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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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

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

The once and future Left: “What’s Left?” June 2019 (MRR #433)

Let’s talk about dysfunctional relationships.

We love them from a distance, even going so far as to make movies about them. From Richard Burton’s and Elizabeth Taylor’s tortuous on-again off-again love affair that fans believed underlaid the ferocious film Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, to punk rock’s murder/suicide darlings Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen who were the subject of the eponymous biopic Sid and Nancy, we’re fascinated by such emotional human train wrecks. Richard Kruspe of the sketchy brutalist band Rammstein commented that being in a band is “like a relationship. It’s a marriage without sex.” Vin Diesel’s movie xXx featured a clip of Rammstein playing “Feuer frei!” Dysfunctional musicians in dysfunctional bands is a tired old trope.

The history of larger human institutions is equally fraught with social dysfunction. “If measured by the number of lives it destroyed,” wrote author Elizabeth Gilbert, “Then you can’t find a worse alliance than the marriage between the Nazi Party and the Catholic Church, sealed with the Reichskonkordat treaty in 1933. Like many abused wives, the Church initially thought it would be protected by its powerful husband (from Communism, in this case), but instead became complicit in unthinkable psychopathy.” Today, the European Union is often criticized as a marriage of convenience that has since gone awry. “This one has sabotaged the siesta, those gorgeous lire, French-baked baguettes,” author Stacy Schiff comments. “Down this road lies a Starbucks on every Slovenian corner.” The battle over Brexit continues to remind both Britain and the continent of how unsatisfactory the European Union has become. Continue reading

Western Civilization and Its Discontents: “What’s Left?” December 2015, MRR #391


Mistah Kurtz—he dead…

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1902

We need only glance at the awesome population figures predicted for the year 2000, i.e., twenty-eight years from now: seven billion people, only nine hundred million of whom will be white.

Jean Raspail, author of The Camp of Saints, 1972

I’ll put it bluntly: Nothing you love will survive without white people.

Jared Taylor, “An Open Letter to Cuckservatives,” American Renaissance, July 2015

Let’s take two people: Bill Maher and Gavin McInnes. Both are writers, actors, political commentators, media personalities, and comedians of a sort. That’s what they do for a living however, and there the similarities end. These two individuals couldn’t be more different when it comes to what they believe.

Bill Maher calls himself a liberal, albeit one with a libertarian streak, an advocate of decriminalizing if not legalizing most “soft” drugs and prostitution, a pro-choice, pro-feminist, gay-friendly atheist who is anti-racist and against US military interventionism abroad. Gavin McInnes considers himself a conservative with libertarian tendencies, an opponent of legalizing “adult vices” like drugs and prostitution, a pro-life, anti-feminist Catholic with assorted issues about the usual suspects—gays, trans-folk, blacks, illegal immigrants—who likes his wars necessary and just. Funny thing is, despite these obvious political disagreements, Maher and McInnes both agree on a political tenet so fundamental as to constitute a common worldview, the need to defend Western civilization.

Catch Maher’s tirades on Real Time with Bill Maher, or McInnes’s rants on Red Eye and TheRebelMedia, and they sound remarkably alike. Muslims suck. Liberals are brain-dead or self-hating idiots and need to wake up. The West is ashamed or oblivious and needs to cultivate some brass. We’re at war. We need to defend Western civilization, the West, our way of life from those goddamned Mooslims!

This umbrella sentiment—defend Western civilization—held by mainstream left-right-and-center, as well as certain elements on the fringes, relies upon volatile, highly emotional symbols. The Muslim hordes are once again at the gates of Vienna and Poitiers, symbolically speaking. And, there is a search for the next 9/11 to wake us all up. 11/M—the Madrid train bombings of 3/11/05—was the next 9/11, and 7/7—the London bombings of 7/7/05—was the next 9/11. Now, the Paris shootings of 1/8/15 (and 11/13/15) have been equated with 9/11, and the hope was that the events in Paris would act as a rallying point around which the West could marshal its resolve.

A reporter once asked Gandhi: “What do you think about Western civilization?” Gandhi replied: “I think it would be a good idea.” So while I broach the subject in this column, I can only scratch its surface. Consider for instance just the distinctions between Maher and McInnes among the myriad “defenders of the West.” For McInnes, Islamic culture is backward, violent, inbred, not civilized, requiring a culture war or a religious war to protect “our entire civilization.” For Maher, all religion is a bad idea, but Islam is the mother lode of bad ideas, necessitating a war against them by those holding liberal Western values and ideas to preserve “our way of life.” But what the hell is “Western civilization” anyway?

If we use strict political categories and define Western civilization as that aggregate of liberal democratic nation-states that purport to be based on and supportive of Western (e.g., Enlightenment) values, this is entirely ephemeral. Liberal democracies often become authoritarian or totalitarian regimes with alarming consequences (Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s, Czechoslovakia in the 1940s), and those nations touted as “the Switzerland of X” (Uruguay in South America, Uganda or Rwanda in Africa, Singapore in Asia) are anything but upon closer examination. Maher and McInnes are proud citizens of liberal Western-style democracies even as they consider liberal democracy the Achilles heel of those countries. And despite their professed libertarianism, when push comes to shove, Maher and McInnes often advocate very illiberal, undemocratic means such as racial profiling to combat the perceived threat of Islamic extremism.

If we defer to what we learned in our primary and secondary education, Western civilization is based on some combination of our Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian traditions. Right off the bat, atheists like Maher would take issue with any form of religion counting positively toward the heritage of the West. For the classic liberalism that Maher claims, the Enlightenment legacy of reason, science, and skepticism constitute the best of what the West has to offer. For McInnes, he accepts the whole vague social/cultural package defined as Western civilization, having converted from atheism to Catholicism and from anarchism to conservatism. Certain white power types would take offense at inclusion of the Jews in any affirmative evaluation of the West, since the Jews and Judaism are evil incarnate. This leads the ultra-right to efforts to redefine Christianity without its Judaic core, as in Christian Identity, or to abandon Christianity altogether for some amalgam of European paganism or out-and-out atheism. As for the Greco-Roman part of the equation, and again aside from the Enlightenment emphasis on these roots as the classical West’s cultural and philosophical beginnings, there are many contenders for more-European-than-thou sources. The Celts and Germanic peoples—the latter a part of some mythic Aryan race—to pan-Slavism and Eurasianism—which seeks to shift the focus of European civilization from west to east, and to a Greater Russian geopolitical dominance that rejects Western European values—are all contenders for the origins of Western Civilization.

So, which values are real, true Western values? Is Western civilization at its core pagan Celto-Germanic tribalism, or Talmudic Judaism, or Greek city-states, or Roman imperialism, or crusading Medieval Christianity, or Enlightenment modernism, or Slavic orthodoxies, or Russian Mongol corporatism? Aside from broad and banal generalizations, can anything uniquely Western be discerned in the music, literature, dance, painting, and architecture subsumed under the label Western culture? Can Western and Eastern be convincingly separated? Are the rule of law, secularism, science, and technology what distinguishes Western civilization? Can any combination of the above stand for the whole, or must we be satisfied with an undifferentiated, cumulative understanding of Western civilization? Or is Western civilization like pornography, something that cannot be clearly defined, but we know it when we see it?

If the political is ephemeral and the social/cultural is vague, the biological seems to offer certainty. Western civilization is the product of white people, and white people are the source of all that is good in the world. Hence the current popularity of DNA ancestry analysis that attempts to associate certain DNA markers with geographic locations as when, for instance, the distribution of the maternal haplogroup H is correlated overwhelmingly with the European subcontinent. From there it’s a small step to equate such analyses with a genetic causation for ersatz races and their behaviors, bringing us back to the “scientific” racism and eugenics of two centuries prior. Maher clearly detests and denounces such racialized definitions of Western civilization and resists taking this step. But McInnes shamelessly flirts with them. According to McInnes, sub-Saharan Africa had no written languages before white people arrived. Our advanced technologies were all invented by white people, and our material superiority is all due to the hard work of white people. “I love being white and I think it’s something to be very proud of. […] I don’t want our culture diluted. We need to close the borders now and let everyone assimilate to a Western, white, English-speaking way of life.” (NYT, 9/28/03) McInnes even denies that black people had much to do with creating rock and roll, he’s so dead set on affirming that “white is right.”

When he’s not playing the contrarian, McInnes is responding in part to increased anger and frustration on the ultra-right as white racists feel increasingly besieged. The issue here is power. When white people held uncontested social power, white racists gloried in being white supremacists, fully backing the superiority and domination of white people over all others. When that power was challenged in the slightest degree and Enlightenment values such as equality threatened to emerge, white racists became the voice of the “embattled white minority” and fancied themselves white nationalists seeking to secede as a separate white nation. Countering the biological explanation for Western civilization does not merely require invoking the statistical truism that correlation is not causation, that the correlation of genetic factors with geographic location is not the cause of a so-called race’s achievements and failures. What also is required is countering a logical fallacy that confuses the repeatability and predictability of hard science with the lack of either in history.

That the past 10,000 years of human history and 2 million years of human evolution have led us to a world where capitalism, the nation state, white supremacy and patriarchy reign supreme tells us only so much. We cannot repeat history over and over, like a scientific experiment, to see whether or not we get the same results. Science depends on predicting future experimental results from successful past experimental results. But despite some historians seeing patterns in history, any ability to predict the future based on a study of the past has remained elusive. A particularly virulent configuration of wealth and power won the game we call history this time around, but since we can’t ever play the game again there’s no way to know whether that win was a fluke due to luck or a certainty due to merit.

Marx committed this fallacy himself in seeking to formulate a scientific socialism based on historical materialism. But there you go, another dead white European male whose ideas and the movements he inspired are very much a part of Western civilization. Again, whatever the fuck that means. Maybe the only way to make sense of Western civilization nowadays is how Joseph Conrad did it by counterposing Europe to The Other, in his case Africa, as a “foil to Europe, a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest” as Chinua Achebe once commented.

Maher, McInnes and other defenders of the West against radical Islam consistently contend that what Islam needs today is its own Reformation or Enlightenment. Seriously? Consider that from 1517 (the start of the Protestant Reformation) to roughly 1650 (an arbitrary start for the Enlightenment) between 10 and 30 million people perished across Europe in various conflicts related to the clash between Protestantism and Catholicism. In less than 150 years, on a subcontinent of roughly 4 million square miles and 70-80 million people, something like 20 million people died in Reformation, Counterreformation, the Thirty Years War, indeed scores of major wars and upheavals. This doesn’t include the “New World” that Europe was exploring, conquering and colonizing at the time. The period in Europe from the Reformation to the Enlightenment was truly a slaughterhouse, yet a comparable social transformation is being urged onto the Islamic world as a great idea.

Or maybe, perversely, it’s already happening. Perhaps Islam is undergoing it’s equivalent of the Reformation and Enlightenment right now. But to soberly compare 16th/17th century Christian fratricide to the modern Middle East—to the sectarian, ethnic, national and class conflicts engulfing vast swaths of a region with some 7 million square miles and half a billion people for the past 2 to 3 decades—we need to realize that we’re are all in for some nasty shit. The exponential expansion in firepower from Medieval Europe to the Middle East today alone should give us pause.

Our brave defenders of Western civilization have a hard time seeing what’s under their noses, much less the future.

(Copy editing by K Raketz.)

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