What Explains the Failure of Recent Radical Left Movements?

News & Politics

They dominated the headlines in mainstream newspapers and coverage on TV news stations. Leftists confidently told us that Occupy Wall Street, the #MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter would radically alter American society and usher in an age of income equality, racial justice, and female empowerment.

Freddie deBoer, “a Marxist essayist” as described by the left-wing New Statesman, takes a hard look at the failures of these social justice warriors and comes to a surprisingly honest conclusion: Elite identity politics is destroying the left.

DeBoer has written an honest appraisal of the failure of these groups to achieve even a minimum of their goals in a new book, “How Elites Ate the Social Justice Movement.” The liberal elites saw these “social justice” movements as a grand way to virtue signal. They cared far less about changing the world than they did about impressing fellow elites with how much they really, truly, absolutely cared about these things.

Elites in academia, the culture, and the media all embraced these radical movements — but only on the surface. Hence, David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times, claims the changes have occurred in elite institutions on the margins. “The winners of prestigious cultural awards have become more diverse. Media organizations now capitalize Black when describing somebody’s race. President Biden has made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Universities emphasize identity in their curriculums.”

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None of those things changed the lives of ordinary blacks or women. In fact, blacks and women had ambiguous feelings about #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. The #MeToo movement made office flirtation a fireable offense — something most women never wanted, and they eventually ended up opposing the more stringent changes sought by their sisters. What they really wanted in the first place was respect. And some men never understood that.

And with Black Lives Matter closely associated with the defund the police madness, the group was shocked to find out that most blacks actually wanted the police. They just didn’t want the police shooting them.

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BLM was felled by financial scandals that have yet to shake out completely. But the writing was on the wall for them when the grifters took the money and ran. Patrisse Cullors, one of the BLM founders, cashed out and may yet have to answer for her shady financial dealings. Other early BLM leaders have also been fingered for crooked financial practices.

But like #MeToo, it was the lack of a leadership structure that led to the failure of Black Lives Matter. Contrast that with successful movements like the civil rights struggle, the anti-abortion crusade that took decades to be victorious, and the gay rights movement that didn’t make much progress until it set marriage equality and service in the military as primary goals.

None of these more recent radical movements had created long-term goals, as the labor unions and Christian groups did. Structurally, they didn’t have what it took to go the distance.

These are real changes, but deBoer notes that they have little effect on most people’s lives. They instead reflect what the political philosopher Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò calls the “elite capture” of social justice campaigns. “Today,” deBoer writes, “left-activist spaces are dominated by the college-educated, many of whom grew up in affluence and have never worked a day at a physically or emotionally demanding job.” For that reason, these spaces prioritize “the immaterial and symbolic” over “the material and the concrete,” deBoer argues.

“The spirit of 2020 was always a righteous spirit, and the people and organizations that powered that moment had legitimate grievances and moral demands,” he writes. “What we need is practicality, resilience and a plan.”

You need patience to have resilience. Radicals aren’t patient. Nor are radicals practical by definition, nor do they have the vision to plan for the long term.

These groups collapsed under the weight of their own delusional expectations. And they aren’t likely to rise again.

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