A Reply to Steven D’arcy and The Public Autonomy Project on Left Marginality

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An article by Steven D’arcy for The Public Autonomy Project speaks a lot of truth regarding the dismal state of the Left in the West right now. In terms of social mobilization (especially in Canada) we’ve had a recent upsurge in the last few years despite the fact those upsurges were short lived. At this moment they “are lower now than at any time since written records have been kept.” I whole heartedly agree with this statement. The ongoing hostilities over Native oppression and the issue of the oil industry manage to retain some sense of radicalism even though it is nowhere near as mainstream as it should be. Most radical leftists are isolated to a few obscure pockets with no relevance in society whatsoever. A good example would be the RCP-Canada, who despite their “cowardly lion”[1] roaring about People’s War, don’t exist outside their University of Ottawa social club, nor do they do People’s War. The mainstream media and culture does not hear us, the radical left in anyway.

He notes quite correctly that, “the radical Left is trapped in a position of intractable marginality, lacking any plausible path to “mainstream” relevance, i.e., any capacity to secure a meaningful role in shaping the ideas of large numbers of people or wielding any substantive influence.” This is very true. In Canada particular the Left is inundated with copious amounts of liberalism, anit-radical sentiments that create a kind of self-sedating mentality or culture. In short, we as Canadians, as Westerners, are not radical in any significant way. The reason why is expressed well by D’arcy even if he fails to understand the fullness of his own words.

In this sense, there has been a deep and broad collapse of what Marx called popular “self-activity” (“Selbsttätigkeit”) — a terrifying lack of self-organized struggles of broad masses of people for social and environmental justice. We lack, therefore, the expansive pool of social antagonisms and conflicts upon which the Left could in former decades rely for infusions of enthusiasm, critical insights about the nature of the systems we oppose and how to defeat them, and what Rosa Luxemburg called “the forward-storming combative energy” of broad popular movements.

D’arcy theorizes why we’re in this situation. Essentially he’s saying we don’t suffer from the overwhelming social antagonisms that we once suffered from. This statement is true; we’ve replaced real social problems with complaints about reactionary statements made by celebrities. We’ve forgotten about systemic racism, sexism and homophobia. Instead we focus on one clown of the ruling class, the ‘Rob Ford’ character who is merely a manifestation of, not the source of these oppressions. Even the radical Left has taken to attacking Ford, a representative, a human face of the Canadian capitalist class itself. This is anti-radical in itself; it is “’Left’ in form but Right in essence” as Mao Tse-tung would say during the Bombard the Headquarters campaign. It appears to be Left because it attacks real reactionary social phenomenon, but it is Right because it shifts focus away from the actual source of the reactionary social phenomenon. It is, in a way, self-sabotage brought about by a lack of radicalization that leads to no longer putting “politics in command”. The material conditions we face in Canada, in general (with exceptions) are not a radical environment, because we are not facing radical antagonisms.

The actual radical action (as opposed to school club bluster) comes from the First Nation’s people who face a very real mortal threat to their way of life, and physical lives themselves. The ongoing capitalist drive of producing oil is eventually going to kill the Native’s lands and end their lives through all manner of industrial poisons. They take the radical action to the enemy and risk their freedom and sometimes lives to try and change things. Do they have the best tactics? No. But they have an actual radicalized spirit for liberation from oppression, because they actually suffer oppression.

First World people do not live in antagonisms that threaten to produce a qualitative change out of the current quantitative events. The current “turnover rate” of quantitative events is exceedingly minimal. He says that we the radical left do not recognise the opportunities that arise for us; right now we are looking for new viability. In a moment of clarity he sees that:

So our eyes have to be fixed on any signs of broad-based popular mobilization, especially when it reaches beyond the ranks of radical “scenes” and “subcultures,” whether these be anarchists punks, marxist grad students, or loose networks of ‘social justice’ advocates on twitter or tumblr. That, however, is the scary part of all this. This idea that the Left has to wait for something (1) that doesn’t now exist, (2) that the Left can’t create by its own efforts, and (3) that seems only likely to emerge from struggles of a sort that happen less and less often, and seemingly on an ever smaller scale. It’s terrifying, of course. But it’s the only reality we have, and we have to begin by acknowledging it.

Once having said this he states that the “actually existing radical-activist Left” responds to this situation by digging in its heels proclaiming that they have all the answers. In other words they resort to dogmatism. They repeat already known slogans and analyses and tactics that have already proven not to work in better times, yet they expect it to in bad times such as these. They think they would work “if only people would listen.”:

D’arcy instead of truly understanding he resorts to revolutionary optimism. He says, “When large-scale, sustained, and broad-based popular mobilization returns — as surely it must… [the] Left will be swept away and replaced in the same way that those of the 1950s Left were swept away and replaced in the 1960s.” He believes that the correct time will simply reappear and fix us so that we’ll be properly radical once again. This idea is false, he has already stated the correct one:

“The struggles on which alone the Left can base its regeneration will not come from the radical Left itself. But the Left itself has to cultivate a capacity to recognize them when they do appear.”

The reason he/we do not recognize it is because it does not occur in our own backyard. Our current radical leftist analysis prevents us from seeing the reality of the world around us. The conditions for radical Leftist action are elsewhere. They are not here in Canada, the United States or the United Kingdom. They exist in the Third World. The current leftist analysis is to look around our own society and look for those antagonisms that perpetuate the conditions for revolution. Via his own words he has already admitted they are not here. “We lack, therefore, the expansive pool of social antagonisms and conflicts upon which the Left could in former decades rely for infusions of enthusiasm, critical insights about the nature of the systems we oppose and how to defeat them…”

People in the First World (with few minor exceptions) do not suffer from the global capitalist order. They in fact benefit from it. We are bought off by the luxurious First World life with the value stolen by imperialism from the Third World. We afford countless frivolous consumer commodities due to that super-exploitation; we have wages inflated far above our actual contribution to the creation of value. We are net appropriators of value which place us in a superior (and antagonistic) class position above the Third World. Our lack of sufficient social contradictions is the product of our environment, our class position. We are afforded all the luxuries to distract us and allow us not to care about those who really do suffer. (Information regarding the transfer of value from Third to First World is available, it’s not necessary to repeat here.)

Think about our First World mentality: Why is that First World people only protest and complain about imperialist endeavours while the Third World physically fights it? Because they have to, they are being killed we are not. Marx said “the workers have nothing to lose but their chains.” Those being bombed by imperialism, those slaughtered at the hands of the US backed Free Syrian Army don’t have anything to lose. We in the First World have everything to lose, all of our privilege, all of our plunder, all of our comfort. That is why we are not radical, that is why we do not fight. The Third World has to strike back at us; our inaction does them no good. If we fail to stop our own countries the Third World will have to defend itself. That desperation will be grasped by many groups, not necessarily good ones. 9/11 and ISIS are prime examples of that. Radical Islam has taken the place of the radical Leftism that existed in these places before imperialism wiped them out.

D’arcy is right, “the Left itself has to cultivate a capacity to recognize them when they do appear.” They have appeared right before our eyes, just not physically in front of them. The inability to see the source of the lack of social antagonisms, the source of First World privilege and its corresponding global imperialist structure, blinds us from seeing that first world people are no longer the proletariat. First World people are no longer proletariat because first world people are not marginalized. The primary contradiction is acknowledged by Lenin and Mao as imperialism, a contradiction that we benefit from. Both Engels and Lenin saw the First World’s privilege.[2][3][4] The oppressed masses of the third world are the proletariat now; they are the globally oppressed class. We have so much more to lose than our chains.

All power to the Third World, all effort to Third World struggles. Long live Marxism-Leninism-Maoism-Third Worldism

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The Intractable Marginality of the Activist Left, The Public Autonomy Project

[1] Revisionism of the Cowardly Lion in the First World, Leading Light Communist Organization

[2] “The English proletariat is becoming more and more bourgeois, so that this most bourgeois of all nations is apparently aiming ultimately at the possession of a bourgeois aristocracy, and a bourgeois proletariat as well as a bourgeoisie. For a nation which exploits the whole world, this is, of course, to a certain extent justifiable.”
V. I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1973), p. 128-9.

[3] “The export of capital, one of the most essential economic bases of imperialism, still more completely isolates the rentiers from production and sets the seal of parasitism on the whole country that lives by exploiting the labour of several overseas countries and colonies.”
V. I. Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (Peking: Foreign Language Press, 1973), p. 120.

[4] “The petty-bourgeois democrats in the capitalist countries, whose foremost sections are represented by the second and Two-and-a-Half Internationals, serve today as the mainstay of capitalism, since they retain an influence over the majority, or a considerable section, of the industrial and commercial workers and office employees who are afraid that if revolution breaks out they will lose the relative petty-bourgeois prosperity created by the privileges of imperialism.”
V. I. Lenin, “Third Congress of the Communist International, June 22-July 12, 1921,” Vol. 32, Collected Works (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1965), p. 454.