Thoughts on Left Forum 2008

Left Forum 2008 was last weekend and it was my first. My initial excitement about the event pretty swiftly dissolved into a general distaste that kind of caught me off guard, so I figured I’d share a few thoughts about it that surfaced while unloading with people. Still pretty fresh and underdeveloped, but significant all the same I think.

If you weren’t there or don’t know about the Left Forum, you can check it out here (www.leftforum.org) for more info. On the surface it looked awesome–well over 100 panels in two days (insane) and a ton of quality people spoke (take a look at the speaker list). the turnout was impressive too–i think the biggest participant turnout in the few years its been running.

but here’s my basic take on how the weekend went: everything was cool when I arrived late Friday afternoon. lovely to see all these people coming out for something positive, all on the same page in certain significant regards, etc. etc. then the opening panel started and it was just depressing. one looming crisis after another.  supposedly the theme was about finding cracks in the edifice for some positive change, but the pictures painted by the presentations were much more of an edifice quickly going up in flames and we (as Leftists) looking tragically for some airholes instead of a way out. 

why do we talk in this way? why do we heave this much negativity back into the atmosphere? we all know things are fucked up, but thats human existence. at the very least, the state of merely being is constant deterioration, so nothing is ever perfect and there’s always something to bitch about. why focus on the negative?

I raise this b/c we all know the problems, but to fix them doesnt take this kind of repetitive analytical precision. we focus on the negative like battle rappers focus on the negative; like someone along the line long ago just said that that was the stance to take.  this is significant i think b/c its not challenging at all to focus on the negative (in fact comforting). like, in terms of hiphop for instance, ive never heard a positive freestyle battle that was only built on compliments, but for some weak reason it sounds impossible. what is this way of framing our outlook doing to us and the movement?

so from the start of the Forum, things were kind of fucked up. sunday rolled around and 3 successive encounters solidified my overall distaste. the first was at a panel on the financial crisis.  one of the panelists said there wasnt such a thing as a fascist state. its not in existence. everyone wants to complain about police repression (fuck the police) etc, but its really just that the Left is that bad and poorly organized. in that sense, there’s nothing really to be fascist about b/c we strategically cant come together and counter it either way. i thought that was sadly on point.

right after, as I transitioned over to the closing plenary, I met this gent from a local SDS chapter. he started railing about how much religion sucked and everyone was stupid, something about supporting china in tibet, fuck the dalai lama–just all around unpleasant and disastrous.  as a blanket generalization of why some may think the left sucks and is largely incompetent, this gentleman was strike TWO: a huge strike.  as smart as the Left claims to be, knowing so much about how the world works, how does it fall down so hard on its face like this?

the third event occurred as i walked inside to the closing plenary to find a seat and was engaged by this unpleasant Marxist who was trying to get me to buy one of his papers. i said no and he started trying to pick apart my understanding of the world so he could tell me why i was wrong and why i needed to read his paper. he explained to me why black people dont like the police and how the working class is the nexus for revolution. on the second point, i said that may be true, but if this is how you approach the working class, we’re fucked.

that was strike three.

overall, all of this was really enlightening. the left spends way too much time talking, arguing, factioning off (no doubt out of varying proportions of fear, incompetence, self-doubt, etc etc), but little time is spent on doing and action-oriented/results-oriented community building. so i dont think my distaste was so much the event itself, but just the state of leftist politics.

in general, we’re pretty far off base from where we need to be in terms of how we understand working with one another; how we understand bringing more people into radical politics; how we choose to emphasize meaningless symbolism over whatever we proclaim our true principles to be; and how we understand our presence in the world. are we the ones who bitch about how bad and oppressive things are, or are we the ones who advocate and invent new ways and options to make it better?

so im tired of being depressed when i think of lefty conversation topics. theres really no reason to focus on negative stuff so much. the only one i can come up with is so we dont delude ourselves too much into thinking we can ever really iron all this shit out and change things. we give all these workshops and talks on how fucked up things are with pinpoint precision analysis, but we all know these things, so why dwell? sure theres a time and place, but it seems a bit psychotic to drench ourselves into inaction. doing is key. result-oriented doing. shave off all the excess that doesn’t work toward the overall goals. shave off all the cliquish symbolism and the comfort of perennial debating.


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