Use of the word 'leftist' as a slur

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working class
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Jul 25 2011 05:16
Use of the word 'leftist' as a slur

The term "leftist" is used by many people to describe their politics. However, on sites like libcom, this term is used as a dig similar to "social democrat" as if leftism has become the equivalent of social democracy. Why is this? How can this usage be made more popular?

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devoration1
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Jul 25 2011 05:45

I know sections of the communist left use it this way as a more or less shorthand for 'left wing of capital'- that the groups and ideas that comprise 'The Left' (social democracy, progressivism, Trotskyism, Maoism, trade-unionism, etc) are not revolutionary or 'with us', but operate as forces for the bourgeoisie directly (UCPN(M) in Nepal, KKE in Greece, etc) or indirectly (SWP in the UK, CPUSA in the US, etc).

They are just as much the enemies of the working-class and its revolutionary self-emancipation as the right-wing (conservatives, nationalists, fascists, etc) of capital's political apparatus.

The Left is largely made up of groups coming from Marxism directly or influenced by populist-socialist ideas and rhetoric. Many espouse revolution against capitalism and the bourgeoisie. This makes them dangerous agents of recuperation of struggles and class consciousness. Because of this, and the proximity of these groups and ideas with the working-class (particularly when its actively engaged in struggle) means that pro-revolutionary groups and militants come into contact, or come from a background of, leftism. There are groups that may have many poisitive attributes that place them in the 'camp' of the working-class; but still have lingering traces of leftism or leftist ideas on specific topics (particularly on labor unions, national liberation struggles, etc). So a Platformist group with a pro-national liberation policy (on Ireland or Palestine for example) and who supports working within the TUC/AFL-CIO/etc unions could be criticized on those grounds (since labor unionism and national liberation are two hallmarks of The Left and its means of diffusing working-class militancy, recuperating gains and consciousness/experience, martialing the proletariat to support a war effort, etc).

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Jul 25 2011 08:21

Just to expand, the idea is also tied into the Left Communist understanding of the USSR and other supposedly Marxist or Communist regimes as being state capitalist (or simply capitalist in Bordiga's conception) and therefore people who defend or seek to emulate them are defending or seeking to emulate "left wing" style capitalism. The state capitalist understanding of the USSR is a pretty central plank of Left Communist theory, and one which distinguishes it from almost all other Marxism (sort of with the exception of Cliff's followers who also have a theory called state capitalism, but a quite different and IMO shit one which says that state capitalism was a progressive historical phase, so they're still leftists). So the term leftist comes from a central theoretical dispute as well as being an almost incomprehensible (to people outside the 'scene') insult. When it comes to obscure insults for Trotskyists, I prefer icepick-heads.

posi
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Jul 25 2011 08:54

A short guide. Most of the working class have some nationalist and trade unionist ideas. They are leftists. They are the enemy of themselves.

On the other hand, you have the ultra left. There are tops 500 in Britain, but it's ok coz they are fucking great. The two most important political points are that you have the same opinions about unions and national liberation movements as the Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party. It also helps to have the similar ideas about the Labour Party as the quasi-Maoist RCG. Your tactical slogans and views on fascism should be indistinguishable from those of third period Stalinism. You can think more or less anything you like about the question of the revolutionary party, as long as you denounce the the views of 'the leftists'.

bastarx
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Jul 25 2011 09:51

I hope your opportunism works out well for you posi.

bastarx
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Jul 25 2011 10:40

Union bureaucrat?

posi
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Jul 25 2011 10:46

I don't have a job at all.

(Edit: for the record, I don't really have a problem with the ultra-left as such, and I think it contains some useful currents of ideas. I think Loren Goldner is pretty great. What I don't like is the self-satisfaction of much of the ultra-left, and the lazy use of 'leftist', as was referred to in the initial post.)

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Ed
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Jul 25 2011 12:38

Right everyone, posts unpublished, stop being twats, let's stay on topic. Lovely stuff..

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Rob Ray
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Jul 25 2011 12:50
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I don't really have a problem with the ultra-left as such

I do, mainly because it's pretty much a nonsense term used primarily as an insult by people who should be arguing their point properly. Like leftist, tbh. I've been called both by different people but the meaning was basically the same "I find your politics weird and wrong."

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Jul 25 2011 12:59

I'm with Rob Ray on this one, I wince especially when someone uses the term 'ultra-leftism'. When I have heard it, it usually comes from the mouths of those very versed in Lenin and not willing to engage in proper discussion.

working class
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Jul 26 2011 04:27
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
I don't really have a problem with the ultra-left as such

I do, mainly because it's pretty much a nonsense term used primarily as an insult by people who should be arguing their point properly. Like leftist, tbh. I've been called both by different people but the meaning was basically the same "I find your politics weird and wrong."

So, is "leftist" just a meaningless term or does it have any valid content? Social democracy had a specific meaning before 1914, after which it came to represent the Second International's class-collaborationist politics, as critiqued by Rosa Luxemburg. In the present day, social democracy is a clearly understood term. My question is: will "leftism" face a similar fate as social democracy?

posi
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Jul 26 2011 08:04
Rob Ray wrote:
Quote:
I don't really have a problem with the ultra-left as such

I do, mainly because it's pretty much a nonsense term used primarily as an insult by people who should be arguing their point properly. Like leftist, tbh. I've been called both by different people but the meaning was basically the same "I find your politics weird and wrong."

I meant that I don't have a problem with the entirety of the current, as it is described by those who identify with it, rather than that I don't believe the term is used problematically.

Quote:
So, is "leftist" just a meaningless term or does it have any valid content?

Lenin actually referred to the left communists as "leftists", or preaching "leftism". e.g.

Lenin wrote:
The other error, which is far less significant and is more in the nature of growing pains of the movement, consists in a tendency towards “Leftism” which results in a wrong appraisal of the role and the tasks of the party with regard to the class and the masses, and a wrong attitude towards the revolutionary Communists’ obligation to work in bourgeois parliaments and reactionary trade unions.

http://www.marxists.org/history/usa/parties/cpusa/1924/02/0216-pepper-leninlibrary.pdf

In its use on libcom, it is - as you suggest - little more than a term of abuse, and unhelpfully conflates everything from parliamentary social democracy, to Trotskyism and Stalinism. All of which I disagree with, but all of which are different.

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Jul 26 2011 08:19

It's not a "slur" any more than the term "liberal" is a slur. It describes a specific set of politics, which most people on here oppose.

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Jul 26 2011 08:24
posi wrote:
In its use on libcom, it is - as you suggest - little more than a term of abuse, and unhelpfully conflates everything from parliamentary social democracy, to Trotskyism and Stalinism. All of which I disagree with, but all of which are different.

No, it "conflates" a range of traditions which fit a specific set of politics. It's far less wide ranging than liberalism would be, yet no one would have a cry that it was unfair to use liberals because lots of liberals have (vastly) different politics.

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Jul 26 2011 09:02
working class wrote:
So, is "leftist" just a meaningless term or does it have any valid content? Social democracy had a specific meaning before 1914, after which it came to represent the Second International's class-collaborationist politics, as critiqued by Rosa Luxemburg. In the present day, social democracy is a clearly understood term. My question is: will "leftism" face a similar fate as social democracy?

Leftism is social democracy, in the sense that bolshevism and its sucessors are an offshoot of russian social democracy. They all findamentally view the state as an organ that can be controlled in soem fashion by the working class, they share similar views of working class participation eg that unions are integrated into the state in some form and are consulted to various degrees. Sometimes this is dressed up in more radical langauge but the effect is similar.
Despite their various rhetorical flourishes as a general trend during the 20th century both bolshevism and social democracy advocate to various degres a slightly mixed economy with the majoirty of industries being state owned and managed in a generally top down centrally planned fashion.

I wouldn;t use the word leftist in a leaflet, in the same way i wouldn;t go on about 'liberals'' in one either unless i had space to explain the context in which i was using the word (eg a journal or a much longer article), but as fallback says i think their fine to use sometimes as a shorthand for a set of ideas. The only problem is if you start flinging it around all the time, i think only the ICC do this really tbh, i don;t see any anarchists using it as a slur much.
Anarchist critiques of the left tend to use the term 'authoritarian' far more, again thats a fine term to use when appropriate to describe the praxis of the SWP at times, however, without nuance or selective use it is indanger of becoming meaningless.

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Jul 26 2011 10:39
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Leftism is social democracy, in the sense that bolshevism and its sucessors are an offshoot of russian social democracy

No it isn't. This is simply factually untrue. Leftism includes left social democracy, but is not the same as.

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Jul 26 2011 12:04
Fall Back wrote:
Quote:
Leftism is social democracy, in the sense that bolshevism and its sucessors are an offshoot of russian social democracy

No it isn't. This is simply factually untrue. Leftism includes left social democracy, but is not the same as.

If you stretch the genealogy of things that get called leftist today, they do all seem to go back to 2nd international social democracy, even if they are unrecognizable as such, even Maoism. It's not that leftism is social democracy, so much as that leftism is a family of ideas that draws on, and in a sense stems from, 2nd international social democracy

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Jul 26 2011 12:30

To say it stems from (the left wing of) 2nd International social democracy is true. To say it *is* social democracy isn't.

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Jul 26 2011 12:36
Fall Back wrote:
Quote:
Leftism is social democracy, in the sense that bolshevism and its sucessors are an offshoot of russian social democracy

No it isn't. This is simply factually untrue. Leftism includes left social democracy, but is not the same as.

Well yeah i guess fair semantic point, red ed puts it better above. However, i think its worth pointing out the similarities though as it draws more attention to the day to day praxis of the left rather than there more radical rhetoric. Also the bolsheviks were an offshoot of the 'russian social democratic party'' and while rhetorically they differ, as i said there are clear similarities in terms of praxis. Certainly those are the similarities that are most relevant when discussing the politics of the SP, SWP or the Labour left in the UK at least, being the main groups we would fit under the bracket ''leftist'' f we were to use said term.

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Joseph Kay
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Jul 26 2011 16:11

Afaic leftist = politics of working class representation (trade unions, labour/socialist parties), just as right wing is the politics of bourgeois representation (employers associations, business/neoliberal parties). That's pretty close to its putative origins in the seating arrangements of a bourgeois representative institution (French assembly). It's only a 'slur' if you consider those things problematic. It also often extends to cover positions historically associated with those politics, so national liberation is leftist in the same way pro-life is right wing. As a political shorthand I don't really see the problem.

bastarx
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Jul 27 2011 00:55
posi wrote:
A short guide. Most of the working class have some nationalist and trade unionist ideas. They are leftists. They are the enemy of themselves.

On the other hand, you have the ultra left. There are tops 500 in Britain, but it's ok coz they are fucking great. The two most important political points are that you have the same opinions about unions and national liberation movements as the Trotskyist Socialist Equality Party. It also helps to have the similar ideas about the Labour Party as the quasi-Maoist RCG. Your tactical slogans and views on fascism should be indistinguishable from those of third period Stalinism. You can think more or less anything you like about the question of the revolutionary party, as long as you denounce the the views of 'the leftists'.

Appealing to the reactionary ideas held by much of the working class as an argument in favour of your politics as opposed to those of more radical groups is an awesome argument which could be convincingly used to support Labour or even the Tories both of which have far more working class support than Teh Commune.

And then there's the Stalinist amalgam technique, attempting to smear the "ultra-left" by mentioning views they allegedly share with tiny Leninoid sects.

The SEP isn't opposed to national liberationism per se and their arguments against unions are both different to and much more recent than those of left communists.