The conflation of the left with liberalism is a method of neoliberalism in the preservation of capitalism. It is within this conflation of leftism and liberalism, whether subconsciously through lack of proper political education or purposefully for the obfuscation of their own centrist positionality, the liberal creation of the “alt-left” is part of the historical assault on the left by those willfully apt to compromise with fascism. This conflation, or equalization if you will, of the left with the alt-right — or, as most leftists refer to them, neo-nazis — illuminates the dedication to inaction that is so deeply inherent to liberal politics.
The damage of James Wolcott’s latest piece for Vanity Fair, which reads like a tabloid-writer grabbed a thesaurus and attempted to assault the left, is in both the intent and the impact of such divisively reductive rhetoric. With name drops like Hillary Clinton, Cornel West, Susan Sarandon, and a handful of other journalists, clickbait-worthy names, and media outlets which attempt to speak truth to power in ways which apparently make Wolcott uncomfortable, the piece reads like a neoliberal manifesto: a dedication to inaction and collusion with greater forces of the State. Creating a piece vilifying those dedicated to anti-fascist direct action instead of those inhibiting said action is not only dangerous to do on a platform as large as Vanity Fair; it’s downright ignorant.
Logical fallacies and facetious arguments are made quickly within Wolcott’s “article” when he ungracefully pulls quotes from an article by Eileen Jones in an attempt to paint an overarching picture of the left. By posturing Meryl Streep as the victim of some mythified attack by some mythified “alt-left” is laughable and exposes the realities of the mechanisms of the white liberal bourgeoisie. Such an appropriate choice for the introductory representation of Wolcott’s argument as Meryl Streep deserves applause, because the historical context of using the notion of protecting a white woman’s figmental sanctity from evil forces is as insidious as the argument being performed. Wolcott’s propping of Eileen Jones’ article as the boogeyman representing the left is an act of intellectual dishonesty, one that falls flat in its effect. And as a Black leftist, I cannot help but read Wolcott’s stripping of all nuance and intent from Jones’ piece to position millionaire Streep as some form of victim, as a continuum of using the preservation of whiteness to surmount an argument.
Along with this hasty accidental exposure to a personal dedication to preservation of whiteness (through manipulative mechanics), we see a slight appeal to Hillary’s Clinton white feminism. In the second paragraph of Wolcott’s “article,” one can see what we in the Black queer community call a reach — a use of irrelevant or impractical information to attempt to relate one thing to another — in which he likens the extremely valid and important critiques the left has of Hillary Clinton with the sexist and problematic bashes that conservatives attack her with. In a sarcastic gesture, he notes Jones’ mention of Clinton’s “faux-feminist ‘pantsuit nation’” yet gives no nuance or depth following the statement, other than a stale comparison to a Fox News pundit. To be frank, Hillary Clinton is a white feminist. Her brand of feminism is birthed within a politic concerned with the preservation of white womanhood, bourgeoisie respectability, and U.S. essentialism. Moreover, she is a white feminist with a history of imperialism, and blood on her hands in the name of Berta Caceres, child soldiers in South Sudan, and around 500,000 deceased children in Iraq. However, critiques against Clinton’s foreign policy are not allowed within the sphere of a neoliberal political arena, one that prioritizes domestic reformism, shallow calls for ‘representation,’ and upper-middle class comfortability more than an anti-imperialism politic.
He then aims at Jacobin, summarizing the media platform as a hotbed of “disillusionment with Obama’s presidency, loathing of Hillary Clinton, disgust with “identity politics,” and again gives no deeper context or sourcing to support this summary other than claiming “a kinship between the “alt-right” and an alt-left.”
Let’s unpack this statement: “Disillusionment with Obama’s presidency, loathing of Hillary Clinton, disgust with “identity politics.” In the first third of his analysis of Jacobin — which Wolcott’s attempt is clearly to portray Jacobin as the authoritative voice of the left, which is far from the truth — he mentions disillusionment with Barack Obama’s presidency as if critical disenchantment and engagement with the president is a negative occurrence. Does the problem lie in an outlet with large following allowing intellectuals to criticize former President Obama’s record-winning deportation numbers, drone wars, and mass incarceration appeasing policies? Or does the problem lie in the fact that he doesn’t actually care about those things, therefore he disagrees with anyone who places those as cardinal points in their politic?
The same can be said for the second part of that statement, a “loathing” of Hillary Clinton. Let me explicitly say that, as a Black queer Muslim who is the child of immigrants living a low class life in the US south, to ‘loath’ someone both directly and indirectly responsible for millions of people’s oppression is a good decision. The left’s “loathing” of Clinton cannot, and should not, be equated to the right’s simply because they exist in completely different form. Easily put; the right hates Hillary Clinton, among many poorly thought out reasons, because they are sexist. The left are those who dislike and despise Hillary Clinton because we see the act of bombing/droning women across the Global South and being responsible for the murder Berta Caceres as inherently sexist acts. This distinction is monumental in the disruption of equating the left with the alt-right, because the left are those dedicated to including women across the Global South in our feminist politic, the right are those without a feminist politic, and liberals those whose feminist politic often does not leave the US borders.
Such big notions are presented in Wolcott’s small words, yet no critical progression of discourse or analysis takes place when one erases the intent and depth of the left’s arguments. Rife with intellectual gaslighting, one can’t help but question the intent, if any, that Wolcott means to present with the bit on a “disgust” with identity politics and likening of the left to Bernie “dude-bros[sic].” The best way to demonize a people is to try to muddle their purpose by generalizations and positional misconflations.
So let’s get into the supposed ‘alt-left’s’ “disgust” with identity politics, shall we? Because what Wolcott said was the “alt-left” has a “disgust” with identity politics, but what he meant to say was the left has dialectical analysis of the limits of identity politics. Lower the the proverbial fire into the gasoline puddle surrounding this paper-thin article, Wolcott conjures tired and recycled sentiments of ‘Bernie Bro’ leftists with a total disregard for identity politics, intersectional politics, and political theory surrounding the two. While these people do exist, they are but marginal voices among the left, a left largely compromised of people of color, women, disabled folks, queer and trans individuals, Muslims, immigrants, and other otherized individuals who’ve taken a class-analysis to approach the ways in which individuals of different identities are oppressed. It is not an end to identity politics we seek, rather a politic that encompasses the realities of different identities infused with class analysis and observation of power dynamics.
As longtime political activist, writer, and academic Angela Davis (who Wolcott surely would categorize as “alt-left” by his standards) explains in her latest book Freedom Is A Constant Struggle, we “find our strength in collectivities,” and through the “intersectionality of struggles, not only identities.” It is in this same breath that the left wishes to not disrupt or dismiss identity politics, rather move beyond identity politics into a deeper analysis of institutions of power which can easily be infused by the layers of identity-based oppression. In the same book — which Cornell West, who Wolcott refers to as a “ quixotic preacher-man” who has “ cast adrift into the hazy fringes of the alt-left” wrote the preface for — Davis educates us on how regimes of racial segregation and hegemonic power were ‘not disestablished” because of the work of legislators, presidents and politicians’ but the work of ‘ordinary people who adopted a critical stance in the way they perceived their relation to reality.’ And to those realities, as Davis describes, a collective consciousness emerged that allowed the masses to see social realities which once seemed immovable as “malleable and transformable” forces.
With a lack of clear and concise introspection among the liberal center, one has to ask who and what is standing in the way of this ‘critical stance’ against oppressive social realities Davis so brilliantly discusses? Is it the left who seek a more tolerable world through the total abolition of platform for the neo-fascist rhetoric of the right, or those indoctrinated with the liberalism that boasts the idea of sitting across the table with our direct oppressors? Are those dedicated to cutting the roots of American fascism from growing the problem, or is it those dedicated to vilifying fascism’s strong-handed opposition?
Summoning mid 20th Century-esque Red Scare sentiment, Wolcott mentions Mao, Putin, Jill Stein, Sarandon, Russians, “Cold War,”and the word “revolution” all in the same paragraph, name droping more clickbait buzzword topics than Remy Ma’s latest diss track (which is available on iTunes and much more interesting, by the way). Leading into a boldly false statement, his next feat is to use these words and this Red Scare conjuring to claim there’s a “confluence between the alt-right and the alt-left regarding Vladimir Putin.” With a State Dept. known for its long history of rigging entire elections in others countries for imperial dominance, is it not somewhat trite to look to Russia as the demon for orchestrating Trump’s rise? The Russophobia is quite honestly lazy, and ignores the historical reality at which 2017’s political sphere rests upon: white supremacy rampant, with both interpersonal and institutional racism at what feels like an all time high for this country, a stronger financial and political dedication to imperialism the world has ever known, and a largely sluggish class of docile-liberals who’ve been pacified by eight years of Barack Obama’s post-racial drone strikes. With an equation as such, do we really need to dig into the realm of conspiracy and McCarthyism spectatorship to question our enemies?
And the final paragraph of this I Will Always Love You of a ballad to liberalism is the one that puts the nail from the coffin into my head. In a masterfully worded (sarcasm people, sarcasm!) finale which manages to slip a human-centipede reference in there to take the edge off, we’re given slyly worded instructions on who marginalized people should champion and who we should deem our enemies. He states:
And here is where the alt-right and the alt-left press foreheads for a Vulcan mind-meld: the belief that the real enemy, the true Evil Empire, isn’t Putin’s Russia but the Deep State, the C.I.A./F.B.I./N.S.A. alphabet-soup national-security matrix. But if the Deep State can rid us of the blighted presidency of Donald Trump, all I can say is “Go, State, go.”
A political statement as cringeworthy, vapid and politically gaslighting as this one hasn’t been made since O.J. told us he wasn’t Black, he’s just O.J. My politics are influenced by my identity and as previously mentioned, I’m a Black queer Muslim who is the child of immigrants. For one to tell me as I exist within the state of oppression that my biggest enemy is anyone other than the hegemon and the tools it uses to enact its violence, means you are an inhibitor to my liberation. If one can deny to my face that the C.I.A., F.B.I., and N.S.A. are not directly responsible for insuperable amounts of my oppression, then you are not only a liar to me but a liar to the people who resemble me as well. The C.I.A. has a guilt sheet longer than Beyonce’s Wikipedia page, and has been exposed for everything from drug trafficking to orchestrating coups in other countries, often predominant Black and brown countries at that. The F.B.I is responsible for the COINTELPRO initiative which violently destroyed the New Left movement of the 50s and 60s, particularly surveilling, criminalizing, and murdering members of the Black Panther Party, who by Wolcott’s standards would be considered “alt-left.”
Speaking on the importance of the Black Power movement, Walter Rodney’s Groundings With My Brothers reminds us (Black Americans) of our unique capability to call out the US’s [white] violence both domestically and abroad. One of the abstract methods he prescribes to, for once, “show our teeth in a snarl rather than a smile” for once. Calling into question the paradoxical nature of Black people’s oppression in the U.S. — reminding us that Black people in the U.S. must be considered at the center of every political decision not because of our weakness, but because of our undeniable fortitude — Rodney reminds us of the importance of organizing around a leftist politic rooted in anti-imperialism, dismantling of white supremacy, and abolition of class-based society. These principles can be applied to the liberation from oppression of all marginalized individuals, and I can pose the question: where on the political spectrum are these principles met with critical understanding and meaningful praxis? Are the principles of anti-imperialism, anti white supremacy, and anti-capitalism met within the confounds of the liberal’s Democratic Party, which is bankrolled through Wall Street and boasts imperialists as presidential candidates every fours years? And if we are certain (which we are) that these principles are not found within the right’s conservativsm and new wave of neo-nazi inspired “alt-right” frenzy, then where else is left but the left?
To claim an “alt-left” is to position something as “alternative” to a main framework of larger ideology. However, this logical progression falls flat when examining what exactly this particular “alt-left” is alternative to: the center. To whom does the “alt-left” exist? Liberals, who sit at the center, comfortable in their inaction and collusion with the right. Liberals, who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously described as preferring “a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.” The “alt-left” is not a problem, James Wolcott, because it does not exist. If anything, liberals operating under the framework of neoliberalism, more dedicated to capital than protecting the lives of the marginalized, are the biggest problem to my liberation as a Black queer socialist warrior. So please, continue to cheer ‘go, State, go[sic]’ as you vilify the only functioning piece of resistance in a country built on the degradation of my ancestors, and is sustained through my exploitation.