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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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

Switchovers and crossovers: “What’s Left?” July 2018, MRR #422

Every elementary schoolchild knows that, after 1492, two food staples common to the “New World” were introduced into the “Old World” via the trans-Atlantic exchange inaugurated by Columbus. I’m talking about potatoes and corn, or maize. What’s not so well known is that maize was substantially undigestible, that potatoes contained low level toxins, and that native Americans processed both heavily in order to make them palatable. Plant breeding and hybridization techniques since 1492 have resulted in far more edible varieties of both maize and potatoes, at the cost of the diversity of the original plant populations.

Both maize and potatoes are considered species complex (superspecies, species aggregate) which, biologically, means a group of closely related species that are so similar in appearance to the point that the boundaries between them are frequently unclear. In fact, the original maize and potato superspecies each contained hundreds, if not thousands of related individual species that could potentially hybridize. One species of maize or potato might not be able to easily cross breed with another species of maize or potato at the far range of their respective genetic spectrums, but that spectrum did allow for gradual, continuous hybridization along the way. Continue reading

Protest vs Violence vs Terrorism: “What’s Left?” February 2018, MRR #417

“Today on the Galloping Gourmet we will be preparing smoke bomb flambeau.”

Scott stood over the grimy stove in the shotgun shack off Ventura Avenue holding a beer in one hand and a saucepan in the other. He had that rakish, Graham Kerr attitude down, although his hippy hair and attire belied his bon vivant pose. Tom and I stood over a tiny formica table piled with a large sack of granulated sugar, an equally large smoked glass bottle of sodium nitrate, several boxes of “strike anywhere” matches, more pots, pans, and bowls, and a copy of Abbey Hoffman’s Steal This Book open to the section on “People’s Chemistry.” Scott directed our work with a wave of the pan and a swig of beer.

“First, thoroughly mix together six parts saltpeter, otherwise known as potassium nitrate, with four parts sugar. Sodium nitrate may be used in a pinch. Then pour the mixture into a medium pan and place it over a very low flame. Heat it slowly and carefully until it starts to melt and blend into a plastic like substance.” Continue reading

Crisis on the Right: “What’s Left?” August 2017, MRR #411

This is my overlong analysis of the crisis of the Left and the crisis on the Right . I owe the tripartite analysis of the modern American Right to Political Research Associates, which does excellent work dissecting the Right through investigative reports, articles, and activist resource kits.

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Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

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.”

Kevin Coogan, Dreamer of the Day

I’m ass deep into analyzing the crisis of the Left. There are three components to this crisis, beginning with the defeat of organized labor by ascendant neoliberalism in the industrialized west (Reagan busting the PATCO unions in 1981, Thatcher defeating striking coal miners in 1984-85). Next came the collapse of real existing socialist regimes with the disintegration of the Soviet bloc in 1989-91. These two events mark the decline of Marxism broadly and Leninism more narrowly as the third component of this ongoing crisis. The present growth of anarchism and left communism and the breeding of “strange new variants” like insurrectionism and communization I consider a mixed blessing because this actually demonstrates the Left’s weakness. The relationship between the resurgence of the anti-authoritarian Left and the decline of the rest of the Left, in turn, reflects a broader relationship between the politics of Left and Right, with the “ideological decay” of the Right hinting at something broader.

If the crisis of the Left is also a crisis on the Right, perhaps I need to use the word interregnum. The sentiment of the Yeats poem, borne by the mystic, cryptofascist Irish nationalist in his reactionary politics, conveys the sense of a violent interruption between old and new orders. An old order loses its grip, but before a new order manages to establish itself there is a period of social chaos and disintegration when things “do not easily fit into conventional political-science categories of ‘left’ and ‘right’.” An interregnum, by definition, is a big deal.

The Latin term interregnum originated with the English civil war to designate the period from the execution of Charles I in 1649 to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. Cromwell’s dictatorship is sometimes considered a prequel to the bourgeois revolutions that ushered in the modern world. Most of the history I tend to fixate on—the French 1789 Revolution, the Russian 1917 Revolution, the German 1918-19 workers’ revolt ushering in the Weimar Republic, the Spanish 1936-39 civil war, etc.—also indicate relatively short-lived, national interregnums. But interregnums can also be long and slow moving, involving a much wider geographic scope.

The Papal Schism that split the western church between three contending popes from 1378 to 1417 damaged the Catholic church’s reputation and authority. Along with issues of priestly celibacy, the marketing of relics, and most importantly the selling of indulgences, the Protestant Reformation was all but inevitable. From Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 Theses in 1517 through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, Europe experienced scores of religious wars predicated on dynastic conflicts and as many as 20 million deaths due to religious violence, not to mention a continental reshaping of European social, political, and economic realities that eventually gave rise to the modern nation-state system. That’s over a century-long, diffuse, continental interregnum. Alternately, the series of national interregnums from the beginning of the first World War in 1914 to the end of the second World War in 1945 might be threaded together into a single, grand, worldwide interregnum. A global interregnum

I’m paleo when it comes to my Marxism. Interregnums fit nicely into a history propelled by class struggle and revolution. As for modes of production and stages of history, I’m both less and more orthodox. Less because I don’t think historical modes of production prior to capitalism were comprehensive, and more because once the capitalist mode of production arose it eventually became socially and globally all-embracing. And I’m definitely old school in contending that the French revolutionary interregnum of 1789 ushered in the modern world, starting with the riotous sans culotte and culminating in Napoleon’s more disciplined conscripts sweeping across continental Europe.

The first bourgeois revolution in France coincided with a wide variety of interrelated historical processes and cultural phenomena—from the Enlightenment and scientific revolution to modern warfare and the rise of industrial capitalism—to mark the watershed between pre-modern and modern eras. It also introduced our modern-day distinctions between Left and Right through the representative seating at the 1789 National Assembly. Here’s a standard high school PolySci description: “In a narrow sense, the political spectrum summarizes different attitudes towards the economy and the role of the state: left-wing views support intervention and collectivism; and right-wing ones favor the market and individualism. However, this distinction supposedly reflects deeper, if imperfectly defined, ideological or value differences. Ideas such as freedom, equality, fraternity, rights, progress, reform and internationalism are generally seen to have a left-wing character, while notions such as authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism are generally seen as having a right-wing character.” [Andrew Heywood, Key Concepts in Politics and International Relations] The Left’s stress on reason and program in accepting modernity makes for greater structure and coherence compared to the eclectic, muddy stance of the non-rational, instinctual Right in the rejection of modernity. But it all does come down to an embrace of, versus a revolt against, the modern world.

And here we encounter a contradiction central to the Right. For in order to revolt against the modern world, the Right must simultaneously embrace it. Moderate conservatives like Edmund Burke who were terrified by the French Revolution were dragged kicking and screaming into modernity, accepting the economics of Adam Smith and the private property of Locke while demanding that tradition put the breaks on changes wrought by capitalism. Reactionaries like Joseph de Maistre advocated for “throne and altar” in a restored ancien regime—a Counter Enlightenment counterrevolutionary—yet he still admired Napoleon. The Left went full-bore into mass politics, vanguard parties, technological innovation, and heavy industrialization with the Bolshevik turn after 1917, yet another national interregnum. From Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome through Hitler’s 1933 acceptance of the German chancellorship, the extreme Fascist right responded by producing an anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist revolutionary mass politics to reindustrialize central Europe around a vanguardist, ultranationalist, palingenetic core. The Right has always been in reaction to the Left because of this central contradiction, and there are scholars of Fascist Studies who claim that Fascism was actually a synthesis of revolutionary Left and Right.

Lacking a feudal past, a universal church, and monarchist and aristocratic traditions, the Right in the United States remained confined to moderate conservative factions in the prominent pre-civil war electoral parties—Federalists, Democratic-Republicans, Whigs, and Jacksonian Democrats. It’s been argued that the American Right actually started as a form of European liberalism. At its most immoderate, early American conservatism demonstrated strong nativist and isolationist tendencies, as with the American “Know Nothing” Party. The country’s Protestant citizenry was subject to populist Great Awakenings, rightwing fundamentalist movements, and heretical cults like Mormonism. And, of course, the prevailing assumption across the board was that the United States was a white man’s nation, owned and run by white people. Southern slave society came closest to offering a European-style Right based on aristocracy and tradition. The struggle over slavery that lead to the civil war also drove conservative elements of the southern Democratic Party into the extremism of the Ku Klux Klan’s white supremacist militia terrorism after the civil war, while much of the GOP drifted into an isolationist, laissez-faire Old Right.

Along with a revival in rightwing religious movements like Christian evangelicalism and pentecostalism, the United States witnessed its own fascist movement paralleling European Fascism between the world wars. Based on a reborn, white supremacist, mass KKK that was also anti-Catholic, antisemitic, and populist, it included the antisemitic ravings of Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh’s America First movement and sympathies for Nazi Germany, Pelley’s Silver Shirts and Christian Party, even the more demagogic leftist populism of Huey Long. The threat of an American Fascism was very real in the 1920s and 30s.

With the defeat of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at the end of the global interregnum, in large part thanks to the Soviet Red Army, it was assumed that Fascism had been liquidated once and for all. The United States assumed for itself the sole superpower and the center of empire, capable of imposing a Pax Americana over the world, except for an obstreperous Soviet Union. Some form of Cold War anti-communism became a mainstay of mainstream American politics. It should be remembered that Joseph McCarthy started out a Democrat and ended up a Republican. McCarthyism, the John Birch Society, and Barry Goldwater’s faction of the Republican Party were all radically anti-communist.

But the Right in the United States remained fractious. It included the antisemitic white supremacism of the Klan, George Wallace and the Dixiecrat revolt, the beginnings of the patriot/militia movement in DePugh’s Minutemen and Beach’s Posse Comitatus, the paleoconservatism of Russell Kirk and Paul Gottfried, embryonic conspiracy theorizing a la Bircher anti-fluoridation paranoia, Ayn Rand’s atheist Objectivism, the first inklings of Murray Rothbard’s AnCap libertarianism, and the like. In contrast to the rightwing alliance between Christian evangelicals and Catholic bishops on everything from school prayer to abortion, serious theological divisions emerged in Reconstructionism, Dominionism, and Christian Nationalism alongside religious cults like Children of God, Unification Church, Fundamentalist LDS, Church Universal and Triumphant, etc. As the Right so often mirrors the Left, American conservatism tried to force a contrapuntal unity against the perceived “international communist conspiracy for world domination.”

William F. Buckley founded the National Review Magazine in 1955 in an explicit effort to demarcate a proper American conservatism and to keep it properly policed through vicious polemics and purges of racists, antisemites, and conspiracy wingnuts. He wanted an official American conservative movement that overlapped with the Republican Party, a pro-business/anti-union conservative movement dedicated to a disciplined, uncompromising, good-vs-evil crusade against communism. Buckley thought of this as standing athwart history, yelling stop, in his version of revolting against modernity, but he discovered that policing the Right was like herding cats. It’s been argued that Buckley’s National Review conservative movement was a facade; that the Right didn’t grow less diverse or more unified under Buckley’s shepherding. Yet what ultimately vanquished Buckley and the conservative movement was the crisis of the Left that bubbled up during the 1980s, culminating in the Soviet bloc’s sudden collapse from 1989 to 1991. The United States won the Cold War and truly became the sole superpower and center of empire. Yet things fell apart and the center could not hold as another global interregnum took shape.

I argue that the crisis of the Left produced a corresponding crisis on the Right, a proliferation of “strange new variants” on the Right. The Reagan/Thatcher neoliberal rebranding of official conservatism primed the crisis, alongside the direct mail Viguerie New Right and imported rightwing countercultural currents like Skinheads. All sectors of the Right subsequently proliferated, from the Secular Right (Libertarianism, Neoconservatism) through the Religious Right (soft and hard Dominionism) to the Xenophobic Right. The latter witnessed the most explosive growth through populist movements (armed citizen militias, Sovereign Citizens, patriot groups) and white nationalist ultraright movements (Christian Identity, Creativity Movement, National Socialist Movement, National Alliance).

The most visible aspects of the growing Right—the Tea Party Movement and now the Alt.Right—are just the tip of the rightwing iceberg. Whereas the Secular Right remains committed to a pluralist civil society, the Xenophobic Right is hardline anti-democratic, with the dividing line between conservative and hard Right falling somewhere in the Religious Right. The confusing variety on the Right can barely be contained by this conceptual triad, unlike the Left’s greater structure and coherence which falls easily into antiauthoritarian, democratic/parliamentary, and Leninist categories.

The changes to global capitalism that underpinned the rise of this current global interregnum must wait until a future column. I’ll conclude by quoting Tom Robinson: “If Left is Right, then Right is Wrong. You better decide which side you’re on.”