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10 July 2013

The long-running left-wing love affair with tyranny

James Bloodworth is the editor of the leftwing blog, Left Foot Forward. However, writing for the Independent, it is the backwardness of his fellow lefties that is his subject:

  • “In the past decade or so some progressives have found themselves – either through political expediency or something worse – on the side of the far-right.
  • “Some have intentionally thrown in their lot with what any politically astute person would recognise as fascism, while others have simply been unwilling to acknowledge that fanatical movements don’t always comprise of white skinheads with bad tattoos and football shirts.”

The 'far-right' he has in mind is the Islamist far-right. Whether labels of left and right usefully apply to militant fundamentalism is debatable, but whatever you call it, the conventional left has been getting into bed with it. The question is why?

  • “The answer, I suspect, lies in the fact that many Islamists exhibit a pathological anti-Americanism that is quite attractive to a certain type of degenerated progressive.”

Bloodworth is not alone in feeling that the left is betraying its values. The likes of Nick Cohen and Martin Bright have written extensively and persuasively on this issue. Where they sometimes go wrong, however, is to give the impression that this betrayal is something new – when in fact it goes back all the way.

In an insightful piece for the Daily Beast, Adam Kirsch looks at the legacy of Jean-Paul Sartre – the founding father of the contemporary left. 

The left of old was a collectivist movement, uninterested in, or hostile to, ideas of personal liberty. Sartre, though, fused Marxism with the philosophy of Existentialism:

  • “Existentialism, for Sartre, was a philosophy of liberty, insisting that human beings, entangled as they are in circumstances not of their own making, can always rebel against those circumstances by asserting their free will.”

Sartre's ideas were an inspiration to a new generation of leftwingers – at least as interested in rebelling against traditional social norms as in bringing down the established economic order.

But there was a glaring contradiction in Sartre’s thought:

  • “...starting in the mid-1940s, and increasingly over the next 10 years, Sartre begins to worship at another altar: the altar of Communism. This is an ideology that has notoriously little use for individual freedom; instead of human beings freely making themselves, it sees them acting out the roles imposed on them by the class struggle.”

What made Sartre’s betrayal of liberty all the more disgraceful was that he was aware of it: 

  • “This tension between the demands of the revolution and the demands of the free individual continued to toss Sartre to and fro, politically speaking. After the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, he writes The Ghost of Stalin, in which he condemns Stalinist crimes while still trying to extenuate them as the necessary birth pangs of socialism: ‘Must one give the name of socialism to this bloody monster that tears itself apart? I answer frankly: yes … we had to have that one or none at all.’”

Then, in 1968, came the crushing of the Prague Spring. This was too much even for Sartre:

  • “‘The Socialism That Came In From the Cold,’ his essay on Czech culture under communism, is as clear-eyed an analysis as any dissident could offer.”

Yet, instead of fundamentally rethinking his politics, he transferred his affections to a new source of tyranny – the revolutionary movements and governments of the Third World: 

  • “In his famous introduction to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, he writes with unconcealed glee about the prospect of Algerians killing their former masters, which happen to be the French.”

The cosseted lefties of the First World followed suit, holding up Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and Yasser Arafat as their new heroes. But, of course, these too would prove a disappointment – not so much in the terrible things they did to their own people – but in failing to provide a viable challenge to the West.

The fact that the left is now making common cause with Islamists is straight out of the Sartre playbook. It doesn’t matter if these new allies veil women and hang gays in their own lands, just as long as they also stick it to Uncle Sam.


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