A Statement of Principles

Is the left mainly a bunch of censorship-happy, empire-supporting, virtue-signaling clowns?  Or is that just the impression we get from social media?

What gets called “the left” in US society, and others, is a contradictory and confusing phenomenon.  People who identify their political orientation with words like anarchism, communism, socialism, social democracy, may support exclusive and even authoritarian policies and organizing tactics, while others identifying with supposedly the same ideologies engage in inclusive forms of organizing and support things like open discourse and free expression.

What gets called “the left” may include people involved with organizing workers, tenants, or members of other communities of people to stand up against the nefarious plans of the capitalists.  But it also will tend to include a lot of people engaged in grandstanding, showboating, virtue-signaling, and cancellation campaigning on corporate social media platforms.

Who are the people that believe in and are maybe even engaged in effective organizing, and who are the ones throwing virtual bombs into every space where such organizing is trying to happen?  The corporate advertisers and political dividers know who we all are, but we don’t know each other.

If you agree with the basic orientation represented by the 10 no-brainer points below and you’d like to put your name to a public statement to that effect, email me at david@davidrovics.com with your name and any other relevant info to put along with it, such as your occupation, or organization you may represent.  When we’ve got a good collection of names we’ll add them to this statement and publish it in other places.

In case it’s not abundantly obvious already, if you have come to agree with these points only very recently and up until last month you were acting like a horrible troll on Twitter, you’re just as beautiful a human being, and we want you!

Also, if you’re generally in support of these points but have suggestions for improving the presentation or content of them, or if you have profound disagreements with any of them that you might like to tell me about in an email, I’m interested in those emails, too.

1) We embrace organizing for a purpose and reject showboating and performative virtue-signaling.  Organizing is about building networks, finding common ground, establishing common goals.  Posting about who is pure enough for you to have contact with and who isn’t has nothing to do with organizing, and much better serves the purpose of dis-organizing.

2) We embrace real justice and reject anonymous attacks intended to smear people.  Although people may commit terrible offenses and holding people accountable for their behavior may be very important, anonymous attacks, smear campaigns, and vigilante justice is a terrible way to try to seek justice or accountability, and is a perfect tool for use by nefarious actors, especially when broadly accepted by a kneejerk “believe the victim no matter what” mentality that has been instilled in much of the population.

3) We embrace diversity and we reject identitarianism.  Diversity of all kinds in society is a wonderful thing, to be celebrated, not just tolerated.  And that has nothing to do with the tokenistic Oppression Olympics that has taken over left discourse.  We must not let our diversity get used against us like this, as a tool for divide and conquer, as a means of getting us all to squabble over crumbs dropped from the tables of the billionaires.

4) We embrace free discourse and reject no-platforming.  No-platforming is a longstanding, inherently authoritarian tendency rife in certain areas of the left over the past century or so, in modern times more known by variations to the theme such as cancellation campaigning or cancel culture.  It is a sort of grassroots form of censorship, it has consistently backfired everywhere from a purely pragmatic standpoint, it’s a tactic easily exploited by nefarious actors, and it’s morally repugnant for anyone who believes in free speech.

5) We embrace free expression while rejecting corporate control.  Freedom of speech is not some bourgeois idea that we should throw out along with imperialism.  Freedom of speech is a radical concept that we embrace as the thing that is obviously preferable to the alternative (censorship).  We don’t want to kick anyone off of any platform for having the wrong opinions.  But this is not an endorsement of Big Tech or their plans for world domination!  Their monopolistic practices and conflict-producing algorithms need to be exposed and opposed — but not by making the whole situation worse by calling for people or outlets to be banned from platforms.

6) We embrace being the media and reject censorship campaigns.  The fact that a handful of gigantic corporations control our means of communication and most of the news we consume is a terrifying fact.  We need to do a lot about that, by taking on these corporations and the governments that facilitate them in all kinds of ways — but not by passing laws allowing governments to censor or throttle content on social media platforms or anywhere else on the internet.

7) We embrace finding common ground and reject efforts to polarize, divide, and cancel.  The main point in talking about things that divide us is not to make some people feel guilty and others feel virtuous.  The point is to find ways to work together to achieve common goals despite these divides, and perhaps even to overcome these divides in that process.  This is very different from forming sub-groups within sub-groups in order to further highlight divisions within divisions, for no apparent purpose aside from claiming some amorphous form of higher ground.

8) We embrace communication and education and reject harassment, vilification, doxxing and other personal attacks.  Nobody learns from being attacked and harassed.  In fact, attacking and harassing people tends to just make them angry, and cause them to become more entrenched in their feelings or positions.  How did the notion become so widespread that harassing and vilifying rightwingers or other people you don’t like is useful in any possible way?  It’s not.  It’s the opposite, in fact.  It’s completely counter-productive.  We need to find common ground, build bridges, understand how we’re being used, not shout at each other, either online or downtown.

9) We embrace real organizing and reject word policing and other forms of elitism.  Real, effective, useful organizing means diverse people working together to achieve common goals, such as organizing a union at a workplace to collectively demand higher wages or organizing tenants into a tenant union to collectively demand lower rent.  Any such group will inherently involve people with all kinds of differences.  In order for a group to function, it can’t have some kind of vetting process where anyone getting involved has to know all the right vocabulary words to use in order not to offend the modern liberal.  This is not the way forward.  Popular education does not occur in the process of calling people out for using the wrong pronoun or acronym.

10) We embrace differences of viewpoints and reject ostracizing people who don’t share ours.  Yes, we can actually form a union with millions of people all calling for the same demands, even though they have different views on who killed Jesus, who invaded Ukraine, who should or shouldn’t get to have an abortion, whether there should ever be drag shows at their local libraries, and all kinds of other vitally important issues.  And, in fact, this kind of coalition is the only way anything useful ever happens anywhere.  Opposing such coalitions on the basis of someone or some group within it having the wrong views on something is a means of dividing and conquering unions, not a way to build anything, and not a way to win hearts and minds of all of those whose hearts and minds we — and hopefully not the capitalists and imperialists hellbent on global domination — need to win.