So, I was reading Trevor Griffith’s play The Party, which is set among the intellectual left-wing in the UK in 1968. It’s notorious (among theater folk) (or at least I think it is) (or used to be) for its incredibly lengthy monologues, two ten-to-fifteen-minute disquisitions on Marxist theory in the middle of the play. I don’t particularly like the play, but it got me thinking.
It seems to me that we are growing an admirable crop of Young Radicals at the moment, and that while they are anti-capitalist, they aren’t Marxist. They don’t have strong feelings about the control of the means of production being in the hands of the workers. They don’t largely want to nationalize important industries. They certainly don’t believe in the inevitability of the worldwide proletarian revolution. In fact, I rather doubt they have a Theory at all. My impression is that they mostly just want to eat the rich.
I support that! It’s probably better than having a Theory. But it also makes me a little sad.
What are the policy aspirations of the Young American Left these days? A living wage, health-care for all, education for all up to and including college, net neutrality, a progressive income tax, real civilian oversight over law-enforcement with specific emphasis on police not shooting non-whites with impunity, an immigration policy based on human rights, a foreign policy based on human rights with an emphasis on avoiding military adventurism, gun control of a mostly unspecified kind but with a goal of fewer and less powerful guns in the country, and concerted government action on preventing climate change and ameliorating the effects of it. They favor an increased emphasis on prosecuting the rich and powerful for violating such laws as actually exist, and also putting the motherfuckers against the wall and shooting them.
Of course, I could well be wrong about those aspirations—I mean, they’re my policy aspirations, and naturally I assume that right-thinking people (that is, left-thinking people) aspire to those policies. And I am naturally hearing more from the sorts of Young Radicals who have a lot of funding and coverage and votes in legislatures, not the sorts of Young Radicals who hand out pictures of Mao at the subway station. Not even the sort of Young Radicals who hold meetings of in someone’s apartment and listen to each other’s five-page disquisitions on theory.
But on the whole, it seems to me like the Young Radicals fundamentally want a slight updating of LBJ’s Great Society (philosophically based on FDR’s Four Freedoms) and also to eat the rich. Again: I support that! But if you read that young people prefer socialism to capitalism, keep in mind that they are almost certainly not actually talking about adherence to Marxist principles and the abolition of personal property, or cultivating a theory of race and gender within the dialectic of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, or even letting go of the fundamentally bogus idea of the nation-state. This makes them no different than my generation, of course—or, rather, they are different, but not because they are giving ten-to-fifteen-minute disquisitions on Marxist theory in the middle of the play.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,