Anarchism or Socialism? The Adbusters debate

Brian James hillbily at
Fri Mar 23 14:56:30 MST 2001

Since Adbusters has been added to the Marx Mail links section I thought
it might be worth pondering just what their politics are. Apparently,
they are decidedly *not* leftist.

In the Summer 1999 issue (#26) they published a piece titled "The New
Activism" which presented a manifesto, all in negative terms ("we are
not"), for the "Culture Jammers" movement.

In the usual supershallow, infantile ad-speak that is the language of
Adbusters founder Kalle Lasn, it declares "We are not Lefties." (see below)

I recall that Edward Herman of Z responded to this piece with an
eloquent justification for the leftish magazines dissed in the article
on the grounds that they provide an analysis without which the activist
community could not function, which in turn was treated with more
infantile mockery and scorn by Lasn.

Adbusters' so-called anarchism (thoroughly petty bourgeois) is telling
in itself, but I'm most suspicious of any group that describes itself as
"neither left nor right but forward." I've also noticed that every issue
since 1999 has a big thank you to The Deep Ecology Foundation in the
staff section. No wonder they're anti-left.

Brian James


[The left...]

It has become tired, self-satisfied and dogmatic. (I think of Allen
Ginsberg, who found that his mother’s simplistic left-wing views left
him suspicious of both sides). Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the left was
visionary and fearless. Today the fire in its belly has gone out. It
isn’t getting the job done.

What happened?

Certainly, the collapse of the Soviet empire undermined the Left’s whole
philosophical base. Government control, central planning, public
ownership (and by extension the welfare state and social democracy) were
all shown to be fundamentally flawed. Today, nations are purging these
ideological remnants and adopting free-market philosophies. Those
philosophies are also seriously flawed, but they are far better than
centralized government control of every aspect of economic life. When I
saw the wholesale ecological devastation that the Communist era had left
behind, I stopped calling myself a Lefty right then and there.

But old Lefties die hard.

We find in The Nation, Mother Jones, Z, This, Extra, The Multinational
Monitor and dozens of Left-sprung books, magazines and newsletters, the
same old authors repeating the same old ideas of yesteryear. It isn’t
that many of these writers aren’t fine journalists, or don’t have a
solid grasp of the issues. It’s just that they lack passion. There’s
something drab and predictable about them. They feel like losers.

Many of the Left’s great inspirational voices – Lasch, Berger,
Heilbroner, Galbraith – have died or are in extremis. The vacuum has
been filled by tenured professors, TV pundits and self-proclaimed
champions of oppositional culture. I’ve had dealings with many of these
people. They no longer pine for real change. For them fundamental change
is just a utopian dream, and if it suddenly happened they wouldn’t know
what to do with it. They’re content to give another speech at another
symposium, or write yet another humorless article ridiculing the far
right. Left activists, even some of the best, have been reduced to the
level of little kids throwing snowballs at passing cars.

Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham is the quintessential liberal Lefty. Every
month he passionately and often eloquently dissects the moral state of
the union. But when Adbusters challenged him on the ethics of running
tobacco advertisements in his own magazine, he steadfastly refused to be
drawn into the debate. For years he stonewalled our letters, phone calls
and entreaties and played a cat-and-mouse game with us in the media. He
couldn’t face up to a moral indignity in his own yard.

The liberal Left has a way of co-opting every worthwhile cause. In the
past few decades, it has hung its flag on the black movement, the
women’s movement and the environmental movement. It has muscled in on
every major struggle and social protest of the past half century. But no
longer are Lefties fighting the problem, they are the problem. If we’re
going to build an effective new social movement, we’re going to have to
work not with them, but around them.

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