Why Americanism is the incorrect response to fascism
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By Daniel K. Buntovnik, 17 August 2017
A political dog whistle: “a coded message communicated through words or phrases commonly understood by a particular group of people, but not by others” [x].
Donald Trump sent a loud and clear whistle to his doggish packs of fanatical far-right supporters in a speech delivered on August 12th, 2017 regarding the wave of violence set off the day before in Charlottesville, Virginia by a rally which drew a historic number of fascist bigots espousing a jumble of neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate, “alt-right”, and “white nationalist” genocidal and segregationist ideologies. (Given the name which organizers gave to the rally, one of its main raisons d’être, in addition to preventing the removal of monuments to the Pro-Slavery Rebellion, seems to have been to overcome these rather insignificant ideological discrepancies among adherents of right-wing politics in the United States of America). The most notable violent incident occurred when a member of a contingent of left-wing, anti-fascist protesters named Heather Heyer was killed [x] and a number of others injured by a neo-Nazi terrorist using a muscle car to plow into the counter-protesters. The attacker has been identified as James Fields, who was photographed before the attack standing in formation with a right-wing gang calling itself “Vanguard America”, wearing the group’s Donald Trump golfing outfit-inspired uniform, and holding a shield with the group’s emblem, a Celtic cross made of two crossing fasces, thereby combining two well-known symbols of neo-fascism into one [x]. Vanguard America is, in turn, a member group of a larger umbrella organization called “Nationalist Front” (formerly known as “Aryan Nationalist Alliance”) which brings together a variegated panoply of Klan, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity groups.
Caught in the center of the above photograph is the white supremacist James Fields. Despite a contradictory attempt by the Nationalist Front sub-group Vanguard America to disavow the neo-Nazi terrorist [x], “Commander” Jeff Schoep of the “National Socialist Movement” and founder of the Nationalist Front, issued a statement confirming James Fields’s belonging to the Nationalist Front camp by retweeting a video of the terrorist attack which showed anti-racist activists rushing to the weaponized muscle car which had just been used as a murder weapon in an effort to render it inoperable and thereby prevent further racist, anti-leftist killing. In the retweet, Schoep issued his own statement in which he said “Antifa attacking car [i.e., the terrorist murder weapon] with ball bats. This is what we faced in Cville, armed antifa, & city allowed it,” [x] (my emphasis). In using the phrase “This is what we faced” in this context (a video of Fields “allegedly” running over participants in an anti-racist demonstration in his car), it can be confirmed that the Nationalist Front leader views the murderer as part of his group. In addition to this, the neo-Nazi leader demonstrates an incredible level of hypocrisy in criticizing anti-Nazi counter-demonstrators for being armed with bats, given the well-publicized images of right-wing, paramilitary-style militias armed with assault rifles which were out in force for the “Unite the Right” rally [x].
Despite the fact that the nature of the conflict playing out in Charlottesville was clearly that of supporters of genocidal fascism versus their opponents, Trump adamantly attributed guilt for the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” to “many sides”, emphasizing the words “many sides” by pausing to repeat them a second time in an insincere fashion [x]. While a number of Democrats and “liberals” criticized Trump for failing to identify the guilty party by saying some words along the lines of “radical white nationalist terror”, many in the Democratic Party actually echoed his dog whistle endorsement of American-style fascism by making appeals to “national unity” and “American values” [x].
By fixating on Trump’s lack of explicit condemnation of the neo-Nazi and Ku Klux groups at the expense of paying the slightest attention to Trump’s exploitation of the Nationalist Front terrorist attack as another opportunity to promote more American nationalism, those whose “opposition” to Trump is superficial set up an easy out for him to redeem himself and atone for his “mistake” by fulfilling their wish and making a short pronouncement in which, after repeating in paraphrase what he had already said two days earlier, he said, “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans” [x]. Notwithstanding the fact that Trump made and has fulfilled an explicit campaign pledge to continue the Obama era practice of killing people for nothing other than the blood in their veins, i.e. the kindredness of their blood to that of stigmatized individuals [x], here Trump really only condemns the hate groups insofar as they “cause violence” and behave criminally. This is not a condemnation of the KKK, neo-Nazism and white supremacists and their existence as such (i.e. their right to organize and operate in society), but merely empty words against their illegal tactics, which are inevitably attributed to the infamous figure of the “lone wolf” (as if these “lone” wolves were the only “bad apples” amongst the otherwise upstanding members of the neo-Nazi community). Even American liberals such as Glenn Greenwald continue to defend neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates, so long as they don’t “cause violence” and employ legal methods of struggle, despite the fact that laws in a number of other liberal bourgeois democracies proscribe things such as the use of Nazi symbolism, Holocaust denial, and hate speech [x]. This shows that there is bipartisan support for the legal status of neo-Nazism, which is not a given, even within the confines of bourgeois democracy.
Despite Trump’s tepid condemnation of the neo-Nazis’ illegal tactics and bipartisan support for neo-Nazism’s “right” to fester upon society, on August 15th he spoke publicly about Charlottesville for a third time, arguing that the “alt-left”, a made-up term which serves only to draw a false equivalence between the political Left and the the far-right [x], shared responsibility for the terrorist attack on leftists in Charlottesville [x].
Shortly after the August 14th comments about “criminals and thugs”, Trump went on to say, “We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our Creator. We are equal under the law. And we are equal under our Constitution.” This is patently false, since Trump’s 90 day travel ban on citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, now halfway expired, hinges on the argument that not all human beings are to be treated equally by the U.S. legal system and Constitution. Once again Trump has rhetorically marshalled the citizenry with Nationalist ideology. This is at a time when his regime appears to be making good on its promise to outdo the previous record-holder, Obama, in effecting more deportations of alien “Others” from the United States [x]. The boilerplate platitude about the U.S.A. being “a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal”, lifted from the Declaration of Independence, is practically meaningless in this context, since chattel slavery outlasted this declaration by almost a century. The phrase “We are all equal” was as incongruent with the real situation of 1817 as it is with the reality of 2017, when so many of us are denied access to basic human rights, treated unequally by the law, and forced by lack of freedom from want and fear to perform unpaid surplus labor during much of our waking hours.
A sober analysis of the facts will reveal that there can be no combination between “Americanism” and anti-fascism. This “anti-fascism” which bases itself on Americanism is ineffective at best, and it is its own form of fascism at worst. I call it the right-wing of “anti-fascism” because, in contrast to the left-wing of anti-fascism, which calls for a multinational revolution against fascism and the conditions themselves which produce it, the right-wing (pseudo) “anti-fascism” calls for liberals (falsely identified with the political Left despite belonging more to the center, in proximity to the Right) to combine with conservatives in a sick display of “national unity”.
What right-wing “anti-fascist” commentary which continues to rhetorically marshal the national “we” (the quintessential subject of fascist reaction) fails to take note of in Trump’s initial response to the deadly Nationalist Front attack in Charlottesville is that it is not merely his “failure” to identify the bigoted antagonizing party to the conflict which is significant, but the way in which Trump’s speech whistles to right-wing dogs, and carries forward their ideology of American nationalism. And by wallowing in Americanism, the would-be opponents of Trump remain tethered to the fascist body, like a gangrened limb.
Expressions of this all-American “anti-fascism” appeared to rise up organically on Twitter, where #ThisIsNotUS became a trend [x]. Not long after that, an anti-“Alt-Right” meme modeled on a World War II era poster featuring the character “Uncle Sam” appeared and began to spread online. This image is worth discussing, as a brief analysis of it will begin to demonstrate that the nationalism of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and centrists and moderates is much closer to the nationalism of the Nationalist Front terrorists than it is to antifascist internationalism.
“Uncle Sam” is of course a personification of the United States and the first thing that stands out about him, besides his striped pants and starred vest, is his whiteness, made overwhelming by his pure white hair. Clearly this symbolic representation of a nation embodied in an individual human being conveys something about the artist’s idea of what “kind” of human being is “typical” or representative of that nation’s hundreds of millions of people. As one writer puts it, “Political cartoons” were (and still are) a reflection of the perceived “racial conditions of a society” [x]. So right away, Uncle Sam is an expression of white nationalism.
Even more problematic is the fact that this particular version of Uncle Sam has been lifted from a World War II era poster which features the racial slur “Jap”. The anonymous(?) creator of the “Stop the ‘Alt-Right’” poster has even kept the same style of bold red lettering at the top of the poster and calqued the “We’ll finish the job” into “We’ll beat ’em” at the bottom, so you know where the inspiration came from.
Uncle Sam has a checkered history of being used to promote the exact same racist demands that neo-Nazis and “white nationalists” demand today, demands like booting out racially othered immigrant populations, treating the “white race” as superior to others, and building an “Imperium” on top of annexed foreign lands.
Here, above, the white nationalist personage of Uncle Sam boots out a racist caricature of a Chinese person. Bottom text reads, “THE CHINESE MUST GO”. This image dates to around 1882, when the Chinese Exclusion Act anticipated Trump’s so-called “Muslim Travel Ban”.
This image from 1899 shows Uncle Sam as a disciplinarian schoolmaster. The Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Cuba (territories annexed by the United States during the late 19th century) are represented by racist caricatures of dark-skinned children. Colonialism was often justified by the alleged need to bring “civilization” to the “child-like races”. The white children sitting behind them are studious and the names of states are written on their books, showing that they represent the American states which by that time had become predominantly populated by white settlers. The text on the blackboard reads in part, “England has governed her colonies whether they consented or not. By not waiting for their consent she has greatly advanced the world’s civilization. The U.S. must govern its new territories with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.”
We have sampled just two out of the many Uncle Sam images with strongly white nationalist messages which have been produced over the years, but I think this is enough to understand the point. More white nationalism is not a good response to the “white nationalism” which manifested in Charlottesville. (Note: I place scare-quotes around this term because, like “alt-right”, it is merely a re-branding of white supremacist groups long understood to be of a neo-Nazi nature, made in an effort to improve their public image).
Yet another expression of this pseudo-antifascist All-Americanism in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville began to propagate itself in the online spheres, where it was “liked” by hundreds of thousands of people and probably seen by many more, when someone decided that those who think their own American nationalism to be of the “good” sort would get a kick out of seeing a clip from a 1947 U.S. military propaganda film called Don’t be a Sucker.
In the particular scene which went viral [x], we encounter a character who is meant to be an “obvious” fascist. He’s standing on a soapbox, addressing a small crowd, railing against the quadruple scourge of “Negroes”, “alien foreigners”, “Catholics”, and “Freemasons”. In the crowd we see two men in particular who are listening to him. One of them is later revealed to be an immigrant from Hungary and the other, a natural-born American.
The “native” American nods his head in agreement with everything the fascist says until eventually the latter starts railing against Freemasons.
“Masons? What’s wrong with the Masons? I’m a Mason. Hey, that fella’s talking about me,” the man says.
“And that makes a difference, doesn’t it?” the naturalized citizen of Hungarian origin replies.
The fascist ends his speech and the two men continue talking.
“Before he said ‘Masons,’ you were ready to agree with him,” the second man says.
“Yes, but he was talking about–What about those other people?” the first man says.
Next, and here we get to the “antifascist” climax of the clip, the second man explains, “In this country we have no other people, we are American people.”
Now compare the “We have no other people,” message of Don’t be a Sucker with what Trump actually said on Saturday the 12th day of August 2017, after a Nationalist Front neo-Nazi had just committed a murderous terrorist attack directed against left-wing individuals standing up and demonstrating against racism and fascism:
“No matter our color, creed, religion or political party, we are all Americans first. We love our country. We love our God. We love our flag. We’re proud of our country. We’re proud of who we are. So we want to get this situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. We want to see where we’re going wrong as a country” [x].
The message from the 1947 U.S. military propaganda film (“We [Americans] have no other people,”) is exactly the same as that which Trump had conveyed by rhetorically marshalling “we” as the national subject in his first response to Charlottesville. Not “we” as in human beings. Not “we” as in opponents of fascism as such. But “we” as in citizens of the U.S.A. “We” as in unquestioning participants in mindless ritual displays of flag-worshipping patriotism. Trump’s boilerplate nonsense about “no matter our color, creed, religion or political party” might sound superficially inclusive and unbigoted to a simpleton. But by excluding nationality, Trump is already excluding the alien “Other” and marshalling the nationalistic body politic. Just think how nonsensical it would sound if he had said, “No matter our nationality, citizenship, migrant status, or if our visas are expired, we are all Americans first.” Simply put, no, “we” are not “all Americans” and dominant culture sure as hell does not treat everyone as though they were “all the same”. This tacky Americanism is a particularly malicious way to respond to a neo-Nazi attack, since neo-Nazis have a long history of attacking the “other people”, not those who are comfortably seen as integral to the nationalistic body politic.
“We” hardly need a newsflash to tell us that James Fields and his neo-Nazi and Klan brethren in the Nationalist Front are citizens of the U.S.A. By saying that “our” Americanism comes before anything else, Trump unifies “us” with the neo-Nazi terrorist and all his American partners who, there is no doubt, would be much more inclined to say, “We love our God and our Country and we’re proud of it,” than those of us on the left-wing of genuine anti-fascism, a significant proportion of us being (1) non-believers in the God of the billionaire Trump (that god which is Money), (2) haters of the system of nation-states which dislocates us from our loved ones, kills migrants, and is the basis of every modern war, (3) adequately aware of and versed in the history of fascist bourgeois nationalism and its mass psychology so as to be immune to all of the cues and triggers designed to induce the crocodile emotions of patriotism, and (4) ashamed, ashamed to be marshalled by this sexually predatory, fake-tanned old man into his subject and told what we must love and be proud of.
According to this way of thinking (which says, “We are all Americans first,”) our Americanism precedes, and is therefore more important and reigns supreme over the fact of whether, for example, we belong to a fascist “political party” or an antifascist one, whether we are actively working towards the orchestration of genocide or slated to be exterminated, whether we are perpetrators of hate-crime or victims, or whether we pay other people to produce untold sums of money for us or we work for other people to get paid hopefully enough to make ends meet. For a materially powerful person who is a representative of the ruling class to rhetorically marshal any of the latter categories into artificial unity with the former is to promise physical violence and annihilation. It is to predestine the elimination of “other people” and the prevention of an “Other” consciousness. It is to combine the promise of “We have no other people,” with the resolve to make it so in reality. It is a declaration of war on “Other” people, i.e. “alien” social elements, the ones who do not love the “God” of Trump, who do not love a piece of cloth, who do not see themselves as Americans first and foremost, who identify themselves in other ways instead, who have other priorities.
The fasces is symbolic of the fascist mentality.
The fasces, the symbol of the Vanguard America gang members seen in this photo and which was also carried by the murderous neo-Nazi James Fields, is a signifier of this idea that national identity should reign supreme in each individual’s psyche. A fasces is a bundle of sticks which stands for the notion that a nation’s citizenry are stronger when collectively bound together than as twigs which, taken individually, snap easily. As a symbol of national unity, the fasces represents the idea that class struggle within the nation is “divisive” and weakens it. By calling for the members of the national body politic to put their civic identity as “Americans” in a position of supremacy over whatever other affiliations they may have, including as members of socioeconomically, racially, or sexually oppressed classes, Trump — and the so-called “progressive” Democrats — attack class consciousness and endorse the fascist mentality.
In the nationalist utterance of Trump, “We are all Americans first”, we can also parse out a deeper significance to the placement of the word “all” in front of the word “American”. Its appearance here is to signify not only that “All of us are Americans”, but that “We are All-Americans.”
The term “All-American” is frequently employed to describe that which is either “composed wholly of American elements” or “representative or typical of the U.S. or its ideals” [x]. Like the somewhat antiquated term “Great-Russian”, which was “used formerly in distinguishing ethnic Russians from other constituent peoples of the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire” [x], the term “All-American” has long been used to distinguish between those who have the traits of a “typical” American (white, Anglo-Saxon or Germanic heritage, Protestant, etc.) and those who are marked, wholly or partially, by some “alien” stigmata. By saying, “We are All-Americans,” Trump dog whistles a white nationalist conceptualization of what an “American” is and who “we” are.
This idea of “all-Americanism” is conveyed in the film The Good Shepherd, in the following bit of dialogue between two characters:
Joseph Palmi: We Italians, we got our families and we got the church. The Irish, they have the homeland. The Jews, their traditions. Even the [N word], they got their music. What about you people Mr. Carlson, what do you have?
Edward: The United States of America, the rest of you are just visiting [x].
Several Urban Dictionary entries for “All-American” also detail the racist connotations of this word. Here is the top Urban Dictionary definition of “All-American” [x]:
A word that describes a certain type of ultra-conservative white person who lives in a small rural or suburban towns in middle America. This term is exclusively used by white people to describe their perfect vision of what they believe embodies a true American person. Whites fail to realize just how racist the term “All American” is. If only white people from middle America can be “All American”, that must mean that all the blacks, latinos, asians, native americans and mixed people can never fully be regarded as Americans by the oppressive white society. Think about it, if you are born black in this country, white people will call you “African American”. But the majority of black people born in here in America have never been to Africa and will never go there in their entire lifetime. Its really fucking racist. (Submitted by “thagoldenchild” on May 9, 2008)
Another popular definition for “All-American”:
A conformist who is blindly patriotic, votes Republican not because the values of the party are true to them, but because “everyone else is gay” or they’re scared the terrorists will kill them and does whatever anyone wants for them. All American males usually have blond buzz cuts and are tall, well built and stupid. All American girls will usually have long blond hair, and stupid. They can be of any class, but often tend to be richer, or at least born in a rich suburban family. Still, most rednecks are all American, too. (Submitted anonymously on January 23, 2005)
Shifting slightly, we move now from “all-Americans” to the next bit of the dog whistle: “Americans first”. This is a clear allusion to the “America First” slogan which was adopted by the Trump presidential election campaign in 2016, when he promised that it would be “the major and overriding theme” of his draconian capitalist regime [x]. The slogan harkens back to the “America First Committee”, which was a large anti-war group that petitioned to keep the U.S. out of the Second World War, rendered problematic by the presence of antisemitic and Nazi-sympathizing forces. A latter day “America First Committee” was formed in 1980 by Arthur Jones, a longtime neo-Nazi who took part in the infamous neo-Nazi marches in Illinois in 1978 after the American Civil Liberties Union won them the right to provoke Holocaust survivors by marching through their neighborhoods [x, x]. (Incidentally, the ACLU came under fire in connection to the neo-Nazi mayhem in Charlottesville for, under the pretense of protecting free speech, actually defending the right of the terrorist groups to publicly assemble in armed assault formations and immediately communicating misinformation to the public about the neo-Nazi vehicular assault on leftists that implied that it was accidental and provoked by rock-throwing, although the ACLU later later retracted this false claim [x, x]).
Part of what is significant here is that the latter day America First Committee is one of the founding members of the previously mentioned Aryan Nationalist Alliance, the umbrella organization composed of dozens of smaller Klan, neo-Nazi, and Christian Identity factions whose goal is to “unite the right”. According to a press release from another one of the co-founder groups, the Aryan Nationalist Alliance was formed on April 22, 2016 (two days after Adolf Hitler’s birthday, commonly memorialized by neo-Nazi groups). The Aryan Nationalist Alliance later changed its name to Nationalist Front and, in April 2017, Vanguard America joined the so-called Nationalist Front. Two out of the ten speakers who were slated to publicly address the crowds at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally are Nationalist Front members: Michael Hill and Matt Heimbach [x].
Below is the flyer for the “Unite the Right” rally showing the presence of two members of the Nationalist Front on the official list of speakers, which was shared on Twitter in June [x] by “Alt-Right” white nationalist head of the “National Policy Institute” Richard Spencer (who collaborated with Trump’s chief speechwriter Stephen Miller as members of the Duke Conservative Union at Duke University in 2007 [x]).
Michael Hill is the leader of the neo-Confederate “League of the South”, while Matt Heimbach is the leader of the “Traditionalist Worker Party”. Both the League of the South and the Traditionalist Worker Party are member organizations of the Nationalist Front. These two men, along with Jeff Schoep, “Commander” of the “National Socialist Movement” (the largest neo-Nazi organization in the United States) appear to be the main leaders of the Nationalist Front [x], although a press release published by the NSM indicates that the Nationalist Front is essentially Schoep’s brainchild; there it is noted that it was Schoep who “unveiled a Historic document detailing a plan for the Aryan Nationalist Alliance” (now renamed Nationalist Front).
Below is the press release, retrieved from “NSM Magazine Summer/Fall 2016”. NSM and the Nationalist Front seem to have done a half-assed job trying to delete references to Nationalist Front member groups like the “Aryan Terror Brigade”, probably realizing that this is not a good look for an organization that claims to “reject illegal, seditious and violent conduct as a model of political change” and be “dedicated to a peaceful process of gaining power”. References to Aryan Terror Brigade and several other founding groups listed in the original press release have been scrubbed from both the Nationalist Front website (nfunity.org) and an NSM web page relating the information about the “historic alliance formed by U.S. white nationalists”. On a similar note, NSM and their NF front organization appear to have made an effort to “go mainstream” and win more adherents by phasing out their use of the swastika and terms like “Aryan” in favor of symbols like the othala rune and terms like “Alt-Right” [x]. Nevertheless, the NSM website (nsm88.org) continues to host a PDF file of the “NSM Magazine Summer/Fall 2016” where these groups, which are obviously incompatible with the objective of bringing neo-Nazism into the mainstream, are listed as founders of Nationalist Front. The Southern Poverty Law Center also confirms this list of NF founders [x].
The press release also reveals some important facts about the composition of the Nationalist Front which the road rage racist killer James Fields and official speakers at the “Unite the Right” rally belong to. Among its founding member organizations we find numerous groups with penchants for racially-motivated terrorism and violent crime. Let’s just sample a few of these:
One is the so-called “Phineas Priesthood”. This is said by some to be more of a “meme” than an actual organization [x]; an ideology which is nothing but a glorified justification for committing racially-motivated murder. As one source puts it: “Phineas priests take their name from the biblical figure Phinehas in the book of Numbers, who is described as brutally murdering an Israelite man for having sex with a foreign woman, who he also kills. Members of the Phineas Priesthood — which people ‘join’ simply by adopting the views of the movement — are notoriously violent, and some adherents have been convicted of bank robberies, bombing abortion clinics, and planning to blow up government buildings” [x]. The fact that the Nationalist Front names the “Phineas Priesthood” as a founding member of the organization signals that the murdering of so-called “race-mixers” and “race-polluters” serves as an ideological point of reference for what the group hopes to achieve and the methods they are willing to employ as means to those ends.
Another Nationalist Front founding organization is the previously mentioned Aryan Terror Brigade. Members of the Aryan Terror Brigade were convicted of carrying out racist assaults on Muslim-looking people in 2013 [x]. The group is said to be a branch of Combat 18 [x, x], a British neo-Nazi group which claimed responsibility for the terrorist bombing campaign targeting Black British, South Asian, and LGBT communities in London which took place during the days surrounding April 20, 1999, killing three people and causing four others to lose limbs. A group called the “White Wolves”, an offshoot of Combat 18, also claimed responsibility for the bombings [x]. (Another Nationalist Front co-founder is listed as “White Wolves Invictus”).
“Aryan Strikeforce” is another Nationalist Front co-founder group which claims “Combat 18 International” affiliation, as shown on the VKontake profile of the group’s founder Joshua Michael Steever (“Hatchet”), who also founded Aryan Terror Brigade before being kicked out of it and has a history of making terroristic threats [x, x]. Strikeforce is the name of a Combat 18 publication which, before the London Nail Bomb attacks, declared that “The [only] answer is an international terror/sabotage campaign” [x, x]. Numerous members of Aryan Strikeforce were arrested in 2016 and 2017 and are said to have been amassing machine guns [x].
David Copeland, nicknamed “The London Nail Bomber”, was the only person convicted of carrying out the 1999 neo-Nazi bombings in London, claiming to have acted as a “lone wolf” [x]. In part by relying on the doctrine of “leaderless resistance”, neo-Nazi organizations can shift responsibility for all of their illegal actions onto rogue “lone wolves” and enjoy the protection of the capitalist state and “free speech”-defending liberals who back up their above-the-board activism and organizing which pretends to be strictly interested in legal activity. This is a sham pretense. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the nature of an organization founded by groups like “Aryan Terror Brigade” and “White Wolves Invictus”.
It’s worth expanding on one point here and noting that the London Nail Bomber was a member of another British neo-Nazi group, “coincidentally” also named “National Socialist Movement” (like “White Wolves”, the British NSM was also an offshoot of Combat 18 [x]). The British NSM was led by David Myatt, a man who is in turn widely acknowledged to have used various pseudonyms in leading a cult called the “Order of Nine Angles”, which embraces “traditional Satanism” and neo-Nazism, and advocates the practice of human sacrifice as a form of Hitlerian eugenics. In my post “What is Net-Centric Warfare?” from November 2016, I showed how the facelift given to neo-Nazism (by adopting the “Alt-Right” identity and using a cartoon frog called “Pepe” or “Kek” in place of a swastika) has borrowed heavily from Satanic strains of neo-Nazism in developing something called the “Cult of Kek”, which revolves around the belief in “meme magick” and the appearance of Pepe the Frog as a theophany of the Ancient Egyptian god Kek. This runs parallel to the neo-Nazi and U.S. military-linked “Temple of Set”, another Satanic cult appropriating from the mythology of Ancient Egypt.
This cryptic far-right “spirituality” seems to be further manifested by the fact that another keynote speaker at the “Unite the Right” rally was the eccentric eugenics advocate [x] Augustus Sol Invictus, currently a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Florida, who began making sensationalized headlines two years ago in part for claiming to have sacrificed a goat and drank its blood. “Sol Invictus” is said to identify as “pagan” [x]. Tellingly, comparative religion scholar Mattias Gardell notes in Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism that the eugenics-advocating “Order of Nine Angles” cult describes its brand of Satanism as a “militant paganism” [x] derived from the “solar cults of Albion”, i.e. sun-worshipping cults of ancient Britain. “Sol Invictus” means “unconquered sun”.
Another leading member of the Nationalist Front is Michael Tubbs, head of the Florida section of the League of the South. Tubbs was convicted in the 1990s for his involvement in a plot to start a race war by attacking African-American and Jewish-owned businesses [x, x]. Tubbs has since been released from prison and “was photographed [participating] in several brawls” during the “Unite the Right” rally [x].
The NSM is no stranger to terrorism itself. The case of Samuel James Johnson, a “former” NSM member (because it’s always a “former” member) who went on to found his own “Aryan Liberation Movement” went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 (see Johnson v. United States [x]). Despite plotting to conduct paramilitary-style attacks on a Mexican consulate and left-wing bookstores and assassinate “liberals” [x], Johnson was not tried as a terrorist but as an “armed career criminal”. Uncannily, lawyers presented arguments on behalf of the neo-Nazi on April 20, 2015. The Supreme Court’s decision seems to have been favorable to the neo-Nazi terrorist plaintiff, ruling that the Armed Career Criminal Act by which he had been sentenced to 15 years of prison was unconstitutional.
All of this goes to show that the fascist white supremacist who had conducted the deadly terrorist attack just prior to Trump’s speech last Saturday (August 12, 2017) was, in acting as a member of the Nationalist Front, therefore formally associated with, not only the NF member groups mentioned above which have well documented histories of and connections to terrorism, but also the neo-Nazi organization known as the America First Committee.
Donald Trump’s response to this situation was to invoke a neo-Nazi slogan, a neo-Nazi slogan which has been a neo-Nazi slogan, continuously, for at least 37 years. A neo-Nazi slogan which the Nationalist Front sub-group which the murderous fascist was seen standing in uniformed formation with, Vanguard America, has used in its own propaganda:
Trump’s response has also been to blame the victims of this terrorist attack, the political Left and to make “But not all…” type excuses for the attendees of a rally to defend monuments to Pro-Slavery Rebellion which was officially billed as having multiple speakers affiliated with the Nationalist Front, a group founded by people who openly pine for “an international terror campaign” and spiritual rewards for the act of murdering “race-polluters”.
In uttering the despicable words, “We are all-Americans First,” Trump has blown a dog whistle. When right-wing dogs hear those despicable words, what they understand is:
“We must make our ‘Uncle Sam’-esque National identity our Supreme identity, and act accordingly.”
Or, in other words:
“We must bring Nationalism to the Front.”
There can be no doubt that this is what neo-Nazi ears hear loud and clear.
“Valencia, Spain: Mural for Murdered Antifascist Comrade Heather Heyer”, courtesy of Insurrection News [x]
ALL WORKS CITED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PRINCIPLE OF FAIR USE.
A Schizoanalysis of Transracialism and Transgenderism in Paris is Burning
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By Daniel K. Buntovnik, 13 February 2017
What is transraciality, and who is transrace? The Rachel Doležal affair invites the question
There is debate about the meaning of the term “transrace”. The prominence of discourse around the term “transrace” was elevated in the mid 2010s in the wake of the sensationalized story of Rachel Doležal, a woman who is said to have a verified genealogical tree which traces back to the peoples of Northern and Central Europe (but who is also said to have family members [in-law] of Sub-Saharan African descent), in addition to having deceived people in the Pacific Northwestern region of the United States of America into believing that she was a Black person with a pale complexion, acting as an NAACP leader whilst assuming this identity. She apparently did this by dyeing her hair darker and perming it, using artificial skin pigmentation-modifying (‘fake tan’) products, and perhaps affecting her speech with Ebonics elements. In the wake of the scandal over Doležal’s apparent deception, some individuals added to the discourse by denouncing the use of the term “transrace” to describe individuals like Doležal; they claimed instead that “transrace” should only be used to describe individuals who are raised by adoptive parents of a racial grouping deemed “other” to that of their biological ancestors. (See here, for example). While I do not wish to dwell excessively on this debate over the one “true” definition of the term “transrace”, I felt it was important to start out by acknowledging it before we delve into the topic of transracialism. And yet, another possible definition has been disconsidered: that the adjective “transrace” may fittingly be used to describe individuals who exist in a multigenerational process of racial transitioning.
Shame. Shame and self-contempt. Nausea. When people like me, they tell me it is in spite of my color. When they dislike me, they point out that it is not because of my color. Either way, I am locked into the infernal circle. I turn away from these inspectors of the Ark before the Flood and I attach myself to my brothers, Negroes like myself. To my horror, they too reject me. They are almost white. And besides they are about to marry white women. They will have children faintly tinged with brown. Who knows, perhaps little by little. . . .
Following the intergenerational/transgenerational distinction developed by theorists in the field of psychogenealogy such as Anne Ancelin Schützenberger, we might call the form of transracialism evoked by Fanon intergenerational, because the racial transition occurs as the result of a conscious effort made by the ancestor on behalf of the descendant, so that the latter may be accepted into a racial category to which the former did not belong, while we might call a multigenerational transracialism transgenerational when it occurs unconsciously, without the individuals involved becoming aware of the process, perhaps due to unconscious absorption of white supremacist cultural values.
Due to white supremacy, the racial transitioning process in America has usually gone in the opposite direction to that observed in the case of Rachel Doležal. That is to say that white supremacy encouraged individuals of the Sub-Saharan African diaspora in the United States of America to long for whiteness, a racial ideal which was construed as an unstigmatized personal state for the individual. American literary works such as Sinclair Lewis’s Kingsblood Royal(1947)and Fannie Hurst’s Imitation of Life (1933)have immortalized these tales of “tragic mulattos” and “tragic quintroons” like Peola and Neil Kingsblood, protagonists of the aforementioned works for whom being racially “outed” spells personal catastrophe. The upwardly mobile individual is also always white-wardly mobile in a global economy constructed around the fiscal elevation of those racialized as “white”. Perhaps this is why many found the acts which Rachel Doležal performed to be somehow troubling. She achieved upward mobility, gaining a certain social prestige in becoming an NAACP leader, by adopting the mannerisms and the get-up (which we might well qualify as “drag”) that she needed in order to perform an historically stigmatized racial identity.
Drag as transgressive, transcendant tool for moving beyond limitations imposed upon one’s gender, race, sexual orientation
“Drag” typically evokes the practice of male “queens” dressing up and behaving as if they were women. This is, however, a limited understanding. In Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, we see that the drag shows performed at late 20th century balls in New York City consisted not only in the male adoption of feminine clothing and mannerisms (i.e. the gender-bending “drag queens” of stereotypical lore), but that these performances also operated across the racial plane of social difference. And the expanded possibilities of drag which the film depicts do not end there; race and gender are not the only modalities upon which drag operates. As other critics have pointed out, the film “extends this argument [that drag is a practice that can potentially draw attention to the imitative nature of gender itself through its parodic repetition of gender norms] to include the constructed nature of race and class identity as well as gender identity” [See: Lauren Levitt, “Reality Realness: Paris is Burning and RuPaul’s Drag Race” in Interventions Journal (7 November 2013)].
In a segment of the film devoted to the exposition of this class and race-nonconforming form of drag, we see individuals historically stigmatized as Black “homosexuals” perform power drag by symbolically taking on the roles of members of the U.S. military and “successful” (ruling class) white American individuals. Not only do the drag shows include Afro-diasporic subjects dramatically imitating (and thereby critiquing) European thought and behavior, but they also feature gays donning hetero-drag to perform straight individuality, offering thus their critiques of other stigmatized individuals occupying contextually determined contradictory positionalities vis-à-vis oppression, such as heterosexual street thugs “of color”, at their dance battling balls. Therefore, in addition to race, class, and gender, we can also add sexually orientative identities to the constructed modalities upon which drag operates. Closeted gays can be said to be performing this kind of drag in almost every moment of their lives. Indeed, gender and sexuality researcher Lauren Levitt relates that, insofar as most everybody wants or expects to be accepted as a “real” iteration of a gender or ethnicity, “many writers” have made the case that “everyone essentially is in drag” [ibid].
The objective of the drag performance is to exude a kind of authenticity the drag ball community dubbed “realness”, which gender and sexuality researcher Lauren Levitt defines as “the extent to which a performance conforms to the standard by which it is being judged”. When individuals strive for realness in the assumption of new racial identities, it is called racial “passing”.
This broader sense of the possibilities of drag which the film conveys leads us to the realization that Rachel Doležal does indeed engage in a form of drag. A great deal of the controversy surrounding Doležal arises then from those skeptical of her realness, or lack thereof. It has to be admitted though that Doležal did have a fair degree of success in being able to “pass” as Black, her position in the NAACP leadership seeming to add to her realness.
How well does Doležal conform to the abstracted, “standard”-ized notion of “a person of color”? How valid is it to hold individuals up to such standards?
Contesting ruling class recuperations
For what reason have the drag performances depicted in Paris is Burning been valorized by certain hegemonic forces within 21st century American society? It should be considered whether the decision taken in late 2016 by the U.S. government’s Library of Congress to “preserve and honor” the film, while appreciable, nevertheless signals a further step towards the recuperation of the revolutionary race and sex politics the film portrays (for example, in the Marxian, abolitionist attitude it conveys through its emphasis on the liberatory sociality of the drag ball “houses” as an alternative to the coercive sociality of the patriarchal, bourgeois standard of “the family”). This recuperation is mirrored in analogue developments such as the white engineering of African-American-led imperialism at the critical moment of burgeoning unrest at the tailend of the deeply unpopular, bank-bailing regime of George W. Bush, when the U.S. government donned transracial drag, using blackface to preserve its historical white power, as well as the sanctioning of gay-tolerant militarism achieved in 2011 via the repeal of the homophobic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
Thus while the generalized upward mobility of Modern Family-esque 21st century homosexual male individuality within U.S. society via developments such as the legalization of gay marriage, based on and enabled in large part by events orchestrated by groups such as the Gay Liberation Movement and other trailblazing radical LGBTQIA+ activists required cultural subversiveness–such as the identification with “Third World” Marxists (e.g. the Gay Liberation Front’s nomenclatural identification with the National Liberation Front, which at that time was engaged in bloody armed conflict with U.S. military forces in Vietnam), the recuperation and assimilation of the traces of this subversiveness by the same forces originally targeted for subversion by subalterns signals a hegemonic counteroffensive.
But a DOLEŽAL archetype poses startling questions for the social movements in general; what do we make of white, or “formerly white”, individuals finding 21st century socio-economic success–however extravagant or modest that “success” may be–in the appropriation of Transatlantic Afro-diasporic Black identity, in the dissimulation of WASP assimilation? And while Doležal made headway in becoming a civil rights activist, does her brand of transracialism not open up the way for presumably less well-intentioned, Justin Bieber-type appropriators who would inevitably adopt this Transatlantic Afro-diasporic Black identity, to monopolize culture-linked profit ventures opened up by the development of black and gay markets and sections of the bourgeoisie? (This trend could be–indeed, has been–analyzed with elder cultural icons, such as Elvis Presley, although many efforts have been made to highlight the fact that Elvis was a Romanichal, and thus “not white”.)
While transgenderism has existed in a variety of cultures, and for a long time, it has become one of the more contentious matters which divides the contemporary gay activist community itself, most noticeable nowadays perhaps when we cleave the latter at its intersection with the so-called “TERF” (or “Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminist”, a term which some argue constitutes a slur) community, comprising individuals who may or may not be of Lesbian persuasion. Let us return to the matter of so-called “TERFeminism” later on. For now, we can take notice of the fact that the gay community taking part in the balls of fin du 20ième siècle New York City was also not united in its understanding of what it meant, at that time, to be a drag queen.
The phrase “the gay community” has, by 2017, come to sound somewhat old-fashioned. During the years of the mid to late 2000s, high school Diversity Clubs and Gay-Straight Alliances, tended towards use of the acronym GLBT for “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender”, while in the 2010s the acronym LGBT has come to predominate over the former. We may suspect that this is a feminist victory because “gay” tends towards connotations of male homosexuality, and thus “gay movement” and “gay community” imply patriarchal forms, GLBT implying a gay-headed Lesbian movement. Meanwhile, the positionality of the letter T, at the end of the LGBT and GLBT acronyms shows its subordination, suggesting de-valuation of the transgender or “transsexual” community, which has long been known in part for its drag queens. Based on facts discernible in the film Paris is Burning (1990), many of the drag queens of ’80s NYC identified themselves as men who performed womanhood, and not as trans-women. An example of this is Pepper LaBeija, whose remarks in the film include: “Women get treated badly. You know, they get beat, they get robbed, they get dogged, so having the vagina, that doesn’t mean that you are going to have a fabulous life. It might in fact be worse.”
After watching Paris is Burning, my interest in learning more about the history of the U.S. gay community spiked as I recalled much of the hubbub which 21st century gay rights activism front groups for Marxist political organizations claim was roused out of the masses from the mere mention of the Stonewall Uprising, when homosexual members of the New York working classes were decisively victorious in staging a sort of insurrection due to social conflict between them, exploitative organized crime groups, and the harassive police forces. So it was around the same time that I viewed Paris is Burning that I watched another documentary film, also hosted by Youtube, that I had found about the Stonewall Uprising which occurred after an unlicensed, Mafia-rackateered gay bar called the Stonewall Inn was raided by oppressive, homophobic police. After that documentary was feasted upon by my eyes and ears, I saw a short video about five, or possibly ten, American gay riots which occurred before Stonewall, as far back as 1959, in California. From these sources, I gathered that the “gay bar” culture had really begun to spread during the 1960s. It occurred to me that, in a way, the gay bars replaced the speakeasies of the 1930s, being illegal drinking establishments which were sometimes owned by the mob. But there do exist those aficionados of the “gay bar” scene who may eschew the “homosexual lifestyle” itself, if we consider patterns of sexual relations between organisms constitutive of a lifestyle. One may also wonder about the sexuality of Italian mobsters who visited the Stonewall gay bar, if only to collect their dues. But I do question the value and legitimacy of the discourse of those individuals who advocate supporting the identity label “Queer” as a meeting point between the LGBT community and the LGBT community’s “weird” friends and then in retrospect perhaps do support the value and legitimacy of this notion, because I believe that one can, and indeed many do, frequent gay bars without necessarily having a true sentimental connaissance of homosexual desire, and therefore be identified, by some in the society in which that individual lives, as “straight”, but not the kind of “straight” that’s chill with gay bars–therefore becoming “Queer” in a way, due to proximity in the social movements historically associated with “homosexuality”, “bisexuality”, and “transsexuality”.
It had come to my attention that some of the drag queens in the film Paris is Burning were white-passing, due to the fact that in the comments section of Youtube, where Paris is Burning is hosted and available for viewing, a comment left by some forlorn internaut could be found identifying Dorian Corey, a drag queen, by the epitaph “the white drag queen”.
Thereafter, another commenter chimed in, chiding the writer of the previous comment and asserting that Dorian Corey was African-American or Black. I’m not sure which ethnonym that commenter asserted to be applicable to Corey; perhaps they did not even identify one ethnonym or the other, but simply stated that Dorian Corey was, in fact, “not white”.
In the case of these individuals such as Dorian Corey and other lighter skinned, blue eyed “Negros” called (e.g. Walter Francis) White, it is thought that they are Black because of the One Drop Rule, which states that though they may in actuality be mainly European of ancestral extraction, they are in actuality BLACK due to the “predominance” of black blood over white blood. Frances Cress Welsing took this a step further, establishing the notion of whiteness as a genetically recessive phenomenon in her groundbreaking Cress Theory of Color-Confrontation, formalizing the pseudoscientific One Drop Rule from the standpoint of Critical Race Theory.
Above: The original Walter White, a prominent African-American leader in the same organization as Rachel Doležal, before his name was culturally misappropriated by the father-figure actor from the American sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle” in an early 21st century prestige television program about methamphetamine.
Frances Cress Welsing was a successful psychoanalyst who, alongside other luminaries who brought forth the discourse of Afrocentricity during the 1970s and 1980s, mastered the craft of psychoanalytic, and some would argue, “pseudoscientific” racial theorizing.
Though aspects of Cress Welsing’s multi-decade oeuvre could possibly be subjected to a number of sound criticisms, more deserving of recognition and attention here is one of her final nuggets of wisdom. I refer here to her astounding analytic insight into the twisted psyche of Dylan Storm Roof, the White Southerner currently on death row for having perpetrated on June 17, 2015 the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which he ended the lives of nine innocent individuals for no reason other than his white power delusion (though we must be careful not to excuse or downgrade the responsibility/despicability of white power political extremist thinking and organizing with psychopathological terminology such as “delusion”). Shortly before her death on January 2, 2016, Cress Welsing illustrated clearly with her elegant, prosaic speech that Dylan Storm Roof had a racialized sexual fetish, perhaps based in a violence-prone complex of racialized sexual inferiority, which was expressed with the symbolic re-presentation of his phallus as a large black pistol, playing up the racial stereotypes.
Above: In this photo we see the soon-to-be lethally injected Storm Roof placing a firearm in an arguably sexually suggestive location in relation to his body, dangling it between his legs, and surrounding himself with potted flowers. Sigmund Freud advises that we should not forget that flowers are in fact the genitals of plants. Notice how the black pistol forms a graphic connection between the reproductive organs of the non-human life forms and those of Storm Roof. This racialized sexual transference–the replacement of the white penis with the black phallic object–stands as further evidence of the intersectionality of transgenderism and transracialism. Although Storm Roof’s phallic substitution does not constitute transgenderism (the pistol being a male gendered, penile object), it is transsexually transracial.
The attentive viewer of Paris is Burning will observe the interesectionality of transracialism and transgenderism, which is particularly striking in personages such as Dorian Corey (though not only). The film evidences a certain affinity between the phenomenon of gender-transitioning and that of “Negro” to “white-passing” (to “white”) transgenerational transracialism–a historical process occurring among many individuals who also happened to share an interest in transitioning themselves from being “men” into being “women”, whether permanently in day-to-day life or temporarily in the ritualized context of the balls.
The academic who prefers not to capitalize the first letters of her pen name, bell hooks, identifies the project of the drag queens depicted in Paris is Burning as simultaneously transgenderist and transracialist in “Is Paris Burning?”, a chapter in her 1996 book Reel to Real: Race Sex, and Class at the Movies:
Within the world of the black gay drag ball culture she [Livingston] depicts, the idea of womanness and femininity is totally personified by whiteness. What viewers witness is not black men longing to impersonate or even to become like “real” black women but their obsession with an idealized fetishized vision of femininity that is white. Called out in the film by Dorian Carey [sic], who names it by saying no black drag queen of his day wanted to be Lena Horne, he makes it clear that the femininity most sought after, most adored, was that perceived to be the exclusive property of white womanhood.
But let us consider why, on the most basic level, this affinity exists.
As evidenced by their common prefix, it can be remarked that transgender and transracial peoples are fundamentally alike for one essential reason: they are in transition. One transitions from a gender; the other, from a race. Like drag performers, they also commit what is viewed as transgression by transcending the limitations socially imposed on their assigned identity.
There are some significant differences between the phenomena of gender and race transitioning. One is that the gender transition takes place within the course of a lifetime, affecting primarily the individual, while the racial transition described here is transgenerational, affecting collectivities such as clans and family units, as in the fictional examples of Peola or Neil Kingsblood.
Transgenerational transracialism is the story of coercive assimilation to white supremacist society, which explains why more members of the Afro-diasporic population in the U.S. now identify, or perhaps are identified by others, as “white” than as “black”. That is to say that, despite both the One Drop Rule and Cress Welsing’s notion of white genetic recessivity, so-called “interracial” sexual-reproductive relations (or “miscegenation”) have in fact caused more individuals among the U.S. population which is of varying degrees of mixed European and African ancestry to be identified as “white” (or “passing”?) than as Black. This is made possible by the white supremacist drive of bourgeois anti-culture, which also introduces “colorism” into the heart of the Black community. It seems more of a question of cultural assimilation than a would-be problem of “genetic drift”; the hegemonic white patrons of Western colonialism seemed to catch on symbolically, with many more Littles and Clays than Xs and Alis coming to predominate over the Afro-diasporic populace. However, this white supremacist push to transgenerationally assimilate “minorities” cannot be resolved with a superficial change in the way of thinking about racial identity, such as by merely instructing these white-passing, distantly Afro-diasporic masses to accept themselves as “genuinely” Black due to their existence being the direct result of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. That’s why it is also important to render cultural practices such as aesthetic skin bleaching taboo, and to diminish sentiments of racial fetishization of whiteness as a desired sex characteristic by giving due value and implementation to notions such as black pride and beautifulness. Only then will the current historically-based form of Transatlantic Racialized Slave and Master Social Classes discrimination be overcome. The hard cores (aka nucleos duros or asilis) of each national, or ethno-cultural, archetype will survive for some time in a mosaic fashion within the united global world economy, even as this develops into an environment of total cultural egalitarianism. What “white people” have to understand is that whiteness is not so much an ethno-cultural expression, but a tool of capitalist coercion which censors such expressions.
Some leftist writers implicitly suggest that Karl Marx himself was “transrace”. In “On the Social Ontology of ‘Race’ — Was Karl Marx White? And Is He?” Steve Darcy at The Public Autonomy Project essentially argues that, given 19th century Europe’s racial othering of Ashkenazic Jewry, Marx was perceived as racially “Other” in his day, but given the near-consensus among 21st century individuals that Ashkenazic Jewry is encapsulated by “whiteness”, Marx has therefore become a transracial subject, having been non-white during his own lifetime while nevertheless being now (rightly?) considered a “dead white male”. I would, however, contest the notion that Marx’s epitaph should read “dead white male”, any more than Dorian Corey’s ought to, because if we accept the previous half of this argument (i.e., that Marx was perceived as racially “other” during the 19th century, considered as something analogous to what might today be called “a person of color”), then he should still be understood, as a historical personage, with that fact in mind. The matter is further complicated by the fact that Karl Marx was perhaps of African descent, his family having called him by the nickname “the Moor” due to “his dark complexion”.
Darcy’s consideration of Karl Marx as transrace is analogous to the way in which drag queens such as Dorian Coreymay be perceived by ignorant early 21st century viewers of Paris is Burning as belonging to another “race” than the one with which they were identified by populaces of late 20th century New York (or by more knowledgeable individuals of our time who are aware of the historico-cultural context in which the film’s personages lived). In this perspective, it is clear that transracialism exhibits a high degree of contingency upon historico-contextualization. Ironically, the Youtube commenter who thought Dorian Corey was a white person, seemed to somehow discount the very point Corey tries to make in the film about the other drag queens identifying more with the white Marilyn Monroe than the black Lena Horne. Corey seemed to view the transracial aspect of the drag queens’ aspiration as pathological. Corey informs us that, “In a ballroom you can be anything you want”, but signals disdainfulness for the fact that most wanted to be white. This white supremacist drive has other bizarre manifestations, such as a whole sub-genre of hypnotic videos, also available on Youtube, featuring low-frequency and binaural sounds to help individuals “get pale white skin”(trigger warning: deeply unsettling).
Let’s return now briefly to the previously mentioned issue of the divide which exists among and/or between the members and supporters of LGBTQIA+ communities and a certain type of women’s movement activist labelled, usually by critics of this line, as the “trans-exclusive radical feminist”.
An interesting selection of facts begins to emerge when we cross-analyze LGBTQIA+ discourses and so-called “TERF” discourses, along with those of another group often allied with the latter, the “SWERF” (or, “Sex Workers Exclusive Radical Feminists”, another term which those to whom it is applied often deride as a stigmatic exonym, similar perhaps to calling advocates of reproductive rights “anti-life” instead of “pro-choice”). It appears that while transphobia can and does exist among homophiles, it is less likely, although not impossible, for homophobia to exist among transphiles. It is, on the other hand, still quite possible that misogyny exists among transphilic homophiles. We get this sense of homophilic transphobia a bit in Paris is Burning, when some of the gay drag queens vehemently dispute the notion that they would become “girls” or “women”. In this light, the ’80s NYC gay community involved in the ball and voguing scene might be seen as sexually fueling the capitalist sex trafficking trade, because these transgender and gay male drag queens served to increase the liberation of individuals from the sex economic repression of the moral mainstream of society, which in turn liberalized and enhanced the sexual marketplace, the figure of the trans-woman scarcely separable from the trans-woman-philic straight male sex commodifier, whom members of the heteronormative society deride as homosexual, not accepting the trans-woman as a “real” woman, whom the “TER” feminists chastise for re-inforcing gender roles as opposed to transcending them.
The TERF and SWERF critique of “transgender-ism” thus replicates the critique of certain social justice advocates against Rachel Doležal’s brand of “transracialism”; if the goal is to abolish gender, then the goal is surely to abolish race as well. This proposes a bit of a problem however because we could anticipate that different tensions might arise from the proposal to mold all of the world’s peoples into some pan-human descendent kin. If we take the Noel Ignatievian notion of “racial abolitionism” at face value, that we must “abolish the white race”, there is a real tension between, on the one hand, the idea that this racial abolitionism is largely metaphorical, and that by superficially changing our ways of thinking and behaving, we remove our socially constructed racial identifications although the pan-human descendants will continue to display a range of physiognomies relatively similar to that which exists now, and on the other hand, the idea that privileged sections of “First World” populaces will need to be deported en masse to more egalitarian environments in the so-called “Global South”, where the formerly privileged are likely to perceive egalitarianism as social subordination until the consciousness of their descendants has been altered to fully accept the abolition of white supremacy. If we accept the One-Drop Rule-esque Color-Confrontation Theory of Frances Cress Welsing, then we must admit that the transition of humanity’s descendants to a pan-human kinship will preserve human blackness while eradicating whiteness. The premise of this proposition (that the abolition of racism, combined with white genetic recessivity, results in the abolition of an oppressive social construct disguised as an ethno-cultural group known as “white people” but not in the abolition of “black people”) should perhaps be reconsidered, because it forms the entire basis of anti-miscegenationist hysteria and the neo-Nazi ethos.
The “Homosexuality” of White Supremacist Thought and Behavior
A bitter irony of the white supremacist (also known as “America First-ist”) and/or neo-Nazi worldview is that Nazism, or white racism in general, is actually fundamentally premised on Homosexuality. I know this is a startling claim, but I will explain why this is so in the text which follows.
Nazism creates the sexual fetish of race, proclaiming the Aryan-on-Aryan action needed to create a HOMO-genous racial community, a volk based on the HOMO-sexual love which one Aryan man feels for one Aryan woman, and vice versa. Now that we have established Nazism as a sort of homosexual ideology, we can also observe that it nevertheless incorporates heterosexuality on the gender plane of desire. This contradiction is possible because semi-autonomous planes of sexual desire rely on many basic features of the human body and identity which can be exploited for the Twoness principle: masculinity, femininity, blackness, whiteness. The only difference between the gender and racial planes of sexual desire though is that, gender being historically and culturally linked to sex (and until the emergence of gender theory, essentially synonymous), gender preference in sexual orientation cannot be rightly considered a “fetish”, while sexual orientations axed around preferences with regard to the race or ethnicity of potential sexual partners are fetishistic, because ethnicity is not an intrinsically sexual feature, or at least not linked to sex in the same way as gender. Nevertheless, the reproduction of racial identity groupings (e.g. “white people”) relies on sexual reproduction, so the anti-miscegenationist, the white supremacist, nationalist, neo-Nazi, or “alt rightist” sexualizes white skin and other physical features associated with pseudoscientific “white” racial identity, turning these features into sex characteristics. The emergence of the term “cuckservative” or “cuck” as a neo-Nazi or alt-right insult for rival white nationalists (or rather, conservative U.S. nationalists/American patriots who just so happen to be white, such as Jeb Bush, for example) who do not embrace anti-miscegenationism, which “[alludes] to a genre of porn in which passive white husbands watch their wives have sex with black men” also demonstrates the sexually fetishistic nature of this ideology’s fixations.
Culturally, an important divide within the right-wing white people community exists between advocates of Christian identity, who believe that “white people” are “a lost tribe of Israel”, and those such as Augustus Sol Invictus, Varg Vikernes, etc. who reject “Judaeo-Christianity”, embracing instead efforts to construct a new Eurocentric pseudo-spirituality by appropriating aspects of the pagan mythologies of pre-Christian Europe, sometimes combined with Satanism–(there are also those such as Michael Aquino and Richard Spencer who do the same thing but, in an even more blatantly culturally misappropriative manner, construct their Eurocentric pseudo-spiritualities around African, namely Kemetic, mythology [See: “Temple of Set” and “Cult of Kek”]). This can be quite revealing about the racially fetishistic homosexual nature of white supremacists, because the ancient peoples of the arbitrarily delineated landmass known today as “Europe” were known for valorizing homosexual relations. In Plato’s Symposium (circa 380 BC), the Ancient Greek man Pausanias, known for being the lover of the male poet Agathon, distinguishes between two forms of love.
Pausanias maintained that there exist:
(1) Common Love, or Popular Love, which occurs between a man and a woman, and
(2) Celestial Love, which is homosexual and exclusively male.
In Ancient Greek culture, the hegemonic belief was that men were superior to women, and therefore the homosexual love between two superior, male beings was superior to, and spiritually more powerful than heterosexual love, occurring between a superior and an inferior being (i.e. a man and a woman). Nazism inherits this same paradigm, sublimating only one minor aspect of it (transferring the operation from the gender plane of sexual attraction to the racial plane of sexual fetishism), in considering racially homosexual unions of white couples superior to the racially heterosexual unions between members of the so-called “master race” and the supposedly “inferior races”. In the modern iteration, this form of homosexuality is encouraged through the policies of white supremacist leaders such as Obama, who deported more foreigners from the United States than any other president, and Trump, whose recent short-lived ban on millions of racially “othered” foreigners from the possibility of entering the United States served to reinforce diminution of the chances that the insular people of the Fortress-like white supremacist state will encounter “inferior” peoples and procreate with them.
Another indication of late-stage Nazism’s indebtedness to the supremacist ideal of Celestial Love is hinted at in the former’s advocacy of transracialism. The neo-Nazi David Myatt, founder and predominant theorist of the eugenics-cum-human sacrifice advocating Satanic cult called “the Order of Nine Angles”–analysed in my treatise “What is Net-Centric Warfare?”–calls for the transformation of Homo sapiens into something he dubs “Homo Galactica”, a so-called “master race”. Like Pausanias’ Celestial Love, Myatt’s Homo Galactica advocates supremacist unions and alludes to outer space, suggesting a “heavenly” outcome for those who engage the superior sexual practice. Only the gender supremacist aspect of “Celestial Love” has been swapped for racial supremacism in the “Homo Galactica” master race fantasy.
The appearance of homophobia among white supremacists is a point of tension, and perhaps an Achilles’ heel to their ideology, because, like the white-passing characters in Kingsblood Royal and Imitation of Life, the exposition of the homosexual genesis of their doctrine may inspire terror in the neo-Nazi psyche, threatening to bring it shame and embarrassment. The fascist repression of homosexuality expressed through homophobia and anti-LGBT bigotry has traditionally been, in the final analysis, deemed necessary in order to sublimate the drive of “standard” homosexuality (especially male-on-male “Celestial Love”) into the racial (white-on-white) homosexuality required for the fulfillment of the “Fourteen Words” (i.e., the neo-Nazi ethos). In this case (in which the fulfillment of modern Christian white racial homosexuality is predicated upon the sublimation of ancient pagan gender homosexuality), the elimination of the homophilia taboo from the gender plane of desire may erode in part the basis for coercing individuals into compliance with the white supremacist value of homophilia on the racial plane of desire.
On the other hand, the recent attempt by sections of the far-right to give neo-Nazism a facelift not only by rebranding it as the “alt-right”, but also taking a slight step back from machismo and “traditional” heterosexual masculinity (e.g. confluence of the alt-right with so-called “beta” masculinity, or the emergence of misogynistic, anti-feminist “men’s rights activist [MRA]” gay men) is revealing of a rapprochement between neo-Nazism and homosexuality, a fact which has not gone unnoticed by many of those who have begun to study this iteration of “information age” neo-Nazism. The attempt of sections of the alt-right to revive the ancient principle of male supremacist “Celestial Love” is another instance of recuperation and fascist subversion, capitalizing on advances made by the Left in the sphere of gay rights to serve oppression by attempting to force a realignment of gay men to stand on the side of the oppressors, in the U.S. military and corporate world, alongside adherents of white male bourgeois supremacy. Still, “traditional” white supremacy’s basis in racial homosexuality can easily lead white supremacists of the more “traditional” (anti-gay) variety to slip into practices which would be perceived as “homosexual” in the common understanding of that term. In that regard, the instauration of a “Celestial Love”-grounded white male supremacist movement, whose embryo can be located within the emergent neo-Nazi alt-right is a natural ideological development, making sense from the standpoint of dialectical materialism. This happens because the fetishistic sexualization of white skin, a non-sex trait which has been transformed into a sex trait within the white supremacist ideological framework, leads the white nationalist to be constantly in search of desirable sex characteristics in potential brethren with whom he seeks to form reactionary political movements to ensure the continued sexual reproduction of the so-called “white race”. The singular devotion to the ideal of whiteness, combined with the de-valuation of feminism common in white supremacist circles, leads the male neo-Nazis to view whiteness tout court as the primary object of desire, a sex characteristic of unmatched importance.
Although it is true that the most vehement producers of homophobic discourses almost always simultaneously grapple with the repression of their own latent homosexual desire, it would be incredibly misguided to invoke the openly racially homosexual and consequently latently gay nature of white supremacists to augment homophobic discourse by trying to dress up anti-LGBT bigotry as antifascist. Our praxis must incorporate the consideration that within the fascist camp there exist two antagonistic premises, which must both be combatted: the homophobia which racially homosexual Nazism has traditionally favored (seen for example in the fact that gays were also victimized by the Holocaust) as well as the misogynistic gender homophilia of the pre-Christian Europeans (e.g. Pausanias) to which the modern Eurocentric, racially sex homophilic ideology is indebted and reconciling with.
A tragic setback for gay liberation occurred in the early part of the 20th century in part because of the confusion aroused by Nazism’s reconciliation–then in its infancy–with the male supremacist homosexuality valorized by pre-Christian Europeans. The nascent Soviet Union had already begun establishing gay rights at this time, but the homosexual militarism of Ernst Röhm, Hitler’s closest friend and a gay man, and many of the Nazis at the highest echelons of the political hierarchy of 1930s Germany, provided ample fodder for homophobes to slander the gay community of the young Soviet Union as fascist sympathizers, inhibiting thus progress in lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and questioning spheres as well. This setback for the social and sexual revolution under the Bolsheviks stands as ample evidence of the deterioration of the quality of the revolutionary vanguard hegemony within the Communist political party under the homophobic leadership of Joseph Stalin, who directed many politically and ideologically illiterate people to enroll as members of what was meant to be the most advanced segment of the populace in terms of social woke-ness, the Communist Party.
Transgender and transrace individuals both must deal with similar emotions. Shame and terror are key among these. Transrace characters like Sinclair Lewis’s Neil Kingsblood and Fannie Hurst’s Peola on the one hand are terrorized by the fear of being made to feel disgrace and shame through having their identification with a stigmatized racial grouping exposed, while transrace individuals like Rachel Doležal perhaps feel similar emotions in being exposed as identifying with Black culture despite lack of Transatlantic Afro-diasporic ancestry. It hardly needs to be said why transgender individuals are also terrorized, given these transphobic societies we live in, which double terrorization for trans people of color, such as the unjustly incarcerated CeCe McDonald.
In terms of trans-modernity, the neo-fin de siècle society depicted in Paris is Burning seems to sit at an interesting threshold. In a way, late 20th century New York was like The Matrix, waiting to be “red-pilled” by–you guessed it–“Nine / Eleven”! After 9/11, everything changed. Mechanized police forces began to pummel the alter-globalizationists with lacrimogen–oh no–wait, they did that before 9/11… Ah well, 9/11 accelerated shit, allowing CIA director Bush’s son to enact some slick new imperial machinations. Similarly, while trans-modernity emphasizes the notion that we really shouldn’t get too carried away with trying to pinpoint the location of a postmodern rupture with modernity, the trans- affinities the film highlights do nevertheless resonate in an uncanny way on any historical timeline that might be constructed with them in mind. Transmodernity is suggestive of a process moving beyond modernity in a way that the notion of postmodernism falsely locates in the past. Similarly, transgenderism and transracialism suggest processes, not necessarily of transitioning from one race or one gender into another, but of moving beyond binary traps. Transracialism and transgenderism need not be predicated upon the maintenance of gendered and racialized core “types”, such as the “African” and the “European” or the “gentleman” and the “lady”.
If we apply the same bifurcating logic which premises transraciality and transgenderism to the title of Livingston’s documentaryitself, its complement must be that Kinshasa is Cool, because Kinshasa is the second most populated city of the French-speaking world.These form thus the yin and yang of La Francophonie. The Eurocentricity of this equation, erasing the presence of Lingala and other indigenous Congolese tongues, resonates with the tendency which certain critics of the transracialism and transgenderism depicted in Paris is Burning (such as bell hooks) claim exists for these to be too soft on white supremacy and patriarchy abolitionism, being happy to simply gain privilege and power by transitioning from black to white, from sad and destitute poor gay boy to spoiled rich straight girl. The resonance of Paris is Burning is felt in the late period with musical hits like “Ni**as in Paris” by Jay Z and Kanye West. The city of Paris seems to evoke in the Western, American mind in some ways a liberatory and also aristocratic lifeway, with sexualized and racialized as well as Orientalist aspects, as in the lyrics of one of the most common variants of “The Streets of Cairo” (i.e., “There’s a place in France, where the naked ladies dance”).
The question of transraciality also arises in the Rromani community with regard to the relationship between groups of Rromani individuals contrastively characterized as Kashtalo and Pakivalo by some Rroma, such as blogger Cîrpaci Marian Nuțu, who describes this relationship in terms evocative of antagonism or parasitism. This could be an interesting starting point for another comparative analysis, given the similarities in the development of racism in slave societies during early capitalist modernity on both sides of the Atlantic. Whereas the systematic enslavement of Rroma had already taken root in the Ottoman-dominated provinces of Wallachia and Moldavia (which formed the basis of the modern Romanian state) during the pre-Columbian period, the formation of the Black Atlantic identity was several centuries retarded in comparison to that of Rromani identity, giving Rromani identity more time to be attacked with racialist goals of diffusion and dissipation. These efforts to eradicate Rromani identity are the source of the name Kashtalo (meaning “wooden” in Rromanes [the Rromani language]) in reference to persons of Rromani ethnicity who do not have knowledge of the Rromani language. During the period of enslavement, Rromani castes were often delineated occupationally, with wood-working Rroma being one caste which stopped speaking Rromanes, so the Pakivale rroms, who did manage to keep speaking Rromanes, are regarded by some as more “authentic” Rroma than the Kashtale, whose transraciality pushes them to the verge, if not past the point, of becoming gadze (non-Rroma). Cîrpaci, the previously cited blogger, accuses Rromani NGO’s of underrepresenting the Pakivale, and overrepresenting the Kashtale, whom he insinuates exercise a deceptive degree of fluidity when it comes to either dissimulating or owning up to Rromani or “Gypsy/tsigan” identity based on convenience.
Future social and political movements are likely to necessarily be inclusive of individuals whose subjectivities are shaped by a variety of trans* processes operating in the realms not only of sexuality and gender, but also intergenerational and transgenerational ones operating in the sphere of ethnic or racial belonging, while in the same time providing space for a variety of perspectives informed by both critical race theory and gender critical theory, including those critical of the kind of “transracialism” exemplified by the case of Rachel Doležal, which is not a transgenerational phenomenon but occurs within the lifetime of an individual. Just as the transformation of one thing into another, like Marxian dialectics, requires room for contradiction, so too should social movements be big enough to, in their unity, house contradictions. The goal of the political left is to usher in the demise of capitalist wage slavery and imperialist oppression via solidarity among individuals, to transit the final phases of modernity, and we begin to think forward to our collective transcendence into a communist civilization whose quality is quintessentially postmodern. Meanwhile, in this transmodern era of socialism we remain haunted by the outputs of modernity which live and die all around us in the same time.
ALL WORKS CITED IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PRINCIPLE OF FAIR USE.
**Update, 17 September 2017** : After publishing this article, I received both positive and negative feedback from persons in online spaces dedicated to both transgender as well as gender critical or “trans critical” communities. Some in the former were averse to so much as entertaining the thought of a trans*-informed analysis of Rachel Doležal, while some in the latter did not appreciate that, despite having used scare-quotes to signal a degree of skepticism when introducing the term, I referenced a discourse as being known as “trans exclusive” or “TERF”. I have edited the text to better reflect that, not unlike the use of “trans cult” to describe trans* activism and culture, this term is understood by many of those to whom it is applied to constitute a term of abuse, in addition to clarifying a couple of thoughts in the conclusion of this piece.
A Critique of the Pro-Sino-Russian “Anti-imperialism” Trend in the USA and Western Europe, or Part I of a response to “Position paper from Red Guards Austin, 2016”
By Daniel K. Buntovnik
17 July 2016
The appearance of new political centers for the advocacy and advancement of Marxian revolutionism in the United States is a good thing. It would, however, be unreasonable to suppose that any one of these centers is infallible, no matter how grounded in the “science” of whatever “-ism” it pretends to be. Revolutionary agitators, organizers, and educators should avoid the pitfalls of sectarianism and provincial-particularism-cum-universalism by remaining open to the ideas emitted by a panoply of political centers (which need not necessarily be constituted by sects), moving in this way towards a decolonial transmodern pluriversalism as an authentic universalism. The potential mass organization of futurity operating on a genuine democratic centralism need not conceptualize its constituent political centers as tentacle-like “branches” sprouting from the sectarian center of one metropolitan province, but as disparate centers, autonomous in and of themselves, which link up, like the social individuals who exercise agency in coming together to take part in the formation of a collective, even though they may not have been previously “related” in the mundane sense.
It is in this spirit of critical open-mindedness that I received some of the criticisms of American left-wing activist groups that a Maoist-oriented organization based in Austin, Texas and calling itself the “Red Guards” after the eponymous Red Guards of 1960s China made in their 2016 position paper “Condemned to Win!”. What follows are some of my reflections on what they put forward in that paper, which serves also as a launch pad to further elaborations.
Allegations of bogus “anti-imperialist” posturing
The author(s) of “Condemned to Win!” see as problematic a trend they identify among the formally organized leftist groups in the United States (and beyond) in the form of a vulgar anti-imperialism which they call “alternative-imperialism”. They argue that one “cannot be an anti-imperialist and at the same time be a running dog for Russian or Chinese imperialism.” Others have argued exactly the opposite. For example, that there is at the present moment no such thing as Russian imperialism and that you cannot oppose imperialism without standing in solidarity with certain key policies of the government of the Russian Federation [X, X]. Before we can evaluate both lines of argumentation about how we are to oppose imperialism and come to a sound conclusion as to which one, if any, is correct, we must first consider what imperialism is, what its essential features are today, and how developments in imperial systems over the course of the last one-hundred years which have passed since the “classical” Marxian theorists first described modern imperialism might change our orientation towards it.
A brief overview of “imperialism” and its development
Human societies have been confronted by something we might call “imperialism” (the system of empire) for thousands of years. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries that a number of political theorists (the “classical” Marxians) began to elaborate analyses of a new form of imperialism that was qualitatively different from that of Imperium Romanum or Manden Kurufaba. Whereas in those ancient and medieval empires, outgrowths of the earliest agricultural class societies, the basic schematic elements of imperialism (the amassing of wealth and privilege by members of one class and/or polity to the detriment of others, combined with an expansionist thrust) could be found in practices of conquest, colonization, enslavement, tribute collection, and vassalage, the arrival of modernity signalled the beginning of a long process of progressively layering new features onto the imperial schema, as well as transforming or discarding some of the old.
While the embryonic capitalism of the first modern empires arising around the 15th century CE preserved many of the trappings of the older class system of feudalism, such as the continued predominance of artisanal and handicraft-type manufacturing, their distinctive novelty was in the emergence of a wealthy and powerful merchant class associated to a large extent with the transatlantic triangular trade.
A middle phase of capitalism seemed to be inaugurated when these empires underwent industrial revolutions and holders of capital in the form of “large-scale machine industry” (prefigured by those plantation-capitalists who made factories out of the land and machines out of human beings) became the principal basis for an imperialist power elite. In this middle phase of empire (safeguarding some of its predecessor’s traits as had its predecessor kept some of those of the system preceding it), factories, mills, and industrialization were concentrated more densely in the imperial “core” or “metropolitan” countries, the objective being to plunder resources and raw material from the “savage” peripheries, refine/assemble/upgrade them into more valuable finished products with “civilized” know-how, and sell them back in the colonies at a profit, fulfilling in this way a little bit of the mission civilisatrice through commodification and exports.
But by the “late stage” of capitalism, which we seem to still be stuck in and which had already begun to take shape by the time the classical analysts of modern imperialism produced their theories, new developments in the financial sector signalled another shift; the financier, the rentier, the investor, the banker, the holder of a more abstract and vertically concentratible form of wealth called finance capital began to supersede the robber baron industrialist of yesteryear as the archetypal representative of the power brokering imperialist class.
It is the superior vertical concentratibility of wealth permitted by financialization which allows modern imperialists, in what would seem a paradox to those of olden days, to “[exploit] inequalities in the world economy” by outsourcing industrial capital to poor (“Third World”) semi-peripheral to peripheral countries—dismantling their factories and mills at the heart of “civilization”, setting up shop in places where labor is sold at a fraction of the cost—and importing the manufactured goods to the core (at an immense rate of profit to the core-based financier, of course). And though the (super)exploitation is palpable, these imperialist profiteers claim to be doing a favor to those neocolonial countries by providing them with “more jobs”. The industrial core becomes the rust-belt, and “hard work pays off” becomes more jobs, more poverty.
It is the topsy-turviness of this stage in which “certain of [capitalism’s] fundamental characteristics began to change into their opposites” that Vladimir Lenin identified as being at the essence of modern capitalist imperialism. Another important inversion of capitalism’s fundamental characteristics, one identified by Lenin, is the transition from free competition to monopoly; that is, the lessening of competition, the greater concentration of power in lesser numbers of hands. Ironically, apologists for today’s monopoly capitalism defend this system by barking about mythical “free markets” at the mere insinuation that trust-busting state intervention might threaten to undermine their rate of return investment.
The newest imperialist phase
Lenin described imperialism as the transition from “free competition” to “monopoly” in 1916, one-hundred years ago. To what extent has monopolization progressed since then?
Answering the question of whether or not monopoly capitalism has progressed to such an extent that we face before us now a form of imperialism (call it “unipolar imperialism”) in which Empire is axed around a unique central core—a monopole—centered in the United States, perhaps on Wall Street, is paramount to determining whether or not it is anti-imperialist to rally behind the proverbial barricades of pro-Russian and pro-Chinese forces as they make their stand against American Empire. Clearly the United States played a hegemonic role in world affairs throughout much of the last two (maybe even three) centuries and it has continued to play that role throughout this century. It is the dominant great power in the world today in terms of military, economic, political, and perhaps pop-cultural force… the top dog, so to speak. But is it the only great power capable of contesting international hegemony? The only dog in the fight for monopolization?
In “The New Imperialism of Globalized Monopoly-Finance Capital”, University of Oregon sociology professor and Monthly Review magazine editorJohn Bellamy Foster identifies three key “classical” Marxian analyses of imperialism: Bukharin’s Imperialism and the World Economy (1916); Luxemburg’s The Accumulation of Capital (1913); and Lenin’s Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916). Foster argues that these analyses “were responses to a period of international instability, marked by the decline of Britain as the hegemonic power in the world economy and the rise of competing nations, particularly Germany and the United States, leading in the ensuing struggles to the First and Second World Wars” [X]. Thus the imperialism which they grappled with was clearly multipolar in nature, emanating from more than one center. Indeed, for Lenin, “an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony”. Lenin also noted that, despite monopolization being a trend towards severely reduced free competition, monopolies nevertheless “do not eliminate [free competition], but exist above it and alongside it, and thereby give rise to a number of very acute, intense antagonisms, frictions and conflicts” [X].
Foster also suggests that there is now a ubiquitous belief among leftists that “the world has entered a new imperialist phase” which “is widely referred to as neoliberal globalization”. Given that many of the theorists of this 21st century phase of imperialism highlight major differences from the classical Marxian theory of imperialism outlined by thinkers like Lenin, key among these differences being the shift from multipolarity to unipolarity, a new name is needed. If “imperialism” was the stage of capitalism described by Lenin in which inter-great power rivalry and conflict was “an essential feature”, and if today capitalism is essentially different in that it has reached a stage where such rivalry is non-existent, giving way in its stead to a unilateral global assault by fascistic Empire, we must give this stage a name to distinguish it from the fundamentally dissimilar stage described by Lenin and other classical Marxians a hundred years ago.
Theories of “super-imperialist” neoliberal globalization
Some (e.g. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri, William Robinson, and Leslie Sklair) see the latest stage of capitalism (neoliberal globalization) as being led by a deterritorialized and/or transnational state entity one might name simply “Empire”; not centered in any one nation-state but represented by multinational corporations and privately contracted security/mercenary/intelligence firms, much of its wealth is hidden away in offshore accounts, only a fraction of which was revealed by the Panama Papers. Foster further relates that Robinson’s idea that “globalization involves a supersession of the nation-state as the organizing principle of social life under capitalism” is said by Ernesto Screpanti, another 21st century imperialism theorist, to be the approach “that today most nearly replicates the outlook of Kautsky’s ultra-imperialism”. (Kautsky, a German Marxist leader and contemporary of Lenin, forewarned at the beginning of the 20th century of a coming imperialist phase in which “the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital in place of the mutual rivalries of national finance capitals” would take place. Lenin mocked this theory as “notorious” [ibid] and “ultra-nonsense”).
Others (e.g. Michael Hudson, Peter Gowan, Leo Panitch, and Sam Gindin) make the case that neoliberal globalization represents the ascendency of a quasi-“all powerful” American Empire which dispossesses all other empires. In this analysis, Europe and Japan have become wholly-owned subsidiaries of American Empire. These theorists call the current stage of capitalism “super-imperialism”, a term which Lenin also used a synonym for Kautsky’s theory of ultra-imperialism.
What both of the theories of neoliberal globalization described above seem to share is their acceptance of “end of history”-style narratives of the post-Cold War era. While the first emphasizes the beginning of inter-imperialist co-operation—the deterritorialized ultra-imperialist Empire is made possible through capitalists’ class conscious realization that transcending the obsolete form of the nation-state will lift impediments on their ability to accumulate wealth via multinational corporations, the second theory posits the end of inter-imperialist conflict through American Empire’s victory over great power rivals Germany and Japan in two world wars, further cemented in place by the apparent defeat of Communism seen in the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan, the fall of the Berlin Wall, political revolutions and coups in Eastern Europe, the disestablishment of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and the defeat of Central American national liberation movements. Nevertheless, the theory of deterritorialized transnational Empire, although many elements of it resonate, seems, for now, to fit better on the pages of sci-fi books than in objective analyses of the dynamics of imperialism in the present, for who can deny that the division of the world into nation-states continues to be very real and significant? Whoever denies this has surely never travelled across any international border that is not between the US and Canada or outside of the Schengen Zone. Foster’s essay further points to the fact that although the “reach [of multinational corporations] is global[,] their property and their owners have a clear national base”. It is the second theory of neoliberal globalization, that which posits it as the project of a uniquely American “super-imperialism”, that seems to justify the pro-Russian/Chinese position, and which needs unpacked.
Sino-Russian regroupment against neoliberal globalization?
With the exit of the Soviet Union from the world stage, why are the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation increasingly paired in any informed discussion of 21st century global geopolitics? How was this rapprochement possible after the outright disavowal of Marxian ideals by Russia’s post-Soviet political system (ideals which are still paid lip service by the Chinese leadership), given the legacy of the three decades long Sino-Soviet split, born from the Chinese Communist perception that the Soviet Russian Communists were revisionist traitors to the cause, “bent on seeking Soviet-U.S. co-operation for the domination of the world”?
In parallel to the emergence of a new scheme to implement a US expansionist drive on the global level at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st (in large part dependent upon the discovery/construction of NATO’s new raison d’être: “radical Islamism”, perhaps with Russian containment coming in a close second), notoriously outlined by the think tank “Project for the New American Century”, Sino-Russian rapprochement took shape through the foundation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a political, economic, and military alliance between China, Russia, and several Central Asian states, which is on course to expand and incorporate several other states in the near future, including India and Pakistan as soon as this summer (putting China in the awkward position of being in alliance with a capitalist state’s decades long fight against Maoist rebels), as well as Iran, Belarus, and Mongolia. This realignment of great powers was a sure sign that the predicted era of global unity and long-lasting peace founded on the evolutionary plateau of “liberal free market democracy” heralded by Fukuyama after the disintegration of the Soviet Union was an illusion. Furthermore, the fact that both of these strategic initiatives (the “Project for the New American Century” and the Sino-Russian regroupment) essentially occurred in tandem indicates that, rather than one initiative being purely reactive to the other, the bourgeoisies of each great power were simply following the imperial logic of carrying out the struggle for international hegemony.
But the ideological basis of this supposed “anti-Empire alliance” has nothing to do with any kind of Marxian class conscious objection to the underlying logic of late stage capitalist development. The “anti-super-imperialists” demonstrate a willingness to overlook the Sino-Russian national bourgeois leadership at the heart of appeals to the possibility of a “dollar-free and independent economy and market” through SCO-led “anti-super-imperialism” as an alternative to neoliberal globalization. The underlying suggestion here is that, with the right balance of power between global bourgeois forces, fairer and freer conditions can be won under capitalism which would put some wind in the sails of the working class movement. These “super-imperialism” analyses posit the national bourgeoisies of Russia and China as classes who unconsciously advance the movement towards socialist revolution.
Even if one does accept the premise that the SCO represents strictly an oppositional bloc to Empire, that is, the theory of “super-imperialism” as the end of inter-imperial rivalry through the arrival of an all-powerful US-led Empire on the world stage, this nevertheless downplays the presence of tension between the United States and its imperial allies and the possibility of rising antagonisms in those relationships. A variety of these antagonisms can be identified: American policymakers have openly discussed plots to “[take] the Saudi out of Arabia”, replacing the House of Saud with “the Hashemite monarchy that now rules Jordan”. Another example would be a leaked phone call that revealed antagonism between the US and EU with regard to the Ukraine conflict, with the Assistant Secretary of State telling the US Ambassador to the Ukraine, “Fuck the EU.”
A modest decline in US imperialism’s ability to enforce policy objectives through brute militarism seems to be evidenced by two key trends. First, there is the fact that another quasi-unilaterally US-implemented “coalition of the willing”-style invasion à la Iraq and Afghanistan seems increasingly unfeasible as it would be incredibly unpopular and likely lead to an undesirable backlash for the US bourgeoisie. Secondly, there are also signs of Europe and Japan emerging as independent imperial militarist centers. Top EU officials have called for the formation an EU military force. German leaders have recently discussed the need to amend their country’s constitution to allow for leeway in military adventures in Iraq [X, X], while Japan has in the last year lifted constitutional restrictions preventing its military from carrying out overseas assaults [X]. The Japanese government is also fostering its own military-academic industrial complex by directing universities to abolish social science and humanities departments and move towards weapons research, including notably weaponized robotics research.
Pro-Sino-Russian revolutionary US defeatism, pan-defeatism, or “neither victory nor defeat”?
For subjects in the heart of American Empire who desire to see the defeat of capitalist neoliberal globalization and the wars and neocolonial occupations that go along with it, it is of paramount importance to determine whether the material dialectic flipside of this equation is the victory of the bourgeois great powers China and Russia.
Important questions must be asked:
If revolution is not immediately feasible in the Bible-thumping heartland (much less the liberal-progressive cosmopolitan burgs) of American Empire, will the defeat of the latter at the hands of a Sino-Russian-led alliance facilitate the revolutionary movement in the core?
If the ruling capitalists in China and Russia are victorious in facilitating the unhinging of US hegemony, will this accelerate the revolutionary movements in those Eurasian countries?
Should socialists in the United States and the European Union hail the Russian social-patriotic defense of the fatherland in Donbass and Lugansk as a historically progressive struggle? And what of the Russian military intervention in Syria, ostensibly on the same side as the US military intervention?
During much of the First World War, Lenin endorsed a policy called “revolutionary defeatism”. Lenin posited revolutionary defeatism as the axiom that “during a reactionary war a revolutionary class cannot but desire the defeat of its government”. Lenin was careful to explain that this policy of calling for the defeat of the Russian Empire did not imply a desire for “the victory of Germany” as its compliment [ibid]. Instead, it was held that “in all imperialist countries the proletariat must now desire the defeat of its own government” [ibid]. Here Lenin presents revolutionary defeatism not as the argument that German victory would be a “less evil” outcome of revolution in Russia throwing a wrench in the country’s war machine than a continued costly struggle for Russian victory and defense of the tsarist fatherland, but that Russian defeat would accelerate the revolutionary movement in Russia, making the defeat-slogan a call to defeat all imperialisms; the transformation of imperialist war into civil war would spread to Germany and “the German victory [would] be short-lived”. It was not a pro-German defeatism, but an anti-imperialist pan-defeatism. If we accept Lenin’s 1915 formulation, that proletarians of “all” imperial core areas must desire the defeat of their own government (implying that in a colonial national liberation war, proletarians do not need to wish for the defeat of their government), the answer to the questions posed above then depends on whether we see modern Russia and China as imperialist in the modern sense, a question which we will return to later.
The idea of “revolutionary defeatism” was not a new one on the Russian political scene when Lenin was writing about it in 1915. A prototype of the call for “revolutionary defeatism” was deployed by Russian revolutionaries a decade earlier, during the inter-imperialist Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905. In that earlier instance however, Lenin’s explanation of what revolutionary defeatism entailed was quite different from the one he offered during the First World War. While, during the First World War, Lenin tried to distance the notion of revolutionary defeatism from formulations that “[put] the question in the form of a choice between military outcomes on the government plane”, Hal Draper argues in The Myth of Lenin’s “Revolutionary Defeatism” (1953) that Lenin was in fact guilty of doing exactly this as he deployed a lesser evilist line of argumentation for defeatism that glamorized Japanese imperialism as a progressive force during the Russo-Japanese War. Draper further shows that Soviet (Stalinist) historiography covered up this inconsistency between Lenin’s early pro-enemy nation defeatism and later pan-defeatism out of embarrassment. (Lesser evilist, pro-enemy nation defeatism being considered an error—Lenin and Trotsky split on the question of the defeat-slogan during the First World War with Lenin criticizing Trotsky’s characterization of Russian defeatism as implying a desire for German victory, a difference which the supporters of Stalin were keen to play up in an effort to discredit Trotsky as thoroughly un-Marxist-Leninist). Draper’s book makes the case that Lenin actually abandoned slogans of revolutionary defeatism after returning from exile in Switzerland after the February Revolution (in March 1917) and realizing that it was too “theoretical” and out of touch with the common people of Russia, many of whom were not chauvinistic “social patriots” but had “defensist sentiments” out of an instinctual desire to defend their country from oppression; they “[accepted] the war only as a necessity and not as an excuse for making conquests” [Lenin].
Draper points to the fact that during the 1904-1905 war, “pro-Japanism in the sense of desiring the victory of Japanese imperialism but also in the sense of ‘idealizing’ Japan as a progressive force” was commonly associated with the policy of revolutionary defeatism. He explains that “a ‘desire for defeat’, tended to merge this sentiment into its obvious consequence: a wish for the victory of Japan”. It is in an article written by Lenin in 1905, after the surprise attack on the Russian naval fleet in Manchuria, “The Fall of Port Arthur”, where he exhibits most strongly the pro-enemy nation essence of his formula for revolutionary defeatism at that time. But what was the basis for this Japanophilia?
In “The Fall of Port Arthur”, Lenin writes, “Advancing, progressive Asia has dealt backward and reactionary Europe an irreparable blow.” At that time, the Empire of Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization and modernization, developing free market capitalism following the end of sakokuisolationism. Japan was a constitutional monarchy with a House of Representatives while Russia was a semi-feudal absolutist dictatorship with no constitutional law.
Key to Lenin’s enthusiasm here for the “advancing” and “progressive” character of Japanese imperialism was the notion that Japan was at a higher stage of social development than Russia. Lenin rebuked his contemporaries who argued “that a socialist could only be in favour of a workers’ Japan, a people’s Japan, and not of a bourgeois Japan” because, this, he argued, “is as absurd as blaming a socialist for admitting the progressive nature of the free-trade bourgeoisie as compared with the protectionist bourgeoisie”.
Lenin reiterates this point several times over:
“The proletariat is hostile to every bourgeoisie and to all manifestations of the bourgeois system, but this hostility does not relieve it of the duty of distinguishing between the historically progressive and the reactionary representatives of the bourgeoisie.”
“While struggling against free competition, we cannot, however, forget its progressive character in comparison with the semi-feudal system. While struggling against every war and every bourgeoisie, we must draw a clear line in our agitational work between the progressive bourgeoisie and the feudal autocracy; we must recognise the great revolutionary role of the historic war in which the Russian worker is an involuntary participant.”
If we transpose this formula for revolutionary defeatism by the progressive power which states that, when conflict arises between two bourgeois great powers, the bourgeoisie of the more socially advanced nation plays a revolutionary role in dragging forward the bourgeoisie of the backwards nation, then the 21st century “anti-imperialist” enthusiasm for the “progressiveness” of the national bourgeoisies of China and Russia quickly loses steam, because, in the Leninist schema for stages of economic development, monopoly-finance capitalism is a progressive outgrowth of free competition under industrial capitalism. If, in 1905, capitalist, constitutional Japan was more advanced than semi-feudal, autocratic Russia, then it follows that today the measure of a great power’s progressiveness is the degree to which it has developed socially by transitioning via financialization from the more primitive system of nation-state-based industrial capitalism to the “higher”, more “civilized” system of free transnational trade: neoliberal globalization.
A proponent of this view might argue that the neoliberal austerity measures implemented across the Global North in recent years are progressive in that, in globalizing poverty, cutting the social benefits/privileges found only in the wealthy countries, and dismantling the welfare states whose construction was only possible with Marshall Plan imperialist superprofits, they reduce the inflated living standards of the labor aristocratic imperial core middle class and professionalized workers and their excessive consumerism run amok. By polarizing the rich-poor divide in wealthy countries and rendering the petit bourgeois downwardly mobile (proletarianizing them), as well as trending towards multiculturalism, the revindication of postcolonial centripetal migrations of labor as a path to reparations, and the dissolution of the nation-state system, neoliberal globalization sets the stage for a globalized class struggle, wherein a super-rich global ruling class and a global poor face off in struggle relatively freed up from the hindrances of national division.
Proponents of “pro-Russian anti-imperialism” base their argument for the progressiveness of the defeat of American imperialist machinations as a whole or partial result of the strategic initiatives of the Russian bourgeoisie on the denial of Russia being imperialist. For proponents of this position, as we shall examine more closely in sections below, Russia is a non-imperialist capitalist power not because it has advanced to a higher stage of development than US capitalism, but precisely the opposite: because it is at a lower stage; privatization has not progressed as far as in the West (much of its industrial capital is state-owned) and its economy is not as financialized as that of the US. And since it is assumed that Lenin’s conclusion that it is only in imperialist countries that socialists must subscribe to defeatism is a scientific axiom, it is therefore thoroughly un-socialist to desire the defeat of capitalist, underdeveloped Russia. But if we accept the kind of pro-enemy nation defeatism espoused by Lenin during the Russo-Japanese War and its accompanying lesser evilist proposition that scientific socialists must admit “the progressive nature of the free-trade bourgeoisie as compared with the protectionist bourgeoisie”, then one is forced to uphold the American bourgeoisie as progressive as compared with the backwards Russian bourgeoisie. While the American bourgeoisie is leading negotiations for significant new free trade measures such as the TPP and T-TIP, the Russian bourgeoisie and its satellite bourgeoisies in Belarus and Kazakhstan are the most protectionist in the world [X, X]. Other SCO states, including China and India, are also world leaders in protectionism [X].
Take a step back from this economism and, on the cultural plane, the outlook for a “pro-(Sino-)Russian anti-imperialism” is not much better. Although critiques of “pink imperialism” accurately point out the shamelessness of imperial recuperation of the struggle for LGBTQIA+ liberation and the absurdity in the idea that rights for gays will come to Afghanistan via American drone campaigns, reactionary outbursts against “Gayropa” from the Russian state and Orthodox and fundamentalist Christians do not under any circumstances lend themselves to progressiveness. Western “pro-Russian anti-imperialist” lefts seem blissfully unaware, or just don’t care, that their counterparts in the East base a significant part of their case against integration into neoliberal globalization on socially conservative arguments against a culturally decadent West. In Eastern European states torn between US/EU and Russian great powers, it is the Soviet nostalgic pro-Russian “socialists” who propose laws to, in their own words, “do everything possible to stop propagation of homosexuality and the destruction of Christian values and the traditional family” [X, X].
Nevertheless, it does seem that, in slowly backing away, at first from the pro-“progressive enemy” and quasi-two-stagist narrative of revolutionary defeatism as the triumph of modern bourgeois-democratic liberal capitalist imperialism over outmoded semi-feudal autocratic capitalist imperialism in the Russo-Japanese War to the pan-defeatist calls for simultaneous revolutions in Germany and Russia (and all state participants in the inter-imperialist conflict) during the First World War, and then away from defeatism tout court after the bourgeois-democratic February Revolution to an appreciation of the “‘conscientious’ revolutionary-defensism” of the Russian masses, Lenin discretely abandoned the defeatist formula because it had become a roadblock to revolution.
So is it this “revolutionary defensist” path which allows us to transcend the binary trap of “victory or defeat” which implicitly excludes the possibility of working class leadership in its formulation of inter-capitalist conflict as a sadistic restaurant of mass slaughter where the only items on the menu are those outcomes offered by bourgeois governments? Only if the addition of a transcendental “third way” was somehow enough to everytime set us free from the trap of binary thinking. Alas, we have merely shifted to another duality: “victory or defeat” or “neither victory or defeat”. What is clear is that revolutionaries must blaze their own trails.
“All categorical options are a trap. There are not only two paths, just as there are not just two colors, two sexes, or two beliefs. The answer is neither here nor there. It is better to make a new path that goes where one wants to go.”
Revolutionaries within US Empire must assess to what extent the masses sincerely accept the “War on Terror” and its next phase which US military policymakers call “The New Thirty Years’ War” as a necessary evil—some kind of just war—and not just a cynical “excuse for making conquests”, before calculating how effective defeatist-sloganeering might be. Certainly the effects of sustained mass hysteria following 11 September 2001 must be considered. Broadcasting Twin Tower collapses on repeat was a powerful trigger for defensive instincts and amplifying perceptions of an oppressive Axis of Evil “hating us for our freedom”, but its effect may be wearing off. If such sincere defensism does still exist on a mass scale, the defeatist slogan may prove counterproductive to anti-imperialist mobilization. On the other hand, if defensism has become largely insincere, with young people joining the US military for its promises of career advancement and the chance to “see the world”, all while basically knowing full well that it is fighting for imperial hegemony and hydrocarbon conquest, then perhaps embracing desire for defeat still has its place. In that case, it is important to articulate who—what social forces—will defeat US militarism and global economic exploitation: Sino-Russian capitalists leading a new economic bloc against “Dollar Dependency” and “Debt Peonage”, low-class Westerners leading a struggle against capitalism, a combination of the two? If we opt for the first or the third, we must ask whether socialist struggle in China and Russia to defeat those nations’ bourgeoisies parallel to the low-class Westerners’ struggle undermines the SCO economic project.
Revolutionaries in Russia and China, meanwhile, are advised to determine to what extent NATO’s geostrategic war games and containment policies foster genuine sentiments of oppression among the masses there. In those places it might also be considered to what extent scaremongering about the decadence of Western culture can also be used to project class antagonism between the workers and the national and comprador bourgeoisies within those countries externally. If Russian and Chinese proletarian comrades come to the conclusion that they are indeed at the butt end of a super-imperialism, then they must determine whether antagonism and strife between them and their patriotic national bourgeoisies undermines the struggle against super-imperialism.
But it must also be clarified whether a non-super-imperialist country can still be imperialist in the sense of a lower stage of imperialism; for the Old Bolsheviks certainly did not negate in their scientific analysis that the underdeveloped Russia of 1905 was imperialist, even if it was a semi-feudal imperialism, qualitatively different from the higher stage imperialism of Japan. The Chinese and Russian revolutions, though they failed to bring about a socialist world, did fulfill the development tasks of the “bourgeois-democratic” revolution in their countries (i.e., they are no longer “semi-feudal” to any significant degree; the veneer of “socialism” was used to build monopolies through state ownership of industry).
Thus it is the supposition of “super-imperialism” (again, that is unipolar globalist imperialism—unforetold by the classical Marxians but by Kautsky) as marking a revolutionary new stage of capitalism that begs the question of whether the socialist revolution in countries poorly integrated into the super-imperial globalized system no longer faces before it the “simple” task of overthrowing the bourgeoisie and instauring the socialist stage of development, but must also carry out the task of the bourgeois-globalist revolution before it can move on to the socialist and communist stages. It is this suggestion, that a unique and new historical stage of development has been reached, or is being reached by something we must call bourgeois-globalist revolution, where the revolutionary class is the transnational bourgeoisie who grows class consciousness, attacks and overthrows the reactionary national bourgeoisies and which sheds the old imperialism of its essential feature of inter-great power imperialist rivalry, which justifies the characterization of China and Russia as backwards (non-imperialist) countries. The thesis of neoliberal globalization as unipolar super-imperialism negates the old school Marxian idea that the union of peoples into a single world economic system “can only be voluntary, arising on the basis of mutual confidence and fraternal relations among peoples”. The decolonization wave of the 1960s did indeed “lead to the crisis of world capitalism” [ibid], but capitalism managed to survive this crisis by initiating the bourgeois-globalist revolution of neoliberalism, instauring a neocolonialism which seems immune to the old school national liberation movements.
The confusion of “pro-Sino-Russian anti-imperialism” is in the fact that it is reactionary against the bourgeois-globalist revolution for the wrong reasons. It opposes the globalist half of the revolution but embraces the bourgeois half. This is inherently and doubly un-socialist because the socialist revolution is, if not globalist, not socialist. Socialist revolution in the 21st century must carry out, in addition to the expropriation of the means of production, certain tasks of the bourgeois-globalist revolution associated with “supersession of the nation-state as the organizing principle of social life under capitalism” (e.g. removal of barriers to free movement of labor [passport privilege], removal of protections which sustain inequality between countries). Socialist revolution cannot and will not be led on by nationalist and protectionist bourgeois forces.
Towards a sharper critique of masquerading “anti-imperialism”
Now let us go back to the allegation of the Red Guards Austin introduced at the beginning of this essay that a trend exists among certain Western leftists to substitute opposition to American imperialism with support for alternative imperialist projects, namely Russian and Chinese.
There are varying degrees to which this trend is realized. In its mild form, opposition to imperialism downplays the imperialist ambitions (if not outright real imperialistic actions) of foreign capitalist polities engaged in self-interested resistance to the ongoing process of US-led neoliberal globalization. In its severe form, opposition to imperialism is essentially reduced to cheerleading what we might call, if not imperialist, petit-imperialist and aspiring-imperialist forces who are engaged in contests for international hegemony not with the aim to abolish exploitation or liberate countries from neocolonial subjugation, but to increase their own competitivity in global markets. No matter the severity, at the heart of this tendency is the substitution of principled revolutionary opposition to all imperialism (not only “super-imperialism”) with opportunistic enthusiasm for the weakening of one country’s imperialism at the hands of powerful capitalists from another, or a powerful coalition of capitalists from multiple others.
Vulgar anti-imperialism (anti-super-imperialism) is akin to championing the plight of mom ’n’ pop shopkeepers displaced by Wal-Mart, calling it anti-capitalism, and accusing any worker who criticizes their small business boss of being a Wal-Mart PR Rep or an ultra-leftist unwittingly undermining solidarity with the enemy against the bigger enemy. Vulgar anti-imperialism is the projection of the petit-bourgeois populism of “Main Street versus Wall Street” or “the super-rich 1% (billionaires) versus the 99% (including ‘middle class’ multi-millionaires)” onto a global scale.
A number of would-be “anti-imperialists” have appeared out of the woodwork in recent months and years to weave twisted defenses of 21st century Great-Russian “social patriotism” [X, X, X, X]. These polemics are no doubt reactionary outbursts to geopolitical developments which point towards the re-emergence of Russia as a great power in inter-capitalist competition following the brief disorientation triggered by Soviet collapse: namely, the Russian Federation’s decisions to annex the Crimean peninsula in March 2014 (first colonized by the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century and home to a strategically located Russian naval base) and to intervene militarily in Syria (also home to a strategically located Russian naval base [X]) in 2015 (still ongoing). These confused would-be opponents of imperialism deny that spacefaring, nuclear warhead-armed, expansionist [X] polities like the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are highly advanced capitalist states, claiming that they have not yet developed monopolistic capitalism.
What happens when you discard the fact of monopoly capitalism’s essential multipolarity: the tragic case of the “hardcore anti-Germans”
An apt comparison might be made between this anti-Americanism cum anti-imperialism and a heterogenous political identity claimed by some radicals leftists in Germany known as Antideutsch(“anti-Germans”). The anti-Germans argue that German national identity has been so tainted by the legacy of the Holocaust and Nazism and that it stands as a barrier to internationalism and the struggle against capitalism. They reject the notion that the left can “rely on the German working-classes”, the vast majority of whom harbor “a deep authoritarian disposition”. One anti-German group calling itself sinistra! explains the tendency as “a radicalization of anti-national theory” whose roots go back to the First World War, when Karl Liebknecht remarked that “the most dangerous enemy is to be found in your own country”.
Where anti-Germans stand out from much of the left is in their self-declared solidarity with the state of Israel and their prioritization of the critique of antisemitism masked in anti-Zionism. But where the tendency really veers away from the vast majority of what we conceptualize as “the left” is in their embrace of Americanism. Like with the “anti-American/pro-Russian anti-imperialists”, this embrace of the “enemy” varies in degree from group to group. It is said that “all anti-Germans […] denounce anti-Americanism” because of the German heritage of Nazi resentment at American and Allied troops (and not the German left) preventing the full realization of the Final Solution which they allege occupies the core of much of Germany’s anti-Americanism.
The embrace of the myth of the “progressive enemy” in its more severe form described by the anti-German sinistra! group is not pretty:
“[S]ome anti-German groups (often referred to as ‘hardcore anti-Germans’, although this term might be quite misleading) made it a point to celebrate every single move in American foreign politics in the past and present. Instead of just giving the US credit for the major role they’ve played in defeating Nazi-Germany in World War 2 and thereby putting an end to the holocaust, these groups are drawing close similarities between WW 2 and the “War on Terror”. By this they are putting the reactionary and anti-Semitic regimes in the so called Islamic world on one level with the Nazis. This is not only a serious minimization of the nazi era and the holocaust, but also a violation of the (radicalized) categorical imperative of Karl Liebknecht, that the main enemy is one’s “own country”. These anti-Germans see themselves on the side of civilization and declare Islam their main target instead of Germany.”
Like the “hardcore anti-Germans”, the “hardcore anti-American imperialist” tendency makes the error of discarding the essential multipolarity of imperialism. Further, Liebknecht wasn’t calling for the defeat of German Empire at the hands of Russian and American imperialisms, but by a revolutionary social movement led by its own working class.
Coupling Liebknecht’s axiom with the acceptance of the unipolarity of imperialism leads to lesser evilist thinking: “If, as an American, my enemy is my ruling class, then it’s good if the Russian ruling class hurts my ruling class. If Russians of the subaltern sort get fed up with their government’s participation in wars in the Ukraine and Syria and form an anti-war movement that leads to decline in Russian influence there, then Ukraine will join NATO and turn away from Russian/SCO protectionist capitalism and Syria will undergo regime change, and that’s what my enemies at home want so that’s bad.” The moment you accept this lesser evilism, you begin to look to the Russian ruling elites as your friends instead of the common people of Russia. Taken to its extreme, this “hardcore” tendency to make saviors out of perceived foreign enemies can lead to even more cringeworthy iterations than “pro-Russian anti-imperialism”. Some would-be leftists in the West apply the same faulty way of thinking to extend “critical support” to ISIS as an enemy of US imperialism [X]. Sometimes this phenomenon even works in reverse, such as when American white supremacists managed to receive official DPRK sponsorship for their self-declared support and solidarity for the besieged North Korean state [X].
The Liebknechtian “enemy at home” theme of anti-Americanism can soon be forgotten when one begins to accept the idea that American imperialism is the only imperialism in the world today. Focus is displaced in the same way that the “hardcore anti-Germans”, in their unthinking embrace of Americanism, forgot that Germany was supposed to be their main enemy. By assimilating the American ruling class point of view, they began to view America’s main enemy du jour, “radical Islam”, as their main enemy. The same process of displacement and forgetting occurs with the “pro-Russian anti-imperialism” variety of anti-Americanism. When one adopts this attitude, one begins to see the cohesion of the “most realistic” social force for the defeat of US imperialist machinations (i.e., Sino-Russian/SCO-led capitalism) as more essential than organizing or mobilizing in one’s own Western community, where the people are too brainwashed, unreliable, holding a deeply reactionary disposition. Whenever one adopts any sort of “pro-enemy” anti-imperialism, there is a real danger that the struggle against the enemy at home is displaced by prioritizing the struggle against “the enemy’s enemies” wherever they are, often leading to cheerleading because those enemies are physically nowhere near the “anti-imperialist” living in the heart of Empire. The pro-Russian Westerner begins to spend more time sharing Russia Today articles, complaining about Pussy Riot psyops, and speculating about the collapse of the dollar as the world reserve currency, than he does organizing and mobilizing to defeat empire at home. And even if he does take this step, it is to organize a pro-Russian micro-sect whose members’ activity are directed to amplifying the cheerleading he would otherwise do individually. He begins to fret as much about Ukrainian enemies as American ones, if not more.
Russian monopoly-finance capital
The majority of the “anti-imperialists” we have been discussing here bank their thesis of (Sino-)Russian non-imperialism on the presence of lower levels of finance capital found in countries like Russia (and China) relative to countries like the United States, France, Britain, and Japan. They argue that finance capital does not dominate the Russian economy in the same way that it does in these other countries, and therefore it is not imperialist.
But here they have abstracted one essential feature of imperialism outlined by Lenin (the importance of finance capital’s role) from the synergetic whole and discarded the equally essential notion that imperialistic monopolization can never totally eliminate competition. Although imperialism’s monopolization and elimination of free competition is not equivalent to the implementation of centralized economic planning, the latter was used to varying degrees to modernize Russian and Chinese imperialisms. Indeed, as we have seen, the supposition of a super-imperialist elimination of all imperialist competition requires adjustments to old school Marxian theory; it requires admittance of a new stage of development unforeseen by most of the classical Marxian scientific social theorists. In other words, supposition that Russia and China’s successful bourgeois-democratic and failed socialist revolutions during the 20th century have not pretty much brought them up to speed with the rest of the imperialist world only makes sense in the case that the rest of the imperial great powers have entered, and are already quite advanced in, a new revolutionary period; namely, the idea that neoliberal globalization is in fact a bourgeois-globalist revolution. On the other hand, the Sino-Russian rapprochement and its expansionist policy to incorporate the South Asian subcontinent into its own almost demi-global economic bloc shows that there are now two great camps vying for hegemony to carry out the bourgeois-globalist revolution according to their own interests. Within each camp there are antagonisms too innumerable to cover here.
The other problem with the “not enough finance capital in Russia and China for them to be true imperialists” argument is that this ignores the vast discrepancy between the levels of finance capital in Russia and China relative to the smaller sovereignties whose territories fall within the Russian and Chinese traditional imperial spheres of influence, which date from the pre-capitalist period.
Before looking at the inequalities between China and Russia and their supposedly “ex-”imperial spheres of influence, it is important to iterate the notion of continuity between semi-feudal, national capitalist, and globalist capitalist imperialisms, including the American and Western European empires. It is certainly no coincidence that pre-capitalist empires have a tendency to become monopoly-finance capital empires. Russia and China are no different in that Russian and Chinese “socialist” dominion over what were once semi-feudal empires evidences both a lack of true socialist commitment to unification of peoples on a voluntary basis as well as continuity between imperialisms. Bourgeois-democratic modernization under the veneer of “socialism” allowed 20th century Russian and Chinese nationalists, many/most of whom likely genuinely thought they were Communists, to save their backwards semi-feudal empires from being transformed into colonies of the more advanced empires by reversing the order of the Western recipe for modernization by implementing nationalization-cum-monopolization before and in parallel to industrialization. (In other words, free competition was ended in order to accelerate development to a level which would increase competitivity vis-a-vis other monopoly capitalisms).
One “anti-imperialist” analyst and apologist for Great-Russian chauvinism identifies a group of countries “very poor in finance capital” among which are categorized Russia and “most of the Eastern European countries”, as if the Russian Federation were on equal finance capital footing with the Republic of Moldova, when in that country 70% of the banking sector is controlled by Russian capitalists. It was in Moldova, said to be the poorest country in Europe, that a scandal dubbed “the theft of the century” unraveled last year in which a sum equivalent to one-eighth of the country’s GDP (about one billion USD) was apparently syphoned off to a pro-Russian politician. To give an idea of the scope of this neocolonialist robbery, this would have been proportionately equivalent to over 262 billion USD “disappearing” from Russian banks and funneled to a foreign country.
“One can only conclude that foreign investment, far from being an outlet for domestically generated surplus, is a most efficient device for transferring surplus generated abroad to the investing country.” – Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy in “Obstacles to Economic Development”
The intermediary strength of Russian capitalist imperialism is apparent here. Russian finance capital does not dominate globally to the extent of US capital, but it is clear that it plays a petit-imperialist role in regional markets. To deny this would be to paint the relationship between Russia and countries like Moldova as one in which each party comes to the table as an equal, overlooking the inequalities of this nested financial core and periphery relation existing semi-independently of the global core-periphery schema. Middle countries like Russia and China are not at the vanguard of neoliberal globalization, nor however are their throats under the jackboot of it. They do have some aspects that could be characterized as semi-neocolonial; for example, the exploitation of Chinese workers by American corporations like Apple, which takes more than 98% of the profit for each iPhone assembled in China [Foster], but they are nevertheless capitalist great powers whose ruling bourgeois cliques’ class character is more patriotic nationalist than comprador. The simultaneous appearance of semi-neocolonial aspects does not negate the monopoly type relationship between the banking sectors of countries like Russia and Moldova or perhaps China and North Korea or the imperialist logic behind SCO bids to unseat US hegemony or at the least prevent US encroachment into their spheres of influence. They are simply less developed, poorer great powers, but imperialist nonetheless.
We can already anticipate what the apologists for petit-imperialism will retort to such facts: this imperialism “doesn’t count” because Moldova is a former Soviet republic that had previously been annexed by the Russian Empire after a semi-feudal inter-imperialist (and therefore not really imperialist) war between the Ottoman and Russian Empires; there are a lot of Russian settler-colonizer descendants there; and US/NATO/EU imperialism is bigger and badder; andtherefore countries colonized by Russia should keep adhering to Russian capitalism. But this is exactly what makes “alternative-imperialism” an apt name for this position. The authors of “Condemned to Win!” are right to declare, “You cannot be an anti-imperialist and at the same time be a running dog for Russian or Chinese imperialism.”
The binary political thinking of vulgar “anti-imperialism”, an international analogue to domestic lesser evilism in the two-party system
The illusion-sowing and myopic opportunism of Westerners who deploy “‘pro-enemy’ anti-imperialist” analysis of foreign affairs is mirrored in their countries’ domestic politics. It must be understood how and why lesser evilism drives reactionary approaches both abroad and at home.
We can observe the fundamental similarity of these two lesser evilisms by continuing briefly the case study of Moldova introduced above, where, much like in eastern Ukraine, the “Party of Socialists” engages in pro-Russianism, based more on nostalgia for the Soviet era than on any genuine will to build socialism, by using as its slogan, “Together with Russia!”. Together with capitalist Russia, together with undocumented migrant-exploiting Russia. Thus in Eastern European countries Democrats and Republicans find their analogues in pro-Westerner and pro-Russian political camps. The difference between “Together with Russia!” and “Together with Europe!” is as palpable as “I’m with Her!” and “Make America Great Again!”.
Let us take as another example the case of NATO intervention in Libya in 2011. Certain sections within America’s organized Left moved beyond agitating to arouse opposition to US-led NATO intervention, into the pitiful realm of attempting to arouse admiration for the Libyan Jamahiriya, the “state of masses” and land of universal health-care, vast sums of free money, and direct democracy as a legitimate and “actually-existing” form of socialism. This push to switch and/or pair opposition to US imperialism with support for the Islamist “socialist” ideology concocted by Muammar Gaddafi in TheGreen Book [X] is mirrored in the attempts of the organized US Left to switch and/or pair opposition to that edifice of the US bourgeoisie’s class dictatorship known as the two-party system with support for the pseudo-anticapitalist Green Party of Jill Stein and Cynthia McKinney, in whose personnage we see perhaps most clearly the rapprochement between Green political movements of the Islamic “socialist” and environmentalist varieties. (Note that voting for an evil third party does not constitute a break with lesser evilism).
Opportunistic adhesion to “actually-existing socialism” abroad (which places the political center “out there” to the detriment of emerging political centers “over here”)—whether it’s in the form of shrieking defensively about the the “state of the of the masses” in Libya, the “socialist state control of industry” in secular Arab national “socialist” Ba’athist Syria (the same state that agreed to systematically torture people on behalf of the CIA “in a gesture of goodwill towards the United States”), or the world’s youngest “Red-Brown” coalition-based “people’s republics” in Donbass and Lugansk—follows the same logic which leads too many left-wing activists in the US to rally behind (without voicing much, if any, criticism) the “actually-existing movement for political revolution” in the US, even though this movement remains firmly opposed to social revolution with weak sauce ideologues like Bernie Sanders, Robert “Saving Capitalism” Reich, and Jill Stein at the helm.
When this part of the US left forces do finally arrive at the call for a bourgeois (Green) break with the two-party system, it’s only after they abandon Wall Street’s left wing and graveyard of social movements, the Democratic Party, with great reluctance. Even into July 2016, some “socialist” two-party system critics still had such hyped-up levels of delusion in the “progressiveness” of elements of the Democratic Party that they were still openly discussing the possibility that Bernie Sanders would break from the Democrats to run as a Green Party candidate, even though he announced many times his intention to support Hillary Clinton.
At home and abroad, work with bourgeois forces competing to implement their mildly differing imperialist visions of capitalist globalization, some a little more protectionist, some a little more neoliberal. These are the courses of action, the arguments go, that will “advance the working class movement”; because by tossing another big-contender reformist pro-capitalist party in the electoral mix, you pave the way for a revolutionary mass party of the working class, and by deluding yourself into believing that Bush-Cheney C.I.A. torture infrastructure was partially socialist, you pave the way for the final annihilation of monopoly capitalism. Although it is common for groups advocating these positions to pick one or the other—lesser evilism abroad (pro-Russian but anti-two party system) or lesser evilism at home (pro-Green/Bernie but anti-‘vulgar anti-imperialist’), they really evidence two sides of the same coin.
In truth, people who cannot argue for the defense of Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, and so many other countries from the US war machine, or breaking with the two-party system, without sowing illusions in and glamorizing the lacklustre leadership of these causes (Gaddafi, Putin, Stein, Sanders, et al.) show the hollowness and bankruptcy of their own thought.
The theories espoused by United Kingdom-based blogger and “pro-Russian anti-imperialist” Phil Greaves (picked here as an example of the wider trend and political current he represents) illustrates the mistake of reducing anti-imperialism (and therefore imperialism) to mere policy options that great powers can pick and choose in whether or not to implement. This is the same error which Lenin criticized Kautsky for making a century ago, when he lambasted Kautsky’s non-sensical talk of a unipolar imperialism that did not take into account “the competition between several imperialisms”:
“The essence of the matter is that Kautsky detaches the politics of imperialism from its economics, speaks of annexations as being a policy ‘preferred’ by finance capital, and opposes to it another bourgeois policy which, he alleges, is possible on this very same basis of finance capital.” [X]
According to Greaves, the bourgeois government of the Russian Federation implements certain key “objectively anti-imperialist” [X] policies (which good Western leftists ought to “support” by joining good pro-Russian [“Communist”] organizations in the West) by sending its military to intervene in Syria against ISIS and in Ukraine against the pro-Western government installed after the Maidan movement (both identified as fascist US puppets). This abstracts politics from economics by positing that Russia, an imperialist country (because, as we have seen, it uses monopoly finance capital to exploit countries in its sphere of influence in a neocolonial fashion), can in one place be “objectively imperialist” and in another be “objectively anti-imperialist”. One can only come to the conclusion that the Russian bourgeoisie has implemented a “bad” imperialist policy decision in Moldova, while at the same time implementing a “good” anti-imperialist policy decision in Ukraine and Syria, if one wears the ideological blinkers of an unscientific school of “thought” we might term neo-Stalinism.
In this essay I have focused on the critique of vulgar anti-imperialism, an area where I found myself to be in agreement with the Red Guards Austin. There are nevertheless some areas where I feel the Red Guards’ positions, which are not unique to their group, should be contested. I will present the bulk of these criticisms in Part II of my response to “Condemned to Win!”. In light of their self-declared willingness to accept criticism, I hope that Part II and the following section will be received by them in a comradely fashion.
It has to be admitted that use of the term of derision “bastard” is problematic and stands in dissonance with Red Guards Austin statement that they “hold that bad gender practice is not acceptable for Maoists and that rectifying this should be given the utmost priority, without delay, excuses, or liberalism.” The term “bastard”, having arisen in English common law as a synonym for “whoreson”: the child of an “illegitimate” sexual liaison, is steeped in misogynist and patriarchal thinking. The Oxford dictionary informs us that the etymology of the insult “bastard” is ultimately Latin, coming from the word bastum which means “packsaddle” and entered the English language via the related Old French expression fils de bast, “son of a mule driver who uses a packsaddle for a pillow and is gone by morning” (compare with modern French fils de pute). Formulations found in “Condemned to Win!” like “arch-revisionist bastard Deng Xiaoping” and “bastards like Krushchev, Brezhnev, and their crews” are no less problematic bad gender practice than if they were to refer to these people as “sons of bitches”.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
ALL WORKS CITED IN COMPLIANCE WITH FAIR USE DOCTRINE
To my fellow left/liberal/progressive/socialists in the USA,
I know that a number of you are #FeelingTheBern right about now. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be enough penicillin to go around. Big Politica wants to keep you on the placebo, but maybe . . . if I engineer these memes juuust right . . . we can find a cure.
Even amongst those of you who only have first to second degree Berns, there is a certain reticence to let criticisms fall too harshly upon the charred ears of the third-degreeers, for fear of being read as “attacking”, “admonishing”, or pooh-poohing this oh so promising development. (Ta-Nehisi Coates, for example.) But truly I tell you, the time has come to stop the coddling and recognize the Bernie Sanders campaign for what it is: a fraud and a mockery of the word socialism.
The electoral successes of the Sanders campaign in many of the 2016 primaries and caucuses reflect an underlying trend towards a more radicalized “unconventional” way of thinking which, for the most part, is catching on independently of whether or not “The Left” as such is directly involved in it. However, would-be avant-garde leftists do no favors, neither to themselves nor to the masses, by sowing more illusions of hope and change in the Democratic Party, or by diluting our own revolutionary message.
In a political contest where the most prominent competitors from both the Democratic and Republican parties have clamored to proudly announce that they’ve received endorsements from public figures acknowledged by mainstream media to be implicated in a devastating genocide, it’s not hard for Sanders fans to play the “lesser evil” card. But what we are witnessing now is a nesting of lesser evilisms. While the old “lesser evilist” argument used to go that a person ought to hold her nose and vote for the Democrats so as to keep out the diabolical Republicans (or, in another variation on lesser evilism, vote for the capitalist Green Party as a part of a transitional program towards the breaking of the two-party system and the eventual building of a mass socialist party of the working class), a significant gradation has occurred over the course of the 2016 presidential primaries season; many a socialist now wonders whether she should join the Democratic Party and lend her support to Hillary Clinton’s acclaimed “democratic socialist” challenger. There are presumably two principal factors which contribute to the emergence of a Left preference towards Sanders: a perceived ideological proximity between him and the Left and the large size of the Democratic Party he is running in [cue feelings of shame and inadequacy over sectarian irrelevance].
The typical argument of the first to second degree Bern victims goes something like this (my emphasis):
I’m not suggesting people don’t vote for Bernie (or that they do). Personally, I like him as far as potential candidates in the two major parties go—which is to say I could stomach voting for him. No question, in the absence of an actual political revolution a Sanders’ presidency is welcome in my book. But I won’t delude myself into believing it would represent anything approaching a political revolution. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to admonish those who are “Feeling the Bern.” I mean to challenge them to ruminate on what a political revolution might really look like and the sacrifices it will require of us. And, if they still want one, to stop waiting for the presidential election and start fighting now.
[…] instead of attacking Sanders campaign as a fraud or not “real socialism,” we want to reach out to the grassroots supporters of the Sanders campaign and let them know that we, like them, want real change. We want to emphasize that socialism is much better than capitalism and use the space to have meaningful, friendly and persuasive discussions about what socialism is and how it can work.
This discourse reflects the marginal position of The American Left™ in the U.S. political scene, one that teeters precariously on the verge of absence. Anxious not to be seen as irrelevant pooh-poohers, they worry that to express too strongly disagreement with Bernie Sanders and his supporters, or too little enthusiasm for the emergence of “political revolution” as a demand in mainstream political discourse, would result only in them being pushed further into the extreme political peripheries. These directives to avoid the stigmata of being an “admonisher” or an “unfriendly” fellow amount to a conspiracy of silence.
First, Sanders’ campaign mantra — “Ready for Political Revolution” is worth examining more closely, as it is very telling as to the nature of what’s going on here. This carefully worded slogan is a dog whistle to the capitalist class. It says, “That socialism talk? Just a lil shameless posturing. I’m not really going to encourage anyone to make all your modes of production are belong to us!”
To understand why this is, just ask yourself: Why is the Bernie Sanders revolution qualified with the adjective “political”? Look up the definition of the term “political revolution” and you will begin to understand. The Marxist Internet Archive’s Encyclopedia of Marxismsays:
A political revolution is the forcible overthrow of the ruling political caste by a mass movement which does not aim to overthrow the underlying relations of production or smash the state. The term is used particularly in relation to the Soviet Union, and was the policy of the Trotskyist movement from 1933. The political revolution was to throw out the Stalinistbureaucracy and restore proletarian democracy.
Political revolution is often contrasted with social revolution. For example, the same encyclopedia mentions the following in this entry on Thermidor:
The French Revolution was one of history’s greatest social revolutions, along with the English Revolution of 1640-49, and the Russian Revolution of 1917 – social in that the mass of the population participated in the revolution, changing the whole social system, rather than a political revolution which merely changed the governing edifice.
So from these facts we can gather the following similarities and differences between political and social revolution, illustrated in the form of a nifty Venn diagram:
With reference to the Soviet Union, the call for “political revolution” was issued with the understanding that the socialist revolution of 1917 in Russia brought with it significant social progress, gains which were worth defending in the face of counterrevolution (such as democratic, public control of industry, increased human rights for women, ethnic and sexual minorities, and the destruction of an oppressive state), even in the face of a Stalinist bureaucratic caste-gradually-turned-state-capitalist-class which by the 1920s had begun to move towards authoritarianism and restoration of capitalism. The idea of “political revolution” was that this restoration, which wasn’t completely and symbolically finalized until 1991, could have been prevented without necessarily smashing the proletarian state born of the October Revolution. It was the idea that the Soviet experiment had been promising, great even, in its early years, and was still promising, because so long as the state retained some proletarian aspect in principal, in the face of de facto bureaucratic mismanagement, this de jure element could be reinvigorated.
When Bernie Sanders says he’s down with political revolution, he’s implicitly stating that he’s not down with social revolution. The former seeks to preserve the economic structures and the apparatuses of class rule already in place by installing a new political regime which can better manage what is not a fundamentally flawed system, while the latter aims to overthrow these and replace them with something else. In this sense these revolution types (political and social) are opposites; one is to save the system, the other is to destroy it. You demand a political revolution when the economic set up is okay, but mismanaged or poorly managed. You call for a social revolution when the system is rotten at its core. Many second to third degree Bern victims are quite explicit about the fact that they endorse the Sanders “political revolution” precisely because they see this historic juncture as one of the last moments at which capitalism might be saved “for the many, [and] not the few”. At least some Bernie backers are honest though; historian Bernard Weisberger urges the so-called “democratic socialist” to drop the “socialist” label and call himself something slightly more accurate: a social democrat. Sanders himself meanwhile offers entirely nonsensical visions of socialism:
I don’t believe government should own the means of production, but I do believe that the middle class and the working families who produce the wealth of America deserve a fair deal. I believe in private companies that thrive and invest and grow in America instead of shipping jobs and profits overseas.
In Sanders’ statement above, it is made clear that the “political revolution” he envisions is not meant to challenge the class structure inherent in U.S. capitalism, but merely make it more efficient. “The middle class and the working families [read: lower class]”, by virtue of being signifiers for entities which exist relative to one another in a class hierarchy which continues to exist in Sanders’ vision of socialism, will continue to be subordinated to the ruling upper class. Sanders also makes it explicitly apparent that he favors private ownership of the means of production, which is the very definition of capitalism. In topsy-turvy Sandersland, socialism is capitalism and capitalism is socialism: “providing welfare for corporations, huge tax breaks for the very rich, or trade policies which boost corporate profits as workers lose their jobs” is “socialism for the rich”. Nevermind the fact that Sanders, in decrying the outsourcing which transfers wealth and jobs abroad and pandering to “Buy American”-style economic nationalism in the same breath, is himself advocating socialism for the rich. Indeed, in an interview in the summer of 2015 with Vox’s Ezra Klein, Sanders argued forcefully in favor of violating a vast array of human rights of the global poor (e.g., rights to freedom of movement and freedom from discrimination, to free choice of employment, to equal pay for equal work), positing that Fortress America’s borders must continue to be in large part closed to them (the world’s poor) in order to maintain its higher standard of living, because an influx of Global South migrants would, according to Sanders, “make everybody in America poorer.”
Sanders’ painting of his own campaign as some kind of an antithesis or even a panacea to the forces of anti-immigrant bigotry being mobilized by Donald Trump falls even flatter on its face when, in addition to Bernie’s rejection of open borders as a matter of nationalist principle (“you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that” — in other words, Bernie doesn’t think any country in the world is guided by Marxian concepts, so America shouldn’t be either [so much for American exceptionalism]), one considers the fact that, even if Sanders were to be elected and honor the promise he made on Univision “not to deport immigrants who don’t have a criminal record”, this would only cover a minority of so-called “undocumented immigrants”: those who were financially well off and qualified enough to be granted a visa before coming to the USA. The majority of the undocumented population, wherein its most vulnerable segment can be found, are those who, having no hope to be granted a visa because they are among those “kinds of people” who people like Bernie Sanders believes will “work for $2 or $3 an hour” and “make everybody in America poorer”, choose to commit the criminal offense of “improper entry” into the United States. Sanders offers no real solutions, as his call for the conservation of controlled borders, which are really closed borders to some and open borders to others, has zero foresight: there would still be huge numbers of “improper entrants” under any scheme to keep the global poor out of America in order to maintain a higher concentration of wealth there, and given Sanders’ statement on an open borders policy amounting to “doing away with the nation state”, the odds of Sanders decriminalizing improper entry are quite slim.
When the concept of “political revolution” is applied and called for in the context of the early 21st century United States of America, it translates, in a very real sense, to “Make America Great Again.” Wanting to look to its own experience, this American Dream Socialism™ continually grasps for straws as it seeks desperately to render these two warring ideals, Americanism and socialism, compatible. Take for example one commentator (the above cited historian, Weisberger) who, seeking to make this “basic American idea” of socialism more palatable, identifies its origin in the “brotherly love” espoused by Reverend John Winthrop in 1630, a theocrat who just so happened to dabble in the slave trade and genocide. Sanders’ own attempts to Americanize socialism are equally cringeworthy. In a debate last November, vowing to keep rates of taxation on the ultra-wealthy lower than they were under Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sanders said, “I’m not that much of a socialist compared to Eisenhower.” Needless to say, Eisenhower, president during the McCarthyite era, oversaw the most intense phase of the (Second) Red Scare, when socialists were subject to witch hunts, blacklisting, and even executions. To call such an administration “socialist” for any reason is truly a farce.
American Dream Socialism™ can’t seem to help but seek inspiration and legitimacy in these awful examples of genocidal, slave-owning, McCarthyite “socialism” because American Dream Socialism™ is essentially steeped in coloniality (the unified structure of control developed during the colonial period which persists in the aftermath of the dismantlement of most formal colonial administrations [See here and here]). Its Americanism is predicated not only upon the erasure and eradication of indigeneity, transforming vast swathes of Turtle Island into a postapocalyptic palimpsest, but also on the alienation and disconnection (of those whom it absorbs) from their own self histories, when it can bleach them in a flood of whiteness, burn them in the melting pot. This whiteness as disconnection was the basis of the doctrine of “American exceptionalism” (read: supremacism), which 19th century newspaperman John L. O’Sullivan described in 1839, anticipating the invention of the term “American Dream” by almost a century, when he wrote in “The Great Nation of Futurity” that the USA’s “disconnected position as regards any other nation” as well as regards “the past history of any [other nation], and still less with all antiquity” derived from the “American people having derived their origin from many other nations”. For O’Sullivan, the strength of this disconnect between Americans and the past was the linchpin which made America unique from all the other nations of the world; it was key to explaining why America stood out as the nation “of progress, of individual freedom, of universal enfranchisement”. But what kind of progress did O’Sullivan envision? Manifest destiny (a term coined by O’Sullivan in 1845): the “progressive” expansion of imperial hegemony, the “progressive” expansion of chattel slavery. American Dream Socialism™ is Steinbeckian at its core in that it is riddled with contradictions, paradoxes: our “socialist” forefathers preach “brotherly love” and “universal enfranchisement” before proceeding to massacre, enslave and systematically deny human rights to the Other.
The coloniality of power which machinates behind paradoxical American Dream Socialism™ is on display in full force whenever Bernie “Military Option is Always a Possibility” Sanders is cajoled into speaking about America’s latest sub-human boogie man: “ISIL”. Despite his lamentations that he “[does] get very upset at people who are so prepared to send other people’s kids into […] war,” Sanders has consistently done exactly that which he bemoans by discursively dividing humanity according to national and religious differences, staking out all young people with U.S. citizenship as “his” / “ours” and delineating people from “Muslim countries [with] billionaire families” as “theirs”, and calling on “them” to “be aggressive”, “get their troops on the ground”, and “get their hands dirty”. Meanwhile, Sanders has no qualms about contributing to the slaughter and mayhem so long as American soldiers can do it from the comfort of air-conditioned rooms in North America, proclaiming in 2015, “we’ve got to continue air strikes.” And who could forget his love affair with drones?
In a word, no. Not when their idea of socialism is wrong. Not when they’re sowing illusions and misinformation which might leave people deluded and alienated from truth for generations to come. If it wasn’t for so many influential people — public figures and leaders of social movements — who, over the course of the last 150 years, propagated so many wrong ideas about what socialism is and how to achieve it, there’s a decent chance that we would already be living in a genuinely socialist world system. So let’s not be afraid to “admonish” those who continue to get it wrong. Let’s nip these falsehoods in the bud once and for all. Moreover, let’s not break Godwin’s Law: probably the most infamous polity in world history, Nazi Germany, called itself socialist. Yet, it would be absurd to argue that Hitler did the Left a big favor by achieving popularity with the label “national socialist”. The Nazi misappropriation of the “socialist” label played to Great Depression sentiments of disenfranchisement in a way that is not so different from how we now see opportunistic populists attempt to contain renewed interest in anti-capitalism from both the left-wing and right-wing angles during this “Great Recession”.
Now you’re thinking, Okay, okay, so Bernie Sanders really is a phoney bologna and large parts of The Left™ are opportunistically riding a wave into the fold of the Democratic Party or at best committing themselves to a friendly, non-admonishing silence and watching from the sidelines as this happens, but what’s the alternative? What am I supposed to do… turn into a Jason Dumbruhe, disengage from the world around me, and construct in my mental geography an idealized bastion of revolutionary potential in the lands somewhere to the south or east?
No, absolutely not!
Let’s take a tip from the pages of Eugene V. Debs, that radical figure who Bernie Sanders has attempted to recuperate for his watered down, capitalist, immigrant scapegoating, warmongering American Dream Socialism™. Debs said in the year 1900, “It is infinitely better to vote for freedom and fail than to vote for slavery and succeed.” Now, all the viable candidates for the next President of the United States are obviously scumbags. The best thing you can do, when it comes to actually voting, is cast a protest vote for a candidate who has literally no possibility of winning, maybe because they are under 35 years old, or born in Nicaragua, or only on the ballot of a number of states whose electoral votes add up to less than 270. Whatever the case may be, American presidential elections are really nothing more than a pretext for whatever ultra left-wing sects in existence near you to use the masses’ quadrennially mildly piqued interest in political matters as an occasion to preach at us. Do your part by listening to them and in turn forcing your opinions on other people in your school, workplace, or community, and also of course don’t forget to participate in direct actions for radical social justice causes like you should do independently of the election season. Furthermore, as you prepare to “throw away your vote”, keep in mind that it is better to cast that protest vote for a Marxist candidate than for politically confused ones such as Vermin Supreme (who’s probably about as much of an “anarchist” as Bernie Sanders is a “socialist”) because the ruling class is probably more freaked out by principled anti-capitalist opposition than by harmless jokes.
The last thing Biorgina Guerri could remember from the time of her life preceding her coma was the gnarled lips and pockmarked mug of the Contra comandante as he hammered off bullets, one by one, into her fellow Juventud Sandinista activists.
The year was 1986.
The ultra-reactionary guerrillas, armed and trained by the Reagan administration, had pulled the Sandinista youths from their beds one night, lined them up against a wall. The death squad’s leader, a man with greasy black hair and a sadistic twinkle in his eye, appeared before the bewildered and inexperienced Sandinistas and admonished them harshly for their Leftist beliefs.
“I’ll make an example out of all of you,” he finally spat, before drawing the pistol off his hip. It seemed his lengthy tirade had been intended less for the Sandinista youths before him than it was for the terrorized slum-dwellers listening through the thin tin walls of their makeshift hovels nearby.
Biorgina had known this would be a dangerous mission, but never did she anticipate that calamity should strike quite so soon. She and her compañeros, a handful of young idealists like herself, had embarked upon an aeroplane in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, a mere three days earlier. Their destination was the once prosperous, now poverty-stricken Caribbean port town of Bluefields. Naturally, given the war, they had come armed, but the Contras caught them off guard, sound asleep after a long night of mingling with the locals and singing cantos revolucionarios.
The move to Bluefields was part of a strategic Sandinista Youth counterinsurgency initiative to reach out and conquer the hearts and minds of the isolated peoples of Nicaragua’s East Coast. Separated from the Sandinista strongholds along the Pacific by the nearly impassable Central Highlands, Nicaragua’s Caribbean Lowlands were populated by the descendants of a convergence of Non-Hispanic European pirates, fugitive Africans (sometimes known as Maroons), and Indigenous peoples. This lowland area is known as the Miskito Coast and, with its distinct regional identity and history of autonomy, it presented a unique challenge to the revolutionary Sandinista government due to stark cultural differences which the imperialist forces were all too keen to exploit. Indeed, Bluefields had been a British protectorate until it was finally annexed into the Nicaraguan national territory in the late 19th century, and some of its people still held on to the misguided hope that another Anglo-American intervention would restore greater independence and economic prosperity to the region.
* * *
A sprightly nurse inserted a fresh intravenous needle into Biorgina’s forearm.
“Dios mío,” Biorgina croaked as the fog around her seemed to fade at last.
The nurse jumped back in surprise, before shouting, “¡Ay, se despertó! ¡Se despertó la comatosa!”
Biorgina swallowed, feeling dizzy. It was difficult to open her eyes, as the muscles had atrophied, rendering them hypersensitive to the light. Squinting, they followed the cracks of peeling paint on the wall before letting themselves rest on a portrait held within a crooked frame. A charismatic-looking man, vaguely paternalistic and wearing red star-emblazoned combat fatigues, stared back at her.
“Where am I?” she managed to vocalize, her heart beginning to beat faster as she became aware of the liquid feeding tubes occupying her nostrils.
“Mi corazón . . . ” the nurse replied, still in shock at the miracle of it, “you’re in Managua. Lenin Fonseco Hospital.”
Biorgina’s eyes widened in shock, momentarily indifferent to their fluorescent ecology. Her pupils were like black pimientos, bloodshot nexuses wrapped in pallid pickled olive irises. The strands of her charcoal-shaded mane undulated around her head, cradling it like the weaved together pliable reeds of a wicker basket. Overwhelmed by the blinding light, she then passed out. But a basket case she would soon be no more.
Biorgina felt a warm hand touch her on the shoulder as she came to again. This time, not only did she open her eyes, but she turned her head slightly. A handsome young man decked out in scrubs stood beside her bed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you,” he began. “My name is Doctor Rafael Delgado. Biorgina, you’ve been in a coma for a very long time. I’ve never seen a patient regain consciousness after such a long-term comatose period. This is truly . . . miraculous!”
“What . . . what year is it?” she asked.
“2016,” the doctor replied. He placed his hand upon her palm. “Biorgina, can you squeeze my hand?”
She gave it a remarkably firm squeeze.
“Very good! I must say, it is an honor to speak with a hero of the Revolución,” he said, almost making Biorgina blush as he continued, “You must know that your recovery will take some time. You need to take it easy for now. We will start you with physical therapy soon, focus on that, and then we can eventually enroll you in an outpatient program, get you readjusted to life on the outside. The world has changed a lot since the last time you were conscious.”
“Oh . . . thank you, doctor.”
On the street outside the hospital, the engine of a passing motor vehicle backfired.
“Ay, Contras!Get down!” Biorgina shouted.
Delgado grabbed hold of her. “Biorgina, it’s okay. The Civil War is over! The Contras are defeated!“
* * *
A typical day of treatment in physical therapy for Biorgina Guerri consisted in five hours of light and heavy exercises to rebuild her atrophied muscles and get her acquainted with her now forty-seven year old body. The physical therapists at Lenin Fonseco Hospital were astonished by the rapidity with which Biorgina regained her faculties. After two and a half months, she was lifting four and a half kilogram weights. By four months, she was walking, and by five months, she could run. It was, by all accounts, a miraculous recovery, unprecedented in the history of medicine.
Five months, two weeks, and three days after awakening from her thirty year coma, Biorgina was deemed fit for the next phase of treatment: a rigorous outpatient program. In this phase, Doctor Delgado informed Biorgina that she would no longer be required to stay overnight at the hospital. Moreover, her hours of physical therapy would be greatly reduced, supplemented instead by increased psychotherapy and counselling designed to help her come to terms with the loss of thirty prime years of her life and fully transition her mind to life in the 21st century.
Before signing the papers to officially discharge Biorgina and begin the outpatient treatment phase, Doctor Delgado connected her to a state housing program which would provide her with a fully furbished apartment. Unfortunately, Biorgina had no family left to go to. Her parents had long since passed away, while her siblings, also active in the Sandinista movement, had been made martyrs of the Revolution by the same damn Oliver North-funded, cocaine-peddling death squads that put her in a coma.
Later that afternoon, Doctor Delgado called for a taxi cab to come pick Biorgina up from the hospital and take her to her new apartment, located near Managua’s Xolotlán lake front.
“Alright. What do I owe you?” she asked the taxi driver after they had arrived.
“No jodas,” the driver retorted.
” . . . You don’t need any money?” She took out a handful of Nicaraguan córdobas, minted in the 1980s. The hospital staff had managed to safeguard the belongings she’d had on her when that Contra commando shot her in the head all those years ago.
“You a time-traveller?” the driver questioned with a raised eyebrow. “Nobody pays for anything in the Union of Central American Socialist Republics. Been that way since 1992. You know, when the A Cada Cual Según sus Necesidades Act criminalized monetary transactions?”
Biorgina looked at the taxi driver incredulously for a moment, thinking that perhaps he was joking, but it seemed he was dead serious. “Thanks,” she muttered, and walked up to her new home.
* * *
The next morning, Biorgina left her coins at home and made use once again of Managua’s free public transportation system to get to the mental health clinic to meet her new psychotherapist. His name was Ivan Moreno.
“Tell me, Biorgina, what is the last thing that you remember of the days before your coma?” Moreno said towards the beginning of their first session together.
“I was with my compañeros from the Sandinista Youth,” she said, recalling her teenage years in the thick of the Nicaraguan Civil War. “We had been distributing pamphlets and tortillas in the pueblo of Bluefields. Then, in the night, those malditos Contrascaptured us. I . . . I can’t remember what happened after that.”
“Try,” Moreno said.
“There was . . . this face. This ugly face. Knobbly, covered in bumps, like a gourd.”
Moreno sucked in a wisp of air through his teeth, gasping silently. He knew the man she spoke of: Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez. A US-backed right-wing militarist who had been trained at the School of the Americas, in the state of Georgia. The man with the wart-covered face was infamous in the Union of Central American Socialist Republics (UCASR). After fleeing to the United States in the immediate aftermath of the Sandinista triumph over the Contras in 1990, the Nicaraguans tried in vain to win his extradition. Following the unification of the Socialist People’s Republics of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize, and Panama, the UCASR continued to push for him to be brought to justice, but to no avail.
“The face . . . it went down the line, hammering off rounds into each compañero‘s head,” Biorgina sobbed.
“Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez . . . ” Moreno murmured.
Her brief bout of grief turned suddenly into utter outrage. “Who is this Peterson-Gonzalez fuck?” she shouted.
“Central America’s most wanted criminal,” Moreno explained.
“Where is he? Why hasn’t he been brought to justice?”
“In El Norte,” Moreno said. “Those damn Yankee imperialists have been harboring him for decades. After we finally pushed them out of Latin America, their society turned its depravation inwards. A scumbag like him is perfectly at home there.”
“Ivan, there’s so much I don’t understand about this world. What has happened? I see the people joyous in the streets. Housing and public transportation are free. Commodities are distributed according to human need. But still a murdering prick like this can escape justice?”
“Indeed, it is a travesty,” Moreno replied. “Though there was a bit of poetic justice when Ronald Reagan was executed for crimes against humanity after he was intercepted on his way to a meeting in Switzerland, back in 1994. The bastard thought his status as former head of state would give him diplomatic immunity, shield him from justice. Thankfully the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China used their influence in the United Nations Security Council to push for a stronger application of international human rights law. Reagan was arrested and swiftly brought to trial, judged by the same standards as Nuremberg. But those damn yanqui imperialists grew crafty after that. They did not risk sending their war criminal politicians abroad, where they knew that their pathetic Constitution would be overridden by international human rights law.”
“Híjoles, thank goodness at least one of them got a taste of justice,” said Biorgina. “That was such an uncertain time, 1986. Some people were saying that the USSR would not even last another five years. Dark times, they were. I honestly wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d have woken up in a world dominated by neo-liberalism and free market fundamentalist ideology, God forbid.”
“Yes, I remember the 1980s like they were yesterday,” Moreno replied. “Fortunately, the USSR was bolstered by the spread of Communism to Latin America. After the FSLN and FMLN seized power in Nicaragua and El Salvador, national liberation movements spread like wild fire across the region, thanks to help from our Cuban and Soviet allies, of course.”
“I only wish I could have been conscious to participate in these astonishing political developments myself,” Biorgina remarked. “Please, tell me more.”
“In Europe, the Warsaw Pact quickly took on more and more member states as the façade of liberalism crumbled when the Yankee imperialists were forced to withdraw their occupation forces to enforce martial law on the homefront. You see, the social eruption in Latin America turned Communism into a behemoth, one that they would have to reckon with on their own turf. In 1995, America plunged into its Second Civil War. The leftist forces were defeated in 2001, but at great social and economic cost. Millions of lives were lost, campaigns of ethnic cleansing swept the nation, and the country emerged a virtual fortress: a settler-state enclave of crazed gun-hording white sociopaths surrounded by towering anti-immigrant walls.”
“Ay,” Biorgina croaked. This was becoming upsetting. Her vision became blurred; her head was spinning.
“I’m sorry, Biorgina,” said Moreno. “Surely that was too much information to present you with all at once. We’ll continue bringing you up to speed with the 21st century in our next session. Until then, go out and enjoy life in Socialist Central America.”
Biorgina went back to her apartment. She ruminated on the injustice of it all. Thirty years, almost two-thirds of her life, had been robbed of her, and this Contra scumbag was still living as a free man. Biorgina’s rage-filled rumination quickly led her to the realization that her desire was nothing other than revenge.
The next day she went to her scheduled three hour psychotherapy session with Ivan Moreno.
“Good to see you again, Biorgina,” Moreno said, greeting her as she walked into his quaint office.
“Spare me the flatteries, doc,” Biorgina retorted agitatedly as she took a seat in his chaise longue. She reclined. “We both know what my successful recovery necessitates.”
“Errm, I’m afraid you’ll have to be a bit more explicit,” the psychotherapist said.
“Vengence,” Biorgina throated.
“Ah, sweet catharsis. We’re making progress here,” Moreno replied.
“Can the therapeutic bullshit, doc! All I want is to blast a damned bullet through that rat bastard’s forehead!”
Moreno began to chuckle in a light-hearted fashion.
“I’m gonna do it, doc. I’m gonna waste that rat bastard,” Biorgina said with resolve.
“Biorgina, stop speaking like a blasted teenager. You’re a forty-seven year old woman!”
“Fuck you, Ivan! I am a damned teenager. I was una joven Sandinista when this shit began, and I’ll be una joven Sandinista when this shit is over!” She jumped out of the chaise longue and began pacing the room.
“Biorgina, please, a bit of calm,” Moreno breathed. “Let’s be rational here. If the whole state apparatus of the Union of Central American Socialist Republics has not been able to render Peterson-Gonzalez justice, what makes you think you can? You want to go into the belly of the beast? It’s a suicide mission. The border wall is fifty feet high, topped with barbed wire, and guarded by heavily armed Minutemen and other white nationalist vigilante groups. And even if you did make it in, the populace is racist as fuck, and armed to the teeth as well. Perhaps you could seek refuge in the Negro Reservations, but even that is a gamble.”
“That may well be, Ivan. But I’ll be damned if I don’t give it a try.”
Moreno leaned back in his armchair, a strange chill coming over him. He shivered and recalled how passionately he had detested the Contras back in the day. Was this really what he had become? Some old conservative hack discouraging a militant leftist from exacting revenge on one of the biggest scumbags on the planet?
“Alright, Biorgina. I can help you get into El Norte. It won’t be easy. But you will get in.”
“Ay, gracias, Ivan,” said Biorgina.
“My son, Ignacio, lives in the Autonomous Federation of Indigenous Soviets of Mexico. He is a coyote, smuggling Latinos across the border into the USA. He can help you enter that horrible country.”
“You mean to tell me our people still go there for work?” Biorgina questioned incredulously.
“What, you thought those gringoswould do hard labor themselves?” Moreno laughed.
Biorgina continued therapy for another fortnight. After that discussion, her sessions with Moreno focused more on mental preparation for taking the life of another human being than on recovering her sanity or healing from her trauma.
“There is,” Moreno informed her during their last session, “a clandestine network of leftist radicals in El Norte which is still operational. They’ve been underground since 2001. My son, Ignacio, is familiar with many of them, as a major slice of their revenue comes from human smuggling. With their help, you may be able to track down Peterson-Gonzalez.”
* * *
Biorgina entered Mexico and met with Ignacio Moreno in Nuevo Laredo, close to the Texan border. Ignacio brought her with a fairly large group of Latino migrant workers through a subterranean tunnel which bypassed the border fence. After that she was clandestinely transported in a freight train to Des Moines, Iowa: one of several hubs of the Underground Resistance smuggling network. The journey was harrowing. She was locked in one of the freight train’s boxcars, alone with no food or water for almost a week. She made it, but she was practically emaciated when she arrived at the train depot in Des Moines. Too weak to even stand up. The train stopped and she sat there for hours. This is it, she began to think. This is the end. I’m going to die here, anonymously. Fucking Ignacio, he told me he made all the arrangements.
“This is the one,” she finally heard a muffled voice say through the metal.
“You sure?” another hushed voice inquired.
“Check the graffiti. You see it? The mark of the Underground Resistance sprayed over here.”
“C’mon, let’s do this before the bulls show up,” a third voice chimed in.
Biorgina saw the tip of a crowbar enter through a crack in the boxcar door.
“Goddamn. Let’s get you out of here,” a member of the Underground Resistance croaked as she laid eyes upon Biorgina.
Biorgina was quickly shuttled to a safe house and given food, drink, and a futon in the basement on which to rest. It took four days for her to fully recuperate her strength. At the safe house she got to know several members of the Resistance: the ones who had rescued her. Their noms de guerre were Gizella, Facundo, Zbigniew, and Bladimir.
“So this Peterson-Gonzalez dude,” Biorgina said to them one evening, “y’all heard of him?”
The single light bulb illuminating the basement of the safe house flickered. Cockroaches scuttled across the cement floor.
“We are certainly familiar with him. One of the most infamous figures of the Contra War,” said Zbigniew, taking a sip from a can of beer. “After the Second Civil War broke out in 1995, he was implicated in several anti-Black pogroms. The movement calling for his extradition to Central America became something of an international cause célèbre.”
“We have an idea of his general whereabouts,” said Bladimir. “Somewhere in the vicinity of Langley, Virginia. Rumor has it the militarist sod is working as an Evangelical minister now. Can you believe it? A murderous prick like that?”
“Yes . . . ” Gizella added, “there is a doxxing database, maintained by the Underground Resistance to keep tabs on an array of the petty bourgeoisie’s shock troops: right-wing activists and paramilitaries wanted by the international community for crimes against humanity committed during the Second Civil War. You’d be surprised how many of ’em ended up joining the clerical caste after the war. Must bring ’em some kinda relief, I s’pose, assuage the guilt somehow.”
“Why don’t you simply waste these right-wing fucks now, when they least expect it?” Biorgina asked.
“The preparations are under way,” Gizella replied. “We’ve been underground for fifteen years now. But if we make our move too soon, our whole network could be jeopardized. All that prep for nothing. You don’t even want to know what they do to captured members of the Underground Resistance in the internment camps.”
“Our network is growing more powerful by the day,” Facundo chimed in. “But Gizella is right. For now, we must lie in wait, make preparations silently. Build our organization, our infrastructure. Then, one day, the whole world will see what a miniscule cabal of deranged militants can accomplish!”
“But I know nothing of your Underground Resistance network. I’ve been in a coma for most of the last thirty years. Let me go after Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez. Even if I am captured alive, I will have little information to divulge, even under the severest of torture.”
“This Biorgina chick has a point,” said Bladimir to his comrades. “We could use someone like her. And such a brazen act of propaganda of the deed would surely help boost our numbers.”
“What you say is true, Bladimir,” Gizella conceded.
“Yes,” Facundo added. “If Biorgina were to succeed in carrying out an attack on Peterson-Gonzalez, it would be an incredible boon to the Resistance movement. I’m constantly hearing complaints from our recruitment officers that the recent lull in armed propaganda actions is putting a serious damper on our grassroots growth.”
“Say no more,” Zbigniew croaked, looking up from a somber laptop screen covered in oscillating columns of cascading and glimmering green characters. “The mission is already being prepped as we speak.”
* * *
It was Sunday morning. Biorgina rode in the back of a nondescript, sparsely windowed van headed for Langley, Virginia: the town where Peterson-Gonzalez carried out his ministry. Accompanying her were two members of the Underground Resistance. Their noms de guerre were Philomena and Kleon. The latter drove down Allen Dulles Memorial Parkway, about to exit onto Robert E. Lee Boulevard, while the former sat in the back with Biorgina, giving her all the last minute intel she would need to carry out the brazen assassination of Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez.
“If you want this shit to go down smooth, you’ll need to be quick,” Philomena said in a soothing tone that was, given the circumstances, remarkably calm and reassuring. “We’ll drop you off in front of the church, you run in there, gun the mofo down, we’ll circle the block, and if the coast is clear, pick you back up.”
“And if the coast isn’t clear?” Biorgina questioned.
“Well, you’re on your own.”
Biorgina anxiously swallowed nothing.
“You truly are a brave woman, Biorgina,” Philomena said as she put a warm hand on her shoulder.
Biorgina pulled back the bolt handle on the Cambodian-made Kalashnikov rifle she had been given by Zbigniew.
“Shit,” Kleon could be heard muttering in the front seat. A siren began to blare. He pulled over quickly, hoping to play it smooth and arouse as little suspicion as possible.
Biorgina and Philomena tried to hide themselves as best they could in the backseat during the tense few seconds between Kleon pulling over and the policeman approaching the van.
“Lahcense and registration,” the cop growled.
Kleon reached for his wallet.
“No sudden movements!” the cop shouted, taking a step back and placing his hand on his firearm, though leaving it still in its holster.
Kleon moved his hand more slowly.
“Mind if Ah have a look in back?” the law enforcer questioned.
Kleon knew he had to lie; the odds of the Fourth Amendment being upheld in this day and age were near nil. Flat out denying consent to a search would surely sound alarm bells in the copper’s mind.
“Sir, I’ve got to get to church. I’m taking Bibles to the Sunday school and they start in five minutes. Please don’t hold me up!”
The cop, being a devout Evangelical Christian, was genuinely affected by this appeal, but still wanted to make a quick search. “Step outer the vee-hickle, son. Now git back here an’ opener up.”
Kleon popped the lock, and the officer unhinged the back door of the van.
Biorgina had managed to hide her assault rifle before the officer saw the two women there.
“Step outer the vee-hickle, pleayse! Say, where y’all ladies from?” the cop questioned.
“West Virginia, sir,” Philomena answered quickly, knowing Biorgina’s Nicaraguan accent would be a dead giveaway.
“Say, you look purdy dark, miss. What race’re you?” the cop jeered at Biorgina, unhooking his walkie-talkie and garbling, “Got a racially suspicious individual, possibly a stray off the rez, pro-ceeding to brown paper bag test,” before she could even reply.
“Now listen here, sir,” Philomena began. “This is my cousin! She’s a Melungeon, got Portuguese roots. That’s why she looks funny.”
“Ah’ve heard it a million times,” the hick policeman shot back. “Less let the brown paper bag decide if she’s whiter not!”
The policeman turned and went to his squad car to search for his government-issued brown paper bag, the official means by which the acceptable level of melanin a free individual could possess was measured.
Bam! . . . Bam! . . . Bam! A deafening succession of gunshots rang out like firecrackers on the Fourth of July. In total, Kleon had slammed off seven rounds of pistol fire into the copper’s back.
“Get back in the van!” Kleon shouted.
“Wait a sec,” Philomena replied before going into the police cruiser and kicking the dashboard cam off with her foot. She tossed it on the ground before grabbing the gun off the cop’s cadaver and slamming off a flurry of slugs into it. “Okay,” she breathed.
The trio of radical communists got back in the van and continued to make their way to Nuestro Señor de la Sagrada Contrarrevolución Pentecostal Church, the establishment where Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez carried out his ministry. It wasn’t much further. The church, located a stone’s throw from the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, served many of the families of the white Hispanic, School of the Americas-trained militarists who, after being driven out of Latin America, called El Norte their home.
“Damn, I don’t like this,” said Kleon. “You heard him radio in. Dispatch is gonna know something’s up when he doesn’t report on the results of the brown paper bag test. Better make this quick.”
Arriving at the church, Biorgina burst out of the van’s rear end. Churchgoers were trickling towards the front door. She raised her assault rifle menacingly and began to indiscriminately pepper the devout with gunfire. Knowing that she was in a Southern state, she just couldn’t run the risk of some armed bystander putting a stop to her. Biorgina then ran up to the front doors of the church, large and looming. She kicked them open and entered the ecclesiastical narthex. There she gunned down several more parishioners before swiftly making her way to the sanctuary doors. She paused a moment and loaded a fresh magazine into her Kalashnikov, ensuring that she would have enough ammo to take out any wannabe heroes.
The wart-faced militarist stood before the congregation, his jaw dropped in shock as Biorgina once again shouldered her rifle and began to pop off rounds into members of the congregation who had stood up and began running towards her, seemingly in an effort to bum rush and disarm her.
“Nadie se mueve!” Biorgina bellowed as another Pentecostal bit the dust. The congregation cowered in fear before the might of this feminine warrior. “Esto es para los mártires de la Revolución!”
Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez turned towards the cross above the altar and raised his arms sanctimoniously.
Ratatatatat! Biorgina went trigger happy, pumping the militarist rat bastard full of lead. She then raised her fist in the air in a gesture once known as a Black Power salute, and hammered off several more rounds into the ceiling in an intense display of bravado.
Another churchgoer got up and attempted to bum rush Biorgina, but she heard his footsteps approaching and was able to turn and slam off a slug into the would-be hero just in the nick of time. Biorgina then kneeled down briefly, made the sign of the cross, and fled the scene.
Outside, Kleon and Philomena were just pulling up to the curbside, having circled the block.
“Quick, get in!” Philomena shouted.
The assault was so brazen, so swift, so unexpected, so close to the belly of the beast, that by the time law enforcement arrived on the scene, the perpetrator and her co-conspirators were already deep in the hills of West Virginia. Kleon pulled over near the peak of a bluff. The trio of left-wing extremists sat on some big rocks. Kleon pulled out a blunt and lit up.
Biorgina basked in the jubilance of successfully exacted revenge. Now that her mission was complete, she could go back to the Union of Central American Socialist Republics and do what she’d always wanted, before being side-tracked by this insane quest for violent vengeance: participate in the construction of a socialist society.
* * *
The Underground Resistance assisted Biorgina in making her way back to Mexico. First shuttled back to Des Moines by van, she was then once again stowed away in a freight train to Nuevo Laredo. Along the way, Biorgina could hear what sounded like acts of mass civil disobedience taking place. Effectively, the assassination of Peterson-Gonzalez had unclenched a wave of unrest and mayhem. Word of Biorgina’s brazen act of premeditated murder spread like a prairie fire among the members of the Underground Resistance. Impressed by her fearless direct action, members of the Underground Resistance began to emulate Biorgina nationwide. Assassinations, roadside improvised explosive devices, incitation to riot, you name it; countless new forms of propaganda of the deed began to shake the country to its very core. Negro and Hispanic Reservations, already overflowing with discontented working class folks, could no longer contain the underclass. The white bourgeois supremacist government responded swiftly with a rigorous implementation of martial law, but this only spurred the masses to fight with more tenacity and lack of sense of individual self-preservation. Instead, a spirit of collective preservation seemed to take over the masses’ consciousness. This proved Gizella’s and Facundo’s concerns about premature launch to be unwarranted: revolution had been long overdue, and now was the time to unleash its terror.
When Biorgina arrived in Nuevo Laredo, Ignacio Moreno was there at the opening of the people smuggling tunnel to greet her.
“Ay, tuviste suerte,” Ignacio began. “Everything’s gone to hell in El Norte! I didn’t think you would make it out alive!”
“Well, I did,” Biorgina croaked, dehydrated from the long boxcar ride.
“Ay, bet you could use some pinche agua,” Ignacio said.
Biorgina stayed with Ignacio for a couple of days, recuperating from the harrowing journey, before continuing on her way back home to Nicaragua.
When she got back to Managua, she took a free cab to her state-provided housing. She climbed up the steps of the apartment building. Neighbors were smiling at her, and she smiled back. She opened up the door to her apartment.
“Surprise!” a crowd of people shouted, Ivan Moreno and Doctor Delgado among them. Others included old members of the Sandinista Youth, some of whom Biorgina had worked with during the Contra War.
“Of course we should have,” Delgado shot back. “You’re a hero, Biorgina!”
“Yes, and it’s bigger than Peterson-Gonzalez. Soon El Norte will succumb to the scourge of Marxian socialism!” Moreno added in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.
An old comrade from the Sandinista Youth approached with a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa, and shouted, “Let’s get this fiesta started!”
The party was pleasant, though not overly raucous. As it began to wind down, Biorgina sat on the couch with Delgado, Moreno, and several activists and watched television. A UCASR journalist was reporting on the ongoing revolution in El Norte, live from Washington DC, having arrived there through the Underground Resistance’s people smuggling network.
“Masses of youths have just stormed the United States Capitol Building. We’re receiving reports that other centers of governance are already under occupation as well,” the reporter spoke.
In the background crowds of rowdy and rough-looking individuals could be heard chanting, “No justice, no peace — fuck the po-lice!”
A strange man then jumped in front of the camera and proclaimed, “Sometimes you gotta get down and dirty, get them low vibrations, before you rise up, like the seed!“
Just then, blood began to splatter all over the screen. The National Guard was massacring the protesters.
Biorgina closed her eyes, a feeling of warmness enveloping her from below.
Meanwhile, back in Fairfax County, Virginia, Jorge Peterson-Gonzalez lay in a hospital bed, deep in a coma.
After publishing my polemic “On ‘Maoist Rebel News’ and the Folly of Ultraleftism-Third Worldism”, Jason Unruhe (the man behind Maoist Rebel News) was quick to offer a rebuttal: “Daniel Buntovnik’s Hurt Feelings and Non-arguments”, which I replied to here. A short while later, Unruhe retracted his first attempt at rebutting my criticism, conceding that his argument was weak. My “non-arguments” were then elevated to “pseudo-intellectualism” in his second essay. What follows is my response to that essay. The main argument which Unruhe advances in his rebuttal is that “Third Worldism” is not “a First World thing”. His point is to minimize the fact (which I’ve highlighted) that the persons who are the most vocal proponents of “Third Worldism” and its chief tenet that revolution is impossible in the First World, come from the First World.
Unruhe parades a series of photographs of Bengali villagers who the Leading Light Communist Organization (LLCO) is apparently working with in Bangladesh. This is supposed to lend Third World street cred to the organization. He claims that the people in these images are “invisible” to me, despite the fact that I talked about them, their role in the LLCO, and linked to the same photos in my polemic. He claims that “the majority of Leading Light’s top leaders are from the Third World.” Even if that were true, it wouldn’t change the fact that the LLCO’s “Supreme Commander” is a dude from Denver, Colorado.
The LLCO acknowledges the organizational method known as “democratic centralism” as one of the prime theoretical contributions of Lenin to revolutionary science. Not only does the title “Supreme Commander” mesh poorly with the idea that “the minority must obey the majority”, it also implies hierarchy within the LLCO leadership, whose authority is ultimately centralized in the First World. Democratic centralism means differences in thought and opinion, unity in action. Let’s review what unity in action necessitates:
In other words, Unruhe and the LLCO can post as many photos of Bengali villagers as they please; it still won’t change the fact that what they propose is for the people of the Third World to follow a script written for them in the USA and Canada. Any group of American missionaries can take their message and their money and their merchandise to desperately poor people in the Global South, find an audience, and take some photos. And that is easier to do if they go somewhere where the ideology they seek to export, or a variant of it, already has a long history there, such as that of Maoism in South Asia.
Unruhe says that the LLCO “Bangla Zone” emerged from the unfortunately named ‘National Socialist Party’ (Bangladesh). However, the genealogy of the “Maoism-Third Worldism” concept of the LLCO variety can ultimately be traced back to Harvard University.* Unruhe says:
[Daniel K. Buntovnik] says he’s only seen myself and Commander Prairie Fire involved in Third Worldism. This is only because he hasn’t looked. A wealth of third world people have made Third Worldist arguments. (…) The first prime minister of India is a simple example. Although he was a reformer and a social democratic, he had Third Worldist political economy.
Why do I focus my criticism of “Third Worldism” on Unruhe and Prairie Fire? They are just the self-proclaimed “#1 Marxist on Youtube”, the largest and most popular video hosting website in the world, and the “Supreme Commander” of the “Global People’s War”!
Unruhe further contradicts himself, claiming that I haven’t “even bothered to look at actual third world intellectuals” after he’s already noted that I reference Lin Biao, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, “and who cares.”
So who are the “Third World writers and revolutionaries” Unruhe chooses to point out in his attempt to disavow the First World basis of “Third Worldism”? Reformists and social democrats, the first leaders of postcolonial India and Tanzania; one whose country has literally been waging war on Maoist rebels for almost half a century and the other whose “hand-picked successor” sold the country to the International Monetary Fund. Unruhe exploits their words as if articulating the basic idea of imperial plunder makes a person “Third Worldist”, as if acknowledging that imperialism is a thing is the same as being “Third Worldist”.
No, the facts have been established.
“Third Worldism” is:
the denial of class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the First World, making proletarian revolution impossible there.
the denial of class antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in the Third World, making people’s revolution possible there through the alliance of the national-bourgeoisie and the urban petty bourgeoisie with the working class and peasants against the comprador/monopoly bourgeoisie.
based on an outdated confounding of the Western “Three-World Model” with the Maoist “Theory of Three Worlds”, using terms derived from a ternary conception to describe a binary worldview.
Unruhe seems to bask proudly in philistinism, closing his essay by deriding my polemic as “overly long”. I will be the first to admit that there is a lot to unpack when it comes to making sense of the incoherence in “Maoism-Third Worldism”. But this just shows that Unruhe is too lazy to address my argument in full, dismissing the rest of my points as “BS”, “angry”, “false”, and “sophomoric” with zero reasons given. If my posts are too long, then I invite Unruhe to get back to me on Twitter.
“The H-R RADACADS (Radical Academics) vow to expose the ways of the Harvard Administration until the banner is paid for or returned. We call on others who have been harassed to contact us so that we may add to our forthcoming compilation of examples of political harassment. There will be a rapid escalation of exposure of the Harvard Administration in the coming months. Only in this way–not by the old idealist arguments for free speech–will revolutionary and progressive groups be relieved of a pattern of political repression. Henry C. Park ’84 RADACADS spokesperson”
If you are not already familiar with the Maoist Rebel News brand, then it will suffice to say here that it first began as a Youtube video channel whose scope was to provide current events analysis from an ostensibly Marxist perspective. It is maintained by a Canadian man named Jason Unruhe, who upholds a pseudo-revolutionary political doctrine known as “Third Worldism”, or “Maoism-Third Worldism”. In this critique, offered from an authentically revolutionary left-wing perspective, I will demonstrate why this erroneous political line (which is by no means exclusive to Jason Unruhe’s Maoist Rebel News) is not what it purports to be. It is neither a coherent nor scientific worldview.
Claiming to be Youtube’s “#1 Marxist” for six years running, Unruhe is perhaps more of a public face for “Third Worldism” than anyone else in the Anglosphere. This is especially true since followers of the “Third Worldist” line generally place a high value on anonymity.
The use of campy aliases like “Serve the People” and text-to-voice software in propaganda messages are ubiquitous strategies of “Third Worldist” security culture. Ostensibly these measures are taken to mitigate the risks associated with being identified by the surveillance state, lending credence to their pretensions of being “serious” revolutionists–but it is also likely that in not divulging basic elements of their “real” identities, “Third Worldists” avoid revealing the awkward fact that, like leading proponents of “Third Worldism” Jason Unruhe and “Prairie Fire” (the self-described “Commander” of the Leading Light Communist Organization [LLCO], which Unruhe is a fellow-traveller of, hailing it as “the preeminent Third Worldist organization”), most “Third Worldists” are actually denizens of the so-called “First World”, making them, by their own definition, bourgeois (1).
It follows that this English-speaking “Third Worldism” constitutes a quintessentially Orientalist worldview, wherein the Westerner’s “Third Worldist” gaze constructs the East as Red Bastion of “revolutionary potential”, and in the same time, the Western man positions himself as the expert on that Orient, the one who knows what’s best for “those people” (2). Western, First World men are the Orient’s “leading lights” (read: glorious saviors) due to the fact that the material privilege which their self-acknowledged social parasitism provides them better allows them to study geopolitics, advance the so-called “science” of “Third Worldism”, and produce propaganda than the subaltern “Third World” masses, who, of course, cannot speak truth to power (3, 4).
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s thesis that “the subaltern cannot speak” is illustrated visually when, in a Maoist Rebel News interview with “Prairie Fire”, as we listen to the LLCO’s leader, a native of Denver, Colorado who refers to himself as “Supreme Commander” of the “Global People’s War”, we see his opaque cutout photo superimposed over a blurred image of Bengali people who are alleged LLCO cadre of the organization’s “Bangla Zone” (5). The Third Worlders’ faces have been punched by text, a slogan reading “our sun is rising, our day is coming.” Meanwhile, a translucent red halo peeks out from behind the Supreme Leader’s head, as if to convey the idea that he is their sun. Without Commander Prairie Fire’s scientific wisdom, darkness prevails. The astrological metaphor of science and wisdom as white light, embodied in illuminated white persons, reflects the underlying cosmology of “Third Worldism”, a convoluted reworking of the mission civilisatrice (6). (Cosmology: “theory of the [world or universe] as an ordered [system], and of the general laws which govern it.” )
(It should be noted that the pretension to be “waging war” is nothing more than bravado, as the so-called “Leading Lights” only claim to be preparing for such a war, noting that, “To romanticize the gun prematurely or to romanticize it to such an extent that it interferes with actually winning is a big focoist, adventurist error.” )
The rantings of the “Commander” reflect the LLCO’s conception of “Leading Light” not as a vanguard born from within the revolutionary class, but posited in the framework of an Us-Them dichotomy wherein the “most advanced scientific core” is alien to the proletarian masses the organization purports to be waging “Global People’s War” on behalf of (my emphasis):
Real revolution is led by the most advanced scientific core, Leading Light Communism. There are plenty of cheerleaders who turn themselves into useful idiots in the process. It is good to support the broad anti-imperialist united front against imperialism. However, we should not lie to the proletariat. We must put the most advanced revolutionary science, Leading Light Communism, in their hands. We must understand that both high science and low science are weapons. We must master both. Serve the people truth, not fiction (9).
“Commander Prairie Fire” also claims in the same interview that a popular LLCO adage goes, “It does not matter how much chess strategy you know if you have no board and pieces.”
“Leading Light” Orientalism displays a strange contradiction in presenting itself as an organization whose cadre’s badass outlaw status is the “obvious reason” for which their work is “semi-clandestine”, while at the same time posting propaganda photos of its alleged members in Bangladesh, where actual Maoist guerrillas are known to operate, decked out in LLCO t-shirts, their faces clearly discernible (10). For the LLCOrientalists, the Western masterminds are the chessmasters and these people are the pawns–“useful idiots”–who serve to build the organization’s street cred, or rather, web cred.
In the LLCO’s millenarianism and white savior industrial complex vibes, one hears echoes of Jonestown. Bizarrely, the so-called “Commander Leading Light” has even openly endorsed cultism. This would actually explain a lot about the way the organization presents itself to the public, its “Supreme Commander” even sometimes (with tongue-in-cheek, we can hope) identifying himself as being at the helm of a “gangster cult”:
If your conception of activism is First World bound, I don’t even see why you need an openly communist party. You might need a cult to organize people effectively, but why a *communist* cult? Just build any old cult and direct people into anti-war, anti-militarism, and other progressive activism. It seems like if your conception of activism remains in the First World, flying a communist flag will only hurt your efforts to be effective at aiding Third World struggles in an objective way. I just don’t see the point of the red flag where there is no social base if your conception of activism is traditional stuff (11).
[Our beliefs] may seem otherworldly or “culty,” but this is how we are (12).
Below we see the conflation of science with religion–a phenomenon known as scientism, which I will explore later–and the fetishization of identity politics.
We must all become living examples of revolutionary purity. All should be able to see our revolutionary purity in everything that we do. We must strengthen our revolutionary character, our spiritual selves. We must remold ourselves as pure proletarians, Leading Lights (13).
Because LLCO Ultraleftist-Orientalist-“Third Worldists” view themselves as alien to the world proletariat, they must atone for their original sin as First Worlders by undergoing the alchemical sacrament of remolding through proletarian purification. “Third Worldists” obfuscate materialism and embrace obscurantism to arrive at the conclusion that socio-economic class is determined not by one’s position relative to the modes of production, rather it is the reward of Bildung (14).
In a recent exchange of polemics between the LLCO and a trio of anti-“Third Worldist” Stalinist groups, we see how Canada and U.S.-based “Third Worldist” individuals’ disavowal of their own self-implied bourgeois identity is complemented by projecting First World status onto Third World persons who oppose them. LLCO and Unruhe deride their Stalinist opposition as French Gonzaloists to tie their identity to the First World, despite the fact that the polemic they were responding to was jointly issued by Stalinist groups from France, Belgium, and Bangladesh (15). Obviously if these Orientals are so Occidental in their outlook, it must be because their identity has been corrupted, remolded by “First Worldist” values! Thank Mao for our “Third Worldist” American and Canadian Leading Lights putting those damn “First Worldist” Bengalis back in their place!
Looking beyond the LLCO, which originated in the United States and whose verifiable actions seem to be entirely limited to producing online propaganda, we see that the other organized entity promoting “Third Worldism” is the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement (RAIM), which, as if by happenstance, is limited in its “on-the-ground” presence to England, Ontario (Canada), and the United States (16).
But what do these “Third Worldists” actually believe?
“Third Worldists” maintain that wealthy countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, and France lack sufficient internal class antagonisms to allow for the possibility of revolution. The global capitalist system, they argue, is not merely tolerable for the vast majority of these nations’ populations, who will sooner fight to keep poorer nations impoverished and underdeveloped than join them in the struggle for socialist liberation; it actually better serves their interests than would global redistribution of wealth. In this optic, mass exploitation, which provides the social basis for revolution, only exists in parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (17). In other words, “the general population of the First World [is] comprised of the class enemies of the global poor of the Third World (18).” So-called “Third Worldists” decry efforts to escalate the class struggle and engage in activism in wealthy countries as “First Worldism”.
In “Can the Subaltern Speak and Other Transcendental Questions”, Warren Montag notes that the elevation of “the contradiction between the First World and Third World as opposing blocs to a position of strategic and political dominance, as if the working [class] in the West (…) is structurally allied more closely to its own bourgeoisie than to those forces traditionally regarded as its allies in the nations outside of Europe, North [America] and Japan: workers, rural laborers, landless peasants, etc.” is “hardly a new position: on the contrary, it has a long history in the socialist and communist movements. Lenin flirted with it in his attempts to explain the capitulation of European social democracy in the First World War, Stalin embraced it and its very language derives from the period of the Sino-Soviet split and the consolidation of Maoism as an international current (19).”
One text which is particularly fundamental in anchoring much of “Third Worldist” thought is a pamphlet from 1965 called “Long Live the Victory of People’s War” by Lin Biao, who was a prominent Chinese military and political leader and a contemporary of Chairman Mao Zedong. Lin died in 1971 in a “mysterious” plane crash after allegedly plotting to stage a coup d’état against Mao. In the pamphlet, Lin wrote the following, describing “The International Significance of Comrade Mao-Zedong’s Theory of People’s War” (with my emphasis):
Taking the entire globe, if North America and Western Europe can be called “the cities of the world”, then Asia, Africa and Latin America constitute “the rural areas of the world”. Since World War II, the proletarian revolutionary movement has for various reasons been temporarily held back in the North American and West European capitalist countries, while the people’s revolutionary movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been growing vigorously. In a sense, the contemporary world revolution also presents a picture of the encirclement of cities by the rural areas. In the final analysis, the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggles of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s population. The socialist countries should regard it as their internationalist duty to support the people’s revolutionary struggles in Asia, Africa and Latin America (20).
Lin’s distinction between the proletarian revolutionary movement and the people’s revolutionary movement is in line with the Maoist theory that in “backwards”, underdeveloped nations, aspects of capitalism are beneficial, and not harmful, to the“national economy and the people’s livelihood” (21). Workers should unite with a section of their exploiters, the petite bourgeoisie and the national-bourgeoisie, Mao argued, to end the rule of the comprador bourgeoisie (also known as the bureaucrat-bourgeoisie or the monopoly capitalist class), the part of the capitalist class which was tied to foreign interests. Mao thus defined “the people” in the People’s Republic of China as “the working class, the peasantry, the urban petty bourgeoisie and the national bourgeoisie” (also known as the “bloc of four classes ”), admitting from the get-go of Communist Party rule in China (i.e. 1949) that the policy was “to regulate capitalism, not to destroy it (23).”
The leitmotiv was the same in the following particularly doublespeak-esque speech made eight years later. Mao foreshadows “socialism with Chinese characteristics (24)” as he announces his hope, not for the abolition of class-based exploitation or the withering away of the state, but for the transformation of the relationship between the Chinese boss class and workers into a “non-antagonistic”, non-adversarial one (my emphasis):
The national bourgeoisie differs from the imperialists, the landlords and the bureaucrat-capitalists. The contradiction between the national bourgeoisie and the working class is one between exploiter and exploited, and is by nature antagonistic. But in the concrete conditions of China, this antagonistic contradiction between the two classes, if properly handled, can be transformed into a non-antagonistic one and be resolved by peaceful methods. However, the contradiction between the working class and the national bourgeoisie will change into a contradiction between ourselves and the enemy if we do not handle it properly and do not follow the policy of uniting with, criticizing and educating the national bourgeoisie, or if the national bourgeoisie does not accept this policy of ours (25).
Continuing from “The International Significance of Comrade Mao-Zedong’s Theory of People’s War”, Lin Biao elaborates:
In the struggle against imperialism and its lackeys, it is necessary to rally all anti-imperialist patriotic forces, including the national bourgeoisie and all patriotic personages. All those patriotic personages from among the bourgeoisie and other exploiting classes who join the anti-imperialist struggle play a progressive historical role; they are not tolerated by imperialism but welcomed by the proletariat (26).
Lin’s pamphlet was first published in 1965, right around the height of the biggest decolonization wave, that which occurred during the Cold War. Much of the decolonization of this period followed this confused logic of bosses subordinated to their workers and yet remaining bosses, with national liberation movements envisioned as being the joint project of the workers and ruling class capitalists of each colonized nation. It is now clear, observing the instauration of neocolonialism in virtually all the countries in which such national liberation movements won nominal independence, that this contradictory strategy was unfortunately, though not unforeseeably, doomed to failure.
Lin Biao’s ideas differed however from modern “Third Worldists” in that he did not deny the existence of a proletariat (“significant” or otherwise) in the United States, or that U.S. imperialism adversely affects the general population of the U.S.; in fact, he called for unity between the people of the United States and the so-called Third World (my emphasis):
U.S. imperialism is stronger, but also more vulnerable, than any imperialism of the past. It sets itself against the people of the whole world, including the people of the United States (27).
All people’s suffering from U.S. imperialist aggression, oppression and plunder, unite! Hold aloft the just banner of people’s war and fight for the cause of world peace, national liberation, people’s democracy and socialism! Victory will certainly go to the people of the world (28)!
Where modern “Third Worldists” do not deviate from their source material is in their denial of an antagonistic contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, promoting instead the viability of collaboration between wage-laborer and industrialist classes in the name of patriotic national interests. They view this collaboration as viable both in the First World, where it is the reason for proletarian revolution’s impossibility, and in the Third World, where it is the reason for people’s revolution’s high potentiality. In other words, in no part of the world do “Third Worldists” envision workers wresting control of the means of production from the exploiting industrialist class. In no part of the world do “Third Worldists” regard socialism as a viable possibility.
In addition to his Youtube channel, Unruhe’s social media presence also includes a blog hosted at maoistrebelnews.com.
After one of his most recent articles, published on November 30, 2015 and entitled “How is Trotskyism Winning over Maoism?”, I (Daniel K. Buntovnik, author of the 21st century proletarian novel Raving Radicals Bathed in Blax) had the chance to engage with Unruhe in the comments section of his blog. We wrote back and forth for a full week, exchanging two dozen or so messages. Eventually I made myself stop, as he was seemingly only capable of responding to the citations, historical examples, and questions I provided him with evasion, strawmen arguments, dogmatic statements, and political slander. Considering Unruhe’s lamentations that “no one really wants to honestly debate [‘Third Worldist’] ideas”, and his standing “open challenge” for “anyone who thinks they can [debate him]” to “bring it”, his generally lackluster, short, typo-ridden responses were truly disappointing (29). However, it is my hope that in examining this exchange more closely, and bolstering it with further facts and commentary, some light may be shed on the glaring errors and distortions which plague “Third Worldist” political thought.
Where We Begin: Trotskyism vs. Maoism
In “How is Trotskyism Winning over Maoism? (30)” (the article which triggered our discussion), Unruhe evaluates the strength of a variety of left-wing activist groups in the U.S., arguing that the relative popularity and recent electoral success of Trotskyist activist groups vis-à-vis Maoist ones is just another piece of evidence to add to the mountain of support for the “Third Worldist” thesis that there is no hope for revolution in the belly of the beast.
According to Unruhe’s exercise in confirmation bias, Trotskyists receive more support in the U.S. because they “reject the idea of revolution.” They are not revolutionaries, but reformists due to the fact that “they call for social democratic reforms.” Not only is Trotskyism not revolutionary; it is, Unruhe pompously asserts, “a terrible reactionary, racist ideology, and social imperialist on a theoretical level.”
Unruhe attempts to solder the connection between reformism and Trotskyism by highlighting the success of Kshama Sawant (herself from the so-called “Third World”, where she has spent most of her life) in being twice elected to Seattle City Council on behalf of Socialist Alternative (S.A.), a left-wing activist group in the U.S. which is identified with the Trotskyist tradition.
Sawant’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed “Democratic Socialist” now competing for the Democratic Party nomination for U.S. presidential candidate is another piece of evidence put forward by Unruhe to support his argument that Trotskyists “reject the idea of revolution.” He even credits Sawant’s endorsement of Sanders for having “driven a lot of people towards [him],” which is perhaps a bit overgenerous as an evaluation of her real level of influence. It should nevertheless be acknowledged that the dubiousness of the decision of a Marxist socialist to endorse Sanders, a pro-capitalist warmonger, scapegoater of immigrants, and sheepdog for the two-party system is certainly worthy of calling into question. However, the opportunistic positions of prominent members of S.A. cannot be said to represent the totality of Trotskyite-esque thought, anymore than the recently exposed Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought human trafficking and sex slave cult of Aravindan Balakrishnan in London can be said to be representative of the whole of Maoism. Other Trotskyist groups are running their own U.S. presidential candidates (e.g., the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which although it is seldomly keen to use the label, actually emerges from the Trotskyist tradition).
What follows are some annotated and lightly edited excerpts from our discussion. For a full record of the exchange, visit the comments section of the article in question on the Maoist Rebel News blog.
Phase 1: The “Transitional Program” and “Permanent Revolution”
Given the article’s focus on Trotskyism as the object of critique, our discussion begins by touching on the ideas above: the “transitional program”, sometimes known as the “transitional method”, and “permanent revolution”. These are two key concepts associated with the political theory of Leon Trotsky, founder and leader of the Red Army during the Russian Civil War.
As I read the article, it became apparent to me that Unruhe had no concept of the idea of “transitional program”. The basic idea of the “transitional program” is that radicals, avant-garde thinkers who for whatever reason have a more lucid of understanding of social dynamics, must bridge the gap between present demands and consciousness (e.g. “$15 per hour now!” or “End stop and frisk now!”) and the program for the revolutionary overhaul of civilization (e.g. “Lay utter waste to bourgeois hegemony!” or “Abolish whiteness!”). In other words, radicals must make the realm of possibility collide with that of the realm of phantasy. Ultraleftist-Third Worldists like Unruhe reject the realm of possibility and thus operate only beyond it, in the realm of phantasy, projecting an Orientalist construction onto the Third World and claiming to be revolutionary without actually being there. True radicals must straddle both realms.
I began by pointing out some of the inaccuracies conveyed in the article.
Calling for reforms does not necessarily a reformist make. (…) I think you misrepresent groups like Socialist Alternative’s position. The concept of the transitional program is what they work with. Both revolutionists and reformists call for reforms, with the difference being that the end game for the reformist is to save capitalism and for the revolutionist it is to side with workers struggling to implement popular reforms as a way to build momentum towards more radical change and raise consciousness. For example, if workers are demanding an end to child labor, a revolutionary can, and should, support that demand, while at the same time drawing attention to [the inadequacy of merely reforming capitalism and] the need for more profound system change.
And I was curious to see if Unruhe could back up his bold claim about the despicability of Trotskyite thought:
Can you explain what makes Trotskyism reactionary, racist, and imperialist?
First world people refuse to do revolution. And yes, reforms actually harm revolutionary potential. No revolution has been born from gettign concessions. Permanent Revolution alone almost insures imperialism. [Trotsky’s] belief was that the most backward countries had to be forced by the advanced to progress. I’d also show that Trotskyism leads to neo-cons.http://llco.org/who-and-what-are-trotsky-cons/
Of course, what Unruhe really meant was, “I’d also let the LLCO show that Trotskyism leads to neo-cons.” As far as the argument about certain individuals abandoning whatever Marxist tendency discrediting the ideas of said tendency goes, we could also look at a number of former Maoist radicals who have since turned to social democracy, neoliberalism, and even naked imperialism. For example:
Bernard-Henri Lévy, Maoist activist and journalist who made pro-Naxalite reports from Bangladesh during its war for independence only to later denounce Marxism as ”the opium of the people,” proclaim, “Socialism is dead!”, voice support for the NATO military intervention in the Balkans, and actually play the decisive on-the-ground role in the NATO orchestrated overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi by brokering the first meeting between the Benghazi-based National Transition Council and French president Nicolas Sarkozy (31, 32, 33).
André Glucksmann, leader of the Nouveaux philosophes, a large group of former Maoists who embraced right-wing politics. Alain Badiou notes in a 2008 interview, “we are now seeing an equally bizarre phenomenon, that of ex-Maoist intellectuals who made a complete about-turn and whom you hear on television railing against any kind of progressive politics (34).”
Serge July, former Maoist militant and co-founder of the newspaper Libération, originally a Maoist publication, which now embraces free market liberalism and is bankrolled by a Rothschild (35).
Soon I wrote back:
I must say I disagree with your view on the harmfulness in getting concessions. Would you tell ~5 million Bengali children [to] remain workers because them going to school harms their “revolutionary potential”? [This was a question I would repeat several times, but which he would ignore continually.]
Revolution is ultimately the big concession of the bourgeoisie surrendering its power to the proletariat. But revolution is also like a war in which you must win smaller scale battles to win the war. For example, the expulsion of US imperialism from the RoK [South Korea] and the unification of Korea under socialist leadership would ultimately only be a reform, since if this was done in isolation and US imperialism was not undone elsewhere there would always be the danger of a reintroduction of imperialism into the region and as a system it would continue to exist. [I thought this would be a swell example since Unruhe is a staunch defender of the DPRK.] Another example: the February Revolution, establishment of the Provisional Government, resignation of Prince Lvov, could all be seen as concessions on the part of the Russian nobility made on the path to the Bolshevik Revolution.
I see Permanent Revolution as being less about dragging the Third World to catch up with the First, but actually quite the opposite; it’s about recognizing the possibility of a path of development to socialism that does not mirror that of Western Europe (passing first through a stage of development resembling bourgeois liberal democracy). The idea isn’t that it’s pointless to start developing socialism in one country (this is actually very necessary!), it’s that that country can’t forever, or even for very long at all, be an island of socialism in a globalized capitalist system. Ultimately, the idea of ‘socialism in one country’ logically flows into that of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with capitalist states. ‘Socialism in one country’ can only survive if your revolution does not threaten the global capitalist system, otherwise the bourgeoisie will wage war on you.
The language of that LLCO article [“Who and What are Trotsky-cons?”] actually betrays a rather ethnocentric view; the idea that the ability of “backward” countries to “match” the West’s atomic bomb technology is an indication of [the independence of] their elected path of development suggests a game of catch-up. Socialism, being a higher state of social organization than imperialism, naturally surpasses capitalism. If the measure of [a] country’s advancement and progress is relative to the technology and living standards of Western capitalist societies, is that not a case of imperialism? the West using its military might to define the gold standard of what it means to be “civilized”?
Also, I’m curious, where does the former Second World (e.g., Eastern Europe today) enter into the Third Worldist equation? [Another question which Unruhe would ignore.]
I was actually a bit off base in asking that last question, as my idea of the Three Worlds was that of the Three-World Model, a Western political concept, rather than the Maoist political concept of the Three Worlds Theory (36, 37). Ultraleft-“Third Worldism”-Orientalism actually shares more similarity with the Western political concept than the Maoist one.
The Western “Three-World Model”, having its origins in the Cold War, posits a First World constituted by the Western neoliberal states axed around NATO, a Second World made up of the Soviet Union, its allies and/or Communist Party-led nations, and a Third World comprised by other nations which are not aligned with either the Western or Eastern blocs.
Mao’s Three Worlds Theory, on the other hand, places the USA and the USSR in the First World realm. The Second World is defined as the militarily weaker imperialist nations such as Western Europe, Japan, and Australia, and the Third World were non-imperialist nations (colonized, semicolonized, or neocolonized).
Given the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the Western Three-World Model has limited 21st century applicability. In the sense in which the model is employed nowadays, the terms “First World” and “Third World” might better be replaced with “Global North” and “Global South” or “developed world” and “developing” or “underdeveloped world”, because it reflects a binary world structure rather than a ternary one. The Second World has ceased to exist and many apparently use its analogue terms without even realizing that at one point the model incorporated it (38).
Like the evolving meaning of the “Three-World Model”, the “Third Worldist” (or as some would say “Lin Biaoist”) Theory of Three Worlds also differs in a significant way from how it was originally conceived by Mao (39). Whereas Mao’s envisioning of the First World as comprising the two superpowers, measured primarily in terms of their nuclear arsenals, but also in terms of wealth, led to a view of the Cold War as an inter-imperialist conflict, “Third Worldists” and some hackneyed “anti-imperialists” take Lin Biao’s thesis of a unipolar imperialist world structure to suggest that inter-imperialist conflict can no longer exist; there is only one monopoly. Lin Biao casts the Soviet Union of the 1960s not in conflict with the West or U.S. imperialism, but actually “[coming] to [its] rescue just when it is most panic-stricken and helpless” and “working hand in glove” with it. The Theory of Three Worlds has thus been altered from a ternary conception to a strictly binary one by Lin Biao and the “Third Worldists”.
This view leads some on the Left, including Unruhe, to cheerlead 21st century Russian imperialism (or, they allege, merely some beneficial form of capitalism which has been pushed back to a lower stage so that it cannot be considered imperialist), which wraps itself in the iconography of tsardom and–perhaps out of ignorance–white supremacy, in lieu of building genuine anti-imperialist movements (40, 41, 42). This is no different from the quintessentially petit bourgeois “trust-buster” hope for a “more competitive” capitalism.
Phase 2: Reform or Revolution?
Our exchange then veered towards the question of whether concessions granted by the ruling class in response to demands made by those whom they dominate can help lead to proletarian revolution or if revolutionary sentiments and actions are supposed to just pop out of thin air. Throughout our exchange Unruhe basically conveyed the idea that any improvement in living conditions, rights, or social status attained by the working class, women, ethnic or sexual “minorities” under capitalism is bad for “revolutionary potential”. In other words, if the oppressed fight to improve their condition under the system in place, they are actually harming themselves because they are not fighting to immediately instaure a new system.
History is replete with examples demonstrating the dubiousness of Unruhe’s Ultraleftist-“Third Worldist” idea. In our exchange we focused in particular on the Russian Revolution of 1917 and on the U.S. Civil Rights Movement era. But we could look elsewhere, such as at the example of the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), to see how reforms often precipitate and accelerate revolutions.
The Haitian Revolution began with enslaved persons demanding abolition of whipping, not slavery
The Code noir, or Black Code, was a set of regulations drafted in 1685, designed to maximize the French profits extracted from their slave colonies. In Saint-Domingue (now known as Haiti), the Code was overhauled and reimposed in 1784. The Code noir granted a number of rights to slaves, including land entitlement: it “legally obliged owners to provide slaves with small plots of land to grow food exclusively for [the slaves’] personal use (43).” Royal ordinances also made it possible for slaves to “legally denounce abuses of a master, overseer, or plantation manager.”
While these reforms were obviously not even remotely adequate (slavery was still in place and in reality the Code noir itself was sparsely enforced), the rights it granted in principle were central to the demands enslaved persons made during the revolution of the following decade.
In The Old Regime and the Haitian Revolution, Malick W. Ghachem illustrates the fact that these reforms were granted, not unilaterally out of the kind-heartedness of King Louis XVI, but in response to the uprisings and rebellions which gripped the island colony throughout the years (my emphasis):
These and earlier rulings testify to the powerful obstacles, legal and practical, that remained in the way of slaves who sought to avail themselves of the cover of law in Saint-Domingue. On December 3, 1784, almost exactly a century after Louis XIV promulgated the Code Noir, the monarchy finally took decisive steps to overhaul the edict. A confluence of factors made action possible at this time: the efforts of military officers and administrators in Saint-Domingue to convince officials in the Colonial Bureau of the Naval Ministry of the urgent need for reform of the status quo; predictions of an impending crisis in the colony prompted by isolated reports of small-scale uprisings on the plantations; and a climate of opinion (both colonial and metropolitan that had begun to swing decisively against the most notorious of the planters. The rising influence of antislavery sentiment notwithstanding, it would be too much to say that the demands of abolitionists forced the hands of Louis XVI and the French naval minister, Charles-Eugêne de la Croix de Castries. Rather, the 1784 ordinance represented the culmination of the same prudential anxiety about planter brutality and its potential to incite a slave revolution that had characterized the thinking of administrators and judges in Saint-Domingue for decades (44).
And when the slave revolution did begin to unfold, the slaves did not immediately demand the instauration of a new system. Rather than beginning as a struggle to annihilate the slave system, the Haitian Revolution begins with slaves making reformist demands, such as “freedom for their leaders, additional free days during the week, and abolition of the whip as punishment (45).”
Reformists’ reign was required to secure the triumph of Bolshevik Revolution
In response to my previous statement of disagreement with his view on the harmfulness in getting concessions, Unruhe wrote:
Okay, please show me a revolution that came from concessions.
I reiterated what I had already said since he ignored the bulk of my comment, which already contained the example he was asking for:
Take the example of the Russian Revolution that I already mentioned. After its February phase (which could hardly be considered a revolution in the Marxist sense any more than the coups d’etat in February 2014 in Ukraine or December 1989 in Romania or the kind of ‘revolution’ Bernie Sanders is calling for in November 2016 in the USA), Tsar Nicholas II gave up power to Prince Georgy Lvov, a nobleman who wanted to continue Russian participation in WWI and who even sat in the royal court. The demission of Prince Lvov was then proffered under circumstances resembling the recent resignation of Victor Ponta (lack of support expressed via demonstrations), leading to the ascension of the reformist/unscientific socialist Kerensky who began initiating liberal reforms (such as freeing political prisoners, extending voting rights, and suppression of the death penalty).
Unruhe replied in his most typical fashion, dismissive non sequiturs superficially sprinkled with Marxist jargon-mongering:
You actually think that lead to revolution, and not the war and material conditions themselves? That’s utter nonsense.
So I elaborated:
The “war and material conditions” led to both the February Revolution and the October Revolution. Do you think the workers didn’t learn anything from the events throughout 1917? Did the February Revolution and its reforms make the October Revolution less likely to happen? I would reckon it made it more likely because they saw that the reforms were not enough, but they had also gained confidence, experience, organization, skills, awareness, etc. in fighting for those reforms.
I want to ask you again, would you tell ~5 million children in Bangladesh that they shouldn’t go to school because it would harm “revolutionary potential”?
How do you confuse going to school with concessions?
Me, the Buntovnik:
Reformist demands to institute universal public education and abolish child labor require(d) concessions on the part of capitalists who profit from children working for them instead of getting education. Capitalists have historically been very resistant to laws limiting or abolishing low-wage child labor because it gives them a competitive advantage over firms employing adults, who are also generally more capable of organizing and demanding higher wages.
Actually basic education was instituted because capitalists needed better educated workers, like basic reading and math skills.
Me, the Buntovnik:
Then why do capitalists still employ child laborers? And why were Afro-American children given de jure inferior education until mass protests pressured the US bourgeoisie to concede that “separate but equal” needed reform?
Because of racism. Generally workers needed to be better, but they also excluded Blacks. Which BTW was a bad idea, later they changed it to inflate the labour supply to lower it’s cost.It’s a balance, they want more labour, but they also have to play into racist sentiment to divide.
Me, the Buntovnik:
Obviously it was because of racism. But it also shows that reforms around issues like education, child labor, 8 hour work day, etc. aren’t just unilaterally instituted by the capitalist class after their risk managers calculate the odds of revolutionary overthrow. Rather they are concessions won through bitter class struggle. And even if the capitalists do hope to de-escalate the class struggle and pacify the proletariat in granting them concessions (and they surely do hope this), this de-escalation/pacification is not guaranteed, as the reformist phase of the Russian Revolution shows.
Next Unruhe seems to imply that Kerensky’s reformist provisional government was meeting the people’s basic needs. I wonder why the October Revolution happened then?:
You’re not demonstrating how reforms make people ore revolutionary. FDR pretty much proved the opposite. Western social; democratic Europe proved the opposite. And don’t; compare basic needs with Russia to welfare the state.
Happy to oblige, I provided examples that were decidedly unrelated to the Russian Revolution of 1917 (the New Deal, mai ‘68, the Civil Rights Movement, and the current era of austerity measures):
I’d actually venture to say that history demonstrates the opposite; it’s not so much the reforms that make people revolutionary, but more-so the revolutionaries who trigger the reforms. So reforms are a sign of greater revolutionary potential rather than lesser.
The New Deal occurred at a time when Communists were leading major general strikes in US industrial centers. [For example, the Minneapolis general strike of 1934 (46).]
The point at which Maoism exerted its highest level of influence in Western European social democratic society was perhaps during “mai 68”, after the post-WWII welfare state had increased living standards [in France].
And it’s not a coincidence either that [the] heyday of revolutionists like the Black Panthers [is] correlated to the time significant reforms to American capitalism were enacted.
Contrast these with the last period, when there is less revolutionary organizing and agitation [and the capitalist and neoliberal bureaucratic class is more confident in waging war on the proletariat]. We are seeing the erosion of social protections in Western societies–cuts in “entitlement spending”–and virtually no significant reforms being made.
Unruhe then ignores all the examples I gave and pedals back to the Russian Revolution that I had made no mention of after him telling me not to compare it to Western welfare states:
Then you’d venture wrong. World War 1 was what sparked the prairie fire. The immeseration of the working class brought on by the war, even Lenin acknowledged this.
Okay so let’s go back to Russia, I guess. Me, the Buntovnik:
“The prairie fire” being the Bolshevik Revolution? I already said that I agreed with you about WWI being the spark. I simply contend that the February Revolution didn’t make the October Revolution any less of a potentiality.
Indeed, in this passage from “Left-Wing Communism[: An Infantile Disorder]”, Lenin acknowledges that experiencing (and becoming disillusioned with) the reformist Kerensky government was a necessary phase without which the Bolsheviks would not have brought about the instauration a Proletarian Dictatorship.
[QUOTE, p.65-66] “(…)the fact that the majority of the workers in Great Britain still follow the lead of the British Kerenskys(…) and that they have not yet had the experience of a government composed of these people, which experience was required in Russia (…)to secure the mass passage of the workers to Communism, undoubtedly shows that the British Communists should participate in parliamentary action, that they should from within Parliament help the masses of the workers to see the results of a [reformist] government in practice(…). To act otherwise would mean placing difficulties in the way of the revolution ; for revolution is impossible without a change in the views of the majority of the working class, and this change is brought about by the political experience of the masses, and never by propaganda alone.” [END QUOTE – Lenin (47)]
Lenin goes on to say that British Communists should work to help the “British Kerenskys” (Hendersons and Snowdens, i.e., petit bourgeois reformist socialists) defeat the conservatives, then show workers that they (the revolutionists) were right about the reformists being bankrupt and the workers overthrow the reformists, same as it happened in Russia in 1917!
We can leave it at that if you don’t want to address my points: why do we see reforms being granted during periods of heightened revolutionary activity and social protections being eroded during periods of generally stagnating class struggle?
After utterly misinterpreting the statement made by Lenin which I cited him, Unruhe senses it’s time to begin phrase-mongering. (If there’s anything that can refute Lenin, surely it’s more Lenin!):
You literally are trying to claim that reforms spur on revolution. This is false. Material conditions do, what you propose is anti-Marxist. No amount of “yea well there was reforms in Russia” means that reforms created it. By this logic Western Europe today would be the most revolutionary place. You;re trying to justify doing reforms instead of revolution when every communist theorist has said otherwise and history has demonstrated otherwise. First World people are refusing to do revolution, and reforms, a bigger slice fo the imperialist pie does not make them anymore revolutionary. Trying to compare feudal Russia to modern day First World countries is nonsense. Lenin’s point was to vote anti-imperialist war. You’re only trying to justify not doing revolutionary struggle.
“The industrial workers cannot accomplish their epoch-making mission. . .if they. . . smugly restrict themselves to attaining an improvement in their own conditions, which may sometimes be tolerable in the petty-bourgeois sense. This is exactly what happens to the ‘labor aristocracy’ of many advanced countries, who constitute the core of the so-called socialist parties of the Second International; they are actually the bitter enemies and betrayers of socialism, petty-bourgeois chauvinists and agents of the bourgeoisie within the working-class movement.”
“To tell the workers in the handful of rich countries where life is easier, thanks to imperialist pillage, that they must be afraid of ‘too great’ impoverishment, is counter-revolutionary. It is the reverse that they should be told. The labour aristocracy that is afraid of sacrifices, afraid of ‘too great’ impoverishment during the revolutionary struggle, cannot belong to the Party. Otherwise, the dictatorship is impossible, especially in West-European countries.”
It would be good here to examine a non-dit implicit in Unruhe’s last statement. If people in the First World are “refusing to do revolution”, then it is implied that people in the Third World are engaging in revolution. But when “Maoist-Third Worldists” speak of there being an abundance of revolutions and revolutionary activity in the Third World which stand in testament to that part of the world’s brimming revolutionary potential and the lack thereof in the First World, they are referring primarily to the national liberation struggles that induced the great decolonization wave of the Cold War era. It is a question of so-called “people’s revolutions”, not proletarian revolutions.
The reality is that people’s revolutions are easier to execute than proletarian revolutions. They do not require as high a level of organization or consciousness because the bourgeoisie is not threatened by this kind of revolution, which seeks to “regulate capitalism”, not abolish it. As we have already seen, in Maoist practice, the boss class has been deemed a trusted ally of the workers; there need be no antagonistic contradiction between exploited and exploiter classes. Swallowing this class-struggle-negationist lie guarantees that so-called “people’s revolutions” will always lead to neocolonialism. The progressiveness of the petty bourgeoisie and national-bourgeoisie is a myth; capitalism is a global system and the law of capitalism is to make profits, not serve the people. “Third Worldists” have more in common with Robert Reich and Teddy “The Trust Buster” Roosevelt than with revolutionists; their goal being to break “monopoly capitalism”, not capitalism tout court.
Mao’s theory of “New Democracy” differs from Permanent Revolution in that it envisions socialist revolution as having two stages: one bourgeois-democratic revolution in which the working class seeks to lead the national-bourgeoisie in establishing a “new-democratic state” under the joint dictatorship of the “revolutionary” bourgeoisie, proletariat, and peasants, followed by a second stage revolution at some unspecified future date (48). In this view, the so-called “national-bourgeoisie” (and urban petty bourgeoisie) of a Third World colonized or “semi-colonized” country are revolutionary and the proletariat and peasants of that country should unite with them in the event that they revolt against the “international bourgeoisie”. Permanent Revolution meanwhile repudiates the bourgeoisie’s having a place in society, much less in the state (which is an instrument of class rule) because this inherently contradicts the very notion of socialism and proletarian dictatorship (49). In no way can a capitalist society wherein any section of the bourgeois class exercises control through the state be considered socialist.
In “First vs. Third World Nationalism”, an article published by Unruhe on his Maoist Rebel News blog in late September 2015, he confirms his belief that the Third World bourgeoisie constitutes a revolutionary social force. Here Unruhe argues that capitalism in the Third World can be “altruistic”, that exploiters can be “allies” (50). When Unruhe identifies imperialism as the “primary contradiction”, he ignores the fact that imperialism is capitalism, in a more developed, “higher stage”. Maoism and “Third Worldism” are thus actually forms of primitivism in that they seek to empower a more primitive form of capitalism. You can’t have imperialism without capitalism, but you can have capitalism without imperialism, because capitalism is the base upon which the superstructure of imperialism rests; therefore it is correct to state that the primary, fundamental contradiction in today’s world remains capitalism more-so than imperialism. Admitting this does not negate the existence of imperialism, but shows a deeper, more accurate understanding of what imperialism is.
There is no impetus in the First World for the kind of class collaborationist “people’s revolution” which is proposed by the Maoists because the American bourgeoisie, the French bourgeoisie, or the British bourgeoisie have nothing to gain from posturing as allies of the working class in this way. There is no comprador bourgeoisie in imperialist countries. In a sense, the “Third Worldist” assessment of revolution in the First World as impossible is correct, but only because they are not interested in proletarian revolution to abolish capitalism, rather people’s revolution to regulate it.
Me, o baro Buntovnik:
So, since Kerensky continued the war, how do you figure that Lenin was telling the Brits to vote against imperialist war by siding with the “British Kerenskys”? [Another question which Unruhe would decline to answer.]
Lenin was describing the Transitional Programme. Workers don’t just wake up one day and say badda bam let’s do a revolution. You engage their consciousness on the level it’s at and help them find the path.
I’m not trying to justify doing reforms INSTEAD of revolution. I’m saying that reforms happen as a consequence of the class struggle. We are back to a point I made in my first comment: Reformists are those who “smugly restrict themselves to attaining an improvement”; Revolutionists support improvements, but do not restrict themselves to improvements!
Improvement is a little bit subjective. Reform does not necessarily equal “improvement”, such as in living conditions, or comfort, or safety. In the US, segregation in schools has actually increased since de jure racism was reformed away. [Though one would be hard pressed to say that doing away with Jim Crow was not an improvement.] And plenty of emancipated slaves died of impoverishment. Lynching increased following the abolition of [chattel] slavery, a reform [of American capitalism] which Karl Marx praised.
Boycotting buses begot bombardment of military recruiting stations
After being schooled by none other than me, o baro BuNToVNiK, on his ignorance of the methods of revolutionary struggle, Unruhe sensed it was time to retreat back to dogmatically repeating Marxian mantras:
Reforms literally do not help revolution. Material conditions are what drives them, this is basic Marxism here. And the civil rights struggle is a bad example.
Me, o baro Buntovnik:
Why is [the U.S. civil rights struggle] a bad example?
Because the Civil Rights movement never went into revolution. Reforms DO NOT increase the potential for revolution. All history has shown the opposite for the advanced countries.
Here Unruhe contradicts himself and shows his two-facedness. In a gushy interview published earlier this year with Steve Struggle, a former Black Panther Party activist, Unruhe introduces Steve as “one of the original guys that led revolution in the United States during the civil rights era (…) when there was the most revolutionary potential that the United States ever faced.” Unruhe would do well to revisit the conversation he had with Steve Struggle and listen more attentively this time, because Steve begins by informing him that the Black Panther Party’s roots were in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC or “snick”), a group seeking civil rights reform (51).
Me, o baro Buntovnik:
The Civil Rights Movement never brought about revolution, but it did become more revolutionist as it progressed. The founding of the Black Panther Party, easily the biggest and most influential Maoist organization in US history, in 1966, 2 years after the passage of the reformist Civil Rights Act of 1964, shows this. Struggles for reformist demands like desegregation of public transportation and schools led to increasing levels of violence which led many to question the doctrine of non-violence and develop revolutionary politics.
So the answer is no, it didn’t help revolution.
Me, o baro Buntovnik:
Actually, the unrest on the US home front was a key element in demoralizing US troops in Vietnam and altering public perception, ultimately helping secure the victory of the revolutionary forces there. [Students for a Democratic Society (SDS)], which began as a reformist, explicitly anti-communist civil rights group also turned to Maoism at the tail end of the Civil Rights Movement [e.g. the Weather Underground].
Growth in the potentiality of revolution does not however guarantee inevitability.
So no, reforms do not lead to revolution.
Me, o baro Buntovnik:
You are simply repeating ultraleftist dogma without sincerely addressing all the evidence to the contrary.
Your line is essentially no different from that of those who claim that the fact the Soviet project ultimately ended in failure means that socialist revolution can never lead to a stateless, classless society.
Cheers and nice talking with you.
Ultra left dogma? By acknowledging that reforms don’t lead to revolution, they don’t spur on revolution. No, you’re reactionary social democrat. Check out Venezuela now.
Here we get to the childish essence of “ultraleftism”, in the sense Lenin employed it to criticize “Left-Wing Communism”. The ultraleftist finds comfort in assuring himself that his opponent, who advocates global proletarian revolution and building socialism, is more right-wing than himself, who advocates people’s revolution (also known as “bourgeois revolution in red flags” ) limited to a certain part of the world where he does not live, to regulate capitalism there.
“Third Worldism” is not scientific; it’s scientism
1.) The problematic transposition of theories or methods from the natural (“hard”) sciences onto the terrain of the social (“soft”) sciences, philosophy, or even everyday life (53).
2.) A philosophical position that exalts the methods of the natural sciences above all other modes of human inquiry (54).
A central component of the LLCO’s “Third Worldist” strategy is the attempt to derive authority from proclaiming how scientific their ideology is, even going so far as to say,“In terms of (…) science, we can declare absolute victory over all competitors. (…) All ideological competitors are dead at the level of high science. There is no more real debate (…) Without Leading Light, without genuine science, [the non-”Third Worldist” Left] have no future. The sooner they see this the better. (…) The global masses have their organization, leadership, vanguard, Leading Light.”
We have seen how they claim that the hopeless futility of attempting to exact social revolutions in the United States of America, Western Europe, and other capitalist metropoles is an objective “fact”, grounded in “science”. They use statistics like per capita GDP to show that these countries’ working classes are a labor aristocracy, allergic to the very thought of revolution.
Of course, the “Third Worldists”, needing to justify their own existence, concede that there are “small pockets of allies spread across all strata of the First World (55).” In other words, there are American billionaires, “bourgeoisified” industrial manufacturing workers, and “unproductive” service sector workers who the glorious Third World masses can considered their allies, Unruhe and “CommanderPrairie Fire”, presumably among those super special First World snowflake “anomalies” who are somehow able to see past the great personal benefit imperialism is bringing them and, not only show solidarity with the global poor, but actually become the primary “advanced scientific core” who will arm them with the only theory capable of liberating them, the great high science of the Leading Light Communism, blessed be its name!
The contradiction is obvious, but it must be rendered explicit: if science suffices to explain why we are not currently seeing a great proletarian revolution being carried out in the First World, and why the Third World’s national-bourgeoisie, urban petty bourgeoisie, workers, and peasants represent the only hope for socialism to flower, then how does one explain the anomalies? The messianic Neos who have woken up from the Matrix of “First Worldism” to develop the most advanced high science of social liberation, Leading Light Communism and “Maoism-Third Worldism”?
In Nous et les autres: La réflexion française sur la diversité humaine, Tzvetan Todorov warns us that the scientistic postulate that society and social phenomena can be fully understood by the methodology and theory of natural sciences “leads to the reduction of the human being to the status of an object”. This view leads believers in scientism to consider human beings as overly “determined by their nature” (56). In the scientism of “Third Worldism”, the nature of the masses of the First World is that of a labor aristocracy. The label of “labor aristocrat” serves to negate the agency of inhabitants of the First World as human subjects. “Third Worldists” privilege social structure as the only explanation for human behavior to justify their own social atomism and disengagement from the societies which surround them, selectively applying vulgar determinism to explain the stupidity of others while simultaneously upholding nondeterminism to explain their own virtue, exceptionalism, and tenuous empathy.
Pure science–construed as rote empiricism–is a fundamentally flawed approach to making social revolution. We all know that the conditions today are different than those of the past. We can learn from past revolutions, while at the same time being mindful of the fact that the degeneration of the Bolshevik Revolution ultimately spat out today’s capitalist Russia and the rest of the former Soviet republics, and that only a special kind of dipshit says that Foxconn and its mass suicides are the result of a successful socialist revolution. But we also have to recognize, given that the socialist transformation of human society has not yet been fully experienced (only glimpsed at in a few episodes), that our empirical data is limited to nonexistent.
This is why we must serve the people fiction. Now, more than ever before, as we live in the present period of protracted disenchantment and disillusion with revolutionary politics following the collapse of Soviet-style “Communism”, working class-generated radical systemic change is perceived to be beyond the frontier of the realm of the possible. This is why we must fog of the boundary between feasible and infeasible, embrace the fantastic. This is the basis for 21st century proletarian literature. This is the basis for myth-science and the music of Sun Ra, who said:
There is a message in all of my music. It’s all about people doin’ somethin’ else other than what they have done. Because what they have done is the possible, and the world the way it is today is the results of the possible that they did. It’s the results of the absolute thing, so now (…) there’s always something else in a universe as big as this (57).
All of the above goes to show that “Maoism-Third Worldism” is a foolish and ignorant political line, its adherents hypocrites of the highest order. While the critique of “Third Worldism” is by no means exhausted, let us review some key points:
The scientistic, clichéd, campy, kitsch cultist approach to public relations of “Third Worldists”, in particular that of the LLCO, will never attract the masses to their version of Communism, only anomalous weirdos.
It cannot be denied that in “[elaborating](…) a basic geographical distinction”, “[distributing] geopolitical awareness into [political] texts”, and demonstrating a “certain will or intention to understand, (…) control, manipulate, even to incorporate, what is a manifestly different (…) world,” “Third Worldism” reproduces Orientalism. Their ideas reflect thus less upon the “reality” of life in the Third World and are more a reflection of their own impotency as would-be leftists in the First World (58).
“Maoist-Third Worldists” are not legitimate revolutionists of the proletarian sort. Their goal is not to create a dictatorship of the proletariat. The objective of “Global People’s War” is to knock capitalism back to a pre-imperialist stage by replacing the comprador bourgeoisie with the national-bourgeoisie, keeping the capitalist state intact.
“Third Worldists” utterly fail to understand the dynamics of social change. History shows that militating for reforms leads to heightened revolutionary potential. Revolutionaries must struggle in the here and now by demanding concessions which reflect the present situation to bridge the gap between the mass consciousness of today and the radical possibilities of a future socialist society.
Down with the pseudo-science of Primitivist-Orientalist-Third Worldism! Down with patriotic bourgeois collaborators, sheepdogs of neo-colonialism and proto-imperialism! Advance global class struggle! The workers’ struggle knows no border!
“For [Edward] Said, ‘Orientalism’ or the Western construction of the ‘imaginary Orient’ was fashioned by Europeans through practices of writing, which had the effect of representing the Other, the East.”
“Because subalterns exist, to some extent, outside power, theorists and advocates of political transformation have consistently looked to them as a potential source of change. Marxists speak of and for the proletariat, feminists of and for oppressed women, and anticolonialists of and for third world peoples. In part, Spivak is reacting against the persistent tendency of radical political movements to romanticize the other, especially against the notion that third world peoples must lead the fight against multinational global capitalism. To assign them that role is to repeat colonialism’s basic violence, which views non-Europeans as important only insofar as they follow Western scripts. Furthermore, when most of the power resides in the West, why should the least powerful of those caught up in globalization be responsible for halting its advance? Finally, Spivak points out that the suggestion that all third world peoples stand in the same relation to global capitalism and should respond to it in the same way is “essentialist.”
“It is a common misconception that the Sun is yellow, or orange or even red. However, the Sun is essentially all colors mixed together, which appear to our eyes as white. This is easy to see in pictures taken from space.”
“Bildung (German for “education” and “formation”) refers to the German tradition of self-cultivation (as related to the German for: creation, image, shape), wherein philosophy and education are linked in a manner that refers to a process of both personal and cultural maturation. This maturation is described as a harmonization of the individual’s mind and heart and in a unification of selfhood and identity within the broader society, as evidenced with the literary tradition of bildungsroman.”
“The Russian imperial flag has often been flown at combat sites in the Donbas and at meetings in Russia to support Novorossiya. In August 2014, the previously adopted flag of Novorossiya, red and blue and inspired by a flag of the Tsarist Navy, was relegated for use as a battle flag to make room for a new state flag, the Russian imperial white-yellow-black tricolor. The secessionist authorities stated that through the adoption of the new flag, used as a symbol of the Russian Empire from 1858 to 1883, they “integrate their own history into the historical course of the Russian state.” Positive memories of Russia’s Tsarist past are getting an unprecedented boost from the Novorossiya mythmaking process.”
“In this era, any revolution in a colony or semi-colony that is directed against imperialism, i.e., against the international bourgeoisie or international capitalism, no longer comes within the old category of the bourgeois-democratic world revolution, but within the new category. It is no longer part of the old bourgeois, or capitalist, world revolution, but is part of the new world revolution, the proletarian-socialist world revolution. Such revolutionary colonies and semi-colonies can no longer be regarded as allies of the counter revolutionary front of world capitalism; they have become allies of the revolutionary front of world socialism.
Although such a revolution in a colonial and semi-colonial country is still fundamentally bourgeois-democratic in its social character during its first stage or first step, and although its objective mission is to clear the path for the development of capitalism, it is no longer a revolution of the old type led by the bourgeoisie with the aim of establishing a capitalist society and a state under bourgeois dictatorship. It belongs to the new type of revolution led by the proletariat with the aim, in the first stage, of establishing a new-democratic society and a state under the joint dictatorship of all the revolutionary classes.”
“The very fact of the bourgeoisie being in power drives out of our minimum programme all demands which are incompatible with private property in the means of production. Such demands form the content of a socialist revolution and presuppose a proletarian dictatorship.”
Yo to all my illustrious readers. After another extended hiatus, which you must once again forgive me for failing to announce ahead of time, installment 14 of Raving Radicals Bathed in Blax is now available for your lecture pleasure.
This installment is titled “CRACKDOWN” and follows the Radical Book Club’s daring direct action and the jailbreak of Tisha and five other detainees. In this chapter we’ll get to know the law enforcement types a bit better.
Installments should now be posted on the regular interval (1 per 1-3 days), until the first half of August, when you can expect another pause. Then I foresee clear sailing until the epic finale.
Big announcement, y’all. You can now read the 10th installment of RAVING RADICALS BATHED IN BLAX. In this chapter you will begin to understand the significance of the second part of the novel’s title (Bathed in Blax).