Sunday, August 07, 2011

The non-crass materialism of American socialism, anarchism, leftism

An argument that's been advanced that the left is very materialistic, not in the sense of believing in historical materialism but in the sense of being crude and out of touch with the realities of life. Crude not in the sense of, say, making stupid jokes but crude in the sense of buying into a worldview that validates itself and that over simplifies life in order to prevent challenges to that self validation. If you identify yourself as the motor of history, and then dismiss any threat to that concept, or to the concept of a motor of history itself, as being delusional bourgeois attitudes out of touch with material reality, then you produce a hermetically sealed system of self praise. However, most of the American left does not resemble this.

These sorts of attitudes are, in other countries, mostly associated with reactionary wings of Communist Parties, and in the United States are only really believed in by Stalinists and folks in Maoist parties descended from Stalin, although some Anarchist groups share the attitude as well. In my experience, though, it's not that prevalent in the Anarchist scene. I think that a materialist outlook of this kind isn't natural to the Left but has to be taught and passed on in order for it to continue. It has to be cultivated, and much of the Left influenced by or descended from the New Left of the '60s and '70s has implicitly or explicitly rejected views that are materialistic. I feel that the criticism stands in our case, and that as Stalinism passes into the sunset it will have less and less influence. After all, the concept does not have the backing of a country or countries anymore, and in my opinion most people can see through folks justify their selfishness by appeals to material reality.

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