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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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

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

Excuses all the way down: “What’s Left?” April 2012, MRR #347

An apocryphal story has it that Bertrand Russell was giving a public lecture on astronomy in which he described how the earth revolved around the sun and how in turn the sun revolved around the center of a collection of stars known as the Milky Way galaxy. Concluding his talk, Russell asked the audience if there were any questions. An old woman at the back of the auditorium raised her hand, stood and spoke. “You know, young man, what you have told us is utter rubbish. The earth is actually a flat plate resting on the back of a giant turtle.”

Russell was startled by her remarks, but he recovered quickly and replied, “Well, madam, and what does the turtle stand on?”

“You think you’re so clever, young man, so very clever indeed,” she responded. “But its turtles all the way down.”

Stephen Hawking told a version of this tale in his 1988 book A Brief History of Time. I believe Hawking used the story to illustrate the problems of infinite regress and unmoved mover in the realm of cosmology. I understand the story to be one of how a belief system, any belief system, always has an explanation handy in case its followers are boxed into a corner, logically speaking. Religions are the most common example of this phenomenon, with perhaps the most aggravating instance being the Republican primaries in which Newt Gingrich, a serial adulterer, was able to successfully if only momentarily appeal to fundamentalist Christians in the party. All men are sinners, the Bible reminds these believers, and so all Newt had to do was claim that he had confessed his sins and thrown himself upon the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ seeking absolution in order to convince the Republican evangelical base to forgive him, and more importantly, to vote for him. The notion that all manner of horror in the world can be justified by three simple words—“It’s God’s Will”—is another such escape hatch for faithful Christians; a vindication of blind faith that has converted more than a few believers to atheism once they realized what an utter sadistic bastard God must be in order to “will” the wholesale maiming and murder of innocents.

Science, too, falls into this category of a belief system in need of explanatory escape hatches. Science owes its strength to its predictive powers, and contends that if a scientific observer knows everything about a particular physical process, the individual scientist can then make accurate predictions about that process. If the predictions fail, or are inaccurate? Well, that must mean that not everything was known about the phenomenon in question. Some knowledge was missing. Never mind that science has, time and again, demonstrated that complete knowledge is an impossibility. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that there are limits to what can be known about related pairs of physical properties of a subatomic particle; that to accurately know the position of a particle one cannot simultaneously know its momentum and vice versa. Using mathematics, the language of science, Godel formulated his famous incompleteness theorem, which demonstrated that, in any closed mathematical system, there are an infinite number of true theorems which, though contained in the original system, can not be deduced from it. Such qualifiers notwithstanding, most scientists are downright uncomfortable with the idea that their knowledge, of necessity, must be incomplete.

Politics is yet another domain rife with escape hatches. I’ll focus on what I know, having once been a left anarchist, and having just recently decided I’m not pure enough to consider myself a left communist any longer. Both political currents posit the notion that workers—in the case of left communism a strictly defined proletariat, and in the case of anarchism a more nebulous notion of working and oppressed people—will rise up and seize control over society. Marxists talk of the working class going from a class in itself to a class for itself, of the self-activity and self-organization of the proletariat leading to the self-emancipation of the working class as a class, of the working class consciously abolishing itself as a social class. And it is presumed that this process will be anti-capitalist, and can occur partly, or entirely without resorting to a political party or a political state. Dozens of examples are then trotted out (The Paris Commune, 1871; Russia, 1905; Mexico, 1910-19; Russia, 1917-21; Ukraine, 1918-21; Germany, 1918-19, Bavaria, 1918-19; Northern Italy, 1918-21; Kronstadt, 1921; Shanghai, 1927; Spain, 1936-39; Germany, 1953; Hungary 1956; Shanghai, 1967; France, 1968; Czechoslovakia, 1968; Poland, 1970-71; Portugal, 1974; Angola, 1974; Poland, 1980-81; Argentina, 2001-02; etc.), all inspiring in their social self-government but all, without exception, short lived and unable to produce a fully realized, long lasting libertarian society.

So why did these many instances of bottom-up social revolution, of horizontal, non-representative, non-electoral decision making, of direct economic collectivization and communization fail, without exception? Enter a plethora of excuses.

Category one of excuses stresses the overwhelming power of the opposition these embryonic revolutions faced. The capitalist ruling class was too strong, its state too powerful, its police and army too brutal. The bourgeoisie resorted to fascism or merciless state terror to quell the uprising. A vicious counterrevolution and civil war obliterated the forces of revolution. However these social upheavals first succeeded, if they are unable to sustain their initial victories and successfully organize to defeat their enemies while maintaining the libertarian character of their new social order, then the revolutionary project is lost from the start. Short of social decay or political collapse, the powers-that-be undoubtedly will be stronger than the forces of revolution, all but insuring defeat.

Category two of excuses blames the revolution’s supposed allies for the revolution’s failure. The democrats, republicans, socialists, Leninists, Stalinists, nationalists, et al, that side with the revolution to begin with, or that the libertarian revolutionaries form alliances with in order to bring about or sustain the social revolution, are accused of double dealing, sabotaging, undermining, suppressing and, ultimately, betraying the true revolution and its libertarian instigators for their own interests and quest for power. This raises the question, why do anarchists and left communists never learn from history and form such dubious alliances to begin with? Or why are anarchists and left communists incapable of playing a strategic game, of using such allies to achieve their ends, then discarding them when necessary?

Excuses in the third category cite the mistakes made by the libertarian revolutionaries themselves. Bureaucratization, recreation of social hierarchy and political leadership, excessive utopianism, a willingness to join the government or recapitulate a state, an authoritarian use of violence against socially reactionary elements, the alienation of other social classes through economic expropriation; these are some of the principle mistakes detailed by critics and libertarians alike. To a failure to learn from history and an incapacity to have strategic game must be added an inability to be flexible, to realize errors immediately and to immediately correct them.

The excuses in category four refer to the failure of revolution due to undeveloped circumstances. Externally, the immature nature of historical and/or economic conditions is given for revolutionary defeat. While possibly correct, this is very difficult to prove, even in hindsight, and has the consequence of mandating forms of determinism and denying working class agency in making social revolutions. Internally, the lack of a sufficient class consciousness among workers is most often provided to explain why revolutions fail. Also hard to prove, class consciousness is a slippery concept that bears further analysis. Leninists contend that workers are only capable of trade union consciousness, and that the intervention of a party/cadre organization of professional revolutionaries is required to instill the proper revolutionary socialist consciousness within the proletariat, an inevitable recipe for substitutionism. Italian autonomous Marxism sidestepped the issue of class consciousness altogether by promoting the idea that what drives the revolutionary process forward is class composition. But working class composition has changed radically in the past four decades, what with the destruction of the industrial proletariat in the west and the rise of service workers and the so-called cognitariat, the expansion of underemployed and precarious workers, and the lumpenization of large sectors of the population. Without workplace unity and industrial discipline, is class consciousness even possible? In turn, this extreme recomposition of the working class in the west places the entire revolutionary project in jeopardy, as reflected in the Invisible Committee’s substitution of an impotent, riotous insurrection for thoroughgoing social revolution.

Not coincidentally, all four categories of excuses—the power of the police, the movement’s bureaucratization and reconstitution of secret leadership hierarchies, the manipulation of liberals, Leninists and decolonialists, ass-backwards substitutionism and insurrectionary vanguardism, insufficient working class content and consciousness—are bandied about in declaring the premature death of Occupy Oakland.

I’ve taken a different tack from making excuses. I’ve come to admit the possibility that the working class, historically in its industrial form or presently in its radically recomposed form, never possessed and does not now possess the capacity for self-emancipation as a class. I’ve added the inability of proletarian self-liberation to the non-existence of a World Turtle, of God, and of total scientific knowledge. I have closed off a slew of crucial escape hatches in the liberatory politics I once so fervently believed in by potentially denying the working class a capacity for self-emancipation. Thus I have renounced a cardinal principle of my former politics, one embodied in the Paris 1968 slogan “Be realistic, demand the impossible.”

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