TW: Assault mention. Also a whole lot of sectarian bullshit.
“And then the moralists come along — they are, of course, the police.”
– Alan Watts
Let me paint you a picture. In a leftist social media group somewhere, an anarchist-communist and a Marxist-Leninist duke it out over the best way to topple capitalism. Emotions are high, and the argument isn’t productive – it’s just insults and strawmen from both parties. One calls the other a fucking statist who deserves the wall, the other a fucking imperialist who should be thrown in a gulag. Meanwhile in the back some RevCom nerd with a Syrian flag as their profile pic is sobbing about “left unity” and asking why we can’t all just hold hands and get along.
After all, capitalism is out there, and it’s the real enemy, right? Climate change is getting worse. Flint still needs water. Colonialism is still thriving. There’s a lot to be fucking mad about, and just not enough being done about it in comparison to the amount of time we spend being petty amongst ourselves. Sounds like a tempting reason to make some meme about left unity – perhaps with a vaporwave aesthetic for the most outreach.
Before you stop reading to make unity propaganda, let me paint another picture.
A prominent anarchist organizer with a lot of social capital is very outspoken and considers themselves the expert on anarchism and ethics. He has a knack for getting projects off the ground and making their comrades excited, and locally he seems to be well-loved. Then, suddenly, an anonymous post comes out with a list of the survivors of the women they’ve assaulted, and he is outed as someone violent who jumps from local anarchist scene to anarchist scene to escape consequences. A quick investigation around confirms that it was true. The organization protects them without any attempt at accountability because “that was a long time ago,” and anyone in the local scene who has experienced assault and doesn’t trust this organizer is told they’re being sectarian and dividing the left, and they need to know their place or be ex-communicated from the scene until they do as much for activism as that organizer did.
Or more a more recent example: let’s say an activist with a lot of influence writes an essay that many interpret as being transphobic, because it paints a picture of trans people as irrational SJWs seeking an onslaught of anything with a “pale-skinned penis.”
Is capitalism still the only issue worth fighting?
Of course not. Because let’s face it: our lived experiences have a whole lot more going on than just capitalism. Homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, racism, ableism, sexual assault – there’s a lot of dark shit that we’ve let grow in our collective unconscious, and while capitalism may seem to be at its core, I for one have no faith that issues like rape and transphobia will be magically fixed by the fall of capitalism. These are issues that have existed prior to its existence, and even leftists perpetuate them. Tunnel visioned anti-capitalism in these situations is about as helpful as single issue activism.
And therein lies the exact problem: leftism is not a clear indicator of someone’s ethics.
There are so many ways you can be a shithead as a leftist, and frankly it’s extremely common. There are as many different leftist ethics as there are individual leftists. What hurts you may not hurt me. So let me make that clear: just because you’re a leftist does not mean I must trust you, and it certainly doesn’t mean I need to unite with you if you can’t prove you are someone worth trusting. I make the decision of who I mutually associate with. As do you for your associations. Enough of us have had bad experiences in leftist spaces that don’t happen to the same extent elsewhere. There’s just something toxic about certain individuals when they’re on a moral high horse and a savior complex.
Just because systemic horrors exist does not mean that we have to be complacent to every leftist organizer or deny our lived experiences. Any organizer who calls themselves leftist should be under the most intense possible scrutiny to retain the trust of locals and to always push that organizer further left. They subject themselves to leftism – that is, to the unrelenting subjective receipt of criticism for the sake of a better world, so they need to be held to it more than anyone else. No one wants a better world created by someone they hate – they want one that works for them!
So what is The Left™, and does it matter?
The left-right dichotomy originally comes from the French Assembly of 1789. Anyone who supported absolute power of the monarchy sat on the right side of the assembly, and anyone who supported limiting its absolute power sat on the left side.
This isn’t necessarily an indicator of anti-capitalism vs pro-capitalism but it has symbolically been used since then for leftism being an indicator of either anti-government beliefs or anti-capitalist beliefs, especially with the popularity of the political compass.
The post-left, such as egoists, anti-civ, etc., are groups of leftists who consider themselves critical of general leftist politics. Many post-leftists such as myself were pushed into exploring things like egoism after experiences of alienation and ostracism by leftist groups. So post-leftists often know first-hand what it’s like to experience the left dividing and putting abstracts before people. Is it any wonder we’re so obsessed with phantasms?
Now, the left-right dichotomy is fairly arbitrary, and that’s it’s biggest flaw, in my opinion. I have nothing against anyone who’d rather denounce “leftism” itself as a spook, because it absolutely can be held sacred, as many do put it before actual people. I myself had stayed away from the label for a while before I realized I could reclaim it as my property.
But those same people when alienating us accuse us of dividing the left when we’re critical, and for that I call bullshit, even if the left is a spook.
Many of us have simply realized the beauty of our own voice, our own activism. We’ve found our own power that isn’t dependent on social circles. We relentlessly critique and call people out when they deserve it, and whether you consider yourself on the left or the right or the post-left or the pre-post-centrist, you are still someone worth critiquing if you’ve done something to deserve it. There are no “free passes” in this world.
Leftism, like communism, if it must exist, should be relentless. It should be pushed further and further. There should be no compromises. No complacency.
As Deleuze puts it, there can’t even be a leftist government:
“Well, I will tell you that there can’t be any government from the left. It doesn’t mean that there is no differences between governments. The best we can hope for is a government that would be in favor of some of the left’s requirements but a government from the left, that does not exist.”
– Gilles Deleuze
So let’s approach it that way. The furthest possible “left” or the furthest radical you can go with your own beliefs, without sacrificing any of your own values, do it unapologetically! Put aside arguments when it’s petty, but never, ever silence yourself or sacrifice your values. You are an activist, and it’s time to act like one regardless of what organizers or the left thinks.
There can be no end or limit to leftism until its demands are no longer necessary – which is to say, never.
Dividing the Left as Praxis
They say you should kill your idols instead of putting them up on a pedestal. Let’s make the left a part of that.
If the left is so sensitive to critique and individualism that it can’t handle one little egoist, then the left isn’t worth saving.
People talk about how left unity needs to be our ultimate priority or else we will never stop capitalism, but when is the last time a leftist group had the power to stop capitalism even when it hadn’t succumbed to infighting? The spectacle isn’t going anywhere anytime soon until we build the authentic and real spaces that can truly resist it, not just performative spaces meant to attack it in name. And frankly, when it comes down to the time for activism, it’s not “left unity” that makes people set aside ideological differences to carry out an action – people drop their shit anyway and know what’s important, so the concept just isn’t that necessary.
So I propose a new way to look at left unity:
“To merely tolerate others is intolerable to me.”
–Wolfi Landstreicher, I Want Friends, Not Community
I want mutual associations, not left unity.
I want friends.
I want support networks.
I want to build loving, genuine spaces, and when I act shitty, I want to be called out for it.
I want to call out others when they’re shitty.
I want spaces that are built upon authentic connections.
I do not want “left unity” and I don’t buy that capitalism is stronger for this when it has already pervaded into our means of production and ideology.
We need to be surviving capitalism and lifting each other up, but we can’t do that when we can’t be true to our own values as individuals.
Left unity isn’t a bad idea necessarily, but it’s held sacred and put before lived experiences and that’s my main issue with it, and when that happens the whole thing falls apart and the leftism is exposed as performative and empty. If that would topple capitalism, I don’t see the replacement being viable if it does not allow me to be the outspoken egoist I am.
There is absolutely a point to putting aside ideological differences and petty bullshit for the sake of organizing and putting projects together, and I do think that some post-leftists take their hatred of all leftists way too far but many have them have good reason to do so and their needs and concerns still deserve to be heard out.
Let’s drop the performative shit.
If you want to organize with me, prove you are worth my respect. If you want me to participate in your project, listen to my needs and my criticisms when I give them.
I will not sacrifice my values for an abstract.
Left unity won’t save me when I’ve had to learn the hard way to save myself, and there are simply far too many toxic people in leftist spaces that deserve to be criticized just the same. Ostracism and alienation is a serious problem, but that is not the same as being critical, as much as the leftist organizers of your local problematic gun club might pretend.
My leftism will let me be my nihilistic egoistic outspoken unapologetic relentless self, or it will be bullshit. Left unity as an idea alone isn’t going to save us no matter how many memes we make or how many arguments we derail – only we can save ourselves, and only we as individuals know what’s best for us.