So who else is mad as hell about the symbolic transfer of power between rival factions of the bourgeoisie? Remember all the demonstrations that spontaneously broke out eight years ago, when Barack Obama was first inaugurated? And then the acute sense of outrage we sustained throughout his two terms in office, holding regular protests as the government he oversaw deported a record number of undocumented immigrants?
None of that ever happened. In fact, the first issue of International Socialist Review released during Obama’s presidency featured one of his 2008 campaign slogans: “Yes we can!” Despite the fact his foreign policy platform was virtually identical to that of his predecessor (save some stuff about shifting focus away from the Middle East, toward East Asia), and although domestically he merely followed through on Bush’s bailout of the banks, most self-described Marxists sat back and cheered to themselves as Obama was sworn in. The lead editorial announced that
the election of Barack Hussein Obama as forty-fourth president of the United States is a watershed event. In a country where Africans were brought in chains, were slaves until 1865, where legal (or de facto) segregation was the rule, and where the majority of African Americans were not given the right to vote until 1965, Obama’s election is historic… Engagement is the order of the day.
By contrast, this same publication frowns upon any sort of engagement with the incoming Trump administration. “Resistance” is the order of the day: “Let the resistance begin. The churning fear and revulsion swirling inside us as we watch Donald J. Trump take the oath to become the 45th president of the United States will be at least somewhat balanced by the satisfaction of watching inspiring and unprecedented levels of protest rising up to greet an incoming president…” Conjuring up the ghost of fascism, anyone who entertains the idea of engaging with the new president is branded a collaborator.
What’s so different, though? You’d think that a Marxoid sect that traces its lineage to Lenin would remember his famous paraphrase of The Civil War in France (1871) in State and Revolution (1917): “Marx grasped this essence of capitalist democracy splendidly when, in analyzing the experience of the [Paris] Commune, he said that the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class shall represent and repress them in parliament!” Obviously it would be folly to argue that both major American parties are identical. Yet neither represents the interests of the working class, so why engage with either? Continue reading →
I never met Mark Fisher, but we corresponded often via e-mail. And he was always very encouraging. Right after I wrote a scathing review of “conference communism” in early 2014, “The Ghost of Communism Past,” Mark sent me the following: “Your piece on conference communism, sent to me by a fellow editor, fairly well nails down what we hope Zer0 isn’t. We enjoyed it, happy new year.” Fisher would of course depart from Zer0, along with many of his peers, to found Repeater Books later that same year. Nevertheless, his commitment to an accessible, non-academic but sophisticated Marxism was unflagging.
Capitalist Realism was his principal achievement in the realm of theory, the fruit of a long series of reflections and introspection conducted largely online. In it he railed against “the slow cancellation of the future” enacted by post-communist capitalism. Taking its cue from Jameson’s insight — no less true for having been quoted ad nauseam — that “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism,” Mark asked if there was “really no alternative” to the neoliberal regime of Reagan and Thatcher. Some of his musings about mental health, which regularly featured on his K-Punk blog, also appeared with casual brilliance in this text:
The current ruling ontology denies any possibility of a social causation of mental illness. The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization. Considering mental illness an individual chemico-biological problem has enormous benefits for capitalism. First, it reinforces capital’s drive towards atomistic individualization (you are sick because of your brain chemistry). Second, it provides an enormously lucrative market in which multinational pharmaceutical companies can peddle their pharmaceuticals (we can cure you with our SSRIs). It goes without saying that all mental illnesses are neurologically instantiated, but this says nothing about their causation. If it is true, for instance, that depression is constituted by low serotonin levels, what still needs to be explained is why particular individuals have low levels of serotonin. This requires a social and political explanation; and the task of repoliticizing mental illness is an urgent one if the left wants to challenge capitalist realism.
How much sadder it all seems, reading these words now, in light of his suicide. Mark confessed in an article for The Occupied Times that he “suffered from depression intermittently since [he] was a teenager.” Obviously it would be presumptuous to conclude that the miserable state of leftist discourse had anything to do with his decision to end his life; too many other factors might have been more immediate or proximate. But it would be just as misguided to maintain that this had nothing to do with Mark’s overwhelming sense of despair in recent years, especially since he so frequently lamented the sorry place at which we’ve all arrived.
Yesterday I learned that George Ciccariello-Maher, an associate professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has recently come under fire for a stupid joke he sent out on Twitter a couple of days ago. On Christmas Eve, he tweeted: “All I want for Christmas is white genocide.” Immediately Ciccariello-Maher began receiving angry replies and death threats. Soon the right-wing news digest Breitbart picked up the story, which then led to further outcry around the web. Drexel responded the next day by issuing a statement that condemned the “inflammatory tweet,” calling it “utterly reprehensible” while assuring readers that the school “takes this matter very seriously.”
Needless to say, this is an outrageous effort by a major conservative outlet to muzzle a minor left-wing academic. By whipping up public indignation, this gang of online reactionaries hopes to exert enough institutional pressure to threaten Ciccariello-Maher’s livelihood. This comes only a few weeks after the unveiling of Turning Point USA’s Professor Watchlist, a neo-McCarthyite initiative that purports to monitor “professors who advance a radical agenda in lecture halls” by compiling a dossier of their “subversive” activities. Were Drexel to punish or otherwise discipline Ciccariello-Maher, it would set an alarming precedent. Extramural political speech ought to be protected.
Cynthia Walker has drawn up a petition in support of the embattled professor, which I encourage everyone to sign. I’ve added my own signature to it, along with seven thousand or so who have done likewise, despite some lingering doubts about the efficacy of such measures. (Maybe other people had more exciting civics classes than I did, but I never much saw the point of writing concerned letters or fervent entreaties. Just takes a second, though, so it’s not really a hassle). Regardless of what one may think of him, it’s not as if he deserves to lose his job over this petty shit.
One of the last Cold Warriors left standing finally bit the dust last night. If we’re lucky, Henry Kissinger will also be dead by year’s end. Good fucking riddance. Comrade Emanuel Santos put it splendidly: “Fidel Castro, Stalinist butcher and enemy of the workers, is dead. The working class won’t be happy until the last bureaucrat is hung with the intestines of the last capitalist.” [Fidel Castro, verdugo Estalinista y enemigo de los obreros, ha fallecido. La clase trabajadora no estará contenta hasta que el último burócrata cuelgue de las entrañas del último capitalista].
Another comrade, Ashmeet Teemsa, exclaimed that “the enemy of Cuban proletariat is dead, a man no more a friend of the working class than Thatcher,” adding: “Shame on the ‘anarchists’/’communists’ who eulogize or mourn!” He then quoted from the International Communist Current’s Basic Positions: “The stratified regimes which arose in the USSR, eastern Europe, China, Cuba etc and were called “socialist” or “communist” were just a particularly brutal form of the universal tendency towards state capitalism.”
There is no such thing as socialism in one country, and nationalism (whether American or Cuban, “right-wing” or “left-wing”) is nothing more than the consort of war, designed to facilitate the division of the world proletariat, to lead the working-class onto the battlefield, marching under “its own” national flag, and prepare the separated sections of the working class for reciprocal slaughter, all this in the name of “their” national interest, the interest of “their” nation’s bourgeoisie. The self-proclaimed Castroite “anti-imperialists” (i.e. anti-western imperialism) fail to understand that imperialism is simply the logic of world capitalism’s atomic components, nation-states — imperialism is capitalism’s metabolism in a world divided into nation-states. As competing zones of accumulation within this world-system, nation-states are led to clash with one another. Only the dissolution of nation-states, as politico-economic units, can put an end to this system, and hence bring about world proletarian revolution.
What we see in Cuba, Venezuela, etc., contrary to tankie/Chomskyite nonsense, is nothing progressive, no step forward for the working class. The displacement of the old bourgeoisie and their replacement by a new, “red” bourgeoisie and the replacement of privatized industries and free-market capitalism with nationalized industries and state-capitalism (and a flourishing black market) are irrelevant. The obvious features of capitalism, as described by Marx in Capital — the accumulation of value, commodities, the exploitation of workers, etc. — remain the same. Internationalists reject the choice between “capitalist” bosses, police and prisons and “socialist” bosses, police and prisons. Between “right-wing”/pro-American and “left-wing”/anti-American regimes or countries. This is all superficial, leftist (left of capital) nonsense. International relations are inherently fluid. Those who eulogize or propagandize on behalf of the “red” bourgeoisie help to foster and reinforce illusions about the “revolutionary” or “progressive” nature of various anti-proletarian, nationalist regimes and state-capitalism. We have reason neither to mourn nor celebrate.
My own thoughts add little to this, though one might also consult the excellent 1966 bulletin on “Cuba and Marxist Theory.” Leaving aside the egregious treatment of LGBT individuals in Cuba under Fidel, forced into labor camps from 1959 to 1979, a few words might be said.
My last post dealt with fear. This post, by contrast, will deal with loathing.
Self-loathing, to be exact.
As soon as it became clear Trump was going to win the election last Tuesday night, a wave of despair swept over liberals and progressives alike. Even leftists who’d up to then feigned indifference to the result now joined in the outpouring of emotion that followed Clinton’s defeat. Generally this took the form of anger, anguish, or grief. Usually it was some mixture thereof. One reaction was particularly useless, however: guilt.
White guilt, to be exact.
Numerous thinkpieces and editorials appeared over the course of the following days. Representative titles include “Dear White Women: We Fucked Up” in The Huffington Post, and “I am Ashamed to be Part of the Demographic that Elected Trump” from Affinity Magazine. Sarah Ruiz-Grossman wrote in the former: “I am ashamed of my country and ashamed of white people. But more than anyone else, I am ashamed of white women.” Cassie Baker sounded off in the latter: “I cannot even begin to convey how embarrassed and ashamed I am that this is what it has come to.” Public announcements of this sort had already begun to pour in on social media the night before. Laurie Penny, a frequent contributor to The Guardian and New Inquiry, confessed on Twitter: “I have had white liberal guilt before. Today is the first time I’ve actually been truly horrified and ashamed to be white.” Another author, who has written for Marxist publications like Salvage and Socialist Worker in the past, echoed Penny’s sentiment on Facebook: “Not sure if I’ve ever felt as ashamed to be a white American man as I do today.”
Honestly, though I’ve been known to be a bit cynical, I wonder what such statements actually aim to accomplish. Often they seem like virtue-signaling rituals of atonement, meant to convey to others what a good ally someone is. Either that or assuage their guilty conscience. And the same goes with the safety pins activists have started to wear, as in the aftermath of the Brexit vote this summer. Ruby Hamad put it bluntly in an editorial published by The Sydney Morning Herald: “Safety pins are meaningless acts of solidarity made to assuage white guilt.” “Make no mistake, that’s what the safety pins are for,” Christopher Keelty wrote with equal bluntness in a blog entry for The Huffington Post, “helping white people feel better.” Christopher Lasch diagnosed long ago the narcissism that motivates many individuals committed to activist causes: “Political movements exercise a fatal attraction for those who seek to drown the sense of personal failure in collective action.” Continue reading →
One sign, waved by someone somehow #StillWithHer, reads: “Not my president.” Another echoes the popular chant: “We reject the president elect.” Finally, and most ubiquitously: “Love trumps hate.”
Such are the slogans seen and heard at anti-Trump rallies since election results rolled in. Calling them riots is pushing it; these are pretty prosaic affairs. I usually don’t put too much stock in the mottoes and phrases mindlessly repeated at rituals of dissent, but here the last example mentioned at the outset instructive. Does love indeed trump hate? Perhaps. Readers of Machiavelli will recall that there’s another sentiment, however, more powerful than love or hate: fear. More on this a bit later; for now, let’s examine the forms of mobilization that have cropped up in response to the prospect of a Trump presidency.
Hysterical liberalism and protest politics
Liberals know that people are angry, so they’ve brought in their appointed “community leaders,” preachers, and various other “peacekeepers” to prevent these protests from being anything other than impotent cry-ins. M. Harlan Hoke was fortunate enough to attend a demonstration in Philly organized by Socialist Alternative, rather than by disgruntled Dems. He comments that SAlt at least managed to stay on point by focusing on valid economic grievances and the need for comprehensive social reform, while also acknowledging the concerns of groups frightened by Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric on immigration, religious discrimination, and abortion.
Elsewhere, in the more “spontaneous” marches — quickly commandeered by professional activists and NGO representatives loyal to the Democratic Party — their purpose was much less clear. In a post on his new blog, Imperium ad Infinitum, Hoke observes that “in other cities, the theme of the protests is basically angry oblivious Democrats. Their message is what? Vote Democrat in the 2018 and 2020 midterms? Just keep protesting Trump?” Protest politics are fairly limited to begin with, and I have my criticisms even of popular front coalitions formed by parties and organizations further to the left (I’ll get to this later). For now it’s enough to emphasize that liberalism is a total dead end.
Woke celebrities like Lena Dunham, Beyoncé Knowles, and Amanda Marcotte are also out in force, of course, expressing their sanctimonious dismay. Katy Perry is proclaiming open revolution in widely-shared tweets. But these are unlikely to carry over into the real world. Pop singer and Aryan goddess Taylor Swift has remained conspicuously silent throughout all of this. Then again, she’s unwittingly become the darling Valkyrie of the alternative right, so maybe it’s in her best interest to hang back for a bit and see how things play out. Riot grrrl pioneers Le Tigre hopefully regret that cringe-inducing video endorsement of the would-be Madame President. Continue reading →
But muh rainbow coalition of marginalized identities will smash the kyriarchy as we sprinkle magic diversity pixie dust over everyone and create a shiny liberal Starbucks utopia. Yesterday was 18 Brumaire CCXXV according to the French Republican calendar, by the way. Just a happy coincidence, I’m sure.
Left-liberal “progressives” did this to themselves. This is exactly what retreating into cultural (i.e., identity) politics, while abandoning class as the basis for a socially transformative coalition, gets you. If you make no attempt to appeal to workers qua workers, the Right will inevitably make inroads within that group. As they indeed have. So I don’t pity anyone who is seriously distraught by these results. Blame for Trump cannot be laid solely at the doorstep of “crackers” and hicks; he did significantly better among blacks and Latinos than Romney, his Republican predecessor.
Most anti-affirmative action shit is totally right-wing, so I will begin by saying that I in no way share the politics of most people who look to criticize it. But it’s ultimately a cosmetic measure, which creates a black and minority bourgeoisie and political elite (“black faces in high places,” etc.). When coupled with general economic stagnation and wage depression, growing income inequality and job loss, it’s a recipe for revanchist majoritarian backlash. Educated liberal elites expressed nothing but contempt for the working poor in flyover country, whom they vilified as “one reactionary mass” — i.e., a “basket of deplorables” — of ignorant racists.
In such an atmosphere, even the slightest overture to the working class was bound to resonate enormously. Here, of course, the appeal was made using xenophobic and hateful rhetoric, exploiting longstanding racial divisions and capitalizing on deeply-felt anxieties. Plus, the lack of any appeal to the working class by the Democrats also meant that poor minorities were not energized to vote for them. Smug, latte-sipping liberals just rested on their laurels, secure in their belief that victory was assured by simple demographic shifts. All this while offering nothing to working blacks or Latinos, and promising continued war on those parts of the globe from which the refugee crisis first arose. Continue reading →
Was wondering where Hillary got her campaign slogan from: Turns out it was Generalfeldmarschall Paul von Hindenburg. Incidentally, he was supported by the SPD in the hope he would stop Hitler. No sooner was he in office, however, than the Junker octogenarian decided to appoint the Nazi leader chancellor.
Yes, that’s right. A party founded only forty years earlier on ostensibly Marxist principles was now cheering “I’m mit Ihm.”
Before Trump’s campaign started tanking a little over three weeks ago, you heard the word “fascism” being thrown around a lot this election cycle. Many on the Left were saying that Trump must be defeated at any cost, even if that means supporting a hawkish Democrat like Hillary Clinton.
Somebody somewhere noted the irony: “Just for the sake of historical accuracy, you’d think more people would mention that pragmatic electoral compromises meant to prevent fascism are actually what resulted in fascism.” Or at least in the German Bonapartism that later led to the fascist consolidation of power.
Donald Trump is no Adolph Hitler. And Hillary Clinton’s certainly no Paul von Hindenburg. Even if she does favor military solutions to foreign policy problems, the comparison is a bit of a stretch. Žižek, despite his recent lapses in judgment, gets Trump about right. Trump is more of a centrist liberal than anything else.
Regardless, it’s not as if Clinton would appoint Trump to some sort of cabinet or ministerial position after the November vote. Fascism as a mass movement is still not really a threat in the West. Largely because the ruling class does not feel itself threatened enough to resort to supporting dictatorial measures that might suppress incipient revolt.
Historical analogies are usually misleading. Certainly this one is, if taken too literally. Perhaps this might simply serve as a healthy reminder of the perils of voting for the “lesser evil” once every four years.
So I downloaded and was reading the Islamic State’s webzine Dabiq — because hey, why not be on a terror watchlist? Comrade Coates shared something about it on Twitter, some vile passage that’d been originally been posted on Reddit, so I decided to track down a copy and have a read myself. It’s always a rush, seeking out those obscure East Asian message boards where you can find files of Dabiq. You never know if you’re about to download some fatal virus. Part of the thrill of it, I suppose. Jihadology and other more respected sources of primary documents on extremism are no fun. They take the sense of adventure out of it.
Anyway, apparently the self-styled Caliphate thinks that Western nations were too soft in their imperialism. Or else so corrupted by liberalism and “political correctness” that they felt obliged to apologize for their misdeeds years later:
The clear difference between Muslims and the corrupt and deviant Jews and Christians is that Muslims are not ashamed of abiding by the rules sent down from their Lord regarding war and enforcement of divine law. So if it were the Muslims, instead of the Crusaders, who had fought the Japanese and Vietnamese or invaded the lands of the Native Americans, there would have been no regrets in killing and enslaving those therein. And since those mujahidin would have done so bound by the Law, they would have been thorough and without some “politically correct” need to apologize years later. The Japanese, for example, would have been forcefully converted to Islam from their pagan ways. Had they stubbornly declined, perhaps another nuke would change their mind. The Vietnamese would likewise be offered Islam or beds of napalm. As for the Native Americans: after the slaughter of their men, those who would favor smallpox to surrendering to the Lord would have their surviving women and children taken as slaves, with the children raised as model Muslims and their women impregnated to produce a new generation of mujahidin. As for the treacherous Jews of Europe and elsewhere — those who would betray their covenant — then their post-pubescent males would face a slaughter that would make the Holocaust sound like a bedtime story, as their women would be made to serve their husbands’ and fathers’ killers.
Furthermore, the lucrative African slave trade would have continued, supporting a strong economy. The Islamic leadership would not have bypassed Allah’s permission to sell captured pagan humans, to teach them, and to convert them, as they worked hard for their masters in building a beautiful country. Notably, of course, those of them who converted, practiced their religion well, and were freed would be treated no differently than any other free Muslim. This is unlike when the Christian slaves were emancipated in America, as they were not afforded supposedly government-recognized equal “rights” for more than a century — and their descendants still live in a nation divided over those days.
All of this would be done, not for racism, nationalism, or political lies, but to make the word of Allah supreme. Jihad is the ultimate show of one’s love for his Creator, facing the clashing of swords and buzzing of bullets on the battlefield, seeking to slaughter His enemies — whom he hates for Allah’s hatred of them.
Much of this is clearly meant to serve a propaganda function, the group’s genocidal aims laid out matter-of-factly, in keeping with their apocalyptic imagery. It would of course be foolish to dismiss it all as empty posturing. Daesh actually does systematically murder, enslave, and rape within its shrinking territory. Some of the lines excerpted here seem almost designed just to scandalize mainstream liberal sensibilities, which are identified with the West. For example, the standard boilerplate complaint about “political correctness” is something one frequently sees on Alt-Right and RadTrad forums and message boards. Here IS is daring them to take the green pill instead of the red, an even more heady traditionalist concoction than the one they’re already accustomed to fantasizing about.
The amount of leftist posturing around the issue of Brexit exists in inverse proportion to the actual potential of the situation, which as everyone knows is zilch. It reflects the flailing impotence of the contemporary Left and the total absence of a viable proletarian or internationalist alternative. Neither the vote to leave nor the vote to remain is radical in the least.
Several months ago, in their official statement on the matter, the Communist Party of Great Britain therefore observed: “Cameron’s referendum is a cynical maneuver that pits reactionaries against other reactionaries… Likewise, the ‘out’ campaign is dominated by noxious chauvinism, [aiming to replace] ‘Fortress Europe’ with the stronger ‘Fortress Britain’.” From Cardiff a voice justly proclaims a pox upon both Britannia and Europa, advising abstention from this plebiscitary farce.
Yet even the call for communists to abstain feels like something of an empty gesture given the current context. Mike Macnair, one of the authors of the aforementioned statement, has basically said as much. “Boycotting the vote is what I am arguing for,” explained Macnair at a panel organized by Platypus in London. “Had we more forces, I’d argue not merely for a boycott but to disrupt this vote as a sham, a fraud, and an anti-democratic initiative.”
Amidst the cacophony and confusion a quote from Lev Trotsky has resurfaced, which echoes uncannily across the ages and seems to speak to the present dilemma. While the constellation of forces is no doubt quite different, and Marxists should refrain from drawing hasty historic parallels, the quote is nevertheless well suited to the task of trolling left Brexiteers — for example the Swappers (slang for members of the British Socialist Workers Party), as well as the independent Trot septuagenarian Tariq Ali:
If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.
Meanwhile, Sp!ked has been running a public campaign in support of the Brexit. The whole thing has been an embarrassment, painful to watch, with Neil Davenport holding fast to a naïve majoritarian model of democracy. “Particular people seem not to trust ordinary people to vote the right way in an election. So how would they feel about them taking over the means of production?” As if this were not simply repeating the same populist platitudes always inimical to revolutionary Marxism. Continue reading →