Author Archives: skepoet2
Lately, and quickly, my personal life has taken away from my political writing. I have left my full editorial position at the North Star to focus on what I love: writing literature and writing about literature. I am not going to give you some half-digested bullshit about literary figures being the unacknowledged legislators–words are words, their political power is not just a function of craft, but of the arbitrary whims of historical chance. In simpler words: its luck. I am doing it because I have had some things focus my mind, and I no longer have political answers for a movement in the strict sense that the readers at the North Star expect. That is fine, I will still write articles for them. Poetry is my first love, and unlike Lenin, I do not think one needs to give art for the social. Such anti-aesthetic impulses in favor of revolutionary mortification make about as much sense
This is a post about limits and apocalyptic clarity. I recently listened to a C-Realm podcast on Apocalyptic Clarity with Robert Jensen. I do not think I share Jensen’s political compass with seems to me to be a strange mix of Christian idealism, radical feminism, and radical liberalism with a strong twist of deep green politics. Yet I took a lot away from that interview: one is about the need to communicate in different ways and get out of the echo chamber, and two, that sometimes hope is indeed a soul-killer and itself can be a limit to radically altering both yourself and the world.
Nothing new there entirely, but I need to hear it.
Consider yourself warned, abandon all hope ye who enter here. In this reflection I will veneer willy-nilly between the political, the poetic, and the personal. Some liberal friends tell me they are all the same anyway. I have my doubts, but this essay is not about that.
I have been having a mini-bit of mind focusing that comes with apocalyptic thinking. My health, upon moving to Mexico and seemingly unrelated to the change, has taken a turn for the worse. I have had random psoriasis-like skin problems, my joints have been swelling, and my blood sugar has been out of whack. My health had taken a turn for the better since changing my diet and lifestyle by leaving the US, but in Mexico my body has caught up with me. While nothing has been formally diagnosed, the symptoms are consistent with certain kinds of auto-immune diseases (one of which, lupus, affects my mother) but could also easily be related to change of diet and stress. I do not know and will not know for a while. I do work 45 hours a week or more like most people, and try to keep up a literary journal and my own writings–poetic, blogs, articles, interviews, etc.
What this had let me to focus on is strangely both gratitude and limits? What has always struck me as a nearly pathological problem amongst many people who identify as “leftists” is that their radical disquiet with what they see as injustice and systemic exploitation easily degenerates into an nearly cosmic ingratitude easily. It shows up in the spite that gets aimed internally, and often the smarter people are the ones who do it. Generally this spite, in my mind, is rooted in a deep-seated awareness that most of what is talked about the left is frankly a form of delusion. Sometimes it is hopes of a return to the Unionism of either the 1920s (if you are say IWW-inclined) or the 1950-60s (If you are say AFL-CIO, Labour Party) inclined–a hope that is based on taking a norm that existed for almost precisely one generation either directly before or the directly after World War 2. Sometimes it is the hope that some sort of singularity level post-scarcity technology will produce infinite abundance–with frankly is pretty much eschatology. Even if there is a singularity, the energy limits seem to be ignored. I could go on…
The two trends I have noticed people jaded and disillusioned from both liberal and Marxian politics in the last few years have tended turns either become just reactionaries, as several former colleagues of mine have done adopting the moniker “Neo-Reactionary” and joining Nick Land in Von Mises-Fuedal-Sith Lord-lala land, or they have become increasingly nihilistic communists, which has led to nearly rapture-like hope that the real material conditions emerge teleologically from the collapse of capitalism. I, ironically, find the later option to be too hopeful.
This is not to say evil will prevail, but that there is an irrational kernal to all this reason. The problems of a given society are still addressed in a way that is still fundamentally too limited. One is often left with the jaded left-communists who speak of future which consist generally of something between Cambodia rural life and primitivism, or of a technologically-advanced society with little distinction between town and country. I think the former is a way for mass starvation really quickly and the later is pretty unlikely given all of human living patterns historically.
Still I find both more realistic than the “we will have all the benefits of capitalism” socialized question. This, in my mind, would lead to more resource extraction than the planet could handle, and thus the relationship to my illness comes it. There are limits to what you can do, but they are not the limits that you know about.
Which is why increasingly I think the apocalyptic point of view is the correct one only in so much that instead of escapism, which it can easily be, it focuses the mind on real limits. For example, for all my socialist friends who think the Sawat campaign and getting a few city-council seats and basically ameliorating current problems with things like a 15 dollar minimum wage, whose regulatory effects were be far more corrosive than a minimum income, without realizing that without taking on both corporate power and a bloated military apparatus which siphons almost a 1/3 of federal spending that such measures can not be afforded. Add to that questionable rates of profits. City-council seats, even in NYC, would not do much about that. There are limits to what small scale projects can do to a national or transnational problem.
You are in the middle of what is appearing to be a mass extinction event, global warming is worse than people thought (although admittedly like apocalyptic than Bill Maher and the likes cast it), the economic efficiency standards had made productivity gains that will reduce the need for high employment rates for anything other than social stability… the optimism and hope of electing a few socialists to a campaign or the nihilism implied in material conditions bringing about revolution for you are, frankly, deluded.
There are limits. You do not necessarily know what they are, but you do know they are there. Admit it. Then you can work on things. Limitedly. I tried to play soccer as a way to get exercise here in Mexico, and I discovered my health limited that. If I still were trying I would probably have a limp worse than the one I am already walking with, but I did not give up either. I now walk to the grocery store and set under the lime trees at the park, soon I will be doing a regular walking routine.
That is a lesson for me politically too, and its why I am not trying to tell people how to found a movement. They do not need another movement by itself, they need revelation.
Progress, Socialism, Capitalism and Ideological Pathologies
Ronald Wright, of all the anthropological critics of “civilization” (a word which I find so horribly vague that I am hesitant to use it), seems to be the most cogent and the most damning. His work indicates that paleolithic hunter-gatherers, often the focal points for primitivists, were just as subject to resource over-efficiency as anyone else.
Again, in a conversation with Tom, I spoke to him about the problems of Keynesianism, which does seem to stimulate an economy but only for a short time. Indeed, for the mainstream liberal Keynesians, if there economics does stimulate growth by stimulating consumption the problem is immediately apparent: it actually accelerates both development as well as resource depletion.
How is it relevant to the Ronald Wright and the documentary I have linked above? It is simple: Wright puts down the idea that progress always trumps limits in development. Most societies in human history have declined and failed, and this is largely tied to various forms of resource exhaustion. This, ironically, does seem to be a form of what capitalists call “creative destruction” as the poverty induced by failure often predicates the development of a new social form somewhere nearby with deals with some, but not all the hard limits. This is not always the case though as isolated or closed social systems or physically isolated systems because of ecological reasons (deserts, islands, etc) often just go through protracted decline.
While both classical and neo-classical economics accept these limits as given in the first instance, hence all the theories of scarcity, they tend to fall into a trap of what Wright calls “ideological pathology” and if the actions of China and the Soviet Union are an example so did these two societies. China varied, however, by increasing land and resource exploitation while the Soviet Union expanded largely by debt to fund wars to liberate parts of the world. During most of the period of accumulation of territory the Soviet Union did not over accumulate, with the notable and highly tragic exception of the Ukraine until the debt cycles of the 1970s, and ironically the very military required to maintain these accumulation was exhausting the resources. Even after the Soviet collapse, Russia has paid a demographic price and this has only be off-set by resource price spikes. Commodities in the neo-classical definition of the term (which is markedly different than the use of the term in classical economics and in Marxian analysis). Yet, even the Economist, is beginning to agree, commodities in this limited neo-classical definition, are subject to price declines and peaks of the access:
What can primary producers do about this? In a recent conference at the IMF in Washington, one of the authors, Kaddour Hadri, suggested that commodity-dependent economies should take advantage of short periods of price spikes to invest in alternative industries. But many commodity-dependent economies fail to do this. William Sawyer, of Texas Christian University, argues that South America has failed to take advantage of high commodity prices over the past decade. As a result, their economies are not well-equipped to deal with the current price declines.
But according to Javier Blas, a journalist for the Financial Times who spoke at the IMF conference, commodity producers have been fighting against the Prebisch-Singer hypothesis for the last century. Many have shifted production away from commodities which do relatively badly against manufactured goods. The development of the soybean market, as well as shifts towards farming of chicken and pork, are some examples of this. None of these commodities appears in the IMF paper, so it does not tell a complete story. Still, and oddly enough, the IMF seems to have turned up some evidence support a bit of Marxist economic theory.
This does not look good for either capitalist or socialist economies which are almost entirely dependent on resource extraction for their largess. That does not only include Russia, but Venezuela, Canada, and, this is unclear to me exactly, perhaps Brazil. This also does not look good for the consumptive and production hubs needing those resources: China, the US, and the EU. (Despite the US trade deficit, it is still the second most productive economy on earth, but that itself should be horrifying when you realize that despite that its import-consumption is so large. IT is just that the labor force in increasingly not as employed in that sector of the economy: this is partially to traditional exploitation and partly do increased technological efficiency(which makes the former more efficient).
I say to point out that these real resource limits are largely ignored in Marxian circles as well as Keynesian ones despite ideological buzzwords like sustainability. Marx did clearly realize that capitalism exhausted the environment and also say that wealth–although not abstract value (this distinction is not accepted in most other schools of “conventional” economics)–was from the earth not from labor. He says this most explicitly in the Critique of the Gotha Program. Labor produce value, but not the material wealth of the world. That Soviet Union literally ignored this with Stalin codifying the a strange form of the law of value which mandated increased exploitation so that socialization of the surplus could continue. It was industrial output gone mad. Focusing on value and conflating it with wealth at the expense of resources is not just something explicit capitalists do.
None of these equations gives one a lot of room for hope for a socialist society slowing growth with impoverishing the society itself, which is really what such a society MUST end up doing. I, unlike my Luddite friends, do not see technology as the prime offender here: Wright is useful at this too, the technology that allowed the hunter-gathers were not a more efficient spear, it was figuring out how to chase herds of pack animals over a cliff.
Two Roads Half-Not-Taken
Very few traditional Marxist have begun to look at this problem. I would venture to say that automnists and communizers have a bit, but perhaps not completely without either eschatology or fatalism.
One, while given to the typical left declaring the left dead, this Automnia article is really quite good on the constraints we are witnessing:
We are approaching true dystopia. As the last remnants of the welfare state burn to warm the bourgeoisie, people freeze to death on streets of empty houses. Work is given for free, education for a fee and tax breaks for a kitchen supper. And should the people take to the streets? Well the ambush is well set. The batons that beat them down will be the same ones their taxes provided, the poison pens that libel them the same they paid with the morning paper. In fact, the ambush has already been sprung. They won’t let you find a place to work or a place to sleep. They will shake the trust you put in those you organise with, live with, love. You are no longer a subversive, you are a domestic extremist.
The condemnation of the left myopia and contradiction being dead-on:
The left today is splintered, yet resistant to disunity. The idea that those who apologise rape for the SWP, torture for the WRP or statism for the SP are part of the same movement which unceasingly criticises them is deluded. The party form upon which the SWP, WRP, SP and all of the other muddles of sovietised letters depends is based on an oxymoron. “Democratic centralism” is a contradiction dressed up an ideology, an impossibility arrogant enough to wear its dissonance as a name.  The idea that a narrow party can blossom into a mass movement, then bear fruit as a government for the masses is pure fantasy. The structures of the bureaucratised tyrant lie sleeping within the smallest cadre.
But the answer to this is, frankly, underdeveloped
To progress in the pursuit of the total emancipation of humanity, the left must liberate itself from itself. It is time to free ourselves from the tyranny of obscurity and go forth either unlabelled or more truthfully described. Before the 1780s, “the left” did not exist, yet the world was not one of unquestioning obedience to authority and unchallenged oppression. The old forms which typify the established left will not help us, the war for the future will must be fought against hierarchies, not from within them. We must atomise to unionise, divide to multiply, break apart to discover form with true potential. Friends, let us smash the left, from its rubble we can build barricades
The answer that the left main problem is its own obsession with its past is problematic. Yes, this is an ideological pathology that turns left-wing grouplets into stale newspaper sellers wondering why we can not get along. Plus the call for decentralization so that new ideas can flourish is good, but none of this is all that material. The creative destruction of the left may be necessary, but really this is still placing “the left” at a hinge in history it does not necessarily deserve even if it did have dominance of a 1/3 of the planet for about one generation. In a sense automnia is completely right, and in another sense, none of it brings the dinosaurs dead corpses which we have lived on back to the current economy.
Communization theorists, by and large, have a far more material view of what is wrong with the left. Let us look at two essays. One recent one from SIC, in which the analysis is provided as follows:
It is always hazardous to speak of the future, but the risks are smaller when we are discussing the near future. Let us therefore sketch out the following scenario: the crisis has deepened and enormous quantities of capital have been lost. The capitalist class desperately has to increase exploitation in order to restart accumulation anew. The proletariat is resisting and after a while the situation arises, somewhere, where none of the classes can yield, which leads to enormous disturbances in society. The wage loss due to strikes and unemployment along with a currency crisis then creates an acute need for all sorts of provisions at the same time as one can no longer pay for these. The movement thus enters a new phase, when the proletarians stop paying the rent, electricity, water, and start to break into warehouses, occupy farm lands and so on, in short when they take what they need. Now, these encroachments on property rights are not the appropriation of the means of production and of existence; these do not pass over to the workers to become their property. Instead they cease to be property—they become communised. In the struggle against capital, the proletarians are strengthened and united by making themselves independent of working for money; class unity appears thus in the process of the dissolution of classes—in communisation. To concretely abolish themselves as proletarians is going to be the most difficult thing in the world, but is at the same time the ultimate weapon in the class struggle. With its communising measures the proletariat combats efficiently the class enemy by destroying all the conditions which constantly recreate the proletariat as a class. In the end, the proletariat can only fend off capital by negating itself as a value-creating class and at the same time—in one and the same process—producing completely new lives that are incompatible with the reproduction of capital.
One cannot die the materiality of the analysis, and yet it has the slight smell of eschatology. The class dissolution from extreme crisis will produce the conditions that will allow for communism. This may just accept Wright and others critique, progress will begin only after current progress has failed and exhausted itself. Yet this is similar to primitivism in that it expects the crisis to clear the landscape in a particular way in which there are no other contingent factors. At least, that is how it reads.
Triploin has a view communization that is not quite as mechanistic:
The idea is fairly simple, but simplicity is often one of the most difficult goals to achieve. It means that a revolution is only communist if it changes all social relationships into communist relationships, and this can only be done if the process starts in the very early days of the revolutionary upheaval. Money, wage-labour, the enterprise as a separate unit and a value-accumulating pole, work-time as cut off from the rest of our life, production for value, private property, State agencies as mediators of social life and conflicts, the separation between learning and doing, the quest for maximum and fastest circulation of everything, all of these have to be done away with, and not just be run by collectives or turned over to public ownership: they have to be replaced by communal, moneyless, profitless, Stateless, forms of life. The process will take time to be completed, but it will start at the beginning of the revolution, which will not create the preconditions of communism: it will create communism.
This does not seem to be nearly as mechanistic as the above quote from SIC. Some of the same concerns, however, are there:
Communism is an anthropological revolution in the sense that it deals with what Marcel Mauss analysed in The Gift (1923): a renewed ability to give, receive and reciprocate. It means no longer treating our next-door neighbour as a stranger, but also no longer regarding the tree down the road as a piece of scenery taken care of by council workers. Communisation is the production of a different relation to others and with oneself, where solidarity is not born out of a moral duty exterior to us, rather out of practical acts and interrelations.
Among other things, communisation will be the withering away of systematic distinction between learning and doing. We are not saying that ignorance is bliss, or that a few weeks of thorough (self-)teaching are enough for anyone to be able to translate Arabic into English or to play the harpsichord. Though learning can be fun, it often involves long hard work. What communism will do away with is the locking up of youth in classrooms for years (now 15 to 20 years in so-called advanced societies). Actually, modern school is fully aware of the shortcomings of such an absurdity, and tries to bridge the gap by multiplying out-of-school activities and work experience schemes. These remedies have little effect: the rift between school and the rest of society depends on another separation, which goes deeper and is structural to capitalism: the separation between work (i.e. paid and productive labour), and what happens outside the work-place and is treated as non-work (housework, bringing up children, leisure, etc., which are unpaid). Only superseding work as a separate time-space will transform the whole learning process.
Here again, and in contrast to most utopias as well as to modern totalitarian regimes, communisation does not pretend to promote a “brave new world” full of new (wo)men, each equal in talents and in achievements to his or her fellow beings, able to master all fields of knowledge from Renaissance paintings to astrophysics, and whose own desires would always finally merge in harmonious concord with the desires of other equally amiable fellow beings.
And Triploin also admits that some of the past bonds dissolved by capitalism and its consumption are preferable and that progress may be problematic:
In the past and still in many aspects of the present, quite a few things and activities were owned by no-one and enjoyed by many. Community-defined rules imposed bounds on private property. Plough-sharing, unfenced fields and common pasture land used to be frequent in rural life. Village public meetings and collective decisions were not unusual, mostly on minor topics, sometimes on important matters.
While they provide us with valuable insights into what a possible future world would look like, and indeed often contribute to its coming, these habits and practices are unable to achieve this coming by themselves. A century ago, the Russian mir had neither the strength nor the intention of revolutionising society : rural cooperation depended on a social system and a political order that was beyond the grasp of the village autonomy. Nowadays, millions of co-ops meet their match when they attempt to play multinationals – unless they turn into big business themselves.
Our critique of progressivism does not mean supporting tradition against modernity. Societal customs have many oppressive features (particularly but not only regarding women) that are just as anti-communist as the domination of money and wage-labour. Communisation will succeed by being critical of both modernity and tradition. To mention just two recent examples, the protracted rebellion in Kabylia and the insurgency in Oaxaca have proved how collective links and assemblies can be reborn and strengthen popular resistance. Communisation will include the revitalization of old community forms, when by resurrecting them people get more than what they used to get from these forms in the past. Reviving former collective customs will help the communisation process by transforming these customs.
So what is not the like? The analysis of Gilles Duave and his collective is all very good, but it is vague in the specifics with only hints at how to redress ecological limits. Like Das Kapital itself was in the regards to the future, and very specific in regards to the present. This is fine, but such negative ideological critiques do not seem to have been the building blocks of past societies which have failed, and we do have real practical limits which must be dealt with in the now. Still this line of thought is at least serious about the problems at hand.
Eschatology and Apocalypse is not an answer
My critique of Primitivism has always been two fold: it is not entirely honest about the life of hunter-gathers and its obsession with post-industrial technology eliminates the fact that all the things that led to technology and overreach are not only before agricultural civilization but we see signs of it in other animals species which can predate themselves out of a food source. The idea that ecologies are somehow geared towards equilibrium and self-regulation can be seen in what a termite or a swarm of locusts can do to an otherwise balanced ecosystem.
The idea that a industrial collapse that would lead to a 99.5% population die-off which itself would depopulate the world enough for surviving wildlife to be unharmed by hunter-gathering is not particularly realistic as all sorts of technological fall-out could still render such a lifestyle mostly impossible.
Destruction of capital has reset capitalism before, so those crises would not automatically reset society to a socialist one and only a socialist society not predicated on growth would deal with the ecological limitations anyway. Neither of the two more realistic theories I listed above completely deal with this. I, however, give them credit for looking at the problems seriously.
Finally, while extinction is possible, the course of human indicates that the likely outcome is not distinction: it is painful, horrible, and violent decline until a new social form emerges. The Marxist society of the history of social forms has always had an implicit faith that such limits could be worked out. It placing social developments in history, it avoided the transhistorical optimism of a lot of capitalist talk or assuming that all prior societies function merely as prototypes for the current development of liberal modernity. In this, I agree with Marx, but I increasingly wonder if there are some limits–existing outside of the human sphere of influence like ecological systems–which effectively bring a transhistorical limit back into the picture? What development? What argument? What dialectic sublimates that?
I do not know.
What I do know is this: delusion is not grounds for social change. In many ways, the biggest enemy of social change is the soft idiocy of blind optimism. How can you change a world in which you are not willing to admit what the problems are? Any society emerging after capitalism either runs it courses or is removed must deal with these problems, or face the dustbin of history.
Talking to Tom, the host of the From Alpha to Omega podcast, I have recently come to a conclusion about why I increasingly gravitate towards councilism, as its confederated structure is more likely to deal with the only serious critique of centralized communism that I think stands: the knowledge problem. Marginal utility, the collective man, and all these things are red herrings that cannot be ascribed to Marx proper, but in thinking a totality can replace another totality, Marxists have often been in hubris bout the limits of any centralized planning. For example, Jacobin has written, accurately, that during the depression the Soviet system was more productive. That is absolutely true, but what is missed is that if you look at the work of Getty and Fitzgerald on Stalinism, you’ll see that from USSR’s own stats, caloric consumption from the average worker was BELOW what it was during the sources of the Russian Civil war. I want that to sink in for a second, to keep that level of production up, a whole massive society had to starve itself, and also become conspiratorial to explain all the industrial collapses that were happening in order push that much productive capacity that fast. Add to that this ruined the countryside of a lot of central Asia. When a lack of knowledge of a ecological limit hits, society can become quite violent and need a scapegoat.
Furthermore, completely decentralized societies also go through similar shortages and inability to deal with changes in the weather and of blow back from ecological developments or even political ones. Councils work in concert with each other, and can do limited planing in a matter similar to a corporation–although it is hard to say exactly what this would look like after capitalist development seizes since it would not look like entirely pre-modern councils due to the knowledge of certain types of technology, nor would be look like city councils in capitalist worlds or corporate boards whose primary function is value production, but we can assume that a worldwide council would not be logistically possible without multiple levels of federation. While centralization does increase efficiency as many liberals and socialists will tell you, they miss that in all complex systems there is a point of diminishing returns which acts in conjunction with recourse limits as a hard limit to any possible project, capitalism decentralized totality has been far more adaptive to that than the centralizing and teleological development chosen by the Soviet Union. That was not the only path.
Furthermore, I increasingly see this in China, the cultural revolution with all its advances and human tragedy was aimed a centralized apparatus that could not meet demands placed on it by the population. The forms of de-centralization were barred, the one that emerged in the second Shanghai commune and the market liberal one that Deng actually choose. By deciding to crush the development of the former for fear of dissolving China, it seems like the latter became the only option under Deng to get a very particular developmental plateau.
Now, the form of a governing system cannot explain all failures, but it does explain some. The irony that fear of decentralization leading to dissolution of “the revolution” often leads to the dissolution by other means. The refusal to learn this lesson and continue to pretend that any socialist society could be a mass society mirroring capitalism in some ways is, frankly, probably one of the key ideological reasons why these states have actually empowered nationalist and capitalist development in either the dissolution or reform. The knowledge problem is real particularly as you scale up and the entropic causes of failure increase dramatically. That is a law of physics as much as a law of history. It cannot be ignored, but it is false to think all communitarian societies are given to it: since most of our history will lived in small communities with limited or no private property in terms of land and means of production, it seems like something is turned to complexity of the system also ties to being unable, to use Marxian language, to transcend the value form. Commitment to any ideal may be necessary in that case, but it is not sufficient.
Lastly, I am not naivete to think councilism removes knowledge limits from our lives: capitalism does not either, actually, and we can see that with ecological degeneration and the shortness of scale of politics in mixed economic republics. What such council confederation does is limited the damage done in a system from a collapse in any point. Tragedy is part of human of life and that often stems from lack of knowledge, but systems that are centralized and massive in scale have highly fragile collapses with much higher costs. That is true would be true in a socialist world as well as a capitalist one.
Or, why, once again, we can’t have nice things.
All bad precedents begin as justifiable measures. — Julius Caesar
There is hope. But not for us. – Franz Kafka
“Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torment of man” – Nietzsche
So I have the definitive unluck to encounter this in my daily facebook news feed: A eulogy about the pure and joyful polemic hate of Alexander Cockburn publishes of Counterpunch. (Note I am not linking to Counterpunch because it does not need my traffic.) Jacobin’s Managing Editor, Connor Kilpatrick, waxed-and-waned poetic on Cockburn’s polemics. Now, Kilpatrick, accurately, points out some of the snobbery aimed at the Tea-party which led Cockburn to defend it:
When liberals and lefties dismissed the Tea Party, calling it an inauthentic “astro-turf” operation, Alex was quick to call them on their smugness: “You think the socialist left across America can boast of 647 groups, or of any single group consisting of more than a handful of people?”
Marine Le Pen is a nationalist politician, no anti-Semite, quite reasonably exploiting the intense social discontent in France amid the imposition of the bankers’ austerity programs.
She has gone to the heart of the matter, asserting that monetary union cannot be fudged, that it is incompatible with the French nation-state.
She has won 18 percent of the vote by campaigning to pull France out of the euro and smash the whole project. A recent poll shows only 3 percent of French voters consider immigration the main issue. So logically, Le Pen cannot owe her 18 percent to that issue. The No. 1 issue is employment.
It’s true; things could get ugly. Europe’s politics are being refashioned before our eyes. Greece has 21 percent unemployment, and the Socialist Pasok Party could face near-extinction in the upcoming elections. In Spain, 1 in 4 persons are out of work, and the right-wing prime minister insists on maintaining austerity. As Evans-Pritchard points out, “We forget now, but Germany was heavily indebted to foreigners in 1930, like Spain today. It was the refusal of the creditor powers (U.S. and France) to reliquify the system and slow monetary contraction that pushed Germany over a cliff. The parallels are haunting.”
But there’s another aspect to this habit of flinging the charge of fascism at Europe, and that’s the simple matter of national hypocrisy. The mobs that flooded into the streets to revel in the execution of Osama bin Laden were not exulting in America, land of the free and of constitutional propriety. They were lauding brute, lawless, lethal force. In this year of political conventions we’ll be hearing a lot of tub-thumping about American freedoms, but if there’s any nation in the world that is well on the way to meriting the admittedly vague label of “fascist,” surely it’s the United States.
You will notice that this is the exact same tone and rational as the defense of the tea-party, but with a twist, the people whom Cockburn was defending in the Tea Party are now implied to be fascists.
You will now that Cockburn published Israel Shamir and defended him:
We’ve run a few pieces by Israel Shamir down the years and each time a couple of emails promptly drop into our editorial inbox from dedicated Shamir-haters who seemingly have nothing better to do than surf the internet for Shamir-sightings, then rush forward with routine obloquies. They never vary. To believe them, the man is a blend of all that’s vile, a hospice for prejudice and hate, starting with anti-Semitism and moving forward into complicity with the darkest forces in Russia. I reply to them that co-editor Cockburn has in the course of his long career been falsely accused of innumerable crimes against conscience and enlightenment and so I’m instinctively averse to black-balling a writer on the basis of some charges sloshing around on the internet. What we print – most recently two very useful pieces on Julian Assange – bear no sign of the vile prejudices ascribed to Shamir and have been reports well worth presenting to our readers.
Even though Sharmir published this:
The philosemites of Aaronovitch’s ilk brought incredible calamities to mankind and Jews. They excluded a priori the possible guilt of Captain Dreyfus or Beyliss. Instead of standing aside and allowing justice to take its due course, they created mass hysteria in France and Russia, thus obtaining acquittals but also undermining popular belief in the judicial system. After Dreyfus and Beyliss trials, Jews rose above the law. This caused the backlash of the 1930s, the back-backlash of our days, and will probably cause a back-back-backlash tomorrow.
In a better world, Dreyfusards and Beylissists would be sentenced for contempt of court; for their unspoken axiom was “a Gentile may not judge a Jew.” One should not believe or disbelieve ritual murders. [...]
Jews of our day rarely know they are supposed to eat matzo on Passover, let alone afikoman. They are blissfully unaware of the troublesome legacy of mediaeval Jewry.
Kilpatrick does not even gloss these incidents, merely alluding to Cockburn’s defense of the Tea party, and ends on this:
And it’s in this sense that Alex played what I think was his most valuable role for the left, though as a staunch anti-militarist, he’d probably hate the metaphor: he was like our drill sergeant. He hurled abuse at us — but beautifully stated and almost alway hilarious abuse — from every possible direction. “Oh, maybe if Hillary — SLAP!” “Oh, maybe if I buy organi — SLAP!” “Oh, if only the Democrats — SLAP!” “The Kennedys were the last true — SLAP!” But why was he doing it? Because he was mean? No. Because he wanted us to survive. He wanted us to win.
And honestly, we needed it.
And yet no where in this: “Oh, maybe if we teamed up with the anti-liberal right — SLAP!”
This, my dear readers, is why I have given up hope on the “idea of the left.” For when it condemns one thing one political or moral principle, it excuses a similar ideological offense elsewhere. Both errors, however, remain offenses. If one cannot expect consistency on these matters–to at least mention the contradictions and caveats on these positions–what could one see emerging beyond that.
But then again, what I am to expect from these paper Jacobins, so willing to talk about both the guillotine and social democracy. At the end of the day, the problem is not in a Marxian analysis of economics or ideological situations, or even a Christian one. Alasdair MacIntyre, in a way far more consistent that Cockburn and his eulogists and defenders, pointed out the mutual problems that Marxism and traditional Christianity shared against liberal modernity. If that was what this was based in, I would be more sympathetic, but it is clearly not. If I am being charitable, this is opportunism of the basest form, but if I am not charitable, it is far more dark. On Jacobin, I am sure it is the former, and on Cockburn I do not know.
Marx’s critique of capital does not stand or fall on the hypocrisies of left-wing polemicist and cadres, any more than any religious or ethical or economic claim depends on the actions of its adherents. Truth claims must be dealt with separately, but if I were a religious man I would take these “contradictions” as a sign of the fallen nature of humanity. If I am religious, I am not that kind of religious though and cannot take consolidation in such things: the dark impulses and the human contradictions are not so easily just written off as inevitable. Julius Caesar, in perhaps one of the most self-ironic statements in history, said, Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt.
Kilpatrick mentions this, but perhaps it should be used against its subject: “There is hope, but none for us.”
With both Kafka and Caesar, truer words are rarely said, or embodied.
The blog has always been a sort of home of my reflections and evolution: It started as an education blog, then as a standard skeptical blog, then morphed into a left-wing political blog, and slowly morphed again into a place for cultural reflections on the limits and problems of modernity. The last few months I left this blog in El Mono Liso capable hands, and his reflections on “the left” and limits of our ecological and spiritual realities, have inspired me to return. El Mono Liso comes from a Catholic background, and I from a more Hebriac one: although I have always been as interested in the ideas in religion as the history of Marxian communists, I have never really set out to explore the links and breakages.
Perhaps it comes from reading too much Carl Schmitt, but the lingering cultures of the various religious communicates seem to continue on in our society and this needs to be more fully explored. This blog’s current incarnation with this name began with exploring various self-identified pagans demographics and critiques of modernity, and we will return to those cultural concepts.
Now that I am editing for the North Star, and doing work on “neo-modernist aesthetics” (which despite the key word is an answer to “modernity” more than a development from it) at Former People, which is the literary sister e-journal to this blog, I think my writings here will be more historical, personal, and theoretical than they were in the past.
But this is a theoretical and meditative on this from an essay I posted in the North Star:
A guiding light is not a map or a program or a set of vocabulary words and rubrics to apply to complicated historical movements. Materialism means dealing with what is here, historical means looking with one eye to the past and another to the possibility of a radically different future.
If we are to understand “materially”–to approach this without take any methodological supernaturalism as given– why this religious impulses and ethics still color our lives and manifest in our relationship to “modernity” as whole, we must admit that they do so, and then be sincere with the implication.
To imagine a radically different culture takes dealing with the material of our current cultures as well as the political and economic trends I observe in other venues.
It is good to be back.