On The Use And Abuse Of Rage For Life

“Will we stand idly by, cynical and apathetic, while what’s left of society is dismantled, piece by piece, as a sacrificial offering to the great god Mammon? Or will we, fueled by sheer rage, stand up as one to the orgiastic misanthropy of our “leaders” and smash their petty little self-aggrandizing ambitions into dust?”

From Chris Wright

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“These are the times that try men’s souls.” How much truer is that statement now than in 1776! We’re poised on the precipice, peering over into the crocodile pit below, where fascists swarm and writhe in sanguinary anticipation. Humanity is on the verge of losing its footing and plunging headfirst into the open maw of reptilian sadism. Where you stand, in this climactic moment of history, determines whether you are reptile or hominid.

We know where the majority of the ruling class stands, in their contempt for the poor, for the future, for democracy, the working class, the natural environment, the impartial rule of law, social cooperation, community, and a rational public discourse: they’re on the side of the reptiles. Whether it’s the boorish, amoral mediocrity of a Brett Kavanaugh, the rank hypocrisy of a Lindsey Graham or a Susan Collins, the naked cupidity of a Jeff Bezos, the proud Israel-fascism of a Chuck Schumer, the unfettered evil of a Mitch McConnell, or the undisguised corporatism of a Nancy Pelosi, a Barack Obama, and virtually every other politician on the national stage, the ruling class despises morality and law as an insolent threat to its unchecked power. Almost as offensive as these people’s lack of all principles besides unwavering loyalty to the rich is their aggressive mediocrity, their transparent conformism and cowardice. One is stunned at the gall of such insipid nonentities to believe themselves superior to the rest of us.

Even from the perspective of their intelligence, these elitists don’t exactly distinguish themselves. Consider one of the more honored and allegedly intellectual specimens: Anthony Kennedy. In what I suppose constituted an attempt at self-criticism, he recently offered the following rueful analysis of the state of the nation: “Perhaps we didn’t do too good a job teaching the importance of preserving democracy by an enlightened civic discourse. In the first part of this century we’re seeing the death and decline of democracy.” The lack of self-awareness takes your breath away. The man responsible for the supremely anti-democratic decisions in Bush v. Gore, Citizens United v. FEC, Shelby County v. Holder (which gutted voting protections for minorities), and Janus v. AFSCME (which by harming unions harms democracy), and who vacated his seat during the term of a president who prides himself on his authoritarianism and disrespect for the rule of law, is chagrined and apparently puzzled that democracy is declining.

Evidently the man is an imbecile, devoid of the capacity for self-critical reflection and empathic understanding of opposing arguments. And yet he’s an esteemed member of the ruling elite. (Precisely because, one might maliciously suggest, of his incapacity for critical thought.)

How maddening it is that such indoctrinated fools have power! It’s the blind leading the sighted!

Anyway, it’s for the rest of us to decide where we stand. Will we stand idly by, cynical and apathetic, while what’s left of society is dismantled, piece by piece, as a sacrificial offering to the great god Mammon? Or will we, fueled by sheer rage, stand up as one to the orgiastic misanthropy of our “leaders” and smash their petty little self-aggrandizing ambitions into dust? Will we march in the streets, occupy offices, organize mass strikes, take over workplaces, and confront our political “representatives” wherever they turn and wherever they are at every moment of the day? Or will we remain the domesticated dogs we’ve become under the long-term impact of corporatization, bureaucratization, and privatization?

In a time of universal atomization and a zombified-consumerist public life, the redemptive power of collective rage shouldn’t be scoffed at. It is in fact key to the recovery of our humanity, our de-robotization, and to the very survival of humanity itself. We should embrace our rage, cultivate it as though it were the tree of life, cherish it, for its power of both motivation and social transformation is prodigious.

The plaintive cries of establishmentarians to restore “civility” in the public sphere are laughably self-serving and shouldn’t be taken seriously. “You don’t call for incivility,” Megyn Kelly says in response to Representative Maxine Waters’ call for exactly that. Angry left-wing responses to Trumpism are “unacceptable,” according to Nancy Pelosi. “We’ve got to get to a point in our country,” says Cory Booker, “where we can talk to each other, where we are all seeking a more beloved community. And some of those tactics that people are advocating for, to me, don’t reflect that spirit.” And poor, long-suffering Sarah Sanders sent out a tweet of Solomonic wisdom after the owner of a restaurant had asked her to leave because of her noxious politics: “[The owner’s] actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.”

In short: let institutions operate as they’re supposed to, and don’t enforce accountability on public officials outside the electoral process. By all means vote us out of office if you don’t like our policies, but don’t make life uncomfortable for us.

The truth is that, from more than one perspective, the decline of civility or politeness in the “political dialogue” is a sign of progress, not retrogression. Politeness upholds the politics of “respectability,” which is the politics of conservatism, hierarchy, and the status quo. It coddles the powerful, even as they’re enacting substantively uncivil, which is to say destructive, policies aimed at everyone who lacks the money to buy influence. The essence of politics, which is but war by other means, has always been “incivility”—struggle over resources, competing agendas, bribery, corruption, the defense of privilege against the unprivileged and the latter’s struggle to wrest power from the former. There is a “beloved community” only in the milquetoast liberal imagination of a Cory Booker. The task for actual democrats is to bring the war to the doorstep of the privileged, to make them viscerally aware of the stakes involved, even if it means directly acquainting them with the wrath of the dispossessed. They’ve been sheltered far too long.

Even from the other side, the side of the reptiles, there is something to be said for Trumpian insult-flinging and demagoguery. At least it serves to take the fig leaf of high principles and public-spiritedness off the reactionary policies of almost fifty years. When Obama deported millions of immigrants and separated tens of thousands of families, it seemed as if no one cared. Now that Trump is doing it (arguably in even more sadistic ways), even the establishment media expresses outrage. The vulgarity and blatant evil, in short, tend to radicalize everyone who still has a vestige of moral consciousness in him. That’s useful.

Ultimately, though, it hardly needs arguing that Trumpian “incivility” is disastrous, e.g., in its promotion of white rage and white supremacy. But this is exactly why the time has come for the politics of extreme disruption, as expounded and defended in that classic of sociology Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail, by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward.

THE USEFULNESS OF VIOLENCE

As Piven and Cloward show, mass social disruption and civil disobedience were essential to the victories of several major popular movements in the twentieth century: the 1930s’ unemployed workers movement (which indirectly brought forth the modern welfare state), the industrial workers movement that unionized the core of the economy, the civil rights movement, and the welfare rights movement of the 1960s that forced huge expansions of welfare programs. Even the scores of urban riots between 1964 and 1968 had a partially constructive impact. In the violent summer of 1967, for example, the Pentagon established a Civil Disturbance Task Force and the president established a Riot Commission. Seven months later, the commission called for “a massive and sustained commitment to action” to end poverty and racial discrimination. “Only days before,” the authors note, “in the State of the Union message, the president had announced legislative proposals for programs to train and hire the hardcore unemployed and to rebuild the cities.”

Without going into further detail, the lesson is already clear: not only “disruption” but even rioting can, potentially, be constructive, given the right political environment. This doesn’t mean riots ought to be encouraged or fomented, of course; they should be avoided at almost all costs. But when conditions become so desperate that waves of riots begin to break out, we shouldn’t too quickly condemn them (or the rioters) as hopelessly irresponsible, self-defeating, primitive, immoral, etc. The state’s immediate response might be repression, but its longer-term response might well be reform.

Other scholars go further than Piven and Cloward. Lance Hill, for instance, argues in The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement that the tactic of nonviolence wasn’t particularly successful in the civil rights movement. SNCC’s peaceful local organizing in the early 1960s didn’t bring about many real, tangible gains: months-long campaigns succeeded in registering minuscule numbers of voters. White power-structures, racism, and Klan violence were just too formidable. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “moral suasion,” his hope to shame Southern whites out of racism, failed utterly. So the strategy shifted to provoking white violence in the full view of television cameras—and, as with the Deacons for Defense in Louisiana, inflicting violence as well (mostly in self-defense). By 1964 things were threatening to get out of control, with riots and some white deaths, so the government was able to pass the Civil Rights Act—which it proceeded to enforce only sporadically, usually when compelled to by violence or its threat.

Nonviolence was a useful tactic for getting white liberal support, but without the threat of black violence always lurking in the background it would have accomplished little. “One of the great ironies of the civil rights movement,” Hill says, “was that black collective force did not simply enhance the bargaining power of the moderates; it was the very source of their power.”

In general, the point is that people have to act in such a way that authorities will feel compelled to give them concessions lest social hierarchies be threatened. In the long run, needless to say, the goal is to replace the authorities, to empower people who actually care about people. But in the meantime it’s necessary to extract concessions—by putting the fear of God, or, far more frighteningly, of revolution, into the heads of the thugs at the top. The credible threat of violence can, then, bring results, as history shows.

One last example, perhaps most apposite of all, is the near-chaos that engulfed the nation in the early 1930s, as unemployed workers took to the streets and violated the “rights of property” on an epic continental scale. As I’ve related elsewhere, the epidemic of protest, “eviction riots,” and thefts in, e.g., Chicago between 1930 and 1932 impelled Mayor Anton Cermak to repeatedly appeal in desperation to the federal government. “It would be cheaper,” he told Congress in early 1932, “to provide a loan of $152,000,000 to the City of Chicago, than to pay for the services of federal troops at a future date.” Because of the panic that widespread theft and violence induced in businessmen and government officials like Cermak, Herbert Hoover’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation began that summer to give loans to states for providing relief to the unemployed. A year later, Roosevelt’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration started distributing $500 million worth of grants to the states, followed by massive jobs programs, and the New Deal proceeded to alleviate the misery of tens of millions of Americans. All because of the power of collective rage and defiance.

In 2018, after the consolidation of a reactionary regime on the Supreme Court, it is long past the time for organized collective violations of “law and order” and “property rights.” It’s time to badger elected officials at every moment of every day, and to foster political polarization so that the ground caves in beneath the feet of the “centrists.” Conditions aren’t yet desperate enough for collective looting and rioting—since, after all, the economy is booming! (right?)—but it’s necessary at least, in the coming years, to stoke such fears in the minds of the rich. Monolithic, sustained, savage repression cannot work for long in a nominally democratic country like the U.S. Radical reforms are inevitable—if, that is, we rise up en masse.

A “CRISIS OF LEGITIMACY”

The one good thing about Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court is that it completes the delegitimization of the most undemocratic and typically reactionary institution at the federal level. Having an obvious perjurer, sexual harasser, overgrown frat boy, and overtly partisan hack on the Court strips away whatever patina of honor and impartial dignity that farcical institution still had. It has now lost all pretense of representing not only the will of the people but even the rule of law. This fact, too, will facilitate radicalization.

The entire political economy, and the august institutions that protect it, are being thrown into question.

The whiff of revolution is in the air, just starting to float, here and there, on the breezes blown back from the future into the present. The scent is positively revivifying.

It’s a good time to be angry. And to translate your anger into action.


Chris Wright

Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is the author of Notes of an Underground HumanistWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, and Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis. His website is www.wrightswriting.com.”

Abuse Within Paganism – A Taboo Topic?

We must make those who think that Paganism tolerates abusive, controlling behaviour aware that they have no place within our traditions.

From Emma Kathryn

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If you are a member of the Pagan community (whatever that means to you – we’ll discuss community later), then you may well remember when a well know witch published a blog post that talked about the abuse she’d suffered from within the Pagan community. The post did cause a little bit of a stir. It made the snippets of the popular Pagan outlets, and aside from a few private blog posts from other Pagans and witches, not much more was said.

That woman was Sarah Anne Lawless, and you can read that particular blog post here.

Sarah’s story kind of touched a cord with me. You see, many years ago, a close family member of mine was herself in an abusive relationship, and I guess I saw a few similarities between Sarah and my family member. Both are strong, fierce women. Fiery and quick to speak their minds. I would hear people question why my family member would stay with the woman beater? She’s a strong woman, why did she put up with it? Why try to hide it? Maybe they like it, you would hear people say, even other women. And so when I saw those same things said or implied about Sarah, it made me realise, though I suppose I already knew it anyway, that this topic is one that spans all divides.

Curious to discover how things had turned out for her, I recently called Sarah, and we had a chat about what’s been done since first airing her experiences.

And the truth is, disappointingly little.

In fact, that wouldn’t be the worst of it. Not only has Sarah been all but shunned by those communities she thought she was a member of but her businesses have been attacked, with anonymous reports to various agencies about the products she makes and sells. The platforms which enable her to sell those items have also received anonymous reports and have even been suspended in some cases.

And all because she dared to highlight her instances of abuse within the Pagan community, by some of those within it.

I asked her what kind of reaction had she gotten from others, generally speaking. She replied:

“It’s been a bit of  a mixed bag. Some have been sympathetic. And from others, mostly men, I’ve either had complete denial or a misunderstanding.”

I also asked if other victims had reached out to her.

“Yeah, many have, sharing their stories with me. Only one other came forward to the police though, but here that’s not enough to carry forward an investigation. But I also get why others didn’t come forward. And who am I or anyone else to try to force these women to do something they don’t want to, especially after the trauma they’ve  already faced. If it helps them, sharing their stories with me, then that’s a good thing.”

And she’s been all but ignored by Pagan media outlets.

”I’ve been in touch with a couple of different places, but after initial contact, I haven’t really heard back from any of them.”

Indeed, here in the UK, it’s not been much of a story. It’s almost like there’s a wall of silence, or perhaps a wall of ignorance around the whole affair, and for me, this must lead us to question why.

IS THERE A PROBLEM? WHAT CAN WE DO?

So is there a problem with Paganism and how we respond to abuse claims? I think there is, and there certainly seems to have been in Sarah’s case.

I find the biggest problem is that Paganism seems to operate in its own atmosphere, away from the general rules we might ordinarily apply in real life. So, in the everyday world, if a woman, or anyone else for that matter, came forward with claims of abuse, those claims would be investigated. We would expect them to be.

I also think the fact that the word ‘community’ doesn’t really cover what it actually means to be a Pagan. The draw for many is the lack of uniformity, the freedom and independence to believe and worship however they see fit.

Take a moment to consider the many differing forms of Paganism, and then all the subsets and categories and regional differences and that’s without considering those who might be solitary or eclectic. When we consider Paganism in this way, it becomes understandable as to why defining a Pagan community becomes difficult. There is no one set of beliefs. There is no right or wrong way to worship.

And so if there is no community, how then can we begin to tackle the issue of abuse? By calling it out, whenever we witness it or are made aware of it. And from that call out, investigations must occur, and then the appropriate action taken. We must not close ranks, afraid that any truth may corrupt our beliefs. Instead we should root it out so it doesn’t corrupt or spoil the hard work and dedication that others have put in. We should expel it like the pestilence it is.

And abuse can be insidious. It can be incorporated into the very foundations of an order or tradition. There’s nothing stopping anyone from setting up any kind of group, and I really do cherish that freedom, but with it comes the responsiblity to call out and report abusers. If an abuser happens to be an elder or someone with a respected position within a tradition, this shouldn’t exclude them from any investigation or punishment if necessary. They should not be allowed to slip off the grid and start up elsewhere.

We should not excuse shitty behaviour because the one being a shit also happens to be some sort of leader, or someone with that kind of power, or has followers who look up to them. If anything, it is imperative that such types are called out and reported. We should call out fakelore where we see it, and let’s be honest, you come across it quite often in the Pagan sphere.

We also need our Pagan writers and journalists to not fear tackling such subjects. Of course there is that line, that is to not portray someone as guilty when they have not been convicted and all of that, but we must also tackle those stories and bring those issues to the fore. We need writers and journalists who are unbiased and tell the truth. We need publications to talk about these claims when they arise, and also about the issues that may arise because of them.

I will take a moment to just say a word or two about those accusations that are false, that are made out of malice and badness, that are untrue and told to inflict damage. As damaging as they may be, those false reports do not detract from the truth of most claims. Those who make those false claims should also be held to account, but then it all comes back to taking the time to investigate thoroughly all abuse claims.

We must make those who think that Paganism tolerates abusive, controlling behaviour aware that they have no place within our traditions. Doing so will only strengthen them. Doing nothing will lead to their fall.

We are witches and occultists and brujas and so much more. We have the power to make our crafts and traditions what we want them to be. Let them be places where abusers find no solace. Let’s do ourselves justice.


Emma Kathryn

epMy name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!

You can follow Emma on Facebook.

Economic Egregores: How Belief Drives the Power of Money and What We Can Do About It

“[S]ince it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?”

From Sable Aradia

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Dollar Bills by Dawn Hudson. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

A thoughtform is a semi-autonomous manifestation created when someone — or several someones — will it, or believe it, into being. As of that point, it is no longer entirely subject to the will of its creator(s), but in essence, acts and reacts in its own way. It has no physical reality as we understand it, but it has a virtual reality; it might as well be real because we engage with it as if it is. Which, in a sense, makes it real.

An egregore is a thoughtform that has been created by a group, and it influences the thoughts and actions of the group that engages with it. But it is also influenced by the thoughts and actions of these same people.

This is not a unique concept to the occult: William Gibson wrote about what he called “semiotic ghosts” in popular culture. To me, it was evident he was talking about egregores. I wrote an article about this recently at Between the Shadows.

The examples of a corporation and a meme are probably excellent ones for a modern reader. A corporation exists independently of its creators. The Board of Directors, the shareholders, and the employees who work for it, can change completely — leave, die, or be replaced — and yet the corporation continues.

In our modern age, money is also an egregore, and this is why it has no physical value (after all, money is no longer backed by a gold standard.) Its perceived value governs its real value on the world market. The two are effectively one and the same.

It’s extremely difficult for one person to significantly alter the nature of an egregore. A person who wants to will such a change would have to convince a majority of the other people who engage with the egregore that its nature has already changed. For example, these major brands either started their lives as Nazi corroborators, or developed significantly as corporations while doing so, but of course we no longer make these associations with them.

There was an excellent object lesson in the transformation of an egregore in the 1990s in Brazil. Plagued by runaway inflation, Brazil embraced a daring plan; they created a new currency to restore people’s faith in money. They called it the Unit of Real Value (Unidade real de valor)(1). And it was entirely fake. No bills or coins were ever printed. It was intended to absorb the effects of hyperinflation and was set at a fixed value of parity to the U.S. dollar.

Instead, people developed more confidence in the URV than in the cruzeiro real, which was the legal-tender Brazilian currency, and it replaced Brazil’s legal currency. Officially it was “extinguished” and replaced with a legal-tender currency called the real on July 1, 1994.

A semi-virtual currency exists in Canada in the form of Canadian Tire money. This is effectively Monopoly money that is given out by Canadian Tire as a reward for shopping at their stores. It’s a fraction of the value of what you bought; a very early loyalty program.

But many places in Canada began accepting Canadian Tire money as well as real money, because why not? Canadian Tire doesn’t really care where it came from, because at one point or another it came from their store, and you can still exchange it there for real goods.

Unfortunately Canadian Tire is now trying to force their clientele to go to a card system instead, citing a risk of criminal enterprises making use of their alternate currency as an excuse. I’m sure that’s a real threat: criminal enterprises profit enormously from the existence of shadow economies that don’t depend upon the whim of the World Bank. But then again, so would we.

One might also consider the bitcoin bubble. Bitcoin is an entirely virtual currency that has a certain perceived value; and it has that value because of that perception.

That’s not a new concept either. Stock values are also entirely influenced by perceived values. One of the flaws in our current economic system that is coming to a point of reckoning is that stock values can plummet, not because a company has lost money, but because it has not gained as much as people thought it would. Twitter and Facebook both recently bore a significant loss of stock value because their growth, falsely projected on false identities and bot accounts which political pressure has forced them to limit, was not as great as those false projections had assumed it would be.

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Insecurity Dollar Symbol by John Hain. Courtesy Publicdomainimages.net.

What this tells us is that any free market theory is fatally flawed. It is assumed in the study of free market economics that stock value changes based on information. Traders become aware of trends, new technology, expansions, etc. which will increase the income-making potential of a corporation.

But since it has become increasingly clear that stocks, and even money itself, is entirely based on a perception of value, which is by nature subjective and mutable, the only question becomes how that perception of value is influenced? And who is doing the influencing?

The question then becomes for the magician: how can we best utilize egregores? Can we make significant changes to the harmful effects of existing egregores, such as the value of currency and how it is determined?

Marx said that in order to address income inequality, workers must control the means of production. But he failed to visualize the development of technology and the value of virtual goods. How do you control the means of production when all the production is virtual?

I think the answer is that the common people must direct the egregores instead. Right now, we have been absorbed by the semiotic ghosts of futility, apathy, and the inequalities of capitalism. And Money has become a god in and of itself. To combat this, we must embrace new egregores, and helpful, older egregores, like the Enlightened Rebel and the Will of the People.

To change the perceived value of money, and who has it, we need to re-think what we’re basing that value on. Right now, the world thinks of money in terms of national currencies, so the perceived economic well-being of nations is what drives the world economy. This creates haves and have-nots by nature. It’s dependent on the idea that some nations have more economic value than others.

It’s also, in part, determined by corporations. The more big corporations a country is perceived to have, and the bigger their stock values, the more valuable their currency is perceived to be.

Canadian Tire money erodes that economy just a little bit, because it takes a small fraction of the value of currency out of the hands of governments and stock traders, and puts it into the hands of consumers. Still not great; still capitalism, but a more decentralized capitalism.

Bitcoin is an early attempt to rethink the way we value currency. It has established a currency value on information. Bits of data are what form the essential unit of a bitcoin. But the flaw of this approach is that those who control information can control the value of a bitcoin, which is why it has already achieved a speculation bubble that makes it completely unattainable for regular people.

Perhaps we should come back to Marx. Perhaps we should be basing the value of currency on labour-units. One hour of labour might equal one credit, which could buy one full meal. Think of how wealthy artists would be! Of course I can’t think of a way to track that which wouldn’t risk intense violations of privacy. No change of this nature would be quick or easy, and each would have its own drawbacks and unintended consequences that we would have to consider, and deal with.

The question for us is: what do we consider to be of real value? And what would we like the economy of the future to look like? Which egregores should we give power to?


  1. I think it’s worth noting just how difficult this reference was to find. I remembered hearing something on a YouTube video about this and I went searching for a reference to write this article. I typed “South American country that created an alternate currency” into Google. This yielded an article called “How Fake Money Saved Brazil,” which originally came from the NPR website. It’s referenced by a plethora of other blogs and articles, but you can’t get access to that article anymore; just a couple of forums where people sneer at the idea, despite the fact that it demonstrably worked. I finally found the name of the currency — “Unit of Real Value” — in a snippet from a site that might be an archive of the Wayback Machine from a site called Neatorama.com. I searched this on Google and finally found the Wikipedia entry, listed only under its Portuguese name. Now why was this so hard to find? The most benign answer I can come up with is racism. I suspect it’s a lot more complex.

Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I owned a dog, whom I still miss very much, and am still owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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Projections of the Powerful

Oppressing White People: No. But the Right sure likes oppressing non-white people.

From Sable Aradia

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I am beginning to see a pattern in the ways of the New Right. I am sure I’m not alone. They level some wild accusation towards the Left. “They want to put all men in concentration camps.” “They want to oppress white people.” “They want to limit free speech.” “They’re operating a child sex ring out of a pizza parlour.”

The Left snorts at the ridiculousness of the accusation. What preposterous ideas! Obviously nobody wants to do that …

… and then it comes out that whatever the Left has recently been accused of, the Right is actively doing.

Let me break down some examples.

“I Know You Are, but What Am I?”

Putting All Men in Concentration Camps: Well, no. But the Trump administration has been putting immigrants and Latinos in concentration camps, haven’t they? The border scandal is an international disgrace.

Oppressing White People: No. But the Right sure likes oppressing non-white people. Police have been shooting people driving, walking, shoppingin public parks, in their grandmothers’ backyards, and in their own homes for the crime of being black. And not one of these cops has been brought to justice.

Limiting Free Speech: Apparently they object when white supremacists are asked not to speak at universities that disagree with their “ideas.” But gods forbid you should want to make queer kids’ books accessible in your public library.

Creating a Totalitarian State: A totalitarian state is when one person has the power to do whatever they want. And they’re sure trying to push the idea that an elected President is above the rule of law, aren’t they?

Forcing People to Use Pronouns They Don’t Approve Of: Um … aren’t the Right the ones who are fighting to deny people access to changing their pronouns, or opting for something non-binary? Jordan Peterson has made his career on that. Who’s forcing whom to do what again?

Forcing People to Believe What They Believe: The American Right Wing consistently has taken a stand that they are a “Christian nation” and everyone should adhere to Christian values, so ….

Manipulating the Vote: Some Republican senators have gerrymandered so many voting districts that they were actually ordered to fix one of the more flagrant examples by the U.S. Supreme Court. Twice. The GOP have continuously used gerrymandering, deliberately restrictive voter ID laws that are punitive against groups that traditionally oppose them, and dark campaign finance money, continue to manipulate voting conditions in their favour, as this exposé from Rolling Stone demonstrates.

Bringing Down the Government: Libertarians and those influenced by Ayn Rand’s philosophy are the ones currently looking to derail government agencies. Prime Minister Harper appointed a bunch of his cronies to the board of the CBC right before he lost the last Canadian election — and you can tell. The repair job is going to take years. The Trump administration appointed a person who bases her business on pushing private education as the head of the public education ministry, and a person who actively fights environmental regulations as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. This looks a lot like deliberate sabotage to me.

Operating a Child Sex Ring: I thought for sure this had to be Alex Jones tabloid material. But apparently, a dozen immigrant children were placed with traffickers in the absence of background checks on their sponsors, and with anywhere from 1500 to 6000 children still missing, one wonders how much more of this will come out?

Makes you wonder if some New Right group is trading in baby parts somewhere …

Projection

Projection is a term used in clinical psychology to describe how people tend to visualize that their own biggest sins, and deepest fears, are being engaged in by other people, especially people they don’t feel comfortable around. They “deny their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.” Examples include victim blaming, projection of guilt, and bullying.

It seems to me that the New Right is motivated by this phenomenon, which is a method of ego-protection. Because they are feeling threatened, they see bogeymen in every dark, female, or non-binary face, and hear threats in the reasoning of any progressive intellectual. It’s pathological, unjust, and dangerous.

And it’s nothing new. People in any unbalanced power dynamic — parent/child, boss/employee, ruler/ruled — have been doing it as long as civilization has existed. The Babylonian Talmud (500 BCE) notes the human tendency toward projection and warns against it: “Do not taunt your neighbour with the blemish you yourself have.” Or as the Christian Bible said, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

Projection as Propaganda

It’s also right out of the fascist political playbook. A 2001 paper examines the use of projection as a tactic of Nazi political manipulation, and points out that it is not strictly used by Nazis. And it often is somewhat successful. It certainly muddies the waters.

Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf about the Big Lie theory. He believed that if you lied as preposterously as possible, and kept repeating it, eventually people would believe it, on the grounds that no one could make up something that crazy. He also counseled that one should never admit to wrongdoing, blame one’s enemy for everything that goes wrong, and never turn down an opportunity to create “a political whirlwind.” And he justified his use of this technique with his opinion that it was used by Jews to blame Germany’s loss in World War I on German general Erich Ludendorff, who was a prominent nationalist and antisemitic political leader in the Weimar Republic.

Projection at its most classic. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

What to Do About it

I don’t really have any clear answers here. I find that direct and aggressive confrontation of people spouting the propaganda lies, with links that disprove their claims, is effective in dealing with particular situations. But it’s nerve-wracking and it’s something not everyone is equipped to do. Some of us are not in a position of health or safety to allow us to do that. Of course you should protect yourself first.

I find that just saying, “No, that’s not how it is,” is not effective because it’s almost impossible to prove a negative. But I do find that as soon as one of these preposterous claims appears, it’s worth my time to ask myself, “What is the New Right trying to deflect attention from now?”

History usually reveals the truth, but that may not help people caught in the situation right now. History has come down hard in favour of the Jewish people in the Holocaust, but that didn’t save six million of them.

So my counsel is to support one another. Stand up in protest whenever you see one of these ridiculous claims peddled. If possible, mock the accusers mercilessly until they realize you are not an easy mark. Do not allow them to manipulate you through your ego: let their judgments of your intelligence and your open-mindedness slide off you like water off a duck’s back. That can be really hard to do, but another page in their playbook advises them to do this in order to get you to back down through real or perceived social pressure. Don’t do it. And if the confrontation occurs in social media, report and block whenever you have the option of doing so.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I owned a dog, whom I still miss very much, and am still owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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How to Buy a Religion

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What’s wrong with Sephora’s witch kit?

Is it crass to reduce a religious practice to $40 of mass-manufactured perfumes and Tarot cards? Probably, but haven’t Pagans been debating “pay-to-pray” back and forth for years? Sure, an independent Etsy artisan needs to make a living. But doesn’t Sephora also have to tap new markets to survive? The scale’s different, but what about the essence?

Is the mall any worse than the metaphysical shop?


Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

Karl Marx

Capitalism alienates.

It takes parts of you and makes commodities out of them. Your time, your physical activity, and your mental energy all get sold on the labor market like Tarot decks and perfume. Your body contains more than itself – it carries your community, the work and care of your loved ones, everything they do to keep you physically and psychologically functional. Without all that, how would you make it out of your door every morning with enough resiliency to work? After all, capital is hungry. A business needs to grow, or else other companies out-compete it in the market and force it into bankruptcy. The ones that can grow, survive. The ones that find more ways and things to eat, grow. They need your ability to work, to produce goods and services they can sell. All of the ingredients that go into your work, they consume.

Capital imposes its needs onto the dispossessed, the ones who don’t own businesses or rental properties and so have nothing to live on but their ability to work. The whole community depends on the money its wage-workers earn, so it has to organize its collective life in whatever way maximizes their employability. Wage-workers are exploited, and they incarnate entire communities of labor, exploited alongside and through them.

Religion is one way the dispossessed survive. Capitalism cuts you off from your basic nature: your capacity to flourish, to form relationships as a free being. It demoralizes in both the current and the older sense: the mindlessness and futility of wage-work, housewifery, and unemployment teach despair and induce depression, but when capital reduces you to an instrument, it de-moralizes you in a larger sense. The more of you that goes to satisfy capital’s hunger, the less of you is left for self-cultivation, creativity, and relationship-building. You are alienated from yourself.


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Pop-culture resurgence: Internet tabloid Vice offers dozens of witchcraft-themed articles. Source

Sephora sells to women.

The social base of religion (Pagan and otherwise) is not only the dispossessed in general, but specifically the specially-oppressed along racial, national, and gender lines. Even when the ministers and bishops are men, it’s women who cook meals for sick parishioners, clean up after services, teach Sunday school, and fill most of the pews. Capitalism, by definition, only pays for waged work. But, the health and functionality of wage-workers is costly; it takes a vast expenditure of unpaid work in the home and the community to feed and support wage-workers, take care of their kids and elders, and ease the emotional strain of their alienation. So, there’s a division of labor between paid and unpaid work, and it falls along the lines of gender. Culture, ideology, and discrimination harmonize with the pervasive reality of anti-woman and anti-LGBT violence, forming an elegantly self-reinforcing feedback loop; gender roles both flow from and reinforce the overall social system. Those who don’t fall in line get hurt.

Religion sits at a key point in the cycle. It allows the racially and nationally oppressed to rely on each other for support, fellowship, and existential meaning without their oppressors in the room for a few hours each week (is it a coincidence that in the US, Black people report being “absolutely certain” of God’s existence at a higher rate than self-identified Christians do?). Religion takes the edge off of alienation, offering a relationship with something bigger than you, your job, and your daily life – a bedrock of connections and values deeper and older than capitalism. At the same time, it transmits gender roles and racial social segregation from generation to generation, helps the dispossessed stay psychologically healthy enough to work, and gives bourgeois clergy a medium to preach patience and forbearance towards oppression rather than revolution and collective action. From time to time, though, it takes on an opposite role, providing mass movements with a moral language and the institutional infrastructure they need. Religion is politically contradictory. It keeps the dispossessed in line – except when it’s helping them liberate themselves.

Paganism has an even sharper gender skew than most religions. After all, it actively encourages women to take on sacerdotal and leadership roles (not to mention its historical ties to lesbian feminism and LGBT culture). Sephora sells to women, so selling women’s religion is an intuitive next step, especially given that pop culture is currently more infatuated with witchcraft than it has been since the 90s. When Sephora sells Paganism, it’s offering more than a deck of cards and some quartz.  Sephora is no less responsible for capitalism’s crushing alienation than any other business. It helped create the ailment. Now, it’s promising a $40 cure.


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Metaphysical shopfront. Source

Unlike most religions, modern Paganism’s basic institutional anchor isn’t the congregation. Rather, it’s the metaphysical shop. Jonathan Wooley explains:

The authors, makers and the shops that stock their wares could operate without moots and open rituals; but moots and open rituals – in their current form – could not exist without the “Pagan Business”.

The point here is not that those who make their living through Paganism are being greedy or venial. On the contrary, writing words, speaking spells, crafting holy things, and making ceremonies that heal, enlighten, and empower is important work, and those working in these ways cannot survive on mere air and good wishes. The problem arises from how we are currently supporting the work that they do, and the centrality of this (commercial) arrangement in our community. Before all else, you have to pay. By relying upon the Market to directly transmit our lore, to fund our gatherings, to supply our goods, we become complicit in it. It means the fortunes of our traditions turn not with the wheel of the year, but with the shifting fashions and stock prices of the global publishing and wellness industries. Our community is directed less by the will of the gods, and more by Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The heartbeat at the core of our living traditions becomes the ring of a cash register.

This dominance of the logic of the Market within Paganism is not surprising, even if it is disquieting. Paganism is one of the few religions to have arisen within the Modern Age, when Capitalism was in its ascendency. This has very real consequences for us all. Let us not forget the prototypical “gateway experience” for a seeker – traditionally – was buying a book from an occult book shop. The fact that the internet and Amazon have replaced the knowledgeable local bookseller is to be lamented; but it is not so meteoric shift as we might suppose. Whether your spirituality is expressed through buying knowledge from a kooky shop on Glastonbury High Street, or from Amazon, your spirituality is still being expressed through shopping. Equally, this shift demonstrates the extent to which our infrastructure is dependent upon the vagaries of the market to survive: the rise of the internet has caused many Pagan bookshops to close; depriving local communities of an invaluable opportunity to meet, learn, and socialise. Indeed, it is precisely because we have relied on the Market that this transition – from a friendly, in-community, low-profit enterprise, to a distant, global, high profit one – has taken place. The very means by which our lore is spread has been transformed for the worse by the dictat of the Market.

In other words, Sephora and a PantheaCon vendor don’t differ in essence – only in scale.


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The nitrogen cycle. Source

When Paganism is commercial, it’s filling religion’s conservative role, reconciling the dispossessed to their oppression. After all, if shopping is the way out of alienation, then capitalism, if not benevolent, is at least neutral. Collective action isn’t even on the radar.

But that’s not the only Paganism.

We’re all of us embedded in a living relational web – humans, the biosphere, the land and sea and sky, the gods and the dead. The nitrogen cycle and the water cycle have a sacredness. It’s holy when through death, an organism becomes food, transmuting into new life. The Sun is slowly spending itself. It feeds plants and algae with its energy, and that energy sustains the same animals who then nourish plants when they die and decompose. Gods are at once embodied in and emergent from each nexus of the process, standing at the fulcrums where nature moves humans and is itself moved. Paganism is what the mutually-conditioning cycles of ecology and evolution teach you when you pay attention to them, learn their rhythms, find where you are inside them. Prayer, devotion, myth, and ritual all orient you towards that ground of your being and make a sacrament of your participation in it. Reciprocity is cosmic, both an imperative and a fact. Do ut des, I give so that you may give, is at the heart of both polytheist sacrificial theology and the Mystery that governs the process of life.

You were born with a capacity for eudaimonia: balanced, all-sided human flourishing, the Greatest Good of ethics and philosophy. You can develop eudaimonia if you cultivate virtues: self-knowledge, self-control, justice, and right relationship. Capitalism is a social process that alienates you from that capacity, but it doesn’t destroy it. It does, however, determine the form that it needs to take.

Self-development, ritual and political practice, and reverence for the Gods, the dead, and the natural world are the foundation stones of revolutionary virtue. Paganism holds a radical seed: given the reality of capitalism and empire, the communist organizer, the Stoic sage, and the nature-mystic devotionalist must all become the same person. Each component of revolutionary virtue is incomplete by itself. They need each other, just like plants, decomposers, and nitrifying bacteria.

And it’s all unbuyable. The people trying to sell you Paganism are promising to cure your alienation with more alienation, only in disguise. They can sell you a Scott Cunningham book, a handmade pewter pendant, or a $40 “starter” box, but do those contain the Mystery? At best, they’re dispensable props. At worst, they’ll actively mislead you; like any religion, Paganism can teach you to accept your oppression or it can teach you to fight it.

If you really want to buy something, get Marcus Aurelius or an ecology textbook. Read myths. Go out and see how mosses and lichens grow on trees and how trees that die feed mushrooms and bacteria, fertilizing the soil. The relational web spreads out from there. It reaches to the sun, the atmosphere, the microorganisms, and the gods who take their embodiment in that dynamic interplay. Find your nature, your inborn potential for virtue, eudaimonia, and right relationship. You are in the web. Root yourself. Capitalism uproots you and disrupts your nature. It’s throwing the whole world’s processes so off-kilter that if it isn’t stopped, the ecosphere will endure – but it will be so changed that humans won’t be able to live in it.

Paganism lives in that knowledge. It’s a method – you learn the context of human life and you choose to act accordingly. Sephora can’t sell it to you, but neither can the vendors at Pagan Pride.

You can’t simply opt out of the alienation capitalism imposes. But, you can choose what to do about it; you are existentially free. Paganism can be a path to knowledge and revolutionary virtue, or it can be an “opiate of the masses.”

Sephora wants to sell you one of those. But you’re free to choose the other.


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


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Why Do You Care About Alex Jones?

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Should Alex Jones be on Facebook?

Last week, the company announced that it’s taking down his pages. The reading public will have to go elsewhere to learn about the perils of routine vaccinations and the undoubtedly-many uses of a “latent iodine survival shield.” Now, given his conspiracy theories, homophobia, and more-or-less explicit white nationalism, Jones does not cut a sympathetic figure. But should the Left support his free speech rights anyway, because the same mechanisms that removed Alex Jones are also turned against leftists? Or should anti-fascists rejoice that a hard-right demagogue has lost a platform?

Leftist and social-justice social media’s been arguing the case all week. But, while the debate’s touched on free speech, no-platforming, and the power of tech companies, one question’s been lost in the shuffle:

Why does it matter?

Should we support Facebook’s action? What does “support” even mean? Will commenting on Facebook about the company’s decision change its policies, towards Alex Jones or anyone else? Facebook does as it pleases. The Left can’t change that any more than it can convince Alex Jones that floods aren’t caused by the Air Force.

So, is the issue important? The question’s empty. There are no stakes. There’s no political practice involved other than the discourse itself. It’s isolated from any kind of social power. Does it feel meaningful? Sure, but the feeling is fake – simulated politics. It’s catharsis without the trouble of leaving your front door.


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Ideas are not political.

Politics is power. It’s about deciding the shape of collective life. Talking about how things should be isn’t political if it’s outside the context of organizing for power. So, neither side of the Jones debate has a political position. After all, is there anything at stake besides whether to type “this is good” or “this is bad” into a comments thread?

Social media platforms seek to maximize their own economic good as individual businesses (by engaging more people for longer, they increase the number of eyes on each ad they sell). Every post you make about whether Facebook should have deleted Alex Jones increases Facebook’s user engagement and, therefore, its profitability. But as they compete for ad revenue, social media companies also maximize the political good of the entire capitalist class: if you scratch your political itch by liking and sharing, you’re that much less likely to feel the need to stir up real-life trouble.

But why should it be either/or? Why not do politics both in person and on social media – can’t you walk and chew gum at the same time?

Well, social media “politics” isn’t zero-impact. The cost goes deeper than emotional exhaustion and wasted time – social media rewards certain styles of interaction. Controversy and hostility lead to more attention and engagement (not to mention favorable treatment from the algorithm!). It’s easy to form endlessly-specific insider cliques, and drama within them just pushes user engagement even higher. So, companies deliberately design their platforms to encourage all that.

In the field, though, that sort of behavior wrecks a fledgling project faster than you can realize it’s happening. I know a self-defense instructor who won’t let trainees directly hand each other the fake gun prop after they practice disarming a shooter – if you do it in practice, you’ll find yourself doing it in real life. The same goes for how you approach other people and form relationships. If you keep handing the algorithm the inflammatory statements and flame wars it loves, you’ll find yourself acting that way when you organize in real life. Social media takes your organizing skills and makes them worse.

You don’t have to take part. You’ll be a better organizer if you don’t.

Talk to your co-workers, your fellow-renters, your co-religionists, and your neighbors. What communities of interest are you part of? Anyone can organize their community but if you don’t do it, how will it happen? Reach out. Find your common interests. Get organized. Take collective action. Serve the people.

And then, when you’re doing real politics, it won’t matter what Facebook thinks.

 


Sophia Burns

is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


Support our work here.

Why Liberals Care About Russia

 

“On liberalism’s crisis and its nationalist solution.”

From Sophia Burns

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Neera Tanden, former policy director for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and president of the Center for American Progress

Trump and Putin gave a joint press conference last month. The #resistance is up in arms.

Supposedly, Trump’s conciliatory language makes him a traitor, “simpering and submissive” before Putin. Doesn’t he care that Putin hacked the election – an “act of war” comparable to Pearl Harbor and 9/11?

Now, Russian bots didn’t put Trump in office. Rather, Hillary Clinton focused her get-out-the-vote efforts on Republicans, misguidedly expecting them to vote for her (whom they’ve hated for decades) rather than their own candidate. That miscalculation narrowed her majority enough to make her vulnerable to a fluke of Electoral College math.

Even so, since the election anti-Trump progressives have become more and more bellicose, with a growing homophobic and anti-communist edge. Where is that coming from? Aren’t liberals supposed to oppose war and support gay rights?

What changed?

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Protest art: the Wall Street bull covered in rainbow dildos, straddled by “Putin.” Source

Liberalism is in crisis.

It started under Obama. Despite opening his administration with broad popularity and the only congressional super-majority in recent memory, Obama’s tenure saw the emergence of mass movements to the Democratic Party’s left, most prominently Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter. Combined with the lingering echo of the 2008 financial meltdown, that laid the conditions for a Democratic crisis of legitimacy. In 2016, it crystallized through Bernie Sanders challenging Clinton and Trump winning the presidency. The unthinkable had happened. Progressives couldn’t deliver what they promised. So, their credibility vanished.

How did they respond? There’s a logic to the accusations of treason, the saber-rattling, and the conspiracy theories. If you’ve lost your legitimacy, how better to get it back than to set yourself up as the defender of the homeland against a looming foreign menace?

That’s why liberals are also going after the Left. Supposedly, Russian hackers are behind not only right-wing fake news, but also oil pipeline protests and the Jill Stein campaign. Democrats are throwing accusations of disloyalty and collusion at all of their opponents, left as well as right.

So, it’s no surprise to see the kind of outright homophobia that they mostly avoided under Obama. Homophobia is a powerful weapon in the nationalist arsenal. Insinuations of “deviant” sexuality bring a visceral punch to the image of sinister, un-American outsiders, strengthening nationalists’ appeal. Joe McCarthy persecuted gays as well as Communists in the 50s, and Democrats are exploiting those same attitudes today. Will they officially recant their pro-gay rights platform? They don’t need to. They’re feeding an embryonic anti-LGBT backlash in spite of it.

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Liberals are fighting a war on two fronts.

On one side, they’re trying to beat down and discredit the Left. On the other, they’re competing against the Right on its own nationalistic turf.

Working in coalition with liberals is common sense for most leftists. But, the Democrats’ hard-nationalist turn means they’re starting to view radicals as enemies on par with Trump supporters. Government socialists and other activist leftists will doubtless keep trying to form progressive coalitions anyway. They’re donating volunteer hours to the political forces that will destroy them.

Progressives tolerate radicals when they can afford to. Right now, their crisis means they can’t. Working with Democrats, within their subculture, is no longer viable. So, without an infrastructure of independent revolutionary institutions, how will the Left survive? Revolutionaries can drop conventional activism and embrace the institution-building dual power strategy, or they can find themselves helpless as the liberal allies they depend on turn against them. The crisis of liberalism won’t be ending soon. Unless revolutionaries adapt, how can they withstand it?


Sophia Burns

is a Communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


Support our work here.

The Purpose of a Movement Is What It Does

Sophia Burns argues that opportunism comes not from bad ideas, but from practical and contextual needs.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Three weeks ago, DSA member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a primary against a high-ranking Democratic congressman, earning her widespread popularity among leftists around the country.

Last week, many of those same leftists were horrified to see her walk back her previous criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. During an interview, a PBS journalist brought up the killing of dozens of protesters by Israeli soldiers in May, which Ocasio-Cortez had called “a massacre” with “no justification.” When the interviewer claimed thatof course the dynamic there in terms of geopolitics and the Middle East is very different from people expressing their First Amendment right to protest,” Ocasio-Cortez answered, “Well, yes,” and promised to “learn and evolve” on the issue.

Why did Ocasio-Cortez’s unequivocal stance soften, bringing it in line with the standard Democratic position? After all, her district is so overwhelmingly Democratic that whoever wins the primary, wins the office – she has no need to moderate for the general election. So, why the shift in her position?

Where do opportunistic ideas come from?


According to the cybernetician, the purpose of a system is what it does. This is a basic dictum. It stands for bald fact, which makes a better starting point in seeking understanding than the familiar attributions of good intention, prejudices about expectations, moral judgment, or sheer ignorance of circumstances.

Stafford Beer

Bernie Sanders made his name winning against a series of Democrats in Burlington, VT in the 80s. So why did he become a Democrat in all but name, supported by the Vermont Democratic Party and supporting it in return, starting in 1990?

SYRIZA, the Greek socialist party, came to power in 2015 on an anti-austerity platform. Why did it go on to implement those same austerity policies once in office?

The purpose of a system is what it does. A political organization is a complex system. To understand it, you can’t take its stated goals at face value. Its choices don’t simply follow from its ideas.

Instead, its internal dynamics interact with the demands of its external circumstances to create its strategic attitude – the general stance it takes towards other political actors, the framework within which it makes decisions. That doesn’t exist at the level of conscious ideology. Instead, it forms the taken-for-granted assumptions about what doing politics entails. Whatever ideology it follows in words matters less than the guiding assumptions embodied in a strategic attitude. By and large, a party’s official philosophy is just the particular language it uses to justify its choices post hoc – ideas are not the basis on which organizations make decisions. The internal and external pressures and feedback loops that do form that basis all operate regardless of its claimed ideology. Blue Dog Democrats and Green Party members might wave different protest signs, but politics means voting and going to rallies for them both.

So, why did Sanders become a Democrat?

His “movement” was centered around his career as an individual politician. During the 80s, being an independent allowed him to defeat city-level Democratic competitors. But then, when he ran first for governor and then for Congress in ’86 and ’88, the experience of losing taught him that he needed the Party’s support to advance beyond local office. So, he formed a “special working relationship” with the Vermont Democrats because he needed to. However, he never recanted his third-partyist ideas. Rather, he used them to justify his choices by continuing to nominally self-identify as an independent.

SYRIZA, on the other hand, arose in the midst of a years-long recession, during which the European Union forced Greece to implement harsh cuts to social services in exchange for needed cash bailouts. But, that provoked a massive protest response – young Greeks, with heavy anarchist and Marxist participation, took to the public squares of Athens, camping out and fighting the police. SYRIZA successfully channeled their anger into electoral politics, but that tied them to the viability of the Greek state and its institutions. After all, what other mechanism did they have for exercising social power? SYRIZA didn’t have the option of sacrificing the Greek state’s well-being, even at the cost of its core principles.

When a pro-Palestine democratic socialist finds herself bound for Congress, she must accommodate herself to the program of the Democratic Party. Otherwise, without the Party’s support, where would she find the allies she’ll need to effectively push for her list of reforms? So, unable to deliver on her voters’ priorities, she’d risk being punished by them, just like her predecessor.

Opportunistic ideas come from practice.


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Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of SYRIZA. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Where does that leave revolutionaries?

Understanding why you shouldn’t be an opportunist isn’t enough. Bernie Sanders understands the bankruptcy of the two-party system – he’s built an entire personal brand around opposing it. That hasn’t kept him from taking part. Politics is made of something deeper than beliefs.

When opportunism is a viable option in terms of an organization’s internal dynamics and a useful option in terms of its external situation, then revolutionary ideas won’t fend it off. Opportunism is born from practice. Ideas play catch-up.

So, you can’t fight it just with ideas. If you don’t practice the alternative before you argue for it, then winning the debate just means you get to choose how opportunism will be justified. To win, a revolutionary orientation has to show itself, on the ground, to be at least as useful as an opportunistic one.

Ideology matters, but it lives in what you do, not in the words you say. So, you can’t win opportunists over by educating them. You have to develop a revolutionary practice. You have to show that building institutions outside of the state and against it offers a more effective road to social power than protests and elections.

Otherwise, the opportunists will have proven you wrong, instead.


Sophia Burns

is a Communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism


Support our work here.

 

Revolution Is Not a Metaphor: A Response to Critics

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A barricade in the Paris Commune. March 18, 1871. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Leftists love youth organizing.

Why shouldn’t they? Contemporary activism descends directly from the youth and student movements of the 60s, so anything that recalls the glory days inspires activists. It gives them a sense that the US’s long rightward drift might be reversed.

No wonder so many of them cheered for March’s pro-gun-control “March for Our Lives” rallies. In the wake of a school shooting, what could be more uplifting than high schoolers coming together, launching a protest movement, and responding to their experience of violence with political organization? How could any leftist not support that?

But the “movement” was stage-managed by the Democratic Party. The protests were choreographed media spectacles focused on boosting Democratic voter turnout in the midterms. Further, the students’ demands were outright reactionary, calling for more police in high schools, the expansion of mass incarceration, and the loss of medical privacy rights for people with mental health diagnoses.

Political substance matters. The form taken by the March for Our Lives (“youth organizing”) drew leftist support, but the actual content was antithetical to everything the Left claims to value.

 


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Émile Friant, “Political Discussion.” Source: Wikimedia Commons

This week, two people have published critiques of my work, using it as a stand-in for the political tendency I’m part of: revolutionary base-building, exemplified by the Marxist Center network, Cooperation Jackson, and parts of DSA Refoundation. Revolutionary base-building means rejecting “activist networking” in favor of organizing the unorganized outside of elections. It involves independent workplace organizations, tenant unions, community self-defense, and mutual aid.

Antonio Balmer argues that base-building is just empty populism. He compares it to the Narodnik movement of 19th-century Russia, which saw middle-class anti-monarchists “go to the people” by moving to peasant villages and occasionally assassinating aristocrats. Balmer contrasts them with the Bolsheviks, who built an organized political party capable of leading a revolution, and suggests that base-builders pay too little attention to Marxist theory and revolutionary leadership.

Shamus Cooke takes a different angle. He quotes Lenin’s pamphlet Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder to claim that I reject class struggle in favor of a depoliticized mutualism. (Mutualism is a flavor of anarchism that calls for worker-owned co-ops to peacefully replace capitalism by out-competing traditional firms in the marketplace.) According to Cooke:

Burns’ gradualist approach ignores the fact that revolutionary situations are often brief, requiring a battle for power at all levels of society. Nearly all revolutions begin as massive, mostly-spontaneous mobilizations, so it would behoove a revolutionary to understand the abc’s of organizing mobilizations. Mass mobilization, however, barely registers as an activity that Burns believes a revolutionary should engage in.

The term class war implies there is an open struggle between the classes. Burns wants us to only engage in guerrilla tactics that don’t attract the attention of the establishment. But if ever such tactics actually succeed in challenging power, the ruling class would aggressively respond, since their economic and political power would actually be threatened, at which point Burns’ approach would be rendered useless, requiring a completely different strategy.

The “completely different strategy” he advocates involves combining base-building methods, electoral work, and conventional activism to shift “the balance of forces” against “the establishment.” What does that look like concretely? Cooke repeatedly cites the city-level electoral and lobbying efforts of his own organization, Portland Tenants United.

Balmer and Cooke agree: revolutionary base-builders are anti-theory, anti-political, don’t believe in party-building, don’t believe in class confrontation, and don’t have a vision for socialism or revolution. Base-building means mutual aid, and mutual aid is another word for depoliticized charity work. Base-builders say they want socialism, but don’t have the stomach to fight for it.

Now, if you reduce revolutionary base-building to mutual aid, you’re misrepresenting it. Workplace and tenant organizing (along with community self-defense) account for much more of what base-builders actually do than mutual aid. But, it’s true that “base-building” is itself not a political strategy; it’s a set of techniques.

So, what defines revolutionary base-building? Is it just methods? Are Balmer and Cooke right – do base-builders really expect to win socialism without a strategy, without the bother of class struggle?

 


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Tools. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Means and Ends

Anyone can base-build.

How does any organization develop a base of support? It organizes previously-unorganized people. It campaigns against their enemies while offering mutual-aid, cultural, and social activities. It puts its own work above networking with the already-converted. Churches, businesses, political parties, and fan clubs all use some variant of the formula. Base-building methods, in that sense, are just how you build an effective organization.

Since revolutionary base-builders use those techniques and most of the activist Left doesn’t, they provide the tendency’s form. They don’t provide its content. Base-building is a tool, nothing more. A hammer can help you make a table; it can also smash a flowerpot. “Youth organizing” can mean the March for Our Lives. It can also mean the Black Panther Party. Without the methodology of base-building, you can’t organize a constituency capable of exercising social power. But who are you organizing? What is that social power for?

We are revolutionaries. That’s literal.

We seek “the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” That includes the private ownership of economically productive property; the division of labor and benefits according to white supremacy, patriarchy, and empire; and the existence of the capitalist government.

That won’t happen by winning elections or voting for socialism. It won’t happen through one-cooperative-at-a-time mutualism, either. Rather, it means building up revolutionary capacity by cultivating a mass base within the working class. When the conditions are right, it will mean launching a revolutionary uprising to establish a monopoly on the legitimate use of force by participatory-democratic organs of the working class. It will mean restructuring the economy according to a democratic, ecological, and scientific plan based on production for human use, not private profit.

Our ideas don’t make us revolutionary. Ideology runs deeper than the things you think. What’s the long-term trajectory implied by what you’re actually doing? That’s your ideology. We build institutions of class confrontation and mutual aid outside of the state, against the state, and in order displace the state. That trajectory makes us revolutionary – what we are, not what we say. Electioneering, lobbying, and waving signs may well involve revolutionary slogans, taking the form of radical politics. But, they lack the content. What happens when activist leftists have a mass movement? They tie it institutionally to the state, cutting off its ability to exercise social power directly, on its own terms. That road doesn’t lead to collective power – just brokerage within the existing order.

We don’t base-build for the sake of base-building. Our practice flows from and, in turn, shapes our revolutionary agenda. We are not cultivating an electorate for “movement” politicians. Revolutionary base-building is a process of preparation for collective self-government, for the seizure of power by the working class. Sure, delivering here-and-now gains does matter, but it’s never the point. Socialism means more than “a chicken in every pot.”

 


 

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A line in the sand. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Drawing Lines

Government socialism can’t end capitalism. Structurally speaking, the capitalist state can’t be separated from its function; it serves the ruling class, bottom to top. Expanding it doesn’t advance socialism. At best, it just rearranges exploitation (while institutionally tying the Left to the survival and success of the state). The impulse to deliver real gains, even if they’re small, make sense, but government socialists squeeze the revolutionary essence, the political content, out of socialism.

Protest militancy isn’t up to the task either. Small-group heroics don’t make history. Organized power does. Confrontational protests feel “more revolutionary” to their participants because they’re more disruptive. But do they lead to oppressed people becoming organized in a durable way? Do they increase their long-term capacity to exercise collective power?

Government socialists want tangible benefits and ignore or defer revolutionary ideas. Protest militants treat their ideas as a substitute for mass organization. Revolutionary base-builders, though, synthesize organizing for tangible gains with the long-game commitment to literal revolution. That synthesis doesn’t mean talking like protest militants and behaving like government socialists, though. Rather, it’s built into the process of organizing the unorganized to change their own conditions and confront their enemies themselves, rather than mediating it through the nonprofits or the state. (Indeed, the Marxist Center network takes its name from the course between those two possible distortions.)

Base-building methods aren’t conventional activism. That matters, if only because “base-building” is another word for “organizational techniques that actually work” – but revolutionary base-builders are after more than just a social base. No matter what Bernie Sanders says, political revolution means replacing the government, not reforming it.

The point is to create organizational structures through which power can be transferred from the few to the many, from the ownership class to the dispossessed. That transfer doesn’t happen piecemeal. It isn’t a gradual process where reforms (or mutualist co-ops!) stack on top of each other until one morning, you wake up to find that capitalism is gone. The capitalist state can’t not uphold the rule of the capitalist class. Base-building just to create another electoral or activist constituency, without that revolutionary goal and opposition to the state, has nothing to do with socialism. It doesn’t weaken capitalism. It just creates another avenue for capitalist politics, even if you call it “socialism,” even if it takes the form of base-building.

And for revolutionary base-builders, that will never be enough.

 


Sophia Burns is a polytheist and communist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism