I HAVE A NEW PODCAST: Revolutionary Left Radio!

I have a brand new podcast which features activists, organizers, and intellectuals on the revolutionary left (democratic socialists, Marxists, anarchists, etc.); we discuss political philosophy, activism, and current events.

If you are interested in left wing political philosophy, and left wing analysis of political and cultural events, this podcast is perfect for you!

This is our first time doing anything in the realm of podcasting or radio, so there will be a bit of a learning curve. However, I am proud of our first episode and I encourage people to listen to it here:  http://revolutionaryleftradio.libsyn.com/

Our Facebook page is called, appropriately, “Revolutionary Left Radio” (facebook.com/revleftradio). We will post every episode on our FB page as well as on LibSyn.

 

Go check it out!

 

The Failure Of Neoliberalism: Right Wing Reactions and Left Wing Solutions

A study by Oxfam just came out this week which shows that the richest 8 people on Planet Earth have more wealth than the bottom 50% of human beings combined.

Think about that…

The report goes on to say:

“While one in nine people on the planet will go to bed hungry tonight, a small handful of billionaires have so much wealth they would need several lifetimes to spend it. The fact that a super-rich elite are able to prosper at the expense of the rest of us at home and overseas shows how warped our economy has become.”

This is what is often referred to as “neoliberalism”; basically globalized capitalism. This is the status quo, and all over the world people from all parts of the political spectrum are beginning to register their discontent with this system. Broadly speaking, there is a Right and a Left reaction to Neo-Liberalism.

The Reaction from the Right

The reaction to the globalized status quo from the right is, well, reactionary. In the face of the chaos and impotence of late stage capitalism, the right angrily recoils, not unlike a snake, into some mythologized past. In the United States, it has taken the form of the electoral victory of a rabid ethno-nationalist, equipped with the not-so-subtle slogan of ‘Make America Great Again’. For the right, the complexity and inequality produced by capitalism is hard to understand, and so they resort to what they have known (or think they have known) by trying to drag the world back to a “simpler time”; into some romanticized version of the past (which, incidentally, never actually existed). The right’s scapegoats, as they have always been, are the simple scapegoats of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities. Trump ran on a campaign of white nationalism with virulence aimed at every minority imaginable. Brexiters similarly focused their ire at Muslims and immigrants when they voted to leave the E.U. All over Europe, from Greece to France to Germany, right wing movements are on the rise. This violent bigotry often takes the form of nationalism, a tried and true vehicle for the right.

This, of course, is the predictable response from reactionaries; but as usual, their hyper-simplistic, tribalistic narratives of bigotry and nationalism are viscerally appealing to large swaths of the population in any given country. While the left tries to appeal to the intellects  and sense of history of the people, the right has the advantage of merely having to appeal to their emotions; anger, hatred, confusion, and fear. It’s not pretty, but in times of economic uncertainty, its always been effective.

The Reaction from the Left

The reaction to the globalized status quo from the left is to critique the overarching socio-economic system that is driving the global engine: capitalism itself. We know that the only way to move beyond the stagnation and absurdity of the neoliberal established order is to revolutionize the global economy such that it is controlled by, and works in the name of, common people all over the globe.

Unlike the right’s offer of angry nativism and bigotry, the left offers a more nuanced approach to our problems: one rooted in history, economics, and science (notably environmental science and sociology). The only answer to cartoonish levels of inequality and exploitation (which are inherent features of capitalism) is a socialist economic system. The goal is to take the enormous material gains that capitalism has made possible and employ them for the betterment of all, instead of for the massive enrichment of a relative few.

The equality, sustainability, community control, fairness, internationalism, and cooperation of a global socialist economic system is the only way forward. As the old saying goes: “Socialism or Barbarism”. Although at first glance that statement may seem like a false dichotomy, its becoming increasingly clear that we have very few options on the table. The status quo is dysfunctional, unsustainable, radically unequal, and promotes all types of social neurosis (terrorism, mass shootings, and widespread cases of addiction, anxiety and depression in the population). The right offers solutions to precisely none of these problems… How can they? They do not even understand the problems themselves. Only the left has anything reasonable to say about a possible world after this one, and although there will be differences based on the country, the culture, and the context in which leftist solutions get implemented, the overarching values and principles of the left are undoubtedly progressive and represent our best only chance at improvement from this point forward.

In short, the sophisticated response to neoliberalism, to be sure, is the international and intersectional solidarity, the emphasis on economic and political equality, and the social and cultural progress pushed by the revolutionary left.

Conclusion

Capitalism is eating its own tail. It has served its historical purpose and is now becoming superfluous; but it will not exist the stage gracefully, it must be ushered off.

With the rise of hyper-automation and artificial intelligence, the contradictions of capitalism will only continue to become more stark. The values of capitalism (inequality, competition, infinite growth, etc.) are proving to be unsustainable, exploitative, and existentially dangerous. The rise of the right in the face of capitalism’s failures represents an even more dangerous possibility than neoliberal capitalism itself. Both of these approaches are poisonous.

As a civilization, we are in the middle of a dark tunnel, the neoliberal establishment’s apologists want us all to take a seat, hunker down, and stay where we are for as long as possible (while they ransack the world in the name of “progress”). The right, on the other hand, wants to grab us by the hair and drag us back the way we came; preferring the dull comfort of what we have known to the frightening uncertainty of moving forward. The left, in direct opposition to both, has made out a tiny pinpoint of light at the end of the tunnel, and are urging us to move courageously towards it.

I do not know what direction we will ultimately go, but I know that now is not the time to throw your hands up and let the cards fall where they may; it is time to stand up and fight! We cannot hand this world over to the vampires and the fascists…

 

 

Political Organizing, Organic Community, and Meaning

When people organize politically, like many of us are doing now, we do so for obvious reasons at first: to resist injustice, to push toward some political goal, etc.
 
But by meeting face to face over and over again and cooperating towards shared objectives, something new arises: a sense of community.
 
What starts off as a means to an end (namely: organizing), becomes a microcosmic outline of the sort society we want to build together. Comradery, solidarity, and a sincere feeling of love, care, and trust emerge among us. Friendships blossom. We hit the streets together, and we inevitably have each others backs if something goes down; and we do so without hesitation or second thought. We were total strangers a few months ago, but now we are willing to fight and put ourselves in danger to protect one another.
 
Trying to create political change is immensely difficult, and only a very specific sort of person engages in such activity, but organizing with like-minded people creates links of meaning and purpose; which is why many of us are drawn to it in spite of the difficulty, stress, and discouragement which inevitably spring from such attempts. We cooperate, not because we are trying to earn a wage and happen to be hired at the same company, or because we are motivated simply by self-interest, but rather because we share a vision of what human life COULD be, and we are willing to do what we can, in our limited and humble way, to try and move closer to that ideal.
 
There is something sincerely beautiful and moving about that…

The Materialist / Idealist Distinction in Marxism

First and foremost, we have to be clear that when we use the terms “idealism” and “materialism”, we aren’t talking about metaphysics. In metaphysics, the term “materialist” refers to someone who believes that reality is composed primarily of matter, and mind (or consciousness) arises from the complex interactions, neurochemical events, and information processing, within the physical (i.e. material) brain. Idealists, on the other hand, think that reality is fundamentally comprised of immaterial mind; meaning the world of appearances is either directed by a mind that stands outside of it, or is actually taking place within a mind (usually that of God’s). When Marxist use the terms, however, they are talking about society and history and political analysis, not the fundamental structure of the cosmos. So it’s important to keep that distinction in mind.

Definitions 

“Idealism” in the Marxist context means to analyze a historical/political event (or series of events) in terms of what is ideal, or in terms of ideas about reality. “Materialism” in the Marxist context, however, means to analyze a historical/political event (or series of events) in terms of the actual conditions that were (or are) present during said event (or series of events). More specifically, it means to analyze events in terms of the historical, political, social, cultural, and most importantly, economic context in which they actually take place.

Idealism v. Materialism: Marxism and Cuba

In previous discussions on this topic, I have found that using Cuba as an example is a good way to illuminate the difference here. After all, it is often easier to understand an abstract concept when you embed it into a concrete example.

An idealist analysis of Cuba would involve comparing Castro and his government to the moral or philosophical ideals of what we think a government should be, outside of the actual material realities that Castro and his government had to operate in. So, idealists will critique Cuba on the grounds that his government wasn’t immediately democratic, or that he committed human rights violations (like every other country), or that Cuba’s difficult economic situation is a result of the ideas of socialism, etc. In other words, they will not analyze Castro and his government in terms of what he replaced, or what he was fighting against, or the obstacles he had to overcome, or the actual compromises he had to make given that he was faced with certain concrete dilemmas and limited options; rather they will compare Castro to ideals about what a government, in a vacuum, should be.

A materialist analysis of Cuba, on the other hand, would involve analyzing Castro and his government solely in terms of the actual conditions on the ground in which he had to operate in. You cannot understand Castro and the revolution, for example, without understanding what regime the revolutionaries overthrew, without understanding how Batista’s Cuba was run and how it operated, without understanding the US’s role in Cuba before, during, and after the revolution, or without understanding the economic situation in post-revolution Cuba (in which Batista and his regime ransacked the Cuban treasury before being ejected out of power, leaving Castro and his new government with literally nothing in terms of money). You cannot understand the authoritarian nature of Castro’s political system without understanding what he was up against, both internally and externally, what role U.S. sabotage attempts played on the nature of the system, and what Castro had to do, in real life, to protect the gains of the revolution from being loss, and to prevent Cuba from devolving back into a casino and whorehouse for the wealthy U.S. elite.

Additionally, you cannot understand Cuba’s economic situation by merely analyzing socialist ideas in a vacuum and assuming the ideas themselves caused the material outcomes in Cuba over the last half century or more. Instead, a materialist would argue, you have to understand the history of Cuba, how it’s productive powers and social relations evolved, under what conditions its modern economy sprang up, and how the U.S.’s embargo effected their economy, among other things.

To be clear, however, one can be an idealist and defend Cuba on idealist grounds. You could, for example, defend Castro and his revolution solely by referencing ideas about the immorality of capitalism, about the need for a socialist revolution in every country, or by pointing to abstract concepts like “equality” or “liberation”. But if those ideas are not connected to, and interpreted through, the material conditions in which Cuba’s revolution actually unfolded, then that analysis is going to be extremely limited, simplistic, and intellectually childish. And while two people may reach similar conclusions based on the use of totally different approaches (i.e. idealist and materialist), the idealist explanation will, by definition, be far more narrow-minded, ahistorical, and generally less tenable. Furthermore, one can have an overall analysis that employs both materialist analysis in some areas and idealist analysis in other areas; but the materialist analysis will always be deeper, more historically informed, and more nuanced.

To be a materialist does not necessarily mean agreeing with Marxists on everything, but consistent, coherent Marxists will usually apply materialist analysis; whereas liberals, generally, are idealists. They often analyze things in terms of ideas and not in terms of material realities. The reasons for this difference between Marxists and Liberals goes back to the roots of their respective philosophical traditions, but to attempt to address that here would go beyond the scope of this essay. So perhaps I will write more on that at a later time.

Why Historians are Disproportionately Materialists (in the Marxist sense)

In my opinion, professional historians, and scholars of history, often take a more materialist approach naturally, because to study history in a serious way is to inevitably understand how material realities throughout history gave rise to other material realities. A historian understands context in a deep way, and so will naturally include that in his/her analysis. This isn’t always true, of course, and there are idealist historians, to be sure, but compared to the general population historians are more likely to organically employ materialist analysis. Marxism, after all, is deeply history-based. To be a Marxist is to be fundamentally interested in history, and to interpret the present through the lens of historical materialism. This explains why many historians are Marxists, and why many Marxists care about, and study, history. And in fact, in my personal life, I have found that the more I studied history, the more I gravitated towards Marxism; the two are deeply connected, and to study one is to bump up against the other.

In Conclusion

In Marxist terms, to be a materialist means to analyze events in terms of the historical, political, social, cultural, and most importantly, economic context in which they actually take place.

Historical Materialism is principally a theory of history according to which the material conditions of a society’s mode of production (its way of producing and reproducing the means of human existence) fundamentally determine its organization and development.

Materialism, then, is a certain approach to history, and Historical Materialism is the theory that blossoms out of the materialist approach to history. Marx was the first person to identify, articulate, and defend this position, and therefore those who employ this methodology today are called Marxists.

The goal of this short essay is to help people understand what is an otherwise vague, often under-defined distinction; the confusion around which often leads to the derailing of many otherwise worthwhile discussions. I hope, to some extent at least, I’ve succeeded in doing that.

Is Marxism Deterministic?

A primary criticism of Marxism (often employed by people with a poor understanding of Marxism, incidentally) is that Marxism, and Marxists, are rigid determinists. The critique goes something like this:

“Marxism is a determinist philosophy. Marx thought that communism was inevitable, and that individual people are just automatons; mere pawns of historical forces. This strips people of their free will and individuality, and reduces them to cogs in a deterministic machine. Marx’s theory of history is basically just a secular version of Divine Providence or Destiny, and therefore should be discarded.”

Needless to say, this is untrue; and the point of this short essay will be to correct this common misconception.

First and foremost, while Marx did believe that history unfolded based on certain historical laws over which individuals have no control, he did not think that this meant human beings were merely plankton swept up in the oceanic wave of history, being tossed to and fro, with no ability to influence what happened to them. Marx argued, as I do, that although history unfolds via a process that human beings can’t dictate, it unfolds via human beings as it’s agents. Therefore, once human beings become conscious of the fact that history unfolds in certain ways, they can then be free to pick what role they want to play in that process. We are the agents of historical change; we are the vehicles through which history unfurls. To be conscious of that fact, and to choose action in the face of it, is to be as free as a human being can be.

Some Marxists, it is true, have been such strict determinists that they effectively gave up on political action; opting instead to either work within the capitalist system, or abandon politics all together, while waiting for the glorious revolution, and the subsequent ushering in of Communism which they viewed as inevitable and imminent. But this is a perversion of Marxism, if not an outright subversion of it. Marx was the person, after all, who famously declared that “philosophers hitherto have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it”. Marx himself was doggedly engaged in European politics during his life, and his theory and methodology was explicitly a call to action! It was meant to give the working class an understanding of their material and historical condition so that they could weaponize that understanding in pursuit of their own liberation. It’s our job as Marxists to organize, participate in direct action, form resistance movements, fight back against fascists, and do all the other difficult political work that there is to do in order to realize, in so far as we can, the system we want. To sit back and wait for history to play itself out as a convinced determinist is to effectively abandon Marxism altogether.

Other Forms Society Can Take As Capitalism Collapses

Marx was well aware of the fact that when capitalism began to break down, it would not necessarily lead to communism, it could just as well devolve into fascism, devolve into a sort of neo-feudalism, devolve into barbarism, or even result in “the common ruination” of the contending classes altogether.

The most likely of these outcomes, based on what has happened in the recent past, is the rise of fascism. As is commonly said “fascism is what capitalism does when its under threat”; and history proves this again and again. Most notably, Nazi Germany arose out of the Weimar Republic after the Great Depression and the national humiliation of WWI. In contemporary America we have just elected a white nationalist with fascistic dispositions and a segment of his base which is explicitly and unapologetically fascist. This is largely a reaction to the excesses, depravities, and the impotence of neoliberalism (i.e. globalized capitalism). The narratives on offer from the far right are always simplistic, visceral, bigoted, and broadly appealing to people who have been beaten down by the capitalist system but who lack a comprehensive understanding of how they ended up where they are. Capitalism creates problems, then brings out the teeth and claws in the form of fascism as the solution to the very issues that it has created.

It’s essential to understand this point, so I will restate it in a slightly different way: fascism is just a form of capitalism cleverly disguised as not only a totally different system, but also as a solution to the failures of  the system which it still essentially represents. This provides a unique challenge to revolutionary leftists. The right wing narratives are simpler than ours; whereas we try to describe reality as it actually is, the far right appeals to gut prejudices and creates convenient and easy scapegoats to distract people from the failures of the system itself. “It’s not capitalism that is to blame”, they say, “it is that Muslim, or that Mexican, or that Jew. THEY are the problem.” In this way the system protects itself.

Therefore it is by no means an inevitability that communism will arise out of the ashes of capitalism. To the contrary, we could get capitalism recapitulated as fascism, or we could merely descend into chaos and barbarism as institutions fracture and collapse. The left needs to understand this and organize in order to be a force and viable option when that time comes, so that we can push the system in the correct direction and not merely hand it over to the worst elements of our species by virtue of our impotence, disorganized state, and general inability to act. Communism isn’t inevitable, its merely an option among many, and it’s our responsibility to implement it. This requires action.

A Word On Social Democracy

One thing that Marx did fail to anticipate is capitalism’s ability to use it’s economic surplus to pacify the working class and the poor.

If fascism is capitalism with it’s fangs out, social democracy is capitalism with a smile.

In times of relative prosperity, capitalism maintains its hierarchy of wealth and power by handing out concessions to the lower classes. Northern Europe is a place where this aspect of capitalism has been fully developed. But it’s important to realize that social democracy is one way the capitalist system, when it is in good health, holds off revolutions and maintains it’s stranglehold. It essentially “buys off the revolution” by pacifying the working class with goods and services as part of the social safety net (healthcare, education, and maybe even a basic income), while ensuring the basic social relations, power inequalities, and authoritarian hierarchies of capitalism stay firmly in place. This strategy, while certainly the best that capitalism has to offer, suffers from the same flaws of capitalism generally, and, as I said above, only takes hold in times of relative prosperity. The moment economic times get rough, social democracy and it’s bedazzled social safety net is the first thing to be sacrificed on the alter of “austerity”. So social democrats should be wary of hitching their wagon to capitalism: it’s failures will be your failures. Additionally, anti-capitalists should be wary of social democrats. For us, social democracy can only be a means to a further end, something to support while working for more radical changes. But it can never be the end itself.

Conclusion

Marxism is not a fundamentally deterministic philosophy. It does not preach a narrow-minded inevitability, and Marxists can only truly be Marxists, in my opinion, if they act on their Marxism. To sit back, endlessly theorizing and waiting for the magical revolution, is to abandon a fundamental aspect of Marxist philosophy: political action. That is not to say that theory has no place in Marxism, of course it does! But theory only becomes relevant when it is backed by concerted, organized political action. Marx and Engels knew that as well as anybody, and it’s worth noting that the Communist Manifesto, which they wrote together, was a call to arms, not armchairs.

 

 

 

Dear Americans, with regards to Cuba:

Did you know that the water in Flint Michigan is *still* poisoned? Did you know that 1 in 5 American children live in poverty? Did you know that America has more of its citizens in prison than any other country on Planet Earth, both in per capita terms and overall? Did you know that many of those prisoners are used as slave labor to make products for large corporations while only getting a few cents an hour? Have you read the 13th amendment? Did you know that this week in North Dakota the American government is initiating violence against peaceful protesters (i.e. its own citizens), injuring hundreds, and costing one woman her arm, just so a corporation can put an oil pipeline into the ground in the name of profits?

If I’ve never heard you be consistently outspoken about all of these things, then I definitely don’t want to hear your ass lecturing the world on Castro’s “human rights violations”. When did Castro have slavery? When did Castro have segregation? When did Cuba drop a nuke on 100,000 women and children? When did Cuba invade two countries, slaughtering over 100,000 civilians? When did Cuba under Castro commit genocide? When did Cuba prioritize profit over people In their healthcare system? When did Cuba lock up millions of people and subject them to slave labor?

How dare anyone who defends American Capitalism talk about human rights and morality. The moment you defend this rotten system, you lose all credibility.

Another thing: I’ve noticed a lot of Americans call Fidel Castro a dictator, as if we don’t live in a dictatorship ourselves. Do you really think that being able to pick between two rich people every four years means you are free? Do you really think that you have any more voice in your government than the average Cuban citizen has in theirs?

Cuba isn’t perfect, no place is. But, pound for pound, its better than America. Can you imagine what Cuba could do if it was as wealthy as the United States? Do you think that if Cuba had the wealth and resources that the US has, that any of its children would go to bed hungry or have to drink poisoned water for 3 years? And do you think Cuba itself would struggle economically if the largest economy *in the world* didn’t impose a brutal decades-long trade embargo on it?

But even with all the obstacles Cuba faces, 90% of Cubans own their own home. There is a 99.99% literacy rate. There is NO homelessness and NO hunger. Every Cuban citizen has access to a world renowned healthcare system.

There are no billboards or commercials or advertisements. And there is a beautiful, diverse array of cultural and artistic expression.

There is plenty of corruption in the government, and the Castro government is more authoritarian than I would prefer (although given the geopolitical context they must operate in, and the fact that the U.S. has never stopped trying to instigate sabotage and overthrow their government, perhaps this is defensible). There are plenty of leftists organizing in Cuba trying to create a better, less repressive form of political organization. But capitalism is not the answer. They don’t want homeless people and hungry people and fast food restaurants on every corner. They don’t want the wealth inequality, exploitation, and environmental nihilism that comes with capitalism. They want a socialist economy with a freer political system.

I hope they get it. But the positives of Cuban society are not given nearly enough credit in the US, because far too many people passively absorb bourgeois propaganda instead of putting in the work of studying other countries and reaching their own conclusions.

I, for one, applaud the achievements of Cuban socialism, and I hope that the Cuban people can continue to build on those achievements going forward.

Rest in Peace, Fidel.

 

The Importance of Protest in the Face of a Trump Adminstration

“What’s the point of protesting? The election is over, dude, this is pointless. Ugh.”

Answer: NYC, Chicago, Seattle, Oakland, Berkeley, L.A., Denver, and even lil ol’ Omaha erupted as tens of thousands of people in major cities all across the country took to the streets today…

What does it accomplish? It sets a tone. It shows political grievance. Protests are, and always have been, an important and legitimate way to do that. Women got the vote largely by marching and protesting and not shutting up. Black folks got civil rights by marching and protesting and not shutting up. Workers got the minimum wage and weekends and safe working conditions largely from taking to the streets and marching and protesting and not shutting up. Grassroots movements have been an essential part of every single shred of progress that this country, or any other, has ever achieved.

The intent is not to overturn the election; that’s impossible. It’s to show force and to let the new Administration know that millions of us are not okay with the right-wing take over of our government, and when/if they try to do anything that crosses a line, we will shut shit down. We will be a constant source of political agitation.

Try to build a wall and send out deportation squads to split up families?
We will march on Trump Tower.
Try to take away women’s reproductive rights?
We will march on the Capitol.
Try to revive the Keystone XL pipeline, or push through DAPL, and threaten our water sources?
We will march on the White House.

This is politics. This is democracy. This is one side showing the other side that we won’t take it lying down; that they can’t just do whatever they want with no backlash. We will be a thorn in the fucking side of the Trump administration every damn step of the way. And if you don’t like that, If that just fucking rubs you the wrong way, then just do what you’ve always done: make cynical comments on Facebook, vote every few years, and be overly-flattered with yourself. It’s no sweat off our backs. You are irrelevant, and we got work to do.