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A Tough-Love Letter to the Left

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A new book urges activists to avoid insularity and purism--and to focus on winning.

Related: The silence of the pseudo-left on the danger of war

Sam Adler-bell, New Republic / Portside

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https://portside.org/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/field/image/hegemony42917.png?itok=a_b44IqR Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap For Radicals by Jonathan Smucker, AK Press, 290 pp., $16.95

April 28, 2017 | In its final months, Hillary Clinton's campaign depicted the election in Manichaean terms: the forces of light against darkness, love against hate, the guardians of a virtuous public against a world-historical bully. In this story, we lost the election not because we did something wrong, but because we did something right in a world that's wrong. We fought the forces of misogyny, xenophobia, and white supremacy, but they were too strong; they overwhelmed us. And how could they not? This is America after all.

The left--especially the activist left--makes this mistake all the time: imagining there is some meaningful consolation in losing righteously. In 1934, Bertolt Brecht wrote, "It takes courage to say that the good were defeated not because they were good, but because they were weak." A lifelong organizer and educator, Jonathan Matthew Smucker has been hearing versions of this story his entire adult life. In his new book, Hegemony How-To: A Roadmap for Radicals, he writes "I take no solace in the prospect of history listing me among the righteous few who denounced the captain of a ship that sank." Being right about what is wrong in the world is no excuse for allowing wrong to proliferate. Those of us who aspire to a socially just world, says Smucker, must conspire to take the helm.

Sam Adler-bell is a policy associate at The Century Foundation.

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Related: 

The silence of the pseudo-left on the danger of war, Eric London, World Socialist Web Site

Any connections that the radicalized middle class once had to anti-imperialism or socialism are long gone. The categories of analysis they employ have nothing to do with class or historical materialism. War, social inequality and poverty all take a back seat to what really interests them: race, gender and their own sex lives.

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