Intellectual imperialism: On the export of peculiarly American notions of race, culture, and class

The following, from Croatian comrade Juraj Katalenac, appeared late last week and has so far received overwhelmingly positive responses. I’m even told that it has been shared with two of my personal heroes, Loren Goldner and Russell Jacoby, who appreciated both its irreverent style as well as the substance of its message. Juraj has interviewed Moshé Machover, Mike Macnair, and Peter Hudis in the past. His blog, ADIDAS Marxism, is linked below.

A note, regarding Kill All Normies by the Irish author Angela Nagle: One of the sublime ironies surrounding this book’s release is that, in decrying internet pile-ons, Nagle has been subjected to something of an internet pile-on herself. Richard Seymour and Noah Berlatsky on Patreon, and some Maoist dumbass named “Combat Liberalism” on Medium, have written scathing reviews of the book, insinuating that Nagle was blaming hysterical left-liberal Tumblr for the rise of the truly insidious alt-Right. Even if that were her thesis, it’s not that implausible that overreach on one side might’ve fueled reaction on the other. Nagle was not positing a direct causal relationship between the two; if anything, she was arguing that there was a formal similarity in terms of the results. The only legitimate insight of “horseshoe” theories of polarization is that either extreme has anime profile pictures, as everyone knows.

Seymour’s review is perhaps written in good faith, but he capitulated to identity politics and “intersectionality” long ago. Oliver Traldi makes an interesting point, though, about Nagle’s failure to mention a personality who almost perfectly embodies her argument: Justine Tunney, the tech utopian transwoman who helped launch #Occupy in 2011 before declaring “feminist” solidarity with Marine Le Pen of France in 2014 on her way to becoming a Silicon Valley fascist. But the most hilarious review of Kill All Normies came from Jordy Cummings, who called Judith Butler’s notoriously-impenetrable Gender Trouble “important but accessible.” The best line has to be: “If it were up to Nagle, the Left would be led by able-bodied workers.” Winning any workers over to Marxist politics would be a huge step forward (not an ableist metaphor, I hope) for the contemporary Left. Cummings’ review reminds me of that Onion spoof a few months back, “Trump voter feels betrayed by president after reading 800 pages of queer feminist theory,” where a steelworker breathlessly reads some lines from Butler

Gender ought not to be conceived merely as the cultural inscription of meaning on a pregiven sex (a juridical conception); gender must also designate the very apparatus of production whereby the sexes themselves are established. As a result, gender is not to culture as sex is to nature; gender is also the discursive/cultural means by which “sexed nature” or “a natural sex” is produced and established as “prediscursive,” prior to culture, a politically neutral surface on which culture acts.

My only real reservation about Nagle’s book is that she doesn’t really go into the right-wing libertarian episode of the development of the alt-Right. There is nothing in her book about the Ron Paul phenomenon. Kill All Normies is a great intro to the online culture wars, however. For a more serious discussion of the ideological origins of the alt-Right, check out Matthew Lyons’ outstanding essay “Ctrl+Alt+Delete.” Otherwise, complaints about the “anti-woke Left” fall flat. Adolph Reed is an easy target, I would contend, not because of his astute criticisms of identitarian politics on the Left, but because he’s a centrist social democrat who predictably, if begrudgingly, ends up backing Democratic Party candidates like Hillary Clinton every four years. For my part, I’d rather be a braindead workerist than every shade of woke. Luckily, we don’t have to settle for such lukewarm alternatives. Katalenac’s searing critique points beyond some of the impasses that the American Left has exported, often at ideological gunpoint, to communists overseas. (I’ve made only cosmetic edits, here and there, for the sake of readability).

“American thought”
From theoretical barbarism
to intellectual decadence

Juraj Katalenac
ADIDAS Marxism
August 22, 2017
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America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

— Oscar Wilde

Have you noticed how, for example, being rude towards fat people has suddenly become a question of left-wing politics instead of proper upbringing and being a decent human being? Have you noticed suddenly embracing your own mental illnesses, instead of treating them in a proper way, and encouraging others to act the same, has become an act of political “emancipation” and “empowerment” of the individual? Have you noticed how toxic Western political correctness has become the mandatory language of the left-wing politics with its aim being the enforcement of a certain way of discussion without examining the content? Have you noticed how being working class has suddenly become just one of the identities, how suddenly you can become working class just by association, instead of needing to work for a wage or being dependent on somebody that does, and how the working class has lost its role as the “wheel of social change” to become “oppressed peoplex”? Have you noticed how the problem of racism is suddenly “challenged” by enforcing particular ethnic identities?

In short: have you noticed how left-wing politics has completely abandoned its content in the pursuit for useless forms and/or smokescreens and how it has stopped being an idea aiming at the creation of a mass movement of the working class with the aim of change and the creation of a better society and has become a subcultural scene for a socially maladjusted people?

To quote the sixteenth-century Spanish philologist and humanist Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas: “Latet enim veritas, sed nihil pretiosius veritate [Truth is hidden, but nothing is more beautiful than the truth].”1

The post-postmodernism of dunces

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All of these problems represent a trend in left-wing politics and thought that is coming from “Anglo” academia, predominantly the United States of America, which is why I have decided to call this phenomenon “American thought.”

What do I mean when I say “American thought”? I am talking (mostly) about ideas such as cultural appropriation, identity politics, intersectionality, empowerment, shaming and privilege theories and American theories about race and racism, which the American left is mixing with Marxism, Third World “progressive” ethnonationalism and projecting to the rest of the World — mostly Europe — without any real materialist analysis to back up these thoughts. After all, materialist scientific methods of analysis — brought to us by centuries of European enlightenment — are “useless,” mostly because they are asking for you to provide arguments, to handle certain theoretical apparatus and back up your claims with historical evidences. You know, all those annoying things which prevent you from expressing yourself and your oppression.

In its understanding of the world, American thought is not even that original. Essentially it is vulgar post-1968 French left theory, so-called postmodernism, torn into the tiniest bits and rearranged into a simplified language suitable for American campuses. It is French “theoretical poetry” stripped of its charms and romance into endless hysteria of word salads without making a single point.

Roots of this can be found in neoliberalism’s agenda of dissolving society into individuals and commodities. Of course, neoliberalism does not dissolve class within production or the social division of labor, but it dissolves the political potential of the working class through the individualization of the masses. Which is why the Left today, in its inability to cope with the complete destruction of its historical counterpart through the twentieth century, has decided to turn towards ideology and strategies of the far Right, with its emphasis on the individual, its identity, ethnic romanticism and defense of culture and has replaced the class with it. The class interest of the working class is not what drives the left politics of today as the working class is viewed mainly as one of the “underdog” identities.

It is also extremely important to note how “American thought” benefits from America’s worldwide supremacy. American imperialism helps it spread — mostly through social networks, popular culture, and “independent” media — imposing itself, just like the USA, acting as the sharia police of this little sociopolitical scene on an international level. Or to put it in short: The world exists only if you look at it through the eyes of the American Left.

Social networks are crucial for spreading of “American thought” not only because they promote simplified expression, but also they are simplifying language itself which suits this narrative of theoretical simplification and impoverishment. Also, social networks allow certain academics, who have not published anything genuine or important in their lives and that cannot even grasp the basics of their own academic disciplines, to gain attention and a following just by saying “shocking things” on the Internet. I am talking about cases such as George Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets about “white genocide” or Michael Rectenwald’s stunt to get tenured employment at New York University. Narcissistic need for constant attention is certainly one of the most important missions of “American thought,” but unlike academia of the past it is unable to fulfill its basic social purpose: to educate and to develop theory. Even though, one could point out that they are still developing theory that serves the agenda of the ruling class in this present capitalist epoch with its identitarian and individualist discourse. Also, this narcissism is present in activist circles too. Some of the worst examples of this were the various  “thinkpieces” surrounding the recent murder of Heather Heyer.

The phenomenon of the left on social networks was covered, among many other things, in an interesting new book by Angela Nagle called Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right (2017). Nagle herself, while criticizing both the left and the right and their approach to social networks, has found herself a victim of a leftist slander campaign which has produced numerous articles which have not even engaged a single point she made but just aimed to discredit her. Which just goes to show how “American thought” deals with its critics.

Usually when somebody criticizes ideas that comprise “American thought” — especially the merging of identity politics with Marxism — he or she is marked as a “phobe” (short for phobic). In the simpleminded and black-and-white world of the left politics, criticism is unnecessary and dangerous. Really there are just “good” guys and “bad” guys. “Phobe” is basically just newspeak for “fascist” — an ultimate evil and enemy, or just someone who does not agree with you. To be a “good” guy one has to win the “oppression Olympics”; which is basically a ritual of acceptance designed by American leftists where one has to collect all the possible identities one can find in order to hide the fact that they mostly consist of university-educated white people from the USA — the most privileged people in the world.

Nevertheless, if these ideas remained locked up in the campuses of American universities nobody would care about them. But it is not the case as this approach has spread across the world.

As one of my Irish homies pointed out jokingly: “The idiocy of American leftoid academia can easily be explained through the example of Judith Butler, because she at the same time considers an academic essay a form of violence yet also regards Hamas and Hezbollah as part of the broad left.”

In the rest of this text I will discuss why particular elements of “American thought” have nothing in common with Marxism. But before I start I just have to make a disclaimer.

Firstly, despite naming this phenomenon after the country of its origin it is important to emphasize that purpose of this text is in no way to promote any form of nationalist thought, for example anti-Americanism. Anti-Americanism is something that is popular among the right and the left in post-socialist countries, it is connected with conspiracy theories, antisemitism, and other forms of chauvinism and usually represents a particular nationalism in disguise. Also, it is popular among the anti-imperialist left worldwide as it represents, as Moishe Postone puts it, “the anti-imperialism of fools,” because their concept of anti-capitalist emancipation is not building of a “human community” (Marx) but eradication of the “global evil” — USA.2 And secondly, I do not think that this phenomenon represents the left in “Anglo” world as a whole. There are many comrades who participate in class struggle, either through organizing or intervention, but unfortunately one has to be connected with them in order to get information about and insights into their work, their successes and failures, experience and lessons as everything is suffocated by narrative of “American thought.”

Whiteness, racism, and oppressed peoples

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Today it is almost impossible to find someone engaged in discussions with the Western Left who hasn’t encountered the ideas of “white privilege” or “whiteness.” In this particular idiom the concept of whiteness becomes a separate “sociological category.” People sometimes forget how race is, similar to class, a political and economic problem — i.e., a problem of access to societal resources and services, and a problem of segregation and violence in the political process. Race is always used to exclude certain ethnic groups based on their ancestral background.

American thought’s approach towards race and culture also reveals its poverty of understanding the historical role, limitations and fundamental concepts of classical liberalism; such as individuality as expressed in John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty (1859). It is expressing a constant need adhere to their own specific ethnic identities and to aggressively impose them to others. This is rooted in their constant fear of not having an identity and in their refusal to just accept that they are just Americans.

Furthermore, it seems that antiracism of today has become the enforcement of racial and ethnic differences as an answer to the failure of “colorblind” liberal antiracism. I have said ethnic because, for example, the concept of whiteness is not rooted in what we know as “classical racial division,” as it excludes numerous ethnic groups which are usually considered as Caucasian on the basis of their political heritage of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Of course, again, exclusively from an American perspective. It usually states how certain Caucasian groups are not white in a “sociological sense” and how, accordingly, all non-whites are considered as “oppressed peoples.” Who is actually white and who is not is a question to which there are a lot of different answers. Many self-proclaimed Marxists are sinking deeper into the cesspool of “racial science” charlatanry to find a way out.

If we go little bit deeper and place these concepts into the reality of political and economic discourse that has been present for the last few decades, i.e. commonly dubbed “neoliberalism,” we gain some interesting insights. One of the most important outcomes of neoliberal policies has been the total destruction of the “public realm,” along with the sole idea of the public and social. Through the process of transition ex-socialist societies, such as the Croatian one, in which I am living, have been more radically hit with this change in discourse then Western ones. And in the political sphere this discourse did not only abolish the public and social, it did not only proclaim that the personal is now political, but it proclaimed the personal the only form of politics. Which in its essence, together with the dissolution of society into individuals, leads us towards situations where perusing ones racial or ethnic culture and identity is considered progressive.

I would again like to emphasize the imperialist nature of “American thought,” i.e. in this particular case, looking at the rest of the world trough “American eyes” and copy-pasting American racial dynamics onto every other society. For example, Europe is an extremely complex continent with an extremely long history of interactions, conquests, World Wars, Cold War, conflicts, pogroms and grudges. It is impossible to look at it as one whole as it is divided within its own segments based on these previous conflicts and interactions. To try to incorporate whiteness in Europe is frankly quite idiotic as majority of people in Europe are Caucasians and yet through history a lot of them were enslaved,3 ghettoized, exterminated and relocated. Therefore, it is impossible to use an American understanding of racism in Europe as there are a lot of parts of Europe, like the countries of ex-Yugoslavia, where racism as such simply does not play any significant role as there are other ethnic, religious, “clan/tribal” and ideological conflicts which have marked our recent history and which play an important role. European Islamophobia and Antisemitism as, unfortunately, dominant and widespread forms of discrimination and prejudice cannot be looked through “American eyes.” However, we can use a classic understanding of racism, in the sense of a certain group of people being inferior to other, in the case of antiziganism, directed towards people of Romani heritage which is widespread in Europe. For one to understand these relations it is important to make a proper analysis of social dynamics of the societies in question, along with examining historical sources, instead of adopting shortcuts of cheap theories.

The concept of whiteness also plays an interesting role in the left’s efforts to comment on conflicts around the world. The conclusions are always the same: failed processes of national liberation4 are always at the center in the most primitive neo-Maoist sense, every gang of chicken thieves deserves “critical” support, no matter of their class, political, and ideological prefixes (i.e. support for Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood etc.) and in the case that there is some kind of “socialist” omen (i.e. Rojava, “Novorossiya,” Naxalites etc.), which is usually just a relic of Soviet Cold War imperialism, then comparison with past social revolutions begin. Of course, nobody ever mentions the working class. The goal of “foreign politics” analysis is always the same: solidarity with “oppressed people.”

But who, or what, are these “oppressed peoples”?

“Oppressed peoples” are usually considered as those that do not belong to the dominant identitarian narrative of the country they live in. When I put word oppressed in inverted commas I do not aim to ridicule the oppression of certain groups, which is real and should not be ignored. Many of these forms of oppression — for instance the oppression of women — have existed almost as long as human civilization itself and are not necessarily peculiar to capitalism, although they were often absorbed  sometimes enhanced it, and even in some cases set in motion certain progressive changes and reforms. A lot of these cases show how impossible it is to solve them within limits of capitalist society.

However, one cannot call himself/herself a Marxist if he/she pursues broad and sloppy populist categories. “The people” has always been a broad category with a single realpolitik, nationalist and populist task: to justify the collaboration of Marxists with a certain fraction of the bourgeoisie. Post-Yugoslavian history bears witness to the failures and self-destructive toxicity of these attempts.

One more thing that is important to reflect on is how whiteness is used in discussions. Cries such as “shut up yt” and “check your privilege” are used whenever anyone expresses disagreement with the nonsense of the American left. The goal of such an approach was never to engage in discussion or exchange arguments, which usually, in its modernist fashion, leads to new conclusions and cognitions. But for social scenes: change is not a goal. Their main goal is to preserve themselves and they are hostile to any intrusion that could shake their foundations. To quote El Mago, leader of Mara Salvatrucha gang in the movie Sin Nombre (2009): “The scariness goes away, but the gang is forever.” Nothing will change.

“Cultural appropriation”

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The common definition of “cultural appropriation” is the use of elements of one culture by people belonging to another culture. Here again, the problem can be traced to American leftists’ interpretation of this phenomenon. They see it as something negative, as they see the protection of indigenous, oppressed and non-white cultures from whiteness as their mission. And they also connect this, furthermore, with Marxism.

To try and incorporate this view of cultural appropriation into Marxism — i.e., to give it a “materialist justification” — is quite preposterous given Marxism’s modernizing and humanist mission.

Such a view of “cultural appropriation” is in fact a conservative position, stemming from nationalist and chauvinist antecedents, rather than an internationalist Marxist one. It aims to defend the purity of certain cultures, customs, and “ways of life” from foreign adulterations. The mere idea is that a certain group of people behaves in a certain way and it should be “left alone” to intellectually and consciously develop without ‘outsiders’ intervention’. This premise is not just conservative and reactionary in its essence, but it is also completely ahistorical: through the whole of its history humanity has developed through interaction and appropriation of more advanced ideas.

The postmodern relativism of identity politics and its agenda of “cultural preservation,” as something opposite to cultural appropriation, can lead to the conclusion that there is no problem with the extreme backwardness of certain societies. For example, they do not see a problem with women wearing the hijab or any other similar cultural symbol. In the eyes of these people the hijab does not represent a symbol of patriarchal domination and repression — a symbol which does not just “float in the air” but has real repercussions in political and social systems of certain societies. And there is no rationalization persistent enough to change that fact, along with the fact that a lot of communists from the ‘Muslim world’ have critiqued these religious traditions for what they are.5 Of course, proposals to ban the hijab throughout the EU are an entirely different matter, connected with European Islamophobia, and need to be discussed within this context.

If we were to take “American thought” seriously, it would look as if the goal of Marxists is to preserve national, ethnic, local, and even religious cultures or identities — all of which developed over centuries through economic exploitation, political repression, and primitive social hierarchy — instead of destroying them.

It is also interesting to note how a lot of advocates of “American thought” like to attack “orthodox” Marxism for its Eurocentrism. They behave like they have, like we say in Croatia, “discovered hot water” by saying that Marxism is Eurocentric. Of course it is! Karl Marx himself was Eurocentric. And the Marxism of his followers, especially in the Second International, was even more Eurocentric6 — just like any other modern ideology that was product of Europe. But it is not, or at least it was not supposed to be, a dogma that advocates “the end of history” upon its realization, but “a living movement that changes the current state of things,” abolishes economic and social exploitation of individuals and continues its mission of advancement and enlightenment of the “human community.” Or in other words, the goal of Marxism lies in its continuity of development of free social relations between people.

This of course means that in the twenty-first century we cannot just recite Lenin’s nonsense while our listeners wait for their communion and a chance to go home and get some sleep. Marxism must develop with time, together with changes in human consciousness and relations with the aim of abolishing class society. That does not mean that Marxism needs, as advocates of “American thought” propose, to incorporate some specific “cultural insights.” Marxism was never a question of culture, but of class struggle and while one cannot deny the Eurocentrism that marked its history, and that was essential to the way of thinking of European intellectuals of past times, those mistakes will not be erased or corrected with the acceptance of nationalist and religious savagery from other parts of the world. Proletarian internationalism remains the only way out.

However, it is also almost impossible not to mention that same people who protest against the Eurocentrism of “orthodox” Marxism have no problem in using their country’s dominance to impose Anglocentric7 ideas on the rest of the world. But contradictions are what make us human, right?

It is foolish to believe culture is not a commodity under capitalism. Culture has its own value, which depends on market trends. Nevertheless, capitalism from the outset began the process of destroying particular cultures while establishing its own as universal. This process is usually referred to as globalization, or sometimes multiculturalism, often has a negative prefix because of both right and left-wing nationalism. Of course, this process is highly limited by ideological and historical contradictions which capitalism is trying to satisfy.

Which brings us to the following: Marxist thought is revolutionary thought precisely because it aims to abolish all social relations of present society and to create a new one. Cultures belong to that package as they cannot be viewed as external and timeless “truths.”

What about the working class?

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Now is the time to discuss identity politics, intersectionality, and where Marxism fits into all that. But before I go deeper into problematics as such it is really important to state how one cannot be a Marxist and/or communist if he or she views being working class as an identity.

To view being working class as an “identity” is an ideological construct spread by right-wing European populists. For them the working class, usually accompanied with attributes such as white and Christian, is the pillar of society. It is the identity which possess all crucial values upon which Europe was built and it is something one should be proud of. In reality, this is nothing but twisted Christian logic which values hard work and suffering in “this world” as something that is necessarily for one to be rewarded on “the other world” — where his eternal soul will rest.

On the other hand, modern day leftists’ identify themselves as working class just by association. In their worldview the working class is the only moral social class just by being working class. It is the eternal underdog in the struggle against capital. But what makes it moral or just? How can social class hold certain virtues if it is nothing but a construct of present society? Also, how is it possible to identify with a class if you do not share its position in production?

Marxists reject all this ideological, moralizing nonsense. There is no reason to be proud of one’s exploitation by others, one’s poverty, or the sufferings and humiliations he or she endures in everyday life. Seriously, why should anyone be proud to live like a dog?

For Marxists the working class is therefore not mere an identity one should protect or abolish, but it is a social class which is defined by selling its labor power for a wage. Besides that socioeconomic relationship an individual worker (or prole) has nothing in common with other workers. Which makes it impossible to create a specific working-class identity or social category.

This was nicely covered in Monsieur Dupont’s book Nihilist Communism:

We do not know what anyone means when they describe the proletariat as a social category. If they are implying that the working class as a social body have something between themselves, other than their experience of work then we utterly reject this. MD have a penchant for Champagne and Tarkovsky movies whereas our neighbors prefer White Lightening and WWF wrestling, our economic position, however, is identical. We refute all identity politics as ideology and we absolutely refuse to view the proletariat as a political/sociological constituency equivalent to ethnicity, gender or sexual preference. The proletariat has no existence independent of capitalism.8

Even contemporary society evolved regarding questions of certain liberties which were not covered by the “orthodox” Marxists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (for example, gender and race) in their discussions and writings, that does not mean that class is still not the main unit of division of labor and society and that the working class is not the “motor of history” i.e. the only one which can create communist society.

Nevertheless, I believe that there is a widespread and wrong understanding of nature of the working class as one “monolithic and unitary body.” Leninist relics approach the working class in this manner claiming that it only needs one strong organization that will focus it towards “the ultimate goal.” But in reality, the working class is highly divided by various interests that are based on the position of certain workers within the capitalist division of labor or on certain industries/sectors they work in. Various identities, such as gender, ethnicity etc. also divide the working class. However, one should not pretend that the bourgeoisie is a unitary body as it is also divided by various interests and identities and there is constant power struggle among its ranks.

Class and identity function on different levels. Identity is transclass — i.e., not connected with a specific class within the capitalist mode of production. Or as the Marxist-feminist Eve Mitchell pointed out in her critique of intersectionality: “Identity politics is rooted in a one-sided expression of capitalism, and is therefore not a revolutionary politics.”9 It is bourgeois politics, that was a product of certain historical context, and it takes form of bourgeois struggles — struggle of the individual and union of individuals, rather than class.

It is also important to note that many self-proclaimed Marxists today actually hold a conservative view about what the working class (or proletariat) is. This view owes more to nineteenth- and twentieth-century bourgeois sociology than to the Marxist theory of social class. Which is why it being common to refer to working class only as industrial workers. You know, working class equals strong hairy men who swing heavy hammers! Confronted with the capitalist offensive that has gone on since the 1970s, marked by deindustrialization in the West, as well as the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and Yugoslavia during the nineties also in the “Second World,” this view faces wits own contradictions. But of course, instead of going “back to Marx” (purely in the sense of a materialist methodology, rather than an ahistoric embrace of his politics as whole), the Left increasingly submerged into American liberal and cultural discourse. adopting identity politics as it main backbone and worldview. Because the Left, as one observer humorously put it, wants to play both ethnologist and victim. It puts its focus on everything but the working class. Which is why its academia was trying to be so innovative when trying to invent fancy new social groups, categories and revolutionary subjects, from multitude to precariat and surplus populations, while usually completely missing larger historical and theoretical context and essentially — the point.

But we should not act so surprised as these days the left has really little or no connection with the working class what so ever. As I like to say, it is behaving like a little bee, jumping from flower to flower, from struggle to struggle, from identity to identity, pretending to still exist as powerful and relevant as ever, until someone says “the Emperor has no clothes!”

Eleventh thesis of TL;DR

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Identity politics and all other components of American thought are abhorrent to Marxism. Especially when its proponents claim Marxism and pursue “motors of change” other than the working class. I would like to invoke Marx’s famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach and point out that today we are not facing just a problem of “change,” but also a problem of a total lack of materialist “interpretation” of the world.

It is pretty obvious that if we want to change the position which the left is in these days we need to annihilate the idea of Marxism as another social scene. Especially when the marrow of Marxism lies in its societal mission to advance toward the “human community” through collective action, not through the individualistic rebellion of angry teenagers who just want to defy their parents.

One could think that with change and rejection of American thought I am in favor of falling back on “classics” from the golden age of orthodox European Marxism. Such a position would indeed be quite ridiculous today and they are nothing but another extreme within the same “social scene” polarization. Marxism has no future in the twenty-first century if it fights campus individualism within its ranks with Protestant literality. After all, it is a political ideology which has its own methodology and approach towards analyzing social relations. And these social relations are not static, predefined or “here to stay.” Quite the contrary, which is why we need to get back to using Marx’s method of understanding society instead of relying on blueprints or laundry lists.

Once again, I embrace the idea behind the eleventh thesis of his Theses on Feuerbach.

While zealots of this and that thought that exists today are trying to enlighten us with their new theories, actions for the sake of action and/or self-promotion, we can recognize all these ideas are coming from above — from a self-proclaimed intelligentsia and vanguard, and are a reflection of its petty-bourgeois and bourgeois view of society. In reality, they do nothing but maintain the status quo of reproduction of capitalist relations. The working class is still locked in its workplaces and unemployment bureaus.

But why should we look to the left and intelligentsia for a change? As Marx and Engels wrote in The Communist Manifesto:

The theoretical conclusions of the communists are in no way based on ideas or principles that have been invented, or discovered, by this or that would-be universal reformer. They merely express, in general terms, actual relations springing from an existing class struggle, from a historical movement going on under our very eyes.”10

The left today has zero interest in true social change. It is a conservative force as its only raison de vivre is to maintain its micro reproduction, micro hierarchy and safety in being totally useless.

Notes


1 Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas. Minevra sive de causis linguae Latinae, Ed: Sánchez Salor, E. and Chaparro Gómez, C. (Cáceres : Insitución Cultural El Brocense, 1995).
2 Moishe Postone. “Dualism of Capitalist Modernity: Reflections on History, the Holocaust, and Antisemitism.” in: Jews and Leftist Politics: Judaism, Israel, Antisemitism, and Gender, ed: Jack Jacobs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017, p. 65.
3 It is interesting to note here how etymological root of the English word slave comes from medieval Latin slcavus, sclava which means Slav. Other languages that were based on Latin, such as French or Spanish, share the same root. History behind the word lies in conflicts during ninth century where Slavic people that were captured were used as slaves. In Arabic language the word saqaliba refers to Slavic slaves that were captured during raids or wars, but have also served as mercenaries in Muslim world during Medieval. Also, Ottoman Sultan Murad I established elite corps made out of slaves called the Janissaries. They were made of Christian boys that were converted to Islam and were mostly recruited from Balkans. The Janissaries were abolished by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826, capped off by “the Auspicious Incident,” in which more than 6000 of them were executed.
4 I am referring to national liberation struggles as failed processes in the sense of creation of new communist or “progressive” societies, not in the sense of using military action to liberate certain countries from “imperialists” and creating national bourgeoisie in process. If we take that in account national liberation struggles were all pretty successful, but I am looking at them from the communist point of view — something that the left that supports them also claims to do.
5 For such critique check Mansoor Hekmat’s article “Islam, Children’s Rights, and the Hijab-gate of Rah-e-Kargar: In Defense of the Prohibition of the Islamic Veil for Children” (1997).
6 Since I am discussing Eurocentrism of Marxism I would like to point out that there is an interesting book by Kevin B. Anderson called Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity, and Non-Western Societies (2010).
7 With Anglocentrism I am mostly referring to the view that sees the USA and the UK as the center of the universe, with USA being the predominant force and UK as just its loyal sidekick. Kind of like Batman and Robin.
8 Monsieur Dupont. Nihilist Communism: A Critique of Optimism in the Far Left. (Ardent Press, 2009), pg. 50.
9 Eve Mitchell. “I am a woman and a human: a Marxist feminist critique of intersectionality theory.”
10 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party.

12 thoughts on “Intellectual imperialism: On the export of peculiarly American notions of race, culture, and class

    • +1.

      Marxism as a social scene is a really perceptive formulation and as bourgeois intellectuals Schmitt’s critique of political romanticism is obviously relevant…

      ‘In Schmitt’s analysis of political romanticism, the poeticization of politics rests on a romantic theory of action. This theory is a consequence of the three doctrines that define the romantic attitude. The romantic acts in such a way that his imagination can be acted upon or affected. He acts insofar as he is moved. Thus an action is not a performance or something one does, but rather an affect or a mood, something one feels. The product of an action is not a result that can be evaluated according to moral standards, but rather an emotional experience that can be judged only in aesthetic and emotive terms. As the Kierkegaardian seducer realized, the romantic is amoral in the sense that he does not concern himself with moral problems. He does not acknowledge any moral position because he does not make moral commitments. To do so would amount to the recognition of norms that hold independently of his own emotional experience, and such an admission would be inconsistent with the romantic attitude.

      Philosophically, it can be said that the romantic theory of action is committed to an emotive ethics. Something is good when it feels good, bad when it feels bad. In the romantic ethic, therefore, an action is good or bad independent of both its intentions and its practical consequences. The moral qualities of an action depend exclusively upon whether it expresses or evokes certain emotional states. And psychologically, it can be said that the romantic theory of action is committed to an ethic of passivity, quietism, or indifference. One acts only in the sense that one feels, experiences, or suffers emotional states.

      Schmitt notes that the favorite occupation of the political romantic is criticism. Discussion or conversation is the vehicle by which the romantic poeticizes politics. It is the medium in which the romantic imagination plays with political values, sublimating them as points of view or feelings, and suspending the opposition between them in an emotionally satisfying inner synthesis that transcends the world of real political conflict. As a result, political issues become an occasion for something that is not political: the creative play of the Wortspiel, the play with words, which has as its purpose the delight taken in the game itself. In this way, political discourse is transposed into a discussion that is governed by aesthetic and emotive considerations. Politics becomes an aesthetically satisfying conversation, a source of escape, amusement, or even emotional elevation.

      In the endless conversation of political romanticism, no political decision is ever made. No commitment is undertaken, no responsibility is assumed, and nothing in political reality is changed. Because politics has become “lyrical,” nothing gets done. Points of view are expressed, but not with a view to making choices that would actually produce practical results. Conversation is instead a vehicle for the aesthetic satisfaction of the political actor, who is conceived as an autoerotic raconteur, an adept and devotee of a higher chatter that serves as a means of generating the appropriate feelings. The conversation of the political romantic must be endless because its termination would either resolve the political conflict or fix opposing conceptions of right and wrong in mutually irreconcilable positions. The claim that the conflict can be resolved implies a principle on the basis of which right and wrong can be distinguished. The claim that the conflict cannot be resolved implies a principle on the basis of which the resolution of the conflict can be shown to be impossible. In either case, the political romantic would be obliged to acknowledge a norm that is independent of the play of his imagination, which means that he would cease to be a romantic.’

      (Oakes intro to 1989 MIT edition of S’s PR)

  1. “Michael Rectenwald’s stunt to get tenured employment…”

    Wow, you give me far too much credit. If this had been a planned operation, I would have to be a mastermind. But it wasn’t planned and you make two wrong statements about it.

    1) I did not get “tenured employment” at NYU. I did receive a promotion from “Assistant Professor” to “Professor” (full professor). I got a promotion and a raise. Butt there’s no tenure in my program so that was not an option and I didn’t receive it.

    2) I had applied for the promotion in April 2016. My application portfolio was unparalleled among the other applicants in my program. I had published three books on one year. None of the other applicants came even remotely close to that. I had published in top Cambridge University Press periodicals and anthologies. Most of my “peers” had publications in obscure journals that no one has ever heard of let alone read.I had the idea for the first international conference (on secularism) hosted by our program. The proposal was accepted. I chaired it and ran the whole thing. It was a major success. Scholars from around the world presented. I produced an anthology on the basis of the conference.

    So while on the one. hand you give me credit for being some sinister and successful schemer, as if I had planned this entire scenario and predicted how it would end, while on the other you have no idea about the actual conditions of my promotion, and the fact that of 19 other applicants, who all received the promotion by the way, my application was unparalleled in terms of accomplishments, and that includes my excellent teaching evaluations.

    Try to get your facts straight. I admire your scholarship but these kind of ideologically-induced lapses are unfortunate and in this case libelous.

    • The brief mention of you was not written by me. As I indicate in the first line of the post, the essay was written by “Croatian comrade Juraj Katalenac.” His name then appears again later at the beginning of his essay, along with a link to his blog.

      I think people from the Balkans, former Yugoslavia, are congenitally incapable of being politically correct. Most of his essay rails against the entire premise of “white privilege” and sectional idpol.

      Regardless, I’m not sure how libel cases operate in the context of international law, if you were planning to pursue litigation against Juraj. Fairly certain that basic human rights do not exist there, lying as it does beyond the borders of the civilized world.

      • My apologies to you then, Ross. I will emend my post to reflect this. You might have made note of whether or not you agreed with her about this but it’s understandable that you wouldn’t or couldn’t address every point.

      • I am reproducing the relevant changes to my post, here:

        An essay posted by Ross Wolfe on his blog and written by Juraj Katalenac provides the most recent example of this kind of mendacious, reckless, and libelous imputation to me of political malice and naked opportunist ambition.* As much as I loathe providing it exposure, I will quote from the essay, entitled “Intellectual Imperialism.” But first, I must note that the hypocrisy embedded in the title and post is stunning. It suggests a criticism of intellectual imperialism of some sort. Huh? As if the essayist does not hope and work for a day when her essay(s) might become “hegemonic,” when it spreads as far and wide as possible and “colonizes” whatever ideological and mental space it/she can possibly penetrate, while carrying her name with it. In any case, she merely repeats and extrapolates from a vulgarized and completely errant version of events propagated by U.S. leftists. Her reiteration of the same, tired, and baldface lies promulgated by “American Thought” makes her essay all the more ironic, however. She merely reproduces the very same vulagarized “American Thought” herself, precisely as she complains about it:

        “Social networks are crucial for spreading of ‘American thought’ not only because they promote simplified expression, but also they are simplifying language itself which suits this narrative of theoretical simplification and impoverishment. Also, social networks allow certain academics, who have not published anything genuine or important in their lives and that cannot even grasp the basics of their own academic disciplines, to gain attention and a following just by saying “shocking things” on the Internet. I am talking about cases such as George Ciccariello-Maher’s tweets about ‘white genocide’ or Michael Rectenwald’s stunt to get tenured employment at New York University. Narcissistic need for constant attention is certainly one of the most important missions of “American thought,” but unlike academia of the past it is unable to fulfill its basic social purpose: to educate and to develop theory. Even though, one could point out that they are still developing theory that serves the agenda of the ruling class in this present capitalist epoch with its identitarian and individualist discourse. Also, this narcissism is present in activist circles too. Some of the worst examples of this were the various “thinkpieces” surrounding the recent murder of Heather Heyer.”

        As I responded in the comment section below the post, Katalenac’s pot shot is both factually errant but also tonally condescending and beneath contempt. Further, the statement betrays a blatant and transparent ressentiment. Has the author ever even published a single book? I have published four scholarly books, two of which are used in classes all over North America. I have also published two books of poetry and a book of short stories. Eh, the comment says enough.

        Wow, she gives me far too much credit. If this had been a planned operation, I would have to be a mastermind. But it wasn’t planned and she makes two wrong statements about it.

        1) I did not get “tenured employment” at NYU. I did receive a promotion from “Assistant Professor” to “Professor” (full professor). I got a promotion and a raise. But there’s no tenure in my program, so that was not an option and I didn’t receive it.

        2) I had applied for the promotion in April 2016, over six months before my kerfuffle over PC/social justice authoritarianism. My application portfolio was unparalleled among the other applicants in my program. I had published three books in one year. None of the other applicants came even remotely close to that. I had published in top Cambridge University Press periodicals and anthologies…[Cut comments about the journals my “colleagues” have published in…I shouldn’t have deigned to remark on them.] I had the idea for the first international conference (on secularism) hosted by our program. The proposal was accepted. I chaired it and ran the whole thing. It was a major success. Scholars from around the world presented. I produced an anthology on the basis of the conference.

        So while on the one hand the author gives me credit for being some sinister and successful schemer, as if I had planned this entire scenario and predicted how it would end, on the other, she is clueless about the actual conditions of my promotion, and the fact that of nineteen other applicants, who all received the promotion by the way, my application was unparalleled in terms of accomplishments, and that includes my excellent teaching evaluations. (Errata corrected here but not on his blog as it has no edit function.)

        She should get get her facts straight before spouting off erratically. These kinds of ideologically-induced lapses are unfortunate, and in this case, libelous.

        Katalenac’s remarks merely represent one of the most explicit statements to the same, spurious effect. Many others made drew similar conclusions with no knowledge of context, or me, my career history, or anything. These include a post on Libcom.org, suggesting that I was “doing a Christopher Hitchens.” The post followed by comments by posters, who, without the slightest knowledge base of about me, or the institutional context in which I have worked, make the same baseless and libelous claims, even, like other leftists, endorsing the version of events surrounding my case given by the institutional behemoth, NYU — NYU, whose “ethical standards” have been well-illustrated by them and documented by me and others, especially my good friend, Mark Crispin Miller….

        *Note: An earlier version of my installment here attributed the essay “Intellectual Imperialism” to Ross Wolfe. The essay was written by Juraj Katalenac and reposted by Wolfe on his blog, with an introduction. I missed this fact as I skipped to the libelous bit about me. I apologize to Ross Wolfe for the mistake.

        Meanwhile, Katalenac’s essay betrays an utter ignorance of my case that is somewhat excusable owing to her distance from the context.

      • I can’t actually discern whether you’re being ironic in the last sentence or not. I really hope you are. If not, feel free to gain some elementary information on the situation – it might improve your “Marxist” credentials, and maybe soften your not so subtle racism.

        Considering your deep, and obviously highly informed stance on balkan barbarians (“I think people from the Balkans, former Yugoslavia, are congenitally incapable of being politically correct), it’s nice to see that žižek’s idiocy is being nonchalantly generalized. Very “Marxist” of you Mr. Wolf, indeed.

  2. With respect to critics of Angela Nagle’s book, I saw some critics made by webs or people like libcom.org and Joseph Kay… are they also part of this evil “idpol left” as well? I don’t see Ross Wolfe making any comment or reflection about critics of Angela Nagle, Zero Books and all that clique coming from part of the “libertarian communist milieu” (in the end, maybe, all the tankie and trot hubris that remains nowadays are an easier target).

    “Toxic Western political correctness”…. ehhhh uhhhh ohhh yeah! you know, Here is the East, women are beaten and raped and they like it. There is the West, women are beaten and raped as well but they don’t like it

    I am glad that Rectenwald is alive and well, and that he is still not owned… Is he still doing interviews for Heatstreet?

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