Below we have an abridged versoin of an essay that begins to address some of the central problems of the Left today, its historical progress into fascism, and its future, if the Left has one distinct from outright fascism indistinguishable from the White fascists of old.
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Click on the link for the full essay or try this smaller version to begin with.
The Heterodox Period: 1968-1979
It would not be an exaggeration to say that virtually all the tenets defining the left during the "orthodox" period were substantially challenged, if not superseded, by events during the legendary sixties. Thus, it is not by chance that in Germany, France, Italy, and the United States, the "'68ers" (achtundsechziger, soixantehuitards) have attained near mythical status, and generated a considerable nostalgia, in the postwar histories of these countries' left-wing politics. Be it the events at Berkeley, Columbia, and the National Democratic Convention in Chicago for the United States; "the events" in Paris; Italy's Hot Autumn; or the politics of confrontation embodied by the Extra-Parliamentary Opposition (APO) and the Student Socialist Organization (SDS) in the Federal Republic, there developed a clear challenge to the existing lefts in each of these societies.
For the first time in the history of the left, the essential impetus for this development came not primarily from Europe but from the United States. Concretely, these changes were anchored in two major struggles that informed American politics at the time: the civil rights movement at home and the Vietnam War abroad. Both of these developed into absolute icons for all lefts in the world. Mainly carried by students and not by the traditional subject of the left-that is, the industrial working class--this massive transformation of the discourse of the left was deeply anchored in the cultural climate of the United States, which the rest of the world, particularly Europe's students and its young generally, embraced with enthusiasm. One cannot understand the rise of the New Left in Paris, Berlin, Milan, and London without understanding the massive influence of American rock 'n' roll, folk music, protest songs and poetry, and the civil rights movement's tactic of the "sit in." Posters of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Jerry Garcia, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Allen Ginsberg adorned the homes of thousands of European New Leftists alongside such other icons as Che Guevara and, of course, Ho Chi Minh. On both sides of the Atlantic, this generation was equally formed by the first seemingly democratic and impromptu rock festival held in the muddy fields near Woodstock, New York, and by one of Europe's foremost intellectual émigrés who, unlike others in his immediate milieu, proudly remained in America while becoming one of this country's most challenging critics. I am talking about Herbert Marcuse, whom many have--quite rightly--called the New Left's most influential thinker. The deep American roots of the New Left in Europe, both in form and substance, are beyond debate.
In notable contrast to the subsequent time period, which entailed a paradigm shift, the New Left challenge developed within the Marxist paradigm--though it was profoundly threatening to the existing world of socialist politics. If the subsequent era was to transcend socialism and develop some sort of post-socialist politics, New Leftists in the period I have labeled "heterodox" wanted a "true" socialism, freed from what they viewed as related perversions: social democracy in the West and Leninism/Stalinism in the East (though some New Leftists were mesmerized by Leninism in its Maoist version).
The authority that parties of the established left enjoyed during the orthodox period eroded in this decade of heterodoxy. On the intellectual level, the New Left offered a radical critique of the politics of the hegemonic parties. On the institutional level, there emerged small, but intellectually influential parties to the left of the traditional social democratic and communist parties in terms of their programs as well as their strategic approaches. Though small in actual numbers, these parties represented the legacy of the "68-ers" in the left's "party space"--a standing challenge to the orthodox left. The Parti Socialiste Unifié in France might perhaps be the best example of this genre: small in number of voters, members, and officeholders, but important in intellectual influence.
On the other hand, the relationship between parties and unions changed substantially. Several points are worthy of mention in this context:
1. Everywhere in Europe there occurred at this time a clear politicization of the unions. They expanded their horizons from the confined world of industrial relations and shop-floor affairs to include issues of "grand politics" hitherto left to the respective "sister" (or "mother") party. Unions catapulted themselves into a position of quasi-equality with "their" parties. On the one hand, they entered into various macropolitical arrangements with employers and the state that gave labor an active role in economic management. Even though often defensive in nature (and also demobilizing), these neocorporatist arrangements signaled a new union strength. In addition to this activism "from above," the unions also engaged in an activism "from below." Largely propelled by a restive rank and file that wanted to cash in on its superb position in a tight labor market, the unions bargained for the most impressive "quantitative" and "qualitative" gains attained by labor at any time in the fifty-plus years of the postwar period. Even though these two activisms clashed with each other, they emanated from the same optimism, power, and self-confidence that redefined the role of unions inside the European left during this period.
2. This, of course, led the unions to distance themselves from their respective parties. Nowhere was this more obvious than in Italy, where the three union confederations (allied with different parties) discovered that as many things united as divided them. Similar, though not as effective, distancing maneuvers on the part of unions also occurred in Germany, Britain, Sweden, and Austria. Only in France did the old transition-belt model between the Communist Party (PCF) and the communist-dominated trade union federation (CGT) remain largely intact. There too, however, independent union power figured significantly in the discourse of the left, particularly because the former Catholic union, sporting the new acronym CFDT, shed its former clericalism and became one of the most vocal advocates of the New Left.
3. Central to this activism was the role of hitherto marginal elements within the labor movement. Although labor's core-that is, male, skilled, industrial workers-also participated in the general mobilization, it was often its lesser skilled, female, and foreign colleagues who were the political vanguard at the grass roots and on the shop floor. Add to this group a substantial presence of tertiary-sector "intellectual" workers, and the new working class had become a politically meaningful reality.
4. There was also a noticeable "intellectualization" of the labor movement. Through the influx of a large number of academic researchers, many of whom were veteran "68-ers," the unions developed a more sophisticated theoretical approach to problems that until then remained largely beyond their purview. Union leaders always had a very ambivalent relationship to left-wing intellectuals, but now a "march through the institutions" on the part of New Left activists changed organized labor's mentality to a noticeable degree.
But something wholly new also happened at this time: the rise of left politics outside of any established institutions, parties, or unions. It was in this milieu that the new meaning of "leftism" in Europe and the United States was forged. It was at this critical juncture--the decade between 1968 and 1978--that tendencies developed whose influence persists to this day, in Germany especially, but also in Europe generally. In my article "The Minister and the Terrorist" (Foreign Affairs, November-December, 2001), I described four groupings that emerged at this juncture within the New Left.
The second group I call the "Third Worldists." They considered imperialism the most important political issue of the day and rejected everything that the developed world stood for, including Western values and industrial modernization. The Third Worldists would later constitute the bulk of the "Fundamentalist" (or "Fundi") wing of the German Green Party and fight a bitter rearguard action against what they believed to be the sellouts by Fischer and his "Realos." During the 1970s, the Third Worldists believed that the Federal Republic was second only to the United States in its objectionable character. They detested its parliamentary institutions, disdained its market-based economy, hated its role as a driving force in modernization's inevitable destruction of the environment, and feared any manifestation of nationalism, which they saw as a harbinger of the ever-looming "fascistization" of German politics and society. They were vehemently anti-Zionist (although not necessarily anti-Semitic) and found in the Palestinians an emblem of noble suffering and anticolonial resistance.
The third group were the "orthodox Marxists," who located the source of the Federal Republic's ills not in industrial modernization but in capitalism. In contrast to all other New Leftists, members of this group considered the industrial working class not only a worthy ally but as an "objectively necessary" part of any major social transformation. Adherents of this tendency reached deep into the SPD and some German trade unions, notably the metal workers', printers', journalists', writers', and bank employees' unions. They also developed cozy relations with East Germany, whose Marxist-Leninist system they regarded with tolerant admiration if not outright enthusiasm. This group's strength explains why serious criticism of "actually existing socialism" in the Soviet bloc was unpopular in parts of the German left well into the 1980s-so much so that the Polish Solidarity movement was often denounced by German unionists and social democrats as retrograde and reactionary. (During his JUSO [youth organization of the SPD] days, the current chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, was closest to this wing of the New Left.)
I call the fourth and last remaining group the "neo-Nationalists." The New Left focused mainly on opposing the war in Vietnam, demonstrating solidarity with developing-world liberation movements, and transforming bourgeois society. But in Germany it also had a nationalist component provoked by the country's division and limited sovereignty. Left-wing nationalism has a long history in Germany (National Bolshevism and the Strasser wing of the National Socialists are two cases in point), and it is hardly surprising that such feelings were represented among the '68ers as well. Nationalist sentiment grew over the controversy surrounding the 1983 deployment of American intermediate-range nuclear missiles on German soil and was later intensified by German unification. By the mid-1990s, in fact, a substantial number of '68ers had completed a journey from extreme left to extreme right, with the constant factor being their hatred of the West. Today, this antimodernist, anti-Western sentiment is alive and well throughout Europe among those on the extreme right and left who invoke nationalism in their opposition to globalization. The two most prominent German radicals to undergo such a shift are Horst Mahler and Bernd Rabehl. Along with two other prominent ex-leftists, Mahler--now the far right National Democratic Party's official legal counsel--recently declared that the '68er movement had been "neither for communism nor for capitalism, neither for a Third-Worldist nor for an Eastern or a Western community of values." Instead, it had been "about the right of every Volk to assert its national-revolutionary and social-revolutionary liberation." In this view, the Germans were no exception. Already then, the main root of Germany's trouble lay in its solid anchoring in the West--controlled by that double-headed evil, the United States and world Jewry. In marked contrast to the Third Worldists, adherents to this path developed an anti-Zionism that could barely, if ever, be differentiated from anti-Semitism.
This is also the period when the left's enmity against Israel, begun in the wake of the Six Day War of June 1967, became a salient issue for its politics, its identity, and also its internal divisions. Indeed, I would argue that perhaps the most defining gauge of where somebody stood politically, how she/he saw the world, was that ubiquitous triangle of Israel, the Jews, and the United States. Roughly speaking, to the Westerners, the plight of the Jews was a serious issue, which meant that they developed a much more favorable view of Israel than did the other three groups. To the Third Worldists and the orthodox Marxists, the plight of the Jews--though real--remained unimportant, massively subordinate to the plight of third world peoples (to the Third Worldists) and of workers (to the orthodox Marxists). In the nationalist camp, by contrast, the plight of the Jews was either never acknowledged or even viewed with outright contempt. It is here that the nexus between the völkisch left and the völkisch right, which manifested itself so vigorously in the streets of many German and European cities in the spring of 2002 and again in 2003, was forged.
Paradigm Shift: 1980-1989
In this era most fundamental assumptions of the socialist project underwent major challenges. Above all, the 1980s witnessed the weakening --perhaps even severing--of an alliance that once had defined the left, with the working class as subject of history and driving force of progressive politics. From circa 1880 until 1980, the most fundamental dogma of social democrats and communists alike was that the working class would be the decisive carrier of social transformation beyond capitalism. Both theoretically and empirically, there was a tight logical connection between the working class and the left: not all workers had to be left, but there could be no left without workers. All other movements, social groups, and individuals were in principle subordinated to the working class in the endeavor of attaining socialism. This changed drastically in the course of the 1980s. Briefly put, the working class lost its position not only as a theoretically compelling feature of all socialist orientations but also as an empirical necessity of quotidian politics. This radical change has three salient features.
1. The appearance of the new social movements and their political offspring, the Green parties. In the course of the 1970s and increasingly in the 1980s, progress began to mean almost the opposite of what it did before. The term had always been associated with some sort of growth, but now the desirability of growth was questioned, if not entirely rejected. If being left and progressive meant building dams and steel mills during the previous two eras, it now implied saving little fish and rare birds from the destruction wrought by those very dams and mills. The universalism of class as a primary political identity was superseded by the particularism of groups. Faith previously placed in technology, centralization, and the state was now conferred upon localism, decentralization, and community power. The left moved from growth, state, class, economy, and politics to identity, gender, empowerment, and deconstruction. Tellingly, much of critical social science, formerly engaged on behalf of a progressive agenda, was now superseded by an increasingly philosophized Marxism, which in turn drifted toward literary criticism and various other poststructural and postmodern intellectual endeavors.
It had become clear by the mid-1980s that green was the left's trendsetting color instead of the century-old red. Increasingly, also, the color purple denoted the arrival and staying power of politically meaningful women's movements in the public arena of all advanced industrial democracies. Possibly no other change wrought by the New Left had such a tangible impact on virtually all aspects of private and public life as did the rise and establishment of the women's movements. In brief, protecting the life-world, reclaiming lost intimacy, defending vulnerable groups, extolling smallness--all this replaced the previous faith in the liberating aspects of technology and the obsession with "mega" projects that had dominated the European and American left's discourse for exactly one hundred years.
Fragmentation and Polarization
With the collapse of Soviet communism and the green and purple challenge to Western social democracy, the European left has lost the overall coherence of modernist universalism that defined it for more than a hundred years. On the one hand, one should rejoice in this development, because Truth and Progress (with capital letters) were too arrogantly defended by much of the left throughout the twentieth century. We will most likely be spared any repetition of the horrors of the GULAG or the genocidal mania of the Khmer Rouge-whose protagonists claimed to be acting in the name of justice, equality, and progress. But there exists a more fundamental problem. Although one can still identify many worthy causes that qualify as progressive, one would be hard-put to identify a subject of history that--like the working class of yore--could form the social basis of a unified left. Instead, we witness the proliferation of groups focused on particular forms of injustice, slighting, and victimization--in other words, on purely negative experiences. These experiences may all be real, but the groups that develop around them will remain largely powerless without the positive institutions of community that were so essential in the creation of a politically effective working class. And as a consequence of their powerlessness, they will turn inward, extolling their own particularism, which will only further fragment an already fragmented left. It is in this context that the old siren songs of nationalism and neonationalism seem especially appealing to the lefts of all industrial societies.
A new European (and American) commonality for all lefts--a new litmus test of progressive politics--seems to have developed: anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism (though not anti-Semitism, or at least not yet). I cannot think of two more potent wedge issues that define inclusion and exclusion on the left today. In a hierarchy of key items defining what it means to be left in contemporary Europe and the United States--pro-choice, abolition of the death penalty, equality in marital arrangements and official recognition of gay and lesbian couples by the state; progressive income tax; economic and social justice; support for third world claims against the rich first world; multilateralism as opposed to unilateralism; legalization of marijuana; and on and on--opposition to Israel and America figure at the very top. If one is not at least a serious doubter of the legitimacy of the state of Israel (never mind the policies of its government) and if one does not dismiss everything American as a priori vile and reactionary, one runs the risk of being excluded from the entity called "the left." There has not been a common issue since the Spanish Civil War that has united the left so clearly as has anti-Zionism and its twin, anti-Americanism. The left divided, and divides, over Serbia, over Chechnya, over Darfur, even over the war in Iraq. There are virtually no divisions over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and over the essence of the United States. If one has anything positive--or even non-derogatory--to say about the United States or Israel, one always needs to qualify it with a resounding "but."
Andrei S. Markovits is the Karl W. Deutsch Collegiate Professor of Comparative Politics and German Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. His latest book is called Amerika-Dich Hasst Sich's Besser: Antiamerikanismus und Antisemitismus in Europa, published in 2004 by Konkret-Literatur-Verlag in Hamburg. An expanded and amended English-language version is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. This article is based on a paper presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association.
*Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, "Cleavage Structures, Party Systems and Voter Alignments: An Introduction" in Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan, eds., Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives (New York: The Free Press, 1967), pp. 1-64.
We have not only argued the points above in previous posts, we have shown through documents from Left thinkers over and again the legitimacy of the theses above. The Left is a fascist reaction. Those who complain in the face of the documentation are simply too stupid to bother with. The question, as Lenin so aptly stole it, is: "What is to be Done?"