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Turning Radical Politics into a Spectacle

You should not expect discussions in the mainstream media (MSM) to get you one iota closer to understanding the real world. Seasoned Communists know this so well, that to them the content of the mainstream media is nothing but a circus-act of cliches and aphorisms. Despite this, the MSM is still a useful resource for Communists. Frequently national newspapers can serve as platforms for statements of intent by the ruling class. The MSM can in this way serve as an important way to coordinate the affairs of the capitalist class.

But the MSM is most often involved in pointing out activities, cultures, and groups of people as a spectacle. The sole purpose for doing this is to reaffirm the ideological convictions of the target audience of the MSM. This target audience is usually the reasonably wealthy petit-bourgeoisie and bourgoisie. Sometimes this is done for ridicule, or a “beat up” (sustained ideological attack). At other times the MSM media points out novel phenomena for the purpose of constructing a “cautionary tale”.

This is exactly what the Irish journalist Angela Nagle does in her two articles “What the Alt-right is really all about” (6 January 2017) in The Irish Times, and “The Scourge of Self-Flagellating Politics” (19 January 2017) in Current Affairs.

In this blog post I’d like to point out where Nagle went wrong in these two news articles. I’d also like to suggest some corrections about what she could have done in order to accurately picture the reality of the topic she was discussing, and give some constructive advice about what earnest readers should do to improve the situation she was lamenting.

Introducing Novel Movements to the Bourgeoisie

Nagle’s topics of interest in these two pieces are liberal identity politics, and the rise of white supremacism and neo-Nazism into mainstream political discourse. The function of these two articles is not to discuss the material causes for either of these political ideologies, or to explain their inner tendencies or essential characteristics. Her purpose was to construct a “cautionary tale” about extremism for the audience of the mainstream media. The (petit-) bourgeoisie has until the popularity of Trump had very little to do with identity politics or outright white supremacism, and is now taking a sudden interest in these two social phenomena as they become more prominent, and become more important in order to make sense of the political landscape of Western countries.

The first thing Nagle attempts to achieve in either of these articles is therefore an introduction for the reader to these two social movements. Nagle remarks that

“explaining” the Alt-right’ to a general audience will always make you sound like an overwhelmed grandparent trying to figure out how to work the internet, in part because of their slippery use of irony.

Nagle is accurate in her depiction of the alt-right as neo-Nazis and white supremacists partly because the ideological commitments of this social movement are easily intelligible to middle class and ruling class audiences. Nagle is not really interested in analysing the alt-right in either of these pieces. The “cautionary tale” she is interested in telling is constructed chiefly out of discussing the “call-out” and “privilege checking” culture of liberal identity politics. It is this characterisation of privilege checking culture that I want to discuss.

The Puritanism of Radical Politics

Nagle spills a lot of ink in her 19 January article on the privilege checking and call-out culture of radical activism. She draws the same link that Mark Fisher does in “Exiting the Vampire’s Castle” between call-out culture, Nietzsche and Christian confessionalism. Call-out culture is depicted as an insane and irrational practice that develops out of activism that organises itself into cult-like groups.

Apparently the alt-right feeds off of cult-out culture, and the two social movements are intertwined and mutually self-sustaining. Practitioners of identity politics will self-flagellate and accuse themselves of being corrupted by oppressive components of their identity. Nagle ultimately concludes that this culture is mostly virtue signalling, although she doesn’t name the concept explicitly. Neo-Nazis and other members of the alt-right will then abuse and harass these practitioners of identity politics online for corrupting Western culture and the white way of life.

The ultimate message the reader is meant to take away from these two articles is “isn’t this horrendous? Have people really lost their minds?”

Nagle’s work touches on an oblique truth about liberal identity politics as a movement–it can at the worst of times devolve into public shaming and crippling guilt complexes. But nowhere does Nagle deal with the material conditions that give rise to liberal identity politics. Furthermore Nagle doesn’t bother to offer up any sort of suggestion as to how to improve the situation for this layer of radical activism.

Orwell: Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun

Well I’d like to put forward a suggestion about what radical activists can do to prevent their organisations from devolving into cults, and becoming centres of shaming and confessionalism. I’m not going to critique or analyse identity politics. What I am about to say applies as much to left-liberal practitioners of identity politics as it does Communists.

Both identity politics and Communism promise in their common-sense guise a utopian reality free from pain and suffering. For this reason, radical activists, be they Communists or otherwise, tend to dwell quite a lot on the current suffering of today’s oppressed peoples. All humour becomes extinguished from branch meetings and activist spaces because no example of happiness currently existing in the world can match up to the supposed perfection of the utopia their movement is attempting to bring about.

Orwell wrote about this under a pseudonym in his opinion piece “Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun” for the Tribune in 1943. Orwell says radicals are wrong to picture a future state of universal non-oppression as one of perfect happiness. He argues that humans, by their nature, can only understand goodness or badness in terms of contrast, and so it is actually futile to imagine some perfect future society as free from all unhappiness. Much of his time is spent  giving examples of how it has been impossible for anyone to imagine a future utopia in any kind of detail.

I would like to suggest that the confessionalism, guilt complexes, and abusive cult-like behaviour of much of the radical left, be they spaces where identity politics are practiced or not, is due to the unhealthy pictures of utopian non-oppressive societies that they picture. This is not the same as accusing these spaces or activists as being “Utopian”. The “utopia” that we should be imagining, and one that we can very definitely prefigure right now, is one of solidarity and comradeship. When we promise ourselves a society free from oppression, we should not be promising ourselves a society which is free from unhappiness.

This kind of prefigurative politics would be more healthy in dealing with the imperfect consciousness of our fellow comrades. One of my comrades describes this culture of solidarity as one of “accountability”. When we “fuck up”, we should do so knowing we are still in solidarity in our comrades, and that criticism from our comrade-peers comes from a place of trust. This is, however, conditional on being “accountable”: recognising and owning up to our faults, and being transparent.

Finally, I think it is important that all radical activist spaces should have policies for dealing with (sexual) assault, harassment, and other serious wrongs that members of spaces are known to commit. Too often serious accusations of misogyny and sexism is explained away as “slander” put down to identity politics call-out culture. I think if we fostered cultures of comradeship and solidarity during normal times, it would make dealing with serious issues less divisive and easy to twist and spin.

What to Do After You’ve Punched a Nazi

I was overjoyed when I saw the video footage of the anarchist punching Richard Spencer. Richard Spencer is reputed to have coined the phrase “alt-right”, and behaves in exactly the same way as a neo-Nazi, although he disavows the label. Slate quotes an article from the New York Times that describes what Spencer did at one of his speeches:

He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

This is just one example out of many of the toxic activities that Spencer has been engaged in.

The Rise of the Far Right

Racism, white nationalism, neo-Nazism and all other kinds of toxic bigotry are on the rise in Western countries. With the inauguration of Donald Trump as the US President, layers of the population who are sympathetic to these ideas are going to feel more confident in becoming vocal and more organised in their toxic and inhuman ideology.

For many on the far-left, the video clip of Spencer being punched was a refreshing moment of catharsis. For many, Spencer was getting exactly what he deserved, and the attack represented a powerful “Fuck You” to the Far Right. The Far Right has been on the rise in Western countries, and so far it seems like little is happening to stop it.

More than this, to the far Left, it seems like the most prominent attempts to deal with the Far Right have been wrong-headed. People like Spencer take pride in their bigotry, and aren’t open to rational discussion about their views. Far-leftists are correct when they diagnose the white supremacist mind as twisted and out of touch with reality. The system of assumptions upon which their ideology rests are grounded on irrational emotions, not solid empirical evidence. Many on the left think that this means that the only way you can fight neo-Nazism and white supremacism is by doing exactly that–physically fighting Nazis.

Propaganda and Gossip

The video clip of Spencer being punched seemed to represent more than just evidence of an act of praxis. It was a moment for celebration. This was a massive propaganda win for leftists. On the video Spencer skulks off after being attacked, clutching his head and looking back to make sure he can avoid any further violence.

But what seems like a massive propaganda win is turning into a topic for gossip among the in-crowd. I agree with some leading comrades that the ideological value of this video clip of Spencer being punched is radically dwindling. The clip is being used to make more and more abstract memes that appeal to only those “in the know” about what to do about neo-Nazis.

Some leading comrades have commented that the endless celebration of one Nazi being punched is not going to make sense to the common American, or the common American worker. I agree with this. Most workers in the US and other Western countries are not organised, and haven’t been educated about what a neo-Nazi is, and why it is a good thing for this lone anarchist to have punched one. There will of course be different levels of class consciousness among the general population, but we shouldn’t make assumptions that this video clip is immediately going to translate our message over to the average person.

Black Blocs and Direct Action

I would like to broaden this discussion by talking about the significant anarchist presence at the Trump inauguration. Many will already know that many anarchists attended the Trump inauguration in an organised “Black Bloc”. Some anarchists engaged in “insurrectionist” tactics. This means setting out to challenge authority through violent means. Many anarchists at the Trump inauguration took insurrectionism to mean being violent to neo-Nazis and damaging private property. Insurrectionist tactics are one example of what Communists call “direct action”. Direct action is when one engages in direct public protest instead of (usually clandestine) negotiation in order to achieve strategic aims.

The punching of Spencer is an example of an anarchist engaging in insurrectionist direct action. Like the action of punching Spencer, many on the far Left celebrated the violent direct action of the Black Blocs. To me at least, this rioting represented something powerfully symbolic. Against the reverence of the (small) attendees of the inauguration, and the (frustrating) platitudes of liberal commentators and protesters, the Black Bloc advertised the message of the far Left: “We won’t put up with this!”

But like the punching of Spencer, the insurrectionist direct action by the anarchists probably isn’t going to translate into sympathy for our cause among the unorganised working class. In fact I (not without a sense of shame) agree with the trot Paul D’Amato in his 2012 online article Diversity of tactics or unity in action?: by engaging in mere gossiping and in-crowd discussion about the direct action of the anarchists at the inauguration we risk being elitist and sectarian in our approach to building our movement.

The Difference Between Strategy and Tactics

Insurrectionist direct action is a very real and live device in the Communist toolkit for achieving strategic goals for our movement. But it is a mere tactic, and not a strategic goal in and of itself. If we continue to just gossip and celebrate our use of tactics, we lose sight of the bigger picture of the Communist cause. If the celebration of punching Nazis, smashing windows, and getting into fights with the police continues for much longer, we will not be doing our jobs properly.

Insurrectionist direct action is “sexy”. Everyone loves a good story about a confrontation they had with the cops. But it is not enough to build our movement. In fact the direct opposite is going to help us with the revolution. Slow, painstaking and patient organising in our workplaces and communities is going to help us grow in numbers and strength. This is real power. Brute physical strength is not enough to help us grow and win. It is a necessary component of helping us win, but it is not sufficient. Only organising is sufficient, as well as necessary.

Organising is always necessary as well as sufficient tactic for building our strategic goals because it always builds power. Insurrectionism only works sometimes, and in isolated cases. Further, insurrectionism is a corollary of organising. A large layer of people need to have been previously organised in order to make insurrectionism intelligible and understandable.

We can go even further. Insurrectionism is not a good tactic in and of itself. Its goodness as a tactic is derivative. It is good because of what it brings about. It is good because of its consequences. It is therefore not an intrinsic good. Think about the justifications Communists give for insurrectionist direct action: It helps expose systems of authority. It physically resists and dispels bigotry. It displays, in powerful symbolic form, the message and strength of the Left to others.

All of these justifications point outside the internal organisation of the working class. This demonstrates that insurrectionism is not an intrinsic good. It is, however, still a good of some kind. Which means insurrectionism could and must be practiced when it is necessary.

The question all Communists should be asking themselves is: when should I be engaging in direct action? What kind of direct action is sufficient for our overall strategy?

I personally think that Trump’s inauguration was a better time for insurrectionism, than others. But we need to be mindful that we aren’t raising mere tactics to the level of strategy.

It is a Law of Capitalism that Capital Will Centralise

I’m so glad the first big meme of 2017 was a fascist getting punched in the face.

Under Capitalism, Work is Theft

Thumbnail image by d. FUKA from Yokohama, Japan – Cleaner [Suzhou Station / Suzhou], CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

Big global companies are currently making mega-bucks. Don’t be fooled by the big red arrows next to Wikipedia’s summaries of big companys’ incomes. Big companies may be making slightly less profit year in year out, but they’re still very profitable systems. Walmart reported a net profit of almost 15 billion dollars in 2015. The Apple computer corporation made almost 46 billion dollars net profit in 2015. Facebook made a little less, but still made a lot. Almost 4 billion dollars profit. The corporation that owns Google made over 16 billion dollars in 2015.

Stacks and stacks of Cash

Where is all this money coming from? It is also perhaps a good question to ask – how is any of this possible? I did some quick calculations and found out that, on average, one employee of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Incorporated, would be responsible for making over $USD 240 000 profit for the company in 2015. That’s incredible. It makes you wonder, what is the average salary of someone working at Google’s parent company?

Business Inside Australia reports that

Recruiter Scott Purcell says the software engineers he’s placing typically make a base salary of $165,000. The average base salary for a Google engineer is$128,000.

These figures are just for Google engineers, but I feel with a little liberty we can use them to proxy for what the average employee of Alphabet Inc earns.

Aren’t these figures stunning? Google engineers are well-paid, middle class employees, but they would, on average, make more profit every year for Alphabet Inc than they would take home themselves. If this continued the same way, year in and year out, the bosses of Alphabet Inc would soon be many times more wealthy than everyone they employed.

Phantasms and Mysteries

This is a strange and mysterious phenomenon, because, according to most mainstream economists this shouldn’t happen. One of the core principles of mainstream economics is that through competition , the complex system of commodity exchange in the free market will cause the supply and demand of commodities to equalise at prices which will result in corporations making no profit. So the story goes, competition in the market will force down commodity prices, which will decrease corporation revenues, decreasing profit to an ideal zero.

But this isn’t happening. Every year the biggest companies rake in billions of dollars of profit.

It turns out that mainstream economists are in bed with the bosses of these big companies. The supposed social “science” that the mainstream economics you will learn in high school and university is nothing but an ideology. It doesn’t have a grip on reality at all. Mainstream economics is called “bourgeois” economics by Communists for a reason. It is a system of mystification and distortion that serves the interest of bosses.

Getting Clear

It is perfectly easy to understand how businesses are able to make profit. Marx explains in Part 3, Chapter 7 of Das Kapital that huge corporate profits are built into the structure of capitalism, and we should expect them. Marx explains that when you go to work, assuming you are employed in a perfectly free market, you will be paid the fair rate for the value of your labour power.

Labour Power

Labour power is the special commodity that people sell when they go to work. It is the power or activity that you have to do work. It is a commodity like any other, except in order for your boss to consume it, to turn it into a practical, useful object with utility (a “use-value”) your boss has to make you work. You have to expend your “vital force”, Marx says, you have to use up your nerves and muscle and be productive in your workplace. Be it cleaning, stacking shelves, driving trucks or teaching people new skills, you are all having your labour power consumed by your boss and realising it as a use-value in your labour.

Marx says that in a perfectly free market, your labour power is worth what it takes to replenish your vital bodily functions and get you ready to work every day. If your education was particularly expensive, your labour power would be worth more, because your training is a component of your organic function of your person. The “exchange-value” of your labour power would be worth more because the value of your education would be a component of your labour power.

But that’s all you’re worth, as a working person with no capital. You’re worth the market rate of the weekly, fortnightly or monthly value of your subsistence, however you’re paid.

Surplus Value

The mystery of profit lies in the length of your working day. Because the value of your wages is fixed at the value of your subsistence, it doesn’t take very long for you to do enough economic activity in your workplace to cover your wages, and the capital outlay of whatever you’re working on. So for a good deal of your working day, you’re making value for the boss that you haven’t been paid for. You’re literally working for free. You’re making extra value for the boss that isn’t accounted for in your wages. This is called surplus value. Here is some data from a trustworthy Marxist economist, Michael Roberts on the rate of profit of the total US economy since 1946. We can think of the rate of profit right now as the ratio between the the surplus value you make and the value of your wages. Strictly speaking the ratio between surplus value and wages is the “rate of surplus value”, but we don’t need to worry about that right now.

Historical Data on the Rate of Profit in the US. From Michael Roberts’ blog.

As you can see, even though the rate of profit in the US has been falling, in 2014 it was still just under 25%. That is to say, on average, the American worker produces just under 25% free surplus value on top of the value of their wages to their bosses. Free value, year in, year out, to the bosses.

The Working Day

If your boss could get away with it, they would like to increase the rate of surplus value they get from you. This is what is happening in China, Bangladesh, Thailand, and other countries. People in factories work around the clock, increasing the amount of free value their (usually American) bosses get, so they can go back to their press conferences and report their yearly record profits. Exploitation is built into capitalism structurally, because the only way to get profit is to make workers work. It is only by lengthening the working day that profit can definitely increase. Any other method of profiting under capitalism is a gamble. It is a sure thing that squeezing extra value out of your employees will make you rich.

Theft, Pure and Simple

Marx says that the exchange you make with your boss in return for your wages is a fair one. He says that none of the laws of exchange of equivalents is violated by an employment contract between free individuals. This means that you are getting exactly what you should under capitalism.

But this doesn’t mean that the work you do for your boss isn’t theft. The exchange you are making with your boss is fundamentally unfair, because they are exploiting you. They are, as Marx outlines in Chapter 10 of Das Kapital, parasitically feeding off your vital forces and crystalising your moving bodily energy into capital.

As Marx says,

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour power he has purchased of him.

If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.

The capitalist therefore takes his stand on the law of exchange of commodities. He, like all other buyers, seeks to get the greatest possible benefit out of the use-value of his commodity. (Marx, Das Kapital, 1867, Wordsworth Edition, 2013, p 162.)

Communism

Under communism, things would be different. For one thing you would work a lot less. Capitalism works people to the bone because it is driven by an ideological myth that corporate profits and the economy needs to grow every year in order to sustain human civilisation. Under communism, you would only need to work as much as was necessary to serve the purpose of your community. The majority of your time would be spent in leisure, and the rest of your time would be spent working to make sure people could leisure as much as possible.

Work would no longer be about producing “value”, under communism. Instead, society would be geared towards producing “use-values”, instead of “exchange values”. The surplus economic product that you created when you went to work would be democratically managed by the whole community, be it a big one or a small one. Everyone would have a say in where the extra produce went. This disqualifies Communism as a system of theft, because your economic surplus product would still belong to you, because it belonged to everyone.

The Automatic Operation of Ideology

My partner told me that people have already started to concoct conspiracy theories about the man who just killed some people with his car on Bourke St in Melbourne. Apparently this man is a terrorist in the employ of ISIS or Al Qaeda.

Isn’t it amazing how over a decade of hysteria and propaganda about Muslims and the Middle East has prepared people to do the bidding of the ruling class? Marx and Engels in the German Ideology were absolutely right. The ruling ideas really are those of the ruling class. Huge layers of the population have been trained to believe in a perpetual crisis brought about by tricky and insidious evil people who come from a land far away.

The material conditions under which we live turn the current prevailing ideology into a sort of feedback loop. The mainstream media and the deep state got it all moving, but now people are able to use their creativity to invent new toxic narratives about how our way of life is under attack.

We have to do something about this.

Mark Fisher is Dead, Donald Trump is President

I would like to inaugurate this new phase in world history with a new phase in my presence online. I will no longer be making status updates on Facebook. I will also not be sharing memes on Facebook.

I suppose if I find some good memes online I will now share them here on this blog. I agree with one of my comrades that memes are a revolutionary medium of communication. I think the revolution will be memed, if not televised. To a certain extent I’m of two minds about the medium, however, because almost all bigotry online is conducted through memes, and the place where memes were born, 4chan, is a disgustingly degenerate place.