What is the Post Left?
They're an internet clique waiting on a check.
I’ve held off from writing this for a while, but since I’m asked about it so frequently — and since some journalists are confused about the matter — I suppose that I ought to sketch out what some of us have in mind when we refer to “the Post Left.” Three basic criteria:
1) They rhetorically align themselves with Marx. This doesn’t mean that they are actually operating within the framework of Marxism as understood by Marxists for nearly two centuries: on the contrary, their analysis departs from orthodox Marxism on a regular basis. And sometimes they’ll acknowledge this. But in sharp contrast to various “right populist” and “independent” pundits who position themselves against Marx, Post Leftists typically position themselves as sympathetic — or even as the only true Marxists.
2) Their politics are overtly anti-left, and often overtly (or de facto) Republican. The Post Left is openly hostile to various factions that they lump together as “the left” — not just Democrats and liberals, but radical groups like anarchists and socialists as well. Rhetorically they adopt the bog-standard positioning of the self-identified independent: they are uniquely free-thinking equal-opportunity offenders who operate outside of ideological / partisan boundaries. But like most self-identified independents, their actual ideological, political, and even cultural commitments map quite clearly onto the usual camps and divisions.
3) They are a social clique and customer base that has coalesced around promoting a small network of media ventures. In particular, we are talking about publications like The Bellows, podcasts like What’s Left and Good Ol Boyz, and figures like Angela Nagle. There’s nothing scandalous about this — actively promoting media ventures and figures that you like is the most ordinary thing in the world. So are arrangements, formal or implicit, where media figures and outlets promote each other with the understanding that they will be promoted in turn. This can mean anything from signal boosting to collaboration to reciprocal guest appearances to routine praise and defense.
The Post Left is often in denial about this, in part because a lot of their media criticism often turns on allegations of cliquishness and careerism — but it’s just plainly the case that these people are constantly engaged in a project of incestuous interpromotion. And some of them are in fact quite conscious, deliberate, and disciplined about this, particularly in backchannels.
To place this in a broader context: the red scare taboos that effectively exiled the Marxist tradition from American discourse have significantly eroded in recent years. Consequentially, while the two parties of capital remain overwhelmingly hostile towards Marxist thought, they have nevertheless gained a marginal stake in pandering — at least superficially — to voters who are sympathetic to it. This is why we have what socialists often call “sheepdog” media: a small boutique market of figures and publications who, speaking the language of Marxism, often play the role of herding people back into the Democratic Party.
For obvious historical and cultural reasons, we still do not have a similar industry of Republican sheepdogs. The base of voters and customers it would pander to is just too microscopic. There is, however, a significant market for “right populists” who are willing to say nice things about blue collar workers, complain about elites, and inevitably sigh that it turns out Republicans are the lesser-evil once again. And there is also, of course, a handful of activist oligarchs who are happy to pour insane amounts of dark money into media operations that microtarget niches like this. We saw this with astroturf groups like The Tea Party, and we see it today in media projects like The Federalist and American Affairs.
These oligarchs and their “right populist” operations have been exerting their gravity on the Post Left. Their apparatchiks have already begun using their dark-money funded platforms to host and promote them. And the Post Left — particularly those with media ventures — have eagerly returned the favor, showering figures from Tucker Carlson to Chris Buskirk with constant promotion and praise. Too reactionary for left media and too mediocre for the right, the Post Left is camped out in the uncompetitive niche market of Republican Marxism, pandering to the right populists for scraps of clout and patiently hoping for a sponsor to call their own.
For now, this is more of an annoyance for socialists than a significant threat. But if any of the oligarchs ever decide to write an impulsive check, the US’s chronically pinched Marxists are going to have a fight on our hands.