What Exactly is the Left Alliance?
An Anarcho-communist-socialist. Is it even possible for such a political animal to exist? According to the Left Alliance, the new student group on campus, the answer is yes. The group says it welcomes all members of left-leaning ideologies in the hopes of creating a united front against right-wing movements. Initially founded when former Vice President Dick Cheney was invited to speak on October 10th, 2019, the Left Alliance has had several meetings concerning income inequality, access to quality food stores, and general agitation against capitalist ideals. Regardless of what the group has done or plans to do, it is important to really understand what this group is and what it is not.
What this group is not, is a group where anarchists, communists, and socialists coexist. Philosophically and politically an anarchist is inherently opposed to socialism and the State imposed communism. The reason for this opposition is not simply because an anarchist is against the government, though that could create tension, but rather that anarchists are against coercion. To clarify, coercion is taken to mean forcing a state of being on an individual without that individual’s consent. The way socialism on a national level works is by implementing large social programs that require high taxation. Most modern anarchists view this as restricting freedom by forcing people to pay for something that they might not necessarily agree with. Even the most peaceful socialist States must have armies, prisons, and law enforcement, all of which anarchists take issue with. Peter Kropotkin, a prevalent Russian scientist and anarchist from the 19th and 20th centuries, rejected the idea that welfare programs were even necessary. Famous for creating the concept of Mutual Aid in which individuals are inherently predisposed to help each other, he believed that people would freely work to improve their communities. To support this Kropotkin cited how humanity has evolved by cooperating rather than competing with itself. Likewise, other renowned anarchists such as Michael Bakunin, Kōtoku Shūsui, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Leo Tolstoy, and others have rejected the notion that government is needed to create a better society. In fact, they claim that government is the hindrance to that society.
In that vein, anarchists are also inherently against State-imposed communism. Though anarcho-communists do exist, they believe that individuals will voluntarily form communities or communes that have no hierarchical structure. Ursula Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed” goes into great detail about what such a society would look like in a sci-fi style novel that you should really take a look at if you’re interested. State-imposed communism though is not a society that anarcho-communists desire. The problem of coercion is still there and, in their view, prohibits people from being truly free. Emma Goldman, who was deported to the Soviet Union from the United States and had firsthand experience with the Bolshevik revolution, nearly left the movement because of how coercive the State was being to its citizens. Though it is not impossible for an anarchist to justify their participation in an organization that holds statist views, it is extremely difficult. Kropotkin was part of a reformist, statist group in Moscow and justified his membership as a way to remove the Czarist government at the time while Goldman justified her belief in Communism as a way to show the failures of capitalism. It is hard to imagine that any anarchist in the Left Alliance has similarly ambitious justifications.
So, no anarchist that prescribes to the already understood branches of the movement can logically be a part of the Left Alliance because it is inherently against anarchism’s core beliefs. That does not mean that anarchists cannot support aspects of the group’s goals. The saying “No enemies to the Left” comes to mind. Though an anarchist cannot fully support a statist movement, they can support the aspects of the movement they agree with. Perhaps that is the anti-capitalist agitation, the focus on equality, or just as a check to rising right-wing activism.
So, if this group is not a group of anarchists, socialists, and communists then what is it? Perhaps the best answer, though complicated, is that it is a group of progressive liberals, or at least a group of left-leaning, statist individuals. These people clearly believe that the State is needed and that the type of government that is required is one that values the equity.
The Left Alliance’s attempts to create a united Left are understandable. There are strengths in creating a group of varied leftist individuals. The first being the strength in numbers. By opening the door to individuals of more than one ideology the group has more hands to work with, making large scale tasks easier to complete. Another strength is that there is a higher level of conversation happening regarding policy and decisions. The blindspots of one group can be made up for by another so that group discussions are deeper and more meaningful. Whether or not this is actually happening is unclear.
However, there are also some clear disadvantages as well. For starters, by inviting people with different beliefs there is the risk of inherent conflict. One faction might find a stance the other is taking too extreme to tolerate and leave outright. This type of reaction means that no faction can truly explore its beliefs to the fullest. In this sense, the Left Alliance is essentially watering down each group’s ideas to come to a common consensus. By moderating their views they are taking away from the very power that made them a serious force in the first place. This universalist belief that all leftist ideologies are the same, or at least very similar, robs each faction of their uniqueness and value. Most socialists are reformers and would be against directly overthrowing the current system while most communists would like the opposite. The second disadvantage is that students not in the group will have a hard time really understanding what the group stands for. The ambiguity causes confusion and perhaps even disinterest that categorically hurts the Left Alliance. When a political group or movement does not have a clear, defined ideology it loses support from all sides.
In an attempt to demystify the ambiguity of the group, The Round Table interviewed a member of the Left Alliance, Nate Lemke’22, about its mission statement where they informed us that “Left Alliance doesn’t have an official mission statement, but we organized around the ideals of worker self-determination, social and economic justice, and direct action in response to the problems facing the community and the world.” Though the group organizes around the core principle of “direct action” in order to promote “social and economic justice”, the lack of a mission statement is an issue worthy of being addressed. The mission statement for an organization, in a way, is similar to a thesis of a paper—without a clear thesis, the paper is, more times than not, messy. In the case of Left Alliance, the group is: at risk of being misunderstood by non-members, susceptible to being used as an example by right-wing agendas, and faces greater risks of lacking productivity all because it lacks a clear mission statement. If the group hopes to exist well beyond its current collection of members, it would benefit from an organizational thesis, so to speak.
In order for the Left Alliance to be successful and have a meaningful impact in the community, it must come to some conclusion as to what it is and understand that no anarchist is among their ranks. It might sound nice on the poster but out of pragmatism and ethics alone, no anarchist should be a member. If one is involved and has a justification, that would be very interesting and enlightening to hear. That would perhaps strengthen their position in a meaningful way. The Left Alliance must also show that they are active. Posters alone do not make a political movement. Though they did protest during Cheney’s talk, there has been very little activity since then.
There was mention of helping low-income families after the Save-A-Lot closure earlier in the semester but has anything actually happened? If something has, it was not made public enough as many students simply don’t know. The Round Table was able to discover in an interview where The Left Alliance stated that “[Left Alliance] organized a small food drive with the Caritas food bank in town and are working to restart a food reclamation system with Commons, which is still a work in progress.” In other words, the group has apparently done a small-scale successful food drive and is working toward other goals that would benefit the Beloit community. Perhaps Left Alliance would benefit from an assigned public relations member that reports on these success stories rather than merely spamming “Socialism is the Cure” on posters, (which are lacking any additional information, meeting time, and seem to violate the notion that the group is a unity of anarchism, communism, and socialism). Lemke stated, The Left Alliance “[doesn’t] have any officers” and that the group “organizes everything horizontally.” Though they are quite forward-thinking in splitting up the responsibilities between everyone, the group again faces the issue of visibility. If they truly wish to gain members and become a worthwhile movement they need at least a spokesperson or an agreed message to help create an image for the group in the public sphere. Without a hierarchical structure or some kind of focal purpose, the group risks losing potential members that would have joined if they just understood what the group was doing. It is going to be a tough challenge to effectively run the Left Alliance with a horizontal structure because it forces the group into uncharted waters so to speak. It is fantastic to see the group’s commitment to Social Justice in its organization, hierarchical structures are a common thread in unequal societies, but it will have to innovate how a horizontal system works.
For a political group on campus, Left Alliance succeeds where YAF does not, namely in public service. Though YAF has brought a few acclaimed right-wing speakers to campus to “[ensure] that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values” as their mission statement reads and are not explicitly about public service, they have done little to nothing outside of bringing speakers to campus. It might do wonders for YAF’s public relations if they were to do public service like Left Alliance and it would be a display of one part of their mission statement, (being traditional values). On the contrary, it might be of interest to the left-leaning students on campus if Left Alliance were to invite acclaimed left-wing speakers as YAF does for the right-wing.
In conclusion, the Left Alliance is an interesting case study because it is attempting to mix beliefs that otherwise would not. There have been several large movements in history that attempted to do the same, we are specifically thinking about the Spanish Revolution in 1936 where communists, socialists, and yes even anarchists fought as a united force. Unfortunately, internal divisions between the factions caused conflict that led to the virtual destruction of the anarchist group. From experience alone, we cannot tell if this current iteration of the movement at Beloit will be successful. Whether something impactful comes from this Left Alliance or just a bunch of meaningless noise. As the monumental Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put, “there is power in numbers and there is power in unity.” His quote bears striking relevance for Left Alliance’s main strength, being numbers, and should serve as a reminder that if the group is not coherently unified with a plan that is inclusive of the listed ideologies, then the power in numbers is wasted. If you are interested in seeing what the group is about for yourself, they meet in the science center room 150 at 7 pm on Sundays.