When it comes to the summer holidays, most people decide to go abroad, to sink themselves into hobbies, or to get wasted on a beach in Malaga. Some do productive things like getting internships or applying for their dream job. These people have a multitude of things going for them: friends, life ambitions, hopes, security, job prospects, an actual sleep pattern. Then there’s me. I decided to investigate the far-left over the summer. Before you ask, I did go abroad over the summer and worked for a good portion of it too. That still left me with plenty of free time (perhaps too much) and so dirty centrist that I am, I decided that if I had investigated the far-right a few months back, the far-left deserve my inspection too. And so my investigation began.
I first set out to read as much as I could. From the very start, I was finding out how much of a different beast the far-left is to the alt-right. The far-left has a history of literature going back from Parenti and Zizek to Marx and Owen. The alt-right has memes and 4chan. Across the summer I read a plethora of leftist literature from Marx to Engels, Lenin to Trotsky, and beyond.
It was here I came across my first (probably too obvious) revelation. When people blame “the left”, who is it they’re blaming? Are they blaming the Marxist-Leninists? The Trots? The Luxembourgists? The incredible diversity of opinion on the left makes blanket statements like “the left are ruining this country” or “the left are lazy” absolutely meaningless. It’s also quite common to see people complaining about SJWs or “Social Justice Warriors” nowadays. One has to ask what exactly about these so-called SJWs is left-wing when many of them still believe in private property and simply call for fairer representation of minorities among our elites rather than the abolition of the elites entirely.
After reading as much as I could bare without hearing Zizek sniffs in my dreams, I decided to talk to “the left” in person. This involved going to the Donald Trump protest in London, leftist book clubs and socialist meetings in the basement of bars (by the way, any other Lib Dems reading this, can we start doing this too? We’d be like the Sons of Liberty rather than the tweed jacket wearing neo-liberals we come across as). I met a wide and lovely cast of characters at each of these events, all brimming with ideas on how to change the world. However, I also noticed that this is, to some degree, a disadvantage on the left. Left unity was waning at these events, with walk-outs over disagreements on how activism should take place.
It struck me as odd that, when it comes to local activism, whether it be through trade unions or public demonstrations, the Anarchist and the Marxist-Leninist could not hold hands in solidarity. If “the left” want to be an effective tool of activism and revolution, they need to come together rather than split apart. In The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Oscar Wilde once wrote: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live“. In this regard, I can confirm some socialists are very selfish.
In the face of the rising far right, this fracturing of the left is what worries me most. Only a month ago, protester Paul Welch came down to Portland to demonstrate against the alt-right “Proud Boys”. By the end of the day the Bernie Sanders supporter lay on the ground in a pool of his own blood. The club to the back of Paul’s head was not wielded by the alt-right however but by his fellow anti-fascist protesters who saw the American flag he wielded as a “hate symbol”. Surely if the left is to be any worthy opponent to fascism this petty sectarianism must stop, perhaps it’s worth dropping the gulag memes and soviet flags and making sure people feel safe in your movement.
After engaging with the far left across the summer another thought came to mind. Across this summer, I found myself watching NBC’s Parks and Recreation, a show that wasn’t just an absolute delight to watch but a great example of a group of people who are capable of both disagreeing with each other and enjoying each other’s company. This dynamic was exemplified in the characters of Ron Swanson (a libertarian bordering anarcho-capitalist who once said that “capitalism was God’s way of deciding who is smart and who is poor”) and Leslie Knope (a caring and progressive individual campaigning for social programs every other episode). Ron and Leslie had one of the strongest friendships in the show, friendships I’ve come to develop with many socialists I’ve met over the summer. Their friendship developed, not because they had the same politics as each other, but because they could appreciate they were both good people and that their politics had nothing to do with that fact.
While I had many great interactions with socialists over the summer, I was also told by somebody, when I asked them what made them socialist, that they were socialist because they knew “right from wrong” and that I should stay clear of socialism because I don’t. While I am sure great swathes of the far-left are not like this, it’s a worrying trend. Perhaps they can learn from Ron and Leslie not to treat those with differing politics as “the other”, not to use politics as a substitute for a personality, to value people for their convictions and not what those convictions are.
We can go our whole lives these days without encountering a person who would vote differently from us. So seek those people out, seek out those who vote differently, seek out those who don’t vote at all. Most importantly, seek out those who are kind, interesting and teeming with love. As Camus once said “there is but one duty and that is to love”.
Featured image: Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler in Parks and Recreation (Ben Cohen/NBC)