Jeffrey St. Clair: The Silent Death of the American Left

(4 pm. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

St. Clair gave an address which I just read in digest form in Counterpunch. In it he echoes one of the themes I’ve been riffing on for years, OWS, notwithstanding. Though he does not mention Occupy or Wisconsin or any of the rest of the happy face the left has been putting on activism for the past year or two they stand in as silent sentinels–they were the last gasps of a tired and finished movement.

Does the Left exist as an oppositional political, cultural or economic force? Is anyone intimidated or restrained by the Left? Is there a counterforce to the grinding machinery neoliberal capitalism and its political managers?

The answer is, of course, no such movement exists.

This is the politics of exhaustion. We have become a generation of leftovers. We have reached a moment of historical failure that would make even Nietzsche shudder.

St. Clair is a deeply insightful political thinker who is unafraid of the truth, despite the fact he had to work under the shadow of the petty-tyrant Alex Cockburn. His article is a tale of woe. He notes how the American public actually favors many progressive ideas yet the left gets no traction–he doesn’t say why–his article is just a cry of the heart.

Our politics has gone sociopathic and liberals in America have been pliant to every abuse, marinated in the toxic silt of Obama’s mordant rhetoric. They eagerly swallow every placebo policy Obama serves them, dutifully defending every incursion against fundamental rights. And each betrayal only serves to make his adoring retinue crave his smile; his occasional glance and nod all the more urgently. Still others on the dogmatic Left circle endlessly, like characters consigned to their eternal roles by Dante, in the ideological cul-de-sac of identity politics.

How did this happen? First of all we have to admit that it has happened and things like Occupy with its inarticulate howl of protest was the last gasp of the movement. Occupy got a thumbs down by the public despite the fact that most people were somewhat sympathetic to the 99% meme. Many people who identify as being on the right are anti-corporate and anti-Wall Street because they don’t believe the government ought to aid corporations either. Yet they did not connect with the left in this case. Nor, really did they connect with the left during the Wisconsin crisis–the voters in the progressive state of Wisconsin voted for the right. Why? Why? Wh

The answer I have is that the activist left appears to regular people as more cultural than political so they don’t take the political stances seriously because they don’t see a clear articulation of a vision and they don’t see that there are people with the stamina and courage to carry it out. I claim here that the left has lost its way because people don’t really understand, holistically, what they are fighting or, at this time, not fighting for.

Life has change dramatically since the 19th and 20th century yet leftist ideas haven’t changed much. We offer critiques of contemporary society and the economic oligarchs but we don’t have a clear vision of what we want that we can articulate to the people. If we say, for example, that we should have more government regulation of industry then people on the right and center will say–but the government is broken–why do we want them to do anything? People have lost faith in the federal government and yes, the right set out to undermine and sabotage the federal government and they have done the job. Where was the left? Supporting the Democratic Party as it moved steadily to the right starting with tax reform in the 80s, supporting “re-invention” of government in the 80s and 90s (which introduced the reign of contractors that has hopelessly corrupted the system), supporting anti-worker and pro-corporate legislation. The support of the left for Obama is nothing new–the left moved to the right along with the Democratic Party.

The problem started, to be fair, with the Warren Commission report in 1964. The volumes contains clear evidence that contradicts the official findings. The left refused to listen to Mark Lane or Jim Garrison branding them as nuts–I’m talking about nearly all the left including Chomsky et. al. They saw “conspiracy theory” as a distraction–as if the military coup leading to a major war was a distraction. Hundreds of researchers have worked tirelessly on the case to show, without a shadow of a doubt, that the conclusions of the Warren Commission were wrong–what actually happened is still a mystery but, after, the realease of new documents in the 90s things became clearer. Yet few progressive writers or activists have anything to say about the assassination or the assassinations that followed. The RFK one doesn’t even need much study to debunk the official story. Once you understand that the coroners report wasn’t even entered into evidence you have to throw the case out. Thomas Noguchi found that RFK was shot at point-blank range from the back, not the front and that acoustic evidence and eyewitness evidence shows that about fifteen shots were fired from a 9 shot pistol more rapidly than one pistol can fire.

And I will mention 9/11 in passing. Counterpunch itself savagely attacked those who believe the official story is wrong and we need a new investigation of those events–in fact there was never an investigation of those events. Alex Cockburn published a scathing attack that was one of the most juvenile and irrational attack I’ve seen from left, right or center. Why did the three buildings fall? Because the Mafia had adulturated all the cements, ALL the cement! At the same time the Progressive magazine and all the gauleiters of left, from Amy Goodman on up and down accepted the official story. Daily Kos banned anyone even mentioning 9/11 and doubt about the official story and banned people left and right for bringing up anything about it or the assassinations. For the activist left you had to accept the mainstream media narrative or be banned from their councils. Some real leftist like Michael Parenti did not succumb.

I believe that activist leftists, progressives, liberals by not doubting the media narrative (set by some virtual Central Committee) has lost its juice and its voice. Americans see, when they look at the left, pallid, scared, over-intellectual, NPR listening (how leftist can defend NPRs pro-neo-liberal reporting is beyond me), effete, and boring people who have nothing to say. Young people are looking for a direction and would leap to action if they had a coherent narrative. The left has no coherent narrative if it accepts official explanation for the most major historical events in the past half-century. The takeover of the federal government by forces yet to be named, but the pattern indicates that it is spearheaded by the CIA, has to be the main issue the left can use to leverage a real revolt against this regime.

Sadly, this won’t happen because, in fact, most of the left is complicit and involved in the class-structure and people don’t want to lose their jobs. Journalists don’t write what they write because they are reactionaries–most are on the left–but they write as they do because they will lose their jobs if they don’t–thus, as was reported to me by someone on the inside, so many mainstream journalists are on anti-depressants.

If the left is to resurrect it must do so by forming economic co-operatives, communes, unions, collectives or corporations in order to insure their survival. That to won’t happen because the left is now used to just writing and talking and making videos not organizing anything. Complaining and whining is what we do best—we can’t build a damn thing.

One looks in vain across this vast landscape of despair for even the dimmest flickers of real rebellion and popular mutiny, as if surveying a nation of somnambulists.

I see one movement that is rebelling–it is non the right not the left. Where that will go is anyone’s guess. I will say this–young people in the South are getting angry at their prospects and their increasing poverty–they are ripe for a voice from the left. But they are listening to Alex Jones not Amy Goodman.  


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  1. banger

    …if this gets much notice here. It would be nice if we could discuss what has happened to us over the years and what we can do about it instead of just re-reporting the latest outrage.

    There was a sign of hope–Medea Benjamin was not silenced and Obama seemed to genuinely want to change something in foreign policy–but we’ve seen these false dawns before.  

  2. terryhallinan

    There was a sign of hope–Medea Benjamin was not silenced and Obama seemed to genuinely want to change something in foreign policy

    So why doesn’t he do so?  Is there something blocking Obama beyond his deep conservatism?

    Overlooked is the plain fact the Tea Partiers are not remotely conservative but reactionary.  That was obviously also true of Reagan with his silly imagery of a “shining city on a hill.”

    You may notice that Obama hasn’t even begun to try to answer why the 16-year-old son of the al Queda leader was targeted and killed by a drone strike.  How was he collateral damage?

    Throughout our history, outbreaks of liberalism have been rare and often not pretty as with the astonishing liberalism of the Nixon administration.

    Wilson too was a rabid anti-semite and the bad odor from his administration led to generations of deeply conservative administrations.  Wilson and Nixon made up the whole of liberal administrations during the Twentieth Century in my view.

    Faneuil Hall in Boston is a nearly forgotten relic set amidst fast food joints and noisy peddlers of junk and trash that could remind one of Neverwhere, a haunting fantasy of a shadow world of people and things that had “fallen through the cracks.”  Glowering above all others is a massive portrait of Adams that reminds me of Ozymandias:

    I met a traveller from an antique land

    Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

    Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,

    Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

    The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

    And on the pedestal these words appear —

    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

    Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”

    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

    The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

    That painting is a most fitting tribute to a pompous ass who is very forgettable beyond writing finis to the backward interregnum of Washington and Adams after the conclusion of the Revolution.

    I sadly take exception to your thoughts about the sad assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, who are no heroes of mine.  The Warren Commission concluded what it was appointed to conclude.  That is meaningless to me but I believe they got the right answer and all the rest is kookery.

    Certainly I recognize a fellow liberal despite our usual differences.  There are always too few of us it pleases me to think.

    Best,  Terry

  3. banger

    Thanks for the beautiful quote–I had forgotten Shelley’s wonderful artistry with words and verse.

    Just describing decades of highly detailed research by hundreds of people as “kookery” because the mainstream media will not review books that have anything to do with unofficial takes on history that point to intel operations is a bit of a stretch and insulting. You can disagree with me on matters without that–I’m as clear-headed as anyone you’ll know about matters of art, history, politics, social-science and philosophy.

  4. terryhallinan

    Just describing decades of highly detailed research by hundreds of people as “kookery” because the mainstream media will not review books that have anything to do with unofficial takes on history that point to intel operations is a bit of a stretch and insulting. You can disagree with me on matters without that–I’m as clear-headed as anyone you’ll know about matters of art, history, politics, social-science and philosophy.

    MO isn’t worth a bucket of spit but I have spent a vast number of hours investigating various claims regarding many reported crimes and suspicious deaths.

    Did Edgar Allan Poe really go off the wagon on a sudden prolonged drinking bout after a lengthy recovery from his beloved wife’s death

    It was many and many a year ago,

    In a kingdom by the sea,

    That a maiden there lived whom you may know

    By the name of ANNABEL LEE;

    And this maiden she lived with no other thought

    Than to love and be loved by me.

    I was a child and she was a child,

    In this kingdom by the sea;

    But we loved with a love that was more than love-

    I and my Annabel Lee;

    With a love that the winged seraphs of heaven

    Coveted her and me.

    And this was the reason that, long ago,

    In this kingdom by the sea,

    A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling

    My beautiful Annabel Lee;

    So that her highborn kinsman came

    And bore her away from me,

    To shut her up in a sepulchre

    In this kingdom by the sea.

    What kind of poem is that for a master of horror?  But many deny that it had anything to do with Poe’s beloved wife and the long last years in the Bronx as Virginia lay dying [of TB probably].

    We visited the “cottage” – a two-story affair with primitive furnishing before the recent do over.  A guide, who seemed to be homeless, may also have slept there.  Foraging for food would have been different in Poe’s time.  His mother-in-law foraged for food in the south meadow.  There sure ain’t no south meadow there any longer.  The bells Poe heard would be muffled out by the traffic and din of a main thoroughfare through a squalid neighborhood.

    Of course it’s possible an alcoholic who is found dead with a bottle outside a tavern in a gutter died from that last bout.

    But how many drunks change into a clown suit in a tavern before dying?  That tavern was also a polling place that very day for an election with “coopers” [not to be confused with barrel makers] that kidnapped people off the street to cast ballots at numerous polling places with changes of clothing for some of the same polling places.

    Which story makes more sense to you now – that Poe died from his drinking or was killed by coopers?  You judge however you wish or choose other alternate theories but is it not clear what my inclination is?

    I visited the park where Vince Foster killed himself but neither Hillary nor Bill Clinton were there. :-)  How did Foster drive himself there when there were no keys in the items from his pocket?  That was easy.  The keys had been removed.  It wasn’t like with JFK’s brains. Gawd only knows what happened to them.  Rabid rightwingers had literally hundreds of questions like the key thingy but not even a coherent theory about how and why Bill or Hillary or confederates killed Vince Foster.

    On the other hand the same nutcases had a question about how Ted Kennedy went in the lake with Mary Jo Kopechne without getting wet and they actually had a point.  Ted Kennedy wasn’t in the car.  Jack Olsen, a respected true crime author, told the story in exquisite detail and took heat from all sides.  That “kookery” is true in my book but who wants to believe it?  Not right or left but A&E stole it verbatim without a bye your leave.  Jack, a Democrat who was once a delegate to the Democratic Convention, told me he hoped he would never in his life have to deal with the Kennedys again.  He got his wish.

    I deeply regret insulting you but I only told you what I think.  Nobody else cares what I think or what my lying eyes see.

    Best,  Terry

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