Recent years have seen me grow progressively more cynical toward politics. I have known it was happening for a long while and always hoped that some events would come along to reverse my cynical trend. I guess the trend really got started when I lived in Central America and met so many committed leftists who didn’t apply their principles of justice and compassion in their own daily lives. In San Salvador I lived in a sort of rooming house that was run by a man who had been a high placed commandant in the FMLN. He and the other guys who ran the house employed a great young woman named Rosa with who I developed a friendship. It didn’t take me long to realize that the guys who employed her paid her far too little and made her work unreasonable hours and really did nothing to make her life better. She lived quite far away and was forced to leave her young son with her mother for days at a time and they really didn’t care to work things out to make it easier for her. The circumstance disgusted me. I had always been suspicious of ultra-partisan types on the left or right. I had been involved with the Revolutionary Communist Party in England (almost out of morbid interest rather than a real political expectation) and I found them really just to be a bunch of social misfits who felt that they had found a home and they mindlessly rehashed an insipid political analysis, much of which they didn’t even understand. And as far as their real knowledge of Marxism and history it was pathetic. The leaders of the party reveled in their star status among the members but their analysis was not much better. Now given that this was really a Leninist group, I didn’t have high expectations because I never bought the whole vanguard argument and have always shied away from any elitist form of politics. Then I watched the Socialist Workers Party and found that the Trotskyites where not much better.
I remember a few years ago having a long conversation with a Trotskyite who desperately wanted to believe that her left-wing philosophy was not rooted in basic ethical assumptions – an idea almost too absurd to address with serious rebuttal. This woman, was not a bad person, and she really does attempt to live I a just and ethical way. However, the discussion brought home to me the fact that it must be basic ethical principles that guide us in our everyday as well as our political life and the tendency for people on the left to forget this is deeply troubling.
Since those years in Central America I have had far too many experiences with supposed left-wing people who are supposed to be upholding principles of justice and compassion but who are just as power-hungry and mean as anyone on the right who we are supposed to be opposing. These people have failed utterly to make their political principles personal. All of this has made me cynical because while I expect the right-wing to make excuses and pay lip-service to justice while maintaining a power structure that favors the rich and powerful and punishes the vulnerable, there was a time when I expected more from the left, even if some were misguided enough to support Soviet style communism.
Now I have no expectations anymore because there is a certain portion of the population who are attracted to power and they are corrupted and seduced by it. In the end it doesn’t really matter what side of the political spectrum these type of people are on, because in the end power allows them (or changes them enough) to become exploiters of the vulnerable and over time they get off on it. Politics doesn’t matter in such cases – it is power that matters. I still have no doubt that most average leftists are compassionate and good people but such goodness is not attracted to power. There power forms in the very hands of those who shouldn’t have it, and this happens on every side of the political spectrum. And the tendency of partisanship does the rest of the job by keeping even good people in line with the unreasonable demands of those in power. I don’t see my cynicism ending any time soon.