my top blog posts (imo)

For anyone who gets directed to my site by random stuff, my top political project is CUSP.  Note that the opinions in this blog are just my own, not CUSP’s collectively — especially if I was criticizing something.  CUSP is an actual group of people, not just a site where I post opinions as if I’m an organization.  (I often don’t even do the postings anymore.)

The posts:

the insanity of competing socialists

How will a large socialist party happen?

Constructively resolving the emerging socialist hostility

Diplomacy and bio-psychological infrastructure (humans)

Physically evict the sectarians

my Left Forum 2013 misadventure

Occupy could have endured and expanded

briefly, the phases of a revolution

this historical moment is critical

Area-Based Unionism in the Viral Age

resurrecting uniforms, marching, coordination in the Left

leftist organization and the growth curve

The Dark Side

The Force

Why spirituality often fails

Too much culture

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resurrecting uniforms, marching, coordination in the Left

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This very recent scene from Game of Thrones is the sweetest shit ever.  (Edit: link broken due to YouTube copyright issues.  It was a reference to the liberation of the Unsullied.)

It raises a lot of questions in my mind about the aesthetics and politics.  Can leftists have uniforms?  Can they march in formation?  Should they look badass and have a forceful presence like that, or does that scare people away?  Is this compatible with organizational democracy?  With movement democracy?  I happen to think the answer to all these is yes.  After all, we’ll have to do more than march in formation to take down the ruling class…

It’s almost a cliché that the bad guys have the best looks.  The Nazis, riot police, the Galactic Empire.  Can we pull off the look without becoming bad guys?

Let’s check some examples, past and present.

PRETTY PICTURES

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Here’s a march type that most leftists could probably get down with.  It has a simple but effective formation.  It’s got coordinated T-shirts or at least coordinated colors, which falls way short of having a more serious uniform – like the Panthers.

Every time I find myself thinking “God damn it the Nazis had the best uniforms,” I remind myself that the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense happened.

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Matrix, anyone?

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FORCE.

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Hot logo.

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A further throwback into history would be POUM, the Trotskyists of the Spanish Civil War.  No discomfort with formations here, either!

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Fast-forward to the present.  Anonymous, the V for Vendetta crew, the Guy Fawkes masks.

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It’s got its whole cool religion behind it, the cool phrases like “We Are Legion” and all that.  Occasionally you get just one dude at a protest with the mask, sometimes they all wear em.  Both Anonymous and the mask tactic seem more chaotic and unplanned than the disciplined formations displayed above – more Internet-y, perhaps more swarm-like?  That has its ups and downs.

And of course, if the contemporary Left has a combat uniform, it would unmistakably be the Black Bloc.  I have criticized the Bloc as a tactic pretty often in the past – though to be honest, my criticism is more of insurrectionist-anarchists who try to turn every demonstration into a riot, which yes I have had to contend with personally and is not a strawman.

So maybe I’m warming up to the Bloc, not really even for the sake of anonymity, but just for being visually badass.

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^LOL

Egyptian Bloc

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Again, like POUM, nice flag useage.

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YOU CALL THAT “MARCHING?”

^That.  I have never actually been to a leftist “march,” despite all the national demonstrations being called “marches.”

Whatever that thing we do is called, that waddling down the street in a blob, it looks shabby and sloppy.  It’s totally demoralizing to be part of; after most “marches” I want to go home tired and sad.  It probably has something to do with how I was basically forced to walk like a zombie (the slow kind not the fast kind) by being packed like sardines into a crowd which, true to unorganized form, inched forward like a long line at a grocery store.

The horrible presentation we give at demonstrations reinforces everyone’s stereotypes of the Left: weak, unprofessional, undisciplined, unserious.

This is not just an issue of how we look, but also potentially tactical.  A crowd appears as a solid unified mass of people but in reality it is just a blob.  If you hit one part of the crowd, especially in American protests, there is no indication that the crowd will react in unison, either fleeing or retaliating.  Often when you hit one part of a crowd, that’s all you’re doing – hitting that one part of a crowd.  If you watch any YouTube videos of crowds that get hit by police, you’ll see what I’m talking about – the reaction to the police assault is absurdly localized to the exact spot in the crowd where it is occurring.  The rest of the crowd has fundamentally the same interests as the attacked spot, but does not respond.

Why?  Lack of preparation, lack of prior coordination.

How, precisely, could leftists have an actual march, instead of a blobbish procession?  How could we have a crowd capable of a coordinated response, instead of being a disconnected mass?

GETTING TACTICAL: SOME COORDINATION BLUEPRINTS

One of the organizations I have worked with has a good chanting system for demonstrations.  There was a central initiator with a megaphone, and a few “officers” (never called that) placed throughout the contingent with megaphones.  Typically they would practice the chants beforehand, quietly repeating them while various speakers were pontificating, before the actual walking part of the “march” began.

Now of course, this group was made of people who were comfortable with a certain degree of being told what to do for the sake of maximum effect and creating a greater resistance.

What if we wanted more than just coordinated chanting, but a response system for various issues?  What if we wanted to have a coordinated response to police assault instead of a spontaneous, localized one?  What if we just wanted our contingent to be able to march around a corner without slowing down like a disorganized blob?

Truth is, earpieces are cheap, and two-way radios aren’t that expensive, especially if you have a whole crew chipping in.  In the same way that you have selected some trusted people to be chant-relayers, you could use the same infrastructure to set up a system of responses.  Your group could shift formation to handle a turn better, it could respond with linked arms up front and pressure from the back against police lines, it could quickly change protest routes in case of a roadblock, it could have a signal to release the confetti for all I care.  If you’re really good, each relayer could have a group of demonstrators roughly assigned to them and they could completely change the shape of the contingent to deal with shifting police formations (or just to get down a narrower street without blobbing).

Most importantly, the communication would not have to be one-way.  This would create a central nervous system by which the relayers could inform the center of a localized event, to which the center could then signal a coordinated response.

PRIOR PLANNING, DEMOCRACY, CROWD SITUATIONS

Any plans to actually march or have any other type of coordination could absolutely NOT be imposed right there on the spot.  An agreement would have to be built in the organizations attending during the organizing process and meetings building up to the event itself.

If some people are just really uncomfortable with true marching, how will that be handled?  Personally I think most groups should just vote on something like this, and if the minority loses, they should just roll with it.  But then maybe in your group you could set up a way to have a marching section and a walking section for whoever is into either.  This would be the time to figure out stuff like uniforms or matching colors too.

Obviously some of the planning meetings before the demonstration will have to be dedicated to practice – how to actually march, deciding what precise formation people should be in.  (If you don’t decide on a formation, it will revert to just being a blob and then people won’t have the leg space to actually march.)

If you’re using a coordination system as described in the previous section, the prior planning meetings would be the time to elect your field directors.  This might make some people uncomfortable and is obviously completely incompatible with purist anarchism.

Here’s the thing: the more coordination you need in a tight, short period of time, the less libertarian it can be.  This is why militaries have traditionally been some of the most authoritarian organizations in human history – they have to contend for physical space in short bursts of time.  Well, so do we.

BUT – we don’t have to accept that as our permanent style of organization in order to be coordinated during demonstrations.  We can use a system of alternation: democracy during the organizing process, unity during execution.  Bolsheviks (their historical value) call this “democratic centralism,” a term which has certainly been abused by authoritarians but is still nonetheless useful.  Pirate ships used to function the same way – equals during sailing, with the captain as merely an elected figure for instances of combat.  Any system that uses delegates to a larger representative body essentially functions the same way.  Anarcho-syndicalists in Spain successfully used a system of immediately-recallable delegates elected directly from workplaces, though again I suppose that would violate the anarcho-purist allergy to representation.

This is also how aesthetics would have to be decided.  Compromise in art can often lead to a gross mix-and-match that is visually awful, so democratic centralism might be the best way to make uniform/fashion decisions as well.  Once again, maybe the group could be partitioned into a section who is down with the Panther getup and a section who is not.

So we elected the field coordinators, we review their in-the-moment decisions later.  If the group concludes that they screwed up too badly, then we don’t trust them with that pivotal tactical role again.  Next time we vote to empower someone else with those responsibilities.  It is before and after the operation that the group should also establish its level of comfort with police confrontation and its preferences regarding keeping all activities legal, crossing that line, or figuring out where it resides in the gray area.  The field coordinators should respect these guidelines.

There’s also the issue of including last-minute arrivals, spontaneous march-joiners who may jump in from the sidewalks along the march route, and people who show up to a march from who-knows-where without being a regular part of any of the groups that set up the demonstration.  Would this dissuade people from jumping in?

I don’t think it would, I think people could be welcomed aboard.  Keep an open mind, invite them into your formation, tell them roughly how it’s supposed to work, and don’t be too hard on them if they do it wrong or look funny.  Especially if you have a system of coordinators, perhaps walking freely and not bound to the formation, they could run over and serve as the welcoming committee/integration for any newcomers.

What if someone, maybe someone part of the pre-organized group, or maybe someone who just spontaneously joined the event, had some zany idea that seemed adventurous or fun?

Anyone trusted with being the temporary commander would have to be a fairly-open minded person, not the bureaucratic/sectarian type whose first instinct upon hearing outside suggestions is to distrust and reject.  If possible, the suggestion should be implemented.  But of course, in order for the coordination structure to hold up, this has to be the sole call of the elected central coordinator.

Of course the coordinator would have to weigh the need to embrace spontaneity with the security of the group.  If the person’s spontaneous idea is to immediately charge the police lines or do something else illegal, the elected coordinator would have to make a call about how this fits in with the group’s established preferences on confrontation and degrees of legality/illegality.

THE POWER OF BEAUTY, THE BEAUTY OF POWER

America worships force – and so do I.  There is an ethical side to life, which comments on how things should be, and there an amoral side to life which simply wishes to have desires granted, and to appreciate the awe of the structures that exist, even if they are totally heinous and destructive.  I think Game of Thrones is a case study of this; I have never seen a world so evil be so beautiful – except, perhaps, real life?

Everyone has this dark attraction.  Maybe you’re uncomfortable with it, but you need to come to terms with it in yourself, and more importantly in other.  The further you are from being a leftist intellectual and the closer you are to being an ordinary American, the more power this dark attraction can have over you.

Because the ruling class has such tremendous resources, it is usually only institutions dominated by them (police, military, intelligence) that are capable of motivating people (with paychecks) to work in the tight coordination that is not just effective but also beautiful.  And beauty is one of our greatest weapons.

Sometimes people need figureheads too (Zizek on the need for a Leftist Thatcher).  They’re a synthesis in people’s minds between political leanings and the simple, concrete reality of a person.  It’s effectively another form of branding, with logos replaced by individuals.

Clearly in that Game of Thrones clip there was a big “hero and crowd” divide going on that makes for great movies and potentially horrible, authoritarian politics.  But not necessarily.  I think pretty much every political movement has its romantic hero.  It often happens to coincide with a person who has a lot of say in how the movement goes.  What’s important here, though, is the structure and culture of the movement.  Can the figurehead be questioned?  Can they be removed if necessary, by election or recall?  Are they formally questionable and removable, but there is such a strong informal culture of discouraging dissent that the formal mechanisms are effectively useless?  You can have a movement with a folk hero which still gives its ordinary members voting power over its direction and actions.  Eugene Debs is a great example.  Hugo Chavez walked a knife edge between allowing initiatives from below in his movement and using bureaucratic methods to steer things into his personal control.  Overall I think he was just using Machiavellian power plays to push the movement as far forward as it could possibly be pushed.  But overall I think he is another great example of a people’s hero who also wielded some power without being totalitarian or harmful to the movement.

People are inspired when a leftist organization really has its shit together – they love us not just for our ethical stance, but for our effectiveness as a machine.  Our presentation should reflect this as well – unless of course we are in fact horribly coordinated, in which case we need to work on that.

How will a large socialist party happen?

Edit: apparently anarchists are already doing this, and I will give details as I learn them

This is one of those long articles, sorry.

THE S-WORD IS HOT

So there was the infamous Rasmussen poll which discovered that only 53% of people liked capitalism anymore, and 20% of the country liked socialism, plus 1/3% of people under 30 liked socialism.

Then there’s the more recent Gallup poll which says that 39% of Americans like socialism, and 53% of Democrats like it.  (I won’t even begin to go into why I don’t think we can work with the Democratic Party – maybe its followers – except that it would take a literal revolution to unseat the corporatists in the Dems, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well go further.)

Capitalism and socialism were also some of the most looked-up words of 2012, along with some other goodies.

The S-word is now hyper-useful.  We don’t have to fight for it to cease being a dirty word – anyone saying that is way behind.  Instead we need to plaster it everywhere relentlessly and use it to draw people to us.

It’s also useful because it seems capable of including everything from left-liberalism to bolshevism to anarchism – and yet, while left-liberals like it, it still carries strong connotations of class war and systemic change.  So it’s the perfect rallying cry of a left convergence.

So let’s create a socialist convergence, because this historical moment is critical and besides the existing socialist groups cannot do it on their own, but only by creating a brand image that the socialists are getting together and this is the place to be if you are one.

Every socialist group wants to be THE group that gets big by itself, becomes the publicly-known socialist group, and pretty much tell other groups that they can lose their identities and join, or continue their irrelevance elsewhere.  This is a completely capitalist/competitive viewpoint that places the movement second, and the dominance of your particular sub-strain of socialism first.  But besides being gross, I just doubt it will work.  All the existing, competing groups are designed to be factions of a larger socialist argument, but without a publicly-known go-to socialist group, they remain irrelevant factions-of-nothing.

WAYS IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE

Quebec Solidaire is a Quebecois socialist group that recently got 6% of the national popular vote and played a significant role in the student protests against imposing fees for college.  Apparently Quebec Solidaire formed out of a merger between leftist party Union des Forces Progressistes, and a large activist coalition Option Citoyenne.  UFP in turn formed out of a merger of a group of Progressives, a group of old Communists, a group of Social Democrats, and a group of the International Society Tendency.  The “progressive” group was itself a previous attempt to create broad unity between different left currents, suggesting that the process of convergence may take several iterations and name changes in order to assuage the egos of groups getting involved.  Granting a new name allows groups to feel like they are equals in merging instead of being consumed by something else.

SYRIZA, a radical left coalition in Greece, basically formed by dragging a social democrat group Synaspimos (SYN) further left and a bunch of little radical left splinters getting in on it, plus a bunch of previously unaligned individuals getting on board.  This process was not out of nowhere but happened out of a conference for the explicit purpose of encouraging collaboration between the different left groups.  THAT MIGHT BE A HINT FOR US.  The SYRIZA example is also tricky, though, because the US has no pre-existing semi-large/medium group like “SYN” to pull left.

The United Socialist Party of Venezuela is another example to study, with a whole complex history that I don’t yet pretend to understand.

The American Socialist Party, when it was a big deal back in Eugene Debs’ time, was actually formed when Marx exiled the First International to the USA mainly because he didn’t like it anymore and wanted to get rid of it.  It pretty much became the US Socialist Party.

This makes it a rather less useful example, though it is a great historical instance of seeding playing out in an unexpectedly successful manner.

HOW IT MIGHT HAPPEN HERE AND NOW

Do I expect immediate merging?  No, there needs to be a process of socialist groups warming up to each other at the local level, maybe have a conference together at the national level, and a general rebirth of socialists toward identifying as socialists first and partisans of their little group second.  But once we get past that…

As mentioned above, whenever you create an umbrella group for several left or socialist forces, you end up having to give it a name that is different enough from any one sub-group so people feel like they’re equals in merging instead of just being eaten.  Silly thing is, if you need to add new groups later, and the umbrella has already been in existence for some time, the new groups will often perceive the existing umbrella name as an obstacle.  They will feel like they are just being consumed.  But since it’s just a fucking means to an end, you say okay, let’s re-form the coalition with a new name so instead of it being like a merger where the umbrella eats the new groups, it’s a new macro-umbrella including the old umbrella and the new groups.  This may have to happen a few times.

Speaking of ego, any merger has to be preceded by a process of whittling down the egos of the existing left splinter groups to the point that they take themselves a little less seriously, and are ready to place themselves second and a broad left first.

This “whittling down” process can happen a number of ways – it can happen through crises in the little groups , through shocks as mass movements bypass most left groups, through an increasing number of ex-members of various groups critiquing the narrowness of the existing groups (even if their initial attempts are poorly-executed or equally sectarian), and finally maybe by some maturity, humility, and pragmatism on the part of members of existing left groups.

And now, some things I think will not work:

DEAD END: LABOR PARTY

It’s a common orthodox-Trotskyist position to everywhere “advance the slogan” of starting a Labor Party.  (Along with a Black Party, and an uncompromising Socialist Party, and I’m not sure how these multiple election campaigns, run on basically no budget or staff, are supposed to overlap or interact.)

It’s putting the cart before the horse.  The expectation is that there’s going to be some kind of semi-spontaneous comeback of the labor movement, which will then be a recruiting ground for socialists.

Nah, won’t happen, or won’t happen spontaneously.  In fact, it’s the reverse: it will take a full-blown contagion of socialist ideology becoming popular in the USA for organized labor to make a comeback.  It won’t be a labor party that helps the socialist movement, it will be a socialist party that helps the labor movement.

Why is this?  It’s because people can eat the same shit over and over again for basically eternity without changing their response (or essentially, their non-response).  It’s when people have a different framework to interpret their horrible experiences, that response becomes possible.  (Is there a chicken-and-egg process, where a class war analysis slowly becomes prevalent because of an eternity of eating shit?  Yes!  People’s ideas come from their experiences! But those ideas can linger unarticulated for decades until someone spells them out explicitly, so I think ideology is the critical step.)

It’s true that we should have a worker-oriented party, and any third party alternative should seek or would probably have support from at least some unions.  However, in the popular consciousness, there is not very much association between the Occupy-influenced image of wage-slave/unemployed rebellion, and the unresponsive, bureaucratic dinosaur unions which sometimes almost seem like corporations unto themselves.  To call something a “labor” party would give people the image of unions, not of the overwhelmingly non-union working class.  To call it a workers’ party is also useless: you can throw together a workers’ party, but what is a “workers’” or “worker-ist” stance?  It sounds radical to base something on a demographic instead of a set of ideas, but actually it’s just vague and self-defeating.  Unless the politics of it are explicitly geared toward class warfare, people might as well stay in the Democrats or Republicans, who have plenty of voters who are workers.  Especially since the meaning of socialism is now so broad and inclusive, any “workers’ party” that can actually emerge will be a socialist party – so let’s just call it that!

DEAD END: GREEN PARTY

Funny that I’m calling the Greens a dead end because they’re basically the only party I’ve ever voted for besides a few crank socialists.  So it goes.

The first thing I hate about the Greens is their astonished moral outrage.  There’s just something so terribly out of touch with reality about a group whose tone seems to be “the system is supposed to work and it doesn’t, so we are outraged.”  It’s like a shot civilian being so shocked that the Geneva Convention is actually not a deflector shield that appears in front of all innocents but is just a piece of paper that everyone ignores.  It’s like they haven’t made the break in their minds that things are fucked beyond repair.  Anything that is not in touch with the cynical reality frankly reeks of activist culture in the bad sense of the phrase, and will never be popular with the majority.

A socialist party would be more in touch with the pragmatic working class, whom when faced with atrocities, does not say “How could they?!” but instead replies “yeah same shit different day.”  The dominant culture within a socialist party would tend not be alarmed over how the system doesn’t work, but would instead take that as its starting assumption and reason for existence.

There is a branding issue with the Greens where the wider population mistakes them for a primarily environmentalist party, because after all, they are the Green Party.  Some people might think that political stances are the key thing and other trifling issues like that are secondary, but actually if our mission is to build a link in people’s minds between social change and a specific institution, then a stumbling block in branding could actually inhibit the whole project.  Sorry, just facing reality here.

Finally, Greens seem to be “progressives” who “are concerned about every issue” in the classic random, postmodern intersectionality sort of way.  There is nothing suggesting that class is at the center of their approach.  They just seem like another set of liberals with a big list of causes that make people yawn.

Their stances are good, to be sure, and any socialist party should match most of them.  But the dividing line is that the Greens seem to throw in class war as one more issue.  But when a party is explicitly socialist, people know that we are on the warpath over class, that all other stances notwithstanding class war is why we exist, and that is what they want to see, that is what gets them out in the streets.

Again, as with the labor party, any left convergence will probably involve some Greens.  I’m sort of a Green I guess, it’s the only party I’ve ever voted for.  But in order for the thing to take off, it will probably be Greens figuring that they don’t care about the label so much as the message, and climbing onto a socialist bandwagon.

the insanity of competing socialists

Competing socialists?  Really?  Isn’t competition for, you know, capitalists?

I once heard a socialist make fun of the group Solidarity by saying “they have two different positions on Syria – isn’t that INSANE?”  Actually no, I think it makes total sense.  Yes, there may be some people in the group who are attending different demonstrations on this ONE issue.  However, 99% of the time, the people in a socialist group are going to have similar positions, allowing organizational continuity.

There are these two other groups which allow internal disagreement, and are slightly more successful than America’s grassroots socialists, you may have heard of them – the Democrats and Republicans.

The genius philosopher Lukacs once made the observation that a group which means what is says must act accordingly, and therefore its members must be bound to carry out decisions collectively voted on.  This makes sense, and really it was a criticism pointed at socialist groups that did nothing but elect socialist legislators who were not held to any particular stance.  (These days I’m of the opinion that it’s not the rank-and-file who should have to follow the letter of the law, but any elected officials or delegates.)

The problem is that modern socialists have carried this idea to an absurd extreme, where every group can have only one centralized position on EVERYTHING from Syria to peanut butter, and difference of position must be followed by a split in organization.  Because the possibilities of fine-tuned disagreements are infinite, this leads to a continual process of splitting within socialist groups.  Is it true that different tactics require different subgroups?  Yes, different subgroups, of a larger socialist group that generally stands for socialism and collaborates most of the time.

Here’s the main thing: contemporary socialist groups are basically set up to be sub-factions of a greater socialist argument.  The problem is, there is no main public face of socialism in the USA.  THE LITTLE SOCIALIST GROUPS ARE SUB-FACTIONS OF NOTHING, AND THEREFORE UNNOTICEABLE.  When they are noticed, what people notice is that there’s a million groups, and they rightfully laugh and move on.

For reasons explained elsewhere, I think this historical moment is critical and we need to use any artificial means to establish a large-scale socialist group, plus some thoughts on how this will actually happen.

Think about it – the Bolshevik-Menshevik split, essentially over the all-important question of revolutionism versus reformism, occurred in 1903-1905 just as the 1905 revolution was happening.  Revolution was a real question.  But in the context of the USA, revolution is not an immediate thing we need to be splitting over right now.  And yet we split over so much less than that, we split over shades of opinion.  So anyone who says that being in a million different groups is “Leninist” is dead wrong.

THE UGLY REALITY OF SOCIALIST COMPETITION AT THE LOCAL LEVEL

There’s this idea that the incredible splittage within the socialist movement doesn’t matter because of the “united front.”  The idea is that socialist groups can have separate existence while cooperating in single-issue coalitions – over opposing budget cuts, antiwar stuff, unions, environmentalism, etc.  In my experience it’s the opposite.

There is a competitive rush within every single-issue movement or coalition, between all the socialist groups, to recruit as many people from it as possible, and in the process talk shit on every other socialist group present.  The pressure towards cooperation often comes from tactical decisions – the socialists in a coalition often have similar ideas about how to make the coalition a success.  The pressure towards competition and splitting comes from recruitment time.

The inter-group rivalry gets intense because of the market-like dynamic that if your group doesn’t gobble everyone up first, the other groups might get to them.  It can feel like being the one woman in a party full of dudes — everyone is hitting on you, everyone is laying on the pressure.  Pretty soon you just get sick of it and leave the party — or the movement.

Because many of these conversations are one-on-one rather than addressed to the whole coalition, socialists are individually pressed by would-be recruits to explain the differences between groups.  Except it’s only one person’s explanation of those differences.  This is where all the most disgusting exaggerations of every other group’s shortcomings are propagated.  So often rather than the socialist groups getting together and making one united presentation to their fellow activists about the need for socialism, with the discussion/debate of fine differences happening openly in front of everyone, the real discussion of ideology gets compartmentalized into different groups who talk shit on each other with no reality-check of open, daylight debate where absurd accusations can be corrected.  From the outside looking in, you might feel that there is more conversation of what is wrong with other socialists than what is right with socialism.

WHAT CAN WE DO?

Now I know that we live in capitalism, and we can’t expect every facet of socialist organizing to mirror the socialist dream of cooperation, but this might be one of those areas where we can do better.  Right now we sound like a bunch of competing salespeople, trying to outdo each other for our own company’s product.  (To be fair I think the whispering campaigns of shit-talk also happen along the socialist-anarchist fault line as well.)

People say things like “it’s just criticism and debate, not sectarianism.”  But we end up discussing nuances that aren’t remotely relevant to the 2013 USA context just to score points against each other.  We need less of that, and more of a practiced belief that we are one united swarm.

Does this mean all socialist groups should drop their identities and converge?  That might be asking more than most organized socialists are ready for, though it wouldn’t be the worst idea.  This way we could stand together on the 99% of stuff we agree on, and the fine points of difference would be exactly that – fine points of difference.  (The fact that socialists emphasize the fine points of difference as their primary political identity is individualistic in the bad sense of the word.)

Maybe instead of total formal convergence, a few groups could get together, if they feel they are similar enough.  Maybe we could run candidates together, or hold joint-sponsored/organized meetings on issues where we share common ground (like the general need for socialism or environmentalism*).  Again, we could just generally stop viewing our fine points of difference as our primary political identity, being socialists first and partisans second.

If there’s anyone capable of getting over our differences and uniting, it should be us.
*Edit: credit where credit is due, Solidarity and the International Socialist Organization are overcoming some of the partisan BS by co-sponsoring the EcoSocialist Conference in New York City on Saturday April 20th.  I think some other groups are getting in on it too.

A left without guilt

“  Pity for all  – would be hardness and tyranny toward you, my dear neighbor!”    — Nietzsche

I know it sometimes sounds rhetorically cool and melodramatic to fling wide dispersions of guilt and self-loathing at a coalition meeting, but the actual effect is often to drive away most of the sane, non-masochistic normal people.

Our target audience should always be the people who are not yet politically involved, but who have an organic attraction to our message of class warfare.

The problem is, when you actually get some of those people in a room, and the white dreadlocked activist veteran starts crooning about how bad he feels (by implication, how bad we should feel) over his “privilege” (imagine it in the most annoying voice possible), it often turns off a lot of the yet-politicized people.

Maybe they work for $10/hour or less and don’t feel very privileged.  We’ve lost em.  Maybe they’re paid much better than that, but still take their boss’ orders from 9-to-5 and have a Fight Club sort of resentment about it – we’ve just lost that crowd, too.

Finally, maybe they were just born white or male, or don’t see what’s wrong with buying consumer objects at normal grocery stores, or not being homeless, or living in the first world.  They walk away unlikely to return to a meeting where they will be obligated to perceives themselves as Part Of The Problem.

Look – there is a lot of oppression in the world besides class oppression.  It needs to be addressed.  It is tragic that much of the dialogue attempting to address that oppression openly or subtly blames and guilt-trips a lot of ordinary people who actually have nothing to do with the problem.

We can disagree on the precise structure of oppression and benefit – a huge topic.  I tend to fall into the camp that says it’s the wealthy elite who benefits, not the “counterpart demographic” (white/PoC, gay/straight, male/female, Muslim/Christian, 1st world/3rd world).  For example, the perception is that the super-profits gained by America-based multi-national corporations exploiting children in foreign sweatshops must somehow be trickling down to the US working majority.  I think actually they just keep those super-profits to themselves.

But here’s the key: if you’re going to build a mass movement, one of the tremendous overwhelming Egyptian size that can really make changes, how are you going to motivate more people to get involved?  By scolding them from the start they’re bad people and part of the oppressive structure?  Or by showing them how they are oppressed too, how they could benefit from a great rearrangement of things?

If wealth was redistributed equally in the United States, everyone would have about $170,000 in the bank.  Where does that place you?

Right, that’s what I thought: the bottom.  You have nothing to be ashamed of and everything to be angry about.

Leftism also doesn’t require you to be a saint.  It’s as though people think that whether their personalities are kind or unkind, sacrificing or selfish, is the critical question in ripping one system down and building another.  If that was true, I think religion would have solved all the world’s problems by now, maybe Buddhism in the East and Christianity in the West, or whatever.

To even exist, to even live and breathe in the USA, a person must deal with a frustrating amount of bureaucrats and phone trees.  We do this even after we’ve already done our daily slave shift.  We may start out with good intentions, we may try to be nice to that voice on the other end of the phone, but ultimately, our patience wears thin.  We stop being nice.  It’s survival.

“Man’s inhumanity to man” is not the source of the system, it is the result of it.  We live in a cannibalistic system and we’re not personally exempt from it.  We’re all monsters, except I don’t feel guilty about it, I feel energized.  You can let it horrify and paralyze you like Hamlet, or you can embrace our true nature as a source of strength for our movement.  Goodie two-shoes, white-light leftists should look into the crowds in Britain happily chanting Margaret Thatcher’s death.

briefly, the phases of a revolution

People will only be against the system because the system is against them, not because it’s against the polar bears or “the children” (unless it’s their children…maybe).

In fact, the really painful part is that huge majorities of humanity will get repeatedly screwed and stick with their routines anyway.

To provoke a rebellion, the system can’t just screw everyone over; it has to screw everyone over for a prolonged period of time (like since the 1970s, or the dawn of agriculture).  Then within a concentrated period of time, the system has to commit a series of Onion-worthy atrocities and blunders to really bring the bullshit to a special boil (War on Terror/2008 Crash/cutting Social Security).

Then the inevitable mass-backlash (Occupy/whatever’s next) has to undergo a few repetitions of flaring up and then collapsing before the school of hard knocks teaches the movement how to sustain and expand itself through serious organizing, as opposed to campsite communes/four-hour consensus meetings/one big wave of protest followed by nothing.  (<– You are here)

In fact I suspect that even after a few incarnations, the mass movement will still not learn these lessons, unless an internal faction of the movement that possesses military-level coordination joylessly beats the hard truth about how to organize into everyone’s brains, and thereby gains a reputation for being a bunch of assholes.

Then eventually when the movement has actually graduated from crawling to walking, that same internal faction has to stand guard and make sure the whole thing isn’t just diverted into Obama’s re-election campaign.  As critical mass approaches, it also has to vigilantly convince the movement to play chicken and proceed toward a head-on collision with the system instead of wussing out into “respectability,” or whatever cowardice and naivete are being called now.  At some point these things called “workers’ councils” are involved, which you’ve probably never heard of.

Otherwise everything fizzles and after the embers have cooled enough we get another Reagan Revolution.

Reality is a sad place to live, but I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

this historical moment is critical

I think there’s a leftist assumption that most ordinary people are “not yet part of the audience who would realistically be receptive to us.”
I think this is horseshit, I think it’s a cop-out of facing our current situation:

  1. We have a population whose frustration has reached a fever pitch at the constant downgrading of its economic standard of living.
  2. This population, while angry, has highly mixed consciousness.  It will lash out at any target which someone places in front of it.
  3. Still, the US majority leans toward sympathy for leftism and “socialistic” policies, if not systemic change — but systemic change is increasingly popular too.
  4. Though angry and left-sympathetic, the population is still horribly unorganized.  Action has not matched sentiment because we haven’t built a machine for people to rally around.
  5. The Left might as well seize these awesome opportunities.  American politics is up for the taking for whoever will do it.
  6. If the US population’s mass-anger remains unchanneled by the Left, it can quickly turn reactionary, ranging anywhere in severity from the US 1980s best-case to the German 1930s worst-case.  (I’m thinking 80s.)
  7. Therefore, we can-and-must seize these opportunities to create a nationally-coordinated fightback and a new electoral formation.
  8. We should do these things even if we have to be rushed and artificial about it, and pull them out of our ass.

If a group or person still has low expectations or low ambitions at this juncture, they should be abandoned, ignored, or otherwise bypassed.  Moment-seizers, let’s get together.