Monday, 29 May 2017

A brief history of the Alt-Left and where it's going

A brief outline of the history of our movement:

"Let us Face the Future!"
The alt-left is basically a revival of the early to mid 20th century anti-communist, anti-stalinist left. These were people who were pro labor, pro social democracy and in favor of civil rights, but put off by the authoritarianism of the Soviet bloc, and a bit later on, by the radicalism of the new left of the late 1960s.

This kind of progressivism faded away during the 1980s and 90s. With the collapse of communism, a leftism opposed to authoritarian leftism was without a foil. Plus, deindustrialization and the resulting decline of organized labor meant that the electoral support for classic social democracy receded. The likes of Reagan in America and Thatcher in the UK signified a structural shift away from the policies of economic center-leftism. 

Center-left parties gradually picked up the slack in a few other places. These included immigrant populations, which had grown as a result of increased immigration adopted by governments as a response to declining domestic birth rates, and an intellectual establishment based around academia and a nascent social media. These sorts of people were more interested in cultural leftism, so called political correctness. There was little concern for the social democracy of old on the center left. The kinds of salt-of-the-Earth blue collar workers and farmers who were once the backbone of the labor and cooperative movements were now distrusted and ridiculed for their religiosity and alleged racism.  The new political divide was between these urban PC cultural leftists, and these once labourite suburban and rural voters won over to the right via social conservatism.  The especially virulent strand of rightism represented by the religious right and later, the Tea Party, proved especially polarizing. 

Gradually, the religious right was pushed back due to the success of philosophically minded atheist authors, backed by an internet savvy skeptic community, riding a wave of disillusionment with the Bush White House and its costly and devastating war in Iraq over non existent weapons of mass destruction.  These new atheist authors and their amazing mouthpieces on social media held Christian fundamentalism to scathing ridicule and withering critique.  Important to their deconstruction of Christianity was its long record of support for social injustice and discrimination against women, minorities and gays, the later of whom were then campaigning for marriage rights. 

Then came the Lehman Bro's meltdown. Criticism of neoliberalism, always present under the radar but never on the national agenda, became more prominent. This compounded the already tarnished image of the conservative Bush White House, and Obama was subsequently elected on a platform of "hope and change" implying that he would be another Roosevelt. The results were less than were hoped for, mind you. Then the subsequent rise of Occupy Wall Street and the popularization of the meme of the 1% vs the 99%. Like their antecedents in the anti WTO protests of the late 90s and early 2000s, their issues resonated with people, but the culture of radicalism was off putting to many.

Also off putting was a growing tendency towards a soft authoritarianism on the cultural left. The rise of the social justice warriors, and their belligerent approach to cultural leftism, became deeply polarizing.  Especially on college campuses, where they popularized the tactic of "no platforming" speakers they did not like. The PC left's pushback against the religious right and the Tea Party seemed a hollow victory given how alike the religious right and the Tea Party they had become in the process.

A related phenomena was the so called regressive left, a kind of cultural leftism that cozied up to Islamism, and criticized opponents of mass Islamic immigration as Islamophobic. This despite growing public concern over rising domestic terrorism and changing demographics.  The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe, and sexual assault scandals such as the Rotherham affair drove immigration to the top of concerns of voters across the western world, fuelling populist anti-immigration backlashes in America and Europe.

Then came manufactured clickbaity social media scandals such as donglegate, gamergate, elevatorgate, shirtstorm and Atheism+, which ended up causing a liberal schism between the SJWs and the so called skeptic community, alongside the rise of the alt-right. The SJWs and regressive left had prompted a reactionary backlash that had a profound effect on internet culture. This backlash attacked the SJWs and the regressive left with the same vigor with which they went after the religious right only recently.  

The social justice left could not have responded in a more counter-productive manner: insisting on ideological compliance due to the moral authority implicit to being progressive, or by appeal to their marginalized identities.  With displays of outrage that would win Oscars in Hollywood, the race and gender, rather than the arguments of the skeptic community critics were what a centralized, ideologically disciplined, overwhelmingly pro-social justice media and academic establishment establishment chose to focus on in their counter attacks.  

The rivalry grew increasingly bitter and more intense, with regressive leftists and social justice warriors, convinced that "there were no bad methods, only bad targets" took to doxing, smear campaigns and other forms of more personal attacks against their skeptic and alt-right critics.  Their opponents retaliated in kind.  At best, disputes between pro and anti SJW factions on social media became barely distinguishable from the trading of insults on a grade school playground.  Quite frequently, it resulted in people being fired from their jobs, blacklisted in various communities and wedges being driven between spouses and within families. 

But these counter-reactions to the new authoritarian left did not satisfy everybody. For many, the alt-right went too far in the opposite direction, going as far as to rehabilitate fascist and white nationalist ideas.  The two sides seemed to mirror one another in their contrasting bigotries and sexually repressed juvenile acrimony.  The Skeptic community, hewing to a path of classical liberalism, had little to say on issues of economic inequality, and were often as critical of "socialism" as they were of political correctness and Islamism.

Finally came the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Trump's success, due in part to support from the alt-right, showed the potential for an online political movement to challenge the status-quo. Bernie Sanders was the most successful US presidential candidate since the gilded age to refer to himself as a socialist. His success showed the potential for a revival of social democracy.  The bitter truth was that the 99% so called hadn't recovered from the great recession.  Increasingly, new jobs were either temporary, low wage and part time, or required huge amounts of education and involved an on call 24/7 way of life.  Work/life balance and union protection had grown scarce.  Sanders had tapped into a resentment against capitalism that had begun to fester even in the heart of the good 'ol U.S of A, the likes of which had not been seen since the days of the robber barons. 

2016 was the pivotal year.  It began with a handful of bloggers thinking of themselves as "the left wing of the alt-right" or "liberal race realists."  They added a much needed and conspicuously absent economic element to the alt right's nationalist critique of globalism.  White birth rates would remain low if jobs didn't pay enough or were too demanding timewise to support a family.

In late 2016, the unthinkable happened.  Disillusionment with the direction that the regressive left and the SJWs were taking things caused "I'm with her" - the successor to the now distant and disillusioned "Change we can believe in" to fall before "Make America great again!"  Following this was nothing less than an all out civil war on the progressive left between those who thought the election results due to just how deeply racist and misogynistic America was, and those who thought that the left's obsession with racism and misogyny to the exclusion of jobs and the economy was precisely why Hillary Clinton lost.  

Plus, it turned out that many people who were anti SJW and even involved in GamerGate or the skeptic community had otherwise progressive tendencies, but were disillusioned with the direction cultural leftism was going.  Driven by trendy academic theories such as intersectionality and postmodernism, and pushed by smug, self righteous and condescending commentators on social media, the cultural left had become censorious, puritanical and open in its disdain for people based on race and gender.  Wasn't this precisely what the progressive left was supposed to be against?

Yet for these disillusioned progressives, the alt-right wouldn't work because if its own embracing of reactionary ideas.  The answer to the white male guilt of the SJWs had to be something better than white male supremacy.  Libertarianism was similarly to be distrusted, despite having the right stances on free speech and a live-and-let-live mentality, due to its laissez faire economics.

The formula then was this: Pragmatic center left economics; social democracy plus cultural libertarianism plus a rejection of identity politics as represented by the twin ills of white male supremacy (the alt-right) and white male inferiority (the SJWs + Regressive left) plus a respect for freedom of religion that is still uncompromisingly secular does not play favorites between Christianity and Islam.  All of this bound together by a commitment to the core principles of the enlightenment: scientific rationality (with a respect for that side of man that is mythological and spiritual in his yearnings), a rejection of deterministic ideologies and reductionist social narratives, and an unwavering belief universal human rights and responsibilities.

Will this formula be enough to yield political success?  If it is to, the alt-left will have to contend with several challenges.  

The first is who ultimately defines the term?  Will it be the original left wing of the alt-right bloggers?  Several conservative media outlets have identified the alt-left with the kinds of militant antifa protesters that have been rioting on college campuses.  Will the true meaning of what it means to be alt-left be reduced to a mere class reductionist rejection of identity politics, a rebirth not of the anti-authoritarian left but of mere vulgar Marxism?  The alt-left would do well to reaffirm its historical anti-communist stances and its commitment to an open, pluralistic society.

Related to this is the problem of outreach: the alt-left will need to find ways of getting its message across to the broader public, so that it can attract more adherents and possibly even influence the ideological and policy directions taken by mainstream center-left forces.  

A hard decision the alt-left may soon have to make is just how purist is it going to be in its opposition to identity politics?  How does the alt-left plan on breaking out of its young white male demographic ghetto?  Where and with whom does the alt-left hope to find a basis of political and economic support?  As a possible answer to this question, how should the alt-left relate to organized labor, or what's left of it?  

Criticizing the deterministic IdPol of the intersectional SJWs is all well and good, but as previously mentioned, a quasi Marxist class reductionism is hardly a better alternative.  This has been tried, after all, and the results can't be considered much of an improvement. The alt-left's critique of identity politics is going to have to be better than anything we've seen thus far out of the skeptic community, the alt right or the class reductionists, and they will have to a better job of delivering on the concept of social justice than the social justice warriors themselves.  

The alt-left will also need better answers to the problem of immigration, fast becoming a make or break issue in western politics.  The alt-left will need answers to hard foreign policy questions.  And the alt-left will have to answer these questions in a political wilderness characterized by fake news and shifting political alliances at home and abroad and a core constituency that is notoriously difficult to organize.  

But if the alt-left do not answer those questions, who will?

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