The Civil War Left

sumnerattackedbypreston1No, not that Civil War… And, OK, maybe I’m being a little melodramatic but, on the other hand, maybe not.  After all, it’s true that the antifa violence at Berkeley a few nights ago was not really so shocking in itself.

There’s always been that part of the left which claims that the government is “fascist” regardless of who is in office.  Thus, the so-called “Refuse Fascism,” about which much is being made by commentators on the right, looks and sounds just like the same old Revolutionary Communist Party “coalition”, complete with the usual apoplectic rhetoric: it’s “Refuse and Resist,” “Not in Our Name” and “The World Can’t Wait” re-branded for the Trump presidency.

Similarly, for decades before they became the “black bloc” at anti-globalization actions, obnoxious anarchist provocateurs were an annoying presence at Bay Area demonstrations.

And so we know that, like the poor, the ultra-left will always be with us and, when they get the chance, they will act out in all of their usual infantile ways.

Up until recently, however, ultra-left antifa violence was directed at extremely marginal types – the Klan, the National Socialist Movement, etc.  Now everything has changed since, after all, if Trump is Hitler, then all of his supporters must be fascists (“little Eichmanns”?) against whom any violence is permitted. Consequently the usual attempts at shouting down speakers or otherwise disrupting events(1) have progressed to vicious physical assaults on ordinary individuals guilty of no more that wearing a MAGA hat or merely having a ticket to an offending program.

Of even greater concern is the tacit connivance in this on the part of elected officials, as well as the support for it expressed by sectors of the relatively moderate left.(2) Meanwhile, even among the left critics of the Berkeley riot there has been much rejection of the violence on pragmatic grounds but deafening silence when it comes to acknowledging that it might be simply wrong to intimidate and physically attack those with whom you disagree.(3)

Ominously, the bitterness of the current political climate is reaching deep into people’s daily lives. The notion of civil political discourse seems to have vanished, at least among leftists and politics has become a topic raised at one’s own risk, at least if one didn’t vote Hillary. (See, for example, Bay Area Conservatives Keep Meetups Secret Fearing For Their Safety.)

(In my own experience, the hostility of the other side is so intense that any political conversation among our small group of Trump supporters at the office now feels more like a clandestine meeting of the Communist Party workplace cell than a group of friends just shooting the shit in the break room.)

And so we have reached a point at which half of the country is considered not only merely wrong but actually evil by the other. We are the enemy to be intimidated and silenced – there can be no co-existence and no peace. We are obviously nowhere near there quite yet, but ultimately this is the mentality of civil war.(4)

(1) Certain sectors of the left have a penchant for “no platforming” and have been all too willing to use it against dissenters in their own ranks, as the TERF’s (“Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists”) have found out. Still, this is a far cry from the physical violence now celebrated by much of the left when it is directed at opponents to the right.
(2) See Prominent Leftists Celebrate Anti-Milo Yiannopoulos Violence at Berkeley.  One hardly needs to re-visit the story of the repeated attempts to prevent Trump rallies during the campaign, but if you do, see Moveon.Org Vows to Continue to Disrupt Trump Rallies or What’s the Use in Disrupting Donald Trump?.
(3) A good example of this is an article at Huffington Post, The Debacle At Berkeley in which the author ably argues that the black bloc’s actions were counterproductive, but goes on to say

I am not interested here in having a moral argument about violence in the abstract, or the line between destruction of property and assaults on people. Let’s save that for another time…

(Unlike many others, he at least acknowledges that this is an issue.)
(4) There is an worthwhile post in this regard at the interesting and well-written blog Delayed Mail mainly reflecting on the editorial response of pro-slavery newspapers to the dawn of the new year in 1861 and the prospect of a Lincoln presidency – New Year’s and the Superficiality of Secession. While I suspect that I disagree deeply with its author, it is well worth a read.


4 thoughts on “The Civil War Left

  1. Greetings NeoPopulism, and many thanks for the honorable mention. We are interested readers of yours, though we suppose, not followers haha (same?). Genuinely sorry to hear about the tension in your office. We hope to bring attention to the historical forces that have led to this moment and, in so doing, to mitigate tendencies towards violence and distrust by better understanding our shared past (of violence and oppression). Anyway, best wishes and we look forward to reading, while hoping to see this process of historical inquiry mirrored in, your future work.


    • Thanks for your comment Emma. And yes, I would say that I feel the same way about Delayed Mail – always challenging and a pleasure to read, as much as I may disagree. As for the tension in my office – I have mixed feelings. It is painful to break with friends over politics and almost as bad to have to be silent about what one believes in order to maintain cordial relationships. And yet I think that the intensity of feeling these days that creates so many interpersonal problems (at least for those of us living “behind the lines”) reflects the fact that for the past year and especially over the past few months politics has felt somehow more “real” for people on both sides and less like a prepackaged spectacle presented to us by our elites. What we do – and what others do – seems to actually matter in a way that it hasn’t for decades. And that’s a good thing. I guess I just wish the people would cultivate the “hate the sin but love the sinner” attitude a little more.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes (speaking for myself here) I do believe in the radical and transformative potential of democracy, and think that generally what we see in terms of an awakening is a good thing. I have friends who haven’t ever expressed a political thought coming to me with questions about how different branches of government work and why. That kind of engagement is crucial to our collective well-being. I live in a deeply red state, and many of my family and friends are also very conservative. I’ve been able to maintain almost all of those friendships from a sense of mutual respect, but a few folks have found this an opportune moment to make personal attacks (and two awkward threats). Really unfortunate, but I try to tell myself they were friends with themselves more than with me. I’ve also been doing this a long time, so maybe I’ve just made peace with myself. Anyway, best wishes. I imagine some of that interpersonal bitterness will diminish with routine and a touch of introspection.

        I’ll confess, I hope to see a bit more interplay between the sociocultural and material in your work, which I think may sharpen your analysis, but I’ll be interested to see how your critique of the elite develops regardless. In many respects, they’ve earned it. Cheers.


      • Interesting . My situation is the mirror image of yours – I live in the bluest heart of one of the bluest states in the country. And yes, I agree that the people who really matter in your life will forgive you your political trespasses, whatever they may be. As for myself, I’ve changed my views enough over the years that I can’t hold anyone’s politics against them (or be too certain about my own).

        As for the “radical and transformative potential of democracy” – yes, but only sometimes. Electoral politics can be profoundly de-mobilizing, especially in a system like our own – a way of channeling dissent and rebellion back into the system. (Seen from the right, Reagan was probably the prime example of this.) I’m one who believes that “the movement is everything…” (hence, my avatar) and so continue to fear that Trump’s victory was premature in a sense – that a defeat might have been better for the growth of the grassroots national-populist movement that is really the most important thing. Time will tell, but for now, from this perspective, the unrelenting hostility of the the center and the left could be a positive thing.

        And, as for “sharpen[ing] my analysis]” – I will do my best but always appreciate constructive criticism!


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