Defeatist psychology on the Left

Half a century ago, a despairing left intellectual wrote:

“The Millenium Has Been Cancelled.”

Edward Hyams was reacting to the many total failures of socialism in theory and practice, as well as to the apparent endurance of some sort of liberal capitalism.[1]

In a recent review of a far-leftist book — Enzo Traverso’s Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory — Peter Gordon writes:

“The animating theme of Traverso’s book is that political conviction must be tinged with regret, and ambition with sorrow for the failures of the past. The transformation of the world, he suggests, drawing on the words of Daniel Bensaïd, can never be anything more than a ‘melancholic bet.’ We do not know what such a transformation would look like, or how it might be distinguished from the travesties of the twentieth century that were leftist only in name. We know only that such a politics would have to remain radically open to a future beyond the certitudes of any program or script. It would need to hold fast not to the dream of a revolution triumphant, but to the memory of those who have suffered most whenever triumph becomes the highest standard of political action.”

Extracting the themes in point form:

1. The whole world desperately needs transformation.
2. But all our efforts have been failures.
3. We now have no positive program or script — no idea what transformation we want.
4. Socialism in practice has been a series of travesties.
5. But denial: those travesties weren’t really socialist.
6. All we have left is melancholy and memory of suffering.

So: If that is one’s core philosophical-psychology, how will that inform one’s teaching, activism, art, writing, and personal life?

[1] Hyams, 1973. See Chapter 5 of my Explaining Postmodernism: Socialism and Skepticism from Rousseau to Foucault for how the two-centuries’ evolution of socialism led to Hyams’s and other far-left thinkers’ despair, as well as to the rage that followed.
Thanks to David Magram for the Gordon link.

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