interview with Jacobin mag editor

interview with Jacobin mag editor (not by me!)

“I think about the October 2nd “One Nation” rally in Washington DC or any anti-war demonstration we have in the city. A young activist is confronted with dozens of different papers, dozens of different messages; all oozing with marginalization and failure… it’s confusing and a waste of resources and a projection of ineptitude and marginalization.”

“I can’t help shake the feeling that SP-USA and Solidarity and FRSO, for example, do pretty much the same thing and shouldn’t be wasting paper or money printing three newspapers….”

“I’m glad the new social movements exist, but they can’t replicate a revolutionary party. So I guess I’m an ‘egg’ man. Whereas, a lot of people in the left argue that by supporting struggles from below we’ll reach a point where a party will emerge naturally from a new political environment, I think it might be necessary to talk seriously about a re-foundation of the left today. There’s no reason why the members of the left broadly subscribing to the same politics shouldn’t be in the same political formation.”

focusing on organization isn’t sectarian

WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN

So in parts of the left we use this very spiteful word “sectarian” to mean a few things: a group that spends all its time attacking other groups, a group that is “too pure” to take part in activist movements for being too “reformist” or whatever.

Of course there are other things that may not precisely fit the definition of sectarianism, but are telltale signs.  For example, a person whose first words whenever you see them are always the criticism of another organization or group for political positions, even if that person works in various coalitions or whatever, they’re definitely sectarian.  Someone who spends their entire life on the nuances of leftist trivia is tricky – they might just be an extremely informed activist, or they might be a sectarian, depending on how they talk about or use this trivia, or deal with people.

I’m sure I am sometimes perceived as sectarian for placing so much emphasis on different forms of organization.

Truth is, consensus-based decision-making, plus the obsession with the encampment tactic, made Occupy Wall Street extremely difficult to participate in for most working people with work and family obligations, and other real-life time constraints like wanting to have a life and preferring not to blow it on three-hour meetings that debate how the encampment will deal with its trash.

So organizational style was a direct problem for making a movement accessible to ordinary working people – ironic, given that the entire movement was supposed to be about the 99%.

BUILDING AN ORGANIZATION IS A MOVEMENT UNTO ITSELF

Sometimes people tell me, or sometimes the voices in my head tell me, that I can’t be taken seriously because if your group isn’t currently focused on engaging in living movements about specific political issues and not general ideologies, if it is focused on something electoral or organization, it must be some lame group that isn’t going anywhere and will lose out on the numbers game because of its failure to connect with people.

I’d like to introduce a new view:

Anti-capitalism is, itself, a movement.  Socialism is, itself, a movement.  Anarchism is, itself, a movement.  The struggle to build some kind of large-scale resistance entity is, itself, a movement just as organic, vital, and publicly-attractive as any anti-war march ever was.  Building any of the above movements, whether through building a group, spreading literature promoting the ideas, recruiting members, or raising visibility is itself a worthy pursuit, even if not immediately connected to single-issue leftist politics.

If we were to add up all the members of the existing left organizations, well, this is not what I’m talking about.  The total number of people accrued there would not remotely equal what I mean when I talk about America’s combined socialists and anarchists.  I think Occupy did a fantastic job drawing out a lot of people who passively identify as radical leftist but who, for various reasons, aren’t linked to any group.

Having an organization that unapologetically argues radical views while possessing ongoing national visibility, would not be some subcultural leftist preoccupation.  It would be hugely helpful in giving ideological, numeric, and logistic support to any other protest movement around things like single-payer healthcare, the labor movement, ending the mass-imprisonment of black people, debt forgiveness, whatever organic down-to-earth demand your heart desires.

Typically the argument of the existing Leninist groups is that we have to build movements first and then build a national-scale socialist party out of that, after the movements exist.

I disagree.  I think we could get the turnout for the socialist/far-left party now, and it would, in turn, be of incredible assistance to all single-issue resistance movements.

Is Game of Thrones right or left?

Has anyone written about the weird mix of medieval glamour and medieval horror in Game of Thrones? It makes me want to commit regicide and go to a ren faire all at the same time. Weird political implications…I can see grimdarkultramodern leftists focusing on the brutality, I can see reactionaries focusing on the beauty.

Or more extreme, it could be, look at the horror that really lurks in our fantasy worlds (masterfully leftist) versus a war-glorifying, hierarchy-glorifying, elevation of human destruction as a form of brutal fascist beauty (masterfully right-wing) similar to the Italian Futurists.

Obama, the anti-Keynesian Democrat

The Loss of Government Jobs is Holding Back the Economy

The Top 10 Things Black America Will Have To Show For 8 Years of President Obama — None of Them Are Good

^read the link
#3 is a real killer, everyone thinks he’s pro-education because he’s a Democrat. Nope, more public schools have been closed or privatized under Obama than any US president ever.

Obama is the most miraculous president of history: instead of responding to recession by expanding the public sector, his response inverted Keynes with MORE CUTS, and somehow he retained his giant liberal fan club and had conservatives calling him a socialist.

Is this the Democratic Party we can reclaim, or build a progressive faction inside? I don’t think so — especially when it’s full of people who don’t even have any clue of Obama’s true role.  They are not organized by grassroots upsurge from below, they are organized by what the televisions tell them (which is what the corporations tell them).  When you enter into a party, you also have to take the risk that you will end up losing the primaries and supporting the backward wing’s candidate.  I could fucking NEVER vote for a guy like Obama.

Regardless I think conditions are perfectly ripe for building a ruckus from the outside.

For all you leftist trolls, I know that Keynes is not Marx bla bla bla but here’s the thing, Keynes-type reforms are still something we should support especially in a recessionary context but also in general.

The Left: its own biggest obstacle?

What if, deep down, most Americans deeply identified with the leftist message of class warfare, “We are the 99%,” attacking wealth and income equality, universal healthcare, etc?

What if most Americans were even on board with us in terms of the Culture War – anti-racism, supporting same-sex marriage, generally leaning toward women’s rights, legalizing weed, opposing the wars?

Actually this is how things are.  In the USA all these issues are at least in the mid-40%s, and could be shifted with an informational campaign, if not already having solid majorities toward our side.  So why aren’t we winning?

Obviously there are the obstacles we are always contending with, like “our political system is intentionally unrepresentative of the population” and “therefore it will take more than just having a majority, the Left will have to act as a magnet for mobilizing that majority in struggle.”

But you’d think that by now, this much would be clear.  So why precisely does the Left, which does exist with some semblance of organization and numbers, not act as a magnet for mobilizing the majority in struggle?

I think the Left, while having political positions which many people increasingly agree with, often makes the mistake of presenting itself as a counterculture instead of a political movement.

Furthermore, when the Left does indulge in counterculture, they indulge in a very soft, white-light Buddhist/hippie version of counterculture which is opposite of the dark energy that defines most Americans.  (Make no mistake, America is sheer evil, so the question is do we whine about it or work with it?)

There’s also the issue of “lack of self-awareness.”  Like a subway masturbator, some leftists just yell out slogans with no awareness or concern of the context of how society will receive the message.  We navel-gaze with internal issues and preoccupations instead of sticking to the core messages of class warfare, fighting social oppressions, and revolution which really attract ordinary people.  This is a biggie.

Finally, building off that lack of self-awareness, we on the Left do not even imagine ourselves as playing this role – as a well-oiled machine for coordinating numbers of people far larger than ourselves.  We think of ourselves as just ourselves – a little group of people with similar ideas, and little thought of what part we play in the big picture.  In other words, no strategy.

So, without the vision or ambition of becoming the rallying point of a revolting majority, we don’t become one, except sometimes accidentally, like Occupy Wall Street.  And then because that was just an accident, we are not prepared to sustain the numbers we attract.  We make the mistakes listed above, the instinctively leftist majority drifts back into demoblization, disorganization — and depression.

The greatest enemy is not the neo-Nazis, whom we love to attack so much.  It is not the cops.  It is not the Republicans.  The Democratic Party establishment is pretty high on my list but no, I don’t even think it’s them.

Our greatest enemy is always our own failures, our own weakness, our own disorganization, our failure to resonate with wider masses.

Which is tragic, because we really could resonate far.

I will follow until I don’t

That title means I have a policy of assumed base-line 100% disloyalty to any organization I may nominally join.

I may support your efforts.  I may do your organizing groundwork even – knock on doors with you, help you hang up flyers, help canvas people to promote a meeting or event, find you a meeting space, give you money, whatever.

Or I might not.

It’s not like I fuse my soul to an organization.  I just assist whichever of its activities I find valuable.  Don’t expect me to show up for whatever you do that I don’t care about.

If I am helping your campaign, I may suddenly withdraw my efforts.  I do not feel obligated to provide a reason why.  (Lately it would be because I had surgery and I’m sick as a dog, but that doesn’t seem to stop these fucking liberal foundation paid organizer types from blowing up my inbox and I can’t even mentally expend the energy to pretend to care.)

It’s possible I just don’t feel like it anymore.  Don’t assume I can even articulate my own thoughts; honestly most people can’t articulate their own thoughts, so it’s foolish to expect clearly-stated reasons for anything from anyone.  Most of real life is things, actions, and events, not the text-life of us intellectual types.

You don’t own me just because I worked with you once.

I think this is often the best and most natural form of decision-making, and let’s face it, it’s the one that really happens.  People vote with their feet.  People jump on the bandwagon.  Later they jump off.  What’s important is the reality of it, not the logic.  That’s the real determining force in revolutionary times – huge amounts of people doing things and changing their allegiances – not necessarily having a clearly spelled-out articulation of why.

Can you attract a large, steady following in a world of disloyal, inconsistent people?

That’s the true test of history.

selfish politics is the most attractive

When most people hear political talk, it has to pass the “what’s in it for me?” test.

If there’s not something in it for them, they typically don’t care.

As a leftist, learn to shape your statements towards appealing to people’s pragmatism, their needs — their selfishness.

TALK ABOUT CLASS, DESCRIBE IT BY NUMBERS.

Don’t hate people for being this way.  It’s just the way the world is (as in, yes, the world is completely evil).

You can hate and fear that truth, or you can use it and win.

The call of justice may gather our little leftist subculture, but it doesn’t work for moving the tremendous majority.

There may be exceptions to this — MLKJr seemed to do a pretty good job using a moral call to action.

But then again, there was a lot of intrinsic motivation, too.  Like blacks themselves suffering under racism, and therefore wanting to fight it.

I too have a dream.  I dream of a world where every single action a person undertakes will arise from their intrinsic motivations.  I want every inch of a person’s life to be freedom.  I don’t want them to get out of bed in the morning because they have to work to survive.  I want them to wake up looking forward to spending their day in precisely the manner they wish to.

Infinite liberation.  All power to the imagination!

So I think we leftists need to keep in mind the attractive power of allowing people to be selfish, to focus on their own wants and desires.

Very often leftists yell about “greed.”  Those greedy bastards!  Corporate greed.

No, I think this is entirely off track.  We should all be greedier.  Everyone should look at their paychecks and feel greed at that moment.  They should thirst, as for blood.  They should want to come down on the necks of their employers for MORE MONEY.

What is the greediest — to want a sizeable chunk of the world, an estate?  Your own little separated-off section?

Or is it perhaps greedier, to want the entire world, and to own it not by partitioning, but to radically share it in a process of co-creation?

Many of us leftists are finger-waggers.  We wag our fingers at people for everything.  We scold.

Where are the people saying we all deserve more?  I want us to be those people.

democratic centralism: is speech an action?

So the typical line among groups which employ democratic centralism is: freely debate, follow the majority decision in action.

First, I agree with this method only some of the time.  Groups need to pick essential issues over which there is unity in action, and others around which disparate or even opposing action is permitted.  For example, the US group Solidarity apparently had two different positions on the Syrian civil war.  I’m totally okay with that.  Variation of opinion is normal, natural, healthy.  Not every difference in opinion has to be followed by a split in organization; otherwise you get this.

However, sometimes there are critical issues around which united action is necessary.  What are they?  How do we pick which is which?  As a rule of thumb, I tend to favor issues directly related to class warfare and spreading radical ideas.  But people may have different ideas of what is critical, and that can be democratically debated and decided.

I’ve been in a group that uses democratic centralism and let me tell you, sometimes there are so many unwritten rules over what stance you are obligated to take on every issue that the range of debate is pretty microscopic and meaningless.  Maybe that’s a separate issue?

But anyway, if democratic centralism means “free debate, unity in action,” there’s a big issue.  So much of politics is itself speech!  We, the working majority, do not own and control the means of production.  For now we have nothing to govern, neither businesses nor governments.  So when we are debating what to do, often it is simply a matter of figuring out what criticism of the system we are raising for maximum resonance with the general population or whatever subset demographic we may be honing in on.

There becomes an issue: what, precisely, does democratic centralism govern?  Does it govern the coordinated speech of a group — its publications, websites, printing presses, its sponsored books?  I suppose it does govern demonstrations, which while speech, are the closest thing to an “action” that left activists can really perform to alter society’s ideas.  (I tend to be dismiss low-numbers “direct action” because we’re not exactly at the stage where “attacking the state” makes any economic sense, and the best way to develop strength and credibility with the overall population is large events which are inclusive by not focusing on illegal activities.  This is a numbers game.)

But what about when a democratic-centralist decision creates a situation where you are not even allowed to bring things up in discussion?

Something like this recently happened with the British SWP, where the leadership pretty much issued a gag order on discussions of the sexual assault scandal.  But then to be fair, I’m not sure the gag order specifically was truly a “democratic centralist” decision, or just a centralist-only command sent down from the bureaucracy.

This would be a clear example of democratic centralism governing even the individual speech of its members.

To be fair I think some speech should be discouraged, you know, like the n-word.  I don’t really know what kind of leftist you are if you’re cool with that; that’s just obvious baseline shit.

But I don’t know how an organization is ever supposed to be democratic if members are discouraged from campaigning for a certain position within the organization, both within their localities and across the inter/national network.  Again this may be where the law of unstated rules comes into play: if you are formally allowed to do something, but there is such a strong organizational culture against doing it, then it’s not actually allowed.

Sometimes it may even go to the point of publicly, not “internally,” disagreeing with your group.  After all, these are the tactics that leninist groups tend to use on everyone else: air their dirty laundry, create mass pressure from both within and outside the group.  It seems most “leninist” groups (though I think they misinterpret leninism) will tolerate this approach against anyone but themselves.  This article gives a very good idea of the way “internal” speech was actually handled by the bolsheviks (by granting it full freedom and making everything public) and serves as a good guideline for organizing today.