Mitchell’s Musings 5-15-2017: Stamping Out Hate

10 May 2017 10:55 AM | Daniel Mitchell (Administrator)

Mitchell’s Musings 5-15-17: Stamping Out Hate


Daniel J.B. Mitchell


In 1966, “The Mad Show” opened off-Broadway. Among the songs in the show was the Hate Song, featuring the notion of “stamping out hate.”[1] The lyrics involve progressively violent and grisly things the performers plan to do to “hate.” So the song shows that the idea of intolerance on the left in the U.S. is not a new development, since it was being parodied six decades ago. But it was something that apparently was attracting attention back then. On the other hand, there is a long history of those on the left of American politics pushing for civil rights and against prejudice in the U.S. Tolerance was associated with left-liberal thinking.


Behavioral types nowadays tend to see the right vs. left division as a matter of some deep psychological leaning toward established order vs. openness to new things. Voting behavior regarding Trump in the U.S., Brexit in the U.K., or Le Pen in France is thus analyzed in that framework as determined by such attitudes, although where those attitudes originate is not so clear.[2] However, the behavioral view leaves out the ideological component, at least in an historical perspective.


Left and Marxism became intertwined in the 19th century. The connection was reinforced by the Russian revolution and the formation of the Soviet Union. In the Marxist view, human history was seen as class conflict which, by the 19th century, had evolved into workers versus capitalists. If that is your model of the underlying force in social development, other divisions in society are inherently downplayed. Divisions on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, or anything else (other than whether you are a worker or a capitalist) are viewed as artificial. Indeed, prejudices based on anything else are seen as devices used by capitalists to divide workers and thus forestall revolution.


Since those on the left tended to face official repression, the idea of pushing for such things as civil liberties and free speech was natural. Ending segregation and discrimination more generally also was natural, since such practices were seen as capitalist devices that were aimed at dividing the working class. In short, tolerance and left-of-center politics became linked in the U.S. Left and liberal tended to go together, although sometimes in an uneasy alliance.


But by the mid-20th century, there were forces undermining old leftism and its worker-focused approach. The Soviet Union, particularly as Stalin’s purges and gulags were revealed, could not be easily viewed as a contemporary workers’ paradise or even something that was likely to evolve into one. In any event, Cold War politics repressed out-and-out communists (and others). While the Great Depression had tended to reinforce Marxist views about “contradictions” in capitalism, post-World War II prosperity worked in the opposite direction. Labor unions, which in the 1930s seemed to be part of the Marxist conflict model, by the late 1950s appeared to have become part of the “system.”[3]


The New Left of the 1960s, often linked to college students rather than to blue collar workers, was less connected to traditional Marxism and was more into some kind of personal liberation. It didn’t exactly abandon the workers-versus-capitalists idea, but that kind of thinking became less and less central. College students don’t conveniently fit into worker-versus-capitalist paradigm.[4] Black nationalism that became prominent in that era also didn’t neatly fit into Marxist dualism. The fact that you had significant support for the Vietnam War among blue collar workers and “hardhats” added to the undermining of the Old Left with its worker orientation.


Fast forward to the present day. It’s hard to see anything like the old Marxist model on the left. There is instead a collection of causes not centered on labor. Environmentalism is prominent. Some are preoccupied with “organic” foods and non-GMOs. The old connection to workers is not totally gone – you have support for such things as raising the minimum wage, for example. But particularly after the Trump election, there was a tendency to view the kind of workers around which the Old Left once revolved as part of the enemy.


A recent satirical video from The Onion depicts a fictional blue collar workers from a “steel town” lamenting he had voted for Trump before discovering the error of his ways after reading 800 pages of queer feminist theory.[5] Essentially, the video tells you that at least the academic left seems to have detached itself from its one-time concerns and now is speaking largely to itself.

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The Old Left’s interest in civil liberties and free speech did carry over into the New Left of the 1960s. But like the concerns of workers who became Trump supporters, civil liberties and free speech as issues seem to have been ceded to the right. In its milder form, the demand to be protected from speech has also been the target of an Onion parody, namely an article headlined “Berkeley Campus on Lockdown After Loose Pages from ‘Wall Street Journal’ Found on Park Bench.”[6] Less amusing has been recent violence at some universities and dis-inviting of speakers, conduct which some on the left have rationalized in opaque writings.[7] And an over-concentration on what is called identity politics has become divisive.


Here’s an example from the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

UC Santa Cruz has agreed to the demands of the Afrikan Black Student Alliance after a three-day occupation of Kerr Hall, the primary administration building on campus.

...(D)uring the rally that preceded the occupation of Kerr Hall on Tuesday at Quarry Plaza, members of the Afrikan Black Student Alliance verbally attacked Jewish students, according to Santa Cruz Hillel Director Sarah Cohen Domont.


“Our students were, on three separate instances, subjected to protesters yelling, (expletives and anti-Semitic insults) and one of our Israeli flags was torn down,” wrote 
Cohen Domont in a public statement...[8]


Of course, those on the right have also exhibited fragmentation and division. There are libertarians vs. Chamber of Commerce Republicans vs. Trumpites and what were once called Reagan-Democrats. But in 2016, that alliance succeeded in electing a president. Those on the left could simply sit back in the hopes that the political pendulum will somehow swing back in some natural rhythm. They can assume that folks who, say, lose health insurance coverage will be angry in the midterm elections and start a process of reversing the 2016 electoral results. Maybe those things will happen. But odd and objectionable behavior on the left surely won’t help. And maybe – in a back-to-the-future move - a bit more attention to those traditional labor concerns would help.

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[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Km3YOJ0CQRM

[2] https://theconversation.com/the-cultural-division-that-explains-global-political-shocks-from-brexit-to-le-pen-76962.    

[3] Richard A. Lester, As Unions Mature: An Analysis of the Evolution of American Unionism (Princeton University Press, 1958).

[4] You can hear the leader of the student revolt at Berkeley, Mario Savio, denounce the university, government, industry, and organized labor at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xR863v7E5c

[5] https://www.facebook.com/TheOnion/videos/10155397968279497/.     

[6] http://www.theonion.com/article/berkeley-campus-lockdown-after-loose-pages-wall-st-55815

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/05/the-new-intellectuals/525660/. Excerpt: “Representing campus protests under the heading of free speech helps to obscure the actual struggles occurring over the allocation of resources and the revision of curricula—struggles being led by students… To look at the situation differently, it might help to think alongside Antonio Gramsci, the Italian communist, political theorist, and educator who died in 1937, shortly after being released from prison...”

[8] http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/social-affairs/20170504/uc-santa-cruz-agrees-to-demands-of-students-who-occupied-kerr-hall.  

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