialists generally refer to the rule of finance capital or monopoly capital or “late capitalism” when they write of fascism and Nazism. Social democrats, true to their Platonic Guardian-philosopher-king heritage, tend to see fascism as the revolt of the masses, as noted above. Much psychiatry/psychoanalysis seeks to manage these “id-forces” and may be more powerful than we think in influencing the medical culture of postwar America. For more on the practice of psychoanalysis at a distance, see http://clarespark.com/2009/12/13/klara-hitlers-son-and-jewish-blood/. The importance of the father as leader and as commander of a tight militarized family unit with high morale cannot be overemphasized, a point forcefully made in the last section of the blog just cited, where I analyze the politics of The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit.
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4 Comments »

  1. Clare,
    Thank you for your analysis of the various factions of Leftism. I am no longer among their ranks, but I remember how frustrating it was to be labeled as a this or a that by people who didn’t trouble to make distinctions or care about subtleties . (I have since come to realize that refusing to make distinctions is a tactic to squelch debate on ideas. If the John Birch Society is a conservative movement, then all conservatives are like the John Birch Society. Characterizing a movement (falsely) as monolithic and extreme simplifies the repulsion and vilification of ideas.)
    Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity do a disservice to their audience to suggest that the Left is uniformly statist on all issues. As a patriotic socialist (aka a right-wing social democrat), I could be convinced of the inconsistency of my positions — if someone had taken the time to explain the primary principles and their rational consequences. I think Ayn Rand did that for me.

    Comment by Scott Lloyd — June 19, 2010 @ 2:05 am | Reply

  2. Some caveats: You’re on very sound ground discussing populism. Libertarianism I don’t take seriously; its anarchism for the rich. I’m Left but I don’t take a simplistic view of ‘fascism.’ I’ve read too much Walter Laqueur. The only functioning fascism today is the clerical fascism we don’t dare call ‘Islamofascism’ any more. European fascism is kaput because it was based on a national capitalism which can’t exist anymore. The game today is transnational capitalism which maybe benefits 20% of US population. Anyway, it’s all depressing. In practice I suppose I’m a WWII popular frontist this time allied with Israel & Zionism against the Third Wave of Islam. See my most recent blog in praise of Oriana Fallaci.

    Comment by mauryk2 — December 1, 2009 @ 1:12 am | Reply

  3. One factor you don’t touch on, Clare–I understand this was not intended as a comprehensive post–is vital to understanding ideological leftists. I specifically include center-liberal types, although they are an endangered species.

    In a way that is not generally true about conservative ideologues, politics is used and positions adopted as much as a form of sociodrama as anything else. One assumes a political position and from that an overall political stance in part as a means of moral exhibitionism, of displaying one’s virtue and moral superiority. This is why, for example, “compassion” is often put forth as a motivation for a policy while the proponent is indifferent to actual or likely results. The point is to see oneself as a decent, generous, compassionate person.

    This is part of the reason for the liberal fixation on affirmative action. I recall a Jewish coalition in Michigan in 2006 to defeat a state constitutional proposal that would have established non-discrimination as a part of Michigan’s basic law. I saw a number of quite well-off people congratulating themselves on giving away rights, such as access to the University of Michigan, that didn’t belong to them in the first place.

    I have anecdotal proof of this, Clare, and I’m serious. You see those cars whose rears are plastered with a dozen or more bumper stickers. The point is not to promote a candidate or a cause; no one is actually going to read more than one or two, and I speak as someone who still has a “Save Tiger Stadium” sticker on his rear bumper.

    A dozen or more? These are not affixed to promote anything. They’re there to blare that the driver of the war is not only decent, generous, compassionate, and morally enlightened, but to show membership in the tribe of the righteous. That’s also the purpose of the Semi-Obligatory Palin Swipe, succeeding the Semi-Obligatory Bush Swipe, which I frequently saw in, say, sports section articles that had nothing to do with politics.

    And this is why it’s hard to get such people to take a fresh look at anything, much less change their minds. You’re not dealing with politics, which can be discussed and opinions can be changed; you’re dealing with a person’s basic sense of himself and his self-worth.

    This is why, as someone said, generally conservatives think that their opponents are wrong and leftists think that their opponents and evil or stupid or both.

    Comment by Alex Bensky — December 1, 2009 @ 12:44 am | Reply

  4. Good stuff. I’m going to forward your site to my father who is utterly appalled by what’s going on in washington.

    Comment by Jim Pagano — November 28, 2009 @ 9:18 pm | Reply


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