Subjectivity, Objectivity, and Political Action

If you strip away the rhetorical flourishes, here is what we are told every day:

1) If you aren’t Jewish, you may not disagree when I say something is antisemitic. 2) Any objection to the genocide being carried out against Palestinians is antisemitic. If you disagree, see 1). 3) Therefore, you must either admit to being antisemitic, or shut up and let the Israeli state, backed and supported by US imperialism, continue to commit crimes against humanity. *

Underneath this justification for mass murder is a method that has become more and more beloved by those layers that loudly proclaim radical sounding slogans while refusing to support any policies that may threaten capitalism—those layers that we collectively call the pseudo-left.  The method is called “standpoint theory,” and can be summed up as, “if you are not a member of this oppressed group, you may not disagree when I say something is an attack on this group.”

Standpoint theory itself, however, falls apart when examined.  The basic assertion makes racism, sexism, antisemitism, &c, utterly subjective. If they are completely personal, and up to each individual to decide, then, obviously those most immediately affected are able to make such statements.  If I am in pain, no one but me is entitled to an opinion about how much pain I am in. It is something I’m feeling, it is purely subjective, and my insights on my feelings are obviously enormously more significant than anyone else’s.

But is racism entirely subjective?  Is antisemitism? No, they are not. To take extreme examples, if someone were to claim “The Birth a Nation” was not racist, or “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is not antisemitic, we would not be dealing with a difference of subjective feelings, we’d be dealing with someone who was wrong.  To be sure, there are cases that are not as blatant; that is why they are worth discussing.

Because here’s the other thing: you cannot demand objective action—such as “stop protesting the genocide in Gaza”—based on purely subjective feelings.  Can you?  I am constantly hearing of such-and-such a man who stalked or harassed a woman because he believed his own feelings for her entitled him to demand she take an action.  We are appalled when we hear of such things, because we recognize that, while he is certainly permitted to feel whatever he happens to feel, it wrong to demand someone else act based on those feelings, and even more wrong to force someone to act based on those feelings.

It is a million times worse to demand the slaughter of entire population be permitted to continue because of your feelings. If you want to convince me that opposing the Zionist state is antisemitic, you’ll have to do better than, “Shut up if you aren’t Jewish.”

*If you happen to be Jewish and oppose the genocide, you are dismissed as a “self-hating Jew” and the problem neatly goes away.

May Day Post

It’s the day of international working class solidarity, so a few quick answers to some things I’ve been hearing.

1) No serious revolutionist has ever wanted to make things worse in order to incite revolution. Utter rubbish.  Especially now; things are quite bad enough. What’s missing is consciousness that there is a way forward, a way out of the mess.

2) Being a revolutionary socialist does not mean one wishes to rush out and make a revolution. No one, as Lenin said, can suck a revolution out of his thumb. Being a revolutionary socialist means one is convinced a revolutionary crisis will take place regardless of anyone’s desire. Victory, however, is not guaranteed. For that, preparation is necessary.  Preparation means, primarily, bringing socialist consciousness and theoretical preparation to the working class, and the building of a revolutionary party prepared to see the job through to its end.

3) We aren’t there yet. But the World Socialist Web Site is now the mostly widely read socialist publication in the world, especially among workers, so we’re getting there. My own role in this is trivial, yet not useless; when I go onto Twitter or Facebook and explain my views on something that is happening today, insofar as my explanation is correct, there’s someone whose beliefs have been shaken up by events in the world, and who may be ready to listen, and possibly join the fight.  See the last sentence of point 1) above.

Happy May Day

“We live in a democracy, therefore the government represents us.”

(I’ll be adding this to my socialism FAQ, but for now I think it deserves it’s own post.)

The logic here is what fascinates—the mechanical formality, starting with rigid definitions and proceeding step by careful step to absurdity. The old scholastics of the middle ages would certainly have approved, but if we don’t want to do our political analysis using the method of  St. Thomas Aquinas, we need to do better.  Here’s how the logic works:

1. We live in what is called a democracy (or a democratic republic, if you want to be fussy).
2. By definition, this means we elect those who govern us, and can thus elect anyone we want to carry out our will.
3. Therefore, those in office are carrying out our will.
4. Therefore, most Americans are in favor of massive income inequality, genocide, making the Earth uninhabitable, right-wing censorship, pseudo-left censorship, a barbaric health care system, murderous police, the loss of democratic rights, homelessness, letting COVID kill us by the hundreds of thousands, and continuous war.

That there are those who follow this chain and believe—or act as if they believe—that it represents reality continues to astound me. But it is common enough that it is worth taking a look at.

..1 In a bourgeois democracy, the bourgeois always takes precedence over the democracy. Theoretically, we know that if the rights and privileges of the ruling class are threatened—particularly the right to make unlimited profit—democracy narrows, shrinks, and becomes more limited. In practice, we are watching it happen before our eyes.

The whole world saw what happened when Senator Sanders dared to suggest that capitalism could become not quite so mean all the time. That he was never a real threat to capitalism and would in fact have done nothing significant for the working class made no difference; his pretensions had to be crushed using legal and quasi-legal means. He isn’t the first to discover the ruthlessness of the American bourgeoisie and the Democratic Party in particular when it comes to making sure Wall Street never feels the least pinch! Gene McCarthy (honestly or not) spoke for those who wanted an end to the Vietnam war and was destroyed. Bill Clinton, swine though he is, made tiny, halfhearted efforts toward improving health care and suddenly a sex scandal emerged. &c &c,

..2 The media are part of the capitalist system, controlled by a few (and getting fewer) mega corporations, all of whom have, at the top of their agenda, convincing us that there is no possibility of any political change outside of the two capitalist parties. Billions and billions of dollars go into this every year (whether conspiratorially or simply by natural selection of editors and publishers is irrelevant). While I disagree with those who believe propaganda is all-powerful, it is silly to think that propaganda on such a massive scale is without effect.

..3 At the very least, one ought to reflect on the significance of the fact that every political gain since Reconstruction—unemployment insurance, civil rights, medicare, welfare, &c—has come as a result of direct struggles by the working masses, not by selecting the right candidate.

On Art and Commerce and Pseudo-Activism

Let’s talk about art and commerce.

To get the obvious stuff out of the way, first, I am using here a very broad definition of art, so we can simply skip the arguments about what is and isn’t art. Second, those of you who want to make Garfunkle jokes, or any of the other oh-so-original cracks playing off the word “art,” please feel free to do so in the privacy of your own blog.

It is obvious that art and commerce are intertwined, and have been since class society has existed, and will continue to be so as long as class society exists. That does not, however, mean we have to be pleased about it, nor that we cannot do what we can to fight it. Simply accepting it, is to accept money as the measure of quality of a work of art, and I am unwilling to do that.

And yet, here is the problem: among so many people today, particularly people who call themselves progressives, there appears to be a conviction that the most important thing about a work of art is not if it moves the audience, not if it shows us something about life, not if helps us understand people who are unlike us, not if it challenges our beliefs, not if it helps us work through moral issues that perhaps we haven’t considered, but, rather money. Because I keep hearing things like this:

We cannot support this person, he gives money to bad causes. And this person has been accused of having done terrible things, so we must deprive him of money. That person is clearly evil, and must be punished by having his income reduced. This person over here is much more deserving of reward, and therefore the money that would go to someone else should go here instead.

Have you considered that, when you say that, what you are really saying is, “The most important aspect of a work of art is what the artist does with the income it generates”?

That’s it, that’s what you’re saying. This is such a complete capitulation to the values of capitalism, an utter surrender to the most loathsome forms of commercialism, that it astonishes me that anyone who expresses it could consider her- or himself anything but an utter conservative.

There is one writer—I shan’t name him, because I fear some of you would stop reading him—who is, or at least was, a conservative, right-wing Republican. As a writer, he has a sharp eye for detail, a deft hand with touching one’s emotional buttons, and an outstanding ability to express human interaction. I consider his work to be among the most subversive in our field; it takes a real effort to read him and not have one’s view of society called into question, to not see how capitalist society degrades and tries to crush the human spirit, and how we are capable of heroism in resisting it.

To get personal for a moment, I consider myself a red, a revolutionary. If I had the talent and skill to do one tenth as effective a job of calling the status quo into question in my books as he does in his, I’d be satisfied indeed.

Would he agree with this analysis? Hell no. I don’t care. What I care about is that his work challenges society as it is, and encourages everyone who reads it to do the same. If he then takes the money he’s paid and gives it to causes I consider vile, that is more than made up for by the truth he reveals; his work is a thousand times more progressive then the philistines who would attack him.

You are not standing on the moral high ground, it just looks that way because your vision is impaired.

 

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.