Solidarity after Charlottesville

Like everyone else watching the Charlottesville protests, I was appalled by the violence and hateful rhetoric displayed by white nationalists over the weekend. I cannot, however, say I was surprised. Chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us” as a group of fascists surrounded to defend a Confederate monument wielding Tikki torches (okay, I laughed a little at that) put the lie to the quaint notion that antisemitism is dead and gone in this country. Just like in the past, it seems to reemerge whenever there are economic anxieties and racial unrest, linked closely with anti-black racism as well as anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim xenophobia.

Emma Green made this point three days ago in an article which ran in The Atlantic: “Anti-black and anti-Jewish sentiment have long been intertwined in America. When the Jewish factory worker Leo Frank was wrongfully convicted of murder and lynched in 1915, two new groups simultaneously emerged: the Anti-Defamation League, which fights against bigotry and anti-Semitism, and the second Ku Klux Klan, which began by celebrating Frank’s death.” Similarly, Eric Ward’s Political Research essay “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism” forcefully argues that “antisemitism is not a sideshow to racism within white nationalist thought.” (It’s worth reading also for its insights into the early LA punk scene).

Regarding various “antis” like anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, readers of this blog will know I am influenced by the Bordigist critique of anti-fascism and the councilist critique of anti-imperialism. Nevertheless, this does not mean that fascism and imperialism are not to be opposed. If these political orientations are to be salvageable for Marxists at all, it is important to acknowledge most forms of actually-existing anti-fascism and anti-imperialism are awful. The best anti-fascists and anti-imperialists out there already admit this, of course, and know that in doing so they are not denigrating the lives that have been lost or the sacrifices that have been made.

Marx understood this well enough himself, writing in 1850: “Our task is that of ruthless criticism, much more against ostensible friends than against open enemies. And in maintaining this as our position, we gladly forego cheap democratic popularity.” Internationalist Perspective put out a good response a little while ago entitled “Antifa? No Thanks,” in which they claimed: “By framing the conflict as one between fascism and democracy, the partisans of antifa are making the first choice seem logical and necessary, and are thereby, despite their combativeness, acting as water carriers for capitalism.”

Horkheimer’s old adage from 1939 still rings true: “Whoever is not willing to speak of capitalism should keep quiet about fascism as well.” Gilles Dauvé’s debate with the British group Aufheben is worth revisiting in this context, in order:

  1. Jean Barrot [Gilles Dauvé], Fascism/Antifascism (1982)
  2. Aufheben, “Review of Barrot’s Fascism/Antifascism (1992)
  3. Gilles Dauvé, “Reply to Aufheben” (1998)

Opposition to fascism does not a communist make. The chorus of tweets from Mitt Romney, Marco Rubio, Nancy Pelosi, and other reactionaries condemning the white nationalists lend credence to Bordiga’s infamous quip that “the worst product of fascism is anti-fascism.” Politically, perhaps, it can be. Although I’d say that the human toll, the dead and brutalized bodies scarred by fascist goons, is fascism’s worst product in absolute terms. Going to the rally at Union Square on Sunday, there were a fair number of signs from the woke Democratic Party “resistance,” showing that class collaborationism indeed remains a real danger.

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Reap the whirlwind

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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

Solidarity with migrants

No more war, no more terror,
either in France or elsewhere

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No more war,
no more terror,
either in France or elsewhere.
Solidarity with migrants.

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Without relativizing the violence in Paris or making ridiculous excuses for jihadist reactionaries, Marxists must be prepared to stand against xenophobic and racist backlash — whether reprisals arise out of European civil society or are part of state/police crackdowns. Marxists everywhere must consistently oppose right-wing demagogues in Europe and North America, who seek to limit migration and stir up hatred toward marginalized immigrants. The vast majority of refugees from that region (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon) are themselves fleeing Islamic State cut-throats. It doesn’t matter whether a Syrian passport was found near the site of one of the attacks. Regardless of if whether it was genuine or if it was deliberately planted by the terrorists (if not the French police), the fact remains that most migrants are victims of the same group that terrorized the capital of the nineteenth century on Friday.

As usual the range of responses to this tragedy voiced by the political Left has widely varied, at times incoherently, everywhere from encouraging to discouraging: from sober and insightful reflections to smug-to-outrageous exercises in moral equivalency and comparative atrocity. Nothing is worse than when sociopaths, given the alibi of anti-imperialism, tell you they either don’t care about victims of a massacre or that “it’s nothing compared to what the imperialists do,” as Michael Rectenwald pointed out. It’s not nothing, and such comparisons are specious. For a person who is killed, the percentage is 100%.

Besides, it is not as if those who were murdered in Paris were uniformly French, white, or supporters of their nation’s militarist policies. The terrorists targeted an exceptionally diverse, progressive section of the city with a thriving LGBTQ subculture and left-liberal youths, even “hipster socialists.” Cinzia Aruzza put this eloquently in a public post circulated on social media:

A victim of the Paris attacks was Patricia San Martín, 55 years old, from Chile, the child of two Communist parents who moved to Paris after being tortured under Pinochet’s regime. Another victim was Luis Felipe Zschoche Valle, from Chile. Another victim was Mohamed Amine Benmbarek, 28 years old, from Morocco. Two other victims were Houda and Halima Ben Khalifa Saadi, 34 and 35 years old, from Tunisia. Another victim was Djamila Houd, probably of Algerian origins. Another victim was Nohemi Gonzales, a student from California State University. Another victim was Asta Diakite, French and black. Another victim was Kheireddine Sahbi, a young violinist, from Algeria. There is no “they” and “us,” the people killed in Paris are everybody’s people. The only “they” are the warmongers in power.

Equally depressing is the #‎notalljihadists‬ prattle currently making the rounds, people sharing links to the condemnations of the Paris attacks by other organizations founded on principles of Political Islam. As if Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, and Islamic Jihad are not themselves reactionary. To be clear, Islamism ≠ Islam. And the overwhelming majority of Muslims throughout the world are rightly disgusted by the wave of violence in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere. However, Marxists’ justifiable concern with incipient Islamophobia and rising nationalism in Europe should not blind them to the patently obvious reactionary character of seemingly more “moderate” Islamist groups. Jihadism is a modern ultraconservative ideology that takes advantage of popular discontents in regions ravaged by civil war and foreign military intervention as well as disaffected youths from ethnic or religious minorities in the West. Recognition of this fact cannot be made into some sort of unspeakable truth or contingent on the so-called “rhetorical conditions of the War on Terror.” Neither should it abet further militarism in Syria or Iraq.

Marxists, following Marx, are the implacable foes of religious superstition and ideology: “If one desired…to remind liberalism of its old catchwords, it surely could have been done only in the following form: Everyone should be able to attend his religious as well as his bodily needs without the police sticking their noses in. But the workers’ party ought…to express its awareness of the fact that bourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part it endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion” (Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875).

This goes for its more banal, quotidian forms in the lives of ordinary people to the more exalted “union sacrée” held up by France and Britain when either nation feels itself under attack.

Against religious fanaticism, against the state

Mouvement Communiste and
Kolektivně proti kapitálu on
irrationalism and the caliphate

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Neither God nor master! [Ni dieu ni maître!]

— Auguste Blanqui

Communism begins from the outset with atheism; but atheism is at first far from being communism; indeed, that atheism is still mostly an abstraction.

— Karl Marx

Whatever were the aims of those responsible for the massacre at Charlie Hebdo, the consequence was to terrorize the whole population. To terrorize so as to prevent understanding, so as to set up even higher artificial barriers between people on the basis of religious belief. Religion has become a veritable arm of political Islam everywhere in the world. In France this is opposed by the religion of state, said to be secular and republican. In presenting itself as the guardian of civil peace, the state calls for national unity around itself. It demands that the population delegates to it the defense of freedom and democracy. It’s a defense which comes at the price of the preventive restriction of individual and collective liberties and an increased repression of all anti-state dissent. For the defenders of “white identity” like the Front Nationale the attack confirmed that “civil war has already started” against an already identified enemy — the Muslims. All Muslims: whether they share the views of the fanatics, whether they fight them, or whether they simply silently submit to them. The foreigner, “the other” from here or wherever, is the target for the fanatics on all sides. The despicable attack on Charlie Hebdo plays the game of the state and weakens the only class, the working class, which can concretely fight religious fanaticism where it is rooted, where it seeks searches for its potential soldiers, in working class neighborhoods and in workplaces. This fight is indispensable if we are not to give up the asserting the need for the exploited and oppressed to organize themselves independently against the state, against all states. As for violent political Islam, its objective is to force Muslims to isolate themselves and to serve as cattle to be sacrificed in Syria, or even right here. What matters is to understand this phenomenon so as to be able to fight it without mercy, and without becoming bound hand and foot to the state.

Irrationalism and the caliphate

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Political Islam has become a global subject of debate and of polarization of civil society into illusory opposed communities. Each one of these illusory communities claims to fight in the name of a certain idea of civilization, only being able to fully express itself in the complete defeat of the other, identified as the enemy because of the faith it professes, including the faith in secularism and the state. In the name of such and such a belief in the supernatural, almost anything can be ignored: the question of the millennia-old oppression of women; the family; international migration; jobs; housing; food, etc.

The deforming and mystifying prism of religion becomes the supposed justification for irrationality, rejection of the reality-principle, and more generally the denial of the humanity to enemies of the faith. This specific mystification of social relations penetrates deeply into the heads of numerous proletarians here, in the advanced capitalist countries, as well as into those of their brothers and sisters on the periphery of the most developed capitalist world.

Because of their incontestable success, these reactionary fideist ideas become a powerful material force adding to those that already shape the surface of the capitalist globe. The extension of fideism in all its forms overturns priorities and redefines capitalist camps in all regions of the planet. But, like every ideology, this long wave of obscurantism is not able to hold back the determinism of matter and the social relations which the ideology claims to replace. Capitalism is not threatened by faith any more than the class societies which preceded it. Fideism is nothing other than a particular ideological expression of class submission.

Fideism is a Catholic theological term, linked to traditionalism. According to it the truth can only be known by tradition, not by reason. All knowledge is founded on a primitive revelation that prolongs and enriches Christian revelation. Only faith, the illuminating intelligence (itself intuitive, thus distinct from reason, which is analytical), makes us know the basis of things, that is to say, spiritual realities. More precisely, fideism excludes the possibility that the truths of faith can consist of rational preambles, resting on proof, including a kernel of rationality which could be absorbed into an autonomous philosophy. In another sense, also theological, fideism makes faith consist of trust in God, not in adhesion to dogmas. In all cases, the term fideism implies a defiance of reason; that’s why it had a pejorative flavor to it. In the same way that rationalism tends to overestimate reason to the point of professing that science is the only source of truth (so rejecting in advance any belief), fideism tends to overestimate faith to the point of professing that revelation is the only guarantee of truth (so discrediting the efforts of all rational activity).1

The revolutionary proletariat must first of all fight fideism in itself and treat it as what it is: an instrument of class division which reinforces the dictatorship of capital and states and which is used to recruit the exploited and oppressed into new wars which benefit the dominant classes. In particular, the fideism of the Book (Bible) — but also that of Hinduism along with the vast majority of religious beliefs — is dedicated to God, patriarchy and family. The caliphate, the reactionary fideist ideology which seems to be achieving the greatest success right now, is worthy of our attention particularly as it drapes itself in the colors of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism and, above all, constitutes a central element of the aggravation of the geostrategic crisis of the Middle East. This is why we’re devoting a specific text to it, composed of four points.

First point

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The partisans of the caliphate try to establish an order which will be favorable to them in regions where capitalism rules but where it has not (or very little) dissolved the social relations inherited from the class societies which preceded it. Some 10,000 Sunni tribes in Iraq are the clearest example of it. The archaic tribal social structure has survived on the margins of modern capital, feeding itself from oil rent and petty commodity trading, often illegal. The Iraqi Sunni tribe has been transformed by the extension of the domination of capital but the ancestral patriarchal ties have not been broken. The tribe administers its territory. It is a little world closed towards the exterior and the interior, except when it has to accumulate means of survival by clientelism and haggling. Today, a large number of Sunni tribes in Iraq pledge allegiance to the IS.2 This bloody group guarantees the permanence of the tribal structure. More than that, the self-proclaimed caliphate sanctifies them.

The other face of the present caliphate is represented by people like Mokhtar Belmokthar, known as “one eye,” a Salafist from the beginning who became celebrated from 2013 because of his attack on the refinery at Amenas in Algeria. Also known as “Mister Marlboro,” this sinister character is also at the head of a vast traffic in cigarettes amounting to around a billion US dollars per year in the whole of Saharan Africa. It’s a traffic which has been able to develop thanks to the blood ties with the Tuareg tribes. Smugglers, day-to-day chicken thieves, traders in human beings (prostitution, trafficking of migrants), drug dealers, all these participants in illegal business find in the caliphate a means of consolidating their lucrative activities and a way to develop others, “whitewashed” by adherence to the faith.

IS itself is an important commercial enterprise in Syria and Iraq which trades in oil, women and consumer goods. Its program can be summarized as “who has weapons has bread and women.” This gang presents no danger for capitalism, which can perfectly well accommodate rentiers and traffickers, and, what’s more, creates them. Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Cameroons and Niger, Al-Shabab in Somalia, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Sahel, Al-Qaida in the Arab peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen and Saudi Arabia, the Talibans in Afghanistan and Pakistan along with Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia — and those are just the best known ones — replicate the same social relations expressed by IS.

These considerations don’t apply to Shi’a Islam, whose centralized internal organization, similar to fascism, has allowed it to adapt to modern capitalism. Not unlike the Catholic Church.

Second point

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IS was born from the rubble of an Arab nationalism founded on the model of previous popular democracies based on an alliance between a single party (Ba’athist in the cases of Iraq and Syria), the army and a single union. This model aimed at creating modern postcolonial economies, equipped with strong industry, a unified internal market and an effective secular state. This project was smashed from the outside by the progressive collapse of the Russian bloc, and internally by the emergence from the ruins of national liberation of a parasitic ruling caste, corrupt, despotic, and inefficient.

On this basis, the caliphate of IS is in perfect continuity with the Arab regimes which it claims to oppose. Its sources of survival are trade and plunder; its organization is clientelist and stuffed with incompetents. The IS diverges from the Sunni regimes only in terms of geostrategic positioning. And this is from the simple fact that its regime tries to impose itself on the other states of the region, including those for which Sunni fideism is the official religion.

The US has benefited from the fall of the Russian empire and extended its influence over the Arab regimes whose vague desires for capitalist development have been seriously revised over the last few decades. An important new stage was reached by Washington with the active support for the Taliban in the war against Russia in Afghanistan and then with the first Iraq war. These two episodes marked the adoption by the US administration of an aggressive diplomacy in this area, so as to make the US once again into a power to be reckoned with in the Middle East. The Arab Spring gave Washington the opportunity to also occupy a leading role in the whole of North Africa. The attempt has still not produced a conclusive result.

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