Nina Simone was influenced by two actvists who were themselves influenced by Marxism and who she knew personally, Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes. She was a fighter, who used her music as a weapon in struggle.
Nina Simone was influenced by two actvists who were themselves influenced by Marxism and who she knew personally, Lorraine Hansberry and Langston Hughes. She was a fighter, who used her music as a weapon in struggle.
I just wish the term ‘pseudo-left’ would be used instead of ‘Left’. Those who support the autocrats and fascists against the people struggling for democracy can never be regarded as on the left, no matter how they might self-identify.
The Left’s advocacy for ‘multipolarity’ against a US-led unipolar order has, in effect, defended authoritarianism across the world. The Left must reflect on how its language enables such regimes.
Multipolarity is the compass orienting the Left’s understanding of international relations. All streams of the Left in India and globally have for long advocated for a multipolar world as opposed to a unipolar one dominated by the imperialist USA.
At the same time, multipolarity has become the keystone of the shared language of global fascisms and authoritarianisms. It is a rallying cry for despots, that serves to dress up their war on democracy as a war on imperialism. The deployment of multipolarity to disguise and legitimise despotism is immeasurably enabled by the ringing endorsement by the global Left of multipolarity as a welcome expression of anti-imperialist democratisation of international relations.
By framing its response to political confrontations within or between nation states as a zero-sum option between endorsing multipolarity or unipolarity, the Left perpetuates a fiction that even at its best, was always misleading and inaccurate. But this fiction is positively dangerous today, serving solely as a narrative and dramatic device to cast fascists and authoritarians in flattering roles.
The unfortunate consequences of the Left’s commitment to a value-free multipolarity are illustrated very starkly in the case of its response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The global and the Indian Left have legitimised and amplified (to varying degrees) Russian fascist discourse, by defending the invasion as a multipolar challenge to US-led unipolar imperialism.
On 30 September, while announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian provinces, Russian President Vladimir Putin spelt out what multipolarity and democracy meant in his ideological framework. He defined multipolarity as freedom from the attempts by Western elites to establish their own ‘degraded’ values of democracy and human rights as universal values; values ‘alien’ to the vast majority of people in the West and elsewhere.
Putin’s rhetorical ploy was to declare that the concepts of a rules-based order, democracy, and justice are nothing more than ideological and imperialist impositions by the West, serving merely as pretexts to violate the sovereignty of other nations.
As Putin played to the justifiable outrage at the long list of crimes by Western countries – including colonialism, imperialism, invasions, occupations, genocides, and coups – it was easy to forget that his was not a speech demanding justice and reparations and an end to these crimes. In fact, by asserting the self-evident fact that the Western governments did not have “any moral right to weigh in, or even utter a word about democracy,” Putin skilfully cut people out of the equation.
People of the colonised nations are the ones who fought and continue to fight for freedom. People of the imperialist nations come on the streets to demand democracy and justice, and protest racism, wars, invasions, occupations committed by their own governments. But Putin was not supporting these people.
…[B]y asserting the self-evident fact that the Western governments did not have “any moral right to weigh in, or even utter a word about democracy”, Putin skilfully cuts people out of the equation.
Rather, Putin has signalled “like-minded” forces all over the world — far-right, white-supremacist, racist, anti-feminist, homophobic and transphobic political movements — to support the invasion, as part of a project advantageous to them all: of overturning the “unipolar hegemony” of universal values of democracy and human rights and “to gain true freedom, a historical perspective.”
Putin uses a “historical perspective” of his own choice to support a supremacist version of a Russian “country-civilisation” where laws dehumanise LGBT persons and where references to historical events are criminalised in the name of “strengthening (Russia’s) sovereignty.” He asserts Russia’s freedom to deny and defy the democratic norms and international laws defined “universally” by bodies like the United Nations. The project of “Eurasian integration,” which Putin projects as a multipolar challenge to the “imperialist” EU and western unipolarity, can be properly understood only as a part of his explicitly anti-democratic ideological and political project. (It is another matter that the aspect of competition between the US and Russia as Big Powers, is complicated here by the shared political project represented by Trump in the US and Putin in Russia.
The language of ‘multipolarity’ and ‘anti-imperialism’ also finds resonance in Chinese hyper-nationalist totalitarianism.
A joint statement by Putin and Xi in February, shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, stated their shared rejection of universally accepted standards of democracy and human rights, in favour of culturally relativist definitions of these terms: “A nation can choose such forms and methods of implementing democracy that would best suit its […] traditions and unique cultural characteristics […] It is only up to the people of the country to decide whether their State is a democratic one.” These ideas were explicitly credited by the statement to “the efforts taken by the Russian side to establish a just multipolar system of international relations.”
For Xi, the “’universal values’ of freedom, democracy, and human rights were used to cause the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the drastic changes in Eastern Europe, the ‘colour revolution,’ and the ‘Arab Springs’, all caused by the intervention of the US and the West.” Any people’s movement that demands widely accepted human rights and democracy, is treated as an inherently illegitimate imperialist colour revolution.
The demand for a democracy meeting universal standards, raised by protesters in the China-wide movement against repression in the name of “Zero-Covid”, is significant in light of the culturally relativist standards favoured by the government of China. A White Paper in 2021, on “China’s Approach to Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights” defined human rights as “happiness” thanks to welfare and benefits, not as protections from unbridled government power. It conspicuously omits the right to question the government, dissent, or organise freely.
Defining “China-specific” democracy as “good governance” and human rights as “happiness” allows Xi to justify the suppression of the Uyghur Muslims. His claim is that concentration camps to “re-educate” these minorities and remould their practice of Islam so that it is “Chinese in orientation”, has provided “good governance” and greater “happiness”.
Even amongst the Hindu-supremacist leadership in India, there are strong echoes of the fascist and authoritarian discourse of a “multipolar world” – where civilisational powers will rise again to reassert their old imperialist glory, and the hegemony of liberal democracy will give way for right-wing nationalism.
Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, said admiringly that “in a multipolar world” that challenges the US, “China has now risen. It is not bothered about what the world thinks about it. It is pursuing its goal… (returning to the) expansionism of its past emperors.” Likewise, “In the multipolar world now, Russia is also playing its game. It is trying to progress by suppressing the West.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has repeatedly attacked human rights defenders as anti-Indian even as he declares India is the “mother of democracy.” This is made possible by viewing India’s democracy not through a “western” lens but as part of its “civilisational ethos.”A note circulated by the government links India’s democracy with “Hindu culture and civilisation,” “Hindu political theory”, “Hindu state”, and traditional (and often regressive) caste councils that enforce caste and gender hierarchies.
Such ideas also reflect attempts to incorporate Hindu-supremacists into a global network of far-right and authoritarian forces. The Russian fascist ideologue Aleksandr Dugin (much like Putin) states that “Multipolarity […] advocates a return to the civilizational foundations of each non-western civilization (and a rejection of) liberal democracy and human rights ideology.”
Modi has repeatedly attacked human rights defenders as anti-Indian while declaring that India is the “mother of democracy”, and India’s democracy must been viewed not through a “western” lens but as part of its “civilisational ethos.”
The influence goes both ways. Dugin favours the caste hierarchy as a social model (Dugin 2012). Directly incorporating the brahminical Manusmriti’s values with international fascism, Dugin sees “the present order of things”, represented by “human rights, anti-hierarchy, and political correctness” as “Kali Yuga”: a calamity which brings with it the blending of castes (a miscegenation which in turn is brought about by women’s freedom, also a calamitous aspect of Kali Yuga) and the dismantling of hierarchy. He has described Modi’s electoral success as representing a victory for “multipolarity”, a welcome assertion of “Indian values,” and a defeat for the hegemony of “liberal democracy and human rights ideology.”
Yet the Left continues to use “multipolarity” without betraying the slightest awareness of how fascists and authoritarians couch their own aims in the same language.
Putin’s language of “multipolarity” is meant to resonate with the global Left. Its comforting familiarity seems to prevent the Left – which always did an excellent job laying bare the lies underpinning the “saving democracy” claims of US imperialist warmongers – from applying the same critical lens to Putin’s anti-colonial and anti-imperialist rhetoric.
It is odd that the Left has made the language of polarity its own. The discourse of polarity belongs to the Realist school in international relations. Realism sees the global order in terms of the competition between the foreign policy objectives, assumed to reflect objective ‘national interests’, of a handful of ‘poles’ – Big Powers or aspiring Big Powers. Realism is fundamentally incompatible with the Marxist view which is premised on the understanding that ‘national interest’, far from being an objective and value-neutral fact, is defined subjectively by the “political (and therefore moral) character of the leadership strata that shapes and makes foreign policy decisions” (Vanaik 2006).
The CPI [ML] welcomes the rise of non-western Big Powers even if they are internally fascist or authoritarian, because it believes that these powers offer a multipolar challenge to US unipolarity.
For instance, Vijay Prashad, one of the most prominent enthusiasts and advocates on the global Left for multipolarity, approvingly observes that “Russia and China are seeking sovereignty, not global power.” He does not mention how these powers interpret sovereignty as freedom from accountability to universal standards of democracy, human rights, and equality.
A recent essay by Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninist (CPI [ML]) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya presents similar problems as it explains the party’s decision to balance solidarity with Ukraine with its preference for multipolarity and its national priority of resisting fascism in India. (Disclosure: I had been a CPI [ML] activist for three decades and a member of its Politbureau till I left the party earlier this year, due to differences that came to a head in the wake of the party’s lukewarm solidarity for Ukraine.)
Bhattacharya’s formulation is that “Regardless of the internal character of competing global powers, a multipolar world is certainly more advantageous to progressive forces and movements worldwide in their quest for reversal of neoliberal policies, social transformation and political advance.” To restate, the CPI [ML] welcomes the rise of non-western Big Powers even if they are internally fascist or authoritarian, because it believes that these powers offer a multipolar challenge to US unipolarity.
Such a Left formulation offers no resistance at all to the fascist/authoritarian projects which describe themselves as champions of anti-imperialist “multipolarity”. In fact it offers them a cloak of legitimacy.
Bhattacharya perceives whole-hearted support for Ukrainian resistance as difficult to reconcile with the “national priority” of “fighting fascism in India.” The understanding that the Left’s duties of international solidarity must defer to its perceived ‘national priority’, is a case of Marxist internationalism being muddied by Realist ‘national interest’, applied this time not only to nation states but to the national Left parties themselves.
But how is unstinting solidarity with Ukraine against a fascist invasion at odds with fighting fascism in India? Bhattacharya’s reasoning is forced, roundabout, and oblique. He takes a puzzling detour into the need for communist movements to beware of the dangers of “prioritizing the international at the expense of the national situation.” Bhattacharya inaccurately 1 attributes the Communist Party of India’s 1942 mistake of remaining aloof from the Quit India movement to its having prioritised its international commitment to the defeat of fascism in World War II, over its national commitment to overthrowing colonialism by Britain, which was then an ally in the war against fascism.
The only plausible purpose of this detour seems to be to make an analogy with the Indian Left’s current predicament vis a vis the invasion of Ukraine. Since the Narendra Modi regime’s primary foreign policy alliance is with the US-led West, it is suggested, the fight against Modi’s fascism would be weakened if Russia, a ‘multipolar’ rival of the US, was routed by the Ukrainian resistance.
Tyrannical regimes construe support for people resisting them, as support for foreign/imperialist “interference” in the “sovereignty” of those regimes.
This convoluted calculus obscures the simple fact: a defeat for Putin’s fascist invasion in Ukraine would embolden those fighting to defeat Modi’s fascism in India. Likewise, a victory for people resisting Xi’s majoritarian tyranny would inspire those resisting Modi’s majoritarian tyranny in India.
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We weaken our own democratic struggles when we choose to view the struggles of others through a distorting campist lens. Ours is not a zero-sum choice between unipolarity versus multipolarity. In every situation, our choices are clear: we can either support the resistance and survival of the oppressed – or we can worry about the survival of the oppressor.
When the Left takes upon itself a ‘duty’ to support the survival of ‘multipolar’ regimes (in Russia, China, and for some on the Left, even Iran), it fails in its actual duty to support people fighting to survive genocide by these regimes. Any benefit the US might get from its material or military support to such struggles, is outweighed by far by the benefit of survival for people who would otherwise face genocide. We would do well to recall that US material and military support to the USSR in World War II played a part in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Tyrannical regimes construe support for people resisting them, as support for foreign or imperialist ‘interference’ in the ‘sovereignty’ of those regimes. When we on the Left do the same, we serve as enablers and apologists for those tyrannies. Those in life-or-death struggles need us to respect their autonomy and sovereignty to decide what kind of moral/material/military support to demand/accept/reject. The moral compass of the global and Indian Left needs an urgent reset, so that it can correct its disastrous course that finds it on speaking the same language as tyrants.
Kavita Krishnan is a Marxist feminist activist and author.
This article was last updated on December 23, 2022
The India Forum welcomes your comments on this article for the Forum/Letters section.
Write to: email@example.com
Dugin, Aleksandr. The Fourth Political Theory. London: Arktos 2012.
Vanaik, Achin. “National Interest: A Flawed Notion”. Economic and Political Weekly 41 (49). 9 Dec 2006.
This is an excellent statement but I wish the term ‘pseudo-left’ had been used instead of ‘left’ for those who effectively side with Putin fascism and Russian aggression against the Ukrainian resistance. The conclusion is spot on: Any call for peace that does not include the demand for Russian withdrawal from Ukrainian territories is disingenuous.
We Say: War on War!
War in Ukraine / Statement by Russian Socialist Movement (emigration branch)
Friday, 17 February 2023 / Russian Socialist Movement (emigration branch)
For a year now, Vladimir Putin’s regime has been killing Ukrainians, sending hundreds of thousands of Russians to their deaths, and threatening the world with nuclear weapons in the name of the insane goal of restoring its empire.
For us Russians who oppose Putin’s aggression and dictatorship, it has been a year of horror and shame over the war crimes committed daily in our name.
On the one-year anniversary of this war, we call all those who yearn for peace to turn out for demonstrations and rallies against Putin’s invasion.
Unfortunately, not all the “peace” rallies taking place next weekend will be actions of solidarity with Ukraine. A large part of the left in the West does not understand the nature of this war and advocates compromise with Putinism.
We have written this statement to help our comrades abroad understand the situation and take the right stand.
A counterrevolutionary war
Some Western writers attribute the war to causes like the collapse of the USSR, the “contradictory history of the Ukrainian nation’s creation,” and geopolitical confrontation between nuclear powers.
Without denying the importance of these factors, we are surprised that these lists overlook the most important and obvious reason for what is happening: the Putin regime’s desire to suppress democratic protest movements throughout the former Soviet Union and in Russia itself.
The 2014 seizure of Crimea and hostilities in the Donbas were a response by the Kremlin to the “revolution of dignity” in Ukraine, which overthrew the corrupt pro-Russian administration of Viktor Yanukovych, as well as to Russians’ mass demonstrations for fair elections in 2011–12 (known as the Bolotnaya Square protests).
Annexing the Crimean Peninsula was a domestic policy win for Putin. He successfully used revanchist, anti-Western, and traditionalist rhetoric (as well as political persecution) to expand his social base, isolate the opposition, and turn the Maidan into a bogeyman with which to frighten the population.
But the popularity boost that followed the annexation was short-lived. The late 2010s saw economic stagnation, an unpopular pension reform, and high-profile anti-corruption revelations by Alexei Navalny’s team that dragged Putin’s ratings back down, especially among young people.
Protests swept the country, and the ruling United Russia party suffered a series of painful defeats in regional elections.
This context has driven the Kremlin to place all its bets on conserving the regime. The 2020 constitutional referendum (which required rigging unprecedented even by Russian standards) effectively made Putin a ruler for life. Under the pretext of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, protest gatherings were finally banned. An attempt was made to poison extra-parliamentary opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which he miraculously survived.
The popular uprising of summer 2020 in Belarus confirmed the Russian elite’s belief that the
“collective West” is waging a “hybrid war” against Russia, attacking it and its satellites with “color revolutions.”
Of course, such claims are nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Social and political discontent in Russia has been growing due to record social inequality, poverty, corruption, rollbacks of civil liberties, and the obvious futility of the Russian model of capitalism, which is based on a parasitic fossil-fuel oligarchy appropriating natural resource rents.
If there’s one thing we can blame the “collective West” for, it’s its longstanding pandering to Putinism, including on the Ukrainian issue. For decades, European and American elites have sought to do “business as usual” with Putin’s Russia, which has allowed a dictatorship to emerge, redistribute wealth upwards, and conduct foreign policy with complete impunity.
Conceding to Putin will not lead to peace
Invading Ukraine was an attempt by Putin to repeat his 2014 Crimean triumph—by securing a speedy victory, rallying Russian society around the flag with revanchist slogans, finally crushing the opposition, and establishing himself as hegemon in the post-Soviet space (which Putin’s imperialism views as part of “historical Russia”).
Ukrainians’ heroic resistance thwarted these plans, turning the “short, victorious war” of the Kremlin’s dreams into a protracted conflict that has worn down Russia’s economy and busted the myth of its army’s invincibility. Backed into a corner, Moscow is threatening the world with its nuclear weapons while simultaneously urging Ukraine and the West to negotiate.
Moscow’s rhetoric is parroted by certain European and American leftists who oppose supplying arms to Ukraine (to “save lives” and prevent a nuclear apocalypse). But Russia is not willing to withdraw from the territories it has captured, a condition that Kyiv and 93% of Ukrainians consider non-negotiable. Must Ukraine instead sacrifice its sovereignty in order to appease the aggressor, a policy that has very dark precedents in European history?
So is it true that Ukraine’s defeat, an inevitability if Western aid is withdrawn, will help prevent more casualties? Even if we accept the non-obvious (from a socialist perspective) logic that saving lives is more important than fighting tyranny and aggression, we believe that this is not the case.
As we know, Vladimir Putin has laid claim to the entire territory of Ukraine, asserting that Ukrainians and Russians are “one nation” and that Ukrainian statehood is a historical mistake. In this context, a ceasefire would merely give the Kremlin time to rebuild its military capacity for a new assault, including by forcing yet more Russians (mostly poor and ethnic minority) into the army.
If Ukraine continues to resist the invasion even without arms supplies, it will lead to innumerable casualties among Ukrainian soldiers and civilians. And terror, the horrific remains of which we saw in Bucha and elsewhere, is what awaits any the new territories seized by Russia.
When Putin speaks about getting rid of American hegemony in the world and even about “anticolonialism” (!), he is not referring to the creation of a more egalitarian world order.
Putin’s “multipolar world” is a world where democracy and human rights are no longer considered universal values, and so-called “great powers” have free rein in their respective geopolitical spheres of influence.
This essentially means restoring the system of international relations that existed in the runup to World Wars I and II.
This “brave old world” would be a wonderful place for dictators, corrupt officials, and the far right.
But it would be hell for workers, ethnic minorities, women, LGBT people, small nations, and all liberation movements.
A victory for Putin in Ukraine would not restore the pre-war status quo, it would set a deadly precedent giving “great powers” the right to wars of aggression and nuclear brinkmanship. It would be a prologue to new military and political catastrophes.
What would a victory in Ukraine for Putinism lead to?
A Putin victory would mean not only the subjugation of Ukraine, but also the bending of all post-Soviet countries to the Kremlin’s will.
Within Russia, a victory for the regime would preserve a system defined by the security and fossilfuel oligarchy’s rule over other social classes (above all the working class) and the plundering of natural resources at the expense of technological and social development.
In contrast, the defeat of Putinism in Ukraine would likely lend momentum to movements for democratic change in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other former Soviet countries, as well as in Russia itself.
It would be overly optimistic to claim that defeat in war automatically leads to revolution. But Russian history is replete with examples of military setbacks abroad that have led to major change at home—including the abolition of serfdom, the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, and Perestroika in the 1980s.
Russian socialists have no use for a “victory” for Putin and his oligarch cronies. We call on all those who truly desire peace and still believe in dialogue with the Russian government to demand that it withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territories. Any call for peace that does not include this demand is disingenuous.
End the war! Stand in solidarity against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
End the draft! Russians are not cannon fodder.
Free Russian political prisoners!
15 February 2023
Update: I could not find proper translation of Zelensky’s speech to Ukraine Parliament of December 28 when I posted excerpts from New Year’s speech below. Above link explains even more clearly than below that Ukraine is leading the global democratic revolution as well as the war against fascism – and knows it.
We are all one family.
This is the year when Ukraine changed the world.
And the world discovered Ukraine.
We were told to surrender.
We chose a counterattack!
We were told to make concessions and compromises.
We are joining the European Union and NATO.
The world heard Ukraine.
European Parliament, Bundestag, the UK Parliament, Knesset, the US Congress.
The world felt Ukraine.
Ukraine in the media.
In the hearts of people.
At the top of Google search.
The world saw Ukraine.
On the main squares in Toronto, New York, London, Warsaw, Florence, Sydney and other cities.
Ukrainians are applauded.
Ukrainians are inspired.
Is there anything that can scare us?
Is there anyone who can stop us?
Because we are all together.
It is what we are fighting for.
One for each other.
The best salute for us is at the warehouses of the occupiers.
The best gift is the numbers in the report of the General Staff.
We do not know for sure what the new year 2023 will bring us.
But ready for anything.
We will be happy.
We will be steadfast.
Continuation of the fight?
We will fight.
And when we win, we will hug.
A few minutes remain until the New Year!
I want to wish us all one thing – victory.
And that’s the main thing.
One wish for all Ukrainians.
Let this be the year of return.
The return of our people.
Soldiers – to their families.
Prisoners – to their homes.
Immigrants – to their Ukraine.
Return of our lands and the temporarily occupied will become forever free.
Return to normal life.
To happy moments without curfew.
To earthly joys without air alerts.
The return of what has been stolen from us.
The childhood of our children, the peaceful old age of our parents.
So that grandchildren come to visit their grandparents during the holidays.
To eat watermelons in Kherson and the cherry in Melitopol.
So that our cities are free.
Our friends are faithful.
And so that our main figure and main success appeared in reports near the figure of 100,000 destroyed enemies, thousands of units of destroyed Russian equipment – it is 603,628 square kilometers.
The area of independent Ukraine, as it was since 1991.
As it will always be.
May the New Year bring all this.
We are ready to fight for it.
That’s why each of us is here.
We are here.
You are here.
Everyone is here.
We are all Ukraine.
Glory to Ukraine!
Happy New Year!
“In a tribal society in which ‘everyone knows’ that you need to sacrifice a goat to have a healthy baby, you make sure you sacrifice a goat. Better safe than sorry.” – Daniel Dennett (Breaking the spell: religion as a natural phenomenon, 2006)
The world is now well into the third year of Covid and how we have dealt with it is a mixed bag. Scientifically we have ticked quite a few boxes with research and treatment responses being rapid, ongoing and impressive. The political and policy responses, nationally and internationally, are less impressive due to varied approaches, all ostensibly following the same scientific advice. Regardless of this, governments have taken the pandemic and its impacts – health, social and economic – seriously and negatively.
However I will not be going down this rabbit hole here because it would be a distraction from the purpose of this post although, regarding the politics, hints may be drawn from here. What I am wishing to comment on are the frankly reactionary voices that emerged from some sections of the environmentalist and related movements that took an overtly sanguine and/or smug attitude to the implications of the pandemic – the benefit to the planet of the slowdown, the view that Mother Earth is, in effect, striking back.
These romanticised and reactionary attitudes lie behind, and breathe life into, the positive spin placed on the crisis. For example A Pandemic in Retrospect – Looking Back on the Corona Virus by Hazel Henderson and Fritjof Capra is a case in point. Readers may remember the latter’s The Tao of Physics from the mid 1970’s. This article has pretensions of ‘scientific’ expertise, being written by two people with scientific qualifications and experience. In reality it reads like poorly envisaged sci-fi. The Corona Virus is not Mother Nature’s Revenge by Alan Levinovitz provides a counter view, although as the title suggests, there are plenty of views afoot that do see Covid-19 as Mother Nature’s revenge, as this piece in Counterpunch by Evaggelos Villainatos affirms. Its title, ‘Nature’s Revenge: Climate Change and Covid19’ rings the alarm bell and its concluding sentence is as blunt as it is backward looking:
But unless we connect the virus with the horrors of climate change and the anthropogenic impoverishment of the planet, we imperil ourselves and this beautiful Mother Earth, Mother to All.
Now, in terms of what I want this post to be about I couldn’t have put this better as it is this romanticised and backward take on our dear ‘Mother’ that galls and that is reactionary in more than just a contemporary sense. I’ll pick up the Child Protection angle at the foot of the article – if some think it okay to romanticise and deify our dear ‘Mother’ then it is also okay to take the piss out of ‘her’ and those who worship and apologise for ‘her’.
Whether our relationship with nature is seen and expressed metaphorically, the principal mode of expression in the modern world, or in divine or mystical ways as something actual, as it was in premodern times, there are themes that underlie both viewpoints. These are our dependence upon nature, our compliance with nature’s requirements or dictates, the need to maintain a balance between what we want from nature and what nature can give us, and the need for us to respect nature, to have an attitude to it characterised by scientific understanding as opposed to servility and hubris. Of these, our dependency is the most obvious, containing as it does a level of credibility, as we are part of the natural world and are subject to its laws. But we are left with choices as to how we respond to this dependence and this is where the politics really kicks in. A fine line can distinguish being dependent/part of nature and being subservient before nature, being subject to its control and vagaries. It is important to be clear about the difference and I would argue that it is a part of humanity’s nature, and hence part of the natural world, for us to rebel against the constraints of powerlessness and to maximise autonomy. Goethe’s Faust gave expression to this when he said to Mephisto “If I stand fast I shall be a slave”, the practical expression of which is found in science and technology, not to mention a spirit that rebels against servility.
Struggle against the constraints of ‘Mother Nature’
The struggle against these constraints is a very old one that precedes the development of written language. By Ancient Greek times, Archimedes for one, had picked up the gauntlet, advising those around him: “Don’t just live in the lap of the gods. Don’t be dominated by Mother Nature. You, as a man, can take control of your own destiny.” What Archimedes was getting at was that destiny can be something we create, not something that is delivered to us and that we are bonded to. And this process of creation implied a struggle against, and a wrenching from, prevailing forces, be these natural or human made.
Although the term ‘mother nature’ itself heralds from a Greco-Roman heritage, Gaia being the mother of all life in Greek mythology, equivalents are a common feature of human history and mythology. Most of human history, even extending into the medieval period, saw humanity being subject to what must have appeared to be the whims and caprices of the natural world. Being solution-seeking animals, our forebears sought answers. In colloquial vein and employing my favourite acronym of the early 21stC, they wanted to know wtf was going on and wtf they could do about appeasing what were powerful and mysterious forces.
Our ancestors came up with answers that enabled them to survive. Beliefs in spirits, gods and demons of varying powers and persuasions, some good, some bad, but nearly all fickle, the movers and shakers of the natural world, made sense to them. It appeased fears; it gave them sufficiently credible answers and directions that helped them get on with the much more pressing task of survival and to accept the inevitability and propriety of their severely limited agency.
To make these gods and spirits more understandable and potentially accessible to human influence, our ancestors anthropomorphised them. As an inevitable part of this (a devil’s bargain if you will) they accepted personal/communal responsibility for pleasing them and gaining their support or displeasing them and incurring their wrath. The philosopher Daniel Dennett wryly put it this way: “in a tribal society in which ‘everyone knows’ that you need to sacrifice a goat to have a healthy baby, you make sure you sacrifice a goat. Better safe than sorry.” (p160 Breaking the Spell)
While these conclusions are not contentious in the modern world, it is worth reminding ourselves that it was our ancestors who created the spirit world and the divinities that inhabited it; and for those forces they anthropomorphised, our forebears projected much of themselves into their creations. Which brings me back to ‘Mother Nature’. One of the gains we have made in the modern world is, in essence, the jettisoning of the idea of Mother Nature as a sentient, subjective force and the embracing of the natural world (with us being part of it) as something controlled by natural laws that can be understood and applied for humanity’s betterment, of helping us get out from under, develop and improve.
While speaking of mother nature metaphorically is clearly a step or few in advance of divine interpretations, the line between them, as suggested above, can be thin. It can also be easily breached. Henderson and Capra’s piece, ostensibly scientific, employs ambiguous phraseology such as: “our planet taught us”, “our mother star”, “Gaia responded in unexpected ways”, “Earth is our wisest teacher”. This is an ambiguity that stretches credulity to breaking point. Villainatos however takes it further. His language, like that of Henderson and Copra, is certainly deferential but more overtly mystical. As well as the sentence I quoted above he writes:
“The Earth, I think, is still beautiful, fruitful, alive and sacred. The Homeric Hymn to Gaia (Earth) describes the Earth as mother of the gods and wife of heavens, very ancient Mother of All, which nourishes every single plant and animal.”
Both pieces are awash with a smorgasbord of mainstream to extremist environmental concerns, ranging from overpopulation to environmental depredation, and laced with environmental hubris and varying degrees of misanthropy. In this sense they vary little fromthe traditional model of mother nature – the need of obedience or compliance to nature or to the whims of the gods; of understanding and accepting our ‘place’. The subsidiary meanings and implications of this stance, its politics, has always been conservative and as human society developed beyond the limitations and constraints imposed by prehistorical, tribal and medieval conditions, reactionary.
In saying this I am not wishing to sidestep the gendered nature of the creator because our Mother of All had male ‘consorts’ and competitors – Uranus, Zeus, Odin and the Abrahamic God amongst others. Both ‘mother’ and ‘father’ are human creations that their followers, well, follow, seeking to please and to gain succour from; or disobey and suffer the consequences. And the fear of the consequences of disobedience was a very useful tool to wield against those whose behaviour or manner differed too much from those who held the power to do the wielding.
But whether we are speaking of and relating to nature as sentient and emotional, or whether we employ these as metaphors in describing the natural world and our part in it, we cannot be absolved from the politics our stance and our choice of language contains.
But that being said, and meant, I’m going to end this post poking a bit of fun at both ‘mother’ and her contemporary two legged acolytes. I am going to accept these projected fantasies as real and play with them. In doing this I wish to bring no slight upon our ancestors, those we all have to thank for figuring out ways that worked for them in the survival game (we are here because of them). The same cannot be said for today’s advocates and the conceit they embrace.
As mentioned above we are curious and problem solving creatures with a tendency to anthropomorphize things, a perverse form of empathy perhaps, and Mother of All is the gold standard. But the freer we become – especially of constraints that have really boxed us in – the more another human quality emerges from behind the shadows. And that is our capacity for humour, to take the piss out of things, including, especially including, ourselves.
With this in mind I would like to accept Mother Nature as the beautiful ‘Mother to all’, as Villainatos put it, and on this basis ask questions about Mother’s KPIs as a ‘parent’, whether she has met or failed to meet basic parenting responsibilities. Evidence appears overwhelming that Mother Nature has been cruel, capricious and utterly indifferent to the suffering inflicted upon her progeny, including to those who have worshipped her. Countless millions lost to starvation, disease, disasters termed ‘natural’ and occurring with no or little warning and cynically ascribed to human folly (in contemporary jargon this is known as victim blaming). Need I go on? But why is our Mother to All so cruel, indeed viscous in her indifference to human wellbeing? All we can do is hypothesise, but unlike Villainous et al, my hypothesising will be focussed on Mother of All and not ‘her’ victims.
Mother Nature as a ‘dominatrix’?
Could Mother Nature be a dominatrix? Kinky, and depending on one’s proclivities…. But ultimately unsatisfactory, the nature of the SM relationship being too voluntary. Dominatrixes are supposed to elicit sexual pleasure through the infliction of measured physical pain, humiliation or servitude. If that was all it was, Nature’s role would be trivialised beyond measure. Humiliation and servitude are certainly part of the ‘deal’ but the physical pain inflicted has been anything but measured. This hypothesis can therefore be discarded.
Could she be a single divine parent with a tragic history of severe attachment disorder? This is more promising as it may explain why ‘Mother’, and ‘her’ slightly lesser divine male cohorts, flipped between going missing in action, perhaps at some divine haunt getting a skinful, or going troppo when presented by the kids with anything remotely resembling demanding behaviour. (Please [mother] may I have some more?). To my mind this hypothesis is worth consideration and jostles with the one that follows.
Mother Nature is suffering from an uncontained sociopathic personality disorder, aka Mother Nature is a nasty piece of work. This too ticks a few boxes, but it raises the question of wtf was the intergalactic child protection agency doing? It was either missing in action (in a collusive relationship and rubbing shoulders at the above mentioned haunt?) or, heaven and associated divine agencies forbid, it doesn’t exist. Either way we kids are on our own and are forced to shoulder the responsibility for negotiating what has been a difficult and complex developmental pathway. And this is where Faust’s advice comes in, enabled as it was by Mephisto’s Life Coach Facilitation Agency.
My point in taking a swipe at Mother of All and her human cheerleaders, aside from having some fun, is to criticise their profoundly reactionary nature. It is misanthropic too of course but misanthropy is, perhaps, too broad for it allows its essentially class nature to slip through unnoticed. It is not the aspirations of the less well-heeled that is the problem. Where significant environmental or social problems emerge we do not point our fingers at the Oliver Twist brigade – wanting more is not just reasonable, but proper – but at those, or the systems, that stand in the way.
Finally, let us not forget that there are two targets we confront in our ongoing struggle for development and prosperity. One is Nature, the natural world. We have an impressive track record in this struggle, discovering and applying natural laws to our advantage. The other is human made, the reactionary killjoys and misanthropes who, generally from a position of privilege, accuse the less well-heeled of greed, selfishness, of caring more about themselves and their progeny than they do about ‘the planet’. And behind the killjoys? Marx hit the nail on the head.
* * * * * * *
Barry York (republished from ‘Overland’ literary journal )
Fifty years ago, on 4 August 1972, three La Trobe University students—Fergus Robinson, Brian Pola and myself—were released from Pentridge Prison after serving, respectively, four months, three months and six weeks. Hardly any other political prisoners of that period in Australia had served such lengthy terms, with the exception of some of the draft resisters. This was an extraordinary and unprecedented case of political repression.
The ‘La Trobe Three’ had been imprisoned in a maximum-security prison without trial, without rights to bail or appeal, and without sentencing. Formally speaking, we were jailed for contempt of the Supreme Court of Victoria for violating an injunction restraining us from ‘entering the premises known as La Trobe University’. The injunction had been issued by the university governing body, the Council, because of the students’ leading roles in what academics refer to as ‘the La Trobe Troubles’. A fourth student, Rodney Taylor, was also singled out and named in the injunction. However, he was never captured by police.
The ‘Troubles’ on the campus were part of the broader student and youth rebellion of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with core issues the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa and demands for greater ‘student power’ in university decision-making. Monash University had been the bête noir of the establishment due to its campus militancy and the capable leadership of Maoists like Albert Langer and Mike Hyde.
The immediate background to the La Trobe incarcerations dates to 19 April 1971, when a meeting of a thousand students—the largest ever held on campus—voted nearly unanimously in favour of a motion calling for the resignation of the Chancellor, Sir Archibald Glenn. Glenn was managing director of Imperial Chemicals Industries (ANZ) and sat on the board of its UK-based parent company. His presence as head of the University Council was intolerable to the great majority of students because ICI(ANZ) had been awarded a contract by the Department of Supply for Australian troops in Vietnam and the parent company was involved in the apartheid-based economy of South Africa.
The popular demand for Glenn’s resignation allowed the militant left-wing Labour Club (not to be confused with the Labor Party) and the Communist Club to connect the campus issue to the wider question of capitalism and whose class interests the universities served. The Communist Club leader, Dave Muller (1946–2021), had undertaken the initial research into Glenn and ICI, and this provided a firm basis for the campaign.
As with Monash, the communist leadership at La Trobe—which was also predominantly Maoist—posed a special challenge to the authorities. The leadership emerged through struggle within the Labour Club, while the revisionist Communist Party supporters split and either went with the Maoists or removed themselves from the practical struggle. Other factions went ‘every which way’, though basically supporting militant action.
There were other campus issues, too, such as an ‘exclusion clause’ introduced by the authorities to exclude anyone under suspension from a university from being admitted to La Trobe. This was clearly a political move designed to stop left-wing students who had been suspended from Monash being admitted to La Trobe.
The militancy at La Trobe went back further than 1971, most notably with the forced removal of Defence Department recruiters from the campus in June 1970 and later that year, in September, with the Vietnam solidarity marches from the campus along Waterdale Road in West Heidelberg. The first of these peaceful marches was savagely suppressed by police, as was the second march in defiance of the repression. Nineteen students were arrested, two at gunpoint. A third march attracted 800 people, including trade unionists, and marched defiantly along the street to the campus. At this time, the Maoist group was ascendant as leader of the campus left.
Robinson, Pola and myself were recognised as prominent among the leaders on the campus in 1971 when the campaign for Glenn’s resignation gathered momentum. As a matter of principle, no actions were initiated by the Maoist-led Labour Club without first convening a general meeting of students, either through the auspices of the Students Representative Council, or through unofficial general meetings. The latter were often larger than the former and, in July 1971, a meeting resolved to blockade members of the University Council until such time as the Chancellor resigned. A couple of hundred students blocked the doors of the Council room, where Council was in session, and police were called onto the campus that evening.
As a result of this action, eight students were suspended by the university disciplinary body—the farcical ‘Proctorial Board’. Five of them were also arrested by police. Occupations of the administration building, endorsed by general meetings, took place in protest against the repression, which in turn resulted in greater repression. On 30 September, the authorities called in the police to evict students who had occupied the Administration building. This was a first on an Australian campus. In October, twenty-four students were hauled before the Proctorial Board, of whom twenty-three were suspended and/or fined. (The late John Cummins was one of them).
Hundreds of students took part in occupations of the Admin building on 30 September and 1 October. When the police were called on 30 September, students escaped via the windows of the ground floor. In response, the Vice Chancellor arranged for heavy-gauge wire gratings to be rivetted over the windows. A student general meeting on 11 October voted to remove them and marched to the building, where a group attached ropes to the gratings and proceeded to tug on them until they broke from the rivets. This was done in broad daylight—a sign that intimidation would not work. It was later revealed that the authorities had collected evidence against the student leaders over this action, but no charges were ever laid.
The struggle and sacrifices proved worthwhile. In early December 1971, prior to the end of his term, Glenn announced his decision to resign as Chancellor, and the University rescinded its ‘exclusion clause’. By the end of 1971, the students had won significant victories. However, the campus struggle continued, bringing to mind Marx’s saying about people making history not as they wish but rather as circumstances dictate.
A characteristic of the La Trobe struggle in 1970 and 1971 had been the willingness to bypass official structures of student representation as part of building a revolutionary socialist movement. In early November 1971, the official representative student body—the SRC—resolved to pay the fines imposed by the Proctorial Board, subject to approval by a general meeting of students to be convened early the following year (which, as expected, supported the move). The University Council objected and threatened legal action against the SRC and against any suspended students who remained on the campus. The latter group included Brian Pola, who was the elected SRC President.
The slogan ‘Student control of student funds’ was popular but created a struggle that refocused the campus left onto official SRC politics rather than the previous revolutionary politics that challenged the role of the universities under capitalism. Had this shift not occurred over the issue of payment of the fines, the left would have raised the money from the rank-and-file student body instead. This would have been the ‘Maoist’ way of doing it—relying on the people—and it would have been effective.
With our victory over Glenn and the ‘exclusions clause’ achieved by the end of 1971, Fergus, Brian and I were among the few of the 1970-1971 militant activist generation to return to campus the following year when the continuing, unresolved, issue was ‘student control of student funds’.
Our consistent revolutionary perspective on politics and struggle, challenging the role of the universities under capitalism and supporting unity between students and workers, was as much of a threat to the authorities as the actions we supported. The use of Supreme Court injunctions to stop us entering the campus grounds was a clear attempt to stop us expressing our views at general meetings.
It is pertinent to note that in the three other cases of university authorities applying for injunctive relief against student radicals—at Sydney and Monash in 1970 and Queensland in 1971—the restraining orders were narrowly focused and specifically prohibited the named students from participating in disruptive activity. The exception was an ancillary injunction taken out by Queensland University on 30 July 1971 against an individual leader, Mitch Thompson, who was prohibited from entering the campus. This served as the model for the La Trobe injunctions, which sought to stop us from entering the university grounds—that is, to stop us expressing our views on campus. This left us no choice but to be defiant, as a matter of principle. And, of course, we were aware that the injunctions were designed to intimidate other leaders and developing leaders.
The indeterminate nature of the ‘sentence’ for contempt could only be resolved if and when the ‘La Trobe Three’ agreed to purge our contempt before the Supreme Court and promise not to enter the campus grounds if released. This we were not prepared to do. Rather, we sought to continue to exercise our right to participate in the political life of the campus, including helping to organise, initiate and address rallies and general meetings of students, and take part in protest actions on the campus.
It was very hard doing time without knowing when we would be released. We could not count down the days and we were in ‘A’ Division, which had a lot of long-term prisoners doing time for armed robbery or murder. The fact that we were placed with so many long-termers was an ominous sign. However, a campaign for our release was underway at the La Trobe campus, building strong support from other campuses and trade unions and, notably, within the legal profession.
I remember being told that Amnesty International was about to take up our case in London but we were released before that became necessary.
All our mass actions on the campus had been endorsed by general meetings of students. Therefore, after the capture of Fergus on 12 April and Brian on 1 May, the left leadership called for the holding of an official referendum on the campus to allow students to resolve the issue. The left called on the Vice Chancellor and Council to agree to abide by the referendum’s results. The main issue—the release of Fergus and Brian—carried the day in the referendum which was held from 10 to 12 May 1972. Of the 1667 students who voted, 1005 voted for the withdrawal of the injunctions.
I was captured and lodged at Pentridge in June, which added further pressure on the University authorities to abide by the referendum results and highlighted their refusal to do so. The Council was encouraged in its hard line by a ‘pro-violence minority’ among some senior academic staff and students aligned with the National Civic Council who consistently refused to support democratic means of resolving the conflict.
We never apologised to the Court nor did we purge our contempt before it. So, how were we released?
On the 20th and 22nd July, Vice Chancellor David Myers visited us in Pentridge with a view to persuading us to purge our contempt. We still weren’t prepared to do that, as it would mean agreeing to not enter the university premises, but we were certainly willing to discuss any offer he would make on behalf of the Council. He wanted us to sign a statement repudiating violence on the campus. We were not prepared to do this either. Although the far right ironically described us as a pro-violence minority, we knew that the real pro-violence minority were those who relied on police violence and intimidation, not to mention those who sent troops to prop up a fascist regime in South Vietnam and ‘bomb back to the Stone Age’ those who were fighting it.
One of our legal advisors, communist lawyer Ted Hill, also visited us and advised us to sign the statement only on condition that Myers also sign the repudiation of violence on behalf of the Council. In this way, the terms for the disbandment of the injunction and for our release were neutralized and we felt we could sign. So, on 31 July, we joined with the University Council in repudiating violence on the campus.
Our release on 4 August 1972 was a victory because the University authorities bowed to mass pressure and it was the Vice Chancellor who applied to the court for an end to the injunctions and for our freedom. We never apologised to the Court and we promptly returned to the campus where, still under suspension for specified periods, we continued to take an active part in campus politics.
My book, Student Revolt, published in 1989, provides greater detail and contextualisation about the La Trobe student movement from 1967 to 1973. It is available for free on-line: https://c21stleft.com/2015/09/05/student-revolt-la-trobe-university-1967-to-1973/
This is the video of the panel discussion of Marxism and Anarchism organised by the Platypus Affiliated Society on 30 July 2022.
Saturday July 30th, the Melbourne chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society will be hosting a Panel Discussion on “Marxism and Anarchism: Radical Ideologies Today”, at Trades hall in Carlton, Melbourne, starting at 1pm AEST.
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible – the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these two radical ideologies must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. To see in what ways their return in our current moment represents an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost.
Platypus asks the questions: Where have these battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?
Matthew Crossin – Melbourne Anarchist-Communist Group
Lachlan Marshall – Solidarity [International Socialist Tendency]
Benjamin Smith – Anarcho-Syndicalist Federation
Tom Griffiths – Unreconstructed Maoist
This event is free, and seating is limited by the venue. Please register for tickets: http://www.eventbrite.com.au/…/panel-discussion-marxism…
The event will conclude in under three hours.
Please register for tickets so that we can keep track of numbers.
Entrance via Victoria Street.
Join us at the Curtin across the road for a drink afterwards to continue the discussion.
A livestream of the event will be available over Zoom. If time permits, questions from the online audience will be permitted.
## About Platypus:
The Platypus Affiliated Society, established in December 2006, organizes reading groups, public fora, research and journalism focused on problems and tasks inherited from the “Old” (1920s-30s), “New” (1960s-70s) and post-political (1980s-90s) Left for the possibilities of emancipatory politics today.
This essay by Park Macdougal is reprinted from ‘Unherd’
“The most vulgar, simplistic view of the Left — that dissolves all the supposed distinctions between centrists, liberals, leftists, socialists, communists into one homogenous Democratic blob — happens to be correct.” So writes Benedict Cryptofash, an anonymous Twitter user and self-described “anti-leftist” whose other theoretical contributions include “the Left and Right are fake and gay” and “only libtards care about policy”.
Despite appearences, Cryptofash — his pseudonym mocks the tendency of online leftists to accuse their critics of “cryptofascism” — is not your typical Right-wing internet troll. He’s a Marxist who regards “leftism” as the ideology of bourgeois supremacy, the twenty-first-century equivalent of the classical liberalism that Karl Marx spent his mature years attempting to demolish. “My critique focuses on the Left,” Cryptofash writes in one of his periodic straight tweets, “not because they are worse than the Right, but because they are better than the right at precluding proletarian class consciousness.”
Cryptofash is one of the more visible members of a political tendency known as the “post-Left”, the latest in the endless stream of new and strange ideologies thrown up by social media. Although professing commitment to traditionally Left-wing goals such as anti-capitalism, the post-leftists are defined mostly by their aggressive hostility to both the Democratic Party and the radical Left — including the Democratic Socialists of America and the academic-literary Left of magazines such as Jacobin, n+1 and Dissent.
Aside from Cryptofash, other leading lights include What’s Left? co-hosts Aimee Terese and Oliver Bateman, editor of The Bellows Edwin Aponte, the Irish writer Angela Nagle and a coterie of pseudonymous Twitter accounts, such as @ghostofchristo1. Red Scare co-hosts Anna Khachiyan and Dasha Nekrasova might be considered fellow travellers.
The core assertion of the post-Left is relatively simple: The real ruling class in America is the progressive oligarchy represented politically by the Democratic Party. The Democrats are the party of Silicon Valley, Wall Street, the Ivy League, the media, the upper layers of the national security state and federal bureaucracy, and of highly educated professionals in general. The Republicans, however loathsome, are largely a distraction — a tenuous alliance between a minority faction of the ruling class and petit bourgeois.
Effectively incapable of governing outside the bounds set by the Democrats and Democrat-aligned media, corporations, NGOs and government bureaucracies, the GOP’s real function is to serve as a sort of ideological bogeyman. By positioning itself as the last line of defence against phantasmic threats of “fascism” and “white nationalism” coming from the Right, the ruling class is able to legitimise its own power and conceal the domination on which that power rests.
Leftists, in this telling — whether Ivy League professors or Antifa militants on the streets of Portland — are thus little more than the unwitting dupes of the ruling class. However much they profess to hate the Democratic Party, they are, in practice, its running-dog lackeys. They support the party electorally, harass and cancel its designated enemies and enforce pro-Democrat ideology in the media, academia and the workplace. Crucially, they also help maintain the permanent state of moral emergency that serves as a pretext for the expansion of ruling class power, whether in the form of the increasingly direct control that tech monopolies wield over political discourse or the pursuit of Covid policies that transfer wealth upward and subject workers to a dystopian regime of medical surveillance.
At the core of this diagnosis is the idea that “identity politics”, “antiracism”, “intersectionality” and other pillars of the progressive culture war are mystifications whose function is to demoralise and divide the proletariat.
Similar criticisms have been made by Left-wing writers such as Adolph Reed and Walter Benn Michaels, but whereas these “class-first” leftists tend to regard “identitarianism” as a liberal deviation from authentic leftism, the post-leftists regard the idea that there still is a radical Left meaningfully distinct from the Democrats as meaningless. And because post-leftists see the Democrats, and by extension the Left, as their primary enemy, they have no problem engaging and even entering into provisional alliances with the populist Right, especially on cultural issues. Hence the right-wing memes.
Of course, the post-leftists operate at varying levels of coherence and theoretical sophistication, and most of them have produced far more in the way of podcasts and tweets than sustained considerations of political theory. (Cynically, one might say they are less of a “tendency” than a Twitter clique centered around Aimee Terese.) But it would be a mistake to dismiss it altogether on those grounds — the Dirtbag Left’s Chapo Trap House podcast, after all, has played an outsized role in the revival of millennial socialism, and it is always difficult to predict which of today’s shitposters will be setting the tone of the culture five years from now.
For one thing, the post-Left channels powerful currents of Marxist and post-Marxist critique that have been downplayed or forgotten during the “Great Awokening” and the recent socialist renaissance: from Amadeo Bordiga’s communist hostility to “anti-fascist” collaboration with the bourgeoisie to Christopher Lasch’s early writings about the medical-therapeutic state as a tool of class domination.
But perhaps the most obvious spiritual predecessor to the post-Left is the Italian-American philosopher Paul Piccone, the founder and long-time editor of the critical theory journal Telos and another Marxist who eventually left the Left only to find himself in a strange alliance with the Right.
Piccone began his career as a disciple of Herbert Marcuse and proponent of his theory of “one-dimensionality”, which held that capitalism had advanced to such a degree in the West as to effectively abolish all opposition to itself. With the proletariat co-opted by consumerism, radicals, in Marcuse’s view, should instead look for resistance from racial minorities and other outcasts who had yet to be integrated into the system.
But by the late 1970s, Piccone, reacting to the failures of the New Left, had broken with Marcuse. He began to argue that the new social movements that Marcuse had perceived as expressions of anti-system negativity had in fact been forms of what Piccone dubbed “artificial negativity” — pseudo-radical protest movements generated by the system itself.
Piccone agreed with Marcuse that by the mid-20th century, capitalism had triumphed over all internal resistance. But he believed that because the system required such resistance in order to periodically restructure itself and avoid stagnation, it had begun to manufacture its own controlled opposition. He interpreted the initial Civil Rights movement, for instance, as a product of the system’s need to “rationalise” the segregated labour market of the South, after which it seamlessly transitioned to promoting black nationalism in an “attempt to artificially reconstitute an otherness which had long since been effectively destroyed”. The allegedly radical protest movement against the Vietnam War had, similarly, merely allowed an evolving US capitalist class to abandon an imperial quagmire that had become obsolete.
Indeed, Piccone grew so pessimistic about the “artificial” nature of Western leftism that he spent much of the rest of his career seeking out extant pockets of, and resources for cultivating, “organic negativity” — his term for social practices and political formations that genuinely stood outside the logic of the system. Some of these he found on the far-Right, in the regionalism of the Italian Lega Nord, the anti-liberal political theory of Carl Schmitt, the paleoconservatism of Paul Gottfried and Samuel Francis, and the right-wing “identitarianism” of Alain de Benoist. Such explorations, or flirtations, were justifiable because, in Piccone’s view, nearly all of what passed for radicalism in the mature societies of the West was pseudo-radicalism that ultimately served capitalist interests.
Although Piccone could be more than a bit conspiratorial, it is not hard to see how his “artificial negativity” thesis could be applied to a great deal of the officially sanctioned cultural radicalism of today, which may help to explain why ideas similar to his are beginning to resurface. One can also point to the experience of leftists during the Trump years who found themselves corralled into an anti-Trump popular front that had them allying with not only centrist Democrats but also Never-Trump Republicans, including many of the architects of the Iraq War.
Bordiga had famously argued against this sort of broad-based “anti-fascism”, which he warned would “breathe life into that great poisonous monster, a great bloc comprising every form of capitalist exploitation, along with all of its beneficiaries”, and this is indeed what happened — socialists such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, initially popular for their opposition to the “corporate” establishment of the Democrats, ultimately fell in line behind the party’s leadership and urged their followers to do the same.
The Trump years also revealed something about the nature of power in the United States that, once seen, is difficult to unsee. For all the warnings that Trump would turn out to be Hitler, he in practice turned out to be more like Berlusconi — a vulgar entertainer with a sordid personal life who in most respects ended up governing like a normal politician.
What happened on the other side of the aisle was more subtle but also, in the long run, more sinister. We saw the national media collaborating with shadowy intelligence agents and researchers to launder a conspiracy theory about Russian collusion and, later, employ the same playbook to block Trump’s planned withdrawal from Afghanistan. We saw constant media-generated and wealthy NGO-funded campaigns against racism and sexism welded to the electoral priorities of the Democrats. We saw “Critical Race Theory”, a crude ideological rationalisation of the Democrats’ coalitional logic, elevated to the level of quasi-official religion. We saw Twitter suspending The New York Post for publishing embarrassing information about Joe Biden’s son in the run-up to the election and payments processors such as PayPal partnering with progressive NGOs to monitor their customers and report “extremists” to law enforcement.
In short, we saw the consolidation of a near-unified ruling class bloc explicitly aligned with the Democratic Party against the potential disruption of Trump. This development has already created a host of strange new political alliances. If it holds, we should not be surprised if more than a few anti-capitalist radicals begin to reassess who their real enemies are.
This Thursday. Solidarity Hall, Victoria Trades Hall
54 Victoria St, Carlton VIC 3053.
Link for RSVP form above not clickable. Turn up anyway
Update: Just got RSVP link:
Here is report on Sydney launch at author Nadia Wheatley’s web site:
PS Sorry I haven’t been posting here.
100 days of Putin’s fault.
Been busy at this Ukraine thread in a discussion forum:
My posts can be found by clicking the Blue button for second most frequent poster ArthurD.
Only just got this flyer and thought I would not be able to post it. Sorry.
A Weekly Podcast and Project by Joey Ayoub
A blog for popular culture, social history and politics from Mark Cunliffe
Melbourne Art & Culture Critic
a blog on popular struggles, human rights and social justice from an anti-authoritarian perspective
"We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution"
A blog for social policy discussion and debate
A Blog Devoted to Socialist Economics
The Art and Craft of Blogging