From Hobson's Choice
A section of the political left that calls for violent overthrow of the state, and shuns participation in parliamentary democracy. The two main tendencies of the hard left are Communism and Anarchism, although there are many Communist parties that contest elections anyway; such parties may have abandoned hard left ideology.
Anarcho-Capitalism is not, obviously, in any sense a leftwing ideology.
Frequently radicals are led by experience and frustration to conclude that there is no hope in pursuit of power through democratic means. There are several lines of reasoning for this:
- The political system is a sucker bet, not a democracy; participation only legitimizes the ruling oligarchy;
- The consequences of existing misrule are too dire for gradual change (e.g., the republic's leaders are planning a war of choice);
- A substantial proportion of the electorate are not legitimate participants, for several possible reasons.
As a form of ultra-populism, (1) has an automatic appeal. True democracy is severely problematic, even under ideal conditions (discussion); and ideal conditions are rare. This very rareness of unimpeachable democratic credentials is, however, a sword that cuts both ways: violent opposition to the state usually requires profound indignation with the existing authorities, not grim resignation at the inevitability of disappointment in democracy. As a result, (1) is often hinted at by hard left literature in order to draw in recruits; reasons (2) and (3) are usually brought up after the recruit has developed a sense of solidarity with the revolution-to-be. However, among some organizations, the indirectness of political participation in a republic seems to be clear evidence of bad faith. Political reform to establish true democracy, in this case, might well mean reforming the attitudes of participants.
Reason (2) is usually related to direct action (i.e., sabotage or disruption on behalf of a very specific motive). It is more likely to be implied that specified: the authorities may be authentically democratic, they may not be, but the point is that they're going to do something irreversible and horrible because public accountability has failed. An example of this is the environmental movement Earth First!, which used physical interference against logging to protect wilderness areas. The members of Earth First! later developed a political philosophy based on (3), but initially appear to have been responding to an urgent risk of depredation. Opposition to nuclear weapons research or deployment likewise tended to frame its actions as an urgent response to a looming crisis, and only later develop a political philosophy more akin to (1) or (3).
Reason (3) for hard left response to political challenges is somewhat nuanced. First, the concept of a democratic solution may be unsatisfactory. The case of environmentalism is a compelling one because there are objectively unacceptable decisions that a democracy can make. A modern industrial state often "cheats" by inflicting huge externalities on other societies, so that democracy inside a typical first world nation merely consists of the ability of that nation's electorate to impose its will on weaker states. In other words, democracy is a sham in the first world because it has too few participants.
But in the case of movements for national liberation, or radical feminism, the opposite objection obtains. Here, the problem with democratic decisions is that they usually include voting by people who don't bear the consequences of their actions. Radical feminists object to institutions that are patriarchal, but which (presumably) survive because they're more convenient to tolerate than to tear down (e.g., the existing entertainment industry or educational systems). While a radical feminist might acknowledge that (say) the existing legal system has democratic support among a majority of adults, it probably doesn't have such support among a majority of adult women; or it wouldn't, if women had the same prospects of deliberation on the matter that past generations of men actually did have. But, since maleness implies privilege, it follows the legal system affects women more; the legal system is used to maintain a system of patriarchal rule over women, in which democratic inertia merely serves men. Therefore, the problem with democratic procedure is that it gives male beneficiaries too much weight in the decision process. Rights are intended to solve problems of this kind (by affording automatic protection to those who are disproportionately affected by state action), but this particular example rights actually make the problem worse (since the problem is strengthened by state inaction).
- ↑ Catharine A. MacKinnon, "Feminism, Marxism, method and the state: an Agenda for Theory" , Signs, Vol. 7, No. 3. (Spring, 1982), pp. 515-544. MacKinnon analogizes heterosexuality to capitalism (516) and generalizes that Marxism and [radical] feminism are inherently at odds (517 & 518).
- ↑ Red Sonja "The Precarious Union of Anarchism and Feminism," NEFAC-Boston (25 Oct 2002).
- ↑ This article refers a lot to Earth First! as a prototypical hard left organization, something that its members would probably dispute. For this essay, I've tried to represent fairly the opinions expressed in the Earth First! Journal; one essay I thought was especially thoughtful and candid was Peter Maclean, "Doing it Different Down Under: a Report from Earth First Australia" (Jan 2008). Maclean was mostly interested in the logistical hurdles to an ecologically sustainable way of life, but I was interested in noting that he seems to regard even idealized democracy as excessively coercive:
...Groups working by consensus are by nature very conservative. This doesn’t suit those who are used to “democracy,” the basis of which is that any six people can shove their own views down the throats of any four others at the drop of a hat. Cult of personality also plays as much a part in democratic process as philosophy or fact. Under consensus, however, a lot more work is needed to understand the objections and to address the concerns of those opposed to an issue.To me, this sounds like Maclean's community attempts to outperform democracy by compelling its members to work harder at negotiation and non-arbitrary resolution.
- ↑ The possibility of women being able to deliberate as a group on the fairness of the legal system, without being constrained by men's preferences, is utopian fantasy; so most women tend to form their opinions based on the presumption that the system we have will persist.