We draw closer to another imperialist war and as the global economy creaks beneath our feet, red-baiting is again back in fashion.
We are to believe there is no choice between ISIS and Obama. There is no choice between abject poverty and crushing student loans. No choice between the burka and the bikini. In a culture where choice is worshipped as part of holy agency, holy self-value and atomization, the choices presented to us are rather bare bones – we will have neoliberalism or we will have death. “There is no alternative.” And don’t speak, don’t even think, about seizing the means of production.
In the clip above, released by the US State Department, we have a strange comparison. On the left, we have communism, and on the right, ISIS. The title is “Destruction of Holy Sites”.
At first blush, this might seem rather nonsensical. The two historical and geographic contexts presented to us in the video are completely different. Did the United States and its allies fund communism, for one? But then to examine the context of the propaganda: does communism have a strong history or a foothold in the Arab world? Well, the answer here is yes. Red groups and red money has shaped much of the policies of the region. Today, red groups are making some of the strongest gains against the rag-tag lot of foreign takfiris styling themselves after the sahaba who also call themselves Dawlat Islameeya, the Islamic State. These revolutionaries don’t accept the idea that the barbarity seen mounted on the spikes of the Raqqa’s city centre is homegrown, a natural conclusion to the horrific chapter of American occupation. They don’t accept the idea that this is a tribal spat, an ethnic power struggle. No, they see it as part of class war, as foreign imperialism making a play.
And so a false equivalency is generated to guide those who would otherwise gravitate towards pointing the finger (rightly) at American and Zionist designs on the region, away from a politics of liberation and towards capitalist enclosure.
I’m a red. The people dearest to me in this life are reds. I have immense respect for Mao Tse-Tung, who liberated the Chinese people not only from imperialism, but also from poverty. Maoism inspired millions of people worldwide to struggle towards their own liberation. And I don’t recall Maoists in China kidnapping women and putting heads on spikes, but perhaps this is a part of the story Maz might not want to discuss. Regardless, back to the context – really? Are reds in a position of power as ISIS is? Can we fairly compare the two? Or is this is a smear against reds in the same tradition as the US State Department video mentioned earlier.
Likewise in Ferguson, Missouri, where we again find the horrified whisper regarding “outside agitators”, a civil rights-era slur against those who struggled for the liberation of oppressed nations in the United States. Now, to be fair and give credit where credit is due, the civil rights movement was certainly supported by communists in the United States and abroad. More importantly, it would be a tragedy and crime to erase incredible leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, Paul Robeson, Bayard Rustin, Angela Davis and most of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense – all reds. But where are they now? Is the RCP secretly getting paid by a Soviet Union that no longer exists? Back to the context! While this smear of “outside agitators” was used against the civil rights movements as a dog whistle for communists, and as it is used today for reds and anarchists, it’s also an exercise in mystification, in red-baiting and in smearing the ideology of socialism as something ‘foreign’ to the people.
Stalinist (or Baathist) is just another term used to defame reds – mainly those who are against imperialist war in Syria. Even as Libya writhes in agony after a NATO war that left the African country with the highest HDI and best public infrastructure in smoldering ruin, to suggest you are against such further aggression will earn you the title of ‘Stalinist.’ And again, to give credit where credit is due, the USSR under Stalin did annihilate the Nazis and liberate most of Europe. But to be called a Stalinist (or even Baathist) by someone who is most certainly not a red is to be smeared, and is unambiguously used to discipline other reds and pinks to shy away from speaking out against NATO intervention in Syria for fear of being a secret Stalinist, whatever that word even means outside Cold War hysterics.
All of these things aside, why now? Why the recent spike in red-baiting? From Arabic-language State Department videos comparing ISIS to communists to VICE “journalists” denouncing Stalin like they’re lifelong members of the fourth international, there seems to be a resurgence on the periphery of some sort of – and I can only call it preventative – red scare. The language of being a red is gone – now you are either a radical or a barbaric Stalinist. Radicals can shill for bombing Libya, radicals can produce ‘ironic’ racist burlesque minstrel shows, radicals represent the underclass and everyone who disagrees with them are now comparable to mercenaries who crucify people (including reds) in public squares in Syria.
So what danger on the horizon, then, from reds?
The disciplining is remarkable – Steve Salaita is fired from a tenured position over his views on Gaza, and an unknown but certainly existing number of academics switch off their profiles, put everything to private. Reds are doxed – their address, their phone numbers, their emails, their boss’s info are posted to the internet along with their designation as DANGEROUS COMMUNISTS and they suddenly disappear. Public campaigns from neocons against leftist magazines that publish anti-imperialist articles. Visits from FBI agents with dossiers triggered by what exactly – maybe it was a tweet? Julian Assange locked in the Ecuadorian Embassy for how many years now? Chelsea Manning in solitary confinement. No wonder people go under pseudonyms – the environment is once again getting dangerous for those who don’t think imperialism or capitalism is such a hot idea.
Consider that much of this red-baiting is in response to a growing, powerful war hysteria. It’s undeniable – a comrade of mine in the states observed it’s worse than the rhetoric in 2002. Ukraine must be protected from Putin’s hordes, Syria must be protected from tyrant Assad, and Iraq must be protected from themselves and their barbarian savages. The drums are beating louder and louder, while the working class of the world stands war weary and exploited to the extreme. The most powerful challenge to capitalism in the history of the world emerged out of the first World War. Impoverished millions sent to die on the front line, and while it may not be our boys off to fight in the trenches this time, a world war that echoes the motivations and methods of 1914 will cause damage and pain such as we’ve never seen. In a global economy where billions are underserved, unemployed or barely working, this war can only be won under a red banner. Indeed, now more than ever, the spectre of working class revolution strikes terror into the hearts of the barricaded ruling class. This is why they persist in their handwringing about Stalinists and Maoists – because the moment of truth is approaching once again, and both Stalin and Mao have never been friends of global capitalist hegemony. A revolution that seizes the means of production is not something that is built overnight, as history teaches us, but we need to start on the foundations of such a project as soon as possible. Their anxiety is a cue for us to intensify in our efforts.
This is why they are resurrecting red-baiting, why they are looking nervously over their shoulders for the communist menace to arise. This is why it’s worth it for them to try and entrap the youth on a micro-level, atomize us further, discombobulate our senses and teach us not to trust what is real and what we know to be true in a material sense. Capitalism has produced its own grave diggers, and they are handed a shovel while being told to go support yet another imperialist war.
@Manyfesto: In my first comments here I showed some skepticism that modern imperialism, as you usually call it, could be strong enough to cause disturbance in people’s lives more than the usual capitalist oppression, but my mind has changed a little after I started to read and research about the reported death of journalist Jim Foley.
I now tend to believe that he is probably not dead, because all evidence I saw point to the clear conclusion that the video was created for political reasons, probably to gather public support for a military intervention in Syria.
Therefore, “they” (CIA possibly) didn’t need to have actually killed anyone to make the video.
All that I read and watched- although I didn’t watched the original ISIS video- showed me that the imperialistic idea that exists behind the (now universal) capitalist society is essentially an idea of fear and reaction to ancient means of domination, based on religion and monarchy.
A natural reaction, to some extent, but not very bright or deeply thought.
The essential capitalist idea is that of replacing the old “mystic” / centralized approach to life by a fundamentally materialistic one, based on as much disconnect from the entirety of human sensibility as possible, but at the same time proclaiming human freedom as one of its basic elements, to depart from the old traditions in which a central dominant figure, either religious or monarchical, could be more important than the individual’s own independence or control over its own life.
At the same time that capitalism was created- in a period of approximately 100 years in the XVI and XVII centuries- also were the Protestant Reformation and modern science, all as a reaction to that ancient traditional view of the human society.
Therefore, the root of modern imperialism (imperialistic capitalism) is fear PLUS a not very well founded assumption that humans can be truly happy on the basis of strict material comfort and (“atomized”, as you say) individual independence, thus forgetting our essential spiritual components, that among other things connect us as a species, more than only countries, or families or individual interests.
This was, of course, a first reaction to an old and very well established mode of societal control of religion-plus-monarchy, and the fact that we still have strong religious institutions and centralized power, indicates that the renovation / Reformation / Renaissance of 500 years ago was not deep enough to cut the umbilical cord of society with the ancient modes of domination and direct / or / indirect human slavery.
In this context, the communist philosophy of the XIX century was a reaction against the superficiality of the previous “revolution” and proposed to go to a deeper level of disconnection with the ancient centralized structure, but was based on confrontation of social classes, when in fact the basic idea of capitalism does not need the oppression of any particular class, just the perpetuation of the assumption of essentially materialistic nature of life and, especially, human life.
The great problem I see in all these “ideas” (of domination of one society over another and control of citizens, in general, by a centralized “government”), and also their great weakness, is that our essential human nature is never considered deep enough.
Therefore, all these ideas will fail and be eroded and wane / “dissolve” in their own essential conflicts, sooner or later, because humans will never be truly happy when “considered as”, “reduced to” or “forced to be”, components of such structures.
I agree that there is an attempt at the artificial creation of a new enemy at Syria and possibly in Ukraine too (I learned this in my research of Jim Foley’s video), but these attempts are based on fear, which is the essential ingredient of the imperialistic “approach”.
The intelligence behind their movements is more apparent than real, as their reasons are superficial and not capable of attracting the souls of their followers or those over who they try to exert domination.
Based on this reasoning, I agree that the comparison of the barbarism of ISIS (religiously motivated) with the communist movement, e. g. that happened in Russia 100 years ago, is completely unfounded, despite the fact that the capitalism is the foe in both cases.
Therefore, I tend to conclude, as did before, that possibly the best way to end the capitalist imperialism is not by fighting it directly, as in a war or direct confrontation, but by reinforcing the essential aspects of human life and society that will naturally destroy it, sooner or later, like the inherent spiritual nature of human beings and our capacity of living in harmony and cooperation with each other.
The capitalism- the patriarchal imperialism and system of control- cannot survive in a truly spiritualized environment and I see in these forces, more than any others, the great “solvent” of the ancient system of oppression.
(ps.: I’m not saying that we should just cross our arms and do nothing, but also have an objective perception of how much the system has already eroded itself due to its own contradictions)
“The drums are beating louder and louder, while the working class of the world stands war weary and exploited to the extreme. The most powerful challenge to capitalism in the history of the world emerged out of the first World War”
I believe that “The most powerful challenge to capitalism in the history of the world” was not the WWI, or the soviet revolution (or WWII, or the cold war, etc.), because the system that was created to oppose capitalism at that time was itself defeated 70 years later, with the fall of the USSR.
The real challenge of the capitalist imperialism are the inconsistencies of the system revealed by your first phrase.
another very good piece. There is a growing fear in the professional class about voicing anything but the acceptable narrative of the state dept. This in particular means Israel and Russia. But IS isnt far behind. Most americans lack the knowledge of the middle east, and the master narrative is fuzzier for them. Israel they know, and have digested. And russia is familiar from decades of anti communist hysteria. You will for sure be marginalized professionally today for speaking about this stuff. The content almost doesnt matter…..one is mandated to parrot the official position.