…how brutal Empire is…
…how brutal Empire is…
Red salute to the millions who died in the fight against fascism! Tragically, it seems there are more martyrs to come.
Emboldened by US backing of their newly-installed government in Kiev, fascists brutally murdered at least forty anti-fascists in Odessa this last week. The response should have been unequivocal – ¡No pasarán! – but immediately following the tragedy, the spin machine was kicked into full gear. Who could say who actually killed the protesters? Who could say they did not kill themselves with piano wire? And here comes the anti-communist “Left” squad with truncheons, beating back people who mourn the death of these martyrs with their famous slogan: Neither Moscow nor DC.
Positioning the United States, which is undoubtably at the helm of our planetary slide into darkness, as a comparable threat to Russia, encircled on all sides by the American war machine, is laughable, if not actively malicious. According the latest SIPRI report on military expenditures, The United States spent $640 billion on “defense” in 2013, while Russia, with its conscripted military, spent a little more than 13% of what the US did.
But to frame this tragedy as a conflict between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russian forces is to buy into the idea that Ukraine is standing bravely, on wobbly fawn’s legs, against the giant monster of Russia. Another way to frame the debate would be that a US funded coup brought a fascist, pro-austerity government into power in Kiev, and mobs of brownshirts are mopping up localized resistance against the fascists in parts of East Ukraine, going as far as to torture and burn them alive. If the Russian government is offering assistance to these antifascists, among them communists, then shouldn’t we as antifascists even be a bit glad? And yet…
Even if there were anti-government protesters – *cough* excuse me, I mean to say Pro-Russians – shooting at pro-government protesters – *cough* excuse me, I mean to say Pro-Ukraines* – does this excuse the butcher of 40 armless civilians and then the arrest of hundreds more? I missed the numbers of those killed outside of the House of Labor that day… how many were there?
But for socialists, those who aspire to instill change in our world, who believe the system is fundamentally unjust and stacked against the world’s oppressed supermajority, the insistence on condemning “both imperialisms” is clearly an excuse to do nothing. A cop-out.
Warning flags go up when one hears the following: Yes, but isn’t Putin bad? You’re not saying you’re a “Putin-understander” are you? Saddam did gas his own children. Ghadaffi was leaning towards market reforms, wasn’t he? Iran makes its women wear hijab. It’s not purely socialist. Etc. Chances are these are people who cannot be arsed into marching to support the people being lynched in Ukraine. And if they were, well, they’d feel compelled to hand out flyers while marching explaining that yes, Putin is bad too. When you give credence to the imperialist narrative, you give people excuses not to act. What’s the point? Both sides are clearly in the wrong, and the offender bears the brunt of the barbarity.
This is false propaganda. The American fantasy of a hulking bloodthirsty Russia must be dispelled. Let the Russian left worry about Putin. The American left should be worrying about their own president, their own two-party mock democracy, the oppressed nations of African Americans and the Native Americans, the shadow, superexploited workforce they call “illegal”. And, more pressingly, the billions under surveillance, millions under occupation, drones butchering children, and yes, tax money going into the hands of fascists in Ukraine, who make molotov cocktails and strangle pregnant women to death.
There are fascists marching in Ukraine now. They are doing better than that, they have been installed and recognized by NATO and her allies. They are emboldened. They are firing on their own civilians who march for Victory Day, the day commemorating the unquantifiable sacrifice made by the Soviet Union in smashing Nazi Germany. Forty million killed as USA and UK sat back on their hands and watched, intentionally hoping the two would cull each other’s numbers. When the Ukrainian people hope to beat back the tide of austerity and god knows what else, they are labelled “Pro-Russian”. When they object to an unelected government on a “suicide mission” to strip the population of its last shreds of prosperity, must we allege they are on Russian payroll? Can we not guess that the Ukranian people, themselves having lost millions to Nazi aggression, know the cost is too high without “Russian agents” telling them about it?
So, on this Victory Day I try and remember all the people still fighting fascism today just as much as those who died fighting. As an American, I look to my own heroes and seek to emulate them in my struggle. And this means, as an American, being uncompromising and unwavering in my denouncement of our imperialist aggression abroad.
from Le fond de l’air est rouge (1977) by Chris Marker
Two articles were published this week that featured similar takes on the emotional side of the socialist equation. Doug Henwood said he found the magazine-publishing left in Brooklyn encouraging because it offers an “intellectual seriousness without a narcotic earnestness”. Owen Jones wrote for the Independent saying that there’s nothing “personal” about socialism. What do they define as narcotic earnestness, as personal? Imagine a civil rights movement told to make racism “not personal”, telling people to settle down and see things logically for a change. Where’s the heart in it?
I suspect this lack of heart comes because of a distance from the idea. It’s no coincidence that people who are not workers, who have sometimes never even been workers, peddle these viewpoints of emotional disconnect and masculine affect. We would laugh off a white male who tries to tell us that feminism or anti-racism aren’t personal issues. A white male clearly has much less at stake in the fight against misogyny and racism than a woman of color. It would be no surprise to us if he could approach the situation without emotion – after all, what has he ever felt in his bones on the matter? So when a member of the privileged classes says that socialism is nothing personal, that narcotic earnestness is something to look down one’s nose at, we should have a similar reaction.
I believe that the reason the “new left” is pushed in the direction of academic dryness, blocked ears and inaction is precisely because those privileged classes, who have quite a different stake in the discussion, are the ones currently steering it. It’s a small, closed circle that is described by the New Statesmen as basically, “the wunderkind socialists of Brooklyn”. Workers are not included in this new left except as statistics and dehumanizing, baseless assumptions. Workers should be at the forefront of overthrowing capitalism, because they are the only ones who can do it. Those on the left who say “the left is dead” are, more often than not, those who benefit most as a class from the death of the left.
This is not to say the privileged classes who can afford to separate themselves so emotionally from socialism should be excluded entirely – far from it. But one should vigorously fight bourgeois ideas masquerading as “socialism” that spring from this source. If you cannot see the fight against capitalism as a fight to save your life, then you will never fight as hard. Without the inclusion of workers who have such a vital stake in overthrowing capitalism, the movement will remain on the pages of a magazine.
I happen to think that if there is such a thing as a “safe space” in this society, there should safe spaces on the left for people who are not bourgeois, people who come from working class backgrounds and people who are poor. I would like to see more workers’ journals, more workers’ panels. I believe that workers should be preferred recipients for writing and journalism grants. Workers are the ones who inevitably organize to accomplish socialism. After all, it is the people who have the most to lose who not only take socialism the most seriously, but also feel it the most personally. And workers know bullshit better than anybody; when you come around dispassionately speaking in a language meant to exclude them from things they care passionately about, they will turn their backs on you. Workers should be at the forefront of socialist ideology to defeat bourgeois ideas. Workers are the subject, not the object, of socialism.
Workers and the experiences of working people are erased daily in discourse on the left. They exist as statistics or as ignorant masses who need to be talked out of their own stupidity and shown “the way” by wunderkind socialists of Brooklyn who (obviously) know more about capitalism than they do. It’s time to welcome workers into the discussion. They take socialism personally, they feel the blows on their bodies from capitalism daily. Most importantly, they bring the “narcotic earnestness” that pushes people into action.
Looking at what the average American worker consumes, very little of it represents their class interest. It is essential they be included in socialist discussions and organizing because they have the most to gain from socialism and because they can help articulate the heart in the theory.
I think the first step in this inclusion of workers should be for the rich to identify who they are on the left. I suggest a moneybag icon next to bylines of writers whose family wealth is more than $150,000. Doug Henwood, for example, attended Yale and makes his living as a financial advisor, yet is quoted in a story as offering authoritative views on this new left. There is nothing wrong with being born into money or having an advanced degree and speaking about leftism. It’s the “authoritative” part I take issue with. It’s the distance from the risk and reward and suggesting socialism isn’t personal, isn’t really about life or feelings, that poisons things. If one’s ideas aren’t bourgeois, there’s nothing to be afraid of by opening them up to challenge. If one can learn to speak to people simply and concisely, if one can listen well and not speak with condescension, then this is going to help. The art of self-criticism is lost on this generation of “new” leftists; we are terrified of critique or blacklisting ourselves out of academic institutions or publications. We tune out what we don’t want to hear, and hold tighter and more personally to our positions than we do to socialism. If we’re all on the same side, why the defensive posturing, why the lashing out?
There are two meanings of “taking it personally”, and one involves ego. A socialist should be eager to correct their ideological mistakes and take criticism from others. When criticism is painted as “trolling” and dismissed as “hysterical”, this is the ego talking. When the greatest stake you have in the conversation is whether or not you’re correct, then you have little to lose. The New Statesman article admits the socialist revival in Brooklyn seems to exist in the air, not in action, but fails to grasp that the lack of worker involvement, the beating heart of socialism, is why.