Diversity of tactics: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, December 2022

It was November 8, 1960.

My parents and their friends were arrayed around our black-and-white RCA Victor TV in our tiny San Bernardino living room. It was election evening, with John F. Kennedy duking it out against Richard Nixon. My parents were lifelong Democrats but some of the friends present had voted Republican. In a testament to the times, everybody was drinking, smoking, eating European deli foods, joking, laughing, and playfully arguing. It was quite congenial, with no mention of a “second civil war.”

My parents allowed me to stay up way past my bedtime so I wandered around in the background. I carried a glass jar filled with dry soup beans and every time Walter Cronkite announced a victory for Kennedy I shook the jar and said: “Kennedy wins!”

That was my first memory of an American election. I would become a “don’t vote, it only encourages them” anarchist in 1968 and burned my draft card in 1970. When the voting age was lowered to 18 in March of 1971, I ran with a group of New American Movement-inspired youngsters for city council and school board in Ventura, California. That same year I registered with the Peace and Freedom Party. I’ve had a complicated, some might say contradictory relationship with American politics ever since.

I’ve been a registered Democrat, a member of various electoral third parties, a defender of democratic unionism and political reformism, a promoter of the primacy of local politics, and a champion of initiative, recall and referendum processes. I’ve also actively participated in civic resistance, civil disobedience, direct action, extra-parliamentary opposition, autonomist workerism, and revolutionist street politics. As I’ve often quipped, I vote and I riot. My seemingly contradictory politics have been serial, sequential, parallel or simultaneous. I took my cue early on from Roel van Duijn, cofounder of the Dutch Provos and Kabouters, who came “up with a theory […]: the two-hand doctrine. That meant working in the system with one hand and stirring up trouble via extra-parliamentary movements with the other.”

This embrace of parliamentary and extra-parliamentary tactics parallels Malcolm X’s inclusion of nonviolence and armed self-defense in a common Black revolutionary strategy when he said: “Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives. As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods or tactics or strategy to reach a common goal. […] We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.” A “diversity of tactics” is the basis for much social change. Indeed, the Long 1960s were an affirmation of a “diversity of tactics”—riots, strikes, popular uprisings, insurrectionary movements, social revolutions—well before the term was coined defensively and negatively in the lead-up to the Seattle 1999 WTO shutdown. The broad protest coalition responsible for the N30 “Battle for Seattle” failed to agree upon strict nonviolence and thus could not arrive on a unified, targeted political strategy. So this was a “diversity of tactics” by inaction, by a failure to act.

Despite this default “diversity of tactics,” the WTO shutdown has become one of the defining triumphs of the twenty-first century Left. Alexander Cockburn wrote that “you can take the state by surprise only once or twice in a generation” and likened the Battle for Seattle to May/June 1968 in Paris. Now consider the “once or twice in a century” surprise of the February 1917 Russian Revolution and the protean tactics of Lenin in building his vanguard party and the Bolshevik seizure of state power in terms of this discussion of “diversity of tactics.”

The February Revolution that overthrew the Tsarist regime was truly a broad, popular, chaotic uprising of mass strikes, bread riots, armed mutinies, and soviet takeovers that embodied Lenin’s sentiment that: “[t]here are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” It was a period that epitomized a “diversity of tactics.” Lenin would critique both the timid parliamentarianism of social democrats like the Mensheviks and the uncompromising abstentionist revolutionism of “infantile” left communists, preferring a tactical flexibility suited to time, place and social conditions. His arsenal of tactics and strategies (industrial working class organizing, agitation and action; popular protests and street fighting; armed insurrection; even bank expropriations) included participation in or boycotts of parliamentary elections depending on the situation. Lenin’s support for a Bolshevik boycott of the first Duma elections was reversed in subsequent Duma votes as a way to “count their forces” and strengthen their influence among workers. He contended that the 1917 workers soviets were the true Russian working class government, more democratic than the Duma, the Russian Provisional Government or any Western-style parliament. But Lenin went on to argue for a clear Bolshevik candidate list to be elected to win the 1917 Constituent Assembly instead of dismissing the Assembly as less democratic than the system of workers soviets, thereby sidestepping calls for a boycott. The Bolsheviks won only twenty-four percent of the overall vote in the Constituent Assembly, which was subsequently dissolved by the Bolshevik/left Social Revolutionary-led Soviet government.

All tactics, all strategies put forward by Lenin were in service of and intended to advance the Bolsheviks as a vanguard party ultimately through the October Revolution seizure of state power. This was not a “diversity of tactics” either spontaneous, conscious, or by default. Lenin’s vanguard party employed a variety of tactics, but in acting as a revolutionary vanguard it significantly narrowed the tactical field of the revolution. The Bolshevik fraction became the ruling Communist Party which governed the country through the workers soviets. The Party made decisions on state policy, with the soviets acting to implement public approval for the Party’s program. The Soviet constitution recognized the Party’s leading role in politics, completing the substitution of the vanguard party for the working class in power. It would take Stalin to further substitute the leader for the party and finish the consolidation of power into the hands of one individual in the name of socialism.

I have few quibbles with the plethora of tactics and broad strategies available to the Left, considering them versatile with regard to time, place and social conditions. Whether I act in terms of nonviolence or armed self-defense, labor organizing or street politics, electoral incrementalism or revolutionary socialism depends on circumstance. Instead I take issue with who rules—the class versus the party versus the leader.

I may not have the theoretical chops a la Lenin to determine which tactics and strategies work best to advance the Left in its quest for socialism even as I critique the Bolsheviks’ anti-democratic practices in pushing their form of socialism. But I have learned some lessons in my pursuit of politics. Politics work best when there is a level of congruence, when for instance people strive for a decentralized, anti-authoritarian, peaceful society through decentralized, anti-authoritarian, peaceful methods. But when faced by an enemy bent on my extermination, I won’t hesitate to declare the necessity to destroy what seeks to destroy me. I’m not a fan of conducting politics by catchphrase: “if voting worked, it would be illegal,” “whoever they vote for, we are ungovernable,” “voting is harm reduction,” etc. Rather, I’ve been a strong proponent of “by any means necessary,” of the Left doing whatever it takes to achieve socialism. Yet I know I’m not likely to ever live to see that socialism.

We’ve just come through the US election midterms as I write this, with its surprising lack of an elected representative bump in the US House and Senate for the Republicans thanks to the GOP’s problematic association with Trump and his toxic election denialism. I’m the first to argue that there’s barely a dime’s worth of difference between Republicans and Democrats in American politics. However, there’s human misery associated with even the incremental nature of US electoral politics: the woman denied an abortion, the trans person refused their identity, the black man murdered by the police, etc. The Democrats rubbing the faces of the American electorate in the GOP’s fringe extremism proved a winning strategy, a way to use the right’s fascist ugliness against itself, a political judo if you would.

On a more personal note: I’ve been involved in electoral campaigns throughout my political life, from George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign to Bob Beyerle’s 1991 Chula Vista mayoral run. Virtually all of them proved unsuccessful, often disastrously so. The one I’m least proud of was phone banking for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential run. The personal lesson I’ve learned from them is the need to back off. I’ve become so involved with these past electoral campaigns that I developed unhealthy levels of anxiety and sleeplessness as a consequence. In 2020 and 2022 I turned down the news from major media and the internet. Not only did I sleep better and my anxiety levels go down, the objective political consequences were marginally better. Biden won in 2020 and the Republican “red wave” failed to materialize in 2022. I’m such a political animal that these were positive if piecemeal experiences.

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Ten Days That Shook the World by John Reed
Netherlands: The Second Liberation by Roel van Duijn
“The Black Revolution,” Malcolm X Speaks by Malcolm X, George Breitman
Five Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond by Alexander Cockburn

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Campism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, November 2022

“This is utter nonsense.”

The gray-haired bespectacled man gestured angrily. It was July 21, 1989 and I was standing behind the Neither East Nor West literature table at the “Without Borders” anarchist conference/festival in San Francisco’s Mission High School. I was hanging out with the THRUSH girls and Bob McGlynn as the pissed-off individual continued to point at our table’s banner.

“Neither East Nor West, huh? That sounds an awful lot like the slogan of the Italian Fascist MSI. Neither Left nor Right.”

“We’re anarchists, not fascists,” Bob said.

“Anarchists, fascists, it’s all the same.” The man delivered his verbal coup. “If you’re not for the international socialist revolution you’re for reactionary capitalist imperialism.”

I’ve recently written a couple of columns exposing the idiocy that is Fascist Third Positionism.[1] Let’s now talk about campism and legitimate efforts to transcend it. In order to discuss international politics, let’s start with an analogy.

The problem of predicting the individual motions of celestial objects in classical mechanics and physics depends on the number of objects in question. Called the n-body problem, a single body like a lone star or a rogue planet is the simplest to calculate because it’s the most stable. Two objects orbiting around a common center of gravity—a binary star system, a star and its planet, or a planet and its moon—is slightly more complex but ultimately solvable mathematically, again because of its relative stability. Add a third or more bodies and it’s impossible to predict the motions of three-plus bodies mutually bound by gravity given their initial positions and velocities. The dynamics of any such three-plus-body system is inherently chaotic and unstable. The sun-earth-moon system constitutes the archetypal example of the three-plus-body problem. “The Three-Body Problem” is also the title of a recent science fiction novel by Chinese writer Liu Cixin.

Consider first the idea of a unipolar world being analogous to a “one-body” dynamic. The period between 1815 and 1914 has been called the British Imperial Century—Pax Britannica—when Great Britain reached the height of its global empire and ruled the world by controlling the high seas and the international commerce on them. The British Empire was hegemonic and its currency dominant, serving as the global cop that insured relative peace between the Great Powers of the day. Yet unipolarity is not dependent on such factors. China during the Ming and Qing dynasties dominated all of East Asia, but pursued a more limited territorial expansion that didn’t provoke rival powers into challenging China’s power militarily. The United States took over Britain’s imperial role, but when it achieved true unipolarity after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 its Pax Americana was anything but peaceful or stable. The United States has been at war for twenty-two of the thirty-two years since the Cold War ended and the world became unipolar. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and confrontation with the US and NATO has reinstigated the dangerous uncertainties of a new Cold War. A Cold War 2.0.

I’m a child of the West with the bipolar worldview set in motion by Aristotelian non-contradiction logic, fortified by Christian good-vs-evil crypto-Manichaeism, and tweaked by Hegelian Two-Camps Zhdanovian Doctrine.[2] I grew up during the Cold War (1945-1991) that posited a bipolar world of two contending power centers—a “Free World” that wasn’t free and a “Communist bloc” that wasn’t communist. Capitalist nations were expected to side with the US while socialist nations were expected to ally with the old USSR. The deadly “dance” between these two world powers was marked by quick mutual readjustments which prevented any uncontrolled escalation of hostilities or the possibility of power imbalances developing, so much so that the lack of a major war during the Cold War period has been called the “long peace.” But just because a major war didn’t occur doesn’t mean the Cold War was an era of international peace and stability. Numerous bloody “brush” wars and proxy guerrilla/counterinsurgency conflicts were fought around the globe, most notably in Vietnam and Korea. And the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction nearly devolved into nuclear annihilation during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Thus the relative stability of “two-body” dynamics in physics is not analogous to campism, past or present.

According to Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, present-day campism “approaches world politics from the standpoint that the main axis of conflict is between two hostile geopolitical camps: the ‘imperialist camp,’ today made up of the United States, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia, and Israel (or some such combination) on one hand and the ‘anti-imperialist camp’ of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other less-industrialized nations on the other. The anti-imperialist camp is generally defined as all formerly colonized nations and especially all avowedly anti-imperialist governments in the Global South.” This is also Cold War 2.0 politics. Campism arose from the Russian Revolution, the isolation of international Communism by world capitalism, the response of the Third International (ComIntern) to that isolation, and their usurpation by Stalin and Stalinism. The USSR attempted to reinforce the Soviet pole of campism by molding the Warsaw Pact nations in the image of Russian Communism while Mao’s split from the Soviet Union attempted to redefine campism with a Chinese-Third Worldist pole. China became the leader of the socialist camp, all Third World anti-US struggles were automatically deemed progressive, and the Soviet Union was denounced as “social imperialist.” Campism persisted despite the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Russia’s authoritarian embrace of oligarchic capitalism and irredentist imperialism, and China’s totalitarian turn to state capitalism and global economic empire. Thanks to the degeneration of the 60s New Left, the binary logic of campism is now entrenched in much of the Left. It is truly the anti-imperialism of fools; usually of Stalinist, Maoist, Marcyist, or Third Worldist ML hardliners, apologists, fellow travelers, or sympathizers, but more and more of social democrats, democratic socialists, and Code Pink liberals.[3]

I’ve been trying to define an anti-campist “three-plus-body” multipolar politics since 1968. My development from left anarchism through left communism to my current eclectic libertarian socialism was my attempt to sidestep the restraints of campist bipolarity. Libertarian socialism in all its diversity has remained a viable third stance between orthodox Social Democracy and Marxism-Leninism historically within the Left, as well as a contemporary alternative to campist imperialism/anti-imperialism. My support for international alliances like the Non-Aligned Movement of nations as well as grassroots organizations like Neither East Nor West (NENW) also reflected a similar multipolarity. I’ve always subscribed to the Yiddish aphorism that, whenever confronted with two equally bad choices, always choose the third.

The Cold War 2.0 logic that the planet is divided between two antagonistic power blocs—an “anti-imperialist socialist camp” and an “imperialist capitalist camp”—is now gospel on the Left. Marginalized “independent revolutionary socialist organizations opposed to both the ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ social systems” invoke the threadbare cliché of “international working class solidarity” to counter it. I recommend we bring back the left-libertarian politics of NENW as a direct response to campism instead. NENW grew out of anti-war and anti-nuclear movements, specifically the Trust Groups on both sides of the “Iron Curtain,” as well as support for the 1980 Polish Solidarity labor union. Started in the fall of 1986 in New York by anarchists, anti-authoritarians and libertarian socialists, NENW-NYC put out the newspaper On Gogol Boulevard in 1987. NENW groups sprang up across North America, prominent  among them Chicago NENW, Bay Area NENW, Toronto NENW, Lawrence KS NENW, Albany NY NENW, Miami NENW, and Mexico City NENW. Almost 40 groups eventually coalesced into the North American East/West Network. NENW initiated international campaigns against repression and for political prisoners, solidarity with dissent and popular uprisings, and support for workers, dissidents, activists, and counterculturalists in both the capitalist and socialist camps—an effective multivalent strategy. The NENW network and On Gogol Boulevard gradually faded after 1994 with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, even though Bob McGlynn optimistically wrote in 2014:
The Neither East Nor West network remains alive, despite the demise of the East Bloc. Our focus on the East, or former “Second [socialist] World,” also served as a doorway to incorporating—in multiple and concrete ways—the concerns of the “Third [underdeveloped] World” and “Fourth World” (land-based indigenous peoples), with a particular focus on supporting activists and movements with anti-authoritarian and anti-Stalinist perspectives.
Bob died on August 23, 2016. An updated version of those neither-nor politics deserves to be revived to counter the stupidity of campism.

“Three-plus-body” dynamics in physics are inherently unstable whereas academics disagree on whether global multipolarity can ever be peaceful and stable, with classical realists squaring off against neo-realists. I consider unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity unstable and conflict-ridden to one degree or another. Perhaps peace and stability shouldn’t be the goal, but rather the aim should be the liberation and socialism that makes peace and stability possible.

 

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Imperialism: A Study by John A. Hobson (1902)
Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism by V.I. Lenin (1916 & 1917)
“The Anti-Imperialism of Fools” by Paul Berman, Dissent Magazine (1987)
Reply to Aufheben #1 by Gilles Dauvé (1997)
“The poverty of ‘anti-imperialism’ and today’s Left” by Workers’ Liberty (2010)
The Modern World-System, v. I-IV by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974-2011)
“Anarchy in Trieste: Anarchists from East & West meet in Italy” (Fifth Estate #334, Summer 1990); “Whoopie! East Bloc Explodes” (Love and Rage, April 1990); “Partial Victory for Nigerian Anarchists” (Love and Rage April/May 1993);“The Group ‘Neither East Nor West-NYC’: A De Facto Anarchist Black Cross History: The years 1980 to Spring 1994” (2013); “Neither East Nor West: How a small group of anarchists took on the Soviet Union and won!” (Fifth Estate # 391, Spring/Summer 2014) all by Bob McGlynn
“The ‘Anti-Imperialism’ Of Idiots” by Leila Shami, Leila’s blog (2018)
“Against Campism, for International Working-Class Solidarity” by Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, (Socialist Forum, Democratic Socialists of America, Winter 2020)
“Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?: Barnaby Raine on the resurgence of ’tankie’ and ‘campist’ politics” by The Breach (October 22, 2021)
“A Letter to the Western Left from Kyiv” by Taras Bilous (Dissent, February 22, 2022)
“Time to decamp from cold-war ideas” by Sheri Berman (Social Europe, March 28, 2022)
“Internationalism, Anti-Imperialism, And the Origins of Campism” by Dan La Botz (NewPolitics vol. XVIII no. 4, #72, Winter 2022)
“When My Enemy’s Enemy Is Not My Friend: Campism in Dangerous Times” by John Clarke (Spectre Journal, June 1, 2022)

FOOTNOTES
[1] Lenin formulated his theory of imperialism in 1916 which differentiates the world capitalist economy into the capitalist national centers of European empire and their exploited colonial periphery. In a Marxist anti-imperialist context, French social scientist Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third World in 1952 as an analog to the Third Estate of the French Revolution. Also jumping off from Leninist anti-imperialism, Mao propounded his Three Worlds Theory by 1974 in which the First World is the developed capitalist nations, the Second World is the socialist nations posing as an international alternative, and the Third World is the orthodox category of undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing  nations. Starting in 1974, Immanuel Wallerstein charted the differentiation of the present world capitalist economy via the consolidation of nation-states and national economies into the fully developed core region, an undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing exploited periphery, and a semi-peripheral region in between. These tripartite schemas imply a fourth geographic tier, a Fourth World in Maoism and an outer periphery in the case of Wallerstein encompassing the marginal territories and peoples incapable of consolidating viable nation-states and national economies. Fourth World in the First-Second-Third World schema refers to land-based indigenous peoples. I am old and set in my ways so I prefer the term Third World to Global South. Global South and Global North go beyond mere geography to include factors of development, power and wealth. Global South in particular is considered  a more open and value-free alternative to Third World, but it’s also less nuanced and frankly vague.

[2] Plato first used the term tertium quid (triton ti) around 360 bce. In ancient Greek philosophy, it meant something that escapes classification in either of two mutually or more exclusive and theoretically exhaustive categories. What’s left after such a supposedly rigorous, exhaustive division is tertium quid. The third what. The third something. Tertium quid might be residue, sui generis, ambiguous, composite or transcendent depending on one’s philosophical inclinations.

[3] There are a few political movements that focus on “third” as meaning an alternative to two conventional positions. Third Position refers to a number of fascist and neo-fascist political ideologies that claim to “go beyond Left and Right” or “beyond capitalism and communism.” (See White Aryan Resistance and American Front in the US.) Trotskyism long defended the Russian Revolution and the USSR from imperialist aggression while calling it a “degenerated workers’ state” in need of an anti-bureaucratic, anti-Stalinist working-class revolution. This opposition to both capitalism and Stalinism was called third campism or third camp socialism. (See Shachtmanism.) Third Way centrist political promoters in liberal Western nations seek to reconcile left-wing and right-wing policies by advocating various kinds of centrist political syntheses. (Bill Clinton’s presidency was implicitly Third Way.)

The Third Wave was a social experiment by Cubberley High School history teacher Ron Jones who hoped to create an ersatz social movement and demonstrate how Germans could have accepted the actions of Hitler and the Nazi regime during the rise of the Third Reich through the Second World War. The experiment was wildly successful, quickly spiraled out of control, and was subsequently documented or fictionalized in numerous films, TV shows, and books. “Third wave” has been used in a quasi-generational sense in political contexts as in “third-wave feminism.” And “third wave democracy” has been used to describe an international third democratic surge starting with the 1974 Portuguese Carnation Revolution and spreading to Latin America (1980s), Asian Pacific nations (1986-88), Eastern Europe (after 1989), and sub-Saharan Africa (also after 1989). The Arab Spring and various “color revolutions” are considered part of this third wave democracy.

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Left of the Left: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, July 2022

I sometimes view humanity’s sordid past as one long, interminable tale chronicling organized bands of murderous thugs trying to exterminate each other. Much as I admire the sentiment of pacifism and humanism, I’m neither a pacifist nor a humanist. Homicide seems to be part of our species, with genocide often its inevitable conclusion.

I’ve been on the left of the Left for most of my life; from being a left anarchist in my youth to a half-assed libertarian Marxist today. That means embracing a vision of stateless, classless global communism even as I abhor the terrors perpetrated by Leninist movements and regimes. I consider all forms of Fascism an abomination, and I dismiss the red-brown sophistry of Third Positionism as fascist sleight-of-hand. In the wake of the precipitous 1989-91 collapse of the Communist bloc, there’s been an upsurge of tankyism/campism on the Left that sees world conflict in terms of US-led imperialism versus any and all opposition to imperialism. That anti-imperialist “camp” is considered socialist by default, even when it’s in defense of patently capitalist, authoritarian, totalitarian, even outright fascist regimes. Then there’s the steady rehabilitation of overtly Fascist/Nazi politics. Last column I commented that, when I was growing up I only saw Nazis as fictional TV characters. Now I see them unashamedly flaunting their fascism in the Republican Party and in demonstrations I’ve recently organized against.

So why do I identify with the Left, despise the Right, and consistently choose socialism over barbarism every time? Continue reading

Anxiety: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, June 2022

I’ve always been anxious. Fidgety, agitated, hyper; I was so talkative and disruptive during my early elementary school years my teachers isolated me to my own desk in the back of the class. I still rocked myself to sleep during my adolescence while listening to 50s pop music on AM radio, then early 60s rocknroll on the FM dial; a habit I had to break anticipating dorm life at  UCSC’s Merrill College. My politics turned left anarchist my senior year in high school, and stayed left of the Left ever since. I’ve always gravitated to the action faction of any organization or movement I belonged to, ultimately adopting the 2 June Movement’s mantra: “Words cannot save us! Words don’t break chains! The deed alone makes us free! Destroy what destroys you!”

“Action for action’s sake” became a political panacea, it’s own anodyne, a knee-jerk reflex that superseded critical thinking. It was an easy way for me not to challenge my ultra-gauche political analysis and avoid self-criticism. When in doubt, act. Somewhere in this political process I started self-medicating—first with marijuana, then alcohol—trying but never succeeding in slowing down, blunting that relentless “on edge” sense to my life. I was, and am still dealing with emotional pain, though I’m not quite sure the cause of it. Both my Polish parents survived forced labor camps during the second World War and my father was a falling down alcoholic. There’s a basis in family trauma for my interminable anxieties. Continue reading

American socialism revisited: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2021

Socialism for the rich; capitalism for the poor.

It’s an oft-repeated Leftist cliché that encapsulates an entire socio-political-economic analysis in a single sentence. It was first promulgated by Michael Harrington and frequently repeated by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, and Robert Reich. The gist of this argument is that capitalist corporations receive government largess in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, and favorable legislation while the general population is left to fend for itself. Big business regularly receives favorable treatment and corporate welfare from the government which allows corporations to “privatize profits and socialize losses.” The rest of us are shit-out-of-luck.(1) Continue reading

Alternate socialism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, July 2021

I received a letter yesterday from my leftist penpal via the Multiverse Postal Service. We’ve been discussing the origins of the Cold War in our respective parallel universes. I quote from his lengthy missive below:

We both agree that the similar contours of our side-by-side worlds were consolidated after the disastrous Afghan war. But we each have differing timelines for the historical sequence of events starting from the February 1917 Russian Revolution that produced our present realities in our alternate universes.

Continue reading

Hope is the mother of fools: “What’s Left?” August 2020

Train Tracks

Hope is the mother of fools.
—Polish proverb

Despite the madness of war, we lived for a world that would be different. For a better world to come when all this is over. And perhaps even our being here is a step towards that world. Do you really think that, without the hope that such a world is possible, that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyses them into numb inactivity. It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill. It is hope that compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation. Ah, and not even the hope for a different, better world, but simply for life, a life of peace and rest. Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger than man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in this war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers.
—Tadeusz Borowski, This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen Continue reading

The Paris Commune, the Left, and the ultraleft: in the weeds #1: “What’s Left?” March 2020 (MRR #442)

“The name’s Joey Homicides,” Bob McGlynn said, shaking my hand.

That was in the fall of 1988, when I first visited New York. I have vivid memories of the city’s vibrant anarchist/ultraleft milieu, with folks from WBAI (many from the old Moorish Orthodox Radio Crusade), the Libertarian Book Club (LBC), Anarchist Black Cross, THRUSH, and McGlynn’s group Neither East Nor West. I was Bob’s friend and a long-distance part of that community, returning to visit almost annually for the next 15 years. We believed capitalism was on its way out and what would replace it was up for grabs. The drab “real existing socialism” of the day—the Soviet bloc and Third World national liberation axis—versus our vital libertarian socialism of collectives and communes, workers’ councils and popular assemblies, spontaneous uprisings and international solidarity.

Libertarian activities were happening all over. The influence of Poland’s Solidarity labor movement pervaded Eastern Europe with similar actions and movements. We were mere months away from the Revolutions of 1989 that would see the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and bring the old Soviet Union to the verge of its historic collapse. Two months before, a violent NYC police riot against 700 squatters, punks, homeless and protesters—Bob included—carrying banners proclaiming “Gentrification is Class War” turned Tompkins Square Park into a “bloody war zone” with nine arrested and 38 injured. The LBC—before Objectivists and Rothbardians took it over—had put on a forum grandiosely comparing the Tompkins Square Riots to the 1871 Paris Commune the weekend I arrived for my 10-day vacation. The refusal of radical National Guard soldiers in Paris to disarm after the armistice with Prussia that transformed an insignificant French Republic administrative division equivalent to civil townships—the commune—into the Paris Commune much lauded by the Left will be discussed below. Continue reading

pt. 2: Third World Third Positionism: “What’s Left?” October 2019 (MRR #437)

I had a favorite t-shirt in the 1980s, one I owned several of and wore frequently. It was red with a stylized black silkscreened image of Alberto Korda’s famous photo of Ernesto “Che” Guevara printed above his popular quote: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love.” Korda’s image of Che with military beret and solemn expression was taken during a Cuban state funeral; handsome, heroic, and seemingly immortal. I wore the t-shirt around the UC San Diego campus without incident or even much notice, but I liked pushing the envelope by wearing it all around the very conservative city of San Diego.

While wearing the shirt and eating my customary grease-, carb- and meat-heavy breakfast washed down with several bottles of Negra Modelo beer outside Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla circa 1985, I noticed a young man glaring at me. Harry’s was a local favorite, so I assumed he was a surfer because of his shaggy haircut, Quiksilver Hawaiian shirt, colorful boardshorts, and leather huarache sandals. He frowned at me over a decimated plate of food next to which rested a russet guampa, a hollow calabash gourd lipped with silver from which a silver bombilla straw protruded. A waitress poured more hot water into his maté gourd before bussing his dishes and leaving the check. Continue reading

pt. 1: Perónismo and Third Positionism: “What’s Left?” July 2019 (MRR #434)

When faced with two bad choices, choose the third.

It’s the proverb I try to live by. Most prefer the lesser-of-two-evils approach to things. I prefer tertium quid every time.

Tertium quid started with Plato, who first used the term (triton ti) around 360 bce. In ancient Greek philosophy, it meant something that escapes classification in either of two mutually or more exclusive and theoretically exhaustive categories. What’s left after such a supposedly rigorous, exhaustive division is tertium quid. The third what. The third something.

Post Plato, what was considered tertium quid might be residue, sui generis, ambiguous, composite or transcendent depending on one’s philosophical inclinations. I encountered the concept indirectly via hoary Catholic theology when I briefly met a young heretical Catholic Worker named Alvin in 1969. Inspired by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin, Alvin was a voluntary celibate who wanted to start a Catholic Worker commune in the Ventura County area. Which was why he was camped out in his VW microbus in the Ventura Unitarian Church’s foothill parking lot, where everything progressive and left-wing eventually wound up in those days. But Alvin was a little too radical even for the Catholic Worker. He was a fan of Paolo Freire and Latin American liberation theology, and he wanted to return to what he saw as the gospel of the early Christian church, with its emphasis on voluntary poverty, communalism, helping the poor, and liberating the oppressed. The latter required solidarity with armed struggles for socialist national liberation according to Alvin. But he was also knee-deep in the Church’s anachronistic fourth century Christological debates, specifically his championing of Apollinarism over Arianism. Both were discredited heretical doctrines, with Apollinaris of Laodicea speaking of Jesus as something neither human nor divine, but a mixture of the two natures, and therefore a “third something.” It was the first time I heard the term tertium quid. Not surprisingly, Alvin grew more personally frustrated being celibate in a time of aggressive hippie “free love,” until one day he suddenly disappeared. A quarter century later I visited San Francisco and ran into him in the Castro wearing the habit of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. Continue reading