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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Logic: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, September 2022

I was on a college track in high school getting mostly A’s and B’s. There wasn’t quite the feeding frenzy in 1970 to stack my academic CV and get into the very best institution of higher education I could. Besides, my parents were barely middle class and we’d agreed that, to save money I’d attend the local community college for two years before transferring to UC Santa Cruz.

One of my English teachers my senior year was Lynn Bjorkman who instructed us on how to write a proper nonfiction essay and academic paper in preparation for our college careers. His specialty was the “science of logic,” both the formal logic of propositions, proofs and inferences and the informal logic of natural language argumentation and logical fallacies. He was a singularly unappealing individual who gave milquetoast a bad name. In the days when Star Trek’s Mr. Spock was the fascinating poster boy for logic, we would pass around notes depicting Bjorkman as an addled cube-headed robot spewing logical nonsense.

I was into pro-Summerhill/Skool Abolition/student liberation politics, so I decided to write an academic-style term paper using Marshall McLuhan’s famous catchphrase “the medium is the message.” In education that meant the message (content) of freedom and democracy was being taught in educational institutions (forms) that were profoundly authoritarian and hierarchical. So I argued that the form/medium invariably prevailed over the content/message, using plenty of quotes, footnotes and a respectable bibliography that included AS Neill’s Summerhill, Paul Goodman’s Compulsory Miseducation, Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and Jerry Farber’s The Student as Nigger. I got a C- on the paper. Bjorkman commented that my writing was bright and sparkling on the surface but deeply flawed logically. He also remarked that I was actually dangerous and unfortunately would make a persuasive propagandist. But aside from noting an occasional logical fallacy in the margins, he never engaged with my argument’s logic point-by-point nor did he try to refute my conclusions.

OK, the C- on that paper upset me. I’d thought about challenging the grade using the system of academic redress offered by the school but I was already considered an angry Leftist radical whom the principal had threatened to suspend because I was publishing an underground newspaper. Besides, I was due to graduate at the end of the year. So I stewed over my low grade but ultimately I let it slide.

As for logic being a science, it may be a rigorous system of rules for conducting an investigation into the internal consistency of an idea, a statement, or a body of thought. But it isn’t a science because it doesn’t rely on evidence for facts. Nor is it a philosophical inquiry because it is not really interested in truth. Logic is solely concerned with the consistency of any given thought process. And as Emerson once wrote “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

Medieval scholastics spent a lot of time logically debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin by the grace of an almighty god. They devised absolutely logical arguments based on thoroughly false assumptions reaching thoroughly false conclusions because angels and god don’t exist. Far from being a dispassionate, objective methodology, logic is frequently used by people with agendas and by the powers-that-be as a tool to justify their prejudices and crimes. In turn, ideologies and social systems may each have a unique logic with its own set of rules and processes.

Capitalism has an internal economic logic that involves commodities, private property, market relations, profit maximization, individualism, etc., and which seeks to organize all of society—its social institutions and human relationships—in its image. Yet amoral capitalist logic is fraught with instabilities and contradictions like the boom-and-bust business cycle, war, and the falling rate of profit.

Marxism developed a dialectical logic that started with defining the working class by its relation to the means of production, expanded upon how workers might move from a “class against capital” to a “class for itself,” and concluded with the “dictatorship of the proletariat” as a final stage in self-emancipation before the proletariat abolished itself as a class. I consider myself a Marxist, but I’m well aware of the twists and turns in Marxist logic that produced the crimes of Lenin and Stalin.

Fascism is a far less coherent and much more syncretic ideology and social system that often invokes “might makes right” to bolster social darwinist conclusions. Right off, transitioning from individual contests of strength to societies stratified into superior-versus-inferior castes, classes and races is a logically fraught exercise. Similar logical inconsistencies can be found in attempting to equate biological evolution with social development under the misnomer “survival of the fittest.” Fascism has often been accused of reveling in unreason which may account for its profound logical irreconcilabilities. What then accounts for the dubious yet populist attempts at red-brown crossover politics that attempt to combine socialism and fascism?

Fascism was actually the original Third Positionism that promised to go beyond Left and Right.[1]  Reading Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s comprehensive yet enervating biography Gabriele d’Annunzio reinforces the analysis that Fascism arose in the early 1900’s as an attempt to be more nationalistic than conservative nationalism and more revolutionary than revolutionary socialism. D’Annunzio himself combined an extreme avant-garde cultural presence with a rabid ultra-nationalist Italian irredentism. His 1920 grab bag Charter of Carnaro after the Fiume coup d’état combined elements of ancient Athenian democracy, the medieval Italian commune, the Venetian Republic, anarcho-syndicalism and vague social corporatism into a willy-nilly hodgepodge that promised radical equality and universal suffrage. “But the charter never made the transition from words to action” under his indecisive personal dictatorship.[2]

In the case of red-brown NazBol Third Positionism, the lynchpin is extreme nationalism. I’ve talked extensively about this type of “neither Left nor Right” Third Positionism. I’ve also explored a much less well known libertarian Third Positionism between left and right anarchism through Karl Hess where anti-statism is the key.

The original two-axis Meltzer-Christie political compass—individualism vs totalitarianism/capitalism vs collectivism—evolved into today’s ubiquitous four-square meme with the top left square as authoritarian left, the top right square as authoritarian right, the bottom left square as libertarian left and the bottom right square as libertarian right. The durability of certain positions and the various political thinkers, leaders, organizations, parties and political systems represented by this schema is based in part on cumulative history and on the internal logic of the positions themselves. They are not “set in stone.” The easy mutability of the authoritarian and libertarian ends of that axis is well-documented, with viable combinations of centralized and decentralized social structures functioning everywhere. But the political and economic Left and Right are presumed to be cast in concrete until the examples of Gabriele d’Annunzio with Fascism and Karl Hess with libertarianism are brought up. It is theoretically possible to break from orthodox Left versus Right logic to engage in Left-Right crossover politics anywhere on the political compass.

Although I’m loath to contemplate this, it might actually be necessary to explain why it isn’t crossover politics all the time.[3]

I was a big fan of neo-Marxist Leszek Kołakowski in the early 1970s. I read and reread his collection of anti-Stalinist essays Toward a Marxist Humanism, and enshrined his optimistic “The Concept of the Left” for its deft dialectic regarding utopianism and the Left. He was expelled from the Polish United Workers’ Party in 1966 and exiled from Poland in 1968 for his “revisionist” Marxism. He would eventually reject Marxism altogether in writing his three volume Main Currents of Marxism which was published in 1976 and which nevertheless endorsed György Lukács’s interpretation of Karl Marx. Despite his brilliant writing, Kołakowski’s magnum opus was by no means comprehensive. The Main Currents of Marxism suffered from stunning errors and omissions, uneven comparisons and critiques of major Marxist individuals and schools, and by then a general hostility toward Marxism.

Kołakowski moved away from dialectical materialism and Marxism toward orthodox philosophy and the history of ideas as he became increasingly focused on religious questions and the meaning of life. In the process he became more conservative and pessimistic. One of his final works, the 1990 collection of essays, Modernity on Endless Trial, is quite gloomy. A piece from this book, entitled “How to be a Conservative-Liberal-Socialist,” has Kołakowski proposing three beliefs each rooted in conservatism, liberalism and socialism respectively which when alloyed: “[s]o far as I can see, this set of regulative ideas is not self-contradictory. And therefore it is possible to be a conservative-liberal-socialist. This is equivalent to saying that those three particular designations are no longer mutually exclusive options.”

That essay is available online. Like Kołakowski I’ve become more conservative and pessimistic as I grow older. But I’m not interested in endorsing a middle-of-the-road logic, a centrist Third Positionist politics as I fight the daily logic of capitalism.

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Summerhill by AS Neill (1960)
Compulsory Miseducation by Paul Goodman (1964)
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Friere (1968)
Toward a Marxist Humanism (1968), Main Currents of Marxism (1976), Modernity on Endless Trial (1990) by Leszek Kołakowski
The Student as Nigger by Jerry Farber (1969)
Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich (1970)
The Floodgates of Anarchy by Stuart Christie and Albert Meltzer (1970)
“Fascist Ideology” by Zeev Sternhell, Fascism, A Reader’s Guide: Analyses, Interpretations, Bibliography ed. by Walter Laqueur (1976); “Crisis in Fin-de-siècle Thought” by Zeev Sternhell, International Fascism: Theories, Causes and the New Consensus ed. by Roger Griffin (1998)
T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone by Peter Lamborn Wilson (1991)
Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International by Kevin Coogan (1999)
“The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology” by Roger Griffin, Che cos’è il fascismo? Interpretazioni e prospettive di ricerca ed. by A. Campi (2003)
The Seduction of Unreason: The Intellectual Romance with Fascism from Nietzsche to Postmodernism by Richard Wolin (2004)
Gabriele d’Annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (2013)
Fighting the Last War: Confusion, Partisanship, and Alarmism in the Literature on the Radical Right by Jeffrey M. Bale and Tamir Bar-on (2022)

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Zeev Sternhell argued that nationalism + socialism = fascism whereas Jeffrey Bale revises this formulation to illiberal nationalism + non-Marxist socialism = fascism. I would add what Roger Griffin called the palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology to define a Fascist Minimum. [Fascism is] a genuinely revolutionary, trans-class form of anti-liberal, and in the last analysis, anti conservative nationalism. As such it is an ideology deeply bound up with modernization and modernity, one which has assumed a considerable variety of external forms to adapt itself to the particular historical and national context in which it appears, and has drawn a wide range of cultural and intellectual currents, both left and right, anti-modern and pro-modern, to articulate itself as a body of ideas, slogans, and doctrine. In the inter-war period it manifested itself primarily in the form of an elite-led “armed party” which attempted, mostly unsuccessfully, to generate a populist mass movement through a liturgical style of politics and a programme of radical policies which promised to overcome a threat posed by international socialism, to end the degeneration affecting the nation under liberalism, and to bring about a radical renewal of its social, political and cultural life as part of what was widely imagined to be the new era being inaugurated in Western civilization. The core mobilizing myth of fascism which conditions its ideology, propaganda, style of politics and actions is the vision of the nation’s imminent rebirth from decadence.
Roger Griffin, “The palingenetic core of generic fascist ideology”

[2] Alceste de Ambris, a revolutionary syndicalist, wrote the first draft of the Charter of Carnaro, and Fiume certainly attracted all types, including anarchists. But D’Annunzio was a proto-fascist who seized power in Fiume with the help of elite special forces of the Royal Italian Army, the infamous Arditi shock troops. That certainly puts the lie to Peter Lamborn Wilson’s claim that D’Annunzio was an anarchist and that Fiume was a free-for-all Temporary Autonomous Zone.

[3] In Dreamer of the Day: Francis Parker Yockey and the Postwar Fascist International Kevin Coogan wrote: “Today both communism and fascism, ideologies that the French fascist Robert Brasillach once called ‘the two poetries’ of the 20th century, seem exhausted given the triumph of multinational capitalism. Yet periods of ideological decay often breed strange new variants, such as the ‘Red-Brown alliance’ in the former Soviet Union, which do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of ‘left’ and ‘right.’ […] What is especially worrisome is that much of the left has today so deteriorated that it may well lack the capacity for understanding, much less fighting, new forms of fascism that incorporate ‘leftist’ rhetoric and ideas.” But the near simultaneous development of Fascism and Leninism at the beginning of the 20th century (with Lenin praising D’Annunzio as “the only real revolutionary in Europe”) raises questions about the very notion of “ideological decay” as a viable analytic category.

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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

Antiwar: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, May 2022

“Peace is not simply the absence of violence or war”—a truism I grew up with in the 1960s. When I first got politics in 1968 I called myself an anarchist-pacifist and affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee, War Resisters League, and similar organizations which promoted the concept that in order to achieve a social order based on peace, one had to use nonviolent methods. I flirted with the eastern religious concept of ahimsa and the western religious notion of turning the other cheek, as well as more formalized nonviolent practices like Gandhi’s satyagraha.  But soon the contradictions of pacifism, specifically the argument that nonviolence doesn’t save lives or guarantee peace in the short or long run, dissuaded me from remaining a pacifist. Besides, I didn’t have the integrity or discipline to practice any form of nonviolence. And while I rejected the pacifist notion that nonviolent ends require nonviolent means, I incorporated the whole “means-and-ends” argument into my anti-authoritarian politics at the time.

So I opposed the Vietnam War, not so much out of principle but out of self interest. I was subject to the draft and I didn’t want to be conscripted and shipped off to die in a rice paddy in Southeast Asia. Thus I wasn’t part of the peace movement so much as I participated in the antiwar movement. I’ll briefly discuss one small aspect of the anti-Vietnam War movement’s wide and convoluted history—the attempt to build and sustain a single, overarching antiwar organization in the US. The broadest umbrella coalition of people, organizations and issues seeking to end America’s intervention in Southeast Asia was the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (the Mobe). Continue reading

Party of one: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, April 2022

Four independent workers’ soviets operated concurrently in Moscow during the Russian 1905 Revolution. Proud Soviet historians were always quick to point out that the one aligned with the Bolsheviks operated a bomb-making operation out of Maxim Gorky’s apartment. Meanwhile, the more famous 1905 St. Petersburg workers’ and soldiers’ soviet, precursor to the 1917 Petrograd soviet, had puzzling gaps in its official Soviet history until the anarchist historian Voline published The Unknown Revolution, 1917-1921 in 1947. In it he revealed that the soviet met in his St. Petersburg apartment.

Aside from the usual disputes over primary and secondary evidence or what constitutes historical fact, and before any arguments over what a particular history signifies, there are always the missing parts of history. What I mean is the things that happened and affected the course of history but that never got recorded in the historical record and thus were subsequently forgotten. The 1905 St. Petersburg workers’ and soldiers’ soviet met in Voline’s apartment and contributed to the development of soviet power whether or not that fact was entered into the historical record prior to 1947. So yes, if a tree falls in the forest, it makes a sound. 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

Anti-imperialism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, September 2021

I am against imperialism, be it French, British, US or Chinese. I am not an “anti-imperialist,” since that is a political position supporting national liberation movements opposed to imperialist powers.
—Gilles Dauvé

Mark Twain was an anti-imperialist, a member of the American Anti-Imperialist League (1898-1920) which opposed US annexation of the Philippines. For the League, just republican government was based on the principle of the “consent of the governed” as embodied in the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The imperialism of US territorial expansion thus violated the classical liberal precepts of self-government and non-intervention as put forward by British writers like John A. Hobson. Twain’s dark sarcasm and claims of America’s liberatory intent notwithstanding, he was neither so generous nor as damning regarding the US continental expansion of Manifest Destiny that expropriated the native peoples. The raison d’être of this type of anti-imperialism was simple; empire was bad and needed to be morally opposed.

Continue reading

By any other name: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, August 2021

I picked up an archaic paper flyer pinned to an obsolete cork board in the now-defunct Market Street branch of FLAX Art Supplies. The handbill advertised a web designer and mobile app developer—Daniel Goodwyn—who offered to teach virtually any platform or software. I wanted to learn social media to prepare for self-publishing my novel 1% Free, so I called. He was cheap. We arranged to meet at Philz Coffee on 24th Street.

“I only drink Philz coffee,” Daniel said.

We met six or seven times at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016. Daniel was an evangelical Christian favorable to fundamentalism, but he wore his religious beliefs close to the vest. He didn’t proselytize. Instead, he would produce his worn King James Bible from his backpack before starting each lesson. I pulled out my Handbook of Denominations by Mead, Hill and Atwood our third meeting and we were off discussing Christianity between social media tutoring. We talked dispensationalism, cessationism, and biblical inerrancy. He’d attended 24/7 worship and prayer events, and would soon do web design for the messianic Jews for Jesus organization. Continue reading

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