Out Now!: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, January 2023

“This is the thing about the Left. They’re unified to a fault. They’ll take in any looney, trannie, pedophile. They’ve got their back, they’ve got Biden’s back, they’ve got Fetterman’s back. We have the opposite problem. If someone has one imperfection, if Trump is too braggadocios, if Elon Musk talked to the ADL, if Ben Shapiro doesn’t support Nick Fuentes, we shut everyone down, and we’re all divided. That’s not me. I’m a hippie man. If you want less government and free speech, then I’m with you. We’ve got to unify these anti-government groups because the Left is winning.”

This nasty “bizarro world” harangue, this deluded bit of hate speech comes from Gavin McInnes as he complains about the state of American politics after the disastrous performance of the GOP in the 2022 midterms. We on the Left are nowhere near as crackpot. Many of us argue that an American Fascism is just around the corner, or was ensconced in the White House during Trump’s presidency, or perhaps remains embedded in some deep state apparatus. But unlike the 1960s when we routinely called everything and everyone fascist, much of the current Left sees divisions in American society that can be exploited or pockets of resistance that can be rallied or embers of hope that can be fanned into a prairie fire. The Left today doesn’t see our enemies on the Right as monolithic and we certainly don’t see our own ranks as hegemonic.

I’m pessimistic about the future of the Left and our chances for realizing socialism. And while I consider the stupidity of tankyism and campism to be rampant on the Left, I also see sectarianism as “same as it ever was” in progressive circles, exacerbated by various contradictions. So let’s examine how some of these themes work out with regard to the Russian/Ukraine war.

I’m against the Russian invasion of Ukraine and for a free, independent Ukraine. What complicates matters is that I’m also anti-NATO and against the American role in all of this. Chris Hedges comments on the Russian invasion and the role of NATO in provoking Russia in his Salon commentary:
Preemptive war, whether in Iraq or Ukraine, is a war crime. It does not matter if the war is launched on the basis of lies and fabrications, as was the case in Iraq, or because of the breaking of a series of agreements with Russia, including the promise by Washington not to extend NATO beyond the borders of a unified Germany, not to deploy thousands of NATO troops in Eastern Europe and not to meddle in the internal affairs of nations on the [sic] Russia’s border, as well as the refusal to implement the Minsk II peace agreement. The invasion of Ukraine would, I expect, never have happened if these promises had been kept. Russia has every right to feel threatened, betrayed and angry. But to understand is not to condone. The invasion of Ukraine, under post-Nuremberg laws, is a criminal war of aggression.
That the collapse of the Minsk II agreement was only partly due to US/NATO subterfuge or that NATO is but one instrument of US imperialism around the globe are not dealt with by Hedges. That Minsk II’s demise was also due to Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists supported by Russian oligarchic capitalism slash irredentist imperialism is of equal importance but not mentioned. Rather than take up pages dealing with these issues I’ll limit the rest of this piece to the idea of popular self-determination and the right of Ukraine to independently determine its own future.

I championed popular self-determination as a fledgling anarchist in 1968, then evolved into an anti-nationalist “no war but the class war” ultraleftist before coming full circle to supporting some level of self-determination. Forms of popular self-determination—tribal, ethnic, national—and forms of lower class self-emancipation—slave, peasant, worker—have existed for millennia. But they tend to operate against each other. Cross-class”organic” solidarity within specific territories ruled by a class elite—which is characteristic of popular self-determination—does not play well with international working class revolutions intent on creating classless, stateless societies typical of lower class self-emancipation. Nationalism has dominated globally and historically, socialism not so much. And attempts at socialist struggles for national liberation can be particularly despotic and brutal. Yet the experience of diasporic peoples sometimes provides libertarian alternatives to national self-determination per the Jewish Labor Bund’s doi’kayt in the Pale of Settlement, the Black Panther Party’s community control in the inner cities of the United States, and the Kurdish PKK’s Rojavan democratic confederalism in the Middle East.

The broad libertarian right to popular self-determination (or narrow Leninist national self-determination) also entails the right to secession. I’m not clear how that unfolds with regard to Russian-speaking Crimea and the Donbas other than to say that those are matters to be decided solely by the Ukrainian people themselves, not as pawns of Russian or American imperialism. The Russian canard that Ukraine is fascist is embraced by tankies and campists who cite Right Sector and the Azov Battalion as evidence. That’s easily countered by pointing up the Ukrainian purge of fascists from its politics and military as well as of Russia’s own Duganist Eurasian Fascism, “Greater Russia” expansionism and the SS-inspired paramilitary Wagner group. Putin’s cynical anti-communist claim that Ukrainian nationalism is manufactured, a Bolshevik fabrication, is also simple to dismiss historically. “Sweet Ukraine,” the poet Taras Shevchenko declared in 1845. “My cherished home.”

What we are left with is that Ukraine has a right to popular self-determination. To pressure Ukraine into “peace negotiations” by denying them arms is to force Ukraine to accept dismemberment at the hands of Russia and its military invasion. Tankies and campists know this all too well.  Chris Hedges proposes “a return to diplomacy and sanity, a moratorium on arms shipments to Ukraine and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the country,” a naive anti-interventionism that amounts to the same thing. What’s galling is the number of anarchists and libertarian socialists who call for a ceasefire, negotiations, even sabotaging NATO arms shipments to Ukraine, while giving lip service to popular self-determination and the illusion of “international working-class solidarity.”* The Left would do well to remember lessons from the anti-Vietnam War movement that eschewed negotiations for immediate withdrawal under the slogan “Out Now!” The Ukrainian people have a right to seek a free, independent Ukraine by any means necessary. That includes the use of NATO arms. Russia, US, and NATO out of Ukraine now!

Let me return to the topic alluded to at the beginning of this essay by quoting Jan Dutkiewicz:
Tucker Carlson, the face of Fox News and host of the most popular show on cable news in the United States, has been spouting pro-Kremlin talking points for months (and is frequently rebroadcasted on Russian state television). Other right-wing figures regularly spew out anti-Ukrainian disinformation and rail against sending heavy weapons to the country.
Meanwhile, the luminary of the American intellectual left, Noam Chomsky, has invoked former U.S. President Donald Trump as a model of level-headed geopolitical statesmanship for his opposition to arming Ukraine. Left-wing sources—such as Jacobin, New Left Review, and Democracy Now!—have hewed to a party line that blames NATO expansion for Russia’s invasion and opposes military aid to Ukraine.

It’s not necessary to invoke Dutkiewicz’s appeal to the asinine Horseshoe Theory of politics to understand there’s a growing red/brown alignment over Ukraine and the Russian invasion. From DSA and Code Pink on the Left to MAGA idiots like Steven Bannon and Marjorie Taylor Greene on the Right there’s a dangerous consensus emerging over the Russian/Ukrainian war in American politics. The Left needs to return to OG demands for popular self-determination. A little sectarianism on the part of the libertarian/alternative Left would be a good thing.

*NATO is legal terrorism, we understand this very well. This is where Russian propaganda is right. But if they help Ukraine with weapons, we don’t mind. Anarchists are too weak to create their own army, as Nestor Makhno did a hundred years ago. Before the war, and even at its very beginning, there were discussions among the BUR anarchists about what anarchists should do in the event of a military conflict. Most of the groups and collectives supported Ukraine. Not oligarchs, not Zelensky (although, to be honest, as a military politician, he behaves with dignity and skill – we have to give him his due). No matter how bad Europe and NATO are (and they are really disgusting with their hypocrisy. Remember at least Yugoslavia or the Middle East, or the division into the good refugees from Ukraine and the wrong ones from Africa and the Middle East), it’s not NATO that attacked Russia. We must make every effort to make Russia lose. And, of course, again and again to come up with an anti-militarist agenda: against NATO, Russia, Turkey, China…
On militarism, the fight against Putin and the prospects: an April interview with Anarchy Today (LibCom.org, 4-10-22)

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
“War is the greatest evil: Russia was baited into this crime — but that’s no excuse” by Chris Hedges (Salon Magazine, 1-3-22)
“Don’t Be a Tankie: How the Left Should Respond to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine” by Roane Cary (The Intercept, 3-1-22)
“Russia Tests the American Left” by Sarah Jones (New York Magazine, 3-3-22)
“Surprisingly for the post-communist era, the ‘tankie’ rises from the mists of history” by Nicholas Lezard (The New Statesman, 3-16-22)
“Tankies Sinking In Ukraine’s Muddy Fields” by Alaric Dearment (Above The Law, 3-25-22)
“Internationalism, Anti-Imperialism, And the Origins of Campism” by Internationalist Viewpoint (4-21-22)
“Why America’s Far Right and Far Left Have Aligned Against Helping Ukraine” by Jan Dutkiewicz (Foreign Policy, 7-4-22)
“What are Trots and Tankies?” by The New Statesman (8-17-22)
“Critical Days” by Jay Nordlinger (National Review, 9-10-22)

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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.

Continue reading

Fascisms: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2022

Jeremy was a dandy. At a time when young men were going hippie—growing their hair long, wearing faded, ripped blue jeans with western or tie-dyed shirts, buckskin or Edwardian vests and sandals or cowboy boots—Jeremy wore sharply pressed pleated dark slacks, pastel dress shirts with smart cardigan sweaters highlighted by the occasional ascot, and black or brown wingtips. This was 1970 and I was just such a wannabe hippie when I boarded the local Ventura city bus to sit down next to Jeremy. He sniffed in disdain at my unruly appearance and went back to writing in his notebook.

“I’m on the Prom Committee,” he said, holding his pen in the air between thumb and forefinger. “We’re developing the theme for this year’s Prom. What do you think about ‘a taste of bittersweet’?”

I had no school spirit nor had I plans to attend my high school prom so I simply shrugged. Jeremy was a walking contradiction. Everybody knew he was gay even though he was not out. He was overtly Catholic however and always wore a silver crucifix with a finely tooled image of the bloodied Jesus around his neck. Michael boarded the bus the next stop and sauntered back to where we sat. Michael was a year older and now a freshman at UC Santa Barbara where he had participated in the Isla Vista student riots that burned down the Bank of America. He wasn’t just a shaggy hippie but also a burgeoning New Leftist like myself. Michael and Jeremy despised each other. So while Michael and I chatted, Jeremy and Michael ignored each other. Then Michael happened to mention he “planned to hitchhike around Europe in the summer.”

“Spain is quite lovely, although a tad hot in the summertime,” Jeremy feigned a casual air. “I visited Spain last summer for an Opus Dei retreat and I had such a wonderful time.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Proletarian: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, August 2022

I sat at Nati’s Restaurant in Ocean Beach for a late brunch on a Sunday afternoon. It was 1986. I was on my third Negra Modelo when the waitress served up my heaping plate of Machaca con Huevos with dolloped sour cream, refried beans, Spanish rice, escabeche, pico de gallo, and a stack of corn tortillas. I had high tolerances in those days so I wasn’t even buzzed as I dripped Tapatío hot sauce on my aromatic food.

I had a few drinking routines when I was gainfully employed and living in San Diego. Weekdays after working as a typesetter I bought 16-oz cans of Schlitz malt liquor and drank in the privacy my Pacific Beach apartment. I occasionally went to shows on Friday and Saturday nights. Whether at bars like the Casbah or Spirit Club, or larger venues like the Pacific Palisades or Adams Avenue Theater, I drank my crap malt liquor before the show in my parked car. I didn’t want to be buying expensive, watered-down drinks at some punk dive bar. I’d do a little day drinking some Saturdays and Sundays starting at Nati’s before hitting the Pacific Shore Lounge, then the Beachcomber in Mission Beach and ending up at the West End or the Silver Fox in Pacific Beach at night. The idea was cheap drinks and happy hours, and if I got too wasted by the time I got round to Pacific Beach I could always park my car and walk home. Continue reading

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

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

Class power: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, November 2021

Two blasts of the two-tone metal whistle sounded most early afternoons in the 1960s, announcing the Helms Bakery man’s arrival in our San Bernardino neighborhood. He drove a bright yellow and blue Chevy panel truck emblazoned with the company logo and slogan “Daily to your Door.” The kids and housewives swarmed the truck on hearing the whistle and the driver stopped to open the double back doors to reveal long wooden and glass-fronted drawers redolent with the smells of yeast, flour, and sugar. Those drawers were stocked with freshly baked cookies, glazed and jelly donuts, cream puffs and pastries, while the center section carried dozens of loaves of bread and assorted cakes. Many were still warm from the oven. 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

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