In thinking about today’s left, albeit broadly defined, it strikes me that it is different from its counterpart in the sixties in important ways. Here are a few that come to mind. First of all, most people in any expansive rendering of the left aren’t organizationally attached to one or another socialist organization. They aren’t footloose by any means, but their thinking and actions don’t stem from a single organizational source.
They also proceed less on the basis of an articulated and systematic worldview and more on the ground of their deeply felt opposition to injustice and inequality at the level of values, policy, and experience.
Moreover, the contemporary left, unlike a considerable section of the sixties’s left, is more willing to engage in electoral politics, including within the Democratic Party, and in presidential politics. Such participation isn’t considered, as it was in the sixties and after, a fool’s errand and the burial ground of its radicalism. Few people on the left, for example, are sitting out next year’s election or lending their energy to any chimerical and diversionary third party presidential candidates or only in the game if their favored candidate wins the nomination.
The 21st century left’s understanding of the shape shifting role of race, gender, and sexuality in politics, culture, and society is on a deeper level too, even if the transforming power of 2nd wave feminism still goes unappreciated.
Today’s left isn’t wedded to the notion of a single revolutionary subject either, as we were in the sixties. It’s agent of change rests more on a host of social constituencies, with no one constituency assigned the vanguard role before the battle is joined.
Finally, this broadly constructed left embraces a socialism that draws more from social democracy and a commitment to deep going democratization and equality than one or another model of 20th or 21st century socialism.