Campism: “Lefty” Hooligan, “What’s Left?”, November 2022

“This is utter nonsense.”

The gray-haired bespectacled man gestured angrily. It was July 21, 1989 and I was standing behind the Neither East Nor West literature table at the “Without Borders” anarchist conference/festival in San Francisco’s Mission High School. I was hanging out with the THRUSH girls and Bob McGlynn as the pissed-off individual continued to point at our table’s banner.

“Neither East Nor West, huh? That sounds an awful lot like the slogan of the Italian Fascist MSI. Neither Left nor Right.”

“We’re anarchists, not fascists,” Bob said.

“Anarchists, fascists, it’s all the same.” The man delivered his verbal coup. “If you’re not for the international socialist revolution you’re for reactionary capitalist imperialism.”

I’ve recently written a couple of columns exposing the idiocy that is Fascist Third Positionism.[1] Let’s now talk about campism and legitimate efforts to transcend it. In order to discuss international politics, let’s start with an analogy.

The problem of predicting the individual motions of celestial objects in classical mechanics and physics depends on the number of objects in question. Called the n-body problem, a single body like a lone star or a rogue planet is the simplest to calculate because it’s the most stable. Two objects orbiting around a common center of gravity—a binary star system, a star and its planet, or a planet and its moon—is slightly more complex but ultimately solvable mathematically, again because of its relative stability. Add a third or more bodies and it’s impossible to predict the motions of three-plus bodies mutually bound by gravity given their initial positions and velocities. The dynamics of any such three-plus-body system is inherently chaotic and unstable. The sun-earth-moon system constitutes the archetypal example of the three-plus-body problem. “The Three-Body Problem” is also the title of a recent science fiction novel by Chinese writer Liu Cixin.

Consider first the idea of a unipolar world being analogous to a “one-body” dynamic. The period between 1815 and 1914 has been called the British Imperial Century—Pax Britannica—when Great Britain reached the height of its global empire and ruled the world by controlling the high seas and the international commerce on them. The British Empire was hegemonic and its currency dominant, serving as the global cop that insured relative peace between the Great Powers of the day. Yet unipolarity is not dependent on such factors. China during the Ming and Qing dynasties dominated all of East Asia, but pursued a more limited territorial expansion that didn’t provoke rival powers into challenging China’s power militarily. The United States took over Britain’s imperial role, but when it achieved true unipolarity after the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1991 its Pax Americana was anything but peaceful or stable. The United States has been at war for twenty-two of the thirty-two years since the Cold War ended and the world became unipolar. And Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and confrontation with the US and NATO has reinstigated the dangerous uncertainties of a new Cold War. A Cold War 2.0.

I’m a child of the West with the bipolar worldview set in motion by Aristotelian non-contradiction logic, fortified by Christian good-vs-evil crypto-Manichaeism, and tweaked by Hegelian Two-Camps Zhdanovian Doctrine.[2] I grew up during the Cold War (1945-1991) that posited a bipolar world of two contending power centers—a “Free World” that wasn’t free and a “Communist bloc” that wasn’t communist. Capitalist nations were expected to side with the US while socialist nations were expected to ally with the old USSR. The deadly “dance” between these two world powers was marked by quick mutual readjustments which prevented any uncontrolled escalation of hostilities or the possibility of power imbalances developing, so much so that the lack of a major war during the Cold War period has been called the “long peace.” But just because a major war didn’t occur doesn’t mean the Cold War was an era of international peace and stability. Numerous bloody “brush” wars and proxy guerrilla/counterinsurgency conflicts were fought around the globe, most notably in Vietnam and Korea. And the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction nearly devolved into nuclear annihilation during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Thus the relative stability of “two-body” dynamics in physics is not analogous to campism, past or present.

According to Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, present-day campism “approaches world politics from the standpoint that the main axis of conflict is between two hostile geopolitical camps: the ‘imperialist camp,’ today made up of the United States, Western Europe, Saudi Arabia, and Israel (or some such combination) on one hand and the ‘anti-imperialist camp’ of Russia, China, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, and other less-industrialized nations on the other. The anti-imperialist camp is generally defined as all formerly colonized nations and especially all avowedly anti-imperialist governments in the Global South.” This is also Cold War 2.0 politics. Campism arose from the Russian Revolution, the isolation of international Communism by world capitalism, the response of the Third International (ComIntern) to that isolation, and their usurpation by Stalin and Stalinism. The USSR attempted to reinforce the Soviet pole of campism by molding the Warsaw Pact nations in the image of Russian Communism while Mao’s split from the Soviet Union attempted to redefine campism with a Chinese-Third Worldist pole. China became the leader of the socialist camp, all Third World anti-US struggles were automatically deemed progressive, and the Soviet Union was denounced as “social imperialist.” Campism persisted despite the collapse of the Soviet bloc, Russia’s authoritarian embrace of oligarchic capitalism and irredentist imperialism, and China’s totalitarian turn to state capitalism and global economic empire. Thanks to the degeneration of the 60s New Left, the binary logic of campism is now entrenched in much of the Left. It is truly the anti-imperialism of fools; usually of Stalinist, Maoist, Marcyist, or Third Worldist ML hardliners, apologists, fellow travelers, or sympathizers, but more and more of social democrats, democratic socialists, and Code Pink liberals.[3]

I’ve been trying to define an anti-campist “three-plus-body” multipolar politics since 1968. My development from left anarchism through left communism to my current eclectic libertarian socialism was my attempt to sidestep the restraints of campist bipolarity. Libertarian socialism in all its diversity has remained a viable third stance between orthodox Social Democracy and Marxism-Leninism historically within the Left, as well as a contemporary alternative to campist imperialism/anti-imperialism. My support for international alliances like the Non-Aligned Movement of nations as well as grassroots organizations like Neither East Nor West (NENW) also reflected a similar multipolarity. I’ve always subscribed to the Yiddish aphorism that, whenever confronted with two equally bad choices, always choose the third.

The Cold War 2.0 logic that the planet is divided between two antagonistic power blocs—an “anti-imperialist socialist camp” and an “imperialist capitalist camp”—is now gospel on the Left. Marginalized “independent revolutionary socialist organizations opposed to both the ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ social systems” invoke the threadbare cliché of “international working class solidarity” to counter it. I recommend we bring back the left-libertarian politics of NENW as a direct response to campism instead. NENW grew out of anti-war and anti-nuclear movements, specifically the Trust Groups on both sides of the “Iron Curtain,” as well as support for the 1980 Polish Solidarity labor union. Started in the fall of 1986 in New York by anarchists, anti-authoritarians and libertarian socialists, NENW-NYC put out the newspaper On Gogol Boulevard in 1987. NENW groups sprang up across North America, prominent  among them Chicago NENW, Bay Area NENW, Toronto NENW, Lawrence KS NENW, Albany NY NENW, Miami NENW, and Mexico City NENW. Almost 40 groups eventually coalesced into the North American East/West Network. NENW initiated international campaigns against repression and for political prisoners, solidarity with dissent and popular uprisings, and support for workers, dissidents, activists, and counterculturalists in both the capitalist and socialist camps—an effective multivalent strategy. The NENW network and On Gogol Boulevard gradually faded after 1994 with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, even though Bob McGlynn optimistically wrote in 2014:
The Neither East Nor West network remains alive, despite the demise of the East Bloc. Our focus on the East, or former “Second [socialist] World,” also served as a doorway to incorporating—in multiple and concrete ways—the concerns of the “Third [underdeveloped] World” and “Fourth World” (land-based indigenous peoples), with a particular focus on supporting activists and movements with anti-authoritarian and anti-Stalinist perspectives.
Bob died on August 23, 2016. An updated version of those neither-nor politics deserves to be revived to counter the stupidity of campism.

“Three-plus-body” dynamics in physics are inherently unstable whereas academics disagree on whether global multipolarity can ever be peaceful and stable, with classical realists squaring off against neo-realists. I consider unipolarity, bipolarity and multipolarity unstable and conflict-ridden to one degree or another. Perhaps peace and stability shouldn’t be the goal, but rather the aim should be the liberation and socialism that makes peace and stability possible.

 

SOURCES:
Personal recollections
Imperialism: A Study by John A. Hobson (1902)
Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism by V.I. Lenin (1916 & 1917)
“The Anti-Imperialism of Fools” by Paul Berman, Dissent Magazine (1987)
Reply to Aufheben #1 by Gilles Dauvé (1997)
“The poverty of ‘anti-imperialism’ and today’s Left” by Workers’ Liberty (2010)
The Modern World-System, v. I-IV by Immanuel Wallerstein (1974-2011)
“Anarchy in Trieste: Anarchists from East & West meet in Italy” (Fifth Estate #334, Summer 1990); “Whoopie! East Bloc Explodes” (Love and Rage, April 1990); “Partial Victory for Nigerian Anarchists” (Love and Rage April/May 1993);“The Group ‘Neither East Nor West-NYC’: A De Facto Anarchist Black Cross History: The years 1980 to Spring 1994” (2013); “Neither East Nor West: How a small group of anarchists took on the Soviet Union and won!” (Fifth Estate # 391, Spring/Summer 2014) all by Bob McGlynn
“The ‘Anti-Imperialism’ Of Idiots” by Leila Shami, Leila’s blog (2018)
“Against Campism, for International Working-Class Solidarity” by Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, (Socialist Forum, Democratic Socialists of America, Winter 2020)
“Is the enemy of my enemy my friend?: Barnaby Raine on the resurgence of ’tankie’ and ‘campist’ politics” by The Breach (October 22, 2021)
“A Letter to the Western Left from Kyiv” by Taras Bilous (Dissent, February 22, 2022)
“Time to decamp from cold-war ideas” by Sheri Berman (Social Europe, March 28, 2022)
“Internationalism, Anti-Imperialism, And the Origins of Campism” by Dan La Botz (NewPolitics vol. XVIII no. 4, #72, Winter 2022)
“When My Enemy’s Enemy Is Not My Friend: Campism in Dangerous Times” by John Clarke (Spectre Journal, June 1, 2022)

FOOTNOTES
[1] Lenin formulated his theory of imperialism in 1916 which differentiates the world capitalist economy into the capitalist national centers of European empire and their exploited colonial periphery. In a Marxist anti-imperialist context, French social scientist Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third World in 1952 as an analog to the Third Estate of the French Revolution. Also jumping off from Leninist anti-imperialism, Mao propounded his Three Worlds Theory by 1974 in which the First World is the developed capitalist nations, the Second World is the socialist nations posing as an international alternative, and the Third World is the orthodox category of undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing  nations. Starting in 1974, Immanuel Wallerstein charted the differentiation of the present world capitalist economy via the consolidation of nation-states and national economies into the fully developed core region, an undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing exploited periphery, and a semi-peripheral region in between. These tripartite schemas imply a fourth geographic tier, a Fourth World in Maoism and an outer periphery in the case of Wallerstein encompassing the marginal territories and peoples incapable of consolidating viable nation-states and national economies. Fourth World in the First-Second-Third World schema refers to land-based indigenous peoples. I am old and set in my ways so I prefer the term Third World to Global South. Global South and Global North go beyond mere geography to include factors of development, power and wealth. Global South in particular is considered  a more open and value-free alternative to Third World, but it’s also less nuanced and frankly vague.

[2] Plato first used the term tertium quid (triton ti) around 360 bce. In ancient Greek philosophy, it meant something that escapes classification in either of two mutually or more exclusive and theoretically exhaustive categories. What’s left after such a supposedly rigorous, exhaustive division is tertium quid. The third what. The third something. Tertium quid might be residue, sui generis, ambiguous, composite or transcendent depending on one’s philosophical inclinations.

[3] There are a few political movements that focus on “third” as meaning an alternative to two conventional positions. Third Position refers to a number of fascist and neo-fascist political ideologies that claim to “go beyond Left and Right” or “beyond capitalism and communism.” (See White Aryan Resistance and American Front in the US.) Trotskyism long defended the Russian Revolution and the USSR from imperialist aggression while calling it a “degenerated workers’ state” in need of an anti-bureaucratic, anti-Stalinist working-class revolution. This opposition to both capitalism and Stalinism was called third campism or third camp socialism. (See Shachtmanism.) Third Way centrist political promoters in liberal Western nations seek to reconcile left-wing and right-wing policies by advocating various kinds of centrist political syntheses. (Bill Clinton’s presidency was implicitly Third Way.)

The Third Wave was a social experiment by Cubberley High School history teacher Ron Jones who hoped to create an ersatz social movement and demonstrate how Germans could have accepted the actions of Hitler and the Nazi regime during the rise of the Third Reich through the Second World War. The experiment was wildly successful, quickly spiraled out of control, and was subsequently documented or fictionalized in numerous films, TV shows, and books. “Third wave” has been used in a quasi-generational sense in political contexts as in “third-wave feminism.” And “third wave democracy” has been used to describe an international third democratic surge starting with the 1974 Portuguese Carnation Revolution and spreading to Latin America (1980s), Asian Pacific nations (1986-88), Eastern Europe (after 1989), and sub-Saharan Africa (also after 1989). The Arab Spring and various “color revolutions” are considered part of this third wave democracy.

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A critique of Fourth Worldism

No more Negative Ned. Instead of critiquing Leftist practice and politics as I often do, I’m writing about something positive and hopeful this essay. To develop some PMA. I wrote a stupider version of this critique many years ago, from which I split off my July 17, 2017, piece called “San Cristobal and Zomia, an exercise in fantasy.” And like that essay, this commentary is not an official MRR column. It’s not Hooligan canon, but apocrypha.

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Lenin formulated his theory of imperialism in 1900 which differentiates the world capitalist economy into the capitalist national centers of European empire and their exploited colonial periphery. In a Marxist anti-imperialist context, French social scientist Alfred Sauvy coined the term Third World in 1952 as an analog to the Third Estate of the French Revolution. Also jumping off from Leninist anti-imperialism, Mao propounded his Three Worlds Theory by 1974 in which the First World is the developed capitalist nations, the Second World is the socialist nations posing as an international alternative, and the Third World is the orthodox category of undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing  nations. Starting in 1974, Immanuel Wallerstein charted the differentiation of the present world capitalist economy via the consolidation of nation-states and national economies into the fully developed core region, an undeveloped, underdeveloped and developing exploited periphery, and a semi-peripheral region in between. These tripartite schemas imply a fourth geographic tier, a Fourth World in Maoism and an outer periphery in the case of Wallerstein encompassing the marginal territories and peoples incapable of consolidating viable nation-states and national economies. Continue reading