Buck Johnson, a subscriber to AL Mag and a great supporter of the site, has a fantastic podcast, Death to Tyrants. Just today he published a conversation he had with the always interesting Paul Gottfried; Paul of course is one of the very best conservative writers in our time and he has been a very key influence on the way I interpret political movements.
One of the things that he mentioned in the conversation is something that I referred to when I discussed his book on Multiculturalism, namely that the modern mainstream left is a post-marxist left that has, in Marxism’s stead, replaced economic class warfare with identitarian class warfare. I wrote:
The left (especially the American left), Gottfried argues, was once wholly dependent on narratives relating to economic victims. The statist efforts to solve various economic circumstances produced what he, in his prior book After Liberalism, refers to as “the managerial state.” The managerial state was supposed to be the perfection of social democracy, with the victim groups similar to Karl Marx’s: the laborers, the proletariate, the impoverished, etc. The managerial state sought to expand its influence in order to protect the economically under privileged. It developed arguments for things like minimum wage laws, labor unions, and rent control.
But things have changed, at least in emphasis. The left, while of course still employing many economic narratives, seems to have doubled down on a different type of social victimization. Thus, the managerial state eventually gave way to a different kind of state, with new classes of victims and new programs to fix the “problems.” The new costume that the state has put on is what Gottfried refers to as “the therapeutic state.” Rather than seeing the victim classes in terms of economics, the new victims are those who are culturally underrepresented and “socially oppressed.” The main key terms in this new phenomenon include “racism,” “sexism,” and “homophobia.” And more are on their way or currently given smaller scale status [i.e., the transexual movement].
He elaborated on this theme and described the modern left as adopting a post-Marxist framework where the current victims are victims of mental oppression, sexual oppression, discrimination and all the rest. This has replaced the old economic-oriented nature of the proletariate of the old left.
Now this is extremely interesting for those who follow this blog and my general way of looking at things. You’re not going to get this anywhere else. You ready?
Jacobin Magazine (what else would I be talking about??) has issued the same criticism of the mainstream left and they so often plea for the left to remember their old Marxist roots and not get distracted by the new mainstream left that has seemingly given up on economic oppression as their primary problem to overcome. Now I very swiftly rush to clarify that they are on board the whole sexual revolution schtick and they of course are all about opposing “discrimination” and liberating the sexually abhorrent from the psychological torture of traditional norms.
But at the same time, they recognize that the left has changed its tune and emphasis and so often complain about the replacement of economic concerns for social ones. In fact, in an interview that Bhaskar Sunkara did in 2011 (Jacobin’s very first print issue), the title was “Let Them Eat Diversity” and the entire thesis was that the left was so focused on racial and culture angst that they were forgetting about the economic class warfare that should be characterizing the left. The mainstream left was getting the poor all thrilled with progress toward racial and sexual diversity that they were secretly abandoning the economic project of old Marxism.
To take a more recent example, in 2015 Jacobin published an article called Race to Nowhere which argued that “elites in the United States have been offering up improved “race relations” rather then interracial workers alliances against capital as the primary solution to American inequality.” This article concluded with the following:
Then, as now, the most reliable path to a progressive politics that produces true justice and human rights is that which begins with building the political power of workers. It is this proposition that has often made elite opponents of white supremacy — both black and white — deeply uncomfortable.
Economic class, Jacobin argues, not cultural identity, should be the true rallying crying of a better leftism. This is in stark opposition to path that has been chosen by the mainstream left in our time. Of course, it would be absurd to interpret my exposition of all this as somehow preferring old leftism (classical marxism) to new leftism (post-marxism), I’m just trying to properly categorize the it all in my mind.
So Jacobin style democratic socialists want to reorient the left. And Paul Gottfried observes this shift as well. This is why Paul Gottfried is so insightful, why I love him so much, and why I pay attention to Jacobin, because they don’t just repeat mainstream left talking points.