01 February 2010

The song remains the same

In 2010, war was beginning:

Mr Gore was talking sense and Mr Bush nonsense - but Mr Bush won the debate. With statistics, the voters just hear a patronising policy wonk, and switch off.

For Mr Westen, stories always trump statistics, which means the politician with the best stories is going to win: "One of the fallacies that politicians often have on the Left is that things are obvious, when they are not obvious.
Thomas Frank, the author of the best-selling book What's The Matter with Kansas, is an even more exasperated Democrat and he goes further than Mr Westen.

He believes that the voters' preference for emotional engagement over reasonable argument has allowed the Republican Party to blind them to their own real interests.

The Republicans have learnt how to stoke up resentment against the patronising liberal elite, all those do-gooders who assume they know what poor people ought to be thinking.

Right-wing politics has become a vehicle for channelling this popular anger against intellectual snobs. The result is that many of America's poorest citizens have a deep emotional attachment to a party that serves the interests of its richest.

Thomas Frank thinks that voters have become blinded to their real interests

Thomas Frank says that whatever disadvantaged Americans think they are voting for, they get something quite different:

"You vote to strike a blow against elitism and you receive a social order in which wealth is more concentrated than ever before in our life times, workers have been stripped of power, and CEOs are rewarded in a manner that is beyond imagining.

"It's like a French Revolution in reverse in which the workers come pouring down the street screaming more power to the aristocracy."

Actually... no. In 1933, war was beginning:

In many German meetings around 1930 revolutionaries, such as Otto Strasser, who were intelligent and honest though their thinking was somewhat nationalistic and mystical, would say to the Marxists:

"You Marxists always point to the theories of Marx. Marx taught that theory is confirmed only in practice. But you always come up with explanations for the defeats of the Workers' International. Your Marxism has failed. The defeat in 1914 you explain with the 'defection of the Social Democrats,' that of 1918 with their politics of betrayal.' And now you have new 'explanations' for the fact that in the present world crisis the masses turn to the right instead of the left. But your explanations do not alter the fact of these defeats! Where, in the past eighty years, has there been any confirmation of the social revolution by practical action? Your basic error is that you deny or ridicule the mind which moves everything, instead of comprehending it."

These were the arguments of many revolutionaries, and the Marxists had no answer to them. It became increasingly clear that their political mass propaganda did not reach anybody except those who already belonged to the left front, simply because this propaganda referred to nothing but the objective socio-economic processes (capitalist production, economic anarchy, etc.). The elaboration of material needs, of hunger alone, was not sufficient, for that was done by every political party, even the church.

Thus, when the economic crisis was most acute, the mysticism of National Socialism defeated the economic theories of Socialism. It was evident that there was a wide gap in the propaganda and in the total conception of socialism, a gap which was responsible for its "political mistakes." It was a defect in the Marxist comprehension of political reality. True, the method of dialectic materialism had provided the means for correcting this defect, but they had not been utilized. In brief, Marxist politics had not included in its political practice the character structure of the masses and the social significance of mysticism.

The liberal middle-class media priesthood will never get this, because their actual political programme is based on rational technocracy - and the fact that the opposition are a bunch of lunatics - but their livelihood as a class depends on keeping people afraid, docile, hostile and hypersexualized via the entertainment/propaganda apparatus. The culture they create is one of narcissism and infantilised wish fulfilment, so why are they amazed that the masses don't suddenly start thinking rationally when it comes to election time?

We need, as Wilhelm Reich put it, to understand culture, sex and mysticism to build a revolutionary movement that will work - or as some songwriter put it, understand what "roses" means in the phrase "bread and roses". Sadly, the Marxist blogosphere, made up as it is of disaffected members of the media priesthood, is making precisely the same rationalistic mistakes as left-liberals always have when faced with reactionary mysticism. (Even though those of them who are actual members of Marxist sectlets make up for this with mystical appeals to the all-powerful father figures of The Party and heresy hunts when faced with opposition... You see, the repressed always returns.)

Marxism gives us the intellectual tools to change the world, but doesn't tell us how to live our lives and be human here and now in the Black Iron Prison of Capitalist Jobs and Shitty TV Programmes, except for a very vague ethic of solidarity. The most rationalistic and skeptical of Marxists will therefore have to fill in the gaps with either unexamined crap from their cultural background, or barely-examined crap they picked up from the media, or some kind of small group / cult programming. If you don't take proper care of the irrational parts of your brain, the rational part will be sabotage. Chaos Marxism aims at a revolutionary approach to the whole human personality, and its interrelations with society, nature, and whatever might lie beyond or beneath or above.


  1. I think Adorno was touching on a similar theme when he wrote in 'Aesthetic Theory' that "...the darkening of the world makes rational the irrational" - Enlightenment rationalism, the Hegelian dialectic etc made sense as a counter-movement or reaction against the Middle Ages, but after the events of the 20th century they would seem a rather spent and discredited force...

    The solution to this impasse as far as the political left is concerned is by no means clear to me - but one thing most certainly is, namely that the current strategy of "patiently explaining" the case for revolution to the masses is not working. Neither are attempts to tail the existing miserable level of consciousness, in the hopes that this will slowly lead workers to realise their common cause.

    As time goes by, I feel increasingly that a Narodnik rather than Bolshevik approach might be the only way forward...

  2. Actually, I'd say the "Transition Town" / rural commune / wanna-be indigenous movements among the middle class are pretty Narodnik, and in that sense they're an essential part of the problem, not the solution. But perhaps you're using a different definition of the term?

    I'm actually in favour of creating a practical cultural critique of commodity society, suggesting avenues for social, cultural and political activism which are realistic to people living in cities in the here-and-now, which is not so much rejecting the Bolshevik legacy as recognizing its incompleteness.

  3. I was actually thinking more about the Narodnik's strategy and tactics rather than the content of their political program - i.e. 'propaganda of the deed', as opposed to trying to convince the masses through appeals to reason/class consciousness etc... The problem with the Bolsheviks was their (IMO flawed) assumption that the the working class and peasantry were at a sufficiently advanced cultural level to be capable of becoming an active revolutionary political subject in their own right.

    Sure, the Narodnik approach was elitist, but then so to was the regime that the Bolsheviks ended up creating in Russia after 1917...and at least the Narodniks were consistent!

  4. I would love to hear you talk about what concretely "propaganda by the deed" might mean in the here-and-now.