Creeping Fascism

Among the most engaging passages in Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution are those dealing with the weeks and days leading up to the October insurrection,  when the Petrograd Soviet, under the leadership of the Bolsheviks, began pushing.  That is, they gradually took for the Soviet more and more power from the Provisional Government, waiting at each step to see if there would be resistance. The more they gained, the more certain was the victory.

In the past, reading about this, I was focused on the importance of revolutionary leadership—indeed, this tactic was one of the reasons the October Revolution was all but bloodless. But now I’m seeing it differently: the same tactic applied by our enemies.

Each step of militarizing police, of normalizing murders by police, of increases in surveillance, of attacks on the free press such as Julian Assange’s extradition, and now of the reversal of Roe v Wade, needs to be seen as fascism pushing, seeing how far they can get before there is resistance, thus weakening the resistance in advance.

In this, the Republican Party—by now openly fascist—has no greater ally than the Democratic Party, which plays the role of stifling the resistance, of keeping everything within the safe channels of electoral politics.

You don’t stop fascism by voting for the non-fascist party. It takes a mass working class movement under a socialist program. The working class has, right now, no more dangerous enemy than their own illusions in the Democratic Party.

All Science is Social Science

All science is social science, because the development of knowledge of the laws of nature take place within society, are subject to the limitations of resources produced by society, and in turn have an effect on society. As capitalism was clawing it’s bloody way toward world dominance, it brought with it a remarkable boom in the sciences, because understanding natural processes results in improved technique for changing nature, which, in turn, results in greater profit. The funding of Universities, the establishment of public education, the general high regard for scientists, were all hallmarks of capitalism in its rise.

But the more scientific thought comes into conflict with private profit, the more scientific thought comes under attack. Public education is being gutted and teachers are treated with contempt. Climate change is denied. Virology and epidemiology are treated as enemies by the ruling elite. University research budgets, especially in the hard sciences, shrink. Pseudo-science replaces the search for objective truth, while many scientists, in self-defense, seek to draw in the borders of what science even is, thus fostering the notion that a scientific approach cannot even exist when it comes to history, economics, or politics.

All science is social science, and the abandonment of and disdain for scientific thought is symptomatic of a decaying social system even as it contributes to that decay.

Competition and Cooperation

The question of competition versus cooperation among humans has come up on my Twitter timeline again. It emerges every now and then, when someone desperate to find a defense for capitalism falls back on, “You socialists want to eliminate competition, but competition is a part of nature, so eliminating it is impossible.”

Okay, let’s talk about it. To take the easy answer first, I should point out that, while yes, nature is full of competition, it is also full of cooperation. Human beings in particular, by virtue of being born premature (ie, instead of taking days or weeks or maybe a few months before an infant can survive by itself, human beings must be cared for for years), we are required to be social animals. Cooperation is so fundamental to human biology, that I’d call it “human nature” if I weren’t allergic to that term.

But let’s go a little further.

Competition is such a vague word. What competition, under what conditions, for what stakes, against whom? The argument of those defenders of capitalism who say socialism wants to “remove competition” are simply confused. Competition in a market economy takes certain specific forms. The most significant for our purposes is that it assumes scarcity, which means the most basic competition is for those scarce resources necessary to life. But under contemporary conditions, where the only reason for the scarcity of the most important resources (food, shelter, medical care) is distribution rather than production capacity, then what becomes absurd is not competition as an abstraction, but those specific forms of competition.

What forms might competition take in a rational society, in which every human being had not only the basic necessities of life, but leisure to pursue his or her inclinations? We can’t know. I might guess—competition over different plans to improve our environment, or over who gets this or that luxury item, or over different plans for improving everyone’s life.  And I’m certain there will continue to be sporting events, games, and so on. But when it is not, as it is today, literally a life & death issue, might we not be permitted to hope and expect that such competition as still exists will be less toxic?

An Open Letter to Volvo Truck Workers in Dublin, Virginia

To the members of UAW Local 2069:

I don’t think you can realize how much of an inspiration you are to how many people.

The battle you’re fighting goes far beyond the immediate issues. We’re living in a world where you can’t open your eyes without seeing a cause for despair: the pandemic, first of all, with the refusal of public officials to keep schools and factories closed to prevent the spread. But it doesn’t stop there: endless war, abuse of immigrants, climate catastrophe, cops who commit murder with impunity, attacks on voting rights.  War criminals walk around free, while Julian Assange, who exposed them, remains in Belmarsh Prison. I could go on and on.

We look for political solutions, and what do we see? The Republicans are moving toward becoming an openly fascist party, while the Democrats, more frightened of mass resistance to fascism than of fascism itself, do everything they can to stifle opposition to the Wall Street bloodsuckers. And the Unions, which I grew up believing were the means of defense of workers right, are now entirely under the thumb of the very corporations they should be defending us against.

And this is when you stand up and say, “No, we’ll take you all on, the corporation, the corrupt union, and the political toadies.” It is inspiring, it is uplifting.

From my position, I can’t know how this battle will turn out—if this is the spark that ignites other auto workers, and from them, those in other industries both here and abroad, as you’ve already inspired your brothers and sisters in Belgium. But I’m watching, and hoping, and so are many, many others.

I’m a supporter, though not a member, of the Socialist Equality Party, and I read the World Socialist Web Site to help me get a handle on what’s going on in the world and what it means, which is how I’ve been following your fight. But what I’m saying to you now is not coming so much from a political stand, as an intensely personal one: You are giving me, and others like me, hope, and you ought to know that.

Warmest Regards,

Steven Brust

The Anatomy of Mr. Middle

“Being determines consciousness.” — Marx

The upper petit-bourgeois is a strange character indeed, his consciousness made up of a thousand pieces that are all at war with one another, producing a marvelous opportunity for study. All of modern society, one might say, is collected in this species, in various proportions, and various strengths, with different aspects predominating based on changes in his habitat (whether produced by him or by factors outside of his control).

To the upper petit bourgeois, nothing is more important than his own security and comfort. Such “activism” as he engages in cannot threaten the status quo, which means brushing aside or sometimes denying any problem that cannot be solved by a reshuffling among the upper ten percent—preferably a reshuffling that improves the status of Mr. Middle himself.

He resents and envies those in the layer above him, that is, the 1%; he despises and fears those below him, that is, the bottom 90%. There is nothing more threatening to him than the idea of the masses–those poor, ignorant, unwashed layers—standing up and demanding equality.  (Not that Mr. Middle opposes equality.  On the contrary, he is in favor of equality, provided it means, as Orestes Brownson observed, humbling those above him, not elevating those below him.)

And this brings us to one of the most interesting of the paradoxes that grow in Mr. Middle’s mind: the unions. First of all, he laughs (though it may be a nervous laugh) at the notion of the masses taking independent action. He might know something about the mass working class movements of the 30s and late 40s (although probably not; he prefers to get his history from journalists whose agendas match his rather than historians who might shake up his thinking); but even if he does, he relegates that to the past. Nothing like that can happen now. And yet, and yet, for all of that, he considers himself pro-union.

How do we resolve this paradox? Because, you see, to Mr. Middle, “pro-union” means support of the nationalist, pro-capitalist union bureaucrats who are doing everything they can to suppress the class struggle—that is, the very ones who have taken on the job of making sure the class battles of the 30s and late 40s don’t happen again. And these bureaucrats, of course, are all earning six-figures—above the table. So, it turns out not to be a surprise at all that they match Mr. Middle’s agenda; they are him in every way that counts. And when they come out with strong “social justice” positions that sound very progressive while never coming near to threatening the property rights of the elite, why, that’s just icing on the cake. Mr. Middle nods and feels very good about himself indeed.

Feeling good about himself is near the top of Mr. Middle’s agenda, second only to making sure his position isn’t threatened. But how do you feel good about yourself in a world whose foundations are crumbling and need replacing when nothing terrifies you more than a threat to those foundations? This is tricky.

Fortunately, Mr. Middle’s own position points the way out of this dilemma. Mr. Middle is not necessarily a selfish person; indeed, he is very likely known for his generosity. But his position makes him subjective—he cannot evaluate society objectively, because that evaluation would reveal all of the contradictions of his position. This subjectivity provides him the opportunity to project: if he must reject an objective analysis of his own position, he can simply apply the same principle to issues around him: there is no objective truth, only subjective feelings. Thus he can say that racism, for example, is purely subjective; you cannot have an opinion about whether something is racist unless you are non-white; you cannot have an opinion on whether something is antisemitic unless you are Jewish, you cannot have an opinion on whether something is sexist unless you are a woman.

And here, at last, we get the big payoff for Mr. Middle: because if racism, for example, is purely a subjective question—up to each individual’s feelings—then it is insoluble. And if it is insoluble, if it is “in the DNA of the country,” it is pointless for Mr. Middle to take any action beyond what is necessary to demonstrate that he is on the right side. Maybe “call out” a few people, or ruin Thanksgiving dinner, or jump in on a social media mob where someone has been accused of racism. Actually changing the material conditions that produce racial oppression requires objective analysis of those conditions, and this, you see, is impermissible.

Mr. Middle does not have the immense resources of the 1%; he doesn’t own a newspaper, or a major social media platform, or a television network. But he is not entirely without influence; he holds the most prestigious positions in the academy, he writes editorials for the New York Times, he speaks on MSNBC, he has twitter followers in numbers as great as his yearly income. If only he can convince enough of those below him to accept his view that the foundation of society are unshakeable, that is, of the permanence of capitalist property relations, then maybe, just maybe, he will be able to keep his balance during the earthquakes to come. And should it prove the case that there is no way to secure his position except through fascist dictatorship, rest assured that he will feel really bad about that.

And, yes, many do listen to him, and are deeply and passionately committed to programs that will keep them forever in chains. But the trouble is, the masses also have brains, and perceptions, and they see what is happening around them, and they start to think, and when they start to think, they start to act.

That is why the fight within the consciousness of the masses against the 1% also means a fight against Mr. Middle and all he stands for.

Good luck, Mr. Middle. You’re going to need it.