A left-punching guide for leftists
Ten rhetorical tips for destroying an entire politics.
Voice broad-brush, completely unqualified criticism of “the left”. Most people will read this literally, as a straightforward attack on the entire left project. Other people will read an implicit “not me, though” or “present company excluded” into it; but by leaving that unsaid, you’ll teach them to dissociate with “the left” and everyone who identifies with it. They’ll just take for granted that references to the left aren’t addressed to them.
You should be able to get away with this on a regular basis without much trouble. If someone calls you on it you can always just plea that you were being a little sloppy and that your critics are being pedantic. Another trick is to insist that you really just meant “the left” is some kind of abstract or big-picture sense, but with no implications for any particular leftist. That’s not how collective nouns work in the English language, but at this point your objection will be too technical for anyone to care.
Criticize leftists as “the US left” on behalf of “the international left”. You don’t need to live outside of the United States to do this, or have any familiarity whatsoever with the international left. Most Americans know almost nothing about international politics, much less about international left politics; they also tend to see people outside the United States as a monolith. You should easily be able to get them to blindly accept that the international left all agrees with you on any given issue. To mix it up a little, try “the Western left” vs. “the Global South”. One fun game is to pretend that leftists abroad have a passionate consensus about niche domestic issues in the US that they can’t possibly care about; insist that the sub-Saharan left has strong opinions about Vaush’s recent criticism of South Park and dare anyone to call you on it.
Same move works with comparisons of the contemporary left to “the old left.” One recurring line, for example, is to insist that the old left always supported absolutist free speech legalism, and that it’s only in recent years that contemporary leftists have betrayed that position. Say that and a whole lot of people who have no memory of communism or of egalitarian critiques of hate speech will believe you. You can completely reverse history this way; pretend that leftists unanimously agreed with libertarian defenses of Citizens United as a defense of free speech and you’ll find plenty of libertarians to say “yeah, I remember that. What happened?”
Add a qualifier to “the left” that obviously implicates you in your own criticism. If you’re a member of the media, complain about “the media left”; if you live in Brooklyn, complain about “the Brooklyn left”; if you have a laptop, complain about “the laptop left.” Why? Because people will naturally conclude that the qualifier is meaningless since you obviously are not criticizing yourself. They’ll just parse whatever you say in the exact same way as they parse rhetoric (1) — as an in-general “not me, though” broadside against the entire left.
Use “the left” interchangeably with “the Squad” or “Democrats”. Nevermind that criticism of both is entirely mainstream among the anticapitalist left and that the antileft left has yet to voice any radical critique of Democrats that you couldn’t have found on Chapo or among the DSA rank-and-file for years. Democrats absolutely love it when you equate them with the left and Republicans do too, albeit for different reasons, so you’ll rarely get any pushback on this line.
Constantly remind people that “left” is “just a label”. Yes, all nouns are “labels” in a sense, and no, this does not actually nullify their value as ways to refer to things and concepts with coherence and consistently. But by exclusively pointing out that this is also true of “left”, you may be able to get some people who don’t understand how language works to believe that leftism is somehow uniquely “fake” or that people only care about the word itself and not the politics that they are using the word to refer to.
Shift between two positions on what “left” means, depending on whether you are playing offense or defense. When you are on offense, use rhetorical moves like (1), (2), and (3) to suggest that there is some kind of true authentic left that people with good politics align with, and that the people who you are criticizing simply don’t qualify as. But if someone suggests that you or one of your allies are not on the left, insist that “left” is “just a label” and that only blinkered sectarians would care if anyone qualifies. By selectively switching between these two positions, you can set position yourself as a de facto authority on what leftism is while denouncing any disagreement on this point as frivolous and semantic.
Avoid calling yourself a leftist, but highlight when other people do it. If you’re doing media and you know that you are going to be framed as some kind of dissident leftist, don’t explicitly endorse that framing — but avoid challenging it and constantly hype it. If someone defends you as a true leftist, draw attention to it but don’t actually confirm it. The goal is to give everyone the impression that you are on the left and self-identify this way without actually cornering yourself into that position.
Defend all of your attacks on “the left” as “self-criticism”, even though you are not actually attacking yourself or people you are aligned with. Pat yourself on the back for the bravery and responsibility and self-consciousness it took to for you to rail at (say) the Southern Poverty Law Center — even though you’ve openly been at war with it for years, and even though you have every social, professional, and political incentive to attack them. Simply by calling yourself “left”, you can instantly transform any attack on the left into noble self-criticism.
ONLY write your “Why I left the left” piece at absolute last resort. That will be your big cash-in moment where you get to trade years of calling yourself a leftist for a week or so of right-wing promotion and a surge in subscribers; but once that’s over, you’re stuck in the “right critics of the left” market, competing for attention with every other right-wing critic of the left in the universe, and there’ll be no going back.
So milk the anti-leftist left position for as long as you can get away with it. This may seem like a hard façade to keep up for long, but so many leftists are embarrassed about their own politics, and eager to prove their heterodox dissident bona fides, that it can often take years for them to finally realize what you’re doing.
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