Why I Left the Left
Evan Stern, Foundation for Economic Education
I spent nearly a decade of my young life in ‘hard’ left movements. I spent my teens printing zines, organizing, squatting, and worshipping the ironically “bourgeois” intelligentsia that pandered to our leftist sensibilities. At the core of my ideology was a burning desire for liberty and an intense distrust of the state. In the beginning, I might saunter into the local cooperative and find an impassioned debate over the legitimacy of insurrectionary movements abroad, or the most practical way to pirate electricity without being discovered. Over time, the fiery rhetoric became dogma, penetrating my psyche right down to its id. I saw the state’s oppression in everything and everyone. I noticed behavioral patterns of violence and subjugation that seemed to reproduce to infinity. And through this new countenance, the changing face of leftism was obscured to me.
The New Social Justice
Social Justice was always a welcome addendum to anti-statist leftism for me. I gladly assumed the mantle and answered the call to march for police accountability, for women’s rights, for the ethical treatment of gays. The concept of ‘intersectional Social Justice’ was then a contentious one among many left-wing radicals, seen by many as a willful distraction from the core anti-statist message of our ideology, and worthy of only a small devotion. To focus too heavily on social issues was said to the be the resting place of sleepy liberals. And liberals, perhaps even as much as skinheads or the police, were the bane of the radical left. They meant to co-opt our movement and reacquaint us with their ineffective and self-aggrandizing brand of sedition and hoped to lasso a few of us back into the electoral process (abstaining from which was radical dharma at the time). They were, in short, a generally unwelcome addition to our ranks, and would usually turn their backs at the first mention of truly anti-statist politik.
I had more exposure than most to the left-wing radical “scene,” as it were, traveling to convergence spaces and conferences, worker-owned collectives and the like. I noticed a shift in the demographic makeup of the movement that became more pronounced with time. Character archetypes abound in the radical sphere, from crusty professors to dreadlocked primitivists, (and that leftist holy grail, the disaffected executive, living, perhaps, in a yurt or some otherwise subversive structure on some land that probably doesn’t belong to him), became more and more sparse. There was a new contingent of leftists, a new archetype that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere. (The radical space was not exactly adept at coalition-building, keep in mind). These new figures were polished, soft-speaking, and shied away from the hardline agitprop of resistance. Gone were the ‘zines adorned with flaming police cars, replaced by new editorials that opined the importance of gender fluidity and other obtuse concepts. A new language began to congeal, an especially elitist dialectic that almost required translation to English.
The new language was accompanied by new tactics. Affinity meetings that were once hotbeds of dissent began to seem more like kangaroo courts. Arguments began to spring from the nascent well of discontent, and “accountability” hearings were the new norm, a process more often than not designed to elucidate the accused’s latent homophobia or racism. Arguments against the state were shelved more often than not in favor of presentations on a seemingly endless parade of ‘passive’ social injustices.
The old radical paradigm, in rudiment, went like this: “America was founded upon slavery, therefore America is racist, We are here because we disagree with racism.” The implied understanding was that because we had all found each other through our mutual disgust with what we had determined was a racist system that unfairly penalized minority populations, then we had already rejected a racist worldview. Thus our deliverance and rebirth occurred. It was understood to be innate to our shared ideology, and therefore our collective will could be focused and our mutual intent had been decided. This formed the basis for an arguably unified front that could be assembled and directed at will. But this mutual understanding was being corroded by a new, pernicious force that had infested every corner of the space. Anti-fascist organizers were no longer satisfied by directing their ire towards governmental institutions or hate groups and instead turned the looking glass inward. The toxic rancor of racism was found in our own ranks, by God!
Racism was found by the New Left to be inherent in all “whites.” (Racism is now said in the left to be a confluence of power and bigotry. Minorities, lacking the key ingredient of power, are exempt from this distinction.) Cis-gendered people (those of us who identify with our birth sex) were asked to “make space” for those that were not. Special privileges to be heard were conferred to the most oppressed within the group. This led to a bizarre new struggle within the movement over who might lay claim to being the most truly oppressed. The left was consumed by this new drive to expose the innate bigotry of the majority, especially within our own sphere. Where activists were once excommunicated over allegations of collusion with the authorities, they were now cast out frequently by accusations of complacent prejudice.