Discourse / Editorials / February 18, 2009

Progress or regress?

The political left is dead, declares the Platypus Affiliated Society, a Chicago-based Marxist collective dedicated to exploring the historical reasons for the decline of the real left (not Obama) so that the contemporary pseudo-left (not a social force but a series of non-cohesive concepts and activities engaged in by various radical thinkers) may one day regenerate its forces so that the potentials of 1848 and 1917 may perhaps (in some future) be realized. This I point out in order to make clear a vital distinction: between the bourgeois left (as we find it in any member of the Democratic party, for example, or anyone interested in empty notions of “advancement” to some unattainable, abstract ideal) and the true left (as we may find it in certain Marxian variations).

In last week’s issue of TKS, we learned about the formation of a new club called “Campus Progress,” a collegiate extension of John Podesta’s think tank, the Center for American Progress. The club is, in the words of its founder, “progressive,” and will attempt to provide an outlet for “young progressives [to] have their voices heard.”

Ultimately, the goal is “to give as much unbiased information as possible” to a student body which apparently has no access to the “facts” concerning what is going on in the contemporary American political sphere.

We might first want to take issue with the fact that this “issue-based” club seems, on its face, to be formed out of a series of oh-so-inspiring catchphrases (“progress!”) which do not in actuality address any of the material (as in socio-political or economic) conditions of reality. Here, we find an example of the bourgeois left’s attempts to not only justify the contemporary state of politics, but also to make it seem as if “progress” can be made within these already existing political and economic structures.

The bourgeois left loves to talk about “progress,” partly because the term seems to be devoid of any political implication. Progress is progress, they say, regardless of political affiliation. Who doesn’t want to move forward? In fact, this is precisely what a group like “Campus Progress” will rely on: for anyone to reject a call to “progress,” would be, well, regressive. But a deeper look yields not only the fact that the term “progress” is empty and abstract, but also that its employment is almost always conservative. Indeed, since the word is chiefly employed in a seemingly non-political way, it will most certainly have at its root a regressive value: the maintaining of certain societal structures which benefit the pioneers of change. As Knox College students who benefit from a private school education, we are very typically part of this demographic. Indeed, we can talk about change all day without really addressing what it would entail, precisely because a real change would mean that our positions of power in society (as educated, fairly well-off members of the middle and upper classes) would be threatened. Campus Progress would never want that.

The Platypus Affiliated Society is right to declare that the true left is dead. All that now exists is a bourgeois left who insists that an apolitical action is possible (“Unbiased information?” Who are we kidding?) and that some sort of abstract and supposedly apolitical “change” or “progress” will benefit the greater good. The truth is that “progress” and whatever it implies only will serve to reinforce the rigid structures of a capitalist socio-economic and political reality. Let’s not fool ourselves.

Pac Pobric

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