Saturday, May 26, 2018

FAKES upon FAKES: Why the Left has Become So Completely Daft



I was chatting with a new friend on Facebook and he threw out the question of why the American left has in weird ways gone “so far left” but in other ways has become so disconnected from the actual working class. He was trying to figure out Marxism’s role in this shift.

Well, I’d been watching this transformation for years and have a basic explanation. My answer:

So, what happened to the American left? What has made it into basically a fake left with nothing going for it but cheap identity politics and authoritarian urges?

A lot of people are asking these questions, because in fact none of it makes much sense. Until you look at where our left came from. Then it makes all too much sense. Pathetic, ridiculous sense.

Our current left was born (stillborn I’d say) from the convergence of two trends. It's crucial to look at them both in tandem as a kind of historical ONE-TWO punch. As follows:

1) In the middle of the 20th century, Marxist thinkers hatched a strategy called "the long march through the institutions". We in America are now seeing something like the belated results of this strategy.

The "long march" doctrine arose when it did because Marxist intellectuals realized that, contrary to Marx's predictions, the Western working class was not in fact organizing itself for revolution, but was rather, in their view, being easily seduced and misled by the glittering toys of mass culture and the dreamy promises of capitalist ideology. Their solution: to focus efforts on a slow takeover of the professions, especially education, media, and other areas with mass influence. As this takeover would require some time, they dubbed it “the long march through the institutions”, with a nod to Chairman Mao. They theorized that once leftists had enough control of these institutions, they could forge a true revolutionary consciousness in the masses, and then an actual revolutionary movement. This "long march" thinking is one of the reasons that so many hard-core leftists starting in the post-war period were content to become academics. They could tell themselves they were seeding the ground. The Frankfurt School thinkers, with their Marxist cultural criticism, offered a bridge over which would-be revolutionaries could walk themselves into academia.

In fact the strategy has ultimately borne fruit, although a different fruit than originally intended. What happened? Orthodox Marxism was increasingly debunked. So that in the intervening decades the work of all those "left" professors shifted focus to cultural analysis: Foucault, structuralism, the postmoderns--thinkers in all these movements set their sights on something other than class warfare. The issue du jour became more one of identity warfare--all the marginalized “victim” groups, whether sexual or racial or whatever. So that when the French intellectual movements of the 1960s crossed the Atlantic in a big way and infected American universities, the results were predictable. No more was the focus on supporting the American working class in general: rather everything was suddenly feminism, African-American studies, post-colonialism, gay and lesbian rights, racism racism racism. And in fact the main base of the Democratic Party, the huge number of white working class Americans, itself suddenly became suspect, especially if those white working Americans also happened to be Christian. Marxism as an economic philosophy being defunct, these identity squabbles became the supposed new revolutionary battleground. And note: though Marxism itself was left behind, the authoritarian ethos of Marxism was retained. For most of these academic Lenin wanna-be's, there is of course little worth supporting in our Constitution, with its dangerous protections of free speech and religious liberty. They want none of it, because their goal to direct what people are to say and think.

This, in short, is how our professoriat and all the media shills who now echo it came to abandon economics as the basis of its progressivism. In the US, the shift in academic focus slowly shifted the whole idea of what it means to be "left-wing". Basic bread-and-butter issues became secondary to sexual/racial politics.

Then this deeply entrenched new “leftism” met up with a parallel development occurring in the Democratic Party, as follows.

2) The Democratic Leadership Council, created in the mid-1980s by Bill Clinton and cronies, pushed the party toward an explicit embrace of big business. In my view, the DLC was the beginning of the end of the Democratic Party as a party of working people, though sadly it has taken decades for the American working class to realize just how badly they've been sold out.

The DLC is the origin of what we see today: a Democratic Party just as beholden to Wall Street and corporate CEOs as the old GOP ever was.

But note: When the Democratic Party stopped fighting for working folks in the 1990s, when they abandoned the American working class for the CEOs, they knew they still had to show they were fighting for SOMETHING. They still needed some banner to wave to claim their left-wing cred. Voilà! The banner was there on offer from the children of "the long march through the institutions". The party just needed to pretend it was fighting for the identity dignity of all the new supposed victim groups. Note also that doing so would not require them in any significant way to break ranks with Wall Street or the big corporations. They could screw over the mass of the working class (those white folks in flyover country) while getting all emotional in their speeches about things like transgender bathroom passes and the “rights” of illegal immigrants.

The Democratic Party thus found a pseudo-revolutionary movement it could meld with: all the SJW morons that now swarm our academies and publish in rags like Slate and Salon and Vox. The Democratic Party has thus become a fake left party in the same way that our academic leftists are for the most part fake Marxists. Both have abandoned the hard bread-and-butter fight for the relative comfort and glitz of identity squabbles. Lady Gaga couldn't be happier.

What happened in 2016 is thus pretty clear. Enough of the American working class, especially the white working class, had finally seen the Democratic scam for what it was. Fortunately, they switched to Trump in protest against both the corruption of the establishment GOP and even more so in protest against the fake leftism of their former party.

That's my quick take on why the American left is what it is. Interbreed fake academic Marxists with a fake Democratic Party and you get what we see today: a double-fake movement of screaming little Stalins of all flavors and dyed hair colors. Their mantra stems directly from their academic programming: "You're a racist! You're a homophobe! Down with the patriarchy! Die, bigot! Transphobe! End white supremacy! Racism racism racism!" And this in a country where gays and lesbians can live their lives as they choose, where more women are graduating university than men, and where a white-majority population twice elected a black man as president. Read the pages of our left-liberal press and these SJW -isms are virtually all that is talked about. You can follow one or another of these rags for a month straight and you will not find a single article about the struggles of working Americans in general, because, see, too many of those working Americans, being white and/or Christian, are seen as hateful bigots who need to be sent to gulags for ideological training. And that's not a joke. It is to me absolutely believable that these people, if empowered, would set up gulags in which to imprison their identity enemies.

Hopefully hardworking Americans will continue to realize how fake and how toxic this new left really is and will keep voting it out of power.

My own strategic analysis, to speak most generally, is that our Constitution and what remains of our traditional culture are under concerted attack by myriad forces and that the only political movement capable of defending them is the populist right.

You can search more on "the long march through the institutions" and the Democratic Leadership Council if you like. But perhaps, S., you already know plenty about these two fatal pincers of the shabby claw that is our fake American left.

Cheers.

My novel A Taipei Mutt is now in print. The Asian capital unmuzzled.

9 comments:

Unknown said...

I read this expecting absolute quackery but then I got here:
'The DLC is the origin of what we see today: a Democratic Party just as beholden to Wall Street and corporate CEOs as the old GOP ever was.
But note: When the Democratic Party stopped fighting for working folks in the 1990s, when they abandoned the American working class for the CEOs, they knew they still had to show they were fighting for SOMETHING. They still needed some banner to wave to claim their left-wing cred. Voilà! The banner was there on offer from the children of "the long march through the institutions". The Democratic Party just needed to pretend it was fighting for the identity dignity of all the supposed victim groups. Note also that doing so would not require them in any significant way to break ranks with Wall Street or the big corporations. They could screw over the mass of the working class (those white folks in flyover country) while getting all emotional in their speeches about things like transgender bathroom passes and the “rights” of illegal immigrants.
The Democratic Party thus found a pseudo-revolutionary movement it could meld with: all the SJW morons that now swarm our academies and publish in rags like Slate and Salon and Vox. The Democratic Party has thus become a fake left party in the same way that our academic leftists are for the most part fake Marxists. Both have abandoned the hard bread-and-butter fight for the relative comfort and glitz of identity squabbles. Lady Gaga couldn't be happier.'
And I just want to say I am probably the closest thing you'll find to what you're describing here, someone who wants to go into education and who reads a bunch of Foucault and Marx, and I agree with the above analysis whole-heartedly. I'll also note that the highest-profile people who actually rep Marx today (David Harvey and Frederic Jameson, probably) would almost certainly agree with it as well, at least in general shape and scope. Even the Marxist-adjacents like Zizek and Mark Fisher despise the SJW identity crowd and vice-versa. If you wanna go outside the academy, Chapo Trap House makes almost this exact case twice a week.
So, given that:
- the author you linked to openly admits these "neo-Marxists" he's describing are "fake Marxists," and that they do not actually cite Marx or do anything classically Marxist, in fact explicitly reinforcing bourgeois in the process, and further that
- there IS a small minority of academics, openly indebted to Marx and specifically his project of political economy, who could and should be described as actual if reformed Marxist academics, that actually share many of your same criticisms,
is it actually reasonable to label the current cultural mainstream "cultural Marxism?" When in fact it has nothing to do with any kind of marginalized group or identity, but rather the naked defense of class power by the elite, as your own cited account explains? And finally, isn't this kind of class-based division and domination exactly the basic premises of Marxism that have been so thoroughly "refuted?"
Doesn't the explanation that the richest and most powerful people in the world have acted over time to make themselves even more rich and powerful make more sense than a conspiracy of mostly French academics dominating all of Western culture?

this is what a marxist criticizing identity politics and neoliberalism looks like:
https://www.opendemocracy.net/.../exiting-vampire-castle/

Anonymous said...

For those whose memories only go back a year or two, you have stiched the past 50 foul years together for them. My memory is better than average, and I am a white Christian, so I belive most or all of this entry. Have you considered getting it published at The Unz Review?

Eric Mader said...

Thanks for the good word, Anonymous. No, I haven't considered publishing it.

@ Unknown:

Your answer is a good one and much appreciated. But I'd say, re: "cultural Marxism", that the difference between us is that you are invested in defending Marxism to some degree, whereas I am not. In terms of argument, both of us are correct. We just have different foci.

I can offer an analogy. As a Christian I've often insisted that what US televangelist Joel Osteen teaches is not really Christianity. I'm right. On the other hand, however, Osteen's spiel developed out of certain perverse elements of American Protestantism and represents a more or less heretical version of Christianity. Although it's not in line with "the Church", he does in fact lead "a church". Anyone who wants to use Osteen to criticize the hypocrisy of Christians is thus, to a degree, making a valid claim. Osteen wouldn't exist without a certain Protestant Christianity to pervert.

It is the same with the "cultural Marxists". Their movement is a perverse development, corrupted by capitalist culture, of elements in Marxism. They wouldn't exist without the revolutionary claims and focus on "oppression" of the Marxist Frankfurt School crowd. And again, as I've said, the ethos, the utopianism, the built-in contempt for liberal thinking on free speech and liberty--all these are continuations of basic Marxist stances.

This is how I think we are both right about "cultural Marxism". You underline the disadvantages of the term, hoping to protect more class-focused thinkers; I underline the advantages, mainly because I don't have much hope in those same class-focused thinkers, although I do agree they're doing more important work than anything we see coming from the SJW crowd.

"The Vampire's Castle" is an interesting piece, and thanks for linking it. But again, note in that piece the degree to which the writer feels the need to speak the shibboleths of the identitarians, writing of his "white privilege", etc. The fact is that the more this writer and others like him want to be heard in our new fake-left dispensation, the more they are going to have to stress just these identitarian canards. In the US, I've watched Bernie Sanders, for instance, drift further and further into this kind of talk, even as he drifts further and further away from class politics.

I'm Catholic, I should note, and support the Catholic critique of the excesses of the "free market", so it's not correct to say I'm on the right in terms of economic thinking. I'm just not on the left, because I don't think there *is* any actual left.

Cheers.

anonymous said...

Your comparison to Christianity is way off base, and your logic to connect literally anyone in power today to the Frankfurt School is hilarious. You can only make these arguments because nobody outside of a university knows what a critical theorist even is.

Osteen CALLS himself a Christian. Which of the "cultural Marxists" today call themselves Marxists? I completely agree that non-orthodox Marxists are still Marxists, if they draw on Marx as a resource or inspiration. But there is no twist of language by which someone who:

1.) has no intellectual affiliation with Marxism
2.) actively protects bourgeois class hegemony and
3.) does not call themselves Marxist

is in fact, Marxist. Why would we want to call them Marxist? Because that's a word that scares people and then you don't have to argue about things like economic distribution. Even though your /very own analysis/ basically admitted capitalist class domination over every aspect of government. But of course, there's no left here.

I'm also curious as to why you think Bernie is heading towards identity politics when exactly the opposite is true: he went on Fox News and brought the message of socialism. And it fucking killlllled. He continues to sponsor bills like STOP BEZOS /while he's campaigning./ The rest of the Dem field is racing to figure out how they can sell Medicare 4 All and a Green New Deal without scaring their donors and has been dragged kicking and screaming to the left. The "old white man" charge worked so well against Bernie they brought in Joe Biden to run against him.

You know what movement actually DID begin a long march through institutions beginning in the 60s? Conservatism. It's absolutely hilarious to me that you will trace a line from the FRANKFURT SCHOOL to the modern Democratic Party but nevermind the very real path straight from Evangelical Christianity and out-right WHITE NATIONALISM straight to the top of the GOP over the last 50 years. But yes let's keep talking about Marxists.

Also, I'm shopping for grad schools right meow: if critical theory is so pervasive, why do I feel like an outcast? Could you tell me the schools you think are crypt-Marxist so I can apply (or really, so I can drag out that departments curriculum and show how liberal and boring they are)? The economics departments, the business departments, the computer, physical, life sciences - the ones who actually go on to real jobs that run the world - are the farthest places in the world from critical theory. It exists only in the self-contained world of academics.

Critical theorists /deconstruct/ solid identity. Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, all those boogeymen would not have understood organizing around an identity like "gender" or "race" because they spent their entire careers showing those ideas were houses built on sand. There are plenty of feminists and black activists who see that as explicitly defeating - just google "feminist critiques of Foucault" and you'll find plenty.

I'm starting to think you actually haven't done the reading.




Eric Mader said...

Yeah, anonymous, I *have* done the reading, and your reply shows you don't understand how cultural movements develop and morph, retaining certain elements and dropping others. Just as the whole West has been deeply influenced by Freud, including tens of millions of people who've never read a page of Freud, so there are tens of millions of people whose notions of progress, justice, truth, etc., have been shaped by trickle-down versions of Frankfurt School thinking, Foucault, and yes, even the deconstructionists.

Eric Mader said...

The fact that many of these theorists stressed that ideas of identity were houses built on sand matters little. The trickle-down version of such postmodern theoretical insights only retains the sandblasting potential of the original theory--and uses it to blast away at whatever is deemed stable in the Enemy: Western culture, patriarchy, the gender binary, heteronormativity, etc. In short, it's used selectively as a weapon, and never turned back on the SJW's own identity claims.

I'm in my fifties, I began reading in these texts in university in the 1980s, and I can see clearly how the chic theoretical cutting edge of those years has been weaponized into what is now our dominant "cultural Marxist" ersatz leftism. And no, it doesn't matter in the least that most of the people who yell and whine in cultural Marxist modes don't self-identify as Marxists. They have taken up a warped version of the "long march through the institutions".

anonymous said...

This really shows me how long its been since you've had to defend your positions. You made up your mind a long time ago, I'm sure I won't change it. As Zizek would say, of course there are true parts of your account, but it doesn't matter, you would invent it either way. The Cultural Marxist/ SJW conspiracy the cover over the holes in your own ideology, something that deflects from your own lack of a theory of democratic and economic decline with a mish-mash of buzzwords you know will trigger the right people in the right ways.

It's all well and good to point out that certain figures have influenced us without us even knowing it, but you have not at all established a chain of causality based in real life, and you have not seriously given a criteria by which the current neoliberal regime is in any way Marxist. By your own admission, they are actively working to reinforce bourgeois hegemony - the exact opposite of Marxist practice, which in any form should seek the ultimate abolition of class society. So far you haven't pointed to some actual reason to believe in this trickle down beyond your own sheer will to associate your current enemies with the biggest bogeyman from our collective past.

This idea that Marxism's "enemies" are "Western culture," "patriarchy," or the "gender binary" are completely out of line with any reading of actual Marxist texts. Marx himself was overwhelmingly concerned with political economy and himself was a student of both German Idealism and scientific materialism - two major pillars of "Western culture." The Frankfurt School you're always going on about criticized the Enlightenment on its /own grounds,/ and were just as much a part of "Western culture" as the Enlightenment they challenged. Pretty much none of them recognized patriarchy until feminism started to come into its own right in like the 70s. They argue about the relative importance of different axes of oppression all the time. You can go extremely far in any given direction and not hear much about the others.

-continued below_

anonymous said...

-continued from above-

So in your account Marxism went from trying to abolish class society to trying to destroy western culture, patriarchy, gender - even though this is EXACTLY WHAT MARX ACCUSED CAPITAL OF IN THE MANIFESTO:

"All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned."

So how does your vision of the Frankfurt School fit in here? They turned the dialectic BACK on its head? They believed ideas, not material economics, drive history? So now we've actually reversed Marxism for Hegelianism, but I'm actually okay counting that as Marxist - even if I don't think that's what the FS was actually doing, I can see how it looks like that.

What I cannot see is how that vision actually transforms into a praxis of bourgeois class hegemony. What you haven't explained to me is how Bill Clinton signing NAFTA, or the Defense of Marriage Act, or welfare "reform" is in ANY SENSE (and I'm extremely open as to which one) Marxist. Or what on earth you mean by Bernie caving to identity politics. And in the most general, by your own account, it is taking tools invented by Marxists and fellow travelers and using them against the working and marginalized classes in the service of bourgeois class solidarity. If any of this decline was affecting the richest people in the world, I could see how there was an endgame, but by the time things collapse for the richest among us the rest of us will be long dead. Are you really telling me the DNC sold out the working class for corporations because of secret Marxist ideals? And not because they're greedy, slimey vampires born into obscene power?

And what rankles me the most is that your analysis of the DNC is /almost identical to what modern Marxists call neoliberalism./ (and yeah dood Mark Fisher can acknowledge something like "white privilege" without believing whole-heartedly in identity politics). I highly doubt you've seriously challenged your position in decades, you're just updating old tropes for new buzzwords. Your account pretends like the GOP might as well not exist other than as a reference for how corrupt the Dems are now - forget movement conservatism, forget the evangelicals against civil rights, forget the TEA PARTY and its lunacy - everything's the dems fault! And the Dems are actually Marxists!

Honestly I shouldn't even be telling you this. If y'all treat us as united maybe we'll act that way. But the reason these last two Dem primaries have been so heated is that there is a REAL split in this party, and the donors are scared, because Bernie IS a threat to them. Watch the money. It'll tell you who they're afraid of.

anonymous said...

Also are we really pretending that the civil RIGHTS, women's RIGHTS, gay RIGHTS, gender RIGHTS movements all drew on postmodern critiques of identity or did they explicitly use the language of liberal democracy, that is, RIGHTS. So the Marxist sees an abandonment of class, and both the Marxist and the postmodernist see the reification of abstract signifiers that have lost touch with the importance of historicity and dialectic.

The only way your narrative even makes sense is if class society (the real enemy of Marxism) is somehow conflated with "western society." Communism and all its children emerged from western society. It did not want to destroy western society in the abstract but to revolutionize it for a better future. Marx showed how capital would continue to grow and devour everything, the FS showed how it would blind us through cultural industries that subverted our class consciousness and sapped us of our strength. Modern day Marxists explain how neoliberalism emerged as a class reaction to the massive wealth loss of the World Wars and the welfare state/labor movement that followed, and their class and structural analysis is a lot more compelling than your conspiracy and penetrating influence of a small handful of academics that most undergrads lied about reading anyway.