The Old versus the New Left

Politics often evolves in strange, unpredictable ways.  For example, what white Southern Democrat in 1960 would have foreseen that within forty years, the South would be solidly Republican?  And that black voters would help elect a black Democrat as president?

An even more extreme transformation has been the American left.  In a nutshell, if a leftist from the 1930s were transported to the present via a time machine, he would not only fail to recognize today's left, but would denounce it as a fraud, the antithesis of its historic mission and a traitor to the working class.  If this time-traveler were to return to the 1930s and recount what he had observed, nobody would believe him.  Surely, he would be told, the left could not have evolved into such a perversion of its historic mission, and this ludicrous time machine tale is just a cover-up for a week of binge-drinking.

To understand the left's bizarre transformation, begin with Marxism's central principle: the centrality of class – namely, the idea that the division between those owning the means of production (the capitalists) and all others explains everything from politics to art and science.  Moreover, it is the responsibility of the left (i.e., the Communist Party) to keep class central and thus advance interests of workers (sometimes called the proletariat).  To be sure, political necessity periodically counsels promoting a non-class agenda (recall the U.S. Communist Party's foray into the 1931 racially charged Scottsboro Boys case), but these are temporary tactics and are always ultimately subordinated to advancing class interests.  Promoting policies based on religion, ethnicity, sex, geography, race, and all else thus makes for counterproductive distractions.

Moreover, the Marxist left has historically viewed non-class divisions as capitalist tactics to divide the working class.  Recall the slogan: "Workers of the world unite..."  For Marxists, late 19th-century racial conflict in the American South was a capitalist strategy to divide exploited black and white workers.

For the historic left, uplifting is central the bottom and inherently zero-sum – a win for capitalists was a loss for workers.  The ultimate goal was the workers' collective ownership of all means of production, but intermediate steps entailed powerful unions, strong government protections of wages and jobs, labor participation in management, and similar worker-centered measures.

It should be obvious that today's identity politics left, even when invoking "socialism" (think Bernie Sanders), fundamentally rejects the classic Marxist left.  Despite "class" being included in the holy trinity of race, class, and gender, class is, in fact, largely overshadowed in the left's obsession with race and sex, and this non-economic fixation only grows by the day.  So the left has gone from embracing homosexuality to celebrating gays of color to multiple other sex-related splinter groups such as "the transgendered community."  "Socialism" now means free stuff – Santa Claus has replaced Karl Marx.

What about the left's historic commitment to workers?  If the 2016 presidential election demonstrated anything, it is that the left, or at least as reflected in the Democratic Party, has abandoned the economic bottom-dwellers.  The very opposite is true – it was the unabashed capitalist Donald J. Trump who championed this group, while Hilary pandered to race and gender identity politics.  Indeed, key elements of today's left agenda, notably strict environmental rules, tough anti-business regulations, and high taxes, are toxic for America's proletariat.  The U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA) of the 1930s sought to nationalize the energy industry to uplift workers; today's left promotes lavish tax subsidies to politically connected capitalists for expensive "green energy" that will disproportionally burden the poor.  Recall when the troubadours of the left celebrated the hardscrabble farmers, coal-miners, and hillbillies, the very people who today attend Trump rallies.  Now these once celebrated folks with their Bibles and guns are "the deplorables."

Most of all, it is the left's embrace of open borders with its deluge of low-wage workers (including skilled Indians and Asian techies) that sets it apart from the historic Marxist left.  The beyond-belief irony is that the modern left performs heavy lifting for countless American businesses, from importing stoop-labor fruit-pickers to getting visas for Silicon Valley programmers.  Politics often makes strange bedfellows, but the pro-immigration alliance between the modern left and corporate America is stunning, and sufficiently awkward to be unspeakable.  Do these "compassionate" anti-border activists grasp that the victims of this virtue-signaling are proletarians?  Conceivably, today's often upscale left craves cheap immigrant labor to mow its members' lawns and pick organic avocados while waiting tables in their favorite pricy bistros.  It is not too much to assert that the contemporary left has destroyed the old Marxist left.

Which version of the left is worse for America?  On the one hand, some of the old left was secretly dominated by a Soviet Union committed to America's destruction.  In its 1930s heyday, the U.S. Communist Party had 50,000 members, and recent research demonstrates that all served, one way or another, as Soviet tools for espionage.  Party members might be clueless regarding Soviet string-pulling, but they unwittingly helped finance anti-America subversion.  "Treasonous" is not too strong of a word to describe the old communist left.

But when it comes to being anti-American, the left's current incarnation is certainly no slouch compared to its older Marxist namesake.  Its obsession with multiculturalism and opposition to assimilation (particularly support for bilingualism) can hardly be judged as consistent with traditional American values.  Lefties reject the Founding – the Constitution is illegitimate, since it was written by rich white males and there are Washington and Jefferson-the-slave owners while the First Amendment only promotes hate speech.  And let's not forget the sins of genocide against the Indians, the internment of Japanese during WWII, McCarthyism of the '50s, or today's toxic institutional racism, etc., etc.  Who could possibly love this awful country?  Further add the modern left's opposition to merit ("elitism") in favor of preferences based on race, gender, even sexuality, a passion well suited to destroying American universities.  And, most of all, is the current left's diversity and inclusion mania, a view undergirding "the browning of America" that will, thanks to unchecked immigration, invariably transform the U.S. to into a nation that more closely resembles a third-world-style Brazil.

Clearly, it's hard to choose between these two evils, but recall that the old-Soviet dominated left fought an uphill battled, and the threat largely vanished by the early 1950s, leaving behind an intact (and thriving) nation.  Even its great spying triumphs – e.g., the USSR's early acquisition of the A-bomb – had little long-term cultural or political impact.  By contrast, today's left is incredibly consequential, and their successful march through our institutions, particularly the universities, is hardly over.  The idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat, the goal of the old left, was bad enough, but compared to a dictatorship of black activists, militant environmentalists, radical feminists, and sundry other social justice warriors committed to transforming America?  In 20/20 hindsight, the 1930s version, even with Stalin calling the shots from Moscow, hardly seem all that threatening by comparison.  At least nearly everybody perceived it correctly as a genuine national danger.  That realization may be less true today.

Politics often evolves in strange, unpredictable ways.  For example, what white Southern Democrat in 1960 would have foreseen that within forty years, the South would be solidly Republican?  And that black voters would help elect a black Democrat as president?

An even more extreme transformation has been the American left.  In a nutshell, if a leftist from the 1930s were transported to the present via a time machine, he would not only fail to recognize today's left, but would denounce it as a fraud, the antithesis of its historic mission and a traitor to the working class.  If this time-traveler were to return to the 1930s and recount what he had observed, nobody would believe him.  Surely, he would be told, the left could not have evolved into such a perversion of its historic mission, and this ludicrous time machine tale is just a cover-up for a week of binge-drinking.

To understand the left's bizarre transformation, begin with Marxism's central principle: the centrality of class – namely, the idea that the division between those owning the means of production (the capitalists) and all others explains everything from politics to art and science.  Moreover, it is the responsibility of the left (i.e., the Communist Party) to keep class central and thus advance interests of workers (sometimes called the proletariat).  To be sure, political necessity periodically counsels promoting a non-class agenda (recall the U.S. Communist Party's foray into the 1931 racially charged Scottsboro Boys case), but these are temporary tactics and are always ultimately subordinated to advancing class interests.  Promoting policies based on religion, ethnicity, sex, geography, race, and all else thus makes for counterproductive distractions.

Moreover, the Marxist left has historically viewed non-class divisions as capitalist tactics to divide the working class.  Recall the slogan: "Workers of the world unite..."  For Marxists, late 19th-century racial conflict in the American South was a capitalist strategy to divide exploited black and white workers.

For the historic left, uplifting is central the bottom and inherently zero-sum – a win for capitalists was a loss for workers.  The ultimate goal was the workers' collective ownership of all means of production, but intermediate steps entailed powerful unions, strong government protections of wages and jobs, labor participation in management, and similar worker-centered measures.

It should be obvious that today's identity politics left, even when invoking "socialism" (think Bernie Sanders), fundamentally rejects the classic Marxist left.  Despite "class" being included in the holy trinity of race, class, and gender, class is, in fact, largely overshadowed in the left's obsession with race and sex, and this non-economic fixation only grows by the day.  So the left has gone from embracing homosexuality to celebrating gays of color to multiple other sex-related splinter groups such as "the transgendered community."  "Socialism" now means free stuff – Santa Claus has replaced Karl Marx.

What about the left's historic commitment to workers?  If the 2016 presidential election demonstrated anything, it is that the left, or at least as reflected in the Democratic Party, has abandoned the economic bottom-dwellers.  The very opposite is true – it was the unabashed capitalist Donald J. Trump who championed this group, while Hilary pandered to race and gender identity politics.  Indeed, key elements of today's left agenda, notably strict environmental rules, tough anti-business regulations, and high taxes, are toxic for America's proletariat.  The U.S. Communist Party (CPUSA) of the 1930s sought to nationalize the energy industry to uplift workers; today's left promotes lavish tax subsidies to politically connected capitalists for expensive "green energy" that will disproportionally burden the poor.  Recall when the troubadours of the left celebrated the hardscrabble farmers, coal-miners, and hillbillies, the very people who today attend Trump rallies.  Now these once celebrated folks with their Bibles and guns are "the deplorables."

Most of all, it is the left's embrace of open borders with its deluge of low-wage workers (including skilled Indians and Asian techies) that sets it apart from the historic Marxist left.  The beyond-belief irony is that the modern left performs heavy lifting for countless American businesses, from importing stoop-labor fruit-pickers to getting visas for Silicon Valley programmers.  Politics often makes strange bedfellows, but the pro-immigration alliance between the modern left and corporate America is stunning, and sufficiently awkward to be unspeakable.  Do these "compassionate" anti-border activists grasp that the victims of this virtue-signaling are proletarians?  Conceivably, today's often upscale left craves cheap immigrant labor to mow its members' lawns and pick organic avocados while waiting tables in their favorite pricy bistros.  It is not too much to assert that the contemporary left has destroyed the old Marxist left.

Which version of the left is worse for America?  On the one hand, some of the old left was secretly dominated by a Soviet Union committed to America's destruction.  In its 1930s heyday, the U.S. Communist Party had 50,000 members, and recent research demonstrates that all served, one way or another, as Soviet tools for espionage.  Party members might be clueless regarding Soviet string-pulling, but they unwittingly helped finance anti-America subversion.  "Treasonous" is not too strong of a word to describe the old communist left.

But when it comes to being anti-American, the left's current incarnation is certainly no slouch compared to its older Marxist namesake.  Its obsession with multiculturalism and opposition to assimilation (particularly support for bilingualism) can hardly be judged as consistent with traditional American values.  Lefties reject the Founding – the Constitution is illegitimate, since it was written by rich white males and there are Washington and Jefferson-the-slave owners while the First Amendment only promotes hate speech.  And let's not forget the sins of genocide against the Indians, the internment of Japanese during WWII, McCarthyism of the '50s, or today's toxic institutional racism, etc., etc.  Who could possibly love this awful country?  Further add the modern left's opposition to merit ("elitism") in favor of preferences based on race, gender, even sexuality, a passion well suited to destroying American universities.  And, most of all, is the current left's diversity and inclusion mania, a view undergirding "the browning of America" that will, thanks to unchecked immigration, invariably transform the U.S. to into a nation that more closely resembles a third-world-style Brazil.

Clearly, it's hard to choose between these two evils, but recall that the old-Soviet dominated left fought an uphill battled, and the threat largely vanished by the early 1950s, leaving behind an intact (and thriving) nation.  Even its great spying triumphs – e.g., the USSR's early acquisition of the A-bomb – had little long-term cultural or political impact.  By contrast, today's left is incredibly consequential, and their successful march through our institutions, particularly the universities, is hardly over.  The idea of a dictatorship of the proletariat, the goal of the old left, was bad enough, but compared to a dictatorship of black activists, militant environmentalists, radical feminists, and sundry other social justice warriors committed to transforming America?  In 20/20 hindsight, the 1930s version, even with Stalin calling the shots from Moscow, hardly seem all that threatening by comparison.  At least nearly everybody perceived it correctly as a genuine national danger.  That realization may be less true today.