What's wrong with this picture?
It's certainly precisely the kind of thing that would make poor old George Orwell cough up another lung. Remember, Nineteen Eighty-Four was a satire on the wartime BBC as well as Stalinist Russia/Nazi Germany. Orwell knew perfectly well what Chomsky put into academic language decades later - that democracies use propaganda where dictatorships use brute force. Or as Gramsci, decades earlier, understood more clearly, the difference in the two is just a matter of proportion.
Anyway, for those of you who don't get the point, the eminently punchable Senator from Texas, Rafael "Ted" Cruz, was born in the Province of Alberta, which - I'm sorry to inform some of the Wildrose Party - is not in the United States. As he makes no secret of, to his credit. Perhaps a couple of that 40% figure above are sincerely ignorant. But I wager that most of them know perfectly well otherwise, but say different because he is one of their tribe and being "born in the US" is a good thing. Same for the tiny coterie of Obama "birthers", to the left.
Slavoj Zizek, before he became a professional contrarian/troll, understood that "ideology" (which Terry Eagleton described as "imaginary solutions to real problems") could also be called "what you believe even though you know that it's false". "Believe" here means "act as if it's true". Or, in Newspeak, doublethink. Liberals react to factoids like the above by saying "lol, those lumpenpleb teabaggers are STOOPID". No, they're just doublethinkful. Which is what everyone is in civilisation-as-we-know-it; Lacan would say it's the price of entering into language. You - yes you, gentle reader - have your own blind spot, something that you do or believe even though you know that it's wrong or contradicts your values, and if you even know you have a blind spot you're in a tiny minority. So don't be so quick to mock someone else's, as I think Jesus said once.
So this is why, just like you don't win friends with salad, you don't win arguments by appeals to the truth of the Marxist analysis. It's so much easier to go for the easier option. Trotsky bitingly points out in The Revolution Betrayed that the British chattering classes hated the Russian Revolution until it became a dictatorship under Stalin. A big boss man creating a new order by force of his mighty will? That was understandable, not this crap about every cook learning to govern. Some of us hoped that when the Eastern Bloc collapsed, so would this perversion of Marxism - actually authoritarian developmentalism/nationalism which killed Marxism in the gulags and the Ukrainian famine, then wore its victim's face in ghastly mockery. But it goes on. Those other imperialists are always preferable to our own. And sadly Trotsky fell into this campist logic himself by never being able to admit that the Revolution had not only been betrayed but had come to an end.
We've discussed the appeal of ganzer macher (Yiddish: "big man") politics previously - and pointed out that Trotskyist and post-Trotskyist politics (because of their incomplete critique of the Stalin counter-revolution) tended to fall right back into this trap. Yes, even the Third Campist ones (look at the careers of such British political entrepreneurs as Tony Cliff or Sean Matgamna). But that's only one possible short-cut. Appeals to emotion or nationalism? Coddling bigotries or conspiracy theories? Anything to get the masses in motion. Once they're in motion, a cunning manipulator finds it easier to hoosh them in the direction (s)he considered appropriate. And that is what certain dime-store Machiavellis out there think revolutionary politics really is.
It is ironic that Marxism - which, as the old song says, is supposed to be "reason in revolt" - has been turned by some into its opposite: cynical realpolitik and its younger sibling, just plain being a manipulative bastard. It's not enough to say the masses make history - the masses make history for themselves. They're not your personal army. It's interesting that this hollowing out of rationality in favour of gang warfare also happens among the followers of Ayn Rand (who love emotional abuse and anathema towards their opponents) and the New Atheists.
But you don't even need a manipulator. Groupthink will do the job, especially among those who really need the group. Paul Zimbardo showed us that. And James Cannon - whom I hold responsible for bringing Stalinist methods into American Trotskyism - correctly said that small groups of people can talk themselves into the wildest ideas. Was it him who decided that "democratic
centralism" meant that the Centre not only got to instruct the locals
how to act, but how to think, and how to talk? No better way to
brainwash yourself into something you don't believe than being forced to
pretend that you do believe it, as Althusser rightly put it.
The Marxist phrase is "being determines consciousness" - Chaos Marxism might refine that to "activity and patterns of identity determine consciousness". You think what you do, and you are what you repeatedly do. And - among the kinds of social flotsam who find themselves attracted to revolutionary politics in non-revolutionary times - the desperate, burning need to find somewhere to belong ends up an open door to allow an unreflective group or an unscrupulous group leader to install Groupthinking-Zombification software in their brain.
Reflexivity and positionality are of course the answer. An activist or group which strives to compensate for its own blind spots (get better wing mirrors?) and be aware of its/their actual position in the capitalist socio-economy can begin by enacting Marxist praxis for themselves, and holding conversations with other groups of the broad masses. Walking into someone else's struggle with the idea that you can give them "the leadership they need" and "teach them how to win" is, once again, a hollowing out of the critical and dialectical core of Marxism, turning it into nothing but power politics aimed at a different constituency. Screw that.
Anyway, the point is: political arguments usually have zero to do with philosophy or practical action, and boil down to ape-against-ape territorial posturing. Which is why the wrong people almost always win them. Only praxis can win the day for communism.
10 September 2015
14 August 2015
Surely the same should be the case for Marxists? Uncle Karl discusses "the ruthless criticism of all that exists", after all. The whole basis of the Marxist method is the material positionality of all the makers of theory. There is no "God's eye view" or Platonic realm of ideal forms. All ideas come from the material position of those who have the ideas, who discuss them and who propagate them. So a Marxist scholar-activist should be reflexive in practice as a matter of course. And a Marxist organisation, in turn, should encourage different points of view within itself, to welcome debate on its very existence and ways of organising.
... but they don't, do they? Because questioning organisational routines is the first step towards dissolving the organisation. Because habitual adherence to authority and routine is an "opiate" or "painkiller", which provides a feeling of security, which holds back the unpleasant feeling of actually having to deal with the howling menace of neoliberal globalised capitalist commodity culture and the total failure of the actually existing far left to do anything about it. Some organisations actually forbid self-reflexive discussion of the organisation - either because it's "navel gazing" irrelevant to "the workers", or out of honestly admitting that if we stopped to think about what we were doing, we wouldn't be doing anything. Which should make anyone who was honest think: then is it worth doing at all? Is mindless activity better than honest befuddlement?
Incidentally, check out the rhetorical move about "the workers" above. The sheer fact of the matter is that the actually existing Anglophone far left tends to be composed of white people with high levels of formal education and thus often a mildly privileged class position. But the essential dishonesty lies in refusing the very basic form of reflexivity involved in accepting this, and instead either claiming to speak for an imaginary "Worker-with-a-capital-W" subject who is in manual labour and has a very low level of cultural capital, or indulging in a guilt trip of not being a Worker-with-a-capital-W, or attempting to somehow become one by adopting a fetishised version of the culture of that layer of the class. This kind of "cultural guilt" is just as cringeworthy and destructive of a real politics of solidarity as "white guilt".
An honest position for cultural-capital-heavy Marxists would be based on being in solidarity with other sections of the working class while not denying one's own positionality. The romantic fiction indulged in by some groups that they are "declassed intellectuals" is precisely a refusal of the self-awareness of their real class position which would be step 1 of a real Marxist praxis.
Incidentally, when seen properly, the insistence on spiritual traditions of having a "master" or "guru" is an expression of reflexivity, in the sense that when you're just starting out, you have NO WAY to actually "look at yourself". Eventually, you can find the "master inside yourself", but only after internalising that very external viewpoint on which you have originally required. You can call it God, if you like.
22 July 2015
The late, interesting-if-not-great Palestinian-Jewish-British socialist Tony Cliff said that the essential contradiction of Marxism lies between "the emancipation of the working class is the act of the working class" and "the ideas of the ruling class are the ideas of society". Can I add another very vital contradiction, for those of us who understand Foucault, Lacan, Crowley and Robert Anton Wilson on the link between language, reality and power:
Thesis: "Every identity within capitalism is constructed by capitalism, and there is no outside to capitalism."
Antithesis: "Capitalism is an internally contradictory unity prone to ever-worsening crises which can only be delayed, not avoided."
If only the first were true, there is no point to anything and we might as well have a good time until the oceans rise. If the second is true, there is no need to do anything and we only need to wait until the thing falls over. But since BOTH are true, we need to find a way to operate IN capitalism while realising that the identities it gives us are social relations and are NOT REAL, and finding ways to sharpen the contradictions in such a way that the next world-system is socialism rather than barbarism. Actually, that might be another contradiction:
Thesis: "Capitalism alienates human labour and requires us to play identity-games of oppression, exploitation and psychic injury."
Antithesis: "There is no outside to capitalism except death and insanity."
27 June 2015
26 May 2015
The Chaos Marxist jury is still out on whether Jacques Lacan was the most original and useful psychoanalyst since Wilhelm Reich, or whether he was simply a bullshit artist who wrapped Freud's insights up in impenetrably flighty jargon to sell himself as a new guru/master; in other words, the French L. Ron Hubbard. But we are finding his central concept of The Name of the Father (which, in French, can also mean "the Name given by the Father", as well as a pun on "the NO! of the Father") very productive.
To put it in the rather quaint and patriarchal language of the Freudian Oedipal complex, the Father draws boundaries for the Son by saying NO! you've had enough snuggle-time with Mummy, it's my turn now. But when you grow up, if you're a good boy, you can have a woman of your own. In exchange for the sacrifice of undifferentiated infant bliss, the Son gets a Name of his own and a place in the Symbolic Order - aka a role to play in the Real World of Horrible Jobs - plus the promise of a replacement Mother (Wife) sometime later. Of course, where the hell does this leave women, the queer or the genderqueer; but perhaps Virginia Woolf gave us the answer to that one, in saying that since beforra dawna time women have been looking for A Room of One's Own in the symbolic order, alongside those carved out for their brothers.
Lacan argued that the Name of the Father is not only the Law of Society, but the master signifier in the Son's system of meaning, in the way he makes sense of the world and his place in it; and also (and this I think is quite debatable) that the failure to provide the NO! of the Father leads to very vague and provisional ego boundaries prone to collapse into psychosis later on.
But the Name of the Father is also, to put it in the terms of Neil Gaiman's Delirium of the Endless, "something you know that I don't that makes everything you do okay". It is privilege; it is an excuse for harmful behaviour towards self/others/nature, at the base of that claimed by all religions or cultish ideologies. It is a demand for sacrifice and obedience in return for deferred pleasure; or, alternatively, the obscene pleasure of enforcing the Law on the nonbelievers. It is the 72 virgins or the tree covered with a million leaves each showing a porn film which is the reward for the faithful martyrs in Paradise. It is the seed-faith donation of $5,000 to the IAS or your local megachurch pastor which will turn into untold riches maybe in this world, maybe the next. It is the coming classless utopia in the name of which we can lie, cheat and steal in the here and now. It is the line between us Real People / revolutionary cadre and the brute beasts / homo sacer over there who don't belong to our Symbolic Order and thus can be ruthlessly exploited, or exterminated, and our Big Nobodaddy doesn't care either way.
Lacan is reputed to have told the 68ers "you are hysterics looking for a new Master, and you will get one". And that certainly happened; the libertarian movements of that era, born from the generation in the West who had decided that their Fathers who fought the Second World War didn't know what they were talking about and deserved no more obedience, after a few years substituted new Names at the head of their symbolic orders, for whom they were expected to sacrifice and die. Trotsky, Mao, L. Ron Hubbard, Jesus Christ (an oldie but a goodie there), Jim Jones, Aleister Crowley, Ayn Rand (women can be The Father if they act like one), Hare Krishna Hare Hare... But the most powerful new Master Signifier, and the one which overwhelmingly dominates the world today, was - as befits reification in late capitalism - not the name of a man or a woman, but of a social institution or abstraction: The Market.
The Thatcher/Reagan revolution was twofold. One part was a neoliberal "negation of the negation" of 1960s radicalism, which encouraged ex-hippies to become yuppies and fulfil their dreams of A Room Of Their Own within the globalising market system. There was plenty of money sloshing around, now that profits had been restored at the expense of the workers; why not cash in? That succeeded triumphantly. The other part was a neoconservative rollback of 1960s radicalism, aimed at restoring Western imperialism (aka the Defence of the Free World) and Traditional Family Values as the Name of the Father in the global symbolic order. This was only half successful.
The Market as the new Name of the Father, unlike the more traditional ones, demanded no personal sacrifice in return for A Room Of One's Own; except in the sense of having to pay the mortgage on it, if you follow the metaphor. You need not accept any personal/sexual discipline, only market discipline. Hedonism was good for the economy now; savings were less important in the era of easy credit; you could have as much sex and drugs and rock'n'roll as you wanted if you were a successful yuppie (the Drug War was only on the poor/black homo sacer). The yuppies decided that "you could be a socialist and still have staff", that a Cadillac was just as good as a VW Combi van for putting Deadhead stickers on and smoking weed inside of. You could follow any bogus guru who would condone your mega-egotistical lifestyle and yet tell you that you were better than anyone else. And you would vote Republican/Conservative because Daddy Ron or Mummy Maggie (the Market in human form) would guarantee your freedom, at the expense of the Others standing in the dole queues, lying in the gutters or in pools of their own blood in foreign parts.
Eventually, of course, the yuppies grew up somewhat, left Mummy and Daddy behind and chose their cool big brothers Bill and Tony (a sax player and a former lead singer, yet!) to lead them instead, who relaxed authoritarianism on the moneyed middle classes while intensifying it on the poor, the neo-colonised and other Others (you know what I mean). Biological racism was increasingly replaced by a cultural racism directed against the working poor, welfare beneficiaries, prisoners, and unruly racial/religious Others threatening Western interests in foreign parts. Cheerleading imperialism and scapegoating refugees meant no personal sacrifice for the middle classes, even more so when fought by armies based on an economic draft among the poor rather than a social-wide draft. Financialisation means that wars can be fought on credit, and resulting inflation of the military budget can always be blamed on whoever you'd decided to blame social problems on anyway.
However - with the exception of a brief explosion of moralism during the early AIDS crisis - "traditional family values" (aka the patriarchal nuclear family and the sexual codes thereof) have been fighting a losing battle. Partly this would be due to the newly liberated yuppies not seeing the need to make their kids go through the metaphorical castration they themselves struggled against. This wasn't necessarily great for the kids, as New Model Army sang in "A Liberal Education":
Be yourselves, please yourselves,But it may well have made the future possible.
Express yourselves so more!
It's your right to do what you like
Because we can't really be bothered with you at all.
Partly, also, this would be due to the same socio-cultural processes which led to the original crumbling of the peasant nuclear family during the Industrial Revolution and a kind of abortive original women's/children's liberation - i.e. the need for all family members to work to survive in the crisis-ridden globalised neoliberal economy. Partly, it was because of the Pink Dollar - gays and lesbian yuppies were just as important as consumers and skilled workers as straight ones (hence the eventual triumph of same-sex marriage worldwide).
So, while neoliberalism rolled back the social gains of the working class which had built up during the era when "we were all Keynesians", and led to a rebirth of imperialism (especially in its sickening social-liberal "humanitarian" form), it preserved and actually promoted a market-libertarian form of feminism, gay rights and multiculturalism, not attempting to prevent changes in family structure and child-rearing which would have been seen as breathtakingly radical even in the 1960s. The "Millennials", as the generation brought up in neoliberalism, might be spoiled and egotistical/ individualistic, but they don't see any reason why women shouldn't work/have reproductive autonomy, why gays and lesbians shouldn't get married, or even (increasingly) why gender boundaries should be policed at all. This may be the Achilles' heel in the neoliberal utopia.
There's a joke that the real front-runner for the US Republican presidential nomination, if people were to answer honestly, would be Zombie Ronald Reagan. This is very similar to the way that Zombie Kim Il-Sung is still President of north Korea. Like Moses or Obi-Wan Kenobi, the authoritarian Father is more powerful dead than alive. But the Republican base (unlike the British Conservatives, who've been smarted in adapting to social liberalism) are growing old and dieing off. They may run the state legislatures but I doubt they'll elect another President any time soon. As a broad rule, the younger generation just don't need the Name of a human Father any more. Can these pure children of neoliberalism both realise and suppress neoliberalism's utopian promise?
A revolutionary counterhegemony will also come with a new, revolutionary symbolic order - a new way for people to belong, to participate, to be in community. Can we build a symbolic order without a Name of the New Adopted Father? Can we hope for something better than having a Mao or Lenin up there on the wall where the Holy Icon or Granddad's portrait used to be? Certainly there is no going back. Nostalgia is simply nostalgia for having a human authoritarian leader to fight against, and may well lead into a bloodthirsty yearning for killing authoritarians elsewhere (war on Da'esh, anyone?)
Well, I think I mentioned last year sometime that Anonymous might be the first forerunner of that. Refusing to have "a forename, a hind-name and an address", while accepting the techno-commercialism of modern globalism, they opt out of the Symbolic Order altogether. Why opt for a Room Of Your Own in the Father's house when you've built your own space-age yurt on a vacant lot across the street? Of course, this certainly doesn't mean to say that the defiantly racist/misogynist/queer-baiting social norms of various Anon formations are utopic. But they show that it is possible to opt out of the Father's Symbolic Order without the kind of mass psychosis which American Lacanian analyst Bruce Fink fears.
The global egalitarian/libertarian economic mode of production of the future communist utopia will surely come with a global egalitarian/libertarian symbolic order; in which "the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all", that is, there will be a symbolic place for everyone, no matter physical status or social occupation, as well as a physical Room of One's Own. It will mean the end of homo sacer, the sovereign or the despised outcast who is exempt/excluded from the Community or its Law. In future communism, you will no longer need to be real, or have a face, or a gender for that matter. Perhaps the only Law in the future will be the Golden Rule of antiquity, most memorably recently rephrased by nerd-culture hero Wil Wheaton: don't be a dick. Which in itself would be a telling blow against phallocentrism.
It is said that the best way to understand Scientology as L. Ron Hubbard's own attempt to find a way out of his own private psychic nightmare while keeping his narcissistic ego intact. Similarly, Chaos Marxism is clearly my (Doloras') attempt to awake from the nightmare of my personal history.
Brought up with an absent father and a mother with very insecure boundaries, my only ever "place" while I was growing up was being the smartest kid in the class, something I did quite easily. I didn't like the social exclusion that this engendered, but a place in the symbolic order as the Golden Child who would one day redeem humanity (DON'T LAUGH) wasn't nothing. Later on, my mother attempted to bring various stepfathers into my life, who did their best to crush my infantile dreams of omnipotence, but never offered me a place in the Symbolic Order in which I could live in a million years. That could not even begin to start happening until I realised that a heterosexual lifestyle could not be mine, at the age of 25.
But until very recently, I was still yearning for an authority figure who would give me the keys to my future kingdom. Which meant - in my professional, emotional and political life - offering myself up as a servant to some exploitative or authoritarian authority figure who claimed to know "the way out". They were all lying or bullshitting, every one of them. And they didn't understand why I should have been so resentful - they never actually promised anything, did they? And I suppose, at this distance, they were right.
Finally I learned that only I can build a Room Of My Own in community with others who have accepted responsibility for fulfilling their own drives, for not being a dick despite how much easier life becomes if you do act dickishly. Paradoxically, a responsible egotism requires a humility which comes from "spirituality" - not necessarily any supernatural belief, but a belief in something which is more important than your own wants or needs. As the Russian soldier in the 1987 Doctor Who serial "The Curse of Fenris" demonstrated, this can be The Revolution; but only in the sense of a real commitment to a true utopia, a new social and symbolic order without the Freudian castration complex or bowing to any God made in the image of Man, where we can all live.
20 April 2015
I've have to explain to people over the years that I am not nor have I ever been a member of the Church of Scientology. So why have I been fascinated with it for so long? Obviously there was a bit of disavowed desire in there, and I think I've pinpointed it.
I began reading about and becoming interested in Scientology (in 1991, the time of the TIME magazine exposé) because - even though it was clear that Hubbard was a cynical scam artist - there was something in his gobbledegook that I "wanted to believe". (In fact, that's precisely how LRH invites you into his mind-control circle. "Read the book until you find something you actually can believe, then go with that." They shove the rest into your brain "on a gradient", aka like a frog boiling as you slowly turn the heat up.)
What really resonated with me was the concept of the reactive mind: that my negative emotions and triggers were a bad, worthless part of me that could and should be expunged to turn me into an Adrian Veidt-like superhero. With crippling self-doubt and self-esteem issues, anyone with certainty sounded good - and, of course, is also the appeal of such movements as Objectivism and orthodox Trotskyism.
Of course I never became a believer because, no matter how much I read on the subject, written by Freezoners/Independent Scientologists who were much better writers than their guru, (a) I could identify that the basis of belief was exactly the kind of "collective solipsism" described in Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, so I was held back by my determined materialism; (b) it never quite made sense. The pieces never "fit" in logical order. My brain kept yelling "citation needed".
And of course that was a feature rather than a bug. I've mentioned before how accepting texts as authoritative is in itself authoritarian, because only a dictatorial Reader can impose a single interpretation. You can see how the Bible, the Qur'an and the Complete Works of Lenin are internally contradictory and can be used to justify any damn thing, given enough ingenuity. The same is true of the Scientology Tech, and LRH did it that way on purpose. Confusion, as Jon Atack notes, is a hypnotic technique. Make the logic centres shut down so the childlike mirror neurons kick in.
But after years going from textually-based belief-system to textually-based belief system, I learned to spot the similarities between all of them. Case in point: the Spartacist League wrote an article on their splinter group, the IBT, titled "Garbage Doesn't Walk By Itself". The argument made that any sensible person who leaves a group which wasn't right for them gets on with their lives; therefore, the way the IBT continued to try to politically engage the Sparts only proved that they were motivated by ulterior forces, possibly COINTELPRO. Change COINTELPRO for "the psychiatrists", and that's exactly the same accusations that the "orthodox Hubbardian" group Milestone Two make against other ex-Scientologists who make the gentle suggestion that M2 are exhibiting exactly the same paranoid authoritarianism as the official Church.
Liberation must be based on praxis, theory put into practice and refined by practice, not the authority of texts. The works of Karl Marx are only as much use as his method is of use in helping us work out solutions to the problems of today. Past that, they are historical documents and literature; past that, they are nothing. Nothing at all. Just bits of paper, or electrons.