Eli Zaretsky ：THE IDEA OF A LEFT
Professor of History
New School for Social Research
New York, NY 8003
The fact that the Berlin Wall collapsed exactly two hundred years after the French Revolution did not escape the sharp eye of François Furet, the great French historian. Watching the uprisings on TV, Furet felt he was witnessing more than the end of a regime; he felt he was witnessing the end of an illusion. Born in 1789, not 1917, the illusion was the idea of a left. Driving that illusion, according to Furet, was “hatred of the bourgeoisie, a social class viewed as “all powerful in economic terms,” obsessed with money, but “devoid of moral principle deep down inside.” But what was “hatred of the bourgeois?” Only in appearance was it “hatred of the other; it was in fact self-hatred.” Today, he sighed happily, the revolution is finally over. “The idea of another society” is happily “almost impossible to conceive of.” Mercifully, “we are condemned to live in the world as it is.”
Today it is would appear that Furet’s euphoria was misplaced. Since 1989, there have been repeated demonstrations that the idea of a left is by no means finished. In Latin America a self-proclaimed left has made spectacular gains since the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, winning presidencies in Brazil (802), Argentina (803), Uruguay (804), Bolivia (805), and Chile (806). In Europe, social democracy probably remains hegemonic, even given Sarkozy’s victory, while in the United States the Democratic Party seems poised to win the Presidency, in part by returning to older themes of economic justice and internationalism. Neither can be described as left, yet clearly there is a relationship. In China, India and the Middle East, important democratic movements exist, even if American foreign policy in the Bush years has discouraged them. Innovative human rights activities, the proliferation of international feminist networks and the explicitly left global social forum, also demonstrate that the idea of a left has by no means run its course.
Yet 1989 did bring into focus long-standing doubts concerning the project of a left, doubts that recent events have by no means dispelled. Thus, while a left proliferates in Latin America, it does so in societies that in many cases lack liberal institutions and a democratic culture. In the absence of liberal democracy, in what does the idea of a left consist? In Europe, ironically, the left’s last big triumph was the defeat of the European Constitution, an event that derailed the EU’s opening toward Turkey and the development of an independent European foreign policy. Between the narrow economism and nationalism of the French and Dutch lefts, and a technocratic capitalist elite that combines economic justice and “sustainability” with capitalist efficiency, the leftist intellectual faces a real dilemma. As to democracy movements, human rights activity and feminism, it is not clear in what sense these belong to the left at all.
As to the United States, once regarded as the poor man’s favored country, everyone can see the problem that the Democratic Party faces. They have to tell the American people that their sons and daughters died for nothing in Iraq. They have to explain to them that their treasure has been squandered and their future held hostage. They have to divulge that the carefully nurtured reputation of the United States has been thoughtlessly trashed. Since Americans prize optimism and a “can-do” spirit above all else, since they never want to look back except with pride, they do not want to hear these truths. Still, it can be done. Americans are capable of receiving a dark message if it is not hyperbolic and if it offers the possibility of redemption. But the Democrats will have difficulty communicating such a message.
After the 1980s they dissolved their ties with poorer, working and lower class Americans, that is with the majority of their fellow citizens. Under the slogan “the era of big government is over” they eviscerated the one institution that protected the poor from the market. Taking a leaf from the party of Big Business, they denounced “class struggle,” as long as it arose from workers, blacks and immigrants. Corruption, the destruction of pension and health plans, the turning over of the great industries to financial speculators, the transformation of cities into theme parks, the privatization of education, the subordination of scientific research to commerce, the sexualization of mass culture, the debasement of the public sphere: the Democrats either allowed this lethal tsunami of privatization to occur, or actively promoted it under the rubric of “the third way.” The result, as Thomas Frank observed, was “a French Revolution in reverse—one in which the sans-culottes pour down the streets demanding more power for the aristocracy.”  It is not clear that the Democrats token gestures since 806 will change this.(点击此处阅读下一页)