“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” -Orwell, 1984
I know I’ve been bringing up Orwell a lot more frequently as of late (see here, here, here and here), but when I came across this comment on reddit.com yesterday, my mind just screamed to me: “NEWSPEAK! NEWSPEAK! NEWSPEAK!”
The comment is:
“Progressives like to blame the greed of corporations. Libertarians like to blame the coercion of government. Progressives want democratic action to solve corporations, and end up giving a ton of power to the government. Libertarians want the market to solve problems, and give a ton of power to corporations.
We need to get together and realize that elite power sucks regardless of where it originates. Progressives need to stop looking at the government as a benevolent solver of problems. Substitute libertarians for progressives and the market for the government.
What we need is a third way. I don’t even mean a third party, but a political consensus that acknowledges we need to be ever vigilant against elite power. I think this consensus can be forged and maintained on the internet. I hope that the campaign of Ron Paul is only the start.” (source)
It isn’t that this particular writer is attempting to manipulate somebody. Indeed, on the contrary, think it is obvious that this writer is genuinely interested in progressing beyond the existing state of politics. The reason why this comment is indicative of Newspeak, though, is that this person is writing as if he has just discovered for himself a ‘new’ idea for a political viewpoint when in fact, the idea for what he is talking about has existed for hundreds of years since at least the time of the so-called ‘Diggers’ in mid-17th Century England. The only problem is that, because of ‘Newspeak’ (for lack of a better word), the very essence and meaning of the word he seeks has been removed from political discourse and to the extent that it can be found in political discourse it is, just as Orwell predicted, taken to mean the exact opposite of what it actually means.
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
So let’s see here: this writer is looking for some new ‘third way’ forward away from Conservatism and authoritarianism other than libertarianism and what the U.S. laughably considers to be ‘progressivism’.
Here is a graphical view of a standard 2-axis political orientation chart with the left-right economic spectrum horizontally and a vertical axis demarcating statism and state control versus anti-statism. This is nothing new or revolutionary, but it is in a way, precisely its simplicity and commonality that illustrates the point I am trying to make better than anything else.
As you can see, there is a huge gaping hole in one quadrant.
For ease of reference and clarity, I’ve superimposed the position of various people onto this grid according to politicalcompass.org and other sources.
While it is clear that every other ideology in the political compass grid is easily labeled (i.e., I could have easily gone into more detail and labeled the bottom right corner ‘Anarcho-Capitalism” and the top edge from roughly the centre to the far right as “fascism” and so on and so forth), it is true that, unlike all other quadrants on this grid, there is no one agreed upon word describing the bottom left quadrant (where Chomsky and I reside).
Chomsky himself alternates between calling it broadly “libertarian socialist” and “anarcho-syndicalist” (yes, I’m aware those are technically two different things, but I’m just talking insofar as a broad name for the quadrant goes). I call it “True Marxism” or “True Progressivism”. But there are also any number of other names for it:
-Anti-statist Communism (a redundant phrase as far as I’m concerned)
-Post-Marxism (a term popularized by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe)
So, in essence, Orwell’s fear of the ‘destruction of words’ has been realized. Not only does the general populace not have a universally agreed-upon word to describe our ideas, but we ourselves can’t agree on a word for ourselves. We are, quite literally, they who are without name. We can no longer use the word Marxism — although it would quite technically be an accurate label for the quadrant broadly understood — because, just as Orwell predicted, it’s meaning in modern parlance has been inverted into its exact opposite.
In a world without a nomial label attached to these ideas, the consequences of which are illustrated beautifully by the comment above, it has become nearly impossible for people to even think revolutionary thoughts because the person has to derive them from scratch themselves without the advantage of their long and rich history. And, even if they do derive these ideas from scratch, the problem remains about how to express these ideas to others without further cluttering up the nomenclature for such ideas. Thus, I would argue that it has come to the point where our very existence, our very presence as individuals holding these ideas, has itself become a revolutionary act.
While I am crushed by capitalism,
I continue to breathe. And so long as
I breathe, I continue to hope. And it
is this hope that animates my struggle.