10 months ago J Zolotin
Since the birth of socialism, the studied mission of the capitalist powers has been to starve, strangle, dismember, and defeat it wherever it appears, in whatever form. Over the past century, the Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a sustained campaign against every form of American leftism.
HUAC, COINTELPRO, and others managed to demoralize and almost entirely disintegrate the American leftist movement. On a global scale, left parties have been battered at home and abroad, forced to capitulate to the neoliberal “end of history” agenda.
There is no more recent or more telling success for this neoliberal tendency to defang socialist movements than the destruction of Greece’s Syriza by forces pushing the once-radical left party rightward. There may be an even newer example yet to come, with the damage being waged in Venezuela by economic warfare, support of rightist “protestors,” and the bid to destroy Maduro.
Yet by attacking and destroying authentic bastions of leftist sentiment, liberals and neoliberals have sown the seeds of their own failure. They have debased or outright destroyed the institutions through which popular rage could be funneled and expressed as a legitimate desire for reform. With this great vacuum in the field, it is no wonder that the right has stepped in to fill it.
In this way, liberalism is, after all, only the precursor to fascism. Thus, we can see the dialectic in action: liberals, depriving the disenfranchised of outlets to express themselves, create the conditions under which their own fears become reality. The very behavior that solidifies their hold on the left causes the right flank to crumble away. That is, the liberal method of securing consensus against the left, which would otherwise attack from that leftward direction (proclaiming universal freedom and liberation from slavery, wage labor, racism, sexism, etc.) grants an opening on the right for the forces of reaction to attack. By discrediting and shattering leftist institutions in a bid to protect itself from left-based criticism, it creates its own enemy in the right and alters the material conditions in such a way as to facilitate a right victory.
The left in the United States has historically been its healthiest in the trade unions and workshops. The same could be said for most of Europe—a unionless left only succeeded in Russia after the actions of the Saint Petersburg Soviet. The breeding ground for leftist action has always been in trade unions, for it is in the conditions of the trade shops that the necessary crucible of capitalism creates its own end.
Yet the neoliberal tendency to export work and workshops to its economically subjugated imperial satellites has helped to weaken the left in the United States. These critical crucibles have been moved abroad, where any class consciousness can be repressed as a matter of foreign warfare rather than civil war. The neoliberal project has been to transform the imperialist nations from a class-heterogeneous society into one that benefits as a whole from the subjugation of working class subjects. Yet the violent growing pains of that class dissolution can still be felt in the imperial First World – thus, the regressive wave that has swept the West.
Witness, then, what remains of the American left. The sword-arm, in the form of Black Bloc and Antifa, still swings, but the body is gone. There is no unity, there is no appreciation of common struggle, there is no minimum program. Fitfully, those disenfranchised sectors of society that can see the true causes of their disenfranchisement build up organizations (Black Lives Matter, the Water Protectors, etc.) with which to fight it.
Just as quickly, however, the lack of unity among the left allows those organizations to be publicly shamed, reduced in power, or otherwise attacked in the mediasphere and made out to be enemies not only of capital, but of all organized society. The attacks come from every front: from liberals, from rightists, and even, most damning of all, from other would-be leftists.
Without realizing it, we have succumbed to the disintegrating forces of capitalism. The left has been successfully atomized. We are no longer a unified struggle for a better tomorrow, but rather a collection of mutually antagonistic interest groups. By destroying the unions, by overt political warfare against leftist parties, by ruthless attacks on left unity, liberalism has destroyed the left.
Indeed, the very language with which we once articulated our positions has changed.. No longer do dominant cultural narratives situate us in a social constellation; liberalism, the “Great Western Ideal,” has taken the language of society and replaced it with the language of the individual. Individuals who fail do so exclusively because of their own shortcomings—this poisonous myth stands in for the forces of disintegration and atomization that have sapped the strength and lifeblood of the left.
In the absence of a left coalition, the right has taken charge. The anger of the dispossessed has been either coopted by the liberal center, pushed to the fringes of the liberal left, or simply shunted out of politics altogether. This fractiousness, this dedication to the destruction of the left as an idea as much as a political movement created a vacuum. This is precisely the kind of vacuum in which rightist politics thrive.
Witness, the Spartacist rebellion—in the vacuum created by the destroyed left, so rose the Nazi party. Witness, the triumph of Italy’s fascists over the Bolshevism, and then over the parliamentary government. Of course, the failed revolution is hardly a new idea. But in the United States, we are experiencing the results of the failed revolution without any revolution at all.
This is not to say that the American left should blame only itself for its dismantling. Far from it, for it was only with concerted and continuous action that such a dismantling was achieved. However, we are to blame for falling prey to the alienating powers of late capitalism.
We are encouraged to individualize to the detriment of our ability to organize. We are pitted against one another in every forum by the very nature of the beast we fight. It cannot fall at the doorstep of the American left that it does not exist in a coherent form—but the blame does fall there for not re-organizing.
The hour has come. We stand on a brink, given a choice between who we will follow—between the precipe of Ares and Athena; a revolution with real revolutionary content counterposed with mindless warfare. Both are gods of war, and let us make no mistake that this is a war we are fighting, whatever the form.
However, Ares represents madness, violence, the revolution without revolutionary content, blood for the sake of blood. Athena represents wisdom, reasoned response, and a war to be fought for sensible reasons. The choice should be clear: we should all wish to see Athena, not Ares, ascending. But we in the U.S. stand a very real risk of falling prey to the anti-intellectual action-worship of fascism. While elements of the left are fighting valiantly against this outcome, it is simply not enough for us to make an effort that is not unified.
The Trump Voter
Since the early 1980s, American politics has shifted precipitously right. Positions which were relatively uncontroversial in the 1968 presidential election (minimum wage, support for unions, and environmental protection were all planks in Nixon’s ’68 platform) have become the sole province of the liberal and neoliberal opposition. Positions to the left of that have largely been abandoned. The neoliberal strategy, of course, has been to act in complicity with this shift to the right while preserving minimal holdouts on social issues.
This has given the neoliberal centrists their “brand,” which is focused around improving social equality and civil rights for all sectors of society except for the economically disenfranchised. This has been a symptom of American status-quo politics since the end of the FDR administration. Cast a gaze back through history, and we will see this type of tactic being used as early as the Civil Rights movement. American liberals realized they could become the champions of incremental social improvements and at the same time disarm the left by taking one of its most powerful weapons: the draw of freedom and of radical changes to the social structure.
There are many Trump voters, and I don’t claim to be able to deal with all of them here. This section focuses on one specific type: the trade unionist, the proletarian, who would otherwise have voted left in the past. Historically, the poorest sections of the country and those where oppression by the capitalist classes has been most visible are the ones in which the left has made its most important inroads. Indeed, some of the traditional leftist strongholds are still bastions of the radical left —“Cornbread Communism”, which continues to thrive in Appalachia, for example.
But the coal miner who voted for Trump is in the same or even a substantially worse position as the coal miner from 1930. Indeed, historian Patrick Huber writes that in the 1920s and 30s, one of the chief definitions of ‘redneck’ in the northern and central Appalachian coalfields was “a Communist.”
What happened, then, to deprive the left of the coal miner, the trade unionist, and the worker? Neoliberal interference, which annihilated the power of the radical left to organize. Without organizers, no concerted opposition can be mustered against the right. It is clear to those disenfranchised people (or it becomes clear eventually) that neoliberal interests do not necessarily align with their own.
Thus they abandon the center that cannot alleviate the problems they’re experiencing. When they are told that the U.S. needs to become a leader in green energy, they don’t hear the warning against ecological collapse. The message that the neoliberals are sending is that the capitalist economy has moved beyond the jobs the coal miner was trained to do.
Is this indeed the case? Yes. From both sides, right and center, the trade unionist is hearing that his work is no longer relevant. The same is true amongst almost all sectors of manual labor. When the technocratic center can articulate no better solution than that the next generation be trained in technical skills such as computing and design and that the current generation of industrial and manufacturing labor must essentially die away without work, of course the class who does the work is going to look for an alternative.
If the radical left is not available as an outlet, it may be that the radical right will appear more and more appealing. Lack of options can drive people to the reactionary rolling back of the clock: the erection of trade tariffs, the release of more and more economic powers to the capitalist class to help “buoy up” the economy, and the other false medicines proposed by the right.
Of course the promise is a false promise. And undeniably, the people who did wind up voting for our neo-fascist president did so knowing and not caring about the racist, sexist, regressive undertones (overtones) of his campaign. That makes them ultimately culpable for all that unfolds during these upcoming years of horror. But from a strategic rather than a moral point of view, we must seek to understand exactly what forces caused them to vote the way they did. It is this: the technocratic center’s destruction of the radical left, to which they may otherwise have gravitated.
All things contain within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. It’s easy to be the hero when your villain is appropriately monstrous. The accelerationist tendency of the left plays on these basic dialectical truths. There is an allure to this notion, a certain romanticism that accelerationism embraces—we must have a foe as implacable as the tsar to breed a revolution as successful as Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
For this romantic goal, the accelerationist left is willing to sacrifice everything. Indeed, the stated goal of accelerationism is to misuse the powerful tool of dialectical analysis to create the monster that must be destroyed. What can more properly show us the triumph of Ares than this, the complete abandonment of principle in the quest for awareness? Liberalism is already creating the monster; to assist it is only to become complicit in its crimes.
But surely, as we did above, we must do away with the moralizing and observe the reality dispassionately. If accelerationism is successful, then should its forces be harnessed, controlled, and instrumentalized to push the system out of control and cause it to break?
No. This viewpoint of the dialectic is too mechanical. Marx’s prediction of the revolution’s inevitability did not come to fruition. There are multiple potential syntheses waiting, in a sort of super-position, to be actualized.
One of these is the beginning of a new age of feudalism, as the vaunted “rights” of corporations become rights of control and license, turning everything into a feudal privilege. Another of these is the total ecological destruction of our habitat and the death of civilization. We cannot afford to push toward either of these options. Any accelerationist who claims also to be a Leninist should look to Lenin for his view on a mechanical understanding of theory.
We cannot ignore the material world when developing our responses, and here the material reality is such that pushing for acceleration harms the very subjects leftists should be helping, should be nurturing. How can we bring about the liberation of the worker and the subaltern if, in order to do so, we must worsen their lot?
Accelerationists inherently misunderstand the early 20th century struggles for liberation in Europe. We must reject non-revolutionary electoral change, yes. We must reject “reformism,” that is, any reform that purports to bring capitalism to a sort of balance but allows its inherent tensions to remain. But we cannot reject the engagement with electoral systems as one of the tools we have to bring about a fundamental alteration in the relationship of the people to the means of production. That is, we may not be able to vote away the power of the capitalists, but we can prepare the field.
Ares stands triumphant over Athena. Mindless warfare, a revolution without revolutionaries, sweeps the West. If we are to remain relevant, if we are to see the undermining of the rightist politics of the 21st century, we must organize again. We must call a new International, a Fifth International, and we must develop strategies. Certainly, there will be the same recriminating calls of betrayal from various factions, but the time has come when it no longer matters what form of socialism you practice.
We must practice it together, or we will all surely be destroyed by the sword of the right. Without unity, without strategy, we are relying on the broken system itself to sort out the right of things, and that system only knows one outcome: self-destruction.