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Ideology and the student left

Will Klatt, Luis Brennan, Aaron Petcov, and Ashley Weger

Platypus Review 27 | September 2010

[PDF]  [Audio Recording]

The Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel discussion on the Politics of the Contemporary Student Left at the U.S. Social Forum (USSF) in Detroit on June 26, 2010. Moderated by Laurie Rojas, assistant editor for the Platypus Review, the panel consisted of Will Klatt, member of the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and organizer for Service Employees International Union (SEIU); Luis Brennan, a student organizer at University of Chicago and former member of the new SDS; Aaron Petcov, formerly of the new SDS and currently a member of the Organization for a Free Society (OFS); and Ashley Weger, an organizer for Platypus and a former organizer for UNITE HERE. A complete audio recording is available at the above link. What follows is an edited transcript of each panelist’s introductory remarks and the subsequent Q&A session.

Will Klatt: I don’t necessarily identify with being an anarchist or a Marxist-Leninist or anything like that; if anything, I’m a syndicalist, which means I believe in workers control. I think students are going to the be the catalysts to make revolution happen. We live in an exciting moment in the student left, after what happened in California and what is happening in Arizona and in Puerto Rico, where students went on a 43-day strike and won all of their demands. Momentum has built up, but we have to capitalize on the lessons students learned in the last two or three years, or it is just going to be a footnote in history. In terms of obstacles, I’d suggest that the Left glamorizes the proletariat, the working class, or even the lower classes, in ways that are not realistic. The proletariat obviously plays a significant role, but if you look historically at what creates the context for a revolutionary situation, from Oaxaca to Greece, it is clear that students play a significant role in creating a context in which revolution can become possible. The main challenge in the next year is going to be getting all the student groups to work together towards a common goal. It will come down to discussing what our values and our commonalities are, and then building a coalition that can move to collective action on a large scale.

Luis Brennan: I am a recent graduate from University of Chicago, an elite private university, which changes a lot of what students can do on campus. One of the core problems I deal with is understanding the difference between private and public universities and the differences between student organizing in those two. In either context, the main difficulty is figuring out how to organize towards an anti-capitalist vision. How can we actualize the strategic potential that is peculiar to organizing students, and connect this to the larger anti-capitalist struggle? We need to understand how that can be grounded in practice and understand the dynamic relationship between our intellectual work and our practical work.

One opportunity offered by private universities lies in their position in the larger economic framework, which makes a lot of strategies viable. A good example is the current campaign focusing on HEI Hotels and Resorts, where UNITE HERE! is trying to organize workers. These hotels get start-up capital almost entirely from university endowments. Thus, to stand in solidarity with workers and push for their demands, we students are in a strategic position for pressuring our universities to pressure companies. Of course, there is also the value of politicizing students in general, especially on campuses where many students have done service work.

There are also difficulties with regard to these points. First, what should the process of building student power on campuses look like, beyond achieving our immediate demands? Transforming how decisions get made on campuses and who controls university policy will entail getting organized and building bases and movements with rallies that go from five, to fifty, to five hundred people over the course of the campaign. In order to move the university in profound ways, to democratize the education process, or to make the university invest in worker cooperatives or community land trusts, we need a lot more than just five people yelling. We will need to build institutions that can go across these campaigns and go across these issues; we need to encourage a campus culture that allows us to move beyond individual and immediate issues.

Organizationally, a classic problem of the student left is the quick turnover: undergraduates come in and out on a four-year cycle. Graduate student organizing can help combat this, especially at private universities. Grad students stick around for several years, so they are better poised to create continuity and community. Hosting regular events near, but not on campus, also go long way toward maintaining a culture of politicizing people outside of specific issues, without collapsing people into one campaign or one group. At University of Chicago, for instance, there is the Woodlawn Collaborative, a sustainable space where community leaders and student groups host conversations about politics and history, which are hard to have inside a campaign.


Declaring solidarity with protesters in Greece, France, and Italy, students occupy a dining hall at The New School for roughly 30 hours in December of 2008.

Aaron Petcov: I am a leftist because the Left expresses the highest hopes for human potential. Though my politics had been radical for some time, being a leader in the new SDS forced me to develop a sense of revolutionary praxis, of how to put into practice the ideas I was bringing into my work in a coherent but dynamic way. The new SDS was also pivotal in teaching me to appreciate the lessons gained from the grassroots organizing experience in the U.S., from the early labor movement to civil rights to black power. Too often, the revolutionary Left neglects the lessons of these movements. At the same time, the importance of political vision and and revolutionary analysis is too often neglected by the social movement left. In a sense, the OFS is meant to serve as a hub of left organizers dedicated to synthesizing those two roles, the revolutionary left and the social movement left.

I do not identify with any single ideological paradigm on the Left. I see there is an emerging tendency among young organizers to remain open to learning from both the revolutionary left and social movement left, and who like the idea of “take the best and leave the rest.” Against the wall we throw a wide array of conceptual tools of the revolutionary left, along with our experience as activists and organizers, and we see what sticks. We look to this broad tradition of the Left, to the long history of struggle for classlessness and democracy, and seek to honor the rich traditions of the Left by appreciating the theoretical lessons we can take from anarchism, Marxism, feminism, and national liberation struggles—while also holding each of these traditions accountable for their historical outcomes, of course.

In terms of building the student left, or rebuilding the Left in general, I think a fixation on left history can actually become a problem, either by depending on our martyrs in history, whom we fall back on to stoke our self-righteousness, or else misapplying historical conditions, as in thinking that America in 2010 looks anything like Russia in 1917, or France during May of 1968, or even 1999. The Left needs to start discussing what it is that we want, what we are struggling for, and what the alternative to capitalism is. The immediate task is to start thinking seriously about what organizing means beyond just moving people to the Left or getting people involved in our movements. We must start thinking more about conceptualizing what it means to build power in this country. It is clearly not enough simply to pick out easy targets, administrators at universities, bosses and landlords and CEOs, and annoy them in the hope that we can pressure them to capitulate to our demands. It is a matter of building power quantitatively and qualitatively, developing strong leadership from the communities that we are organizing both in terms of their skill set and in terms of their consciousness, their political analysis. There is a very important strategic component to reform struggle, but not in the way that most of the social movement left is invested in. What we need is reform struggle in a revolutionary framework. Struggles for reform will legitimize the revolutionary movement, putting the movement and the people in a better position to gain further demands along the path towards revolution, which comes only when we get the power, as a movement, to fundamentally transform the defining social institutions of our society.

Ashley Weger: Platypus seems like an unlikely destination for someone like me, who became acquainted with the Left as an activist and organizer rather than from a more critical or intellectual perspective. It seemed suspicious at best, elitist at worst, for a group’s primary focus to be on history and theory rather than on people’s day-to-day experiences. It was not immediately apparent how studying history could possibly be undertaken as a political act. The group’s emphasis on a critique of the Left from within the Left seemed off when the right-wing appears to be gaining more steam domestically and internationally. Nonetheless I went to fora like this one and participated in the weekly reading group, which I would describe, for those of you who do not know about it, as an exploration of the adventures and misadventures of the Left—its highs and lows. But I did not grasp what the group was trying to do. As time passed, however, I began to critically approach the work I did as an activist and organizer and began to wonder what it was amounting to. Was I really building a movement by taking part in protests, or was this participation only some sort of pseudo-activity that disguised itself as contributing to something greater when, in truth, it was only satisfying a juvenile rebellious streak, and not affecting society at all?

Platypus’s insistence on a critique of the Left, particularly in terms of historical regression, suddenly seemed to make sense. Such a recognition could have depoliticized me; instead, I adopted the Gramscian notion that it is essential to have a pessimism of the intellect and an optimism of the will. I would suggest that our goal as a group is a humble one: It consists in recognizing that the Left’s current incapacity to shape the world is hidden behind a mass of optimism that another world is possible and is near birth.

Most groups on the Left are susceptible to this kind of self-affirmation. Certainly, it was and is true for something like the revival of the SDS. While I was not involved in creating the Chicago chapter of the new SDS, I shared many of its worst characteristics in other coalition work: I fancied myself part of the resurrected 1960s, thinking that 1968 was the high point of politics—that is, until me. This profound hubris, I believe, is a symptom of the sort of uncritical political impulse that deters building the Left in mass. What resounds today is the overall failure, rather than the small gains, of the 1960s student left.

Because of my involvement with Platypus, I have become convinced over time that an emphasis on “synthesis” and “the intersectionality of political struggles” have become fixations that escape and betray the task at hand—human emancipation. For this we need a total theory—not a total understanding of everything in the world, but a theory that grasps fundamentally the unfreedom of capitalist society, rather than merely collects particular descriptions of the effects of unfreedom, or collates a series of bullet points aimed at this amorphous thing called “the Man,” American hegemony, the System, or Empire. This is not some naïve utopian desire for absolute truth, but rather a sober recognition of the necessity for a critical Left, a recognition that human emancipation cannot exist unless society at large is understood on the basis of how to push it there.

Marxism has a miserable history of authoritarianism and blind and infertile sectarianism. At the present moment, it has little to no apparent practical significance. But then, why am I interested in the Left? Essentially, it is this drive towards the utopian, understood not as a fixed idea of a perfect future, but as a “better unknown” that one strives for. Marxism was the only tradition of thought that made clear to me why I am a leftist, and raised serious questions about what this means in practice.

A critical perspective rooted in historical study and self-awareness does not mean one renounces all activism or organizing, but it does entail a deeply felt responsibility to be critical not only of the dangerously apolitical state of academia, but also of the depoliticizing potential of protest culture and other forms of participation that seem entirely political and serious. Ultimately, we must remember that the question at the heart of the student left is not about students’ real or imagined emancipation, but about what capacity students have in contributing to a politics of social emancipation, and what the difficulties of such a project would be.

Q & A

Internationally, the Left’s political power is at a historical low. How do you make sense of the decline of the Left? How should the student left, on the whole, or one’s own political practice begin to address this?

WK: I disagree that we’re in a moment of defeat. There are problems with the strikes and protests in Greece, but there are also a lot of interesting things going on. If communities of anarchists, communists, and socialists come together and agree on what needs to happen, we can profoundly transform not just our country, but the world. Simply because those sorts of wide-ranging transformations are not happening right here, at this moment, does not mean that we are in a moment of defeat. We are at a point in human history where any kind of revolutionary outbreak, once it gets off the ground somewhere, will spread through the global community.

LB: I do not know if the Left is at an absolute low, historically, but I certainly think we are at a relative low, compared to moments like May 1968 or 1917. The first step is building movements and building organizations. We need to create an atmosphere and culture that can instill a belief that things are changing and new possibilities are at hand. There are only 15,000 people here at the U.S. Social Forum; you do not have a revolutionary situation with only 15,000 people. We need people to grab hold of this new vision of society and to build it in their everyday lives. We get there by bringing those people into movements and politicizing them. Organizing on campuses is taking that step from building rallies that grow from five to fifty to five hundred. If we have 500 people at a rally at our campus, that means 500 people have taken, at least in some small way, a stand against the way the world is. However, developing student power alone does not politicize people. But we must build these movements, these communities of people taking a stand, for there even to be a a context for politicization in the first place. Certainly, we have not yet reached our destination, and everyone may not be going in a perfect direction, but we are still moving in exciting ways. Therefore I do not think the student left is hopeless right now.

AP: I agree that the Left is at a historic low in the United States, but internationally this is much less the case. There is a lot of potential in Latin America, in particular Venezuela, El Salvador, Bolivia, and Brazil, along with the Maoist revolution in Nepal and the Naxalites in India. Possibilities are emerging in Greece and other European countries, as well. This is a huge moment of opportunity, but precisely for this reason the questions we ask within the Left, about how we build the Left, take on even greater importance. The Left is broader and more inclusive now than it ever has been. It is no longer simply about liberating the working class—it is about GLBTQ liberation, and about liberating people of color, women, and the disabled. Our ideal role as students lies very much in what Luis was saying—it’s just a matter of getting out there and organizing, doing political work, and building rallies from five to fifty to five hundred people, and more. Many have a sense of anxiety about our moment. There is a popular sentiment that “something is going to happen.” But it is not going to happen unless we make it happen. At the same time, many people have a sense that things are only getting worse, that things are only moving to the right. We, as the revolutionary left, need to be a motor; we need to start pushing people’s ideas until they are able to develop on their own as organizers and revolutionaries.

The way we do that is not by asking, “Did we win yet? Did we achieve this demand?” Rather, we will be winning only when we have built a base that puts the people in power into a dilemma. Obviously, we should be judging ourselves based on whether we are recruiting people into our movements, and whether our rallies are getting bigger. But also we need to judge our political efforts with respect to revolutionary consciousness. Are we developing revolutionary organizers? Even if we don’t win our demands, which can be very difficult, the activity of organizing around those demands may still be a victory of a sort, to the extent these organizational efforts translate into developing revolutionary leadership and bases of revolutionary consciousness in our communities.

AW: At least implicitly, many leftists have this idea that everyone is anti-capitalist, but some of them do not know it yet. In practice, this leads to a conviction that if you just get a bunch of people to sign on to this or that coalition, it will immediately become an anti-capitalist movement, naturally and of its own accord. Frankly, this idea is misguided.

When organizing at DePaul, I basically took the “five to fifty to five hundred” approach that the other panelists mentioned, yet I am skeptical that this organizational work actually politicized anyone. We were able to sit down with the president and demand that our campus workers be paid a living wage. I built a committee that, I think, can win a living wage for DePaul workers in the next year. But I do not think I have politicized a single person through that. There are a lot of liberals that want to do the right thing because they see people on their campus suffering. I am not going to interfere with anyone trying to do right by his or her conscience, but I would not call that politics. The schism between the revolutionary left and the social movement left is very real, and deep. Whenever I have tried to bring even the most vaguely radical perspective to bear on my union work, usually in the form of comradely critique, it has been mocked by my union leads. This is a real problem that has been internalized in the labor movement, which thinks that it is going to emancipate society through contract negotiation alone. Critique does not mean dismissal; I am critical of the labor movement while respecting it and working for it for free. In fact, I work for the labor movement and strive to be critical of it for the same reason: I take the labor movement seriously.

In the new SDS, the fixation on being a broad-based, umbrella organization displaced attempts to clarify its own ideological thought, and thus to develop its members politically. Internal political differences were often addressed apolitically—through whisper campaigns, for instance—in ways that simply did not get at the heart of the issue. Has this become a tendency of the Left in general, meaning that young leftists are doing work for political organizations, without development and clarification of their political perspective? To what degree is this a problem, and how can organizations address it?

WK: I do not think ideology is nearly as important as some of the other panelists. At this point, it does not matter which program we are going to implement once the revolution happens. It is fine to talk about whether you are a Marxist or an anarchist, but such discussions are premature at best. They are ultimately irrelevant until we have real power. When I’m organizing students, the reason I do not talk about, for example, whether or not they have read Marx, is because it is not relevant to our lives. It will be relevant, and we should have those arguments, once we have overthrown capitalism. But we are not there yet.

AP: It is true that much of the discourse over ideological differences is frequently—and I’m putting it mildly here—counterproductive. But there are necessary conversations that can be productive. There’s not so much an aversion to ideology in general, but more of an aversion to dogmatic, counterproductive conversations. People want to have meaningful, rich political discourse, in which we clarify our differences, struggle with them, and move forward from them. Ideology is necessary and, in a sense, unavoidable. We all have an ideology because, if nothing else, we are socialized according to the conditions in which we are raised. Part of the goal of revolution is to combat those ideologies and introduce, as Gramsci put it, counterhegemony—a new set of values, a new set of narratives, and a new way to view the world. Precisely because ideology is unavoidable, it is necessary to discuss it; we should not be coy or unclear about this. We will not be able to create a revolutionary movement without a revolutionary ideology that opposes the ideology of capitalism, which serves to justify the oppression that exists in the current social order, and against which we are fighting. This comes back to the necessity of bridging this gap between the revolutionary left, characterized by organizations based on a high degree of political unity, and the social movement left, which is broader and more diverse in terms of its political approaches. Both are absolutely necessary for a powerful popular struggle.


At the G20 in Toronto, June 2010.

The new SDS showed that there are degrees of unity necessary for accomplishing different tasks. It started as a call for a broad student left to come out to a convention and build a national organization, where you had a bunch of people from different tendencies on the Left in the same room, talking. The hour of conversation became a three-year-long political struggle. Unfortunately, a growing tendency emerged in the new SDS, whereby discussion of superficial questions of the organizational structure took the place of ideological clarification. Genuine, productive political debate was absent. It was very evident to me in the new SDS that these political differences were framed and treated as “personal disagreements” or clashes of personality, rather than dealt with as ideology. From that experience, I think it is necessary to clarify political differences—not because it is good to have disputes about everything, but because people and organizations need to be clear about their agreements and disagreements in order to understand where there is potential for meaningful collaboration, and where there is not. We do not all need to work together, all of the time. Indeed, we are not going to have a movement at all if we do not start to clarify these differences.

LB: What we are talking about here is definitely a problem for the Left. We need to build infrastructure for processes that will politicize people as they organize, like having a reading group. If you are politically active on the Left, you should take a couple of hours out of your week and read political literature together with your friends or fellow travelers. If you are not doing that you are not really politicizing people, and whatever campaign you are working on is not really winning. I myself am retracting a bit from student organizing on a national level because I think, right now, there is more of a need for coherent mid-level, mid-scale organizing in Chicago. I mean, before we start trumpeting a national campaign or a national organization for this or that cause, I think there needs to be a serious political context in which that national work would happen. Moreover, on the scale of a city or maybe a state, maintaining a conversation about politics is much more feasible practically.

WK: Listening to you all, I have come to agree that it is important to talk about our ideology in the movement. At the SDS convention, you would see the Marxists in one corner planning their next move, and the anarchists planning theirs in the other corner. What I thought was interesting was that the discussion, particularly in the anarchist circles, was, “If we win, these people are going to try to kill us.” Many anarchists are skeptical of building coalitions with Marxist groups because of things like the history of Marxism and anarchism in Spain and other places, where taking power led to bloodshed internally. This could happen again, but I think, in the meantime, it makes sense for us to talk to each other. I do not think, however, is it is good to organize through these little subgroups and sects—we are not going to win a revolution by organizing anarchists and socialist clubs on our campuses, and I think this is where we really mess up. You may develop a decent community with an idea like that, but it does not build the bridges the movement needs in order to move forward. In the sphere of mass organizing, we cannot let ideology dominate the entire discussion, because it distracts from the fact that hardly anyone is even tenuously committed to a communist revolution in America in the first place.

AW: I’d like to revisit something Aaron mentioned, regarding the importance of having struggles for reform within a revolutionary framework. A lot of leftist groups tail onto various issues, from the Dream Act to health care. Most often they do this in the form of front groups or as cadres that infiltrate existing organizations. They imagine that they are pushing these groups, but are they actually leading them? No. At the same time, some on the sectarian left have an aversion to any sort of reform, which is simply absurd. Rosa Luxemburg had it right in Reform or Revolution. It is not a question of “choosing” one side or the other—the problem lies in separating the two in the first place, which ensures that both will fail, in practice. To Luxemburg, the victories and failures of the reform movements function as the school of revolution for the proletariat, the means by which the working class can be become, as Marx once put it, “a class for itself,” by developing a better understanding of the limitations of working within capitalism. Revolution cannot be achieved simply through reforms, but reforms are part of the revolutionary struggle. Something else we have talked about is the aversion to ideology, which is common on the Left today. A lot of people do not want to box themselves in—they want to “take the best and leave the rest.” I think this amounts, in effect, to feeling shame in being political, shame in talking to people about being a Marxist or talking to people about believing that capitalism is a systematic disaster that can never be reformed into working for people. It is a shame that, because my union leads were against my talking to people from a fervently Marxist and anti-capitalist perspective, I had to leave the union struggle on my campus to really engage people politically. These are all elements that play into why people do not simply become “politicized” by campaigns, even when these campaigns get people out marching on the streets.

One popular strain in radical politics has advocated “engaged withdrawal” from institutions and the creation of alternatives like worker-owned cooperatives, community gardens, tenants associations, and so forth. As a strategy, this approach has recently been programmatically adopted by the Organization for a Free Society, though they are hardly the only ones to do so. What are the results and prospects of this approach to politics?

AP: Being an organizer in Detroit, where there is so much emphasis on building alternative institutions, namely urban gardens and agriculture, has made me think about how important it is to have prefigurative struggle, which means building physical institutions that, to the highest degree possible, represent or resemble the world it is we are fighting for. Building workers’ cooperatives is one kind of prefigurative struggle, and as such it is useful and necessary, both as a laboratory for politics and as a mechanism by which we can win people over to revolutionary consciousness by expressing right now, in the real world, the values that we are trying to build. Of course, there are reasonable reservations about this approach to politics. Detached from larger political struggles against the powers-that-be, any forays into prefigurative politics will only yield isolated institutions and political experiences, which are then unlikely to amount to wider social change.

LB: I support the idea that building alternatives is central to our work, but building alternatives is not enough, because these alternatives are never wholly autonomous from capitalism. Community gardens are not spaces of non-capitalist social organization. The best example is New York City in the 1970s. Everyone was clamoring about the end of capitalism, because there were lots of community gardens and urban farming. Then finance capital came into New York and, all of a sudden, the property became far more valuable and the gardens were destroyed as the lots were bought and sold. We need to build around these struggles in order to defend and expand them. We need movements that are powerful enough to say, “No, you are not going to destroy this garden, this is the society we are building.” And we need to scale that up: Gardens are great, but we need to feed millions. We don’t just need a new way to feed the neighborhood. We need a way to feed an entire society.

AW: But if, as you said, these community gardens do not represent alternatives to capitalism, why should building them be “central” to any anti-capitalist politics? These sorts of projects do not create a more free society. Community gardens may have other values—certainly, they give pleasure and enjoyment to some people—but the Left does not primarily value them for this reason. Rather, much of the Left uncritically endorses a variety of projects for urban beautification because they see these as revolutionary tactics for social emancipation. There are no ready-made alternatives to capitalism immediately at hand within capitalism. The Soviet Union at no point represented an already completed alternative to capitalism. At best, in its early days immediately following the Russian Revolution, the Soviet project represented a form of highly realized capitalism, the contradictions of which were being pushed and clarified politically by the Bolsheviks.

Today, most of the supposed alternatives to capitalism that emerge from prefigurative struggles are nostalgic for an imagined, premodern Eden, complete with a fantasy of pseudo-feudal property relations, particularly in terms of land. So I have a hard time seeing these struggles as “laboratories for politics” and left-wing
“political experimentation.” If anything, they seem to prefigure a future that has regressed to something even worse than the form of capitalism we know today.

If a lot of left wing political discourse is, for the most part, unintelligible to most people, is that a problem with the discourse or is that a problem with contemporary reality?

AP: I would say, “both.” It is the case that most people on the street are not going to understand what I mean if I say Gramsci or talk about hegemony, prefigurative struggle, and so on. I think that we have to be able to relate to the average man on the street, to develop a way of popularizing and articulating our politics, our vision, our analysis, using common language in a way that people can relate to. Perhaps this means developing organic intellectuals, in the Gramscian sense: people who not only come from communities that understand revolutionary politics, but who can also communicate these ideas and develop leadership amongst the masses.

So, for example, on the question of whether or not the Left should call itself “socialist” or use the word  “socialism,” I think there are good arguments on both sides. I don’t think that we need to have a straight line on that all the time. What does socialism really mean? It is a whole set of concepts about an economy that is equitable, democratic, etc. We can call “socialism” whatever we like, really, because it is the component ideas that are truly important. Broadly speaking, popularizing and spreading the component parts of that vision, such as democratic participation in the economy, is most important. There is a time and place for arguing about whether we call it socialism or something else, but at the moment that is a less pressing concern.

I do understand the argument for fighting against the right-wing demonization of socialism. Nevertheless, I wonder what, exactly, is the goal of fighting right-wing groups on campus. Young Americans for Freedom come to your campus with signs that say, “Sweatshops are Good.” It is twisted and pretty sick. But the way to win is by not letting them frame the debate. The best way to fight the right-wing is to build the Left and, in a sense, force them to catch up to us. Most people are not on that extreme polar setting of left versus right. Most people are in the middle—those are the people we need to focus on winning over.

AW:  But is it really just a matter of getting the message to the people? Are we even sure we know what the message is, or should be? I needed to figure out for myself what revolution meant, what capitalism meant, what socialism meant, and I am not at all convinced everything has been figured out, by me or anyone else. Leftists want to be on the side of the people, but we also tend to think that we ourselves are not regular people. Leftists have to live and work under capitalism like everyone else. The Left exists under the objective conditions of capitalism; it does not struggle against an ideology that is separate from it. Indeed, the Left must struggle with capitalist ideology precisely because it is not separate from it. The Left is subject to capitalism and thus capable of reproducing it. Otherwise, fighting capitalism would be a much simpler matter. Leftists need to remember that they are most vulnerable the moment they think they are somehow immune.

I think a lot of what the Left is about, or should be about, has become unclear, obscure, vague. If this is the case, a pedagogical approach to politics is more appropriate to our political landscape today than winning people over by promising something you cannot deliver. This pedagogical approach would have to entail a specific kind of education, political and highly politicizing. I do not think that we should be posing alternatives by throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. After all, nearly anything would stick. People are desperate and confused, and are therefore liable to treat as a solution even the most tentative suggestions. Leftists are not somehow above and beyond this situation—if anything, we are wrapped up more deeply in it. The Left needs to pose an alternative, but if we accept that the ideological clarification we have discussed today has not been adequately realized, it follows that we are not in a position to pose a concrete “alternative” through a program, whether it comes in the form of a sectarian screed or a popularizing pamphlet aimed at a mass audience. Perhaps, at the moment, we can pose a legitimate alternative only through a series of questions. |P