(For a related blog see https://clarespark.com/2012/09/07/charisma-and-symbolic-politics/: my response to the rhetoric and tactics of the Democratic National Convention, 2012.)
There was a time when there was a radical left in this country, with many warring internal factions from the late 19th century onward. But social democrats (moderate conservatives in their own view) selectively co-opted the real left, saving that pro-labor distinction for themselves as the sole moral defenders of the working class, nailing McCarthyism (and the “paranoid” Right) for misguided assaults upon liberals. But whether old Communist or New Dealer, this messy, confusing, and overlapping set of movements rejected “reality” in favor of the “real” existence of
1. “False consciousness” (the Red argument that the working class had been bought off through consumerism, hence had relinquished demands for structural reform). For Marxist-Leninists , we don’t have socialism in America because capitalists transmitted their greed to the workers through institutions managed by “the Jews” or other wily “Hebraic” puritans. In a previous century, Southern apologists for slavery (e.g. George Fitzhugh) helped ploughed this field, comparing Northern “wage slavery” with the more benign paternalism they ascribed to Southern slaveholders. Or, false consciousness may signify excessive deference to “experts” and lack of faith in their own ability to manage their lives. In this instance, [Jew-controlled] mass culture is blamed, while those who laud the heroism and solidarity of workers in current television, may be writing against this type of “false consciousness,” one identified by George Orwell. (Orwell described it as “the pathetic reverence that illiterate people have for their supposed superiors”.)
2. “Identity politics” (the Social Democrat/progressive policy) that class ties were pre-empted by ethnic or racial ties. All my blogs on German Romanticism and the progressives are about this issue. (See https://clarespark.com/2011/03/28/index-to-multiculturalism-blogs/.)
For social democrats masked as “the Left”, we would and should have [ethical] “socialism” in America (or its simulacrum) under certain conditions: The rich should pay their “fair share” and reparations should be made to those victimized by “white male supremacy” through such programs as affirmative action and a “people’s history”: the unveiling of America’s previously unbounded assault upon Nature (including the Third World), non-whites, women, and the labor movement. The State answers the question “what is truth?” and gathers unto its bureaucracies (assisted by social psychologists) all claims to objectivity as to the “real” American history.
Yes, there are Marxist-Leninists with full professorships at numerous universities, as there are university and popular presses that publish them. But such a sprinkling of dissent serves one purpose: the fiction that free speech, no holds barred, is protected in America. Whereas some on the Old Left praised the industrial bourgeoisie as a progressive class, the New Left, along with the rest of the counter-culture, “uncovers” the “real” American past as an unadulterated outrage, with the assistance of Communist/Pop Front allies.
So who sees “things as they are”? There remain two groups vying for your eyeballs: Those hard leftists not beset by false consciousness and who see themselves as future bosses in a reconstructed communist/socialist polity (led of course by the politically conscious working class), or
the critical theorists and postmodernists, who nail science and empiricism as a “swindle,” with the Enlightenment as protofascist, reserving a “multiplicity” of truth telling for their socially-constructed selves. Many (on their left) have criticized this stance as self-contradictory, as a house built upon sand. Not to worry; Orwell’s Doublethink is alive and well amongst those academics who win all the prizes these days.
[Illustrated: anti-Zionist and feminist Judith Butler, winner of the Adorno Prize this year. For my own take on Orwell criticism see https://clarespark.com/2012/10/15/orwell-power-and-the-totalitarian-state/, where I sharply depart from socialist interpreters of Orwell’s legacy.]