The Rainbow Left, or the Kafkaesque Metamorphosis

“Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 94). These lines may rightly be considered the most realistic description of the fate that has mercilessly engulfed the Left in the western quadrant of the world after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

To evoke a further literary figure, the neo-leftists have undergone a Verwandlung, a “metamorphosis” similar to that described by Kafka. A metamorphosis that has caused them to plunge into the abyss in which they have found themselves since 1989 and, to an even greater extent, since the arrival of the new Millennium. The situation may seem tragicomic at times, if one considers that currently the slogans of Capital and the desiderata of the ruling classes (less State and more market, less ties and more fluidity, less community belonging and more individualistic liberalization) find in the programs and lexicon of the rainbow Neo-Left a punctual response, an energetic defense and an uninterrupted celebration. Without hyperbole, the order of the dominant, in the framework of capitalist globalization, presents in the decaffeinated Neo-Left an apology and a sanctification no less radical than those it finds in the Right, traditional seat of the cultural and political reproduction of the hegemonic nexus of force.

Regression and barbarism, which have not ceased to accompany Capital, are no longer answered by the Left by appealing to the desire for greater freedoms and ennobling futures; au contraire, they are obstinately defended and presented by the Left itself as the quintessence of the movement of that progress of claritate in claritatem which—to say it with Marx—has not ceased to resemble “that hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.” No more “socialism or barbarism,” but “capitalism or barbarism,” this seems to be the new and magnetic mot d’ordre of a Left that, by denying itself and its own history, has become the most faithful guardian of neoliberal power.

We call the “New left”—expressly in the “English of the markets” that is so dear to it—the postmodern and neoliberal New Left, enemy of Marx, of Gramsci and of the working classes and, at the same time, friend of Capital, of the neoliberal plutocracy and of the global turbo-capitalist New Order. We use this terminology to carefully distinguish the rainbow neo-left from the red old-left which, with various gradations and with differentiated intensities (from reformism to revolutionary maximalism, from socialism to communism), tried in different ways, in the eighteenth century and later during the “short century,” to “storm the heavens,” to alter the balance of power, to realize the “dream of one thing” and to put into practice the “elusive simplicity.”

The more noble the traditional, socialist and communist old-left appears, with its successes and conquests, but also with its failures and defeats, the more it arouses the unpleasant effect of the “rotten lilies” of which Shakespeare wrote, the rainbow New left reduced to the status of guard of the iron cage of Capital (with the polytheism of consumer values incorporated); a sui generis guard however, which, in order to preserve its own identity—in reality long lost—and the old consensus of strength on the side of the rights and the weak, and thus to be able to lead the masses towards the silent acceptance of the power of neo-capitalism, it must permanently resurrect again definitively extinct enemies (the eternal fascism) or invent new lateral struggles (the identity micro-struggles for gender and for the green economy), which allow it to appear to be part of the offensive against the evils of an existent to which it has un-confessedly sworn allegiance.

Herein lies the truly trash element of the everyday neoliberal Left. In specie, the most trash element of the postmodern rainbow New Left resides in considering itself, with a necessary false consciousness, as the advanced front of universal development and progress, without realizing that the development and progress it promotes coincide with those of Capital and its classes; development and progress that, consequently, are accompanied by disempowerment, impoverishment and regression for the national-popular classes, that is, those that the “anti-populist” neoliberal Left now openly considers its main enemies—and that the red old-left assumed as its own social and political subject of reference, in the eagerness to provoke the emancipation of the prose of capitalist alienation. There is no doubt: for the liberal-progressive New left the main enemy is not capitalist Globalization, but everything that has not yet yielded to it and still resists it.

Anti-fascism in the absence of fascism and identity micro-struggles for rainbow rights or, in any case, for issues sidereally distant from the capitalist contradiction, allow the New left to gain a triple advantage: (a) to have an alibi to justify its now integral adherence to the program of postmodern neoliberal civilization; (b) to maintain its own identity and its own consensus, through the fiction of the struggle against dead and buried enemies (fascism) or against instances which, in any case, do not question the global reproduction of techno-capitalist society; c) to lead the masses of militants—whom, often, it would be appropriate to call “militants”—straight towards adherence to the efficient anarchy of liberal neo-cannibalism, presented precisely as progressive and “left-wing”.

The inertial consensus from which the rainbow Neo-Left still benefits, thanks to a glorious past on the side of labor and emancipation, serves in this way to take advantage of and thus legitimize what the old red left had fought against. In support of the thesis that evidences this process of metamorphosis, which began with May ‘68 and manifested itself in its most radical form after the annus horribilis of 1989; suffice it to recall that, since the 1990s of the “short century,” every success of the Left in the West tends to coincide with a resounding defeat of the working classes.

In the name of Progress, the Left, with even greater diligence than the Right, has become the promoter of consumerist liberalization and privatization, of the casualization of labor and the imperialist export of Human Rights; that is to say, it has carried out, with scientific method and admirable rigor, the tableau de bord of the neoliberal oligarchic bloc. And it has done so by always supporting—and ennobling as Progress—the extension of the merciless market logic to every sphere of the world of life, to every corner of the planet, to every crevice of consciousness, symmetrically delegitimizing (as “regression,” “fascism,” “totalitarianism,” “populism” and “sovereignism”); everything that could still contribute, in the words of Walter Benjamin, to pull the emergency brake, to stop the “mad flight” towards the nothingness of barbarism and nihilism.

In the postmodern political lexicon of the rainbow-colored New Left, there is no trace of the rights of the workers, the people and the oppressed: au contraire, “populism” is the derogatory label, increasingly in vogue, which—as masters of the neo-language patented by Orwell—delegitimizes a priori any national-popular claim of the working classes and the suffering people, any deviation from “Progress,” id est of the development program of neo-liberal civilization. There is no doubt about it: le discours du capitaliste, as Lacan qualified it, and the neoliberal “new way of the world” have also saturated the imaginary of a Left now philo-Atlantist and mercantilist, which has cynically and unabashedly moved from the struggle against Capital to the struggle for Capital.

Such integration into global capitalism is rarely openly admitted for what it really is: a conscious alignment with the world in opposition to which the politics of the socialist and communist Left had been legitimized for much of the twentieth century. In diametrically opposed fashion, the New Left almost always justifies itself by resorting to the hypocritical, liberating and de-responsibilizing formula of “there is no alternative” or its variant—on which the new economic theology is based—according to which “it is what the market demands.” Not infrequently this is praised on the Left as adherence to the rhythm of progress, omitting to point out that the progress in course coincides with that of Capital and its triumphal march of self-affirmation.

This obscene apologetic adherence to the reifying prose of capitalist inégalité parmi les hommes and its vertiginous increase, is pretextualized in the left quadrant by recourse to the theorem of the identification of the status quo, intrinsically undemocratic, with the perfectly complete “democracy” that must be protected from dangerous attempts at “fascist subversion,” which in turn are made to coincide ideologically with any pretension to set in motion the exodus from the neoliberal iron cage.

The anti-totalitarian rhetoric, as Losurdo and Preve have shown, plays a decisive role in the consolidation of the consensus towards neoliberal civilization: it allows the glorification of the capitalist mode of production as the kingdom of freedom, liquidating as “totalitarian” the historical noucentista communism and, in perspective, any movement that might propose alternative routes of emancipation with respect to capitalism itself. On the one hand, the only really existing totalitarianism today—that of the totally administered society of techno-capital—is venerated as the open society of perfectly implemented freedom; and, on the other, the idea of socialism is condemned without appeal, inducing adaptation, euphoric or resigned, to the neoliberal “iron cage.”

The assumption of the anti-totalitarian paradigm contributed decisively to the metamorphosis of the New Left into a liberal-Atlantist force complementing the hegemonic power relationship. It should not be forgotten that already in May 1989, that is, a few months before the fall of the Wall, Achille Occhetto and Giorgio Napolitano—leading figures of the Italian Communist Party—were in Washington (it was, moreover, the first time in history that a “visa” was granted to a Secretary of the PCI). Occhetto had set the PCI on the road to the Kafkaesque metamorphosis (“svolta della Bolognina”) into the New Left, that is, into a radical mass party. For his part, Napolitano would occupy successively for two times the office of President of the Republic (from 2006 to 2015), without opposing either the imperialist intervention in Libya (2011) or the advent of the ultraliberal “technical government” of Mario Monti (2011).

In this same metamorphic wake, under the sign of anti-totalitarian rhetoric, one should read the statement of the Secretary of the Communist Refoundation Party, Paolo Ferrero, in the newspaper Liberazione on November 9, 2009, regarding the “political judgment on the fall of the Berlin Wall”: “it was a positive and necessary fact, to be celebrated.” Ferrero’s words could have been the same words uttered by any politician of firm liberal-Atlantist faith.

The Kafkaesque metamorphosis of the New Left appears all the more clearly if one considers that, for its part, communism was the most seductive promise of a happiness other than that available, but also the most glacial critique of the civilization of the commodity form: it was, at least in theory, the greatest attempt ever made in the history of the oppressed to break the chains, with nothing to lose and only a world to gain.

Also, for this reason the post-Marxist and neoliberal Left appears among the least noble realities that exist under heaven: it has operationally determined or, at any rate, it has docilely favored the silence of the “dream of a thing,” its gloomy conversion into the “dream of things” and into reconciliation with the world of exploitation and inequality, of reification and alienation.
Varying the well-known formula used by Benedetto Croce in relation to Christianity, there was a time when it was impossible not to declare oneself “left-wing,” just as now, for the same reasons, it is impossible to call oneself “left-wing.” Attempting to reform or re-found the Left is an intrinsically impossible and uselessly energizing operation, since—as we shall try to show—its paradigm is contaminated from the beginning by that contradiction, which explodes completely in two phases: the first with May ‘68, and the second with 1989. From Marx, from Gramsci and from anti-capitalism, the path in search of the emancipated community can be restarted, under the banner of democratic relations between equally free individuals. But to do so it is necessary, at the same time, to say goodbye to the paradigm of the Left, animated as it is—the studies of Boltanski and Chiapello, those of Michéa and Preve have taught us—by an unreflective adherence to the myth of Progress and to the erroneous belief that the approval of the bourgeois world and its culture produces emancipation by itself. It is necessary to “disconnect” Marx’s paradigm from the Left and its internal aporias, to start again from Marx himself and venture towards a new—and yet to be imagined—anti-capitalist communitarianism, beyond the Hercules columns of the Right and the Left.

Therefore, we consider it useless and also counterproductive to obstinately “howl with the wolves,” to take up the happy formula that Hegel used in Frankfurt to explain how it was not possible to reform anything in the Frankfurters. We live in the time of the “impossible Left.” If, as Preve liked to affirm, “the message is inadmissible when the addressee is irreformable,” it is necessary to go further, without worrying about the virtuous chorus of the howling wolves. The latter, immersed in intellectual agoraphobia, will oppose any theoretical innovation and any possible theoretical-practical production of new paradigms with the capacity—to take up the explosive hendiadys questioned by Marx—to theoretically criticize and practically change the order of things.

The glamorous Neo-Left, in fact, seems definitively entrenched in its own paradigm. And, at the mercy of its permanent intellectual agoraphobia, it is unwilling to expose itself to a dialogue on issues and problems related to it and to its own vision: its unavailability for a rational and problematizing discussion means that anyone who dares to criticize it is, for that very reason, ostracized as an enemy to be expelled and as a fascist infiltrator who—new heretic—tries to penetrate the “pure” citadel in order to corrupt it.

Even in this, the New Left plays a non-negligible apologetic function with respect to neoliberal globocracy: more specifically, an apotropaic function.

In fact, in the wake of its past, the Left continues to treacherously present itself as the side of emancipation, just now when it only defends the reasons of the neoliberal oligarchic bloc: and by this means, with its claim to be monopolistically on the side of the defense of the dominated (which in reality it contributes daily to disempower), it contributes to delegitimize any attempt to criticize and overcome capitalism, immediately branding it as “not leftist” and therefore reactionary by definition.

In short, the paradox lies in the fact that if the Right fully embodies the paradigm of those who, in various ways, are comfortable with the status quo, the New left claims to represent exclusively any possible critical instance, in the very act with which—no less than the Right—it is organic to the order of the markets. And in doing so, it guarantees its gatekeeping function in the best possible way.


Diego Fusaro is professor of the History of Philosophy at the IASSP in Milan (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) where he is also scientific director. He is a scholar of the Philosophy of History, specializing in the thought of Fichte, Hegel, and Marx. His interest is oriented towards German idealism, its precursors (Spinoza) and its followers (Marx), with a particular emphasis on Italian thought (Gramsci or Gentile, among others). he is the author of many books, including Fichte and the Vocation of the IntellectualThe Place of Possibility: Toward a New Philosophy of Praxis, and Marx, again!: The Spectre Returns. This article appears courtesy of Posmodernia.