I have been a leftwinger all of my adult life. As an undergraduate at UCLA, as I put it in an article I once wrote about my early activist days, I was a member of a group so far left that we thought Mao Tse-Tung was a revisionist capitalist roader. I wished for a Vietnamese victory against the U.S. military, and got it. My political activism continues to this day in various forms. On this blog, I have consistently criticized Barack Obama from a left perspective (although strongly supporting the need to elect him president.)
So why am I celebrating the freeing of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages by the Army of Colombia in an operation against the Marxist-Leninist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)--an operation which, according to today's New York Times, was aided by U.S. intelligence services? Certainly not because I am sympathetic to the blood-stained government of President Alvaro Uribe, whose ties with paramilitaries and drug trafficking are well established. Simply because any left that kidnaps people and holds hostages is not a left I want to be part of. In fact, any left that feels justified, in the name of the "people" or the "revolution," in engaging in oppressive or brutal acts is a left alien to the humanistic values that I and many other decent lefists hold dear. That means I am not prepared to excuse the authoritarian nature of the Cuban regime because it brought literacy and better health care to its people--which it did--nor am I prepared to make excuses for Robert Mugabe's supporters beating and killing political opponents, as some leftists unbelievably have done, because Mugabe is hypocritically opposed by the same British and American governments that turn a blind eye to oppression in other parts of Africa and other parts of the world.
In Europe, where I spend most of my time, most leftists took notice of the fall of Communism and the corrupt, oppressive nature of so-called Marxist-Leninist states and have engaged in a lot of soul-searching since 1989. I don't agree with where some of this soul-searching has led, which in some cases has been right into the arms of Western capitalism with all of its social and economic injustices. But in the United States, too many leftists have failed to take serious stock of the fact that Marxism-Leninism has led to political oppression and murder from Russia to China to Eastern Europe and beyond. Communism is dead and buried. Its fall was not due to "mistakes" in an otherwise good plan, nor because Stalin somehow managed to maneuver his way into power and subvert Lenin's vision, nor because the "wrong" leaders got into power in China and are now restoring capitalism (and with a vengeance.) No, it's because the plan was all wrong to begin with.
What is to be done? I am still thinking about that, because despite all I say above I am not ready to join the Democratic Party and become a liberal, and I don't think that leftists in France should join the useless Socialist Party either. And it is certainly the case that in countries like Colombia, a mass, militant movement against the corrupt government is vitally necessary. But bands of revolutionaries in the jungle, kidnapping progressive politicians like Ingrid Betancourt (not to further the revolution, mind you, but to get their comrades out of jail) and trafficking in drugs to fund the "struggle"? You know, some days I would prefer to let the entire international proletariat rot in hell than see Ingrid Betancourt separated from her children one more week.
My old comrades on the far left need to come in from the cold and join the real struggle in the real world of real people. We need them: Despite his faults and errors, Karl Marx understood capitalism better than anyone of his time or ours, and many of today's Marxists--relics that they are in so many ways--have the fewest illusions about the system under which we live. Marx understood that capitalism is by nature exploitative and unjust, something that is just as true today as it was when he wrote Das Kapital. As for what to do about it: I don't have the answers, although I think about it every day. But I know what not to do, and kidnapping Ingrid Betancourt is high on that list.