For months now, I have been trying to better understand the evolution of the old socialist left into today’s “progressive left,” which has suddenly, since last summer, become so dominant in our media, institutions of higher education, elite culture and politics.
When I was in college, the first stirrings of the “new left,” as it was then called, were of some interest. I remember the 1962 Port Huron Statement of Students for a Democratic Society. That heralded the beginning of a shift in fixing blame for social injustice on culture and not on economic class.
My tutor during junior year was the brilliant American Marxist scholar Barrington Moore, who was firmly set in the classical socialist tradition of class antagonism as the cause of injustice and the economy as the primary determinant of class power and prerogative.
But today’s progressive left in American seems to have switched out economic class for racism as the villain in our society.
The summer’s protests, some violent, led by Antifa and Black Lives Matter, provoked me to read Georges Sorel’s Reflections on Violence and discover, really for the first time, the historic occurrence of syndicalism, which evolved into national socialism in the 1920s in Italy and Germany.
I had overlooked the long-standing division within the socialist movement between internationalism – classical Marxist preference for the proletariat class in every society – and a more ethnic, even tribal, socialism, which sought justice in one society only. National socialism needed a narrative with which to engage both the workers and the bourgeoisie together in the same national community. The foundational concept was that of a “folk,” an identity construct. The economic system was a corporatist one where production was largely left for profit enterprises under state direction.
To explore the possible emulation of today’s progressive left in America, a cultural force at the root of our current distemper in politics and of older national socialist models, I wrote this personal essay.
I would be grateful to learn your thoughts on reading it.