In spirit and in truth

El Mono Liso:

On a sense of place

Originally posted on Communiques of the Suburban Liberation Front:

A secular sermon

Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.

This passage in the Gospel seems to me to speak against idolatry, but also against empire. For the Temple in Jerusalem was not just a place of worship in the modern sense, but a symbol of wealth and power. Some Biblical scholars characterize Jesus’ attacks on the Temple as sort of peaceful assault on the established order, trying to attack the center from the periphery of the wilderness; trying to lay bare its exploitative nature. As Biblical tropes go, God is found outside the city, in the wilderness. Jesus is crucified outside its walls. To encounter God, as the Chosen People did…

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Raising children in the end times

El Mono Liso:

My latest.

Originally posted on Communiques of the Suburban Liberation Front:

As a parent of young children, I was eager to read and review Layla AbdelRahim’s book, Wild Children – Domesticated Dreams: Civilization and the Birth of Education. However, as in all such reviews that I attempt to write, I will not do justice to the text. To get the unpleasantries out of the way first, I found the book itself somewhat disjointed, and its back-and-forth between personal field notes and summaries of academic texts is very awkward in my view. It is as if the book can’t decide whether it is a research paper or a personal memoir. Nevertheless, there are themes that I find thought-provoking and thus worthy of comment. In particular, I think the author’s point concerning how civilization doesn’t trust children is particularly poignant and, to be frank, guilt-inducing for the conventional parent. In a world where the relationship between things governs the relationship between people…

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Massa damnata

On Blaise Pascal

The phenomenon of Jansenism has interested me on and off for about ten years now. There are many reasons for this. The most important of these is that I love a good loser. In contemporary Catholic / Christian thought, Jansenism is the big loser: its rigorism, antiquarianism, and apocalyptic opposition to the decadence of contemporary life are in diametrical opposition to modern thought as currently conceived. Even people who are accused of being too strict in terms of morality or religious practice are hardly Jansenists in the sense that Jansenists were. Our ideas of what these things are have moved so far towards the liberal side of the spectrum that even our conservatism is quite libertine when taken in context. More than likely, we are the first to absolve ourselves of any crimes or culpability for anything. What I have done has always been rational, what I want is always sensible, my moral compass is always right, etc.

The one thing you cannot question in contemporary discourse is: what I want. What I want is always legitimate, my desire is always infallible. My vision of the good and happy life is natural, it must be defended at all costs, and imposed on those poor misguided souls who disagree with it. That I think is part of the problem with our civilization as it exists. In order for things to function well, we must assume that the natural order of things tends towards justice and cooperation. Things are never that bad, never that hopeless, and contain a rational kernel that will lead us to a better and brighter tomorrow. This is just as much the psychological center of Marxism as it is Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” pastoral optimism. Perish the thought that things were never meant to work in the first place.
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A few thoughts before haitus

I will be taking some time off of blogging here to focus on a poetry manuscript, and my other publishing projects. There are two other regular bloggers here and I will be back once my manuscript is finished.   If it is irregular for a while, I apologize but we have not exactly been regular anyway.

Communism is the Truth that Fulfills All Truths: Why Christians and Atheists (& Muslims, Hindus, Etc) Will Someday Reach the Same Destination

from Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher. – Alain Badiou

Reading this line from Badiou a few years ago pushed me over a hesitation to embrace the word “communism” in a full-throated sense. I wrote an essay not long after this point on Plato’s Republic where I explored how Plato connected the ability of his ideal city’s guardians to achieve justice to their having forsaken private property. In fact, re-reading Book V last night only confirmed for me what Badiou is saying, that Communism is the fulfillment of political rationality. If Plato’s philosophy of ideal justice requires communism in this sense, I hold that a profound truth has escaped the notice of many in our time, including advocates of Marxism. That truth is that communism does not belong to Marx and his successors, but to humanity as a whole.

Marxists often want to define just how communism will be brought into being. They have a theory of the proletariat revolution led by a Communist Party. The leadership of the Communist Party is composed of the advanced activists and theorists who correctly understand the necessary path to take towards Communism. Of course, history is littered with the failures of Communist governments. It isn’t adequate to slap a label on your philosophy and call it Communism. Communism does not belong to Marxists, but to humanity.

If communism is as old as Greek philosophy – actually older – then is it so surprising that it also makes an appearance in the most popular world religion, Christianity? The gospels are only comprehensible as a communist event with a vision of a classless society at their core. The Book of Acts presents the “Jerusalem Commune” where the followers of Jesus set up a system of wealth redistribution among the members of their new movement.

I am not arguing that Communists should become Christians, by no means. I am contending that Communists, whether atheist or Christian, have a common heritage that is older than Karl Marx. I am contending that Communism’s central axiom, “from each according to ability, from each according to need” is rooted in universal human relationships. Every healthy nuclear family operates as a commune. In “primitive communism” sharing was simple and direct exchange. It is the ruling classes throughout human history who have rejected this basic relational ethos and imposed class domination on the majority of all societies.

The rebirth of Communism in our times will not fall into the classic divides of the left of Marxist vs. Anarchist vs. Religious communists. In our post-secular world, communism is only possible with an inclusive alliance of Atheists, Christians, Muslims, and others.

Or, communism may fail to be achieved. Humanity may be forever trapped in an undesirable system of class domination. Many science fiction dystopias paint such a picture. I am an optimist, but I am not a fatalist. Humanity could fail to fulfill its own potential. That will be tragic, indeed. But, even such a failure does not prove that Communism was not the true fulfillment of humanity’s potential.

Killing the Capitalist God: Gospel Communism and the Death of God

It has long seemed quite strange to me that so many atheists find Nietzsche’s assertion of the death of God attractive. God doesn’t exist at all for atheists, his “death” can only be at most the death of the theism of some part of humanity.  Perhaps a historical point can be made about the passing of a specific era of religiosity in Europe at the time of Nietzsche.

Beginning in the 60s, Nietzsche’s ideas got re-deployed by theologians, no less, or rather, atheologians. Thomas J. J. Altizer declared the “Gospel of Christian Atheism” which asserted the historical death of God in the event of the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus. Today, Slavoj Žižek has produced his own Lacanian spin on this mostly forgotten theological fad.

On the contrary, God (as theism) never died for a substantial portion of modern society. God was redesigned, certainly, by the course of Western history. God today has become the ultimate capitalist, a Heavenly Boss who punishes the lazy and hedonists with poverty and war. Working-class Christians in the US have been lavishly courted by the ruling class into a New Religious Right with showers of campaign donations promising to end the sinfulness of society by reactionary economic discipline.

 As a Pentecostal preacher’s kid, I somehow got deformed and alienated against the New Right. Jesus was always to me a hippie, a communist, a peacenik, and a rock star. I held the orthodox doctrines as long as I could, up to my mid-30s. I can still wax eloquent about the wonders of Trinitarian mysticism and the infinite glories of being resurrected in the New Jerusalem. While still a believer I argued obsessively that Jesus was a revolutionary, a radical who prophesied the destruction of the ruling class and the victory of perfect love over the earth. And, I could show how such a theology came straight out of the biblical texts themselves. Despite their putative belief in inerrancy, most Christians today don’t follow the teachings of Jesus on wealth, but rather those of John Calvin.

One of the most puzzling mysteries of the modern world is how followers of Jesus can be such willing propagandists for the inhuman system of capitalism and tyranny under which we slave daily. Why aren’t there Christian Socialist Clubs in every church? Jesus denounced wealth and possessions in no uncertain terms. How can anyone read the gospels with an open eye and not understand that the one they call Christ and Savior is the enemy of the system of commodity production and wage labor?

If we turn from the deformed condition of Christianity to the condition of “Actually Existing Socialists” we don’t find a pretty picture there either. Although most potential proletarians in our society today are Christians, often fervently so, card-carrying socialists are nearly all deeply hostile to Christianity. Today’s socialists take the New Atheists as their models for religious criticism, not the more nuanced approach taken by Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg. My favorite quote from Rosa’s classic Socialism and the Churches reads:

In conformity with the material position of the men belonging to this [Roman proletarian] class, the first Christians put forward the demand for property in common – communism. What could be more natural? The people lacked means of subsistence and were dying of poverty. A religion which defended the people demanded that the rich should share with the poor the riches which ought to belong to all and not to a handful of privileged people; a religion which preached the equality of all men would have great success.

My experience trying to discuss Christian Communism with left-wing atheists has been quite dispiriting over the years. The business class holds massive fund-raisers courting preachers and laypersons to their causes, but except for the largely defunct religious socialism commissions of DSA and the SPUSA, there is no effort to appeal to Christians on the basis of their most fervent passion, following Jesus.

Some have accused me of cynicism when I propose a religious left as a necessary element of a revitalized left politics in the US. Since I personally no longer hold an orthodox theology, they assume that I want socialists to lie to Christians when we invite them eagerly into our ranks. Not at all, what I want Socialists and Communists and Anarchists to do is listen respectfully to the faith of these working-class followers of Jesus. Ask them why they don’t take their own gospel teachings about poverty literally.

There is no hope of ever overthrowing capitalism in the US unless we kill the Capitalist God who reigns in American Christianity. We can only kill that satanic inversion of the Father of Jesus if the Christians do that from their own convictions. I am proposing a mutual collaboration between the brilliant atheists in the socialist movement with the disheartened Christians who are daily coming to question the heresy of the Christian Right. We need each other.

We need each other not because Christians are potentially a massive pool of allies and activists, though they are indeed such. They are necessary for the revitalization of Communism as the universal vision of world emancipation. Every religion has its earthly paradise that it promises the faithful. These paradisiacal visions are the seedbed for the utopian mindset from which radical politics sprung. Communism comes from humanity’s total history, not from the mind of one philosopher named Karl in the mid-1800s! Reclaiming the communist teachings of Jesus and his early followers means reclaiming an essential part of communism’s historical development.

Communism’s axiom, from each according to ability, to each according to need is the economic corollary to the Golden Rule, do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Although many leftists like to praise the achievements of modernity and seem to forget all the blood, sweat, and toil of humanity before the onset of capitalism, in fact, communism springs quite logically from the nature of humanity and our highest values. Although Karl Marx did banish Hermann Kriege’s “Communism of Love” from his organization, it seems in the aftermath of Stalinism that Communism needs to restore its reputation as humanizing vision with affirmative principles of human mutuality. Who better to be a symbol of such a kinder, gentler communism than the Good Shepherd, Jesus of Nazareth?

The anti-primitive

An apology to gutter-punks, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love anarcho-primitivism

I’ve been intending to write this essay for months, but things always got in the way. And now that I have elected to use some time to write it, I am somewhat at a loss. So to begin, I thought I will cite a recent review in the New Yorker of a history of the demise of the passenger pigeon.


In their wake, passenger pigeons left behind denuded fields and ravaged woods; descriptions conjure up those First World War photographs of amputated trees in no man’s land. “They would roost in one place until they broke all the limbs off the trees,” one old-timer recalled, “then they would move to Joining timber & treat it likewise, then fire would break out in the old Roost and Destroy the remainder of the timber.” Their droppings, which coated branches and lay a foot thick on the ground, like snow, proved toxic to the understory and fatal to the trees…If anything, the passenger pigeon is a bracing corrective to notions of a natural world detached from its fecund terrors. The bird’s propensity for eating everything and taking over earth and sky makes it seem, frankly, a little like us. As Greenberg notes, “a widely held view is that this species could not sustain itself without a giant population,” so that decline itself became a cause of further decline. In other words, passenger pigeons lived by collaboration on a giant scale, and may have died by it. Yet what Greenberg sees is not the clash of two irreconcilable species with gargantuan needs but a story of victimizers and victims.

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Puer natus est nobis

One of the iron laws that I have found out concerning being a parent is that children love the outdoors. Well, at least mine do. Any parent in an intemperate climate where it can get too hot or too cold knows well how much more difficult the day goes when the children are unable to be outside. “Cabin fever” often results in children bouncing off the walls, gratuitously antagonizing each other, and trying the parents’ wits in a seemingly endless test of wills. And they sleep badly. No matter how difficult it might be, one almost inevitably has to prepare the children to go outside, if only for a little while. Once outdoors, they tend to calm down, or unleash pent up energies in far more constructive ways.

I am rather sure that this very concrete reality in my current life has influenced the trajectory of the little intellectual life that I am now allotted. To be direct, my tendency to take the “anti-civ” critique more seriously than the average person may be due to my parenting of very young children. A lot of it has to do with guilt. I live a very, very white-bread middle class life in a U.S. suburb. On the other hand, I am beginning to realize that most of my inherent parental sense when it comes to discipline has to do with curbing my children’s wants and needs in order to conform to a society in which I believe very little. Sit still, comb your hair, don’t scream, don’t make a mess, don’t hit your sister… it is just one continuous monitoring against things that children naturally do in order to make them do the opposite.
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Occultation, or Why I quit editorial commitee of the North Star

“Do not say ‘I will study when I have the time’, for perhaps you will never have time.” (2:5) – Pirkei Avot

“Do not say something that cannot be understood, thinking it will be understood later.” (2:5) – Pirkei Avot


I. Of Ornithorhynchidae and Astronomy, or Remembrance of Things (Very Recently) Past

For those of you who do not know, I have been an editor for the North Star in some capacity for ten months.   When this project expanded and contracted like a supernova, Pham Binh and Ben Campbell asked me on to the editorial staff of the North Star for the first of four attempts at a redesign and relaunch.  I was to play a quiet role, and was explicitly asked to bring more cultural and theoretical bend to the very practically-minded editors already on staff.  As this was happening, my disillusionment with my association with Platypus Affiliated Society was growing stronger.   I entered P.A.S. in the heat of Occupy Seoul and in the sphere of Occupy Wall Street.  I shared its skepticism of the “left” as it was constituted–in fact. Disgust with the left had driven me fairly deeply right in my early 20s–I was linked to anti-war movement libertarian and paleo-conservative wing and had even been so foolish as to sign the Euston Manifesto as a “third-campist” against both the neo-conservatives war-mongers and those who thought that supporting regressed regimes was a kind of national liberation. I still standby that impulse; however, I was naive as to the motives of the other signatories–many of whom developed either quite reactionary politics or became neo-conservatives themselves.

Nonetheless, my frustration with P.A.S.’s highly idiosyncratic reading of Lenin, Trotsky, and Frankfurt school as a practicable politics as well as the highly doctrinaire attitude within the organization chaffed me.   Ben Campbell had reacted to what he saw as the bad faith of P.A.S.–a interpretation with which I actually did not quite agree. We split from the org at the moment we tried to reform and balance the committee.  At the same time, several other members did too, and a few were asked to leave. This got conflated with the leaking of some of the content from the P.A.S. message board and a call for a boycott of P.A.S. by Ben and several other leftists. I was torn…I do not generally support anything but extremely targeted boycotts for any reason, nor did I feel that P.A.S. had been dishonest to non-members about its mission.  Indeed, I felt like the issue was one of flattery. People did not want to believe that P.A.S.’s mission to “host the conversation” to make the left “aware of its own deadness” was exactly what it sounded like. In retrospect, that mission seems like reification upon reification. Ben, Binh, Ismael Diablada, Stephen H. myself, and several new editors (including two female editors who did not stay on), Matthijs Krul, and Dario Cankovic set out to “host the conversation” in a more open and less theoretically rigid manner. Indeed, we all disagreed about key political issues: I was a third-campist on Syria against Binh’s support of the rebels, I disagreed with Dario C. on democracy and on secularism and Ben C. on the relationship between Marxism and science.  The idea between Ben C. and I was that this was going to be just as plural internally as the conversation external to the site’s organization.

The North Star, however, was defined against Occupy’s failure on Binh’s end and P.A.S. mission statement on the other.  The new editorial collective quickly set about trying to recruit feminist writers and writers of color, writers from different religious background, and writers from various tradition. This, frankly, was an unapologetic failure. Many complained about Ben’s apparent focus on P.A.S., which was not actually as focal as the internet impression would lead you to believe. Sadly Ben’s work redesigning the North Star was not shown to the public. There was also much rancor over Binh’s increasing support of NATO action in Syria, which was viewed as a apologetic for “imperialism.” Political tensions emerged between Binh and Ben as well as the rest editorial board all the while brewing a distrust of the political tradition the name of the magazine linked us too. Only Binh looked to the original Peter Camejo North Star project as a major inspiration. After a showing at Left Forum and a successful series of panels for the relaunch, Ben C. quit after a disagreement with Binh and from personal pressures that was not clear to me. The relaunch editorial staff was never put in place, so the five editor structure with various sub-editors–came into being.  We established a relationship with the Philly Socialists, which was never formalized.  Tensions over both feminism and Syria alienated the two female editors. The fact they were never credited for their work didn’t help matters either.

In addition, Binh seemed to have felt disappointed with the new staff whom he viewed as largely absentee after Ben C.’s leaving.  He worked primarily with myself and on his own to put out the North Star, which also felt very much like his blog. Various authors with ties to a certain Louis Proyect’s Marxmail began to be in regular rotation, many of whom advocated a focus on class to the exclusion of all other forms of identity politics, a willingness to adopt and capitulate on certain GOP talking points because they were “working class concerns,” and an increased reliance on NATO for liberation. The editorial staff, even those still actively doing interviews and writing for Binh, was not always aware of what was being published and why. With Ben C.’s leaving most of the work done for the original relaunch was shuttled in the confusion. The North Star feel into a routine that even Binh was not entirely comfortable seeing happen.
Then Binh’s personal life attacked. Despite rumors to the contrary, Binh’s personal life had made it difficult for him to keep on doing what he was doing and he needed to take care of it. Out of respect for him, I won’t go into the details, but suffice to say it was serious. As a result of these events, Binh asked Pavel,a friend of mine who I brought on in the failed relaunch, and me to deal with some issues of audience expansion, minor web-site redesign, and fixing an increasingly kluged back-end of the site. Binh eventually would ask us to take the lead as co-managing editors, which evolved to “co-editor-and-chiefs.”

Pavel and I quickly set about to the relaunch and re-structuring of the site…again.  This time our site redesign was much more limited. The true focus of our attetion was the re-organizing of the people that we had inherited from Ben C. days who had not left during the confusion.  We Condensed the back-end of the site from a panel of five editors and ten contributing and associate editors to six devoted editors.  The leadership of Philly Socialists left the advisory panel on the magazine quietly to focus on US politics, and increasingly by Ben and Binh’s own doing, the editorship of the site had moved from New York City to people living in South Korea/Mexico, the UK, and Canada. In fact, of the six currently existing editors, only two still lived in the US and only four had been born there. I also rewrote the mission statement to minimize the relationship to Peter Camejo and to emphasis the diverse nature of the project.

Soon after Binh’s departure, Proyect wrote his first denouncement of me: mostly having to to do with my past in P.A.S. It was clear from the writing that he knew none of the details of my involvement. He was also critical of some of the writing’s on this blog, particularly writings NOT initiated by me in the first place.  Now there are plenty of things I’ve said and done you can attack me on, but Proyect didn’t even bother to touch them. Fiction is more entertaining than fact apparently. To make matters worse, we discovered that Proyect had bankrolled the beginning of the site, selected Binh to run it, and still viewed himself as having some controlling stake in both the name of the North Star and the legacy of Camejo. The majority of the editorial committee had known almost nothing about this until just before Binh was slated to leave, and we had definitely not been informed when Ben C. and Binh had first came up with the idea for the relaunch. Tensions mounted between Proyect and the site as a whole and some heavy-handed things were done on both sides. The editorial committee opinion was split.  During this time, I formally abstained from most of the decisions involving Proyect since I was personally attacked. Nevertheless, the attacks continued: I was “over-theoretical,” too interested in politics, a secret neo-conservative, a Leninist, Pavel and I couped Binh, I didn’t put my opinions in public, etc.  Most of this came from people who were functioning on misunderstandings based on Proyect’s hit piece, misinformation about the nature of Binh’s leaving which remained cryptic, and guessing as to who Pavel and the other editors were since many of us used a nom de plumes.

II. A Tale of Two Uniteds

Increasingly the North Star expanded into UK politics. Two editors were living there and British left seemed more active than the US left after the degeneration of Occupy. While all the editors discussed expanding into general North American and Latin American politics, the reader interest was not there.  Despite many of Binh’s fans decrying the death of the site, the numbers of readers went up by 1/3 to 1/2 depending on the day and the Facebook likes increased 100%.  To maintain this growth, we monitored the articles to which the readers responded. As Pavel, Dario, Matthijs, and myself largely wrote on issues larger or outside the US and moved the site away from Binh’s relationship on Syria, the readership changed. It responded to economic writings, writings on foreign politics, and theoretical issues. We had become a podcast syndication problem under Binh and Ben, but increasingly the readers did not view or listen to the podcasts.

Despite the growth during this time, I found that I was tired of having my character attacked on half-information. I made the decision to focus on my literary publishing, my relocation to Mexico, my partner, and both of our ill-health. I resigned as editor-n-chief giving the role totally to Pavel, but stayed on for content generation, and trying to get some of the authors who had said they were interested in turning in work to actually do so. Our first two months of good numbers started to slack with increasing interest in writing on Latin American or left history.

The readership was increasingly based in the UK and NYC, the editors felt that we needed to cater to that and subtly push new ideas and debates into that context, but our readership was returning to that of the Binh and Ben days of site.  This ends the first three phases of the magazine and brings us up to last month.

III. Vampires, WASPs, and Bears… Oh my. .


After the numbers dropped down for a while, Pavel decided to contact some people who had committed to possibly writing something for the North Star. Finally, Mark Fisher, whom Pavel had been working with privately, delivered a piece. I read it and immediately took issue with its universalization of a particularly British notion of class – which renders class as a largely identity-based movement – as well as not advancing an understanding of the conditions that case overlap between race, gender, sexuality, and economic class. That said, I generally agreed with his critique of privilege and by proxy standpoint epistemology. Then came the slew of articles from people who had responded, seeming to largely pick up on the popularity of the piece. Critiques of the North Star editorial staff as largely male (true), largely white (more-or-less true), and straight (completely false–more than half the staff is queer-identified) emerged from twitter, and even within the editorial staff, rumblings about Mark Fisher as a semi-fascist tied to the “neo-reactionary” Nick Land began to be uttered.

After a week of this, and feeling like people were actively misreading what had been done, Pavel resigned earlier than he had originally planned. Two weeks later, I resigned from all responsibilities and cut all ties with the site after I felt like I was trying to say things that were either inchoate and hard to understand, In absence of a moment to make these ideas have some enacted clarity, I felt like the debate that would emerge would just calcify already existing tendencies in socialist politics.

IV. My Four Theses Nailed to Nothing, Or Talmudic Commentary in Dissent

The above history is honest as I remember it, but biased and chipped.  While my resignation was not done out of any ill-will or strong ideological split, there are four major points where I feel unreconciled with the dominant ideological strains of the North Star. I think it will helpt to first state the mission of the North Star which Pavel and I primarily wrote:

A guidepost is not a program or a strategy: it is an orientation. We are oriented towards a politics that leads beyond what is understood as contemporary capitalism. Emerging out of various strains of activists and theoretical traditions—most of which are rooted in socialism or critiques of capitalism—we aim for a new politics. We believe that the traditional leninist, leftcom and anarchist notions of occupation and revolution may not be applicable (if they ever were). We also believe that tactics of reform and harm reduction as part of an electoral path towards socialism have not succeeded in combating the spread of the deleterious effects of global capitalism. We are guiding ourselves towards new understandings and strategies while looking at the socialist/communist past both in its glorious successes and dismal failures.

1. Democracy is a non-cognitive word

In both its earliest days and currently, the North Star has had a mild obsession with the idea of democracy despite the over-ripeness of the word. While many readers of North Star are of many different ideological stripes, the various trends do share a love of “democracy” albeit often only conceived of in the vaguest terms.  Is it democracy of only working class?  Of the people?  Direct democracy?  Councils?  Economic Democracy?   The focus on Democracy waxes and wanes – the waning particularly occurring during Pavel and my co-editorship. In general I find such talk to be literally meaningless. Marxian notions of democracy are very different from Republican or Parliamentary notions, and acknowledge that a state of emergency would have to temporarily place the working class in a state of exception in which democracy only applied to itself.  That is not Leninism, but Marx as stated in both the Critique of the Gotha Program and Reflections on the War in France.  One may critique this and distrust this as even I do, but the focus on democracy as a battle cry for socialism is weak tea politics and horribly confused.   Orwell was right when in “Politics and the English Language” he declared the word to be all but meaningless.  Furthermore, this is not in line with the mission of the North Star as redefining democracy is not discussed except as a vague tactic for mass involvement in socialist politics, or as a the goal of unifying “economic democracy” with “political democracy.”   These words seem to say something, but I suspect they don’t.

2. In absence of a historical movement, all that can happen is ideological policing

The death nail in the coffin of socialist thought is its calcification into textual platitudes.  David Graeber, a man who I otherwise completely disagree with, once stated that you can tell that Marxism has suffered since its ideological tendencies have moved through being named for revolutionaries, then heads-of-state, then obscure philosophy professors.  The debates between the identity-political thinkers and the class-based thinkers will retrench into the basic status quo fights of the last forty years.  The moments in which these ideas were forced beyond a impasse where in active movements of 1968, 1969, and perhaps for a flash the anti-globalization movement in 1998 and in Occupy however misguided each of these attempts ultimately were. In times when there is a return back to the parliamentary or activist norms, many more ideological litmus tests emerge. One can see the North Star’s comment section, even when heavily moderated, for how nasty this can become.

3. Dialogue between tendencies is not actually meaningful if no tendency is willing to change

In this case, the debates between factions of socialists or feminists or what have you will tend to lead to dogmatic accusation and counter-accusation with no getting beyond the impasse.  The willingness to change often comes from action in the world, and so this seems like a very tired row to hoe. Furthermore, the focus on “the left” itself is myopic, and this had been the theme of every piece of non-interview writing I did for the North Star.

4.  When you are not heard, you should do and not talk

Which brings me to “Occultation” which is the focusing on things I can do: My critiques on Pop the Left and on Disloyal are generally understood, but I do not feel like my criticism has been so well-understood on North Star.  The editorial staff there, including those who are still on board, have been supportive and comradely, but in general, most of what I have said has been misunderstood. This is partly my fault, and partly a function of trying to something that pushes beyond the current conceptions of “left” and “right” in a way that requires some strong self-criticism. Increasingly, I find that writing about specifically theological and cultural problems as well as the arts gets my political points across better. Furthermore, I have decided that my free time should be spent on my active pursuits: the creation of my literary art, doing education work here in Mexico on literacy and ethics, volunteering for feminist education, and going back to helping victims of sexual and domestic violence. I also have to deal with my own diseases, quite literally, and do the study of history, poetry, and Jewish philosophy that I value. I wish the current editors well and think that they may have a bright future as a socialist publication, but I am leaving that behind until a time where the ideals I believe in are more clearly understood through both clearer articulation and frustration with limited options, not only of contemporary mainstream politics but with the options that view themselves as radical.  To paraphrase both the Talmudic Rabbis and Wittgenstein: on what one cannot speak, one should silently enact.

All Roads Lead to Communism, or None Do: Theses on Marxism & Intersectionality

(The following is my response to the “Exiting the Vampire Castle” controversy on The North Star webzine about tensions between Marxism, intersectionality, and left politics.)

1) Communism is the goal of ending human domination, exploitation, oppression, and repression in a world of abundance, justice, and harmony among all living beings. Therefore, the practical subject for revolutionary analyses are the social systems that perpetuate and extend systemic suffering for living beings. It is proposed based on careful study of social science and left-wing political theory that the basic categories of human social systems are eightfold:

Economics

Politics

Gender

Race/Culture

Ecology

Martial Systems (institutional use of coercion)

Sexuality

Religion/Irreligion

2) No single one of the above social systems is independent or dominant over all others.

3) Revolutionary analysis identifies institutional structures that perpetuate systemic suffering and propose political collective mobilizations to overturn these structures and replace them with emancipatory new systems and institutions.

4) Revolutionary analysis considers the objective collective systems to be the primary focus of activist mobilization and engagement. It is also engaged with collective cultural aspects of these institutional systems. It considers interpersonal and personal subjective behaviors and attitudes of subordinate importance, though not entirely unimportant.

5) By identifying eight interdependent social systems, an adequate revolutionary analysis cannot advance communist goals by minimizing the objective importance of any of the social systems. A “revolutionary” change in one or a few aspects of these social systems without attempting broad changes in all of them will leave the new institutions vulnerable to counter-revolutionary mobilization from one of the unrevolutionized social systems.

For example, the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 did indeed radically change the political, religious, and economic character of Russia, but it at best merely reformed systems of cultural, gender, martial, ecological, and ethnic domination and oppression, which formed the basis for the counter-revolutions against communism from within Russia and the Soviet Union.

6) There are important aspects of Marxism, feminism, anti-racism, radical democracy, pacifism, sex radicalism, progressive religion/irreligion, and environmentalism that must be applied to revolutionary analysis to better equip radicals to overturn the systems that dominate our world. Posing irreconcilable oppositions between feminism and Marxism or any of these important approaches to social criticism is to betray the revolutionary movement from the very start.

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