The left is dead. This is a widely held view, particularly in North America, and even among those who count themselves leftists.
And yet the need for a left has never been greater given the relentless rise of social inequality, to say nothing of the impending catastrophe of climate change, endless wars abroad and the choking off of democratic rights at home by the surveillance state.
What you are about to read comes out of this void between reality and need. In fact the left isn't quite dead. Remnants of the last important radicalization, of the Sixties, are still around, typically in the form of tiny sects. There is something admirable about sticking to your principles and weathering long decades of isolation, as many of these sects have. The problem is that revolutionary movements don't exist just to perpetuate themselves, they exist to become catalysts for social change. A sect that has been in political hibernation for many years may no longer know how to wake itself up.
This pamphlet presents one side of a political argument, the side that is for waking up. (You can read the other side on line). As it is the latest installment of a polemic that has been going on for more than a decade, it is full of references to people and ideas that won't be readily familiar to outsiders. But the gist of the arguments are far from being arcane: they are relevant to anyone who wants to see the re-emergence of a revolutionary left
An explanatory note to help with some of the names:
Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner are both veteran socialists and former members of the American Trotskyist group, the Workers League, now the Socialist Equality Party. David North is the Chair of the Socialist Equality Party and is the head of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site (WSWS). Savas Michael-Matsas is the Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party of Greece (EEK). The late Gerry Healy was for many years the Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party of Great Britain and its predecessor organizations. Healy, who died in 1989, was the subject of a scandal in 1985 when his abuse of party members became the topic of tabloid news headlines. He was expelled from the WRP but the organization did not survive long after his removal, splitting into many pieces, none of which have remained viable. North led a group of what had been the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) opposed to Healy at the time of the split.
The Frankfurt School was an important left-wing intellectual tendency that emerged in the 1930s. The best known names associated with it are Walter Benjamin, Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and (for a brief time) Erich Fromm. The Frankfurt School figures in this polemic in a peculiar way: for North it is a short-hand for everything he despises among radical groups apart from his own, a very broad category he has christened the 'pseudo-left'. This use of the label, Frankfurt School, as invective is part of what Steiner calls crackpot philosophy.
Why bother reading such a polemic? Why not just ignore these sects and get on with building a movement that can change the world. The answer is: you have to learn from the past in order to get beyond it. And, for better or worse, these sects are the only repositories of the left's past. Learning from their mistakes is essential to rebuilding the left.
We want to thank Mitchel Cohen for his work in bringing this printed edition of our polemic to the public.
Alex Steiner and Frank Brenner, Sept. 20, 2015
To order the print edition click the button below.