The other day, I encountered something interesting. A leftist named Dave was talking about a friend that he was trying to bring over to leftist politics. For simplicity, we’ll call this friend Charlie. I don’t know his real name. Charlie has decided that he must distance himself from the Left for a variety of reasons. To name a few: apparently, he saw Vaush’s followers using racist Pepe memes. He encountered several leftists who engaged in what he calls “Clinton bashing,” but his biggest complaint was that leftists, in general, were too hostile.
Some of these are legitimate grievances. Vaush strikes again. This guy is the reason why we can’t have nice things. He is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and one day, there’s going to have to be a reckoning. Oh, and note my use of the word “elephant.” That’s deliberate. Because Vaush is what I call “socialism for conservatives.”
Putting all of this aside, something Charlie said rubbed me the wrong way. And I quote. “If I am going to be shit on, then leftists don’t want me in their group. I will go where I am loved. It is unfortunate because I am quite active in offline political activism, and I would have been happy to host events for leftists.”
I would have supported your cause, but some of you were mean to me. So, I’m going back to liberalism because that’s where I’m loved.
This argument bothers me because it is the exact kind of high-handed guilt trip I’ve seen a million times from dudes who swear they would totally support feminism if women weren’t so harsh all the time. Complete with examples of all the helpful things they could be doing that the mean girls will now miss out on.
There is a certain type of liberal who likes to remind you at every opportunity that they would be a leftist if not for all the racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia/ableism/ageism/islamophobia/antisemitism — all of which will henceforth be abbreviated as “the Isms” — on the Left. Remember when Neera Tanden said that Brits can’t vote Labour because of the antisemitism? That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. “I would love to be a leftist, but there are Isms, and I just can’t do it in good conscience. Sorry.”
Well, let’s get one thing straight right away. There are Isms of the Left, and they should be opposed as a matter of principle. But I have completely given up on trying to sway these wannabe leftists. Because at the end of the day, they don’t actually want to be leftists.
What they really want is an excuse to turn a blind eye to the moral failings of capitalism.
And if you think I’m being too harsh, let’s reverse the logic. In my travels, I have encountered certain liberal feminists who have said some of the most repugnant, classist things I have ever heard. And lest you think it’s just a handful of liberals, many of these people have large platforms with hundreds of followers who are just as bad. Imagine if I were to say to you that I can’t be a feminist (ally) because Amanda Marcotte or Charlotte Clymer or even Kristi Winters — whom I admired quite a bit — have made anti-poor, anti-worker arguments that I consider to be morally reprehensible. Would you believe that I’m honestly taking a principled stance in favour of workers’ rights? Or would you believe that I’m only making excuses to protect my male privilege?
I’m willing to bet you’d believe the latter. And rightly so. Because even if certain individual feminists have problematic views, there is nothing in feminism that conflicts with workers’ rights. On the contrary, if you look at the work of Margaret Kimberly, Barbara Smith or Eleanor Goldfield, you see that rather than being opposed, these two movements are intrinsically linked. To the point where one cannot function without the other.
I don’t know what was said to Charlie. It’s very possible that someone crossed a line. I’ve also argued many times that cruelty is not good activism. But I’m not writing this article for Charlie. I’m writing it for Dave. Because I used to be Dave, constantly waggling my finger at other leftists, lecturing them on their “aggressive” behaviour. And I’ve stopped doing that because I’ve come to realize that the only thing I accomplished for my trouble was tone policing poor people.
The Charlies of this world will never commit to economic justice. They just don’t believe in it. It doesn’t matter how well behaved we are. Or how committed to other causes. If the Left cancelled Vaush tomorrow — and let’s get on with that, shall we — the Charlies of this world would find some other excuse.
We should oppose racism, sexism transphobia and all the other forms of bigotry not because they discourage new recruits, not because they present bad optics but because it is right. There is a moral imperative to create a society in which people are not treated as second-class citizens. Likewise, there is a moral imperative to oppose capitalism. Your politics should be based on doing what is right. It’s really that simple.
It comes down to this: do you support universal healthcare or not? Do you support climate action or not? Do you support a transition to a just, sustainable economy or not? If you do, you’re a leftist.
Rich Penney is a science fiction author. You can check out his work here.