In the Jewish faith, lashon hara is malicious gossip. It is one of the worst sins imaginable. It is a gift to “Satan,” bent on dividing people against each other and destroying their souls. It “kills” the reputation of the victim, and it poisons the souls of both those who speak it, and those who listen to it.
In recent years, I’ve discovered that an old (former) best friend of mine has been trash-talking me behind my back. He is what Jewish people call a ba’al lashon hara: someone who has let malicious gossip become a central part of his personality.
According to him, my old friend has a legitimate grievance against me. He holds me responsible for his utter lack of a love life, these days.
But is it I, or is it he, who left his figure and his health go to hell? Though I was his housemate decades ago, I don’t remember, even at that time, ever force-feeding him any of the junk “comfort” food which has made him this way. (Ironically, his was one of the first voices, for holistic nutrition, that got my own health on track, back when we were housemates. Unfortunately, he failed to take his own advice.)
Nor did I prevent him from exercising. Nor did I ever dissuade any potential romantic partners from going out with him.
Actually, no, he’s not claiming that. It’s even nuttier. The problem, according to him, is my politics. On account of my lack of respect for his newfound affinity for neo-liberal identity politics, he has branded me a “racist, sexist, homophobe.” This is the reason, or so he claims, why he hasn’t scored.
He seems tragicomically unaware of the fact that women who get their income from other professions than the oldest one, will judge his sexual attractiveness—or lack thereof—on his own merits: not on his friend’s politically incorrect sensibilities. In fact, I distinctly remember that when he did have a girlfriend, many years ago, she thought I was “funny.” She didn’t seem to have a problem with me. She liked me. And the girlfriend he had later—well, I’m still friends with her. So I have to plead “not guilty” on this one.
By this point, Gentle Reader, you may be wondering why I am wasting my time writing about this schnook.
Yet what I want to do here is to use this ex-friendship to illuminate a larger dynamic involved with the Liberal-Left, which my ex-friend now so stolidly occupies: tied into the Democratic Party, the trade union bureaucracy, reformist delusions in the bourgeois State…and anti-communism.
At one time, when we were both young, I too, though never as plumply, supported such politics. We were both around the DSA at the CUNY Grad Center, where we were going to school: seemed like everybody was. It had a lot of clout back there and then: almost as much as it has today over the Left in general, now that the ISO, as the result of a #Metoo operation, has folded into it. My friend may have been in the CUNY GC auditorium that night when I heard Irving Howe say “the enemy is Bolshevism.” If he did, he probably agreed with Howe, as much as I did. We both agreed with Rosa Luxemburg’s early critique of Leninism: that it centralized power too greatly, that it was too disciplinary, and Lenin had not given enough credit to the role of working class spontaneity and the need for party democracy.
What began to wake me up, and to push me to the Left (to the point where I consider myself a Trotskyist Bolshevik-Leninist) were Mike Davis’ articles in the New Left Review, which later became his first book, Prisoners of the American Dream. In it, he critiqued the willingness of such orgs as DSA to support the Democratic Party.
At the same time, my friend and I were also involved in an effort to form a new “Part Timers Union,” just for adjunct professors, breaking away from PSC. This put us into opposition to the PSC bureaucrats, and the full time professors. Thus we were both more open to a more radical message.
There were divisions between us, even at this time, however. I remember, when we were housemates, my friend gushing over a Nation article, gushing about how wonderful Jesse Jackson was a Democratic Party presidential candidate. “What a wonderful candidate for the presidency,” or something like that, my friend said. Under Davis’ influence, I told him this seemed to me a “fairy tale.” He didn’t want to hear this.
At this time, however, we shared a great skepticism toward the identity politics and political correctness of that era—the 80s and 90s. It destroyed whatever possibility for further growth, that might have come out of the campus occupations of 1991, or the “Shut the City Down” movement of 1995.
For us, this wasn’t radicalism. It had nothing to do with Marxism. It was petty moralism, like the kind that Keith Richards branded the judge when he and the rest of the Stones were up for a marijuana charge. We saw students who promoted this stuff as egotistic, self-righteous, stupid, divisive, and arrogant. I remember at a rally for rights for people of color with my friend. The Garveyites there were raising the slogan, “Africa for the Africans.” Which didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense, in Brooklyn, NY. My friend muttered under his breath to me, “Yea, and Bozo-land for the Bozos!”
That part-timer breakaway effort, thankfully, failed (such decertification efforts serve management, not the workforce, because they are divisive). That’s when the Part Timers Union morphed into a rank and file caucus within the PSC, “Part Timers United.” And when another dissident caucus among the full timers, the New Caucus (some of whose leaders were militant-sounding Maoists, but all of them were reformists) took over the union, PTU, and my friend, got sucked right in with them. When the New Caucus proceeded to be just as insensitive to the plight of adjuncts as the old rascals had been, my friend and other PTU’ers loyally joined in the efforts by the NC to gently suppress and coopt such dissent. Or just did nothing, and looked the other way.
The New Caucus is just as much in bed with the Democratic Party as any other union bureaucracy, just as much as were their predecessors, the Shankerite “CUNY Unity Caucus.” One example may suffice. In 2008, there was a contract proposal that was terrible for adjuncts, once again selling out demands that the two tier system be challenged. This is when outraged adjuncts formed and built the CUNY Contingents United. To get us to vote for the contract, some NC members held out the possibility that after it was signed, they would launch a major mobilization to educate and organize the adjuncts for a better contract, next time. Well there was a mobilization alright, that fall, the fall of 2008. Can you guess what it was? Right! It was a phone bank the NC set up to get out the vote for Obama in Pennsylvania!
My friend, true to form, supported this terrible contract. He never lifts a finger to help out dissident adjuncts oppose the NC’s do-nothingness, or run against them at union election time.
What has he gotten out of this slavishness? From what I can see, absolutely nothing. It has not landed him a full time job.
He did have, by my count, two opportunities to land a full time job: but not because he carried water for the NC bureaucrats. Inexplicably, he turned them both down. It would appear he corresponds to Merton’s “ritualistic” lifestyle: he really doesn’t want the goal of a good life. He just goes through the motions—and knifes his friends in the back, blaming them for his failures. One of the ways he goes through the motions, is by accepting now wholeheartedly, identity politics.
The New Caucus differentiates itself from its predecessors, the CUC, because of its politically “progressive” stance on international issues—and its identity politics. Getting absorbed into the New Caucus, meant, for my friend, getting absorbed into IP, as well.
The root of identity politics is post-structuralism. This doctrine, supremely cynical about the possibility of working class solidarity and revolution, became popular, paradoxically, at the height of the May 1968 General Strike in France. According to David North of the SEP, this was not such a paradox. For you see, the students had only expected that their cries of alienation would be fulfilled by such things as the creation of co-ed dorms. But when the workers threatened to take over the society, their middle class privileges and aspirations were threatened. So they flocked, away from Sartre’s Marxism, to Foucault’s cynicism. It was in the throes of this anti-communist terror, on the part of these petit bourgeois students, that gave birth to contemporary identity politics.
Anti-communism has two basic tropes. One of them was evinced by Irving Howe and other social democrats: the idea that Bolsheviks is inherently totalitarian. Democratic centralism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat, is one step away from the Gulag Archipelago. They will mine Rosa Luxemburg’s—and even Trotsky’s—early criticisms of Lenin’s centralism, and Rosa’s critique of the Russian Revolution, for their condemnation of Bolshevism: conveniently forgetting that Trotsky became a Bolshevik himself, that Rosa wholeheartedly supported the Russian Revolution, and that Rosa might have survived January 1919, and built a powerful and autonomous Communist Party that might have withstood the ravages of Stalinist authoritarianism, keeping hacks like Ruth Fisher out of the leadership, and keeping great leaders like Paul Levi, in: if she and her Left comrades had adopted democratic centralism when Lenin did!
The Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has revived such nonsense recently. He and others blame Marx and Lenin for Stalinism: forgetting such factors as the seventeen invading imperialist armies into Russian territory, as a brutal Civil War engulfed the country, and the betrayal by the European Social Democrats (much like in their thinking Howe, Harrington, and the DSA!) of the possibility to spread the revolution westward: into the advanced industrial societies that might have lent the Russian Revolution a powerful helping hand. The anti-communists of the CUNY Struggle woke cult have used the allegedly unprincipled, sectarian, domineering tendencies of Trotskyists like myself—to kick us out of the Campaign for 7K or Strike—in incredibly unprincipled, sectarian, domineering fashion!
The second standby for anti-communists within the labor movement and the Left, is identity politics.
Post-structuralism and identity politics creates a simulacrum of radicalism. But instead of going after the real enemy—the capitalist class—it creates a new ‘racist,” “sexist,” “homophobic” bogeyman: “straight white males.” The “symbolic interactions” of this group, and of those they have allegedly hoodwinked into accepting their “cultural centrality,” must be enlightened by a “woke” elite of middle class academics and professionals—not so oddly enough, full time social science and humanities professors at CUNY—into greater tolerance for their racial and sexual “others”—within present-day capitalist society, with the help of the Democrats and the bourgeois State.
Such divisive politics, though it has had other victims/targets in the past, is very old. It has been the tool of the capitalist class, and their middle class dupes and bureaucratic, ideological henchmen, ever since the modern era began. Divide and conquer is the old capitalist game.
Much of the same language of racial and sexual essence of identity politics was once, and still is, employed by racists and fascists. Racism, and woke racialism, are just two peas in a pod, from what I can see. Where Albert Shanker was fond of using racism to maintain power for himself and his fellow bureaucrats (even during the legitimate Ocean-Brownsville strike, which was, after all, against the bosses!), “progressive” bureaucrats are fond of using identity politics to legitimate their own do-nothing practices and slavishness toward the Democrats.
The old racists, including bureaucrats like Shanker, used to fight against communists in the ranks, threatening their positions, by identifying us with people of color.
The new racialists/identity politicians use racialism and sexualism to brand us “racist, sexist, homophobes,” because we don’t accept their reformism and their identity politics. We don’t agree that voting for Barak Obama or other Black Democrats will usher in a new golden age of egalitarian race relations. We don’t agree with #Metoo that an allegedly all pervasive “rape culture” justifies the abandonment of due process, so that the lives of innocent people may be destroyed. We don’t believe that someone who formerly worked for the CIA, but has come out as a lesbian, should on the latter account be given our political support. And we don’t jump to attention and support totalitarian campaigns for mandatory vaccinations, when these vaccines have NOT been proven to be safe and effective to our satisfaction, nor for bans on reparative therapy (because we don’t believe such therapy, often humanistic, has been proven either unsafe or ineffective!). So therefore what we do with our bodies and our therapy sessions is our business—not the State’s. Nor do we accept the idea that anyone who has problems with giving children puberty blockers and sex-change surgery, should be automatically branded “transphobic.”
But this is what my former friend has done to me, and this is what the neo-liberal Left is doing on a far grander scale. Instead of actually engaging us on these issues, they merely call us names. Identity politics is just lashon hara, writ large. The ruling class—the Great “Satan”—is perfectly willing to use it, to divide and to conquer us.
There is no way the truth can come out of such childishness and intolerance. But at least, these trade union bureaucrats and their Democratic Party “leaders” can continue to illegitimately legitimate themselves in the eyes of the gullible. And their loyal, pathetic followers, like my friend, will continue in their delusion that they can get more out of all of this than just a lousy t-shirt.