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.

As usual Nati’s was full, with a line out the door. I’d just started eating when the deuce next to me opened up and Mark Johnson sat down. Mark was 40, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party who ran the RCP’s youth wing, the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB). Mark and the RCYB were hoping to recruit “rebellious youth” into the party’s ranks, with the RCYB recently targeting punks. I was a punk and a left anarchist transitioning into Marxism at the time, known for my broadside Point-Blank and regularly publishing the monthly punk zine San Diego’s Daily Impulse. But I was older than the average punk, though not as old as Mark. We’d run into each other at various local punk shows and political events, among them the RCP’s brief-lived No Business As Usual front organization. And he’d tabled at my 1984 Balboa Park Anarchy Picnic and my 1985 Mariner’s Point Hardcore Picnic. Ours was not a friendly rivalry but an open political antagonism. When the Hardcore Picnic turned into a full-blown riot provoked by the SDPD Mark at first said I was responsible for the mayhem, then proceeded to fundraise on behalf of those arrested. Since I’d sponsored the picnic, I got the lawyer and organized the successful legal defense. So when I hit him up for that money to help with our expenses he handed it over, minus a not insignificant “service charge.”

“No surprise finding your petty bourgeois utopian anarchist ass here in OB’s remnant hippie-dippie countercultural enclave,” he said after ordering.

“This from the man whose shitty vanguard party had its vulgar Leninist origins in the ‘60s Bay Area,” I replied between mouthfuls. “And I’m working class. A prole. A bonafide wage slave. I own nothing but my labor.”

“It takes more than exchanging your labor power for wages to call yourself working class.” Mark switched into pure Maoist mode. “Or claiming you own no other means of production. You gotta have the correct class background, correct class aspirations, and correct class stance to qualify as a proletarian.”

I knew the basics of Marxist class analysis though not its nuances, so I kept quiet. I paid for my meal as Mark’s Carne Asada con Huevos arrived and I left without another word. I’d been bested by a Mao cultist so the exchange stayed with me.

According to Marx, class is a social relationship between the workers and those who own the means of production and extract surplus value from their labor, the bourgeoisie. Also called the capitalist class, it rules society but it’s a small social group compared to the much larger working class. Anyone who sells their labor for wages is a worker, but in Marx’s day there were other social classes in the mix. There were vestigial classes from the waning feudal social order—various formations of aristocracy and peasantry. And in the newly emerging capitalist social order there was the small-holding petit bourgeoisie and the lumpenproletariat criminal underclass. Finally, there were déclassé elements like the intelligentsia.  But for Marx two trends in this schema were considered paramount; that the ever-expanding working class was transforming into an ever more powerful industrial proletariat thanks to economic industrialization, and that eventually all of society would polarize into just two contending social classes—the proletariat versus the bourgeoisie—that would engage in open class warfare.

Now I’ve always worked, exchanging my labor for wages, when I wasn’t actively avoiding work. The abolition of work has always been a focus of mine. Thanks in part to a family inheritance, I’m now comfortably retired from wage labor.

My mother was from a Polish middle class family and my father from minor Polish aristocracy. They raised me middle class in a bourgeois European cultural sense. As a refugee from the second World War, dad joined the US Army. He became a US citizen, qualified for GI benefits, got a college degree, and bought a house. He moved from blue collar to white collar, ultimately becoming an upper management Federal government civil servant and elevating his family into the middle class.

I have always stood with the working class and its revolutionary aspirations, but now like any respectable Marxist I’m for the proletariat abolishing itself as a class through its self-emancipation. Whether I’m truly working class is complicated.

One thing I’m not is a Maoist who believes that “proletarian consciousness” is some kind of Leftist panacea. Somewhat akin to the class consciousness of E.P. Thompson and György Lukács—in which the subjective proletarian mindset arises out of protracted historical class struggles—proletarian consciousness is more likely to result from prolonged criticism/self-criticism party “struggle sessions.” And this bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the “conversion experience” of various religions. Acquiring proletarian consciousness is more important, and supersedes, all other markers of class—class background, class reality, class aspiration, and class stance—in the Maoist scheme of things. During the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, student Red Guards vied to become “more proletarian than thou,” summarily dismissing and denouncing each other, even industrial workers as not sufficiently proletarian. Pitched street battles were fought and lives lost over who did or did not have the correct proletarian consciousness.

I consider myself vaguely middle class nowadays, given how uneven my proletarian qualifications are. There’s all sorts of ways classical Marxist class analysis has been muddied by late stage capitalism. This ranges from the insignificant difference-without-a-distinction between wage labor and salaried labor to the more consequential growth of the white collar work that shades into the substantial managerial strata required by the state and corporate capitalism. Also needing a mention is the use of corporate stock ownership to differentiate between ownership versus control of the means of production. Then there’s the reality that individuals can occupy multiple social classes either serially or contiguously, personally identify with numerous classes, have family ties in different social classes, or take on momentary leadership roles that push class boundaries. Finally, there are the realities of post-Fordism; flexible production using flexible machines or systems and a flexible workforce, high-tech economies of scope, massive economic inequalities, decline of unions and collective bargaining, all within a post-welfare state and vast concentrations of speculative finance capital.

I’ve been discussing how to define the working class and what makes one proletariat as I examine my own sense of class. My intention is to eventually develop a comprehensive analysis of class along several lines of inquiry threaded through the usual, somewhat eclectic subjects I explore monthly. First, how is the concept of the working class relevant to the Left and society today and can the proletariat be the basis for constructing a genuine liberatory socialist society? Second, is it feasible for a relational class identity to be combined with the particularist/essentialist identity politics of race, ethnoculture, sex, and gender into a multifaceted socialist movement? Third, what is to be done with the concept of class under socialism, specifically with regard to notions of the nomenklatura (Michael Voslenski), the “New Class” (Milovan Đilas), and bureaucratic collectivism (Max Shachtman)? Fourth, can the concept and functionality of the working class be superseded by diffuse left-leaning populist movements (eg. Global Justice Movement, Occupy Wall Street)? Fifth, can the concept and functionality of the capitalist ruling class be replaced by notions of “globalist elites” (eg, European Union, United Nations)? Finally, is it time to question the working class as either obsolete (André Gorz) or a blind alley (Krisis Group) and how might we engage in struggle without classes?

I’m also interested in what “immaterial labor” and a “postindustrial society” mean? Is there such a thing as the precariat, a social class formed by individuals with no job security or no prospect for regular employment, and how does that differ from the lumpenproletariat? My proletarian self-education continues.

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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

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

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

Boutique capitalism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, June 2021

I’d gotten high on marijuana, hashish, LSD, MDA, cocaine, amphetamine, barbiturates, heroin, jimson weed, nitrous oxide, peyote, mescaline and psilocybin by 1972 living in Ventura, California. But I still hadn’t gotten drunk. I didn’t start drinking alcohol with any frequency until late 1974, over a year after I turned 21 and had already moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC. But in the spring of 1972 I didn’t like booze. I didn’t like people who drank instead of getting stoned, and I hated loud bar scenes. So I was jealous and miffed when a friend regaled me with the news that “Hey, I was drinking at John’s At The Beach and John Lennon just showed up, jumped on stage and played ‘Norwegian Wood’.” And I was seriously annoyed to learn that Lennon returned two days later to play another brief set, this time backed by a few local musicians. Continue reading

Of Trotskyists & stockbrokers: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?” May 2021

Is this just ultra-revolutionary high-voltage subjectivism of a petty-bourgeois gone wild—or what?
—Otto Wille Kuusinen, on Trotsky at Comintern’s Sixth Congress

Anyone who has been through the Trotskyist movement, for example, as I have, knows that in respect to decent personal behavior, truthfulness, and respect for dissident opinion, the ‘comrades’ are generally much inferior to the average stockbroker.
—Dwight MacDonald, The Root is Man

“Lenin and Trotsky were sympathetic to the Bolshevik left before 1921,” the man insisted. “Really they were.” Continue reading

New Socialist Movement: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?” April 2021

 

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy
—Polish proverb

It wasn’t my scene.

I attended Stuart Shuffman’s book release party for Broke-Ass Stuart’s Guide to Living Cheaply in San Francisco sometime in November, 2007. Stuart initially xeroxed his zine at Kinko’s and personally distributed it to stores and shops around the city. His handmade publication was about to become a conventional paperback travel guide produced by a now-defunct independent publishing company that would offer a New York City edition the next year. His Guide to Living Cheaply combined two of my favorite things—zines and cheap eats—under the imprimatur “you are young, broke and beautiful” but the raucous release event wasn’t for me. 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

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