The Recuperation of Authentic Outrage

women's march.jpg

By Ian Hinson and Aydin Jang

The victory of the Trump campaign, and the catapultic rise of the alt-right movement from the shadows of the internet into the mainstream political paradigm, has stimulated a mobilization of opposition, and an immediate call to action. However, the specter of performative activism and pseudo-outrage continues to blur the lines between genuine action and specious placation.

As noted in Internationale Situationniste #9, the S.I. appropriately identified the neutralization of revolutionary strategies, concepts, and images, for the purpose of emptying them of their subversive content, thus making them compatible with mainstream, bourgeois culture. They formulated this process under the concept of recuperation. Media culture absorbs and diffuses radical ideas as a way to create a homogeneous plane of discourse, in which even the most mutinous of societal critiques are brought under the dominant space of acceptable discussion. In doing so, not only are the proponents of these revolutionary concepts forced to struggle for control over their own definitions, but the revolutionaries themselves are effectively dragged into the realm of their own repurposed concepts, in an attempt to retain coherency and an ideological relation to the general public. The S.I. go on to point out a few notable examples of this process of recuperation:

From Khrushchev to the priests, socialism as a concept has been given the richest variety of contradictory meanings ever consolidated in one single word. Unions have undergone such transformations that at this point the most effective strikes are those organized by the members of the privileged classes, as evidenced by the Belgian doctors this year. Not even anarchy has been spared, as one can tell from the “anarchist opinions” of the pro-Chinese Mr Siné and, even more so, by the anarchist opinions of Le Monde libertaire

Acting in accordance with capital’s need to exert its dominion over nature, it also extends its domination over the domain of language, and over the realm of acceptable expressions of outrage. One needn’t look any further than the outpouring of protests and demonstrations which have materialized over the past few weeks for an example of this subsumption of the limits of radical outrage, with millions participating across the globe in a show of solidarity to those affronted over the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump. Multiple sources have stated that the “Women’s March” in particular, was the largest demonstration in Washington DC’s history, and while the ability to organize such a massive gathering of bodies is quite impressive, one must ask how effective this demonstration actually was at conveying its message. Moreover, what exactly is the praxis of these types of demonstrations, and why were the small glimpses of authentic outrage so universally condemned by the media, and similarly by the liberal stratum who made up the majority of the protest’s population? To put it simply, liberal activism can be described as that of an empty signifier, that is to say, it acts as an imitation of the radical activism in which it seeks to replace. It creates a stage for the general public to try on the mask of the political radical, while at the same time allowing for the members of the privileged classes to direct this performance by redefining what radical action actually looks like.The political radical in the sphere of mainstream discourse is no longer the black bloc creating a cacophony of kindled police mobiles and broken windows. The political radical has been recodified as the football star who kneels during the national anthem, or the movie star who gives an apathetic, detached speech during an awards show. The political radical no longer sees action as an instrument to realize systematic change, action is reduced down to means with no end, where the demonstration is a statement and nothing more.

Herbert Marcuse discusses the disarming of political action in his essay “Repressive Tolerance:

Thus, within a repressive society, even progressive movements threaten to turn into their opposite to the degree to which they accept the rules of the game. To take a most controversial case: the exercise of political rights (such as voting, letter-writing to the press, to Senators, etc., protest-demonstrations with a priori renunciation of counter-violence) in a society of total administration serves to strengthen this administration by testifying to the existence of democratic liberties which, in reality, have changed their content and lost their effectiveness. In such a case, freedom (of opinion, of assembly, of speech) becomes an instrument for absolving servitude.²

What Marcuse sets out to illuminate in this analysis is not only the ineffectiveness of bourgeois activism to actualize systemic change, but also how this type of activism is metamorphosed into action which exculpates the oppressive class for their exploitation. Opposition via political activity reconciles itself with the status quo through its own existence. It contains itself within the limitations of the very system it seems to resist. “It is the people who tolerate the government, which in turn tolerates opposition within the framework determined by the constituted authorities.” It is thus apparent that the dominant forms of activism represent not a subversive expression of dissent, but an implicit consent to be governed.

Engagement in activism constitutes an intervention within the space where politics and everyday life intersect. In this way it reflects the totalitarian nature of a democratic society, which controls the totality of life by appearing as the controlled object. In reality, of course, it is the individual whose life becomes co-opted by the machinery of the state through their own supposed participation in its process. This is the principal contradiction that the modern activist continuously and quixotically struggles to overcome. The politicization of human affairs is a component of the greater social phenomenon of alienation, as people act to strip themselves of autonomy through ritualized self-exploitation.

Politics function to a great extent on an abstract level, an intangible expression of the tangible violence of the state. It is a representational system, distorting images of the world by design. The public discourse that arises from this system is a reflection of a reflection, a second degree of non-reality. The rupture of this elaborate funhouse is seen through an act of physical violence, a refusal to engage in the maddening “dialogues” that form the basis of the mainstream consensus. With continued complacency, and an acceptance of this image of reality, that image becomes actualized. This series of relationships and social processes that constitute this spectacular construction becomes the manifestation of reality itself because it is understood that it is the totality of observable reality. The mystification of these spectacular aspects place them at the center of the social world. Guy Debord examined this phenomenon in his Society of the Spectacle:

The spectacle presents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as instrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sector which concentrates all gazing and all consciousness. Due to the very fact that this sector is separate, it is the common ground of the deceived gaze and of false consciousness, and the unification it achieves is nothing but an official language of generalized separation.³

We can see that this mask obstructs a clear view of the reality of society. The “politeness” of modern governance works to produce a societal consensus, one which inverts the truth of objective conditions by presenting helplessness as autonomy, coercion as accord. The maintenance of this phenomenological project is one of the most pressing issues of late capitalist modernity, as the intensification of crisis creates fissures in the objectified worldview.

It is this consensus which the activist, consciously or unconsciously, seeks to reproduce and perpetuate. Activism, as a by-product of capitalist democracy, is the art of manufacturing appearances. What is more important is to display anger, to compress it into a viewable form, rather than to actually act upon it. In the age of social media, this spectacular method can be virtualized and magnified, further diluting whatever emotional message was originally embedded. Activism is both an asocial and social affair, generating crowds that perform mechanistic demonstrations of indignation, brought together by an empty non-message. The deception of such crowds is that they are not so much crowds, but collections of individuals who are more focused on transmitting expressions of false personal investment to each other. The protester does not march towards any specific goal, but to engage in the act of marching itself. Expressive activism (protest politics) is the realization of the theater-form within our social world.

Consider the broken window, universally condemned as a product of “senseless violence”. Destroying a window attacks an ideological barrier as well as a physical one. The normative discourse of our society is one of simulated inaction, concealing brutality within pacifistic rhetoric. To subvert this false language and reveal its true nature is to speak the more “primitive” tongue of physicality. The burning limo and the smashed shopfront are not de-rationalized because they accomplish nothing, in fact the very opposite is true. They symbolize a death of passivity, posing an existential threat to the political mindset. This is why the puppets of the old order must denounce them as acts of insanity.

The limits of rational activity within a sphere of society are set according to the dominant narrative at play. For this reason, riots are depicted as the wrong way to dissent, that is to say, actualized resistance is an improper form of resistance. Violence is not sophisticated, they proclaim, the-pen-is-mightier-than-the-sword and so on. Once again, this returns to the very simple contradiction of democratic governance, that of representation versus content. Such a system can only survive by embracing its own contradiction, pursuing violence with greater theatrical flair, the imposition of a terroristic peace. Activism is only an expression of helplessness in the face of this terrible force. The ideological constraints reproduced by the activist are a consequence of state power, and only reinforce it, despite appearances.. As such, political performance is an expression of the cyclical nature of society’s administration. The perpetuation of the democratic ideology allows exploitative relations to produce the conditions for such an ideology to take root.

To point out the danger explicit violence poses to this system is not to say that the fracturing of a sheet of glass is such a momentous occasion. Breaking a window does not blow away the millions of police and soldiers and all their guns. Such an act does not practically undermine the state any more than a peaceful march does. Political violence faces the same problem that political debate does. The attempt to exert pressure and to force demands onto such a powerful entity is like screaming into a deaf ear.

It is violence as a form of action, in its movement beyond structure and symbolism, that threatens the present order. It bypasses the activist’s struggle to overcome the contradiction of their own work, and lays bare the foundations of the capitalist state. Beyond the political, lies the potential for a reconstitution of the human, if only we can cease to reproduce the conditions of our own oppression. It is only when it tries to overcome the state, rather than shape it, that any sort of resistance transforms itself into revolution.

References

[1] “Words and Those Who Use Them” Situationist International Online. Web. 09 Feb. 2017.

[2] Marcuse, Herbert, and Wolff, Robert Paul. Repressive Tolerance. Berkeley, Callif.: Printed by the Berkeley Commune, 1968. Print.

[3] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red, 1977. Print.

Advertisements

Fragmentation and Reformation

dnc-crowd

In the wake of the chaotic, confused spectacle of the presidential election, we find ourselves presented with two contradictory images of the world, both products of this frenzied display of rationalized madness. In a daze, we stumble around, grasping for points of reference. The ritualized demolition of the old political reality has birthed a new monstrosity, but it seems eerily familiar…

The first image is that of the neoliberal establishment in retreat in the face of a newly ascendant Right. The old sociocultural consensus has been torn apart, and ultra-nationalist extremism is on the rise. The curtain has been drawn back, the masks have been torn off, the lights flicker to life. The failures of the Democratic party have led to the end of their rule, and now they lie broken at the stairs of the Capitol. The liberal elite have been defeated by their own mistakes.

The second image appears to be completely at odds with the first. A vision of the continued dominance of liberalism within the public discourse persists. Across the country, people raise their voices in scornful howls, proclaiming their continued resistance to Trump, tripping over each other to denounce the latest hateful tweet. Celebrities and television hosts deliver impassioned pleas for unity in the face of hate, for together we can surely bring about a victory for love and acceptance. Articles skewering our new president and his goons are shared ad nauseum. Looking around, it seems impossible that the election could have ended in such a result, since everyone appears so loudly opposed.

What is happening? Which portrait is an accurate representation of our reality? Is this a new era of politics, or do the same old patterns remain?

Why not both?

The Left and Right are not so far apart as they like to claim. They both grow from the same twisted tree, two separate branches that often find themselves intertwined. Taking a step back, it is not difficult to find the point at which they both emerge from the trunk. As with all political formations, they both represent a tendency towards reconciliation, a rapprochment with the status quo. In fact, the nature of their apparently hostile relationship is what contains any movement within a set parameter. Presented with this binary choice, we become limited in our ability to see things as they are.

(In the context of American politics, the “Left” is often a category applied to liberals, but to a large extent we could include the “anti-capitalist” milieu in this analysis, as it too often mirrors the liberal establishment. An example close to the central point of our inquiry would be the unity we see in anti-Trump actions. Whether you call yourself a socialist or a Democrat (or both), you will probably find yourself marching downtown to chants of “not my president!”.)

We are led to believe that we are facing a terrible tragedy in the outcome of the presidential election. The ascendance of a new faction of the ruling class to power should terrify us, our former overlords say. The only responsible thing to do would be to work ourselves into a hysteric fit over the demise of our once great nation.

The victory of the Right can be attributed to an array of factors, one of which is the decline in confidence in the Democratic Party among working class voters. A backlash against neoliberal economic policies has produced this latest wave of nationalistic and protectionist sentiment. The continued intergration of global markets has led to the decay of sections of American society, namely those attached to industry. Lost in this post-industrial reality, many found themselves looking for someone to blame. It appears that a signifcant number of people have found such scapegoats in immigrants, providing an opportunity for the Republicans to take advantage of the situation. This, combined with the general inability of the Democrats to inspire, contributed a great deal to the present state of affairs.

Nothing has really changed about capitalism, of course. Not as a result of the election, anyway. We remain caught up in the machinery of living death, steadily grinding away towards the death of the planet. The essential nature of our collective predicament is still the same. But that’s boring, and we seek the thrill of political escapism. We want to believe that things are changing, and that we have a say in it. Yet, whoever the new management is, they’re still the management.

In the face of political defeat, liberalism has adapted to the new climate, manifesting itself in the role of Opposition instead of Ruler. Against authoritarianism, against the Russians, against plutocracy, the old order has returned as a resistance to the new. It retains dominance as an ideological force through its own perceived retreat. The power of nostalgic progressivism is now in full effect. No doubt, we will have to put up with incesssant whining about missing good ol’ Obama for the next four years.

Even the so-called revolt within the Democratic Party, led by left-populist Bernie Sanders, has subsided. In the aftermath of the election, it appeared that the party was on the brink of ruin, due to internal and external pressures. But their own defeat has given the Democrats a rallying point, an opportunity to re-establish unity. It is clear that they have taken full advantage of this. Even our “socialist” friends have joined this new popular front. Former divisions have disappeared in the wake of disaster, and it would seem the only pre-requisite for membership in this motley alliance is not outwardly or explicitly hating oppressed groups.

Liberals now see themselves as the brave resistance to all that is wrong in America, the focal point, of course, being a certain individual of an orange hue. There is a paradoxical combination of hysteria and aloofness that manifests itself in the forms taken by this “resistance”. Our brave freedom fighters chide the ignorant fools who have chosen to vote “against their own interests”, they ramble on about the end of the world, and every once in a while they take to the streets to signal their disapproval with signs and chants. Of course, after a few hours they’ll disperse, to shake their heads disapprovingly at the news from the comfort of their homes.

Protest politics are a dead end, a conjuration of hollow images that inevitably drift off into an empty void. They do the system a service by providing a harmless medium for people’s frustrations. Yelling at nothing doesn’t accomplish much, but that’s the point. “Taking to the streets” in such a way applies no real pressure to the state, as with all other theatrical displays.

The new Ruler of our central political institutions is abhorrent, and should be resisted, but mounting such a resistance is not possible within the system that produced it. The two major political players in America work in concert to maintain faith in this system, as they both mantain power through their eternal struggle against each other. Those desperate for guidance in this times of need shall look to the Democratic Party, flocking to its tattered banner. In doing so they will feed the cannibalistic machine of capitalist democracy, which devours itself to remain alive.

Let us consider another solution, perhaps a more sensible one: give up. The nature of politics make it impossible to use them in an emancipatory way. The horrors of capitalism will not lessen with the adjustment of the mode of governance, for it is governance itself that presents the problem. The ideal of a paticipatory democracy may initially appear to be quite attractive, and yet it is merely another ideological trap. Whether or not we vote for our masters, they will still exploit and oppress us for their own gain. Let us reject the instituitions that seek to ensnare us with promises of empowerment, for they are nothing but empty shells. Political games only mask the brutal reality of capital, and are themselves expressions of the tyranny of economy.

The system is not corrupt, and it has not failed. It is working exactly the way it should, and that is the problem. As long as we refuse to admit this simple truth to ourselves, we will remain a captive audience to the unending spectacle of electoral politics.

Not everyone seems to have gotten this yet. Many continue to seek hope in political institutions, clamoring to have their voices heard by politicians who will smile and nod, and then proceed to fuck us over. One especially relevant quote comes from Madonna, one of the many celebrities who have coalesced into a new vanguard of “resistance”. At the Women’s March in Washington DC, she told us: “Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I am outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House. But I know that this won’t change anything. We cannot fall into despair.”

It’s time to fall into despair.

 

Humanity Versus Work

cubicles

Communism is the movement for the negation of the present state of reality. This entails destroying the totality of capitalist society, and thus the various relations that bind it together. One of the central aspects of society is the process of alienated labor often known as work. Work is what sustains the economic system of capitalism, and allows the proletariat to enslave itself through participation in productive activity. It is a transformative process that dehumanizes and alienates those involved, and thus perpetuates social and psychological oppression.

When we speak of ending labor as we know it, it must be made clear that this means liberation from labor, not the liberation of labor. It is not enough to adjust the mode by which work is managed. Work itself must be the target of any social insurrection with the goal of human liberation. Freedom, not co-ops.

Why abolish work? Firstly, let us define it. What is this thing that occupies the majority of our lives, defines our social roles, and drives our society? When we work, we are, of course, engaging in a productive activity. The product of this activity is of a dual nature; there is the tangible, “real” utility of the creation, and there is the abstracted economic value. If you build a table, its use-value is that it serves as a surface on which to eat, write, and so on. The economic value of the table is based on its comparative worth within transactions. The table is valued as amount of chairs, or as amount of stools. In a modern capitalist economy, this is expressed monetarily, and so the table’s value becomes amount of dollars.

Now, as we know, profit is the main drive in capitalism. It is what motivates individuals and groups to act in certain ways. Profit is dependent on increasing the efficiency of the extraction of exchange-value. For this reason, the generation of abstract value, rather than use-value, is prioritized. It is the engine of economic life, and thus social life as well.

Here lies the absurdity of human existence under capitalism, for we are made slaves to the abstract, to an imaginative construct that only manifests itself in the ways in which we allow it to dictate our actions. In essence, we are producing for the sake of producing, working for the sake of working. And yet we cannot survive without doing so. In capitalism, labor is both the result and product of deprivation. We are deprived of the ability to indpendently sustain ourselves, so we are forced to work, to be able to afford sustenance for ourselves and our families. As we do so however, we continue to perpetuate the very conditions which force us to labor.

The role of the proletariat in the generation of value is a crucial, indisposable one. The position of the working class in relation to this process places great potential power at its disposal, or so it would appear. Yet this power cannot be realized through possesion, but rather rejection. As long as we continue to work, we nullify any ability to alter the system. Participation in the activity of labor is participation in self-deprivation, as it places power into the hands of the capitalists, and spells continued social ruin for the worker.

One of the great obstacles to overcoming this cycle is the way in which labor functions as an apparatus of ideological control. “All in a day’s work”, the worker mutters to themself, as they slave away to churn up more profit for the boss. The image of the independent, hard-working individual continues to haunt our collective psyche, tied to the false promises of upward mobility and personal fulfillment through labor. Our lives are defined by work. We go to schools that teach the importance of presenting yourself as an economic asset. We introduce ourselves by our job. Anyone who lives in this society finds such phenomena inescapable.

The mindset of labor manifests itself in the daily struggles of workers, containing them within the system. As long as the battle cry of the workers is “equal pay for equal work”, emancipation will remain elusive. Any vestiges of radicalism or militancy within the old labor movement and the unions it produced, are long gone. Freedom cannot be found within the context of work. Soon enough, however, the crisis of capitalism shall force the workers to reinvent their struggles against the capitalists that employ them. The emergence of the communist movement from the chaos of decaying capitalism necessarily represents a tendency for self-negation by the workers, as they seek to redefine themselves for the realization of the human community.

The true pro-worker position, then, is an anti-work one. In a sense we could even say that being pro-worker necessitates being anti-worker, for the destruction of the conditions that create the worker as a socioeconomic being is crucial to the liberation of those of that class. The abolition of alienated labor is integral to the process of revolution, to the reconstitution of humanity itself. It is not enough to seize the workplace, it must be destroyed.

Against Historical Leftism

The Left as it exists today is a stagnant and ineffectual relic. It has retreated into itself, lost in a self-imposed illusion. This is an illusion grounded in an obsession with the past, the fetishization of a lost time. Leftists continue to argue the same arguments, read the same books, even wear the same uniform. They have convinced themselves that the theories and strategies of past revolutionaries continue to hold the same relevancy as they did before, despite the drastically different historical conditions. The refusal to reject this ideology of the past is what has condemned the Left to a slow, drawn-out death.

No one cares whether you think Trotsky would’ve done things better than Stalin, or who betrayed who in Catalonia. Petty historical arguments only serve to further detach its participants from reality as they engage in the same tired debates, spewing the same stale rhetoric over and over again. For all the talk of bringing socialism to the masses, leftists seem to go to extraordinary lengths to insulate themselves in their isolated intellectual bubbles. And yet they retain an optimistic outlook on their ability to incite a social revolution through education and agitation within the working class. Indeed, this is the tragic irony of the Left, the blind self-confidence that ignores its own complete ineptitude as political movement.

To reiterate: the Left is a failure. The opportunism and careerism rampant within the activist Left is but an indicator of the deterioration of its ability to function as the engine for change it claims to be or aspires to.  But this is not merely because the various groups and individuals that make up the Left have been unable to pursue a program that would maintain their relevancy. The problem is that this conglomeration of ideological tendencies and the resulting political organizations are holdovers from a completely different time. Leftists continue to cling to the legacy of Leninism and Maoism, refusing to apply any sort of critical reasoning whatsoever. No wonder your revolution has been so long in coming, when it has already happened!

Today’s leftists hold that the liberation of the proletariat from the social relations of capital shall come through an artificial ideological accumulation, that it is the task of “revolutionaries” to indoctrinate as many members of the working class as it takes to incite an insurrection. They look to the revolutions of the 20th century as examples of the success of such a strategy, failing to see the true nature of these events. The Russian Revolution, for example, was not the result of a concerted effort on the part of the Bolsheviks to spread “class consciousness”. The events of 1917 came about due to a socioeconomic crisis that precipitated increased class tensions within Russia, not an increase in how many peasants and workers had read the Communist Manifesto.

The very existence of the working class provides the contradiction that will destroy capitalism. The interests of the proletariat and the capitalist are inherently at odds, thus providing the impetus for the workers to resist the capitalist system which seeks to de-humanize and exploit them. This great antagonism will continue to exist as long as capital exists, and will prove to be its undoing. This fundamental aspect of Marx’s historical analysis seems to be completely ignored by those in the Left who talk of drawing the workers into class conflict. By virtue of their position within the economic system, it is unavoidable that the proletariat is forced to act against it. “We must organize and educate people in order to bring about socialism” they say. What about the “people” inhibits their ability to organize themselves? What makes you so much more equipped to lead the effort to destroy capitalism? All your pins, flags, and slogans don’t amount to anything but a superficial identitarianism. The “leftist” identity you’ve constructed only serves to alienate those who you claim to fight for. You’re not revolutionaries. Revolutionaries don’t exist when there’s no revolution afoot.

“Power to the people” is an empty phrase if you don’t believe in the independent revolutionary potential of the people. The struggle against capitalism must continue unhindered by skeletal remains of the past, for it is a struggle for the future. Let all the factions and cliques fade away into forgotten places, and let humanity advance its battle against oppression, without any ghosts to haunt it.

#Vanguard4Bernie: A Critique of Socialist Alternative

sanders

In one of the great ironies of this election season, Socialist Alternative has recently taken to attacking the Democratic Party, railing against the neoliberalism and elitism of the party establishment. In a recent article on their website they write, “it’s mass movements that change society, not the Democratic Party.” And yet not too long ago, SA positioned themselves firmly in the Sanders camp, claiming that his campaign presented the opportunity to build such a movement, ostensibly based in the left wing of the Democratic Party.

This should come as no surprise, seeing as SA has engaged in a continued pattern of opportunistic behavior recently. They now back Green presidential candidate Jill Stein, who they argue is vital in the struggle for a mass party. They have continued their use of Sanders’ rhetoric, advocating for a “political revolution” to bring about an end to corporate politics. This populism also incorporates the language of the Occupy movement, calling for the 99% to form their own independent party.

The problem with this sort of popular electoralism is that it bases itself in a purely political  perspective. Social change is viewed in terms of votes and legislation, and is disconnected from the material conditions of society. Talk of “polticial revolution” is emblematic of this phenomenon. Divorced from any notions of socioeconomic transformation, the idea of revolution just becomes another term for the changing of government. The same can be said for a “party of the 99%”, which manifests itself in calls for multi-party democracy and the implementation of social democratic reforms. It is not in reality a call for a revolutionary movement, but a call for the addition of another player to the game of bourgeois politics.

The adoption of such positions becomes especially problematic when they are taken by a group that claims to uphold revolutionary socialism. Socialist Alternative has eagerly embraced the ideology of capitalist democracy, all the while presenting themselves as defenders of the working class. Despite attempts to show a nuanced, critical take on the election, the party’s overwhelming support for the Sanders campaign has been quite disconcerting. Even after his loss in the primaries, SA continued their cheerleading for the social democrat from Vermont. Another essay proclaims that “Socialist Alternative is calling on Bernie to continue running through November as an independent if he is blocked in the rigged primary process. Win or lose in the general election, an independent Sanders campaign could win millions of votes and lay the foundations for a new party of the 99%”.

Socialist Alternative would most likely attempt to justify this parliamentarianism by arguing that their actions have been strategic attempts to engage the working class, opening up opportunities for intensified class struggle. This argument relies on the presumption that the electoral arena is a viable agent of radical change. Yes, SA is not openly reformist, but in their tactical decisions lies the implication that participation in bourgeois politics allows revolutionaries to interact with workers in a meaningful way. The contradiction of such a theory is that in choosing to take part in the electoral process, “socialists” only help facilitate the function of liberal democracy as an ideological mechanism.

Structural change must be sought through non-structural, or rather, non-institutional, methods, and in this historical moment it is more clear than ever that mainstream politics serve to obscure and redirect any intensified spurts of class antagonism. At this present time, with capitalism completely devoid of any progressive tendencies, proletarian liberation lies far beyond the electoral realm. And yet we continue to be confronted with  the efforts of groups like SA to entrech socialism in the politics of capital, diving head-first into the world of the “establishment” they claim to combat. It thus becomes necessary to reject such strategies and the groups that pursue them in order to advance Marxist theory and praxis. The abolition of capitalist social relations can only come through the dismantlement of the repressive institutions and systems that keep them in place, not embracing them.

In view of SA’s Trotskyist roots, their course of action is not entirely unexpected. As a theoretical principle, vanguardism in the Leninist/Trotskyist sense is deeply flawed. It divorces any revolutionary potential from the working class itself, proposing that the workers must be drawn into the class struggle through the deliberate and organized political action of a few. To vanguardists, workers are not individuals whose everyday interactions with captialism and resulting experiences lead them to reject such systems. To the vanguardist, working class people are but empty cells waiting to filled with the righteous anger of class consciousness. Thus vanguardism places emphasis not on the relation between the proletariat and captialists, but the relation between the proletariat and revolutionaries. The existing contradictions of capitalism and the social conflict that they drive are ignored in order to justify the imposition of external organization. By viewing the workers as objects instead of subjects, the vanguard alienates itself from the class which they seek empower, becoming a diseperate entity the exists outside of everyone else’s experienced reality. This disconnect is what can lead to a belief that electoralism is a form of subversion, because it raises the platform from which “revolutionaries” can speak, and thus spread their message.

Socialist Alternative has showed no signs of departing from their currently chosen path, and so one can safely say that they will doom themselves to obsolescence. Their incessant struggle to bring socialism to the workers through liberals like Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein reflects a lack of understanding of the nature of capitalist politics, and serves to put on display the theoretical ineptitude of SA as socialist organization. It remains to be seen if they will succeed in their social democratic agenda, but as of now, even that seems quite improbable.

Taking Sides: The Western Left and Syria

Over the course of the Syrian Civil War, many groups in the Western Left have taken an array of positions regarding the conflict. In particular, a tendency towards campism has lead to several groups voicing support for the Assad regime. Among these, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Workers World party have been some of the most outspoken proponents of this “anti-imperialist” position. This  seems to have gained some traction on the Left, seeing as Green Party vice presidential candidate Ajamu Bakara has taken this stance. This uncritical support for a capitalist state from groups and individuals who claim to be Marxist is concerning, to say the least.

On the other hand, a wave of enthusiasm has swept through anarchist and socialist circles over the the supposed “revolution” taking place in Rojava. Reminscent of the international left’s reaction to the syndicalist takeover in Catalonia, leftists have flocked to the banner of the YPG, PKK, and democratic confederalism. Some have even gone so far as to travel to Rojava to  participate in the fighting.

Both of these positions stem from a poor analysis of the class nature of the conflict and of imperialism as a system. An idealized perception of nationalist conflicts is a direct result of this innacurate take on geopolitics. It is important to examine these inaccuracies in order to identify the theoretical flaws in both stances.

syria-demo-white-house-08-29-2013

One of the first assumptions of campist groups like the PSL and ANSWER Coalition (a PSL front) is that the Western powers constitute the international imperialist bloc. While it is true that the West remains dominant geopolitically, imperialism isn’t just a group of nations. Imperialism is a global system, and all nations function as components of that system, working to exploit the international proletariat. To a certain extent, there is a cooperation between states to extract maximum profits through this systematic exploitation. Conflict between states doesn’t become an anti-imperialist struggle simply because one state is larger or more powerful.

“Anti-imperialism” primarily foucuses on opposing regime change and intervention. This is all well and good, but proponents often lapse into nationalistic rhetoric, speaking of “national sovereignity” and “self-determination”. This is a completely anti-Marxist position, for it relegates class struggle to a secondary importance, instead emphasizing collaboration between local bourgeoise and workers in order to defeat foreign forces. In the end, all this can possibly achieve is to expand the economic autonomy of the local borugeoise, allowing them to further exploit the working people who fought with them against the “imperialist” agressors.

We see a similar trend with those who claim to stand with the Kurds in Rojava. Failing to understand the sectarian nature of the conflict, they idealize the situtation, claiming that a social revolution is taking place in northern Syria. Regardless of what empty ideological rhetoric the YPG and PKK espouse, the fact of the matter is their intention is to carve out a new Kurdish state from the ashes of the crumbling Syrian regime. Whether you call it national liberation or nationalism, the war in Rojava is not a class war.

rojava-banner

Emerging out of this pro-Rojava sentiment comes a worrisome fetishization of militarism, and to a certain extent, military women. It is common to find users on leftist internet forums drooling over images of Kurdish women with guns and fatigues. While ostensibly coming from a well-intentioned support of female empowerment, it becomes an objectifying and de-humanizing process in which Westerners who have little to no knowledge of what is really happening on the ground project their own fantasies of an ideal “lefitst” woman on to these people. In general, the glorification of sectarian, militaristic groups greatly distorts the realities of the situation.

If one is to maintain a position on Syria that is based on a Marxist analysis, one must refrain from the ideological opportunism that has become rampant amongst the Western Left. This isn’t an athletic event, where we have the luxury of choosing teams for superficial reasons. Let us stand with the workers of Syria in their struggle to free themselves from the oppressive yoke of capitalism, instead of picking sides in a sectarian conflict. The delusions of “anti-imperialism” and national liberation must be cast aside if we are to take a principled stance on Syria.