When DiscoverTheNetworks was first established, the Individuals section separated its constituents into five categories, which we identified as “totalitarian radicals,” “anti-American radicals,” “leftists,” “moderate leftists” and “affective leftists.” (The latter included mostly entertainment figures whose politics are emotionally rather than intellectually based in a way I will get to below.) We set up a picture grid (featuring photos of prominent leftists) with these categories on the Individuals search page, to accommodate those who expressed anguish over the grid in its original format where there were no such distinctions made.
This anguish focused on the fact that the original grid contained radicals who held a spectrum of views from the totalitarian left to the democratic left, and that it included Islamic radicals along with
Identified as a “totalitarian leftist” was Sami al-Arian, who ran Palestinian Islamic Jihad (whose most recent feat was the assassination of the former premier of
On the other hand, there was an element in the criticisms that could not be so easily dismissed. Moderate leftists – Barack Obama was singled out – who were also included in the grid are obviously patriotic Americans with no relation to Islamic radicals. It did seem unfair to include him for this reason. On the other hand, we were trying to make a point that politicians who are usually referred to as “liberal” or “populist” are left. They are redistributionists and statists, and their networks of support extend into the heart of the so-called “progressive” movement.
The answer to these dilemmas came to me in a conversation with John Gorenfeld, a writer assigned to cover DiscoverTheNetworks by his editors at Salon.com. Salon, despite its lamentable defense of Sami al-Arian and similar lapses, is part of what we describe in the new grid as the “left” sans the adjectives “totalitarian” and “anti-American.” Not quite moderate, but not quite radical either. The editors of Salon, in other words, according to our taxonomy, are leftists who are patriotic and democratic in intent. I used to write a column for Salon for two years (and would do so again if invited). I assure you such a relationship would not be possible with hard left venues like CounterPunch.org, Alternet.org, The Progressive, or The Nation.
In the conventional political lexicon of today, the term “moderate leftist” is equivalent to “liberal.” We have not used this designation because part of the agenda of DiscoverTheNetworks is to challenge the use of the word “liberal” in this way, a way that obscures the network of the left. Redistributionism, support for racial preferences, and a complacent acceptance of the existing political monolith on academic faculties are not attitudes that can reasonably be called liberal. They are the product of a successful campaign by leftists to conduct “a long march through the institutions” – to assume the political coloration of liberalism in order to escape accountability for the leftist past and in order to more easily advance their radical agendas in the American mainstream.
The leftist lurch of the Democratic Party, which has set up alarm bells in circles that actually are liberal (e.g., The New Republic) is a by-product of this campaign. Another ambition of the DiscoverTheNetworks website is to unmask the radical agendas of faux liberal organizations and individuals like the misnamed Center for Constitutional Rights. This organization was founded by totalitarian radicals, and has since merged with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, communist fellow-traveler whose politics are aligned with Castro’s
The term “affective leftist” requires some explanation, and I am grateful to my comrade-in-arms Peter Collier for the description that follows:
“These are people who are often in positions of influence, the media in particular, who are bien pensant in the extreme. In spite of their social status, they see themselves ‘in opposition’ – a legacy from the 60s when the notion of ‘The System’ as a malign code word for
Those who are now still unconvinced about the principle of inclusion that governs this database are invited to read my book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left, which was written alongside the construction of this database, whose political taxonomy reflects its perspective. Unholy Alliance describes the “mind of the left” in its evolution from Stalinism to the present day. It sets this analysis within the frame of 9/11 and the war in
The purpose of DiscoverTheNetworks is informational – not polemical; it seeks to illuminate and describe the political left, and to clarify the terms of the political debate. For example, it is impossible to understand the recent leftward turn of the Democratic Party if the entire left from Noam Chomsky to Jimmy Carter is subsumed by the term “liberal,” which is the way the culture’s arbiters – e.g., the New York Times and the network news bureaus – currently frame this subject. If Noam Chomsky and Angela Davis are referred to as liberals – as they are in these media outlets – how does one understand the politics of Joe Lieberman or John Kerry or Howard Dean? This conflation of liberal and radical agendas, of leftwing politics and liberal dispositions, is a tall order of obfuscation that makes clarity on crucial political issues and developments impossible. There is a battle raging in the Democratic Party between a moderate left and a radical left, between an authentic centrism and impostor “progressivism,” which cannot be detected, let alone understood, when viewed through a lens as undefined and differentiated as “liberalism” in its current perception. Joseph Lieberman is a liberal; MoveOn.org is not.
Having revised our database to reflect the variegated spectrum of the left, we welcome further comments and observations. On the other hand, there is an aspect of this revision that may lead to results that are not entirely positive and that may even support familiar delusions of the left, which function as fail-safe mechanisms for its complacency in the fact its regrettable record of the last fifty years.
The progressive left supported freedom’s Communist enemies in the Cold War, and did so for more than forty years. Many progressives did so “critically,” deploring the lack of freedoms in the Soviet bloc countries, while explaining this lack of freedom as the result of
We have some concern that the attitudes reflected in this false innocence are encouraged by descriptions that distinguish factions of the left. We created the categories of leftists who are neither anti-American radicals nor totalitarians as though this might absolve those who are not from their responsibilities for the consequences of their actions when they work in coalitions with radicals who are anti-American and totalitarian, and when they fail to reject them.
The left, in other words, is not only a movement and perspective formed by its ideals and political hopes, but also by its oppositions. Anti-war leftists of the Sixties may have described themselves as “anarchists” and democratic socialists, but the effect of their anti-war activities was to establish brutal police states in
One of the conclusions reached in Unholy Alliance is that contemporary leftism is, in fact, largely a nihilism. Since the collapse of socialism – and really since the collapse of the international Communist monolith after the Khrushchev Report – the left hasn’t had a coherent unifying agenda. It has been split into many protesting factions with no common remedies for the ills they see, a left balkanized by “identity politics.” This is a consequence of the decline of Marxist class politics, which subsumed all radical agendas in regard to race, gender and ethnicity, into universal formula of socialist revolution. The elimination of private property and the rule of the working class would create a universal brotherhood of man that would resolve also serious social conflicts. Few leftists, even, believe this destructive illusion anymore.
What is left is nihilism – anti-globalization, anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia form the legions of the left in our time. As a result, as a recent article on the devolution of the left by an academic Marxist concludes, the “twin pillars” of leftwing unity now are its hostility to
The importance of the negative in understanding the construction of the left can be seen most clearly in regard to the war in Iraq. Most leftists who are not of a totalitarian persuasion deplored the Saddam regime. Nonetheless they acted to save it. But the bottom-line in politics is not what your good intentions are, but what are the consequences of your actions. Opposition to the war, if it persists through the war, and despite the fact that it is a liberating war, links leftwing critics of Saddam with Islamic radicals who supported him. As Osama bin Laden himself put it in a fatwa on al-Jazeera TV just before American and British troops entered
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