Tikkun Magazine

Prospects for a Resurgence of the U.S. Left

Illustration by Dave Cutler.

How can we build solidarity without erasing difference? Might a coalition against neoliberalism and environmental degradation be a starting place? Credit: Dave Cutler. (davecutlerstudio.com)

The United States has no coherent, effective Left.

Over the last four decades, since the movements of the sixties and seventies went into decline, the problem of the degradation of the environment has reached a level that threatens the existence of humans and other species on the planet. The neoliberal form of capitalism that has taken hold globally has caused the gap between the wealth and power of those at the top and the rest of us to widen dramatically, undermining the quality of life of the majority and threatening the public arena itself. Despite the depth of the economic crisis of 2008, there is no substantial movement for the abandonment of neoliberalism, the regulation of industry, or the creation of a more egalitarian economy. The environmental movement has grown, but not to the point of having the capacity to reverse environmental degradation. There are undoubtedly more people and projects devoted to economic and social justice—and to environmental sustainability—than there were in the sixties and seventies. The problem has to do with collective impact. No movements of the Left have emerged capable of making a real difference in the conditions that we face. Why is this? And what can be done about it?

A Fatalistic Approach to Gradual Crises

The weakness of the Left is partly due to the fact that these problems have come upon us gradually, allowing us to accommodate ourselves to them. The widening of the gap in wealth and power has been for the most part incremental; it is only in retrospect that one can see how dramatic the effect has been. The same is true of the working day, which has been lengthened, for most people, bit by bit, but at no point by enough to lead to a widespread revolt. Something similar could be said about the environment. Environmental crises for the most part take place somewhere other than where one lives. Such crises are increasingly severe and increasingly common, and there is widespread awareness that at some point in the future we are all likely to be directly affected. But a future crisis does not have the mobilizing capacity of a crisis that confronts one in the present. Most people, including those who are aware of the depths of these problems, go about their business, doing what they—we—have always done, though with increasing apprehension about the future.

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Barbara Epstein is recently retired from UC Santa Cruz. Her most recent book is The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943: Jewish Resistance and Soviet Internationalism (UC Press). She is now working on a book on socialist humanism.

Source Citation

Epstein, Barbara. 2014. Prospects for a Resurgence of the U.S. Left. Tikkun 29(2):41.

tags: Politics & Society, US Politics