Since this issue of RS was seen by almost no one, we're taking the liberty of posting it. Reactions are highly welcome; send here. This is the version we originally submitted; the language was softened some by the editors in the published version.

 

Radical Society - debut issue

"Action Will Be Taken":
Left Anti-intellectualism and Its Discontents

Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, and Christian Parenti

 

"We can't get bogged down in analysis," one activist told us at an anti-war rally in New York last fall, spitting out that last word like a hairball. He could have relaxed his vigilance. This event deftly avoided such bogs, loudly opposing the U.S. bombing in Afghanistan without offering any credible ideas about it (we're not counting the notion that the entire escapade was driven by Unocal and Lockheed Martin, the "analysis" advanced by many speakers). But the moment called for doing something more than brandishing the exact same signs - "Stop the Bombing" and "No War for Oil" - that activists poked skywards during the Gulf War. This latest war called for some thinking, and few were doing much of that.

So what is the ideology of the activist left (and by that we mean the global justice, peace, media democracy, community organizing, financial populist, and green movements)? Socialist? Mostly not - too state-phobic. Some actvisits are anarchists - but mainly out of temperamental reflex, not rigorous thought. Others are liberals - though most are too confrontational and too skeptical about the system to embrace that label. And many others profess no ideology at all. So over all is the activist left just an inchoate, "post-ideological" mass of do-gooders, pragmatists and puppeteers?

No. The young troublemakers of today do have an ideology and it is as deeply felt and intellectually totalizing as any of the great belief systems of yore. The cadres who populate those endless meetings, who bang the drum, who lead the "trainings" and paint the puppets, do indeed have a creed. They are Activismists.

That's right, Activismists. This brave new ideology combines the political illiteracy of hyper-mediated American culture with all the moral zeal of a nineteenth century temperance crusade. In this worldview, all roads lead to more activism and more activists. And the one who acts is righteous. The activistists seem to borrow their philosophy from the factory boss in a Heinrich Böll short story who greets his employees each morning with the exhortation