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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

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On "Defending", the National Question and Anti-Imperialism

In Swedish, liberal and conservative agents of imperialist hegemony have a word for people who in any way align themselves with Islamic states, bourgeois nationalist states and populist Left governments like Cuba and Venezuela in global issues - "diktatur-kramare". It literally translates to "dictatorship-hugger" or "dictatorship-cuddler", and is used to dismiss anyone who shows sympathy for people living in anything outside the Western bourgeois-parliamentary structure. Curiously, the liberals don't accept that they are "defending" anything, since they aren't arguing from the perspective of the material reality of global neo-liberalism and imperialism, but eternal, immutable ideals of democracy and freedom. The notion of "defending" something, or "supporting" something, is the way global discourse understands the conflicts between nation-states, global political conflicts and ideological clashes. In the left debate between ardent "anti-imperialists" and idealist working class-romanticists, this use of language creates heated debate: are we to "defend" North Korea? Should we "defend" Iran? Assad's Syria? And what's the alternative? Do we "support" U.S intervention? Do we "support" imperial aggression?

The confusion that comes from the terms to "defend" or to "support" is a barrier to providing a correct, material analysis of these non-Communist, revisionist and/or otherwise bourgeois nation-states. This is not just some attack on the idealist first world working-class romantics, this is as much of a problem for the anti-imperialists. While I agree that these working-class romantics are incorrect in their "whatever bad things happen to the state of DPRK is a good thing" bigotry, there's a disturbing tendency on the other side by the various anti-imperialist anarchists, Trotskyists, Maoists, Third-Worldists, Hoxhaists, "Tankies", and other forms of anti-imperialist activists, taking the opposite, un-dialectical position of unconditionally "defending" every nation that the U.S is or is threatening to bomb. North Korea 2013 would've been condemned as "revisionist" by any good Maoist in the 1960's, yet people who proclaim themselves to be "Maoist" like the ridiculous YouTuber MaoistRebelNews2 and his followers go out of their way to prove that the DPRK is a "successful Marxist-Leninist state", even though it has denounced both Marxism-Leninism and Communism in word and action.

What is the purpose of this glorification, as a mirror response to the imperialist condemnation of the DPRK? Is it to follow a materialist line to explain reality? Or is it a way for people who, without having the intellectual ability to step outside of an idealist good vs bad mindset, seek a way to justify their positions? 

Of course, if there is something good about DPRK, and I think there is, we should defend it. The often ridiculed "Juche Idea" makes them a hard country for imperialist forces to get at - it's focus on becoming as self-reliant is both the source of it's infamous isolation as well as it's continued survival as a nation. But with the DPRK, as well as other anti-imperialist but non-socialist nation-states, the glory and harmony in their domestic political sphere is hardly the point. The central point is the right of national self-determination, and of the right to self-determination in general, is impossible under imperialism, and that there are economic classes who profit from the violation of this principle. Granted, we aren't as stupid as to believe that military dictatorships truly represent the general masses politically, but bombs do not care for representative politics. Bombs do not care whether or not you've rigged elections, imprisoned political enemies, starved half your population or publicly executed children. Bombs care about whatever natural resource and cheap manual labor can be extracted from your nation. For national self-determination to be actualized, imperialism needs to end. 

Some say we should support only the workers of the nations facing imperialism, but this would be to misunderstand class conditions in these states. Under imperialism and colonialism, global contradictions take a national character, transcending romanticist and idealist conceptions of class struggle.* If we are to show workers support, we must understand that in their material conditions, the struggle between national bourgeoisie and proletariat is secondary to the struggle between the imperialist and the nation. This is not being "class collaborationist" - achieving the dictatorship of the proletariat means that the proletariat is dictating, not that help from the bourgeoisie is forbidden. And furthermore, we are still stuck in the idealist paradigm of "supporting" and "defending", and loose sight of the real cause - ending global capitalism and imperialism. 

Furthermore, against the notion of perfection, thrown at us by both imperialists and idealist anti-imperialists, that is that siding with dictatorships against imperialism implies a "glorification" of dictatorships, we must make a final note. The the right of national self-determination is the right to realize your own flaws on your own terms, outside the barrel of a gun and outside the hegemony of imperial superpowers. Like all anti-oppression, it is about the right to feel like shit about yourself on YOUR OWN terms, not an idealization of the oppressed subject as perfect and without any flaws except those imposed on them by the oppressor. 

The problem of modern anti-imperialism, where there are really no genuine Marxist-Leninist states left to defend on the basis of ideological agreement, is "how do we defend Them without claiming they are like Us".
If you're a critical thinker, you might transcend the urge to "defend" or "support" and instead, view social and global issues from a class perspective. That can be hard. If, on the other hand, you dabble in petty idealistic glorification, either of Western capitalism or anti-imperialist dictatorship, you already have your answers cut out for you. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

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On the narrative of the "Bougie Bureaucrats".

In the left-wing discourse about the decline of the Soviet Union and other communist states from the 20th century, a certain narrative seems to repeat itself over ideological boundaries. It goes something like this:

The revolution was authentic and represented the working class, until The Bad Man came, removed power from the now oppressed proles from our favored group of good guys and introduced State Capitalism with Evil Bureaucrats.

These are examples (of course, extremely generalized):

For the anarchists, and social democrats the Bad Man was Lenin, who, as Chomsky tells us , used some sort of libertarian socialist rhetoric to lure the backwards masses into supporting his party, used the authentic working class October revolution for his own authoritarian aims, oppressed the proles when they were going to take power away from him (see Kronstadt and Mahkno) and introduced State Capitalism via bureaucracy (The New Economic Program).

Then come the Trotskyists, who claim that the Bad Man was Stalin, who used the banner of Leninism to take power from the Trotskyist Good Guys, oppressed the proles (Mass repressions, purges), introduced a bureaucratic system that removed authentic working class rule, and in the end of the day produces State Capitalism.

And finally, for Dogmatic Anti-Revisionists, Khrushchev was the Bad Man, who removed authentic working class power from the masses by introducing revisionist programs (Peaceful Coexistence), spreading lies against the Stalinist Good Guys and of course, introducing Evil Bureaucratic State Capitalism.

Now, I am not saying that any of these theories are wrong or that none of them have any merit. But,when simplistic narratives like these are constantly reemerging within the same discourse, it is a sign of idealistic thinking. The convenient fact of idealism is that you enter into investigation with all your questions about the subject already answered, which means that you simply need point at any evidence, no matter how decontextualized or contradictory your analysis is going to be in the end. I don't claim to be able to provide a more correct or useful analysis of what went wrong in the U.S.S.R or other communist projects, but if we realize whats wrong with the type of analysis that the Bougie Bureaucrat-Theory of failed revolution provides, then we can find out what really went wrong. The Bougie-Bureaucrat theory of revolutionary socialism is wrong because it values sectarianism and ones own ideological conviction over empirical fact, values Great Persons™ over material analysis, and uses the actual experience of a proletariat under the dictatorship of the proletariat for cheap trash-talk.  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

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Full-Time Citizens: A critique of the debate around the Anti-Work Movement.

While a majority of Communist and Socialist parties, at least in Europe, still hold on to the demand of "work for everybody", a current of socialist thought that has developed and gained popularity over the years is that of the anti-work left. It holds that the idea of full employment is at best, a misunderstanding of social and material conditions, and at worst, a call for totalitarianism. The anti-work left instead generally calls for some sort of guaranteed minimum income and a radical reduction in work-hours.

I definitely agree that the call for full employment is mislead, even though, as I will discuss later, I have several big issues with the movement. It has it's roots in a series of misunderstandings and false ideals. Among these incorrect understanding, ideals and preconceptions are:

  1. That full employment is necessary to satisfy the needs of society. Research done by people like Roland Paulsen shows that this is not the case. 
  2. That people who are not employed constitute an exploitative class. This would then mean the disabled, children and stay-at-home parents are exploiters. This is usually not a view that is officially held, but rather a silent assumption inherited from bourgeois society.
  3. Nostalgia for the U.S.S.R, PRC and other 20th century socialist systems. Most of these states were pre-industrial or severely backwards in terms of economic structure. They did have to work hard to both develop economically and satisfy the basic needs of the population. We, however, do not live in post-Tsarist Russia, or post-colonial China. The technology and means of distribution is radically different, and our demands must as such be different.
  4. That the material conditions allow for full employment. Production of basic consumer goods and services now require less and less human labour.
  5. Internalization of bourgeois ideals. The neoliberal agenda, whether left or right, is the creation of jobs and the growth of the capitalist economy. A socialist agenda should oppose the idea of the "creation of jobs" by stating that we want a society based on the motto "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs", not a society that without analysis of the needs and abilities of the people creates jobs that fill no other purpose than bringing in profit for the bourgeois class. The Socialist groups and parties who fails to remember this simple goal should be thoroughly criticized. 
While these are valid points against the rhetoric of full employment, all too often the proposed ideals, analyses and tactics fail to convince. If we just take something as simple as a semantic issue, "anti-work" might not be the best description of the problem. The problem isn't that there is too much work, it is that work is not directed toward the areas it is needed, like healthcare, distribution of resources, education. The central point is that productivity and social usefulness is not limited to the shackles of employment. Anti-employment could be more an appropriate term, but it is not without it's issues, since this might be interpreted as a call for "everyone must work, just not for wages". Still, it does represent the issue better.

Furthermore, there's a clear lack of understanding of third-world economic contribution in this mostly Western discourse. A lot of the calls for anti-work ignore global conditions like imperialism, colonialism and transnational economic exploitation. While such an analysis doesn't negate the struggle against needless expansion of jobs for profit, it does put a dent into utopian visions of social life being a holiday of Western self-fulfillment. If this is not carefully addressed by the movement, the movement could find itself in a position where it's arguing for Western people to live on the wealth produced by people in the Third World. All the wealth existing in the Western world is not ours to take and distribute, and some of the necessities might come from these Third World places. There needs to be a discussion of how to relate to this problem. This, however, does not negate the struggle against the neoliberal rhetoric of full employment.

In terms of tactics, most of the Anti-Work movement finds itself squarely in the postmodern politics of resistance. This ideological faction of the left is reluctant or dismissive of the idea of a revolution in the traditional sense. We are only to resist power, not take it and use it, is the general idea. Create local communes and coops and hope that it all will somehow tie in to some other people's communes and coops that with the use of lefty-magic we are to break the hegemony and destroy capitalism. The politics of resistance is in actuality a politics of avoidance, a refusal to recognize that unless you become the hegemony, the  hegemony will eat you. You can't hide from the class system - if we could we all would and should, but we can't - we must confront it directly and dismantle it. Furthermore the entire point of the struggle against the neoliberal employment system is that it creates employment where there is no need for employment, and neglects putting people into productive employment where it's needed. How do we expect that this postmodern left, who refuse to organize at a national and global level, are going to be able to rationally plan where productive employment is necessary on a macro-level, when they do not even acknowledge the need for any macro-level of administrative politics? True, some have a loose idea of a system of federation, but this idea sometimes contradicts their own values of local communal autonomy and anti-centralism (what use is the "up" in the "democracy from the bottom-up" if the "up" has no power to impose anything?). Even though we do not propose a return to a replica of early 20th century Bolshevism, a system for administrative economic planning on the macro-level is not something that can be dismissed simply by pointing at the end-results of historical Communist states. A system of economic planning, with the aim of keeping the waste of human labour to a minimum, needs to be discussed here. If we are worried about the potentially authoritarian results of working with planning at the macro-level, then discuss ways this authoritarian tendency can avoided, but don't dismiss the macro-level of economical and political processes.

Secondly, there needs to be a creative solution to the problem of what happens after employment. The "citizens income" solution is constantly being framed within the context of capitalism (in fact, Milton Friedman had his own ideas of citizens income, and Keynes suggested it as a future development). Capitalism is in most places assumed to be still intact when this system of income is introduced. In socialist society, it is already assumed that everyone has a right to food, shelter and healthcare etc. A common argument, which I support, is that for work-sharing, meaning a system of work were labor hours are reduced and workers share more than one job with each-other. Still, this is within the realm of an employed working class, and since we've concluded that full employment isn't a possibility, there are still a lot of people out there who don't have anything specific to do. I propose a system of Full-Time Citizenship, were these unemployed people are encouraged to engage in grassroots organizing and societal transformation in the spirit of Mao's Cultural Revolution. This idea means that a member of society not tied up with productive labor gets together with other people to analyse the needs ands wants of society, and democratically organize projects to fill those needs. A Full-Time Citizen is a person who's mission is to serve their local community, municipality and society at large, and is not tied to one specific line of work or employment. This could mean anything from raising ideological awareness to certain issues to building institutions and organizations that deal directly with a problem at hand. This is just a rough sketch of a new idea, but I think ideas such as this are the kinds of things that need to be brought to the forefront in the debate around the neoliberal employment society and alternatives to it.
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Class Struggle vs Intersectional Identity Politics: the False Dilemma

If you're familiar with the radical leftist discourse for the past 30-or-so years you've probably encountered the heated debates between staunchly Marxist/anarchist working class romantic and the identity politician. The Marxist/anarchist would say that identity politics, with it's roots in 60's post-structuralism, is a liberal form of distraction from the main issue of class struggle, and the identity politician would then point out how the Marxist/anarchist was merely idealizing white, heterosexual, cisgender male domination in their conception of the working classes.

Now, this post is not intended to resolve all the issues about this topic, nor does it present a programme or strategy to make the movement for economic rights more inclusive. It merely attempts to explains certain concepts and understandings of what class really is, and what identity politics is. 

Although the class-struggle is also emphasized outside of Marxist discourse, I shall use Marxism as the basis for my understanding of political struggle. My underlying assumption is that the people having this debate believe in and propagate, in one way or another, a political revolution. Therefore my arguments are not directed against or at social-democrats, left-liberals or other parts of the reformist left. 

"Revolutionary" as an analytical term or as a value-term.

Marxism is the science of revolution, meaning it is the understanding of the forces that create, shape and obstruct political revolutions. It's not just an understanding of worker/communist revolutions, but of revolutions in general. By this I do not say, necessarily, that Marxists are inherently better and more capable of revolution. I merely state that Marxism provides the analysis of how and why revolutions happen. It is, in this way, analytical. Revolution is a social act that has it's basis in material conditions, and our understanding of these conditions inform people who support political revolution how and when this is possible. In radical discourse, however, the term revolutionary or revolution is not always used in this way, but instead, as value-term. If something is revolutionary, it's good, if something is not revolutionary, it's bad. It is used to describe movements and discourses within the general leftist persuasion, to evaluate it and critique it. A person might say that something is not revolutionary, without meaning that this thing is incapable of carrying out political revolution. This might be an appropriate way to use this term in many contexts, but to avoid confusion, it is better that we stick with the analytical definition. That way, we can say something is not revolutionary without at the same time claiming that it is in someway bad, and we can claim something is revolutionary without at the same time claiming we approve of it. 

The working classes are revolutionary classes. 

Marxism holds that the working classes under the advanced stages of capitalism, is in a position to carry out a political revolution. This is because they have specific relation to the ruling class, the capitalist class. This relation is the class struggle. Marxism also holds that the bourgeoisie has been a revolutionary class in the past, as they overthrew the old feudal order. An important point to make here is that exactly what the revolutionary class is, how it looks, is dependent on the specific social and material conditions of the society in which they live in. Class is not a fixed concept. By it's very nature it evolves and progresses, as technology and internal contradictions within class society changes. Nevertheless, class struggle is the basis of our understanding of how and when revolution is possible. The problem within the Marxist discourse is that some take the idea that working classes are revolutionary and then imagines that this translates to "class comes first" or "class unity before individuals". This is not a Marxist position. Marx and Engels dealt with class because they were interested and active within the radical socialist movement at the time. Nowhere do they state that the proletariat must ignore all their other worries outside the spectrum of class. They state that, if we are to change society in a revolutionary way, we must do so from the perspective of class. Seeing identity politics as a liberal, individualist and self-obsessed imposition on radical left-wing politics is for many of us pretty obviously a sign of hidden racism, sexism, LGBTQ-phobia and ableism, among other bigotry.

Intersectional Identity Politics does not pretend to be, or need to be, revolutionary.

Intersectional identity politics deals with oppressed identities, their struggle for recognition and representation within the spaces they occupy. Identity politics does not state that all oppressed identities are capable of carrying out political revolution. Intersectionality states that one can both occupy oppressed and privileged identities at the same time, and points out that the struggle for empowerment and representation of one oppressed group can further the oppression of another oppressed group if it does not act self-critically with regard to it's own tactics and rhetoric. Although some people, mainly those of the lifestylist anarchist persuasion, is keen on making their own identity the whole of the revolutionary process, the majority of people in favor of identity politics do not have any illusions that their own particular identity is in any way revolutionary. This is not to say that an oppressed identity cannot be revolutionary, as this depends on the specific structure of the class system where this identity finds itself. A lot of oppressions of identities happens through class. For example in many places, past and present, racial differences can create revolutionary situations.  Let us also remind ourselves that a lot of intersectional identity politics has it's roots in a critique of the radical feminists who believed that a revolution consisting of an idealized white, middle class, cissexual group of women was necessary and possible. It is false to say that identity politics are inherently liberal (in fact, many people remark that a lot of the criticism and self-criticism in the intersectionality discourse resembles Maoist Combat Liberalism-esque debate). Obviously, identity politics is used in liberal discourse, but claiming it is inherently liberal is wrong. Many who study the oppression of identities do so from a materialist, Marxist point of view.

Intersectionality as a way to Class Unity.

Some claim that intersectional identity politics is some sort of liberal propaganda with the aim of obstruction of class unity. And yes, a lot of identity politics lead to infighting, exclusion and bitterness. But expecting that people from radically different backgrounds, who face radically different structural oppression by capital, is going to rally behind a radical group that is insensitive and/or indifferent to these differences is really not likely. Internal critique and debate is an important tool in our toolbox if we wish to ever find a sense of unity. Class struggle was never about a hivemind of working class people following learned dogmas and tactics. There is contradiction in everything, including the working classes, that can be resolved through criticism and self-criticism. As I said, I do not propose a strategic solution for how this is to be done. I have merely shown that the antagonism between the people who speak of a certain kind of "class unity" and those who put identity first is an antagonism constructed by people who do not understand either what class unity is or what intersectional identity politics is.

Because of time constraints, I have not included sources for the claims I'm making in this article. If you want to know the basis for some of the claims I've made, leave a comment. 

Jakob Pettersson.