FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Western Left and Its Sterile ‘Field of Ideas’

by

Over the year, I realized that the term ‘left’ is not exclusive to a political ideology, but a mode of thinking championed mostly by self-tailored ‘leftist’ western intellectuals. I grew to dislike it with intensity.

But that has not always been the case.

My father was a communist, or so he called himself. He read the translated work of great communist and socialist thinkers, and passed on to me his own reading of what a socialist utopia could possibly be like. Living in a squalid refugee camp in Gaza, locked in by a heavily militarized sea to the west, and various Israeli ‘death zones’ everywhere else, a proletarian utopia was a great idea, where the peasants and the workers ruled unhindered.

Of course, there was a reason that made the fantasy particularly meaningful. Before the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine, most Palestinians, who constituted the majority of the refugees after the war of 1948, were fellahin – or peasants. Following their forced expulsion into refugee camps, lacking land to cultivate, they became cheap laborers, especially after the war of 1967, where all of Palestine was colonized by Israel. No collective anywhere in the Middle East experienced such historical tension in a relatively short period of time as did the Palestinians.

My family, like numerous others, became peasants-turned-workers; in fact that marking became part of the refugees collective identity.

While the political manifestation of socialism failed in Palestine, socialist thinking prevailed: anti-elitist and revolutionary to the core. Even those who subscribe to other ideologies, including Islamic thinking, have been influenced one way or another by early Palestinian socialists.

But Palestinian revolutionary socialism, at its peak in the 1960s and 70s, was rather different from the ‘left’ I experienced living in the West. The latter seemed more detached, less risk-taking, driven by groupthink and lacking initiative. It was also patronizing.

Even in my early twenties, I still couldn’t comprehend how a group of self-proclaimed ‘leftist’, who largely existed on the margins of mainstream politics had the audacity to cast judgement on Palestinians for resorting to armed struggle to fend off a very vile and violent Israeli occupation, and busied themselves debating what constituted ‘humanitarian intervention’.

While socialist movements in the south, from Asia, to Africa, to the Middle East to South America took real risks to bring about social equality and political paradigm shifts, many in the West offered ‘solidarity’, yet largely reserved for themselves almost a total hegemony over the socialist political discourse.

They dominated and perfected the language, and dictated the platforms from which ideas – loaded with the right terminology, but vacant of any practical meaning and removed from real-life situations – are imparted.

Like the rest, I parroted the same language, of colonialism and imperialism, hegemony and class struggle, skipping from South America, to Angola and South Africa, to Indochina.

But many gaps in the perfectly summed-up understanding of the world befuddled me.

Firstly, I never understood why those who speak on behalf of the global ‘left’ are so far removed from the actual battlefield and mostly engaged in the ‘battlefield of ideas’.

Secondly, I found it strange that while leftists are meant to be critical thinkers, many of those who spoke as leftist gurus, tended to parrot recycled thoughts, which they embraced as if religious doctrines. ‘Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?’ I was asked by numerous leftists as if the inane question, which reflects more ignorance than inquisitiveness, is a talking point, handed down and repeated without thinking.

Thirdly, I found many western leftists largely oblivious to international conflicts that don’t involve directly or otherwise western hegemons. For example, there are many conflicts that are brewing in Africa right now, from Congo, to Burundi, to the Central African Republic to Sudan and elsewhere. Almost none of them ever register on the leftist radar as long as there is no palpable link to western governments or corporations. Only then, the lives of the Congolese, for example, would register; only then would Sudanese become ‘comrades’ and selected few of them would be celebrated as heroes, while others are cast aside as villains.

How long did the Syria conflict carry on before the western ‘left’ began to formulate a stance? Months. The conflict was just too involved, and initially removed from western engrossment that only few knew what to think. Only when western governments began pondering war, urged on by their regional allies, did the left began to formulate a position around the same old discourse. While the West and their allies had their own sinister reasons to get involved in Syria, the war in Syria, as the war in Libya before it, was not as simple as picking and choosing the good guys versus the bad guys. While vehemently rejecting western military crusades that have wreaked havoc is an admirable act, turning local dictators into modern-day Che Guevaras reflects recklessness, not camaraderie.

Fourthly, if conflicts throughout the so-called Third World are determined largely, if not entirely by western hegemons, then where is the element of agency in the local actors in these conflicts?

Are local populations so submissive and docile that they are hardly considered a factor in determining the outcomes of any conflict? What about regional players? How about the historical context of national and regional conflicts and struggles? Do ordinary people, when they behave as a collective, matter at all?

This belittling view of any other actor aside from western governments, although sold as if global solidarity, carries a degree of racism, where only the ‘white man’ determines the flow of history and outcomes of conflicts. Everyone else is either a helpless bystander or a ‘client regime’ that receive a ‘cut’ from the colonial spoils once the bad deed is done.

Which brings me to my final point: The left’s insistence on the ‘client regime’ theory is beyond limiting, yet, many find it impossible to challenge. When some rightfully noted that Israel had much greater sway over American politics than the traditional ‘client regime’ theory suggested, many leftist intellectuals threw a tantrum. For them, accepting that there might be a need to examine fixed ideas on how power relations play out, meant that the entire discourse is in danger of collapse, from Cuba, to Angola, to Indochina.

In 1984, George Orwell wrote of the ‘B vocabulary’, which “consisted of words which had been deliberately constructed for political purposes: words, that is to say, which were intended to impose a desirable mental attitude upon the person using them.”

While conflicts brew throughout the globe, demanding critical thinking, mobilization and action, many in the standardized western left are actively engaging in branding others who dare disagree with them (thoughtcrime). They resort to the Orwellian ‘newspeak’ and overused dogmas that seem to give them more comfort than true understanding of the world at large, a world that exists beyond the West and its ‘battlefield of ideas’.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net.

More articles by:

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: ramzybaroud.net

February 21, 2018
Cecil Bothwell
Billy Graham and the Gospel of Fear
Ajamu Baraka
Venezuela: Revenge of the Mad-Dog Empire
Edward Hunt
Treating North Korea Rough
Binoy Kampmark
Meddling for Empire: the CIA Comes Clean
Ron Jacobs
Stamping Out Hunger
Ammar Kourany – Martha Myers
So, You Think You Are My Partner? International NGOs and National NGOs, Costs of Asymmetrical Relationships
Michael Welton
1980s: From Star Wars to the End of the Cold War
Judith Deutsch
Finkelstein on Gaza: Who or What Has a Right to Exist? 
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
War Preparations on Venezuela as Election Nears
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Military Realities
Steve Early
Refinery Safety Campaign Frays Blue-Green Alliance
Ali Mohsin
Muslims Face Increasing Discrimination, State Surveillance Under Trump
Julian Vigo
UK Mass Digital Surveillance Regime Ruled Illegal
Peter Crowley
Revisiting ‘Make America Great Again’
Andrew Stewart
Black Panther: Afrofuturism Gets a Superb Film, Marvel Grows Up and I Don’t Know How to Review It
CounterPunch News Service
A Call to Celebrate 2018 as the Year of William Edward Burghardt Du Bois by the Saturday Free School
February 20, 2018
Nick Pemberton
The Gun Violence the Media Shows Us and the State Violence They Don’t
John Eskow
Sympathy for the Drivel: On the Vocabulary of President Nitwit
John Steppling
Trump, Putin, and Nikolas Cruz Walk Into a Bar…
John W. Whitehead
America’s Cult of Violence Turns Deadly
Ishmael Reed
Charles F. Harris: He Popularized Black History
Will Podmore
Paying the Price: the TUC and Brexit
George Burchett
Plumpes Denken: Crude thinking
Binoy Kampmark
The Caring Profession: Peacekeeping, Blue Helmets and Sexual Abuse
Lawrence Wittner
The Trump Administration’s War on Workers
David Swanson
The Question of Sanctions: South Africa and Palestine
Walter Clemens
Murderers in High Places
Dean Baker
How Does the Washington Post Know that Trump’s Plan Really “Aims” to Pump $1.5 Trillion Into Infrastructure Projects?
February 19, 2018
Rob Urie
Mueller, Russia and Oil Politics
Richard Moser
Mueller the Politician
Robert Hunziker
There Is No Time Left
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Decides to Hold Presidential Elections, the Opposition Chooses to Boycott Democracy
Daniel Warner
Parkland Florida: Revisiting Michael Fields
Sheldon Richman
‘Peace Through Strength’ is a Racket
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Taking on the Pentagon
Patrick Cockburn
People Care More About the OXFAM Scandal Than the Cholera Epidemic
Ted Rall
On Gun Violence and Control, a Political Gordian Knot
Binoy Kampmark
Making Mugs of Voters: Mueller’s Russia Indictments
Dave Lindorff
Mass Killers Abetted by Nutjobs
Myles Hoenig
A Response to David Axelrod
Colin Todhunter
The Royal Society and the GMO-Agrochemical Sector
Cesar Chelala
A Student’s Message to Politicians about the Florida Massacre
Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail