Leftist Power, the 60s, and Theory --by Michael Rectenwald
The right is struggling for dominance over all, over the majority. But the right is in a war for dominance against the left. We must not confuse the two struggles; the right struggles to maintain its ideology of dominance AS dominance. The left struggles to have its egalitarian, democratic, and ideals of diversity dominate. To misunderstand this, and to assume that the left is some laissez faire, peace-lover ideology at any expense, is to misunderstand political struggle, as well as the leftist traditions. If you are not here to have the leftist ideology of egalitarian and radical democracy DOMINATE society, you are in the wrong place.
There is an attendant assumption on the part of some liberals, that taking power and using power is just not part and parcel of our program, that there is something intrinsically wrong with power itself, and that the point is not that we should have it, but that no one should. This is a misunderstanding that, in the US, has its roots in 60s peacenik activism, in some form of Gandhi-like resistance applied dogmatically and without consideration of the particular historical and political circumstances at play. This position has no real lineage in the leftist tradition. The fact of the matter is that the left IS (or should be) struggling for hegemony, and that means a struggle for power. If we don't take it, we will never have it, and the right wing will. It cannot be so messy that we cannot define our goals, that we haven't the nerve to take action towards them, and that we will fight for them. Further, there is the additional hangover from the sixties that eschews all use weapons other than words. Yeah, tell that to the Bolsheviks. Or, if you don't like Marxist revolution, tell that to the sansculottes and other French revolutionaries. Or, if you don't like them, tell that to the American Revolutionaries. If you don't like them, you are definitely in the wrong place. To rule out all but "peaceful" actions in advance is both dogmatic and ridiculously naive. Every revolution had a revolutionary army, and/or co-opted the state militia.
Our philosophy is not the more "human" one. "Humanity" is a rather abstract term, and it's always an historically-contingent category. One culture's "humanity" is another's barbarism, as one age's humanity is another age's barbarism. The danger with using such words is that it gives us an abstract feel-good sense and one that often leads us away from establishing really concrete values for what we mean by being 'human.' One might just as well by-pass that kind of language completely and talk about being democratic, egalitarian, socialistic or otherwise humanistic in the sense that human values come before any religious ones--which is better described as "secular."
Finally, for those who think that any theory is an extra appendage, a waste of time, or some mere intellectual exercise for "elitists," I leave you with the words of Lenin. Regardless of whether you advocate or agree with HIS form of theory, his comments about theory in general, are quite apt. Further, he was a 'successful' revolutionary. Regardless of whether or not you like the revolution resulting, his ideas resulted in revolution.
"Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement. This idea cannot be insisted upon too strongly at a time when the fashionable preaching of opportunism goes hand in hand with the an infatuation for the narrowest forms of practical activity [as is exactly the case today. It is fashionable to preach the same kinds of things, to make ourselves 'feel good' about being the 'humanity' party, and to leave our activism at a nascent stage of mere fantasy without real action or courage]. Yet, for Russian Social-Democrats [or US social democrats] the importance of theory is enhanced by three other circumstances, which are often forgotten: first, by the fact that our Party [or action group] is only in the process of formation, its features are only just becoming defined [we are not even at this point], and it has as yet far from settled accounts with other trends of revolutionary thought that threaten to divert the movement from the correct path."
[I argue that these
trends for us are a lack of vision regarding the actual need for RADICAL, to the root, change and a tepid sense about
what is to be done, and a dogmatic 'peacenik' attitude that has nothing
to do with revolution, ever].
Michael D. Rectenwald,
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