James Weinsteins new book "The Long Detour" situates the problems and potentialities of the American Left within a brief history. From the earliest years of the Left, we see some of the issues which American left-wing activists still address: purity of ideology vs pragmatism, relationship to nationalism, sectarian nit-picking, authoritarianism, foreign models vs a model truly adapted to American conditions, the problem of single issue movements vs. a broader movement against capitalism, centralism vs. decentralism, etc. By providing a panorama of these issues within a historical context, we can see that in general, each generation of U.S. leftists repeats similar mistakes as in the past and often fails to implement strategies that have worked.
The U.S. Left in recent history has thrived on "negative" movements. This is apparent through the names of these movements: anti-war, anti-racism, etc. When these single, negative movements come to an end, so does the whole cycle of struggle. Often, as Weinstein shows, these movements get co-opted by liberal capitalists. At the end of the book, Weinstein attempts to put forward a "positive" program of his own. One might criticize Weinstein's program as one that could be co-opted by a liberal agenda as well: health care and education reform. Certainly these are reforms worth fighting for, but his positive program gives no clue as how to include this program within a broader strategy of moving to a socialist society...it only is a program that would try to revamp the deteriorating welfare system.
Unfortunately Weinstein's history ends more or less at the demise of the New Left. He barely mentions the anti-globalization movement and that is unfortunate. The current anti-globalization movements face novel issues and it would be helpful if Weinstein brought his experience to bear on it. Capital has tended reconstitute itself into global networks. The nation-state is no longer the node in the capitalist nexus that it once was. Vast movements of capital can
take place in the click of a mouse. Weinstein correctly says that the terrain changed with the arrival of post-industrialism, but he does not seem to fully appreciate the novelty and challenges (for the US left) of the mature informational society and globalization . He suggests that the nation-state is still relevant in that the military- to be used as a stick against those who would revolt against the new global order- still reside within the nation-state. That is undoubtedly true, but Weinstein does not address the other forms of control and power-both blatant and insidious- that exist within the global order.
Weinstein's postive program relies mostly on electoral politics; while we should not dismiss the ballot box as a locus of struggle, the author should address the potential pitfalls of restricting a movement to the voting booth. In any case, this books is well worth reading for its summary of problems and traps that the American Left has fallen into historically. It does attempt to promote a positive program, but it fails in this regard. That is an important chapter that has yet to be written.