Doom and gloom: “What’s Left?” June 2013, MRR #361

I’ve gone from the naïve revolutionary optimism of my youth, to a world-weary pessimism that I pretend is realism, now that I’m on the downhill side of sixty. I like to believe that its not just me, that studying history counts for something and that humanity seems to have been going to hell in a hand basket for quite some time now, taking the planet along for the ride. I’m thankful that I’ll be dead long before the worst happens.

I consider myself to be a socialist, someone desirous of a global society and ecology based on justice, peace, freedom, equality, solidarity, cooperation, interdependency and sustainability. But the heritage of socialism that I claim went from revolutionary internationalism to scheming nationalism in the space of a mere 80 years. Socialism’s initial ardent internationalism was not compromised by efforts to initiate electoral democracies based on working class suffrage. Nor did the roller-coaster history of the international workers’ movement (1848 upheavals, 1871 Paris Commune, 1905/1917 Russian Revolutions, 1918 German Revolution, 1920s Italian insurgencies, 1936-39 Spanish civil war), the splits into various political tendencies (social democracy, anarchism, syndicalism, communism, left communism, and sects thereof), or the partisan/personal conflicts between individuals (Marx versus Bakunin, Luxemberg versus Bernstein, Lenin versus Kautsky) endanger socialism’s international status. Yet international socialism gave way to “socialism in one country” in little over a decade, from Lenin’s death and Stalin’s rise to the defeat of the Spanish Republic.

The factors that produced the degradation of international socialism into one or another type of nationalistic socialism were straightforward. Socialism in one country had become a morbid equivalency between proletarian internationalism and socialist patriotism, thanks to Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Castro, et al. Socialist struggles for national liberation had devolved into mere national liberation struggles by the time I became politically conscious in 1968. Avidly nationalistic regimes promulgating various and sundry quasi-socialistic elements abounded, as was the case with a PRI-dominated Mexico or India under the National Congress Party. Social Democratic and Labor parties, strictly confined to their respective countries, vied for election in national parliaments in western Europe. Even nationalist socialism (à la Ze’ev Sternhell), the fascist bête noire of the 1920s and 30s so roundly defeated during the second World War, occasionally triumphed around the world, as was the case with Peron’s Argentina and Nasser’s Egypt. Certainly, the true socialist internationalism of anarchism, syndicalism, and left communism was entirely absent from the historical stage from 1939 to 1964, when the New Left’s nascence promised its revival.

Yet the rebirth of anarchism, syndicalism and left communism during the 1960s, extolled by myself and my anti-authoritarian comrades, was paltry and weak when compared to the growth of the Maoist New Communist Movement, a reanimated Trotskyism, and a myriad of Third Worldist cheerleaders, let alone the expanding geography of “real existing socialism,” whether of the Soviet, Chinese or Third World varieties. The sybaritic, apolitical hippie counterculture was no match for commercial capitalism, which in its corporate, transnational form quickly defeated the rank-and-file labor revolts of the 1970s. In turn, neither hippies nor the 70s working class could compare to the proletarian organizing and cultural resistance of the 1930s. The anti-authoritarian political threads that emerged in the 1960s continued through the anti-nuclear, anti-apartheid, anti-globalization, and anti-Wall Street movements. They grew only modestly however, even with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, the capitalist buy out of promising, victorious socialist national liberation struggles, the decline of the organized international working class, the dissolution of the old Old Left and the old New Left under the acid rain of postmodernism, and the unequivocal triumph of transnational capitalism worldwide.

Insurrectionary anarchism may be all the rage for the past several years, and the Black Bloc might be their poster boys (and girls), yet this inchoate rabble can barely squat a house or manage an infoshop, let alone run a neighborhood, operate a local economy, or govern a city. These bad boys (and girls) fuck shit up as naturally as breathing air, but they streetfight cops and trash private property with a serious disdain for tactics and strategy. Smash the state and overthrow capitalism? Foment world revolution? Forget about it! These idiots might accidentally attain something positive, but to actually, consciously accomplish something radical, perhaps revolutionary? Not a chance! Old school international socialism and the international proletariat had a real potential for overthrowing the capitalist ruling class, dismantling its instrumentality of nation-states and achieving a global communist society. Even the Soviet, Chinese and Third World “real existing socialism” of the Cold War era had the possibility of defeating the capitalist “Free World” and founding a socialist reality, limited as it was by nationalist rivalry. But to believe that the insurrectionary anarchist Black Bloc wankers, who ran rampant through the streets of Oakland, from the founding of Occupy Oakland on October 10, 2011 until OO’s eventual demise, had any ability to create their putative Oakland Commune, let alone take on the powers that be on any level, is utterly ludicrous.

It’s not possible to change the world for the better without the actions of human agency, whether that be a mass movement of some kind or a more conscious, smaller avant-garde. The historical agency of the international mass working class or more directed elements of socialism, for all intents and purposes, no longer exist. Insurrectionary anarchism and its clownish Black Bloc, frankly, are a sad joke, and I’m having a hard time identifying any other social movement or revolutionary grouping capable of even remotely taking on the job. Which means humanity, and the planet, are pretty much fucked. I’ll finish with this doom and gloom next column, if I’m not too damned depressed.

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