Tankies, but no Tankies: “What’s Left?” June 2017, MRR #409


My friend’s a tankie.

A tankie is someone who supported the old Soviet Union when it was around, and still supports existing “socialist” states like China and Vietnam, their client states like Nepal and North Korea, or their affiliate states like Serbia and Syria. Tankies are usually Communist Party Stalinist hardliners, apologists, fellow travelers, or sympathizers. They back the military interventions of Soviet-style states, defend such regimes from charges of human rights violations, and desire to create similar political systems in countries like Britain and the United States.

It’s more accurate to say an acquaintance I knew from way back when wants to “friend” me on FB, and I’m not sure I want to accept the request because he’s a tankie.

My friend Garrett was originally a fellow New Leftie when we met at Ventura Community College in 1970. He was a member of New American Movement, an organization founded to succeed Students for a Democratic Society. NAM was structurally decentralized, politically quasi-Leninist, equal parts democratic socialist and socialist feminist, with a special interest in Antonio Gramsci. Garrett was an assistant professor who, when the voting age was reduced to 18, organized a bunch of us under-21 antiwar youngsters to run for Ventura city council and school board.

When I went off to UCSC as an undergraduate junior transfer in 1972, Garrett got a teaching gig at UCB. I visited him a few times in Berkeley while he was an associate professor. It was the height of ideological battles and street fights between Revolutionary Union Maoists, Draperite Trotskyists, Black Panther Party cadre, et al, in Berkeley from 1972 to 1975. Ostensibly, Garrett taught courses on neo-Marxism—covering thinkers like Lukács, Marcuse, Gorz, and Kołakowski—but he was a hardcore Trotskyist by then. I didn’t know which of the 57 varieties of Trot he subscribed to by the time I moved with my girlfriend down to San Diego to attend graduate school at UCSD in 1976. But when I visited Berkeley in 1979 after that girlfriend and I broke up Garrett had gone off the deep end. He’d been relieved of his professorship under mysterious circumstances, lived in a loose Psychic Institute house in south Berkeley, avidly followed Lyndon LaRouche’s US Labor Party, and was obsessed with Joseph Newman’s perpetual motion machines. I was told a particularly bad acid trip accounted for the changes. Garrett sent me a copy of the headline from the Spartacist League’s party paper in the summer of 1980, soon after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which read: “Hail Red Army!”

I had almost no contact with Garrett for the next thirty-seven years. I moved to the Bay Area in 1991 and briefly glimpsed a bedraggled Garrett walking along the sidewalk while I drank coffee at the old Cody’s Bookstore glassed-in cafe sometime around 1993. I asked after him whenever I came across Trotskyists—SWP, ISO, BT—tabling at events, but most had no idea who I was talking about and those who did avoided my eyes. One day in early 2002 I ran into a familiar face from Ventura’s anti-war movement, a woman named Carlin, who said Garrett had moved to Chicago, where he was now a day trader. And that’s how matters stood until I got Garrett’s friend request on my FB profile fifteen years later.

I could only suss out so much from Garrett’s FB wall without actually confirming his friend request. His profile picture was conservative enough—his bearded visage in a suit and tie—but his cover photo was of a pro-Russian poster from East Ukraine done in a Soviet socialist realist style with armed partisan soldiers circa 1918, 1941, and 2014 captioned in cyrillic which translated into “The fate of the Russian people, to repeat the feats of fathers: defend their native land.” There was a pro-China post calling the Dalai Lama a CIA agent, and a pro-Russian post supporting Assad as Syria’s only chance for peace. A meme proclaimed “Hands Off North Korea” with a smiling, waving image of Kim Jong Un, while another meme featured a slideshow of neoconservative talking heads under the banner “Children of Satan.” There was a link to a video decrying Israeli war crimes against the Palestinians, and another to a weird video featuring Putin and Trump dancing to The Beatles “Back in the USSR.” His FB info confirmed that he resided in Chicago and dabbled in stock market trading, and when I googled him I learned that Garrett had once been arrested and spent time in prison. But I learned nothing about the charges, the sentence, or the time served, only that he had made several failed attempts to void the conviction through habeas corpus filings.

His criminal past was no problem. His tankie tendencies were.

We acquire our friends throughout our life, from where we live and work to begin with, but then from communities of shared interest and activity. The former are friends by circumstance, and the latter friends by choice, or so we tell ourselves. The fact is it’s far more complicated. For much of my life I made friends at work, school, or where I lived, allowing the context of my life at the moment to determine who my friends were. As a consequence I made friends who were frequently racist, sexist, homophobic, or completely lacking in political sensibilities, if not outright conservative. But when I consciously engaged in political association and activity, I also let the circumstance of my politics determine who I befriended. So while I made much of belonging to anarchist affinity groups where I shared political theory and practice with people I considered friends, ultimately my political engagements determined who I associated with and befriended. Such people might share my politics, and might not be overtly racist, sexist, homophobic, or what have you, but they were often cruel or stupid or angry or lacking in empathy. Indeed, given that the political fringes are overwhelmingly populated by individuals who are socially lacking and psychologically damaged, my pool of potential friends had serious problems from the beginning.

Because of our propensity to make friends based on the context we find ourselves in, that old aphorism about “choosing one’s friends wisely” seldom applies, especially when we realize that we rarely know anybody very well and that people are constantly changing. I might not consciously decide to befriend the rabid Maoist whose bloodthirsty calls to “liquidate the bourgeoisie” or “eliminate the Zionist entity” irk me no end, but I might also start to admire and have affinity for him as we work together politically. And stories of political adversaries who become fast friends despite, or perhaps because of their battles with each other are legion. The mechanisms of how we become friends might be somewhat capricious, but surely we can decide whether to remain friends once we’ve become buddy-buddy?

Let’s take an extreme example to make the resulting conflicts obvious.

I once had a passing acquaintance with crypto-fascist Boyd Rice. My loose affinity group of anarchist friends in San Diego put out four issues of a single sheet broadside style 11×17 @ zine called “yada, yada, yada” circa 1979. One of the issues was called the “dada yada” because its theme was surrealism and dadaism, and it involved one of our group, Sven, collaborating with Boyd Rice and Steve Hitchcock to produce. The rest of our affinity didn’t contribute to or much approve of the project, although I did meet Boyd and attended a performance of an early version of his band NON with him playing rotoguitar. I was disturbed by the fascist imagery and symbolism so prominent in the industrial subculture of the day, in which Boyd seemed to revel. But when I argued with Sven against his association with Boyd, he argued back that you should never end a friendship simply over political differences. This was before Boyd Rice augmented his fascist flirtations with a virulently racist social Darwinism and an involvement in Anton LeVey’s Church of Satan. Whenever people ask me whether Boyd and I were ever friends, I assure them I wasn’t.

I should have realized that the position that one’s personal affection for an individual trumps whatever political conflicts exist is just a roundabout way of saying “hate the sin, but not the sinner.” And when we fail to point out the sin to the sinner, we are in danger of becoming complicit in defending the sinner’s sin by being silent about it. Few of us are brave or honest enough to tell our friends exactly what we think of them, often because we don’t want to lose their friendship, go out on an emotional limb, or do something personally uncomfortable. So we do a disservice to those victims of racism or fascism when we make excuses for our friends, when we treat their racism or fascism as merely “points of view” rather than aspects of their behavior with real consequences for real people.

But aren’t we all human beings? None of us are wholly good or purely evil. Individual humans are multifaceted and complex, with good and bad qualities which are frequently combined so deeply together that it’s almost impossible to characterize any one individual as just one thing. Therefore we should give people, especially our racist or fascist friends, the benefit of the doubt because “they are human and have feelings too” and none of them are “bad people.” Actually, we should be glad they’re human because we want them to suffer when we take away their power to act on their racism and fascism. We want them to suffer because change means suffering. But if we’re not willing to confront our racist and fascist friends, if we’re unwilling to challenge the power behind their racist or fascist behavior no matter how casual or flip, perhaps it’s time to stop being their friends.

I was familiar with anarchist/libertarian crossover politics, but the Boyd Rice incident was the first time I encountered Left/Right crossover politics as part of punk, itself rife with “transgressive” countercultural crossovers. I hadn’t been aware of the original dada/surrealist crossover, with Evola and Dali trending ultraright and Buñuel and Breton trending ultraleft. Left/Right crossover politics seem to be the idiocy de jour however, with everything from National Anarchism to Steve Bannon calling himself a Leninist. I’m afraid that Garrett’s pro-Assad, pro-Kim Jong Un, pro-Putin tankie politics have much the same flavor, an implicit Red/Brown crossover with allusions to LaRouche and blood libel.

I think I’ll pass on Garrett’s friend request.

Advertisements

Deep denial: “What’s Left?” October 2012, MRR #353

I am mildly surprised whenever circumstances conspire to emphasize something that I’m writing in these columns. In this case, it was current events, and the surprise was not pleasant. When neo-nazi Wade Michael Page killed six worshippers and wounded three others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, on August 5, 2012, this terrible event underscored something I mentioned two columns ago, and that I wanted to return to now. Page offed himself after a cop he injured wounded him, so we’ll never know if he mistook the Sikhs for Muslims in his twisted, racist mind. But the addled logic of folks like Page is what I want to focus on in the following paragraphs.

To repeat what I wrote two columns ago, neo-nazis are fond of asserting that: “The extermination of six million Jews during the second World War is the greatest myth of the twentieth century. Adolf Hitler never ordered the Final Solution, the Nazi regime never constructed extermination camps with gas chambers, and the German people had nothing to do with any mass murder of Jews. This is a lie against Hitler, a canard against National Socialism, and a defamation against the German nation, all of whom are victims of the victorious Allies and their Jewish/Zionist overlords. The Jews are responsible for this excretory myth, this abominable lie, and therefore the Jews deserve to be utterly annihilated.”

(Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, reissued in 1985 in a revised and definitive 3 volume edition by Holmes & Meir, is the authoritative, primary source study of the Nazi Final Solution.)

Let’s concentrate on unpacking the contorted argument that simultaneously denies and calls for the Holocaust by understanding the essential structure of its self-justifying logic. Party A did not commit certain crimes against party B, despite all evidence to the contrary. The crimes in question were invented by party B to discredit and destroy party A. Therefore, party B deserves to have similar crimes committed against it as punishment for those lies.

This kind of logic is not confined to the irrational, ultra-racist members of extreme rightwing fringe groups. I heard a similar statement when I was 17, living in Ventura, California, and subject to the Vietnam War draft. I was a zealous anarcho at the time, although I’d recently lost faith in my original pacifism even as I continued to apply for a Conscientious Objector status to military service. I was at a meeting of Ventura’s Action Committee for Peace and Social Justice in a rickety shack off Ventura Avenue, in those days virtually a rural road. The meeting had ended, and the shack’s occupant, an 80-year-old Wobbly named Ed who had served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, was holding forth on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. Specifically, he was detailing how, in the regions of the Republic under control of the anarchist CNT labor union, often in cooperation with the socialist UGT labor union, Spain’s workers and peasants ran the farms, factories and businesses, villages, towns and cities, creating a truly libertarian society governed through direct democracy from the bottom up. I and a handful of equally young, starry-eyed, neophyte leftists hung on his every word.

“Your arsehole anarchist comrades tried to wreck the Republic and insured Franco’s victory,” Bernie growled in response. A 76-year-old CP member who had also fought in the International Brigades, he made sure Ed’s version of events did not go uncontested. “They were a bunch of uncontrollables, pistoleros, criminals, and bandits who sabotaged Republican rule every chance they got, hindered both the war effort and the economy by insisting on pushing through their brand of revolution, and committed atrocities that alienated the Spanish middle classes and the international community. They slaughtered priests and raped nuns, giving Franco’s forces unearned sympathy and valuable propaganda weapons.”

“Those bullshit lies were fabricated by the Spanish CP to give them an excuse to suppress Spain’s genuine social revolution,” Ed shot back. “If anything, Spanish workers and peasants were remarkably restrained, considering that the Catholic Church worked hand in glove with Spain’s bloody landowners and industrialists and the reactionary Spanish state to subjugate, repress, brutalize and murder Spain’s working people for centuries. Anarchists killing priests and raping nuns is nothing but a Stalinist fiction, echoed by the fascists, but if anybody deserved to be put up against a wall and shot it was those damned ‘black beetles’.”

Notice the pattern? Spanish anarchists did not slaughter the Catholic clergy during the Spanish civil war, although Spanish priests and nuns amply earned such treatment for their collaboration in crimes against Spain’s workers and peasants. Blame for the so-called myth is laid at the feet of the Spanish Communist Party in this case, but it’s a minor variation on the theme I’ve presented. Well, recently, I purchased The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain by Paul Preston (2012, Norton). The book, at 700 pages, is a monument to detailed historical research in primary source materials. Preston’s conclusions are inescapable. Franco’s atrocities during and after the Civil War amounted to nothing less than a holocaust, “a carefully planned operation to eliminate … ‘those who do not think as we do’,” a mass murder of Spaniards unprecedented in Spanish history. But there were also acts of violence and terror in the Republican zone, “hot-blooded and reactive,” among them the spontaneous but frequent slaughter of Catholic clergy in anarchist dominated regions of the Republic.

Now, let’s move away from history, into the present. As I evolved from anarchism through left communism to my current unaffiliated political perspective, I consistently had beefs with one school of radical thought that claimed the libertarian mantle. Freddy Perlman gave rise to this school’s various currents with his book Against HIStory! Against Leviathan!, an indictment of what John Clark defined as “the millennia-long history of the assault of the technological megamachine on humanity and the Earth,” whose immediate offspring was the Fifth Estate’s critique of technological progress and society. Further bastard progeny came with the direct-action oriented environmentalism of Earth First! as it turned toward anarchism after 1990, the anarcho-primitivism of John Zerzan, the deep ecology of Arne Næss, and a slew of green anarchist and anti-civilization tendencies too numerous to list. The misanthropy and nihilism of many of these folks is proudly on display; they only become cagey when it comes to the issue of mass human die-off.

You see, the ideal, sustainable, hunter-gatherer utopia of anti-civilization and primitivist activists requires a worldwide population of, at most, 100 million people. There are currently 7 billion people on the planet. The anti-civ, primitive solution requires that 690 million people—some 99% of the world’s population—simply disappear. How does that happen, without a massive die-off of humans? The old anarchist conundrum of “how do we get from here to there” raises its ugly head, only now on green steroids. The fact is that few individuals, aside from outright eco-fascists like Pentti Linkola, openly advocate for mass human die-off. “[T]he population levels envisaged by anarcho-primitivists would have to be achieved by mass die-offs or nazi-style death camps,” writes John Moore in A Primitivist Primer. “These are just smear tactics. The commitment of anarcho-primitivists to the abolition of all power relations, including the State with all its administrative and military apparatus, and any kind of party or organisation, means that such orchestrated slaughter remains an impossibility as well as just plain horrendous.”

Now come the twists and turns to this logic. Agriculture is unsustainable, as is technological society based on agriculture. Civilization is bound to collapse, whether we like it or not, and so there is bound to be mass human die off, whether we like it or not. A drastic reduction in the human population is inevitable, whether done voluntarily or not. It would be better if that reduction happened gradually and voluntarily, but it is going to happen one way or another. “What we can do is assist the natural world to bring [civilization] down,” Derrick Jensen has said. “I want civilization brought down and I want it brought down now.”

Which brings us to the book Deep Green Resistance (by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith, and Derrick Jensen, 2011, Seven Stories Press), a discussion of strategy and tactics toward building a resistance movement to bring down civilization through “decisive ecological warfare.” I’ll let the authors speak for themselves through a selection of quotes: “The vast majority of the population will do nothing unless they are led, cajoled, or forced. […] there will be no mass movement, not in time to save this planet, our home. […] Humans aren’t going to do anything in time …[so] those of us who care about the future of the planet have to dismantle the industrial energy infrastructure as rapidly as possible. […] Well-organized underground militants would make coordinated attacks on energy infrastructure around the world […] actions against pipelines, power lines, tankers, and refineries, perhaps using electromagnetic pulses […] We’ll all have to deal with the social consequences as best we can. Besides, rapid collapse is ultimately good for humans—even if there is a die-off—because at least some people survive.

Again, the harrowing pattern. Mass human die-off as a conscious consequence of primitivism/anti-civilization is a lie, no doubt perpetrated by supporters of agricultural and technologically based civilization. Such civilization is unsustainable, and is going to collapse sooner or later, probably resulting in mass human die-off. But in the meantime, that civilization is criminally destroying the planet and obliterating the natural world. It is therefore our duty to bring down civilization and to hasten, if not initiate, the mass human die-off which is inevitable.

Such is the logic of holocaust denial.

  • "Lefty" Hooligan-"What's Left?"
    My monthly column for Maximum Rocknroll.

  • MY BOOKS FOR SALE:

  • Free excerpts from 1% FREE

  • 1% FREE on sale now


    Copies of 1% FREE can be purchased from Barnes & Noble POD, and the ebook can be had at Barnes & Noble ebook. The physical book is $18.95 and the ebook is $6.99.

  • END TIME reprinted


    Downloads of END TIME can be purchased from SMASHWORDS.
  • CALENDAR

    October 2017
    M T W T F S S
    « Sep    
     1
    2345678
    9101112131415
    16171819202122
    23242526272829
    3031  
  • META