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

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

The populist myth: “What’s Left?” February 2020 (MRR #441)

When the axe entered the forest, the trees said: “The handle is one of us.”

—Turkish proverb

I remember a brief carefree idyll when I was fourteen. I lived with my family in Ventura, California, went to Balboa Junior High, and had teenager jobs the occasional evening, weekend or summer. But I spent all my spare time at the beach swimming, surfing and skateboarding. When I enrolled in Buena High School the head gym teacher, Mason Parrish, put all the incoming sophomores through a battery of athletic tests to determine in which sports we might excel. Parrish coached the football team, and was in the process of building Buena’s swim and water polo teams to win multiple national awards, compete in the 1968-72 Olympic trials, and field numerous Junior Olympic Champions. I was a natural in the water, so Coach Parrish recruited me immediately for swimming and water polo.

Parrish was an old school, conservative high school gym coach who began and ended every game with a Christian prayer. He required loyalty from his athletes in school and expected us to practice routines, lift weights, and train regularly outside of class on our own time. All I wanted was to have fun, swim, and go to the beach. Parrish started me in a few swimming competitions and played me in a couple of water polo games. But when he realized I lacked the dedication and drive to give him the full commitment he demanded, he benched me for the duration of the semester. Parrish was openly disappointed, my gung-ho teammates disdained me, and I still had to show up for team practice and events. I was developing, maturing and acquiring new, formative interests in my adolescent life. But my love for swimming was irreparably damaged. Continue reading

Punk politics, personal politics and post-political politics: “What’s Left?” December 2019 (MRR #439)

The guy who helped the most in the campaign was like one of the big anarchists in San Diego.
Bob Beyerle, interview, MRR #102

“Hello, I’m with the Bob Beyerle for Mayor Campaign,” I say to the over sixty-year-old Latino man standing hesitantly in the front door of his house. “I’d like to talk to you about the horrible job Chula Vista’s City Council is doing. Not only are they subsidizing the construction of a bayfront yacht club, a luxury fourteen hundred room hotel, fourteen hundred condominiums and twenty-eight hundred exclusive housing units in a bayside tourist mecca, they’re rapidly expanding the city east of Interstate 805 with gated, guarded upscale housing developments like Eastlake, Rancho del Rey and Otay Ranch. Meanwhile, the city west of 805 is deteriorating. Eastlake is using a million gallons of water for a scenic lake that you’re not even allowed to use unless you live in this exclusive community while the rest of us are forced to live with between 20% and 50% water cutbacks. The City Council is catering to the wealthy when what we need is more funding for public services and new affordable housing developments with parks, schools, and emergency services. Bob Beyerle is for controlled growth and the environment, promoting local business and curtailing big business, and encouraging citizen involvement. Please vote Bob Beyerle for mayor on election day.”

I’m average height but the man barely reaches my shoulder. His more diminutive wife hovers behind him, clearly concerned. Both are suspicious as I hand them some campaign literature. Bob and I are precinct walking for his mayoral campaign in a sweltering May afternoon in 1991. I’m wearing a bright orange “Pedro Loves You” t-shirt while Bob Beyerle (aka Bob Barley of Vinyl Communications fame), wearing a sports coat and dress shirt, is talking local politics a few houses down the block. As the front man for the punk band Neighborhood Watch whose signature song is “We Fuck Sheep,” Bob goes on to do press interviews, candidate forums and house parties. Continue reading

pt. 2: Third World Third Positionism: “What’s Left?” October 2019 (MRR #437)

I had a favorite t-shirt in the 1980s, one I owned several of and wore frequently. It was red with a stylized black silkscreened image of Alberto Korda’s famous photo of Ernesto “Che” Guevara printed above his popular quote: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love.” Korda’s image of Che with military beret and solemn expression was taken during a Cuban state funeral; handsome, heroic, and seemingly immortal. I wore the t-shirt around the UC San Diego campus without incident or even much notice, but I liked pushing the envelope by wearing it all around the very conservative city of San Diego.

While wearing the shirt and eating my customary grease-, carb- and meat-heavy breakfast washed down with several bottles of Negra Modelo beer outside Harry’s Coffee Shop in La Jolla circa 1985, I noticed a young man glaring at me. Harry’s was a local favorite, so I assumed he was a surfer because of his shaggy haircut, Quiksilver Hawaiian shirt, colorful boardshorts, and leather huarache sandals. He frowned at me over a decimated plate of food next to which rested a russet guampa, a hollow calabash gourd lipped with silver from which a silver bombilla straw protruded. A waitress poured more hot water into his maté gourd before bussing his dishes and leaving the check. Continue reading

Rightward and downward: “What’s Left?” December 2018, MRR #427

My wife, my friends, everybody I know is pissed that I’m not more pissed off about that horrible, horrible man Donald Trump. That I seem pretty sanguine about the hurricane of political, social, and human destruction Trump and the GOP have wrought in such a short period of time or the damage they will continue to inflict for decades to come through, for instance, the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. So, why am I not more freaked out about Trump?

The answer is that, in my lifetime, I’ve seen this nation’s relatively liberal politics go consistently downhill and rightward to the present. I first became aware of American politics writ large when I was 8 years old, when John F. Kennedy won the presidency in 1960. My parents had been Democrats and Adlai Stevenson supporters, so my frame of reference started from a liberal “Golden Age,” the “one brief shining moment” that was the myth of JFK and Camelot. But unlike many people who believe the fifty-eight years that followed have witnessed ups and downs, good times and bad, pendulum swings left and right, and are therefore upset, desperate, and obsessed with the rise of Trump, I see those years all of a piece, a steady right wing devolution as we go straight to hell in a handbasket. Continue reading

Political upsurge vs ideological decay: “What’s Left?” August 2018, MRR #423

Metaphors are powerful. Metaphors are poetry disguised as prose. People who use metaphors claim they’re a shortcut to truth and meaning.

Last month I used the biological metaphor of species complex to tease out additional structure and definition of the usual Left/Right political compass. In the process I promised to cover various social contexts in given historical periods that illustrate increased Left/Right political conversions and crossovers but instead managed to drop yet another metaphor by using Mao’s metaphor with politics and war. From the 1960s war on poverty and the 1970s war on drugs to the 21st century wars on terrorism and the truth, the metaphor of war has been much used and abused. Instead, I’ll use another metaphor from Mao to “put politics in command” in coming to terms with political change, conversion, and crossover socially and historically. In the process, I will renege on my previous promise by severely limiting the scope of this inquiry to the rise of and interplay between the New Left and the New Right. Continue reading

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