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May Day Question: Whither the Far Left?

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May Day is celebrated for all sorts of things: young ladies dancing around May poles; the famous, frantic call for help (as in "May Day! May Day!" by actors in adventure movies); the anniversary of the 1962 U2 incident (in which an American spy plane was shot down over the former Soviet Union); and the high holiday of the political left.

At one time organized labor put on big May Day parades, with socialists, communists, far-our radicals, and other such folks participating. Everyone shouted, "Workers of the world, unite!," and generally a good proletarian time was had by all.

Which brings us, on this particular May Day, to a question: Whatever happened to the far left? It has disappeared. It is as dead as the proverbial dodo.

For those who were a part of it, the far left was a way of life. It had its changeless fixations: All employers were oppressive, all workers downtrodden. Republican office-holders, Southern sheriffs, and members of veterans organizations were fascist beasts. Movies and radio programs were part of a plot to brainwash "The People."

The far left had a pantheon of heroes: Joe Hill, a Swedish-born labor organizer, executed for murder; Big Bill Haywood, leader of the Industrial Workers of the World; Marx, Lenin, Stalin.

Political groupings are produced by the conditions of their times. The far left was born in the final decades of the 19th century. Poor farmers joined with organized labor in 1892 to form the Populist Party. There was a cruel gap between the fortunes of the establishment - banks and industrialists - and the working population. The worst injustices were mostly corrected over the next five decades by the Progressive movement and the New Deal. The far left lingered and finally fizzled out in the early 1950s.

The present age is conservative. Its torch is the far right, which isn't a culture in the way the far left was. The far left was indignant; the far right is enraged, regarding liberals as un-Christian, un-American subversives. The far right was born of the effort of conservative politics to change some of the excesses of the Progressive, New Deal, and post-New Deal years - including an immense federal government, an overly programmatic approach to poverty, and the Supreme Court's legitimizing of abortion and efforts to control guns.

The far left would doubtless look upon today's orthodox conservatives as humanity-hating ghouls. But the far left is gone.

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