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

American socialism revisited: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, October 2021

Socialism for the rich; capitalism for the poor.

It’s an oft-repeated Leftist cliché that encapsulates an entire socio-political-economic analysis in a single sentence. It was first promulgated by Michael Harrington and frequently repeated by the likes of Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, and Robert Reich. The gist of this argument is that capitalist corporations receive government largess in the form of subsidies, tax breaks, and favorable legislation while the general population is left to fend for itself. Big business regularly receives favorable treatment and corporate welfare from the government which allows corporations to “privatize profits and socialize losses.” The rest of us are shit-out-of-luck.(1) 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

By any other name: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, August 2021

I picked up an archaic paper flyer pinned to an obsolete cork board in the now-defunct Market Street branch of FLAX Art Supplies. The handbill advertised a web designer and mobile app developer—Daniel Goodwyn—who offered to teach virtually any platform or software. I wanted to learn social media to prepare for self-publishing my novel 1% Free, so I called. He was cheap. We arranged to meet at Philz Coffee on 24th Street.

“I only drink Philz coffee,” Daniel said.

We met six or seven times at the end of 2015, beginning of 2016. Daniel was an evangelical Christian favorable to fundamentalism, but he wore his religious beliefs close to the vest. He didn’t proselytize. Instead, he would produce his worn King James Bible from his backpack before starting each lesson. I pulled out my Handbook of Denominations by Mead, Hill and Atwood our third meeting and we were off discussing Christianity between social media tutoring. We talked dispensationalism, cessationism, and biblical inerrancy. He’d attended 24/7 worship and prayer events, and would soon do web design for the messianic Jews for Jesus organization. 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

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

The terror of history: “What’s Left?” November 2020

About paranoia […] There is nothing remarkable […] it is nothing less than the onset, the leading edge, of the discovery that everything is connected […] If there is something comforting – religious, if you want – about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.
—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

I graduated with a BA in history from UCSC in 1974. That summer I went off for a 6-month program sponsored by the university to live on Kibbutz Mizra in Israel with my Jewish girlfriend. We packed a large duffel bag full of paperback books in preparation for our excursion, one of them being Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Continue reading

Revolutionary v reactionary decentralism: “What’s Left?” October 2020

I was seven when I lived in San Bernardino in 1959. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. Dictator Juan Batista fled Cuba as revolutionary hero Fidel Castro entered Havana. China suppressed an uprising in Tibet, forcing the Dalai Lama to escape to India. Alaska and Hawaii joined the union. San Bernardino was suburban, often hot, and almost always smoggy. Only when Santa Ana winds scoured the basin of smog blown in from Los Angeles did I clearly see the surrounding, magnificent mountain ranges. There were more and more days growing up when I couldn’t see the mountains at all from my neighborhood, which was home to the first MacDonald’s in the nation.

I watched Disney’s 1959 series The Swamp Fox on our family’s tiny black and white TV.  Filmed in color, the series depicted the exploits of Francis Marion as played by a young Leslie Nielsen. A commissioned officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, Marion ably led the irregular militiamen of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment as they ruthlessly terrorized fellow American Loyalists and engaged in asymmetric warfare against British Army regulars known as Redcoats. He avoided direct frontal assaults against larger bodies of troops, instead confusing his enemies in the field with swift surprise attacks and equally sudden withdrawals. Considered one of the fathers of modern guerrilla warfare, Marion successfully used irregular methods and maneuver tactics to outwit his opponents. He has been credited in the birth of the US Army Special Forces known as the Green Berets. Continue reading

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