Limitations of Liberalism

Mikhail Tillman, Rise! Magazine

The force behind the democratic idea comes from the maxim that those effected by a decision ought to be the same ones to make it. In mainstream political thought the idea is never outright rejected. Even the most regressive political party, if it wishes to survive in a capitalist democracy, must pay lip service to it. In reality, for all of the liberal rhetoric to the contrary, they believe in a competing maxim. They believe that the powerful do as the wish, and the weak do as they must. Liberalism is weak on all fronts except for it’s very core. It will bend in any direction, but remains firm in it’s defense of the powers that be. It seems progressive, but moves whichever way the wind blows. They champion a few issues in the public interest as a show. They throw concessions like so many crumbs to the birds. Like birds we’re expected to gather at their feet and gratefully peck at the ground. The liberal strain shirks away from any organized attempt to change the way the system works. They cannot see the difference between sober judgment and refusal to act. They eschew the conclusions of the left without engaging, painting with a wide brush any commitment to change. They paint all passion as mania and all conclusions as fundamentalism. The only benefit of this slow and fruitless deliberation is to invigorate the forces of regression. When they crumble with crisis, out of the ruins emerges the far-right, ready to rebuild society in their own warped image. The only response to a crumbling society and a threat to democracy is mass popular action. We can’t rely on the system to correct itself, if we want the system to serve us, we need to craft it ourselves.

The center is held up as a perfect synthesis of all shades of political opinion. It’s thought that while others cling with tooth and nail to their ideologies, that the centrist has transcended ideology. The only position they have is the position of the public, and they arrive at the public good by throwing ideas of all sorts into the blender and drinking whatever foul mix comes out. Liberals like to think of themselves as a mixture between the, in their eyes, equally dangerous ideas of the right-wing and the left. They see the political spectrum as a horseshoe, their favorite illustrative tool. The theory goes something like this: the far-right regimes in Germany and Italy were totalitarian machines just like the alleged far-left regimes in Russia and China. Both types of societies were enemies of free expression and representational government. It’s inconceivable to them that the name might not reflect the reality. It’s a kind of preschool conception of politics that relies on the assumption that if a regime says they’re communist or socialist, then it must be true. Much in the same way as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea must be democratic because it’s right there in the name. You might be curious as to what their idea of left and right is. You can ask them, but they don’t have a clear understanding themselves. Somehow, in their minds, the left becomes more liberating and democratic the further one goes, until a disastrous and mysterious point where things go off the rails and become a totalitarian nightmare. It might be useful for the liberal to explain how a progressive left-wing democracy like, for example, Norway, would suddenly turn into a Stalinist hellscape from a nudge leftward. It’s simply a tool to legitimize inaction and passivity.


The Horseshoe spectrum claims that those on the radical right and left are similar, despite massive ideological differences.

My Best Pal, the Nazi

One problem we’re facing now has arisen out of the program of the state and organized corporate power to destroy any left opposition. When one pole of the left/right dichotomy falls, the definition of center becomes a very strange thing. It lies fixed between something and nothing.The problem with the center is that it isn’t fixed. As we move dangerously closer to the right, the center is dragged rightward as well. So now the chain has been broken and what was once the center flails wildly behind the right as it runs with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. Liberals see their position as that of a sober and serious old man settling disputes between his two children. He listens patiently to both sides and comes to a mature compromise. When one of the children questions his authority, though, his countenance changes. In spite of the unruly child, he sides with it’s sibling. While denouncing and breaking up organization of the left, they legitimize and concede to the organizations of the right. The center cannot be an oppositional force, it has the remarkable tendency to oppose whatever poses the greatest threat to the traditional power structure. When the old order collapses, like it’s in the process of doing now, the centrist liberal sides with the reaction. So the center holds. They hold the hands of the fascists while holding down the heads of the people.

So the sagacious old man of their imagination looks very different in our eyes. We see a vacillating coward. Rocking his weight first on one foot and then the other, looking at the ceiling and the floor, but never able to look anyone in the eyes. We see his angry lashing out when his cowardice is addressed, bullying the weak while his arm is twisted by the powerful. The liberal is most fearful of stating that something is either right or wrong. They lack any force or certitude with which to back up their ever-altering opinions. When confronted with making a decision on the right of a woman to get an abortion, they’ll break into their usual grandstanding before slowly trailing off in embarrassed confusion. They’ll say that no one wants more abortion, but we have to accept it as an unfortunate inevitability. When we speak about rights, we don’t speak of them as unfortunate inevitabilities, we speak of them as rights. When women fought for their right to vote, this wasn’t a negative consequence that we had to accept, it was a leap forward towards freedom. If we were to argue for rights then as they choose to now, we would never have gotten what we wanted and deserved. You don’t couch your arguments in the others terms. You don’t reach across the aisle on matters of human dignity, and if you do, you’ll be fitting your hands into their cuffs. Although the liberal politicians don’t have to worry very much about their own hands being in cuffs, at least not yet. The liberal politician stands above the liberal worker, living in the world of the rich. Their rights can’t be taken from them, because in capitalism their rights come from their pocket.

Any school of thought that claims to support democracy, if they want to have any legitimacy whatever, must address the question of economic as well as political democracy. A system where a worker is powerless to do what they wish with their work is not a democratic one. In capitalism, the economic system of liberalism, you are free to choose which capitalist or servant of capital reigns over you, but you lack even that luxury in the workplace. In the workplace we have a dictator, an absolute monarch, whose word is law and any questioning of their will results in expulsion. There are elections in corporations, and you can vote with every share of that corporation that you own. Here is capitalist democracy laid bare. Those with the most money have the most say in the affairs of the worker. If the CEO in Los Angeles decides that a river in Idaho should be polluted, that’s the end of the decision making process. If the workers refuse to destroy their communities, replacement wreckers can be easily found. If a capitalist decides to move production overseas and leave the workers behind, they’re well within their rights within a capitalist democracy. With true democracy comes the workers ability to control their own affairs. The workers would never decide to pollute their own communities for profit. The workers would never put themselves out of work in order to save a few dollars. The liberals have no problem with the fascism that already exist in the realm of economic relations. Their commitment to democratic decision making goes only as far as the class interest of the rich. It’s in the class interest of the rest of us to take it much further.

Breaking the Shackles of Centrism

Liberal politicians act as if the economic system was simply a matter of free association, that the capitalist offers a job in the marketplace, and the worker offers up their labor power. The two parties then come to an individual agreement based on their interests, and a contract is signed. The lived experience of any worker shows this idea to be farcical. That might be the high level justification, but even on the ground the rationale changes. You aren’t selling your labor power on equal terms with an employer, in fact you should be grateful that they gave you the chance to create profit for them while sustaining yourself. They point fearfully at the jobless masses in the back of their minds. They threaten with the homeless that they created, saying that you could easily be among their ranks. The right sets the stage, and the liberal agrees under their breath. Speaking not too loud and not too quiet.

The practice of liberal governments is different than the ideological positions of the individuals that make them up, but the policies are direct results of these positions. The centrist ideological position is one that flounders uselessly when confronted with any real dispute. There’s no way to synthesize democracy and fascism, and even if it was possible, what would arise isn’t something either side would want. The people will always strive for democracy, no matter the conciliation, and those that want to put us in chains will always use their added strength to take away ours. Power is a food that leaves them hungrier with every bite, and to concede power is never to satisfy, but only add to their voracious appetite. To see both sides of this argument as equally valid is for democracy to commit suicide. What happens when liberals get into power, with all their heady talk of progress and democracy, is a universal concession to those that want to step backwards. The liberal position is always one of defense, putting their hands up and retreating. The only way progress is ever made is by the forward movement of the people. The unavoidable weight of the masses is used to push on the liberals back. They serve only as an obstacle, something that slows the progress of humanity. Without them we could unleash our full force on the enemies of freedom and democracy, not only on the backs of spineless politicians.

Politics has always been about more than just elections and campaigns. As long as the system is functioning in such a way that enough people have their needs met to stifle active system change, they can be cowed into following along the path that the political and business elite has laid down for us. Popular anger, in normal circumstances, is channeled into useless avenues and placebo activities. This is when the liberal thrives, when opposition is disjointed and quiet. They do best when the people are angry enough to do something, but the activity can be controlled because they have some faith in and respect for the government. When it becomes clear to people that these avenues are dead ends, liberalism can only shrug. It can only suggest waiting for the next election. It can only offer up the progressive reformer, amnesiac rhetoricians that tragically forget their causes once they’re put into positions of power. Michael Moore can suggest running for office yourself as if it’s a viable solution. If more people would follow his advice and actually run for an office, that would be the quickest route towards disillusionment. The liberal is tied inextricably to the system, unable to suggest anything so radical as a solution to what ails us. All they can do is run to patch the holes that keep popping up, unable to see the rescue vessel on the horizon. Politics means passive acceptance of the system only when you’re getting out of it what you need. It means passive acceptance for the bourgeoisie. For us, it means change through whatever means necessary.

What leads to fascism is the recognition that capitalist democracy can do no more for the people. They see the hopeless condition of the liberals and look for someone that can clean up the mess that’s been made. So the strongman comes to the podium and for the first time the people feel as if they’re listening to a human being. Here is a person, with an organization behind them, who is talking with force and certainty. Here is a person with someone to blame, who seems to have ideas. The people don’t need to agree with them, although they might speak to their darker impulses, they just need to be impressed by what they perceive as authenticity and passion. All along the road the liberals give more and more to the strongman. They insist that we have faith in the system and give them a chance, but it’s precisely lack of faith in the system that gave the strongman his power to begin with. So what legitimacy they have is eroded, and as the only visible representatives of democracy, it loses it’s appeal as well. The only way to stop this rise of totalitarianism is to fight for the true establishment of democracy. Not the watered down capitalist democracy that we’ve been force fed, but a democracy that genuinely adheres to its maxims and contains the spark that impassions people. With the far-right on the rise, and liberal governments failing one after the other, socialism has become not only desirable, but necessary. The struggle for democracy is the struggle for socialism, because the center has not and cannot hold.

4 responses to “Limitations of Liberalism

  1. This is a perfectly written analysis of Liberalism/Progressivism within the capitalistic milieau. They are CAPITALISTS, and that should not be forgotten, They defend it as bad as, and often more than,any right winger. I have been systematically and vehemently attacked by libs/progs for being a soc-com, it’s really quite astounding how they defend the System and don not yield even one inch. The “Nazi” really shows thru w these people re soc-comm.


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