I knew of a woman who was a member of a Trotskyite splinter group. She was a communist, but not of the Moscow variety. She shared that distinction with a select few, who themselves were later divided and then splintered into factions, in every shade of red from light pink to deepest ruby. Fierce debates raged among the comrades over how to provoke the revolution, and how soon the American workers would wake from their lethargy and overturn the decadent capitalist system (which, admittedly, seemed to be taking overlong to decay). Pages and then reams were consumed to parse the intricate distinctions among them, and the heresies and retrenchments of their movements.
It all came to naught.
Looking back, after they were (mostly) deceased, the only conclusion to be reached was that they had all squandered their lifetimes. There had never been a real chance that the American workers were interested in a red revolution, that Marx was more relevant than Elvis or Gidget or T-bird convertibles, or that the fall of capitalism was coming soon – it was just around the corner (or the next corner). These militants had wasted their energy in a fantasyland, where facts were twisted into pretzel shapes to conform to their social theories. All the while, they believed with the fervor of fanatics that their lives and actions had critical meaning and were affecting society around them; in truth, they were stuck on a merry-go-round on a playground of their own designing.
I think of them when I see such groups as the Black Lives Matter movement chanting the same old banalities – banalities, because the civil rights battle was won long ago. Yet the prevalence – even dominance – of racism as an ingredient of our society is such an essential component of their worldview that if it were on the verge of dying out, they would be compelled to sustain it. They have defined themselves as victims of racism, and without it, they would be lost like children in a crowd who have let go of their parents' hands. Universal racism is an article of dogma, not a discernible fact. And so they invent reasons to soldier on:
Dear white people, there is no such thing as being 'colorblind.' You are perpetuating racism and white supremacy.
Dear white people, black people can't be racist. Prejudiced, yes, but not racist. Racism describes a system of disadvantage based on race. Black people can't be racist since we don't stand to benefit from such a system.
Or consider the gay rights movement, which used to be sufficiently encompassed by a single designation, queer. This quickly branched out into LGBT, then LGBTQ; then it morphed into LGBTTQQIAAP and LGBTQQIP2SAA. And there will probably be further splinterings and accommodations, and raging arguments about the political correctness of each acronym.
How much energy and effort and life will be invested in establishing which letters need to be used and in which order to represent all aspects of the human condition? And what will be the actual achievement be when it comes time to add up the sums?
Similarly, there are strident feminists who spy a persistent rape culture and a rapist hiding under (or in) every bed. Failure to discover enough of these has resulted in a acute hunt for more. They must exist. They do exist, because the true believers can't be wrong. And if facts have to be invented, then so be it. ("One in five women will be raped.") And if every white is now to be a racist, so too must every male be a rapist :
Men, by and large, have a rape switch. All men are capable of rape.
All men are rapists and should be put in prison then shot.
Alas, most of these activists are driven not so much by a search for justice, as for justification. They have committed their lives to a cause – causes which are sometimes shallow and relevant only to themselves. But like the marchers parading through streets in the 70s with raised fists and shouts of "Trotsky!", the monsters they chase emanate from their own imaginations. They are democracy's spoiled children. They need their enemies. Whatever would they do without them?