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 and the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, they seek to uplift those whom “the Right” (e.g. Israel) knowingly and viciously victimizes. And many prominent “liberals” may accomplish this grand goal “by any means necessary (e.g. hear the cry of 1960s black nationalists or 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 on the way to socialism) 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/.)
An example of crude left-wing populism. 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, both anathematized for “naming names” 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 the 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 (2001), where Lonesome is supposed to be the agent of his own destruction (p.59, fn4, quoting Donald Chase). This movie was the inspiration for Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. See http://clarespark.com/2011/07/07/network-and-its-offspring/.
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 racist, selfish, square, dumb, Islamophobic, xenophobic, indifferent to environmental degradation, gun-totin’ and fanatical, unlike, say, those who run National Public Radio, while many on the Right return the favor, frequently lumping all leftists and social democrats together as elitist conspirators/fascists–Glenn Beck for instance, though I am finding his analysis of increasing statism consistent with a view of the Obama administration as stealth Leninists). It is more complicated than that, though reds and “liberals” do favor various degrees of statism/redistribution 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, see http://clarespark.com/2010/11/06/moderate-men-falling-down/) 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 who are now beset by “false consciousness.” 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 to decadent cities), 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.” (Who are the folks? Rural residents and small producers or small businessmen, or these and the industrial working class, including those in the state sector or service occupations? It is this vagueness that marks the demagogue.)
*Contending definitions of “fascism.” By “fascists” the social democratic ‘left’ generally 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. I am all for keeping the family together, but caution against families keeping their children in a regressed state of mind, that is, either in a state of hero-worship (idealization) or of demonizing “the enemy.” The sane alternative is to look at competing interests, policies, and programs with enough detachment to take on the responsibilities of citizenship in a would-be democratic republic, examining a warring world characterized by every kind of uneven development.