The death spiral of futile leftism

The left-left side of the blogosphere is chattering about lefter-than-thou sniping that is apparently aimed at people associated with the Jacobin. For readers who don’t pay attention to that stuff, Jacobin magazine is a socialist magazine that is popular. The lefter-than-thou crowd is comprised of people who do everything they can to throw bombs at left-wing projects that are successful. The goal of the bomb-throwing, it appears, is not to actually achieve anything substantive; rather, it is to make damn sure everyone knows they are different from them, those leftists who aren’t the real leftists like they are.

I’ve written about the left purity cult before. From what I have seen, there is a non-trivial number of people for whom leftism is nothing but a personal affectation, a substitute for a personality, a way to get personal meaning, and so on. Me, me, me, me. This is especially true among the rich kid protester types. Their politics is one of personal self-actualization. They want to Do the Right Thing for themselves and make sure they are fighting the good fight. Just doing something that is nominally fighting, even if it lacks strategy or any theory of change, is enough because it means they are on the right side and their complicity with The Bad is extinguished. This purity ritual is as fun for them as it is useless for the actually suffering.

But the effect of this futile leftism is bigger than one might imagine. I suspect that futile leftism generates its own vicious feedback loop that generates yet more futile leftism. The problem is simple: there are people interested in masturbatory purity rituals and people interested in winning. When the left is dominantly in the clutches of the purity cultists, the competent have no interest in it.

The biggest challenge facing the left or any minority movement is convincing people to spend their time, energy, and other resources working with them. Most people, especially those people you should want to attract to your side, do not want to waste their time doing things that will achieve nothing. It is hard enough convincing someone that a minority movement can win, but that difficulty is compounded many times over when the movement itself is full of the type of people who do not actually care about winning. A person who remarks that they do not want to get involved because it looks like a bunch of self-congratulating actions that never lead to anything has a totally accurate assessment of the state of things.

What you get when the futile purity cultists take hold is a death spiral of increasing incompetence and futility. Those interested in futile nonsense are basically the only people attracted to thing: so their numbers hold steady or swell. Those opposed to futile nonsense flood out or never join to begin with. Futile leftism just begets more futile leftism because anyone halfway sensible would never bother to waste their time with it.

That is not to say that you have to become some sort of half-baked liberal to be successful. But you better have some notion of how A leads to B, and if you’ve pressed the denim-vest-with-patches-wearing contingent on the left, you’d know full well that there is no such story. Winning things from time to time and being able to articulate a vision of how this is supposed to work that is halfway plausible is the only way to attract the kind of people who are able to moderate leftist dipshittery.

As a postscript, let me say this. If you want to find examples of competent leftist organizing, it might make sense to check out regions that are the most hostile to it, and see how the leftists there do it. Cushy bubbles like New York City that are hospitable to left youth subcultures and have enough people to comprise a sizable left contingent are exactly the kinds of places where futile leftism seems most likely to fester. Leftists in other parts of the country, especially the South and Midwest, do not have the luxury.