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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How Sweet It Isn’t: “What’s Left?” November 2017, MRR #414

It’s called “sweetening.”

It’s a certain type of background music and ambient sound for films and TV shows meant to enhance mood and emotion. It’s also called juicing, but it’s intended to be subtle, behind the scenes, muted. Sweetening is not supposed to be too obvious. For instance, when a live audience is recorded anywhere, a laugh track/canned heat track is frequently blended into the live audience track to amplify its effect, whether of laughter, clapping, booing, whatever.

The term has its origin in old-time radio, when sound effects like horses galloping, doors opening and closing, characters walking, gunshots, etc. were used to paint visual detail in a non-visual medium. Again, it’s not all dramatic sound effects. In films and TV shows, it’s not the sound of violent explosions or roaring monsters. The sweetening is in the sense of foreboding portended in the background music, or in the subsonic infrasound used to generate apprehension in the audience prior to some climactic scene. So while “sweetening” comes off good and positive, it might as well be called “shadowing” or “darkening,” depending on what effect the sound is intended to enhance.

As for political sweetening, two recent examples come to mind. The Tea Party ended up sweetening the Republican Party from the right, as did Bernie Sander’s “political revolution” the Democratic Party from the left. Both movements started as popular revolts against their respective party establishments and their mainstream politics, both helped rewrite their respective party platforms, and both moved the politics of those parties respectively to the right and left. Both threatened to break away to form independent third party efforts, both were blamed for the potential demise of their respective political parties, but both ultimately succumbed to political opportunism, cooptation, and marginalization. Or at least the Tea Party succumbed and wound up faking a hard-times protest movement, spawning affiliated get-rich-quick cottage industries, and successfully rebranding the GOP. Bernie’s “political revolution” has blended nicely into the much broader anti-Trump protest movement, so it remains vibrant and very much in the streets. Ideally, this popular resistance needs to avoid opportunism, cooptation, and marginalization, but that’s very difficult to do if the Tea Party is any indication.

What doesn’t count as political sweetening was Occupy Wall Street. OWS doesn’t count for much at all now, despite initially being praised by authors, artists, celebrities, politicians, and pundits as the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’ve never hidden my disdain for OWS. It may have personally changed lives like the bad brown acid circulating at a mediocre rock concert, but it was just a flash in the pan that changed little politically. So unless the inane consensus hand signals and annoying human microphone are included, no innovation of any consequence arose from OWS. That also covers the communizing “occupy everything, demand nothing” campus activism that emerged among protesting California students in 2011.

OWS ran with the franchise activism common nowadays, where an indistinct idea was widely disseminated and then taken up by local activists who made it their own through locally flavored community actions. The movement’s core idea, embodied in its name, was so nebulous in fact that it produced both the anarcho/ultraleft, black bloc, streetfighting Occupy Oakland, California, and the virulently antisemitic, conspiracy-theorist, ultraright Occupy Tallinn, Estonia, with every political combination in between. So while the majority of OWS-affiliated actions tended leftwing, liberal, and even anarchist, there was considerable involvement by rightwing, conservative, and even fascist elements. In this way, OWS displayed troubling Left/Right crossover politics similar to the anti-globalization movement which preceded it. This was not by chance but by design, given the decentralized, all-are-welcome nature of the movement’s organizing message. This was complemented by the ambiguous categories employed by OWS, most prominent being “the 99%” versus “the 1%.” This promoted an uncritical populism that studiously avoided any class-based analysis, but it denied any identity-based analysis as well, instead encouraging an amorphous, dumbed-down, Hardt/Negri-style notion of “the multitude.”

When finance capital comes to the fore, capitalism itself is in decline. Capitalism has abandoned industrial production for financial circulation, meaning that its profit-making comes not from surplus value transformed into capital but from mere exchange. For OWS then to focus its vague critique of capitalism on Wall Street and finance capital was to target a decaying economic system as if it were still robust, misinterpreting capitalism’s retreat as a faux advance. To see the enemy as attacking rather than as withdrawing was a delusion that badly skewed the tactics and strategy required to take on and defeat that enemy. If nothing else, this falsely portrayed finance capital as stronger and more powerful than it actually is, reinforcing the rightwing trope that “international bankers” rule the world. Excuse me, “banksters.” From this, it’s a half-step to the “international Jewish conspiracy for world domination” that is the ultra-right’s favorite meme.

Spencer Sunshine has written a detailed survey called “20 On The Right In Occupy” through the Political Research Associates think tank which provides thumbnail summaries of anti-Federal Reserve, antisemitic, white nationalist, fascist, and neo-Nazi individuals and groups involved in OWS. These strange right and left bedfellows in OWS are not so odd once we realize that antisemitism is also on the rise on the Left. Case in point, the post-Situ Adbusters Magazine from which the original OWS call came. From Kalle Lasn’s Adbuster article discussing fifty influential neoconservatives under the title “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” to Adbuster tweets that took up the alt.right’s outing of twitter users as Jewish by surrounding their names with parentheses, Left/Right crossover politics abound. Not that Adbuster’s leftist politics aren’t sketchy in so many other ways, what with their support of Israeli antisemite Gilad Atzmon and Italian conspiracy theorist Beppe Grillo. They do act as a political transition to the hard Left’s anti-Israeli, anti-Zionist ideologies, which too easily and too often become outright Left antisemitism.

Back to my point earlier, there are people who are not at all happy that Bernie’s “political revolution” has blended nicely into the much broader anti-Trump protest movement. These folks are the mainstream Democratic Party establishment liberals who blame Sanders and his “BernieBros” for Hillary Clinton’s defeat. Salon executive editor Andrew O’Hehir had a wonderfully sarcastic takedown of their status quo recalcitrance awhile back:

But another running theme in Democratic Party apologetics informs all that, which is the ingrained desire to blame the left-wing resistance for anything that goes wrong — and to insist that it isn’t actually the left at all but sort of, kind of, the right. Hence Wolcott’s argument that the DudeBros and ‘purity progressives’ of the ‘alt-left’ are in some undisclosed manner closely related to the rebranded white supremacists of the alt-right. Or maybe it’s just that he doesn’t like either of them.

To return to our central premise: The DudeBros ruined everything. Their workings are malicious, and marvelous. They are simultaneously clueless, puritanical and all-powerful. In between Ultimate Frisbee tournaments and Vampire Weekend marathons, they elected Donald Trump, wiped out the Democratic Party between the coasts, rioted against Milo Yiannopoulos in Berkeley and/or defected to the alt-right en masse. They develop apps whose functions remain mysterious, and that most of us don’t know how to use. Unforgivably, they made the Phish reunion possible, and now it will never stop.

Hence, conflating “terrorist” James Hodgkinson with “crazy” Jeremy Christian, or antifa “alt-left” with fascist alt-right.

The Democratic Party establishment wants the anti-Trump resistance to be a leftwing Tea Party, the energy, individuals, and organizations of which the party can exploit to win future elections, while ultimately domesticating, coopting, and marginalizing that resistance. They want the Left’s resistance to be the Democratic Party’s sweetening. This is exactly what we don’t want to happen if we want the anti-Trump resistance not to suffer the same fate as the Tea Party.

Of course, it’s much more complicated than “Bernie or Bust” versus the Democratic Party. Politics to the left of the Democratic Party also includes progressives, democratic socialists and social democrats, Leninists, and the black bloc anarcho/ultraleft. But it’s never been an equal playing field with the Democratic Party vis-à-vis the rest of the American Left. The Democrats are the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Even decimated, at their lowest point in fifty years, the Democrats continue to wield vast power and influence. Which is why we need to prevent the vilification of the black bloc or the BernieBros or Jill Stein’s Greens or anyone else as a convenient scapegoat for the Democratic Party’s mistakes and woes. I’m not so naïve as to think what we need is a united or popular front; some mystical kumbaya circle jerk of leftist unity. But we don’t need the Democratic Party and its liberals running the show either.

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