There is no "Left" in America.
& I cringe every time I see that term, "the Left," used as if there were some sort of "Left" group with some sort of power in America. I see people here and elsewhere who call themselves "leftists," as if they had some sort of "Left" to join. I suppose it's harmless. Of course, it's now fashionable to criticize "the Left," just as it's now fashionable to blame Russia for Trump. Both fashions serve to define the fashionable as "sensible" people who would never advocate for, say, real solutions to the problems facing America and who are instead interested in their public images, which is ostensibly why we should suck up to them.
What was once "the Left" was and is either of two groups:
1) sellouts, who use the symbolism and rhetoric of the Left to advance right-wing goals
-- and --
2) sectarians, whose identification with "the Left" is about clinging to personal identity, as if being a vanguard made one a "leftist" in the absence of any proletariat to lead. The sectarians typically live in an imagined past era in which the TV set and the dollar bill did not rule America's consciousness and they could pursue politics with some hope of success.
It's all a myth, of course. Here's Aldous Huxley, from 1926:
But never, except at the present time, and nowhere but in America, have the necessary millions believed themselves the equals of the unnecessary few. (from Jesting Pilate, p. 313)
Perhaps America's conservatism did not appear as conservatism in previous eras in which Europe was ruled by arrogant nobles and in which uprisings of the despairing multitudes were as real as the nose on your face is now. Those eras came and went, like the Populist Party, or the Popular Front of the late '30s, or the New Left, and now they're gone. Much of those "Lefts" were destroyed by the Red Scares of the Twenties and the Fifties, but that was only the worst of it. The only permitted "solution" to all of America's problems now as then, endorsed by four out of five technopeasants, is new and improved consumerism, in the service of the rich few. George Carlin:
In this regard there are about two and a half groups in American politics today. There are also:
1) the corporate conservatives, whose basic differences of opinion revolve around how much it will take to buy off the working class and whose basic orientation is a preservationism of the current neoliberal world order. You are no doubt familiar with this group from their support of last year's consensus candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and their support of the last thirty years of Demopublican and Republicratic candidates, not to mention their monopolization of Congress and the DC bureaucracy. In this regard Bernie Sanders appears as a deviant conservative for his support for a few expanded social programs; perhaps the campaign itself went beyond what Sanders was, or what he could have done in the White House, although those exciting phenomena were contingent upon Sanders himself. The Sanders campaign revealed that there is still a taste for "Left" culture in America without actually producing a solid foundation for such a culture, and so it was reabsorbed into corporate conservatism. At any rate, did you all notice how long it took anyone to notice that Sanders had no ideas of substance about American foreign policy? American foreign policy is one of the most reprehensible things on Earth, and a cornerstone of the neoliberal vision of America as a military guarantor for the neoliberal economic order. But I dunno, maybe the Saudis ought to pay some more for their adventures in Syria or something like that.
2) the antipublic conservatives, to which I defer to this diary of mine, once at Daily Kos and now transferred to my Wordpress site. The antipublic conservatives are:
conservatives who are interested in destroying the public sphere and the commons for the sake of some idea of radical, disconnected individualism that imagines everyone as individuals defending property with guns, or as beholden ideologically to the church of their choice (see e.g. Rick Santorum). In this version of conservatism, losers without property or religion don’t matter. A typical example of the ideology of this group would be the recently-passed Arizona law forbidding schools to teach ethnic studies content:
In 2010, after several attempts, the Republican-controlled Legislature and the Republican governor passed a law prohibiting classes that advocate overthrowing the government, are designed for students of one ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.
The Arizona law thusly intends to forbid public-school discussion of the notion that students constitute an ethnically-coded public, rather than being a mere collection of individuals. One looks at this text and recalls former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s famous statement to Women’s Own back in 1987:
who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families
This statement captures the essence of antipublic conservatism in a nutshell. There is no such thing as society, and so antipublic conservatives want a society which doesn’t regard itself as such. In the US version, it attempts to return America to an era before the cultural revolution of the 1960s, and to an era when the Left did not matter much (say, for instance, the Gilded Age of the 1870s and 1880s).
This bunch appears not so much as a threat to the existing order as a group preserving the ongoing dissensus which allows the Two-Party System to portray both competition and stability. The third group, however, is something more evanescent, and so I've referred to it by the name of:
3) "People looking for the exit door to the Matrix." These are the folks who have recognized that mainstream politics is a sham, and who are looking to devise a new politics of whatever sort might possibly survive in this era. The thing to recognize at this point is that the people in this group do not constitute a political group just yet. And they can't be "the Left" if "the Left" is full of quixotic Greens, ideological Trotskyists and other patrons of nostalgia-based politics, bourgeois antiracists-antisexists, and compromised Democrats. To argue thusly is not to say that there is no Left culture in the US -- indeed there is such a thing -- but it's to say that there's a difference between people talking about politics over a few beers or a joint and people who have some connection, however vague, to taking a share of political power for themselves.
Nancy Fraser's essay "Rethinking the Public Sphere" (pp. 109-142 of Craig Calhoun's edited volume Habermas and the Public Sphere (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1993)) argues for a distinction in our use of the term "public," between strong publics, comprised of people empowered to make political decisions, and weak publics, who are capable only of political spectatorship. In the political order I've outlined so far, the first two groups are strong publics, and the third group is only a potential strong public.
What comes first to mind when looking at this "people looking for the exit door to the Matrix" group are people such as Aaron Swartz, or Kalle Lasn. What distinguishes this group is the ongoing use of its imagination, and correspondingly its existence can only be verified through its production of the sort of political innovation that is not reactionary innovation. Reactionary innovation is stuff like the Gramm-Leach-Billey Act or the Affordable Care Act or Race to the Top; it looks for new and innovative ways of preserving the existing order against its own contradictions.
The political formation I've described above is stable, and will apparently remain so into the indefinite future. The only thing I can think of that will really disturb this formation is a great surplus of political imagination, over and above the reactionary innovation currently being funded by foundations, sponsored by think tanks, and enacted by the political class. Otherwise, given the inevitability of coming disasters in finance, in climate, and in the human socioecological order, the patrons of reactionary imagination will simply invent new reactionary orders to take the place of old ones.