Sectarianism, left cadre organizations, and ultra-leftism too often create a squabbling, ineffective, sometimes fanatical left, filled with schisms and splinter groups. Chip Berlet explores this in an article written in 1999 but just as true now.
Ultra-leftism is an egocentric form of mythopoetic martyrdom whereby practitioners anoint themselves as the beleaguered guardians of the one true political line. They read long impenetrable manifestos at public meetings. They show up at mass demonstrations with helmets and hockey sticks for a game of self-fulfilling prophecy that often results in violence as they hurl themselves at police. They inevitably urge a course of action that is hopelessly out of touch with reality. Even Lenin called this an “infantile disorder.”
They also see themselves as the true leaders of the coming revolution, the vanguard whom the working class will unquestionably recognize one day. Then they (the self-appointed anointed) will lead the masses in smashing capitalism. That dozens of other left grouplets also view themselves as the true leaders does indeed lead to sometimes vicious factional fights.
I was purged from such a group, PSL, two years ago (but was walking away anyway. PSL was formed a few years ago when several dozen members of Workers World split off, the result of a internal struggle. At that time WW controlled the ANSWER Coalition. The members who left took ANSWER with them and started PSL.
I was in ANSWER prior to the split and was thinking of joining WW. I asked Peter Camejo, who I knew from the Green Party, about them. He said he’d talked with WW and that they were upfront with him about starting ANSWER as a way to recruit for the party. He was trying to warn me off. The split happened, and I joined PSL mostly out of curiosity but increasingly got disillusioned with their ever-hardening myopic party line and tactics. It took me three years to understand Camejo’s warning. He was right and had been there himself. He ran for US president for Socialist Workers Party in 1976 and got expelled a few years for refusing to back the SWP policy of forcing members to work in factories, often by making them move too, so they could be proper proles.
The problem with groups like this, and their front organizations, is you can’t have it both ways. Either you build a genuine mass organization, which means moderates and those not affiliated with your group have a real say or you use the front group primarily as a recruiting tool, which means the stated purpose for the group is secondary, and you will never become a mass organization because you deliberately exclude all but the true believers.
ANSWER organized massive anti-war protests that sometimes drew hundreds of thousands. This was important. But it never translated into a genuine mass movement because WW and PSL would not allow moderates to have any genuine influence or power. So, the whole process ends up being self-defeating and self-limiting.
One thing I genuinely do not understand is the almost complete failure by the left to organize on the financial crisis the way they did on the Iraq War. We have a humongous crisis of capitalism and the response from the left has mostly been crickets. I don’t get it.
It might be because there’s a tendency for lefties to say ‘capitalism is bad’ and leave it at that, perhaps because they don’t really understand economics and financial matters that well.
Contrast that with blogs written by financial insiders like Zero Hedge, Naked Capitalism, and The Big Picture. They tend to be more libertarian but are seriously pissed. ZH broke stories about high frequency trading and dark pools, and on at least one occasion, forced Congress to take action. Their articles are in-depth, knowledgeable, and scathing.
The left can do this too, and in the process will attract interest and followers, and that can lead to the building of a genuinely an mass organization to fight against the current financial excesses and predation.