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"Scarlet why are you writing a primer on left politics at three in the morning?" "Because I've lost control of my life." · 2:12pm Jul 15th, 2020

The political opposite of "conservative" is not "liberal".

For those who have grown up in the United States and aren't clued into an increasingly vocal online left's rhetoric, that probably sounds confusing. For those in other nations such as the United Kingdom which have multiple "left" parties, it might be less so - but as goes America, so goes much of the world. Growing up in the United States, as I did, the most opportunity you will have to learn about the political left will often be in the form of oblique references to the fact that democrats would be treated as a "center left" party in much of the rest of the world.

This, while illuminating, does not really tell you what the "actual left" is, or what characteristics are at its core. It's also a bit too generous to the democrats, who have been fluctuating towards the center right in fits and starts for decades now.

Discussions of the left in the United States are also dominated by references to authoritarian or impoverished countries ranging from the ever-popular "what about Venezuela" to China, the former USSR, and Cuba. The manifestation of leftist politics of these countries is always framed in terms of state control of resources, lack of variety and choice in consumer goods, and suppression of information. I am not here to lionize any of these regimes and in fact I share very little ideological ground with most of them. Instead, I want to point out what the focus on such regimes does to foreshorten the level of discussion we can have about left politics in general.

After all, the USSR hardly invented the idea of left politics. Nor did Karl Marx and Frederic Engels for that matter. Curiously, figures like Emma Goldman and Leo Tolstoy are almost never discussed in the US as examples of left politics, even though they're just as influential and Emma's much closer to home.

My purpose in writing is to provide others with what I could not find for myself when I first began to drift hard left: a primer, written in straightforward language, with an explanation of not only what leftism even is as a political movement, as well as an explanation of some of the vocabulary used by leftist writers, politicians, and philosophers.

The purpose of this essay is not to persuade you to become a leftist. The purpose of this essay is to provide an educational resource for those interested in learning about leftist thought and vocabulary. To that end, all comments approaching this essay as an opportunity for political debate will be ignored and/or, particularly if they are rude, deleted and those making them blocked. You have been warned.

1. What is "the left"?

The first challenge for anyone who wants to learn about left politics is figuring out what the left actually is. I've already made a distinction between the left and certain "left parties", for instance, the Democratic party of the United States is a center party despite being "to the left" of Republicans. It is also not a particular set of defined policies. It's a popular perception in the united states that leftists support, for instance, gun control. In practice this is not universally true. Literally every socialist I've met in my new home state of Mississippi owns some kind of firearm, including my partner and I.

The standard association with left parties wanting "big government" or "more government" whereas right parties want "less government" common in the United States is also a bad metric for examining who is on the left. The first problem with this adage is that it ignores the existence of left-libertarian movements and parties, which I will discuss in further detail later. The second is that the size of government is much less relevant to politics than the function of government to both the left and right.

Note, for instance, the propensity for right-wing governments to invest in police forces, military, and border security. This is a massive government sector, requiring many trillions of dollars of infrastructure, authority, and in some cases disruption of the lives of citizens. Despite the fact that police are, in fact, a branch of the government, those on the right do not see them as synonymous with their desire to have less government.

So then, what really separates left and right? What are the true lines in the sand? What is this debate actually over?

Part 2. Always a Bigger Fish

Ian Danskin is a video essayist and owner of the youtube channel "Innuendo Studios". As part of his ongoing series of video essays, "The Alt-Right Playbook", Danskin makes a series of claims about the relationship between the left and right parties in American politics. I'm linking the full video as an embed in this essay, but I'll be quoting the relevant part of the essay below:

"The United States, like much of the western world, is a capitalist democracy. That's what we're raised in, that's what seems normal to us. And in our normal lives, democracy and capitalism seem to coexist easily. Voting doesn't feel like a violation of capitalism; buying a bagel doesn't feel like a violation of democracy. But, sometimes, they come into tension with one another. And speaking really broadly, when a choice between them has to be made, a liberal is someone who tends to think democratically, and a conservative is someone who tends to think like a capitalist."

Danskin, by his own admission, is speaking incredibly broadly here. Again, liberal and left are not the same thing, and neither group he describes is monolithic. Nonetheless he's still hitting on something foundational to the divide between left and right politics: which institutions are most valuable?

Broadly speaking, the right values institutions that enable or assist capitalism. Police, for instance, are important because they serve to protect and enforce property rights. The military is important because it helps project force and expand the prestige of the nation, which allows for it to dictate business policies on an international stage. The military also serves as a social narrative that affirms conservative beliefs about society, but that's a conversation for another time.

Meanwhile, what institutions does the left value most? Generally, they are those which empower citizens within democracy. Leftists tend to oppose restrictions on voting, for instance, but this goes even further. Consider liberal and left dedication to education, healthcare, and even government bodies that enforce safety standards such as the FDA. These institutions all either enable citizens to more actively participate in democracy (i.e., higher standards of education allow more people to make informed decisions about the democratic process), or they expand the number of people who can enjoy a certain quality of life under capitalism.

There's one tricky bit at the end of that last paragraph - "under capitalism". The major divide between the liberal and left starts here. The difference between a liberal and a leftist is that even if both value democracy and democratic institutions, liberals tend to assume capitalism is a given. Leftists do not.

3. Rejecting Capitalist Realism

And this is where we come to the big question: why do leftists reject or oppose capitalism?

The first thing to understand about anticapitalism on the left is that while various leftist groups are united in opposing capitalism, not everyone opposes it for the exact same reasons. In fact, anticapitalism isn't even a feature unique to leftist politics. Several fascist groups throughout history have, for various reasons, rejected capitalism. Boiling every left argument about capitalism down into a handful of universal positions would be a gross oversimplification, so I'm not even going to bother trying.

Instead, I'd like to highlight a number of anticapitalist arguments. By necessity these are going to be broad, simplified versions of more complex ideas, so please do not engage with them as if they are not.

Argument 1: The Labor Theory of Value

What gives goods their value?

The labor theory of value is an economic argument at its core. In its most simplified form, it goes like this: Every consumer good imaginable, from chairs to wheat to video games, is made more valuable than the raw materials used to create it because of the labor used in its creation. You pay more for an apple in a grocery store than you pay for a packet of apple seeds because you are paying in part for the labor of the workers in the orchard who helped the apple grow to maturity and harvest it and the labor of the grocery workers and truckers who transported it to its final destination.

In an economy where raw materials are either evenly distributed or owned in common by everyone, this system is fairly equitable. You pay more, roughly, depending on the amount of work used to produce a good. The person who produced it is paid more, roughly, for the amount of labor required. You adjust prices based on the value of the raw materials that went in to produce a good, how scarce it is, and how much expertise was required to do the labor that produced it, and in the end people should be paid something close to what their labor is "really worth". (You can map the value of services in a similar way, incidentally).

But what happens when raw materials are owned by a handful of individuals, who then pay other people to do labor on their behalf?

Well, then you have a bit of a problem. In a "fair" world, people are compensated for the full value of their labor. But when you're doing labor on someone else's behalf, what's happening is that they are selling the good for more than they'll pay you, and pocketing the difference as profit. This provides them with a strong incentive to undervalue your labor as much as possible, and also ensures that you will never be paid as much as your labor is "worth".

The argument of the value of labor holds that under capitalism, workers are not allowed to ever be compensated fairly for the labor they put into producing goods and services. Instead, the majority of the wealth they are helping to create is captured by a handful of people - the "capitalist class" if you will - who do not personally produce anything, but own the means to produce goods and services.

This, by the way, is what is meant by "the means of production". The means of production are the things capitalists own which allow them to capture the surplus value of everyone else's labor. Leftist cries to "seize the means of production" are not about seizing private property per se, but about giving people common ownership of the tools, institutions, and resources they use to do their jobs.

Argument 2: Total Democracy

Under democracy, people have basic guaranteed freedoms. In the United States we enjoy the right to freedom of speech, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to freely practice any religion we choose (or none) - the list goes on. While some of these rights are hard-won and there has basically never been a point in the history of the United States where these rights have been enforced on behalf of every human being living within the US, they're a pretty good list of rights and you're going to have a hard time finding anyone who thinks that they aren't. In the United States you get to decide how you live your life, not the government.

So why does your employer get to make so many decisions on your behalf?

Under capitalism, employers have fairly broad power over the people who work for them. This isn't about things like human resources or harassment in the workplace - being allowed to actively harass someone else can constitute a violation of their own human rights and dignity. This is about smaller things that most people don't ever think of as being undemocratic. Your employer decides what you are allowed to wear. They decide whether you are allowed to date co-workers. They decide how many sick days you can have in a year, what kind of health insurance you have access to, what pace you have to work at, whether you are allowed to talk to customers, what kind of clothing you're allowed to wear, whether you're allowed to have piercings, even whether or not you can get certain haircuts.

This goes far beyond concerns about workplace safety - there are obviously some jobs that require protective clothing or have practical safety concerns regarding things like long hair. Many employers require dress code compliance that goes far beyond what is required for the safety of workers in order to ensure their own brand's prestige, however. More than just what you wear and how you work, though, most employers have incredibly broad power to decide what you are allowed to say publicly about your employer. You have the right to free speech right up until your boss tells you that you can't, for example, have an all co-worker facebook group. (This is a real thing that happened in my workplace, by the by).

So, why do we allow employers this kind of broad power? Why not change the rules of society to ensure that it's our workplaces, not just our government, where decisions are made democratically? The anticapitalist argument for democracy holds that workplaces organized from the top-down are, in a sense, no better than dictatorships, and that given the amount of time most people spend working the only way to have true democracy is to dismantle capitalism.

Argument 3: Enforced Inequity

Capitalists require an underclass. In order for a society to concentrate a massive portion of its wealth in a single individual - say, Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates - hundreds of thousands of other people must barely be scraping by, or even doing without. If every billionaire in America gathered together and converted their wealth from securities and assets into a concerted effort to, say, connect homeless people with housing or pay the rent and utilities of everyone in the United States rendered jobless by Covid-19, we could solve many of the issues created by poverty today.

So why don't they?

The obvious answer is greed, but that's hardly a complete explanation. Billionaires love giving their wealth away. Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and virtually every other billionaire you can think of give large sums of money away every year. So why aren't they fixing these crises? Well, simply put, even if they can it's not in their best interests to if they want to remain billionaires.

Capitalists - by which I mean the people who own the means of production and have most of the wealth, not people who happen to live in countries with a capitalist economy - make money from the labor of others. Since labor is a cost of running their business, they have a natural pressure to want to reduce it as much as possible. In other words, capitalists want to pay people the least amount possible for the most amount of work. Problem: If you pay people too little and work them too hard, they won't want to work for you.

Unless they're out of options, that is.

The reason capitalists allow poverty to exist - to some extent, they need poverty to exist - is that poverty and homelessness ensure that people will take low-paying jobs with awful conditions. If a society provided adequately for those who do not or cannot work and gave everyone a comfortable base quality of life, nobody would be willing to spend twelve-hour shifts working in an Amazon warehouse where you can be fired or written up for taking too many bathroom breaks. In order for capitalists to keep their personal costs low, they must perpetuate some form of poverty.

This is not to say poverty is a conspiracy billionaires are colluding to create, more to provide an explanation as to why no effort to dismantle poverty that is lead by and seeks to preserve the capitalist class is likely to succeed.

The argument from inequity states that capitalism is a major obstacle to dismantling poverty, both domestic and global.

Now, having read all three of these arguments - and I repeat, I am simplifying them down to the point where they are practically strawmen of themselves - note that while they are to some extent compatible, they are not identical. Each puts emphasis on a different way that capitalism interacts with ordinary people, and each reflect different priorities and beliefs about why it should be dismantled. Once you understand this, left politics make quite a bit more sense: they are a series of arguments and beliefs about the best and most efficient ways to either counterbalance or dissolve capitalism.

4. Antiracism, Queerness, and the Left

In the United States, we associate the left of the political spectrum with opposition to racism, antisemitism, transphobia, homophobia, and a host of other ways society discriminates against minority communities. This is based in fact. The vast majority of left parties and movements embrace some form of antiracism in their platforms, and many now have additional commitments to refusing to discriminate against LGBTQ and neurodivergent folk.

While this is to be celebrated and I, as a queer and neurodivergent person on the left, am happy about it, I do want to take a minute to paint some quick distinctions between the left's embrace of marginalized communities and the liberal embrace of the same. While both liberals and the left try to welcome marginalized communities into their movements, their goals in doing so and their strategies are not necessarily the same. I also want to highlight the fact that here, as elsewhere, there is a diversity of thought among those on the left.

4a. The Primacy of Class War

One perspective that exists on the left, for instance, challenges base assumptions about how to fight racism and homophobia in society. While most leftists agree that racism, homophobia, etc. are bad things, there is a school of thought that suggests that the best tactic to fight it is to promote material improvements in the lives of the working class.

The thinking goes as follows - and for my own sake, please assume the following is a simplified form of this argument, not a comprehensive version: acting to reduce, for example, the wage gap between black and white workers, is a much less efficient way of reducing poverty in black communities than simply redistributing the massive surplus of wealth captured by the capitalist class. In a similar fashion universal goals like achieving free healthcare for all, guaranteed paid sick leave, rent control, and worker ownership of businesses are all higher impact than measures targeted at single communities, since they will affect all of the working class at once. In fact, since marginalized groups are more likely to make up the working class, it might solve many of these more targeted initiatives at the same time.

This is not to say that those in this camp don't care about marginalized communities - far from it. While there are some who call for "no war but class war" who genuinely don't care about the needs of marginalized communities, the vast majority I've seen and interacted with in my own life see their framework as less a rejection of marginalized communities and more as a strategy for affecting material change. And to an extent, their position is hard to argue with - the things my life would most benefit from (rent control, forgiveness of student debt, universal healthcare) are all things that benefit everyone.

This is why, for example, those on the left are often more skeptical of brands that ally themselves with ideological causes that are feminist, antiracist, or queer-friendly. It's not that they reject the place of women, minorities, and queer people in society or don't want others to show open support for them, it's that a brand using progressive language without acting to make people's lives materially better is a transparent attempt to whitewash their business practices and capture new sales from audiences receptive to progressive messaging.

I'd like to distinguish genuine materialist analysis from, for instance, calls for the left to refocus on "the working class" which completely ignore the fact that the working class in America is made up of women, immigrants, black people, and queer folk in as well as the poor white families usually associated with it in the media. Arguing that we can end inequality faster by embracing universal material change is a position that is compatible with egalitarian ideals. Arguing that the left should cater exclusively to white working class people is an attempt to smuggle racist ideas into left spaces.

4b. Community Uplift

While most leftists embrace materialist analysis to some level, not every leftist agrees that all social conflicts stem from class war. While most on the left will agree that material improvements to the lives of the working class are good for everyone, not every leftist agrees that this will solve inequality. Some inequalities go beyond material needs.

As an example, my life would materially benefit from universal healthcare, but universal healthcare doesn't solve all the material obstacles created in my life by transphobia. The "trans panic" legal defense is still accepted by multiple state courts in the US, and even if tomorrow morning I received universal healthcare it might still be de facto legal to murder me. No matter how free healthcare is, I can't ever enjoy full legal personhood if we do not at some point also resolve to directly confront socially accepted transphobia.

This is especially relevant to marginalized communities in America right now. The generational poverty of many black communities in America is a direct result of not just the failure to provide reparations to the direct victims of slavery but also practices like redlining, which allowed programs intended to make home ownership more accessible to ordinary Americans to be extended only to white families. Even if universal healthcare were made the law of the land tomorrow, it takes more than calling something universal to make it so.

4c. Solidarity and Intersectionality

As a last note on the left's perspective on marginalized communities, I want to highlight what these words mean when used by the left. Solidarity and intersectionality aren't magical states that exist in the world binding communities together, they are organizational principles and goals.

Intersectionality is a theoretical framework widely embraced on the left, first coined in 1989 by feminist writer Kimberle Williams Crenshaw. Crenshaw's original work specifically focused on the unique discrimination experienced by black women in society, but the framework has since opened up to explore more dimensions of the human social experience. Explaining every facet of intersectional theory is beyond the scope of this essay, but to sum it up, intersectionality acknowledges that there are multiple sources of oppression that interact in unique ways depending on the identity of an individual.

As a very basic example, I am transgender and neurodivergent. I experience discrimination based on both of these parts of my identity separately: for example, I've been aggressively misgendered by people at a con because I'm very visibly trans and some folks are transphobic assholes. More invisibly, as someone on the ADHD/Autism spectrum I have to deal with a host of negative beliefs propagated in society about autistic folks. And uniquely as someone who is both some flavor of autistic and trans, I've seen people argue that autistic people shouldn't be allowed to medically transition because we cannot be trusted to make our own decisions. Two forms of bigotry forming a kind of weird, awful synthesis.

The left's answer to intersectional oppression is twofold. First, the left introduces the dynamic of class oppression into intersectional frameworks, allowing us to speak on discrimination uniquely experienced by the poor. Second, the left embraces the idea of a common struggle. The left response to this framework, in one form or another, argues that all oppressed people have goals in common. To combat oppression, the left argues, we must band together.

Solidarity is what leftists strive for in the face of oppression, be it based on race, class, gender, or anything else. To have solidarity with someone means that you see their struggles not just as real but as deserving of your material support. From the perspective of the left, it's not enough to say that you support marginalized communities - you have to materially contribute to their struggles by giving them access to better platforms, marching by their side when they demonstrate, and if necessary fighting by their side when all else fails. Solidarity means refusing to cross picket lines, refusing to refocus conversations about police brutality to emphasize property damage created by protestors, and refusing to allow oppressors to have a foothold in a community.

If you're more liberal (as I'd guess most of my readers are), you are likely familiar with the phrase "being a good ally". Solidarity is, in a sense, going beyond the frame of being a good ally. It doesn't mean hijacking movements in marginalized communities or claiming you face the exact same discrimination they do, or re-centering every cause you support to be all about you. That is not solidarity, that is egotism at best. Solidarity is acting in accordance with the belief that there can be no peace without justice, fighting in whatever way you can to help those around you - and hopefully, they'll do the same for you.

Solidarity is, of course, historically an ideal and not a lived reality for most - but then, so is justice and most would agree that a just society is worth building.

5. The Left and Authority

We have so far acknowledged that while there is a plurality of thought on the left, even if all leftists are to some extent dedicated to the liberation of the working class and opposition to unfettered capitalism. That leads us to perhaps the most divisive question of all on the left: how should we govern?

The American conception of a left government usually features two key elements: a powerful central regime, and a centrally-planned economy. China, the former USSR, Cuba, and Venezuela are the four most commonly-cited "communist" countries, and it is assumed that all left thought is wrapped up in reproducing the same systems created in these countries. It is assumed, for instance, that since government censorship of information exists in the People's Republic of China, that censorship is a characteristic of all socialist government.

While there are certainly leftists who may defend any and all of these regimes, it's a mistake to assume that they express the full breadth of left thought on government. In fact, some leftists argue that the goal of any left project is to end government entirely. In general, all leftist governmental structures are based on a desire to put power into the hands of workers and end unjust hierarchy. There is quite a bit of disagreement on exactly where that project should start, stop, and what every step of it looks like, even on the left.

For instance, all leftists advocate for the redistribution of wealth. How that wealth should be redistributed, who should be in charge of doing so, and the mechanism by which this should be enforced are not universally agreed-upon goals on the left.

I'm going to summarize two leftist positions on organization and governance, paying extra attention to those usually absent from the political spectrum in the United States. As before, I must stress that these are illustrative examples, not comprehensive. Please do not quote me for a grad school project on communism or something.

5a. Left Libertarians (Anarchism)

To those of us in the US, the idea of a left libertarian sounds like an oxymoron. The more time you spend in spaces dominated by leftist political thought, the more you begin to realize it's actually the opposite: the American concept of libertarians and anarchists as ur-capitalists who want to replace the government with markets is the contradictory ideology.

Left anarchists have been around longer than the American conception of libertarianism. In fact, it's not until the writings of Murray Rothbard that anarcho-capitalism and right libertarianism begin to erase left anarchism from the popular consciousness. Despite being all but erased from public knowledge in the US, anarchists have never completely disappeared. In fact, if you're reading this, you've officially read political writings by one because yes, full disclosure, this is where I fall on the political compass.

Anarchists seek to eliminate unjust hierarchy from society - including the hierarchy of the state. Note that this doesn't mean we want no social services or laws - a popular slogan among anarchists is "no rulers, not no rules". Anarchists believe that the best way to protect people from abuse of power is to resist centralization and empower local communities. As opposed to our current representative republic, Anarchists prefer government to more closely resemble a direct democracy, where all members of a community directly vote on laws.

Anarchists, moreso than any other leftist, believe in the weakening or outright removal of national borders, the dissolution of the police and military, and the empowerment of local communities. While the acronym ACAB - All Cops are Bastards - is common throughout the left, it's anarchist thought which most opposes the use of armed law enforcement on the community level.

Anarchists tend to believe that community organization should begin from the working class upward, which is why Anarcho-Syndicalism is a fairly common form, particularly in the US. Anarcho-Syndicalists see worker's unions as the best tool for building revolutionary movements and the best way to build economies and communities. To an Anarcho-Syndicalist, for instance, the best form of government is a series of cooperative worker's unions who coordinate with each other to both meet the needs of their local community and to build and transport goods to where they are most needed.

You can contrast this to Anarcho-Communists, who are the oldest form of far-left anarchism. Anarcho-Communists historically focus less on the building of large-scale economies and unionization, and more on the construction of stateless communities. Anarcho-communists see townships, villages, parishes, and cities as the bedrock for local community building, and are more likely to focus energy on the building of experimental communities.

All anarchists focus to some extent on the principles of direct action and mutual aid. Direct action is a theory of political action stating that the best way to effect change is to just go out there and do it yourself. For example, if you want to end local police brutality, direct action states that it's better to go out into the street and protest than to vote politicians into office to do it for you. If your local community isn't providing for the homeless, rather than voting for politicians who say they'll do something for the homeless eventually you can just organize a community effort to provide housing yourself.

Mutual Aid is the sister of direct action, and an important way it manifests itself. Under the principle of mutual aid, those in a community owe each other a duty of care. Communities have an obligation to take care of the sick, the hungry, and the elderly together. They also have an obligation to provide housing, access to food and medicine, and other basic needs. Bringing groceries to your elderly neighbors so they don't have to go outside during a pandemic is mutual aid. So is buying trailer parks out from underneath their landlords and giving them over to the people who live there. Generally any time you are sharing your resources with people in your local community, you are doing mutual aid.

Anarchists are often associated with political violence and "ANTIFA". While it's true that anti-fascist organizing is a pretty common form of direct action, a commitment to the use of violence is not necessary to be an anarchist. In fact Leo Tolstoy, a very influential anarchist in his own day, made several arguments specifically against the use of violence against the state. The characterization of anarchists as being inherently nihilistic or violent moreso than other political groups is a kind of media narrative designed to write them - write us - out of political conversations.

5b. Marxist Leninism and Party-Based Leftism

Authoritarian leftism - the version most Americans are somewhat familiar with - tends to branch off Marxist-Leninism. They also tend to reject the label "authoritarian", as their ultimate goal is also the removal of unjust hierarchy - they just have wildly different beliefs about the best ways to accomplish this task.

Marxist-Leninism is a particular philosophical interpretation of Karl Marx's writings that emphasizes his resistance to more libertarian organizational structures. An incredibly simplified version of Marxist-Leninist thought is as follows: In order to create a just society, the working class must rise up and seize the means of production. The only way to accomplish this goal is to create a vanguard party who can educate, equip, and guide the working class through this process. The goal of the vanguard party is to seize control of the state, use the state apparatus to protect the working class from outside threats, and eventually to dismantle itself and hand power directly to the working class after the threat of capitalism is no longer an issue.

The general break between Marxist-Leninists and Anarchists is less one of belief and one of practice. While anarchists seek to cut out and bypass the mechanisms of the state, Marxist-Leninists seek to seize it through either popular election or popular uprising, then harness it on behalf of the working class. Note the word "popular" - that's important. Marxist-Leninist thought sees the party as only being legitimate if it can gain the support of the working class. The goal is not to force everyone into the party but to persuade enough of the working class to join that the state apparatus can be seized.

Marxist-Leninists tend to be less flexible than anarchists when approaching the concept of organization. While they welcome and put a lot of effort into local recruitment, Marxist-Leninists tend to be less likely to build independent communes or focus their efforts on unionization and more likely to recruit directly into their party. Party resources are then used to organize forms of community aid, to further boost popular support of the party within communities. This is sometimes a distinction without a difference from forms of mutual aid, and it's not unheard of for Marxist-Leninists and Anarchists to volunteer for the same community organizations or march in the same protests.

The characterization of Marxist-Leninists as authoritarian is, while true, also somewhat misleading. Marxist-Leninists are not necessarily amenable to preserving the rights of billionaires, but democracy and Marxist-Leninist party structure are not incompatible. Marxist-Leninists are generally more likely to advocate for the use of the state's power (including the military) to enforce change from the top rather than building it from the bottom. They will be the first to point out, however, that this is already the way most western democracies work - it's just that under a socialist state, you'd get actual sick days, free health care, and better access to housing.

6. The American Left

Now that we've had a look at left perspectives on social justice, capitalism, and organization, what can we say about the left-leaning parties in the United States of America?

To begin with, the Democratic Party is best described as a centrist or center-right party. Its leadership, organizing principles, and platforms are not compatible with any actual leftist perspective. Despite what Republicans may tell you, being okay with gay people (when it's convenient) and sometimes not doing tax cuts for rich people does not a comprehensive left agenda make. Mainline democrats have been slow to embrace Medicare-for-all despite intense popularity among their base, and very few - if any - have ever made rent control or student debt forgiveness central to their platform.

The history of Democrats in the US is a story far too long to fit into the tail end of this essay, but suffice to say they're a party dedicated to easing the burdens of capitalism, not removing them - and that was at their best. Democrats have a nasty habit of allowing the Republican party to drag them rightwards on every issue, from immigration to worker's rights to healthcare. Sometimes this is a sad compromise to try and get some form of legislation through a deadlocked congress. More often, it's not. If you've ever had a mounting frustration with the inability of Democratic leadership to mount any kind of successful challenge to Trump, congratulations, you are now living in the world every leftist in the United States is trapped in literally all the time.

So where do we put the "new democrats" - the up-and-coming self-described socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who run as Democrats but don't have a lot of party loyalty and exist outside the party establishment? Well....

6a. Democratic Socialism

Democratic Socialism is a center-left position, existing somewhere between further-left positions like Anarchism and centrists, like the Democrats. Democratic Socialists - broadly speaking, and particularly in the United States - are not necessarily full anti-capitalists. Rather, they're a party of folks seeking to push through basic left social reforms like universal healthcare, debt forgiveness, education reform, and the like by using the existing structure of the electoral government. They are distinct from Marxist-Leninists in that the scope of their reform is generally more limited, they are more willing to use existing party structures as opposed to forming their own, and their goal is explicitly electoral reform.

Bernie Sanders and his supporters are often portrayed by the right as extreme leftists, which is an absolute joke to anyone who's spent any time talking to actual extreme leftists, and I'm sure Sanders would tell you that himself. While the Sanders campaign focused far more on gathering both donations and support from working-class communities, the reforms of the Sanders campaign are a far cry from seizing the means of production. They're closer to a resurrection of New Deal politics, using the federal government to sort of fill in the massive gaps left by capitalism in our society.

This is not to say you shouldn't vote for Bernie or AOC or anyone else because they aren't "far left enough". Voting for harm reduction isn't solving any of the world's problems, but you can often decide the rate at which things get worse - and besides, Sanders's policies are generally common-sense good ideas. Instead, I'm trying to emphasize the way the conversation is foreshortened by declaring Bernie Sanders or AOC as being on the "extreme left". Ideas which are actually closer to compromises with capitalist hegemony are treated as existential threats, while actual revolutionary concepts are deliberately left out of the discussion altogether.

There's a useful concept in politics called the Overton Window. It refers to the range of political thought and action which is considered "reasonable" to discuss in society. By excluding actual left politics from media narratives, education, and art and replacing them with centrist and center-left concepts, the result is that the window necessarily is dragged to the right. In a sense, the so-called "reactionary right" or "Alt-Right" are a natural consequence of America's disconnection from left ideas.

7. Calls to Action

If you've read this far, thank you. This essay took me a while to write, I still feel like it's unfinished, and as I type this it is nearly three in the morning and I am trying desperately to tame the manic energy it took to slay this beast. I hope to God it's helpful, digestible, and maybe even educational for some of you.

If you're wondering what to do with this new fount of information, I suggest making your first step going out and seeking more. This is an introduction, not a comprehensive explanation. Go actually read The Communist Manifesto or Capital. Look up some of Noah Chomsky's lectures. Track down Confessions of an Economic Hitman. Hell, if all that's too intimidating, go check out the leftist youtube scene, that's a thing now. Just, whatever you do, don't let this be the last thing you learn about left politics. Even if you find yourself back on the same part of the political spectrum you were at when you started, you'll at least have a better understanding of the systems surrounding you.

Finally, a reminder: While media coverage has largely subsided, protests against police brutality are still taking place worldwide. Please consider donating to a bail fund, or Black Lives Matter, or even just a local leftist humanitarian project. And once again, please read 8 to Abolition's website and platform. The bills and reforms democrats will be introducing in the house and senate to American policing have so far only been half-measures. We don't have to stop at giving cops body cameras and banning chokeholds: we can defund, de-militarize, and deconstruct the police.

Thank you all for reading.

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Comments ( 70 )

i haven't trusted a leftist since they took away my family's monopoly on eggs in China :c

Bitch that's the proletariat's eggs.

Author Interviewer

Glad I googled "what's the difference between a leftist and a liberal" this morning so I was in a position to read this. :)

Helpful to note that American leftists tend to prefer "progressive" as a label. That's the major takeaway I got out of that search, anyway. Nevermind. :C

Very good essay!

I have no idea who you're sourcing that claim from, but literally nobody I've ever met left of Democratic Socialists describes themselves as a progressive first. Progressive as a label tends to be more associated in the US with movements specifically related to social justice, vs. taking a hard left stance on the economy or political structure of the country. There's strong overlap specifically in regards to movements like police abolition, though, and antifascist organizing.

Author Interviewer

Well'p, my ability to find things on the internet remains useless as always. :(

Most enlightening. I've often heard the "Democrats are diet right" comment, but I never had a wider context for it until now. Thank you for this.

Reading for anyone who is interested:

Mutual Aid and The Conquest of Bread by Pyotr Kropotkin

These are kind of the classics of anarcho-communist thought, though they aren't the only ones

Democratic Confederalism, by Ocalan

Abdullah Ocalan is an interesting guy and his political work informed the Kurdish experiment of "Rojava" or Syrian Kurdistan.

Emma Goldman on Syndicalism, An Account of her time in Soviet Russia post civil War and Emma Goldman on Anarchism in general

Ursula Le Guin is pretty revolutionary, by the way.

Some queer theoretical stuffs

State and Revolution by Lenin is worth a read.

very interesting and well done, being a dem socialist myself this was a good read, and im glad you pointed out the issues with the left, more folks who are leftist need to call out thier own team. However I do think that how you seem to paint every dem who isnt a dem soicalist or one of the other offshoots you talked about as a member of the left corp establishment is a fallacy of this work and should be corrected.

Also while going deep into it isnt needed for this paper, I would have liked to see the issues with cancel culture and the violations of free speech and innocent untill proven guilty parts of the left are causing on the internet touched on in this essay, if only to show how most good leftist's dont buy into this crap.

all in all good paper, we need more poeple talking in detail and explaining things instead of only talking slogans.

Consider this the official follow-up to the post.


However I do think that how you seem to paint every dem who isnt a dem soicalist or one of the other offshoots you talked about as a member of the left corp establishment is a fallacy of this work and should be corrected.

What the fuck is a left corp.

Ignoring that weird bit of vocabulary, my larger point is about the democratic party establishment, not individual democrats. If your local city council run as Democrats but are defunding police or doing common sense reform, that's great and I support them. Calling them leftists though? That would be a stretch.

Also while going deep into it isnt needed for this paper, I would have liked to see the issues with cancel culture and the violations of free speech and innocent untill proven guilty parts of the left are causing on the internet touched on in this essay, if only to show how most good leftist's dont buy into this crap.

"Cancel culture" is not a fundamental part of a left-right or left-liberal divide. It is a phenomenon attributed to the left because it's happening on social media, often among younger people (who tend to be more amenable to left viewpoints), and because some of the targets happen to be old white guys. Personally I tend to think it already soaks up too much attention because many of those supposedly affected by it negatively still have platforms, and the backlash to it often creates the same chilling effect on free speech it accuses "cancel culture" of creating.

I don't really have a "right answer" here, but I will say that using cancel culture as a shibboleth to figure out who's a "good leftist" or not is needlessly divisive in a way suitable for neither this essay nor good praxis.

what I meant by corp dem is a cooperate democrat, a dem who isnt really a leftist like you described and is in the pocket of the 1%, who are often CEOs or similar part of a big corporations.

and yeah I see your point, I just dont like how so many young folks on the left buy into it and it should be talked about more.

Comment posted by BatwingCandlewaxxe deleted Jul 17th, 2020

Thank you for the great primer. I hope to put it to good use in discussing some of the things I believe with friends in the future, and to try and help dispel some myths if I hear them come up.

Pleased to see Ian Danskin's 'Always a bigger fish' video (and his whole series on the Alt-Right) to be referenced here. His channel really deserves to be viewed more.

RoMS #14 · Jul 15th, 2020 · · 1 ·

Godspeed! And good post.

This was a fantastic post, and yes, despite the length, still barely brushes the surface of left politics. Still a great primer.

Hun it already gets talked about too much. If we're more worried about people being cancelled on twitter than we are about police brutality, climate reform, or even reproductive rights then we aren't really doing leftism we're doing hand-wringing.

I have very specific feelings about when and how "cancelling" should happen, but there's an ongoing discussion everywhere on the internet about whether or not cancel culture has gone too far, or whether it's a left thing, or whether X, Y, or Z person should be cancelled. I'm not saying none of that discussion is worth having, but I will say there's already a ton of that out there and there's not nearly as much talking about left politics in the absence of this particular hot-button issue.


I'd argue that no political system accounts perfectly for human nature. The benefits of embracing anarchist frameworks are that they free you from dependency on state apparatus and structure, and allow for flexibility in organizing and empowering your community. While I do think more democracy is always a goal worth striving towards, like most anarchists I'm not under the impression that any one of these projects will be completed in the space of a lifetime. Instead, my focus is on building and empowering alternate structures of power which can be relied on by future generations.


Ian's been a big influence on me, and I've really admired how he's begun focusing on translating left language into speech that liberals - particularly younger liberals - will have an easier time understanding. In a way, he's the inspiration behind this whole essay.




Given the popularity of this post, I might need to write a few follow-ups. Off the top of my head I feel like a similar essay could be written about the right.

And thank you for writing!

It's also a bit too generous to the democrats, who have been fluctuating towards the center right in fits and starts for decades now.

Was about to call you out for the "center left" thing before I saw this. And scrolled down. And down. And down. And read the comments. And Sweet Celestia's teats! This is great. Not comprehensive, but it seems to be helpful to liberal friends--judging from the comments. And helpful to me! Reading these outside takes on many of the positions I've held over the years has been a delight.

To expand on anti-fascist organizing a bit... anti-fascist action is not necessarily violent. Most isn't, in fact. It can be as simple as see something, say something. Speak up and lend your voice to defending others, or amplify their voices and messages against hatred and bigotry, which are often tools of fascists. Fascism is the enemy of both the left and of liberalism (including liberal conservatism). But peaceful opposition to the spread of fascism by anti-fascists isn't exactly headline material, and when it is, it's not framed in that way.

Every liberal and neoliberal is by their upholding of the capitalist structure functionally no different from the mythical "corporate" democrat, mythical in the sense that it supposes a liberal that is not by the nature of their ideaological convictions committed to the same status quo fundamentally as any corporation.

I would have included some materials to this effect in my list and may make another comment if I find something thats both 1.) digestible to someone not familiar with theory 2.) good. Most anti-fascist organizing is by nature non-violent, absolutely.

The Democrats in the olden days were not monolithic but from the 30s to the 50s were very much experimenting with Social Democracy with things like the New Deal and WPA. Social Democrats aren't leftist by today's standards but hang out with them more often than not in the ideaological neighborhood. Unfortunately the experiment died as the cold war heated up and the Dems got really into invading Asia.

This didn't really teach me anything new but it's nice to see all of what I've learnt summarised in a single essay, like The Book from 1984.

Also, it's usually funny but more often annoying when Conservatives blame liberals for California's strict gun laws (Or Commiefornia as they like to call it) when their Beloved God Leader Reagan clamped down on "uppity" black people who were just exercising their Second Amendment rights. In the words of Eric Andre, "Why would they do this?"

Just one of the many incidents fascists like to pin the fault of on leftists.


Nothing's more annoying than people or descendants of those who fled Socialist/Communist countries and then shill so hard for Capitalism they inadvertently become cock sock puppets for right-wing libertarians and fascists.

Once again I mourn the inability to upvote/favorite blogs. Oh well!

I am liberal and left-*leaning*, but have yet to meet a leftist ideology that *fully* suits me. If my choices are left-or-centrist, though, put me on the left. (Right doesn't even bear considering.)

Great article on a very challenging subject! As a Canadian I’ve had on numerous occasion tried to relate how the popular conceptions of liberal vs conservative are very different in the US from the rest of the world, and that left vs right are terms highly relative to the existing average situation, and so significantly different from country to country. And the waters have been further muddied these last few under Trump, where traditional pillars of “American Conservatism” - such as avoidance of tarifs and strong multi-national defense alliances - have been chucked out the window.
On the term “Progressive”: In the eighties in Canada the Conservative Party was seen to have drifted too far to the right (mostly under the influence of those right-wing yahoos south of the border) for it to be palatable to the average Canadian voter. So they decided to rename themselves the “Progressive Conservative Party”! I kid you not.

Marxist-Leninists tend to be less flexible than anarchists when approaching the concept of organization. While they welcome and put a lot of effort into local recruitment, Marxist-Leninists tend to be less likely to build independent communes or focus their efforts on unionization and more likely to recruit directly into their party.

The Marxist-Leninist rebuttal here is that 'flexibility' is not usually at the top of your list of priority traits when you're discussing building materials.

First; No clue what I am, I just read everyone's textbooks. Very good at sharing, the leftists are. But I'd like to add a more sympathetic account of what ML's believe here, since you've done such a wonderful job of explaining anarchism, and give a bit of an explanation as to why people believe in such a 'violent ideology'.

I'd like to add a note that ML doesn't just believe in seizing power of the existing state, but also in creating a parallel power structure that can rival and supplant (or suplex) the existing state. This is where you get 'cell-structure' organizing from - organize and do the same local community aid that anarchists do - to be able to unify those local communities into a larger defensive structure capable of defending itself against the existing state.

This would be the Black Panther model, in the US, and it was effective! Effective enough the State escalated beyond what they could defend against. RIP Fred Hampton.

The idea is that even if you can't resist the state entirely, you can make a pseudo state-within-a-state capable of redirecting resources and uplifting the most repressed and vulnerable members of the existing state, functionally weakening it and giving your own group legitimacy. Kind of like a cancer, specifically John McCain's.

Well. Except for the Trotsky enthusiasts, who largely seem to believe in a kind of hyper-aggressive electoralist strategy - like WASP wasps. But nobody seems to like the dedicated Trots very much, and they typically end up becoming neoconservatives or Mussolini.

The major difference is that anarchists are largely distrustful of an organizational structure that wants to accumulate that much power and just sort of promises to turn the keys over when the job's done - what makes you think a new state apparatus would be any better at dismantling itself than the current one? Obviously, there hasn't been a great historical track record of the keys-hand-over moment happening so far. (Trots: "Wait, doesn't that mean we can just use this one to dismantle itself? Is that what you're saying? Here, have a newspaper-")

It's a fair and important criticism.

The ML response would be historical. Again, I'll use an American example: The unwillingness of the North to dismantle the underlying racist systems of the South when it won the civil war simply led to those systems reasserting themselves by other names. Slavery was replaced with sharecropping. The Ku Klux Klan became a social club for personal advancement since so many of its leaders were powerful and wealthy men - something that was only possible because those men retained the immense wealth they had gotten through slavery.

Without the occupation of the North enforcing a massive redistrubtion of wealth, those previous inequalities of the old system allowed that old system to reassert itself, bringing hundreds of years more racial inequalities to the US, and a racial animosity that was exploited to weaken labor movements and solidarity efforts well into the 20th century, and into today.

This is something the original Marxists were aware of - one of Engels best friends was a Union Colonel who once tried to assassinate Karl Marx for being too conservative, Marx himself wrote letters to Abraham Lincoln - which means it definitely got accounted for in Leninism.

It was seven years after the end of the US civil war that Engels wrote;

Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.

This is the grim reality behind why Marxism-Leninism is "a violent ideology". MLs believe that if you ever meaningfully oppose the existing power, enough to become a threat, and you do not take advantage of that moment to dismantle it completely, to use every ounce of force democratically and voluntarily given to you by the people you wish to represent... then the reaction against you will only be redoubled.

Your movement, even in victory, will not only be destroyed but it will be destroyed so viciously, bloodily and cruelly that it inspires fear and hesitation at anyone, anyone, who would look to your example.

Immediately, and I mean immediately, repression both organized and individualized. Then, forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever and ever and ever and-

Which leads into my final note on refusing to take these ideas 'seriously', at 'letting them to the mature grownup table', at carte blanche dismissal of anyone who believes in the role of violence in their politics; Everything counts. Everything I just mentioned was 'political' violence. Iraq and Afghanistan (and most of South and Central America for that matter) have much to say on the violence of Liberal politics in the US, even if liberals themselves claim to disavow it.

Feels like someone talking about how barbaric hunting is while eating steak from an industrial meat-packing plant, honestly.

Author Interviewer

One more thing I wanted to comment on specifically was to thank you for shedding more light on what anarchism actually is. I've always envisioned it as people wanting a stateless wasteland where the rule is survival of the fittest, and wondered how on earth they could be categorized as left.

Because right-wing propaganda, naturally!

Well, they were progressing towards being more conservative, so that checks out. :)

Comment posted by BatwingCandlewaxxe deleted Jul 17th, 2020


You know, it's funny, I'm Not An Anarchist, but I always held it as being the best for what you're arguing; Fundamentally, if you can't control that someone will always be a bad actor, it's the only ideology that truly believes in hamstringing the capacity for anyone to hold enough power to do much of consequence with it.

Pretty much what Numbers said, actually. Lateral power structures are harder to subvert than vertical power structures to begin with.

Comment posted by BatwingCandlewaxxe deleted Jul 17th, 2020


Direct Democracies have invariably degenerated into either the Tyranny of the Majority, or subversion by charismatic demagogues

Direct democracy isn't anarchism, "tyranny of the majority" was a term invented by wealthy slaveowners to refer to the uneducated masses who'd do things like, ah, abolish slavery.

State structures are not the only power structures that exist.

Nobody says this, least of all anarchists. A lot of the focus is on them because they're the dominant structure, but basically everything you've said is something anarchist theory covers. I actually want to do an anarchist critique of Hollywood as a power structure, for instance.

Lateral power structures depend heavily on ideological homogeneity

[Citation needed]

I know that it's a principle of many anarchist and communist philosophers that solving economic issues will automatically solve bigotry

Again, nobody says this, they say that solving economic issues makes it easier. But while bigotry was resolved a lot faster in Cuba and East Germany than their capitalist mirrors, countries like Hungary and Romania got a lot worse with regards to LGBT and misogyny under the USSR.

since unions are a staple model of leftist organization

This is a wild oversimplification, especially in the context of why minorities were excluded.

In short; You're shadowboxing strawmen here dude, you don't actually understand what the people you're disagreeing with are saying. It's not even that you're wrong, it's that the people you think you're arguing against here already agree with a lot of what you're talking about.


State structures are not the only power structures that exist.

At the risk of seeming glib, duh. That's why I'm an anarchist. Do you think anarchists are literally ignorant of stateless power structure? We literally organize around building stateless power structures.

I'm going to let Numbers's comments stand here for me again, but I did want to point out that not every leftist (including myself) believes all bigotry is solved by fixing the economy, and having solidarity with your neighbors means having solidarity with all your neighbors. There is a difference in believing in organizing to create lateral power structures at a local level and endorsing every union action that's ever happened. Movements are not frozen in time.

Thank you for this post. It's been very enlightening, especially the section on anarchism.

thats fair, it is really draining to talk about

it's that a brand using progressive language without acting to make people's lives materially better is a transparent attempt to whitewash their business practices and capture new sales from audiences receptive to progressive messaging.

- yeah, this ...

Thanks for writing this - thinking and putting those thoughts on paper (or on-line) IS work (require significant effort). I don't have much to add, may be only note my own "O.O" reaction on your sentence about

it might still be de facto legal to murder me.

. because, yeah, for me this is not something I consider 'normal'. But yeah, with police allowing to use lethal force, and mlitary also allowed or even semi-encouraged to do the same even far away from homeland ...this is quite sad part of current reality.

Ah, yes, I also agree anarchist-ish thoughts often completely left outside of discussion - I for example was initially quite discouraged when I found no obvious traces of anarchism in widely-political second Avatar saga (Legend of Korra). May be it is there in some shape - but at very last reviewers tend not to focus on this. in some sense anarchism is political minority right now, and hopefully self-aware enough about previous historical ideas for at least trying to not mutate into something popular, but at the cost of their main goals .... So far I think a lot of political talk also avoid some important truth about WHY society today is as we see it - politics run on humans, and those humans have specific ..psychological profile (?), way how they react to real or imagined dangers, and how they influence other humans. I think this 'hidden' underbelly of our current (not really voluntary) organization is worth exposing end examining ...

Ah, on mutual aid under capitalism ..it seems obvious today 'naive' option of just accumulating money is not working very well - capitalists have upper hand when it comes to amount of money (=power), and even if all country somewhat manage to add their monetary resources together they still will have very hard time playing on capitalist's grounds and by capitalist's rules. Again, I can't even imagine how people can call themselves 'libertarian' and completely accept how everyone's (!) lives are about to be governed not even by kings or AIs but by The Thing (money)? But humans have long history of hosting contradictory beliefs ....

My friend Julian found some interesting links last night, Commodity status of animals on wikipedia with this quote:

"Political scientist Sami Torssonen argues that animal welfare has itself been commodified since the 1990s because of public concern for animals. "Scientifically-certified welfare products," which Torssonen calls "sellfare," are "producible and salable at various points in the commodity chain," subject to competition like any other commodity.[21] Social scientist Jacy Reese Anthis argues that, while there is no immanent right for animals or humans to not be commodified, there are strong practical reasons to oppose any commodification of animals, not just that which is cruel or egregious.[22]

- on this I asked him to probably put some short description of what commodity is, and how it differs from democratization..

So far I only come up to something like "Commodification is like democratization with strong but not always obvious negative consequences attached". Like, I like to have powerful computer (so I can help with testing and developing GPL software) - but i really don't like how my 'cheap' computing power is paid by workers and environment, and how even my not-for-capitalist work still forced to play by ever-accelerating 'progress' ruleset set up by biggest players (Google, etc)


I actually want to do an anarchist critique of Hollywood as a power structure, for instance.

- and I like to read it ....

My new favorite YouTube channel did a video on this subject recently that was quite illuminating:

I once referred to the ongoing BLM protests as a peasant revolt, and I stand by that. That it evokes a medieval fiefdom rather than a modern country is intentional.

Georg #36 · Jul 17th, 2020 · · 14 ·

5311213 A long-term look at why you don't want to allow dating between co-workers makes the reason for this rule quite obvious.
5310261 Democracy is four wolves and a lamb deciding on what to have for lunch. It was originally attributed to Ben Franklin, but turns out to be a fairly common phrase waved about, because it's accurate. The US (once the original Articles of Confederation fell apart and they went to what we now know as the Constitution) was structured as a Republic, not a Democracy, because of the obvious (in hindsight) problems that crop up when a thin majority can rule without any resistance by the minority, and can in fact restructure the government to ensure their power in perpetuity. (One man, one vote, once.)

I am of the belief that liberal values that our founders hammered into the Constitution are singularly rare and worth keeping. The vast majority of Leftist ideologies from Marxist-Leninism to Anarchs (including Muslim religious rule), are based on unequal treatment of people, i.e. you have something we want (money or power) and we're going to take it away from you.


I think it stands repeating; The constitution was a legal document drafted by slave-owners, for slave-owners, and this is not a 'gotcha' detail, this isn't me being cute. Many of the most complicated and contested aspects of the founding documents were caused by enshrining humans-as-property into it. Why were state's rights important? Slaveholding states worried about non-slave holding industrial states. Why was geographic representation important? The difference between large agrarian based sources of wealth - slaveholders - and dense industrial bases like New York - which were abolitionist.

Let's compare it to a contemporary:
French Revolution motto: Liberte! Egalite! Fraternity!
American Revolution: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness!
Now, hold on. This one doesn't square out - what gives? Why isn't it a neater translation?

It's because it's not. It's from John Locke's three instead - life, liberty, and estate - and Jefferson (a man who routinely raped his slaves) replaced 'estate' as too on the nose.

In short, I think it's absurd and against all historical accounts to say that the men who drafted your founding documents had singular, meritorious values, to the extent that half the country had to go to war with the other half to end the slavery enshrined in those documents.

How's that for unequal treatment of people?


Well, in theory this history lesson should teach us about importance of those decisions ..because 'humans live long lives' easily can be turned from blessing into curse...if things degrade over say 50 years ... This put quite a burden on me, because there is plenty of current tendencies I don't want to contribute to - yet my choice easily overwritten by bigger majority, foolable by usual means ....


No, you know what, I tried to take a nap and walk away, but I'm too angry to fall asleep. I'm too angry to let it lie on a dispassionate historical account - one that could be dismissed as "That was just the time period" - it wasn't. Slavery was abhorrent then, to their contemporaries. And even if we cede that, then why the hell should we trust the political ideology forged from that time period?

But let's talk about the present.

I've been to America, the country that is responsible for vetoing the declaration that food is a human right. I was a child on a family holiday in 2002.

In that month long trip we went to DC, Disneyland, and everything in between. My mother talks about it sometimes, and it always comes back to three stories. The first is that Yellowstone park is impossibly beautiful.

The second is that, when we stayed at hotels, she would always thank the maids for what wonderful work they did. And she did this because the first time she thanked a maid, as she was a cleaning room, the maid cried. She cried, because she hadn't been treated like a human being for so long, she wasn't emotionally ready to be sincerely thanked like that.

The third is that when we stepped off the airplane and were walking to our hotel outside Disneyland, a tall, black homeless man approached her and asked for money. And she said; "I'm sorry, we've just come from overseas, we don't have any US currency right now", and you know what happened?

He flinched.

He flinched because she actually stopped to talk to him and apologize, and treat him like a human being.

And he told her about how it'd been so long since anyone had stopped to say that, hadn't just rushed past with their head down and crossed the street, hadn't been afraid of him. Had actually just acknowledged him as a person.

He was a veteran.

And of that month we spent in the United States, those were the two experiences that she thinks are the most defining of what America felt like, what it is. Not Disneyland, not Vegas - she gets physically ill to remember being in Vegas - but in how many people's most basic humanity was denied to them, every day, for months and for years. Of the extreme poverty next to extreme wealth.

I've had friends who've gone since, and they talk about how bizarre, and scared, and afraid that your country made them, a country that installed fascists into office in my own, a country that has dragged mine into stupid fucking wars since Vietnam that has gotten friends and family killed over fucking nothing, and the friends and families of millions more obliterated.

Here is an incomplete, partial, chronological list of governments that the United States has directly been involved in illegal regime change in, actions that have had an uncountable toll of human misery:

China, Italy, Greece, The Phillipines, Korea, Albania, everywhere in Eastern Europe through Operation Splinter Factory, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Syria and Iran - 1953 at this point - Indonesia, British Guiana, Italy again, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos — Operation MENU meant heavy bombing campaigns were ‘accidentally’ committed against bystander nations, a warcrime - Haiti, Guatemala again, Algeria, Ecuador, the Congo, Brazil, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Cuba - installing fascist Batista - Indonesia, Ghana, Uruguay, Chile, Greece again and the President said “Fuck your parliament and your constitution", that's a real quote, Bolivia, Guatemala again, Costa Rica again — both times as a supposed ally, Iraq in the 70’s — installing Saddam — Australia — the CIA funnelled hundreds of thousands into the far-right Nationals party then dissolved my government in 76 — Angola, Bulgaria, we’re up to the 1980s, Albania again, Iraq again, now we’re getting familiar, Afghanistan again with the United States supporting their local neighborhood freedom fighters the Taliban, El Salvador, Haiti, Yugoslavia… and now I’m going to stop at 2000.

The reason this list is incomplete, is only partial, is because the only countries I have counted in it are the ones where successful regime change has occurred, either through massive electoral interference or outright assassination.

All of that counts. All of that has been caused by the "singularly rare" liberal values of the United States, the greatest source of human misery and tragedy of the 21st century, and likely the 20th, if only due to its longevity and scale.

It is hard to make a sympathetic case for a country which has a lower literacy rate than the third world countries it bombs.

Brexit is the clearest argument against direct popular votes. As you said the saying goes: one man, one vote, once. Direct popular votes work for things like electing officials with clearly-defined term limits. It does not work when deciding policy: there is no do-over for the farce that is Brexit: 52% is not the will of the people nor is it a commanding majority. Win by 3 votes in a state of 3 mil? If you're that terrible of a governor, you'll be kicked out in 4–6 years in the next election. The Scots who voted remain in their independence referendum were betrayed by the politicians respecting the Vote Leave crowd.

Does this mean that leaving the EU was the wrong choice? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that requiring a real commanding majority (60%) for such once-a-century national decisions would mean that the logistics would have had a seat at the table during the campaigning. The US Constitution made it difficult to change for a reason (by contrast, look at how embarrassingly bloated with the minutiae of pension investments many state constitutions have become).


countries like Hungary and Romania got a lot worse with regards to LGBT and misogyny under the USSR.

I can confirm that.

...and requiring more than a simple majority still preserves the direct popular vote and makes elections much more resistant to disinformation campaigns.

I'm sorry did you just claim that the Islamic Fundamentalism is a left ideology

Did you just read Abdullah Ocalan's name and make assumptions? It's okay if you did, you can admit it, I'd love to see you go mask off.

Get off my blog, please.

No comment other than

As an example, my life would materially benefit from universal healthcare, but universal healthcare doesn't solve all the material obstacles created in my life by transphobia. The "trans panic" legal defense is still accepted by multiple state courts in the US, and even if tomorrow morning I received universal healthcare it might still be de facto legal to murder me.

I regularly have to instruct and inform people on this. It's kind of a cruel irony that the majority of my online friends are queer or allies but here in NC everyone that I meet or associate with are some flavor of intolerant. People wonder why I "don't have friends" when the majority of people I interact with would rather I not exist.

All anarchists focus to some extent on the principles of direct action and mutual aid.

TIL I'm an anarchist. Also good to see someone else admitting / mentioning you can be left or lean left and still believe an armed society is a polite society.

Will freely admit that I'm too dumb to comment meaningfully otherwise. (Hey wait admission of ignorance/incompetence and character growth? That's illegal)

The latter half of this reads like you were having a stroke. You feelin okay there? Cause for a second I thought you were dissolving into meaningless word salad


The vast majority of Leftist ideologies from Marxist-Leninism to Anarchs (including Muslim religious rule), are based on unequal treatment of people, i.e. you have something we want (money or power) and we're going to take it away from you.

The fact that your cannot see the irony of this belief is frankly staggering.

I'm even Ignoring the slightly baffling idea that Islamic religious rule has anything to do with the left.

A trite quote that only really applies if people can directly vote on things like whether some group of people truly deserve human rights. There isn't a solid distinction between a republic and a democracy. They usually go hand in hand. The early US may have been democratic for its time, but it would be very antiquated in modern times. Suffrage in the early United States was restricted to white, male landowners. Was something like that preferable to the suffrage and flawed democracy we have now? Things like checks and balances and the Bill of Rights make it so tyrannical power like you describe requires more than a slim majority. Indeed, the recent erosions of democracy have come about as a result of a gradual process, not just because the wrong guy was voted in. And the truly horrible things this country has done were not stopped by the Constitution, or the "rare liberal values" of the founders, nor were they caused by the country being too democratic.

And how in the world is something like Sharia leftist? :rainbowhuh:

Cancel culture just isn't really the threat it's been puffed up to be - and, to be frank, is itself a form of free speech.

The only meaningful comment on "cancel culture" and why it's "currently" such "a huge problem" is now it's being used on neofascists and Reagan worshippers. McCarthyism was the original "cancel culture", arguably, and nobody on the SWM angle cared then or now because it only affected dirty commies and not fine upstanding right-leaning patriots. Same with freeze peach absolutionists trying to apply the first amendment to the Internet and "anti-censorship" people prosetylizing for their right to use racial slurs and spread neofasc memes while suppressing or silencing lefties.

R5h #50 · Jul 18th, 2020 · · 1 ·

I don't have much to say, other than that this is a really good blog. Thanks for writing it!

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