About donaldparkinson

Internationalist Communist involved in organizing in the Tampa area.

Against Social-Imperialism in the DSA

Any socialist movement that doesn’t reject loyalty to its own countries imperialist ventures and hegemony promotes national chauvinism that divides the global working class. These tendencies must be struggled against politically and ideologically. 

The pro-imperialist wing of the SPD that set the state of modern social-democracy.

The idea of a “Growing Chinese threat” to America is typically a talking point on Fox News. Yet on the national DSA’s blog this talking point, typically meant to shore up militarism and nationalism, is used as an argument for how social-democratic reforms can comfortably stand side by side with the needs of US imperialism to compete as a global hegemon against China. While the Communist League does not support any sides in inter-imperialist wars and are revolutionary defeatists, we also recognize the primacy of opposing imperialism and militarism in our home countries. This particularly counts in the U.S., the global hegemon of world imperialism.

One of the primary principles of any liberatory socialism is to promote the unity of the working class across national boundaries and to oppose imperialism, through militant action if possible. While DSA is a multi-tendency org, this shouldn’t mean “anything goes,” and that statements which implicitly promote national chauvinism and imperialist politics in the name of socialism should be tolerated. Yet, at the same time, it’s best to let the pro-imperialists reveal themselves so anti-imperialists in the DSA can openly criticize and refute their arguments, hopefully pushing the org to a more anti-imperialist stance where such positions are not acceptable in this organization. If anything, it reveals the fact that the DSA hasn’t fully broken with its pro-imperialist past.

The article I am referring to in this case is The Future China-U.S Competition and Democratic Socialism by Daniel Casey Adkins. While this post was on the national DSA page and claimed to not represent all members of DSA, the fact that the leadership of national allowed it to be published represents a continuing trend of social-imperialism in the organization or justifications for imperialism that are framed in pro-socialist rhetoric. While the article tries to deny the imperialist nature of its political logic by claiming “These goals need to be shared around the world…” and “[declaring war on climate change] will allow us to combat climate change and lead to a developed world free of unequal dominating nations and classes,” these are just pleas against the actual implications of the arguments Adkins makes. It’s easy to remember that the social-imperialist wing of the workers’ movement has always tried to frame their arguments in terms favorable to the goals of the worker’s movement. One only has to remember the Iraq War being supported by leftists on the basis that it was bringing democracy to Iraq against the despot Saddam, or when the AFL-CIO supported the Vietnam War due to improved bargaining power in war industries. Rather than taking these pleas of internationalism seriously, we should look at the actual political content that makes up the majority of the article.

This tendency of pro-imperialist socialism goes back to the revisionist wing of the 2nd International led by Bernstein. Revisionists argued that socialists should support colonialism in the name of “spreading development”, an argument which would set the stage for the party to lead the working class into the slaughter of World War I. However, before moving on to discuss the content of the DSA article and its positions, I will first provide a general definition of imperialism.

Imperialism is a disputed topic in Marxism. We cannot simply copy and paste Lenin’s analysis of imperialism as a new stage in capitalism, regardless of what insights it includes. Arguably imperialism is a tendency that ALL capitalist states are compelled to engage in, since they exist in a world market structured by imperialist hierarchies. While not all states are imperialist, no state in the global economy can escape having to adjust its policy to reflect the pressures of imperialist competition. Economically powerful countries are able to use their developmental advantage to create a military hegemony over weaker nations, imposing policies on these nations that are beneficial economically for the stronger country and enforce economic backwardness on the weaker country. This can happen through direct colonial domination such as the British, French, Dutch, German and Japanese Empires before the rise of decolonization, or what is referred to as formal Empire.

After the rise of bourgeois revolutions in the colonies against colonial occupation, the nature of imperialism shifted towards an informal empire. Rather than direct colonial rule, previously colonized nations had formal self-government with their own developmental nation states. Yet these states were still economically dependent on the world market and were forced to implement policies that were beneficial for the reigning imperialist hegemon. An informal empire of the US and its allies in the postwar order emerged, primarily focusing on containment of the USSR’s influence on global national liberation movements to ensure a global market favorable to US capitalism. Now with the fall of the USSR, the U.S. can be seen as entering a new phase of inter-imperialist competition, this time with Russia and China. The U.S. aims to maintain its hegemony in the global hierarchy of states, which is arguably already in a period of relative decline. To secure the legitimacy of this project, the U.S. needs to win the proletariat over to the ideologies of militarism and nationalism. Advancing such interests under the guise of “socialism” only helps build up the legitimacy of U.S. militarism.

So imperialism is essentially a global system, where different nations compete for military hegemony and in turn economic superiority that enforces an inequality of nations in the global system of nation-states. The world market, which through an aggregation of capitalist states, enforces the law of value, creating an international anarchy of competition where imperialist rivalry becomes inevitable. Capitalist nation-states are compelled to compete to carve out markets to offset the tendency for profits to fall, thus creating imperialist tensions between nation-states. While some would argue for a theory of ultra-imperialism where the U.S. and its allies have simply created a single global market for enforcing free trade in the developing world, inter-imperialist tensions between capitalist states have still developed. In this case, China and the U.S. are concerned about control of opening markets in developing Africa. Daniel Casey Adkins correctly notices China is a rising world power that is going to compete with the U.S. for hegemony in the global world system. However, rather than taking a proper socialist stance which argues that the working class should have no loyalty to their own bourgeoisie and unite across borders, Adkins argues for social-democracy as a way to empower U.S. world domination in the face of China’s rising economic power:

“The US and China will compete more directly both economically and politically in the next decade. The competition may strain American politics and change the US political balance if the US is to be more than second place to China. The US will become second if left to its current politics and the goals of its 1%. To compete with mercantilism, our nation needs to be organized by democratic socialism whose goal is to empower its entire people, not just the 1%.”

The article begins with a social-imperialist assertion – that we must bolster our nation’s economy in order to prevent us from becoming “second to China”. This is not an argument based in the class struggle, but is rooted in nationalism and patriotism putting one’s own country first before the needs of the international working class. Nothing is said about the need to unite Chinese and American workers in a common struggle against their exploiters. Rather, American workers need to put America first and fight for social-democratic policies because they will benefit the strength of the U.S. Empire, and maintain our hegemonic status. Ideologically this promotes xenophobic ideas about the Chinese undermining American values pushing a “yellow peril” narrative that has long run throughout American history, though expressed in technocratic policy wonk speak rather than racialized tropes. This has more in common with populist nationalist protectionism than internationalist and democratic socialism, which is based on the overcoming of imperialism and capitalism globally through a global cooperative commonwealth where all people are equals. To make the case for national chauvinism even worse, Adkins resorts to typical Kissinger type orientalist tropes about the essential nature of the Chinese people to argue for why China has different economic strategies than the U.S.:

“China seeks to become the Middle Kingdom that it has always been in its own perception; the center with all the rest of the world at its periphery. Unlike most American billionaires, China can think in terms of decades and centuries. Using its wisdom and will, China has a program to make China great again that is based on science, technology, and education.”

These national essentialist arguments, used to justify U.S. shoring up its imperial hegemony against China, goes against one of the main principles of republican democracy – equality of nations. In simpler terms, this is the principle that no one nation has an inherent right to dominate another. U.S. domination of the world market is not what the worker’s movement is meant to protect, but rather the opposite. The worker’s movement must battle against U.S. imperialist domination, the defeat of all U.S. military interventions, and the elimination of national inequalities and oppression. We must essentially be traitors to own government in any war, no matter how vile the enemy. The U.S. is not a “holy city on a hill” or “Empire of Liberty” destined to civilize the world by dominating other nations and enforcing our interests over them. We are not superior to any other people in the world. In Adkins’ article, “Socialism” is presented as a tool for imperialist nation-building in a period where the U.S. is in relative decline to keep our hegemony alive. Regardless of his personal views, he is giving strength to the imperialist ideology that the United States has a divine right to rule the world using the myth of spreading democracy. He is presenting socialism as part and parcel of this imperialist project, completely compatible and even beneficial towards it. Yet any socialist who is a committed internationalist and believes that democratic principles apply to all peoples of the world (not just Americans and Europeans) understands that our goal is the destruction of the U.S. Empire, not its strengthening. This is the line that separates truly committed socialists from the opportunists that concede to national chauvinism in the name of short-term political gain.

Adkins continues this line of argument even further:

“An opportunity for the left today is to show that democratic socialism is not only just, but also more functional at building a strong and resourceful country than neoliberal capitalism or mercantilism. A democratic socialist US would compete better with a mercantilist China because all our people would be able to learn and produce. Having a $15 minimum wage is a start to moving people out of poverty and having time for learning. Free college with support will be required for our population to be their best. Free continuing education is needed to keep pace with the promise and perils of automation and artificial intelligence, as technology evolves during all our work lives. Educators must be valued and paid more to have the best minds devoted to developing our children. Our education must be science-based and we need to eliminate fossil fuel corporations’ ability to sabotage politics because they are too lazy to evolve their companies. These goals need to be shared around the world.”

In this line of argument, socialism is not a way to liberate the exploited of the world, but to empower the U.S. economy so it can continue its position of global dominance. Socialism is presented as simply a more effective way to manage the national economy, and therefore strengthen American militarism to prevent Chinese domination. What is listed is a series of reforms that are presented as beneficial, not for supporting the U.S. working class, but rather the U.S. nation. As nationalism is a cross-class ideology that promotes allegiance of the working class to the ruling class of their own nation, loyalty to one’s nation is in direct contradiction to class unity that divides the working class along national lines. It is a direct roadblock to developing an internationalist working-class movement by promoting nationalist sentiment as a driving force for socialism. While obviously, one does not need to support the growing imperialism of Chinese policy to oppose U.S. Imperialism, promoting loyalty to one imperialist power over another is essentially scabbing on the rest of the global working class who suffer due to the U.S.’s informal domination of the world economy.

These arguments about the need to challenge Chinese hegemony through the strengthening of the U.S. economy to secure its own hegemonic role in the world imperialist hierarchy are exactly the same as those promoted by the U.S. Department of Defense. In its latest public policy document, the DoD practically admitted that US policy should shift from a war on terror to “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism” which is “now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” By publishing an article about the need to defend the U.S.’s global supremacy from China, Adkins is essentially aligning with the politics of the Pentagon, and arguing that the working class should fight in the name of empowering U.S. imperialism.

Adkins also reveals chauvinism in his own understanding of the Chinese economy, which he describes as “mercantilist” while the U.S. economy is “neo-liberal.” This comes off as imperial paternalism as if the Chinese are stuck in a lower “mercantilist” state of development when it’s clearly a powerful capitalist economy with elements of nationalized industry that co-exists with capital accumulation.  In his refusal to call the U.S. economy capitalism and instead calls it neoliberal, it’s suggesting that the problem is not capitalism, a global system that must be struggled against on a global front, but simply the lack of “big government” to limit the power of markets. The argument is essentially that neoliberalism is bad because it weakened the U.S. economy, so a stronger welfare state will boost the US economy to prevent the growing Chinese threat. Adkins clearly lacks an internationalist vision of socialism which is vital today and harkens back to post-New Deal America as an example of our nation’s potential economic and military might due to wealth redistribution policies:

“The height of American power was achieved during World War II.  That conflict was won by the power of US production, arms, and the Red Army.  On the home front, the US had cooperation between labor, capital, science, and government.  The US shared its production with allies using a program called Lend-Lease, which allowed sending of arms and equipment without immediate payment.  The U.S. aided the war recovery through the Marshall Plan, which speeded rebuilding.  The United Nations was created to establish world cooperation. That was then.”

Essentially, Adkins argues for a return to the glory days of the pre-neoliberal capitalist system, where America dominated the world order and certain Americans benefited from a booming economy. This was also the America that started imperialist wars in Korea and Vietnam and promoted coups around the world in order to put oppressive governments in power. It was the America where women were forced into a subordinate domestic role to do unpaid labor in a single owner household while and black Americans were left behind from many of these social programs while still having to wage a struggle for basic democratic rights. In the end, it seems like it’s not capitalism that’s the problem for Adkins, but rather extreme market fundamentalists running capitalism. It’s the same capitalism vs. crony capitalism argument we’re all tired of hearing.

Ultimately, these types of positions are not completely alien to the historical Democratic Socialists of America which essentially began as a lobbying group for the Democratic Party. They held soft positions on imperialism in the past, siding with the USA against the USSR in the Cold War for example. Yet DSA over the last two years has become flooded with youth who have no interest in shoring up the needs of U.S. imperial hegemony and have a genuine interest in socialism. This influx of new members was able to influence national policy enough to push through an endorsement of the pro-Palestinian BDS campaign, in return causing many labor-Zionist oldtimers to quit in outrage. Yet the struggle to separate DSA from its pro-imperial legacy obviously has not gone far enough. There are of course real reasons that exist behind why this pro-imperial ideology can gain traction in an organization that is still dominantly social-democratic in its origin.

Social-democracy (not in reference to the 2nd International pre-1914) is essentially a project to unite the working class with the national state to improve their condition in the world division of labor. Faith is put not in the self-organization of the working class, but in electing technocrats who will manage the capitalist state in a more rational way, while still existing and operating in the framework of competing imperialist states. It reinforces national divisions in the working class by telling workers that in exchange for national loyalty, they will get a better deal in the current system. It is socialism for the nation, particularly imperialist nations, not the proletarian class. Because there is a general inequality of nations not just in development, but in financial sovereignty, U.S. world domination rests on the U.S. dollar as the global standard of value. Hence one’s control over their own financial policies is determined by their place in the world hierarchy of imperialism. Nations with less financial sovereignty due to dependence on loans from the U.S.- and Euro- dominated IMF and World Bank will therefore be limited in how much they can pass social-democratic policies without repercussions. This is reflected in the case of Venezuela, where the attempts to create a Latin-American social-democracy was crashed by falling oil prices in the global economy. Social-democracy in the developing world is also bad for U.S. capitalists because they want access to a global labor market where the price of labor is kept as low as possible (by repressive states the U.S. helps prop up). One cannot consistently side with imperialist nation states and also side with the international working class, no matter how “democratic” such states are. To quote Lenin:

“Social-chauvinism and opportunism are the same in their political essence; class collaboration, repudiation of the proletarian dictatorship, rejection of revolutionary action, obeisance to bourgeois legality, non-confidence in the proletariat, and confidence in the bourgeoisie. The political ideas are identical, and so is the political content of their tactics. Social-chauvinism is the direct continuation and consummation of Millerandism, Bernsteinism, and British liberal-labour policies, their sum, their total, their highest achievement.” 

An ideology that is dedicated to raising the standards of one nation while ignoring the working class in other nations is essentially social-chauvinist. It negates a key, uncompromisable socialist principle of internationalism. Adkins’ article perfectly articulates how social-democracy is tied to imperialist politics. Social-democracy is not an answer for the entire world, but only a way for states in the upper tier of the global division of powers to benefit their own national working class while the rest of the world suffers under the thumb of imperialist imposed economic policies. If DSA wants to represent a truly emancipatory politics for the proletariat of the world, it must move away from the ideology of social-democracy that accommodates for nationalism and imperialism which would necessitate a complete break from the Democratic Party. I urge all members of DSA to push for their locals to condemn the politics of Adkin and take a firm anti-imperialist stance opposed to all U.S. military domination. A socialism only for Americans is no socialism I want to be a part of.

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Four Theses On DSA

The working class must unite beyond political tendencies to build a powerful workers movement that can fight together for political and economic struggles in a united front from below. 

“The ship of Communism must not be wrecked on the rocks of revolutionary romanticism and putschism, and it must not be allowed to founder on the shoals of opportunism. Our ship must steer a straight course, full steam ahead over the stormy waves of revolutionary mass actions and mass struggles. To the masses! Win over the masses! Let us therefore, while not neglecting the struggles for the every-day needs of the masses, reveal to them the ideal of Communism.” – Clara Zetkin

  • The DSA historically developed as an organization of the labor bureaucracy attempting to push the Democratic Party to the left as the US moved into neo-liberalism and the post-war compromise collapsed. Founder Michael Harrington was committed to a strategy of Democratic Party entryism, believing that it was the only viable channel for the working class to make gains in the system through empowering their representatives in the professional class. This loyalty to the Democratic Party has made the historical DSA a reformist organization that has acted as a weak lobbying group for the Democrats. Harrington’s strategy that the DSA based itself on, that of Democratic Party entryism, has proven to be fruitless. The Democrats are committed to being as economically neoliberal as possible, and are structurally compelled to move more to the right. They are a cartel of finance capitalists and other factions of the bourgeoisie, not a mass membership party than can be influenced with internal opposition. For more info on the history of the early DSA and the failures of Democratic Party entryism, read Robert Brenner’s Paradox of Social-Democracy. 
  • The DSA of 2017 is however a different beast than what we reference above as the historical DSA. The rise of Sanders and Trump in the aftermath of social movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter created a need for a political alternative that was at least formally independent from the Democratic Party. Because of their organizing skills and infrastructure, the DSA is the org that most young socialists looking for change beyond reforming capitalism came to, despite the past history of the org. Because the DSA is a mass membership organization that is meant to be democratically run, this mass influx of young radicals shook up the traditional politics of the org. This fundamentally changed the character of the DSA, as evidenced by their exit from the traitorous Socialist International and endorsement of the Anti-Zionist boycott BDS in their last convention. The formation of caucuses such as the Refoundation Caucus and Libertarian Socialist Caucus, as well as the Praxis slate at last convention, also shows the development of what is essentially an internal struggle in the DSA to break from the pro-Democratic Party and pro-Imperialist politics of the old DSA, with old time bureaucrats already quitting because of the endorsement of BDS and driving out of cop union organizer Danny Fetonte.
  • The development of this internal struggle in the DSA gives an important opportunity for the US left to create a “pole of attraction” for all socialists that is independent from the Democratic Party. This will have to take the form of internal struggle using the democratic process to push against Democratic Party cooption in locals as well as engaging in the national politics of DSA to push for a break with the Democrats. While the DSA’s large size and infrastructure may be credited to their cooperation with the Democrats in the past, the time for a complete break is now. DSA now has the size and organizational capacity to steer an independent course. Committed Communists should not be afraid to join the influx of new members who are pushing the org away from the politics of Democratic party accommodation and towards an expression of independent working class politics. However this doesn’t mean Communists should abandon building independent organizations that are based on a distinctive Communist platform and put all of their organizational effort into the DSA.
  • The Communist League of Tampa has no interest in entryism, or covertly infiltrating the DSA to take over its leadership. We believe that the DSA exists best as a multi-tendency organization where different tendencies of the left can form a united front in labor and political campaigns. Our aim is to facilitate the DSA’s movement to the left, (pushed by the recent influx of young members), learn organizing skills, promote discussion on Socialism/Communism, and ultimately help build the DSA as a united front of the labor movement in Tampa. As democratic communists we feel that it is best to be open and transparent about our intentions in any group we work with.

Against Israel, for a Workers’ Republic in the Middle East

Donald Trump’s attack on the people of Palestine is an expression of the systematic imperialism at the core of US dominated global capitalism. Only a revolution beyond national and ethnic boundaries can liberate the people of Palestine. The views here express the general position of CLT’s membership. 

The Communist League of Tampa opposes the recent decision by Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. This is a clear attack on the Palestinian people’s struggle against the settler-colonial state of Israel and furthers the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. While the Communist League opposes nationalism as such in favor of international solidarity among the working classes of the world, we recognize that not all nations are created equal. In global systems of imperialism, there is a clear and inherent divide between nations – those which benefit on the degradation, occupation, and subjugation of others, and those which are degraded, occupied, and subjugated themselves. Through this subjugation, the capacity for development in the oppressed nation is deprived through the denial of basic democratic rights, and its people are left to rely upon the oppressing nations for the most basic dignity – a dignity that is so often kept from them. In the case of Palestine and Israel, this division is clear. For any socialist who believes in universal human dignity, support for Palestinian liberation is the only way. But how will the Palestinian’s achieve their liberation?

The members of the Communist League are neither nationalists nor chauvinist pseudo-“internationalists”, but principled internationalists who believe in need for unity among the working classes of all nations against their common foe – the bourgeoisie and the system of capitalism. However, we understand that building this unity requires the overthrow of such systems which privilege one nation over another and pit their working classes against each other. We reject the proposals of nationalists who believe the only path to liberation is the balkanization of all nations into their own self-governed plots of land. We reject this as a reactionary position, which turns away from the need to organize along the lines of class towards organization along the lines of “nations”. We also reject those proposals made by the chauvinist “internationalist” who call upon the people of oppressed nations to wait on the “global communist revolution” to fight against their subjugation. While they await the “global communist revolution,” are they to simply sit by and allow violence against them to continue? This proposal merely places reliance upon revolution in the oppressing nation to “trickle-down” to the oppressed nation. Palestinians have a right to defend themselves, and should break from the reactionary nationalist and theocratic leadership of Hamas and Hezbollah, which holds back the development of the class struggle in the Middle East, and therefore the struggle against settler-colonialism itself.  

How are these principles to be applied to the case of Palestine? Instead of a two state or one state solution we advocate for liberation through a workers republic in the Middle East that unites the region beyond all national, ethnic, religious and gender divides through class interest. This is not to be done as an end in itself, but rather a means to the end of international workers revolution.  We also condemn the equivocation of Israel and Palestine, which ignores the objective political oppression caused by Settler-Colonialism, advanced as radical internationalism, but actually a liberal centrist position of imperial colorblindness.

We understand that in a class society, there is a limit to our capacity to struggle against oppressive social relations. This limit is conditioned by the very nature of class society, and in the case of capitalism, the bifurcation of humanity into the proletarian and bourgeois classes. Moreover, it is this bifurcation which gives communists our greatest tool: our common struggle fought along the lines of class. The challenge in building this common struggle, though, is in the differential development of certain elements of the class over others. For the Palestinians, this difference is clear. While our ideal situation would be for a unification between the Palestinian people and Israeli workers, their unity is reliant on a rejection of Zionism from the Israeli working class. Zionism sets the interests of Israeli workers along national lines, pitting them against Palestinians who are frequently left to work among the massive informal sector in Gaza and the West Bank. The obstacle of divided interests along national boundaries requires that Israeli workers break from Zionism. Israeli workers cannot truly struggle as a class if they do not see the Palestinian people as their comrades. This requires a hard break with current paradigms of Israeli labor and the formation of new organs to wage the class struggle. To paraphrase Moshe Machover, the vanguard of the Israeli proletariat will most likely come from youth and arab workers.

The “two-state” solution which is frequently proposed by liberals must be rejected. The project would be a failure from the outset because of the uneven power relations between the two nations, and the US backed Israel would immediately hold hegemony over a Palestinian state. The overthrow of the state of Israel is necessary. Furthermore, this solution rejects the necessity for revolutionary integrationism and only reproduces the belief that nations are to be kept separate and independent from one another. Revolutionary integrationism argues for the radical integration of nations under a multinational worker’s republic with full rights and equality of outcome for all citizens regardless of ethnic background. Such a revolution could not be isolated within a single state, but rather requires the cooperation between the working class across the Middle East and the entire world. As a long term programmatic aim for the world proletariat, we advocate for a Middle Eastern Workers Republic.

For citizens of the United States, our contribution to fighting Settler-colonialism will not come from cheerleading for Hamas, but weakening the imperialist hegemon from within through political and economic struggle against the bourgeois state and its allies. Israel is essentially a base of operation of the USA’s Empire of free trade, an extension of US imperialist hegemony. The military industrial complex in the USA makes massive profits from trade with the Israeli military and the need for a “base of operations” in the Middle East makes Israel a pawn of the US empire, not the other way around as anti-semitic conspiracy theorists would have it. As communists it is our duty to fight anti-semitism in the Palestinian Solidarity movement when it manifests, which means challenging the notion that Zionism is a expression of Judaism.

Only through the complete destruction of class society can end the oppression of the Palestinians. This doesn’t mean instantaneous world revolution, but it does require the organization of workers across national and ethnic boundaries prior to revolution occurring. Nationalist tensions in the Middle East are not limited to Israel and Palestine, as Palestinians face discrimination from other Arabs. It only through the axis of class unity that the Middle East can unite to challenge the rule of imperialism and the ruling classes in their own countries. Therefore organizing a pan-middle eastern communist party that aims for a revolution in the entire region and beyond is a potential way forward for the global class war.

State and Revolution: 100 years later

One Hundred Years later, State and Revolution remains one of the most beloved works of Lenin. Yet what can we learn from the attempts to implement its vision in the Russian Revolution?

State and Revolution is one of the most beloved works of Lenin, and for good reason. It is perhaps the finest work of Marxology, where digging through the notebooks of Marx and Engels is done not to prove an academic thesis but to prove an important political point: that the proletariat cannot simply inherit the bourgeois state and use it to build socialism, but must smash it in order to create a new state based on workers rule. Lenin also utilizes Marx and Engels to discern how this state is fundamentally different to the bourgeois state, drawing from Marx’s work on the Paris Commune especially. From these conclusions Lenin takes a political gamble. His party leads an insurrection to overthrow the provisional government around the call for “all power to the Soviets”, calling for a new state in Russia based on the power of the Soviets, or regional councils of workers and soldiers that were being formed both spontaneously and by party militants.

For Lenin, “all power to the Soviets” only made sense as a political slogan and plan for action when the Bolsheviks and those agreeing with their general programme had a majority in the Soviets, which in a sense were alternative “parliaments” for the working class. When the Bolsheviks were able to build a majority coalition of their party, left-SRs, anarchists and Menshevik Internationalists in the Soviets who wanted the overthrow of the government, an end to the war, and land to the peasants then “all power to the Soviets” was a slogan that made perfect sense.

So for the Bolsheviks, State and Revolution provided a sort of initial guide to how they would approach the revolution and rebuild society. The Soviets would take state power with a revolutionary programme and the working class would be armed as the military and police were demolished, the working class to take command. This would eventually happen in Russia, but initially the Soviets and the parties working within them (the Bolsheviks being the leading party) had to figure out how to run a country and develop a proletarian rather than bourgeois civil society.

Before delving into how the ideals of State of Revolution came into contradiction with the concrete realities of the revolution and what one must learn from that, I will go over the basic arguments of the book, which mostly come from the works of Marx and Engels. For Lenin, the state is defined as a “product of the irreconcilability of classes”, meaning that as long as classes exist there will be some sort of state which ensures the reproduction of those class relations with the ruling class having political hegemony. The state is not a neutral territory where classes can “reconcile” but ultimately “a power standing above society and alienating itself more and more from it”. Why is the state alien to society? Because it is a protection racket for the minority of rich capitalists, not a means for the majority of society to actually exercise control over politics. It creates “order”, but this order is strictly a bourgeois law and order that codifies the domination of the ruling class.  

Further, the state is a “special body of armed men”, the military and police, who are able execute the rule of law. Lenin mostly seems to find this important because it shows that the state is based on force. It is based not just through force, but force as executed by a special body, i.e. a separate section of the social division of labor (cops and military). The abolition of the police and armed forces, is the destruction of that part of the bourgeois state which defends and underwrites that state-form’s character as being above society; alienated from humanity as a whole.

The state is also described by Lenin as an “instrument” through which the ruling class exploits the oppressed class. This has been criticized as seeing the state as a mere instrument that classes can simply wield. But this is taking the metaphor too seriously. The point is that as long as there are class divisions, state power will exist because there will be need for a body that ensures capitalist norms of order than allow the ruling class to operate (or a body to suppress the remnants of the capitalist order if a workers state). Lenin doesn’t exactly go deep into the structural mechanics of why the state, while aiming to appear to be neutral, ultimately serves the interests of the ruling class. Part of the reason why is that the state is a tribute/tax/rentier taking organization and reproduces by taxing capitalists; therefore it has an interest in capitalist development being as successful as possible. The state also connects a strong economy to a strong military, the military bureaucracy wishing to project the hegemony of a capitalist state as dominant in the world market. In general, the state reproduces the social division of labor, and it reproduces a capitalist social division of labor. Therefore the capitalist or bourgeois state cannot act in a way that doesn’t allow for the reproduction of capitalism, and essentially provides the framework through which this can occur.

Lenin goes on to argue that classes can be abolished (though without saying at a national or international level), hence ending the social antagonisms that lead to a state existing. Yet there will be a transitional state, or dictatorship of the proletariat, that will replace the old capitalist state, based on the power of the workers. This state is sometimes called a “semi-state” because it is a state in the process of overthrowing the very foundations upon which it is based. Engels is quoted as saying “The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things, and by that conduct the processes of production. The state is not “Abolished”. It Withers Away.Essentially, as the antagonisms of class divisions are transcended by communist relations, the state loses its power as a coercive force over society and simply becomes a means of administering society in harmonious way. This is contrary to the anarchist notion that the state itself will be abolished in an act of insurrection, or the Maoist notion that the withering of the state must be pushed along through “Cultural Revolution” or class struggle under socialism. While it is true this process will require struggle against bureaucrats, because the proletariat holds state power it can fight bureaucracy through transforming its actual roots, the social division of labor, and not just host purges to replace them with different bureaucrats.

This general outline, backed up quite sufficiently by quotes from Marx and Engels, is primarily an attack on the Social-Democrats like Kautsky and Bernstein who deny the need for a violent overthrow. While Lenin was a longtime admirer of Kautsky, by 1917 he had come to see Kautsky as not sufficiently stressing the need to smash the bourgeois state in earlier works like The Social Revolution and the Day After (1903). Kautsky instead saw the proletariat’s party essentially becoming a majority in parliament, and then making parliament into the main ruling body of the state. For Lenin, bourgeois parliament was simply not a fit form of representation for the working class. Yes, work in it, but do so to destroy it was his position. Lenin goes as far to say that violent insurrection is a determining point in whether a proletarian revolution has occurred or not; at this point Lenin has no illusions of the bourgeoisie peacefully surrendering its power. This position, that it was necessary to smash the state, was not always the opinion of Lenin. It was initially Bukharin and Pannekoek who would come to convince Lenin of the correctness of this position, that it was not an anarchist deviation from Marx.  

It is also an essentially correct general outline: the proletariat overthrows the bourgeois state, the proletariat becomes the new state, and this state withers away as classes whither away. Those who saw no rupture needed between the bourgeois state and proletarian state were simply reformists in the end, as they could not grasp a key element of revolution. Lenin backs up this reading using the piece Civil War in France by Marx, where the Paris Commune, considered by Marx and Engels to be a living example of the dictatorship of the proletariat, is examined.

The Commune becomes an object of study that is meant to show what kind of state will replace the bourgeois and facilitate the rule of the workers. Lenin argues the first and most important decree is the disarming of the ruling class and the arming of the workers, replacing the police and military with the armed working class. Since the state is at its core the general means of coercion, placing these means in the hands of the workers commences the smashing of the bourgeois state. Lenin also stresses the democratic nature of the Commune, pointing out how elected officials had strict term limits, recallability, and an average worker’s wage. He also argues for simplifying the process of government to the point where any worker could be called on to participate, summed up by the saying “every cook can govern.” For Lenin both parliament and the ‘parasite state’ are also wiped away, though elective and representative features still exist. It is just that the legislative and executive branch are merged and government bodies are working bodies, e.g representative-legislative with strictly subordinate executive committees.

Much of State and Revolution also comes as a response to the anarchists as well as the social-democrats. Lenin sees the anarchists idea of abolition of the state “muddled and non revolutionary” as the state is a product of the social division of labor which is not transformed overnight and cannot be left to be controlled by the servants of capital. The anarchists simply proclaim to be for the abolition of the state, but have no plan to actually abolish it. Those who simply say they will abolish the state immediately lack an understanding of the historical conditions that produced the state and lead to its existence. Many anarchists argue that simply decentralizing power will end the state, while Lenin stresses the need for centralism and unity in the proletarian state. Yet for Lenin democracy is just as important as centralism, just not sufficient on its own, and the two are not to be counterposed. One must “develop democracy to the utmost” but not separate from the actual tasks of economic transformation in the revolution. Yet while in the proletarian state democracy is developed to the utmost, Lenin cites Engels on the ‘overcoming of democracy’, stating that in a communist future the need for democratic decision making where the majority rules over the minority will no longer be needed because there will be no need for a state.

The transition to Communism is also detailed, essentially taking the schema of dictatorship of the proletariat -> lower phase communism -> high phase communism from the the Marx’s Gothakritik. These sections essentially summarize how the development of communism from the ashes of capitalism will gradually make the state a relic of the past, replacing the rule of law via a coercive mechanism with the force of social norm in a real human community. Yet it also explains this will be a protracted process where elements of capitalism will remain and be phased out as possible. Lenin does mention the problems of bureaucracy, but acts as if simply putting them on an average salary will suffice to keep them in check.

So how does this all hold up today? First of all are the basics of Lenin’s theory of the state. The State under Capitalism is essentially a holdover of the centralized absolutist state renovated to meet the needs of capitalism and democratized to the extent popular struggles have pushed it to do so. That the state serves the ruling class is obvious, but the state also performs certain communal functions for society that cannot be left to private interests. It also has a military function that can’t be reduced to capital accumulation, as even a proletarian state would still need a military to defend itself from capitalist invasion. This is not to say these functions aren’t operated in a class biased matter, but that the state cannot simply be reduced to a body of armed men that defend the interest of the ruling class. There is a non-elected bureaucracy in the state that is not entirely parasitic but necessary for the day to day running of cities for example. Until their skills are redistributed, society will still need to rely on them, similar to how the Bolsheviks had to rely on Tsarist military generals. One could say that Lenin overestimates how quickly a complete break with the bourgeois state and its bureaucracy can take place, as if the Soviets can simply pop up and replace it once they are revolutionary enough. Yet while the Soviets can make important decisions, the actual running of the state on a day to day basis will still fall to the bureaucracy if the Soviets cannot perform their function.

This is not to say that “every cook cannot govern” contrary to Lenin, but that there are real embedded problems with bureaucracy that can’t simply be dealt with through force. Specialists and bureaucrats do contain monopolies of knowledge that allows them a privileged place in society as a result of that knowledge being necessary for society. Lenin doesn’t make a plan for dealing with this, but it becomes a problem on day one when the Red Guards have to break a Civil Servant strike opposed to the new Soviet regime. The same problem exists in industry and the military, with loyalists of the old regime being relied upon to keep society running and defending the workers republic. Relying on these specialists created problems for the proletarian state, as there was no plan to phase them out and collectivize their skills, creating the basis for a “red bureaucracy” that would become a force of conservatism in the new Soviet Republic. Some system must be developed to a) observe and control the bureaucrats and b) break down their knowledge monopolies and simplify the administration to make it so that they are easily replaceable. Breaking down these knowledge monopolies involves not only technological advances but also expansion of educational opportunities for the masses.

There is also the problem of “all power to the Soviets” as the solution to the state. Soviets are councils of workers that tend to form from strike committees in cross industry mass strikes to make decisions in those particular struggles. In a way they are “united fronts of the workers movement” where all different tendencies and trades in a region unite to make large scale political decisions in a mass struggle. After the mass struggle is over, the Soviets are no longer needed, and authority returns to the trade union and political parties. So therefore soviets have a sort of transient nature; they are not standing bodies that continuously meet to make decisions in most cases. Lenin’s aim was to turn the the Soviets into such organizations that would run society. The problem was that he ignored other important aspects of the state, such as the role of political parties.

If one has no political parties to choose from in voting for candidates, or only one, the result is that Soviets or other mass democratic assemblies simply will become rubber stamp organizations for the one ruling party. This is exactly what happened in the USSR – the Soviets tried to become the state but ultimately authority fell to the Bolshevik Party. It is similar for the local councils in Cuba. Lenin says nothing about the role of political parties in the new proletarian state in his essay, but as every political regime ever has revealed, the ruling party or parties largely determine the character of the regime. While the Bolsheviks did not seize power alone (they did so in alliance with the Left-SRs), their break with the Left SRs and the crisis of war communism sending proletarians to the front meant that the Soviets simply lost their ability to act as standing bodies of authority for the working class. By the mid 1920s Bolshevik delegates would dominate the soviets, the rest having no party affiliation with other parties being banned. No parties or even party factions meant workers had no real choices in voting for a political programme, but simply voted for the personalities of those running, or who could be best directed by the party to do their job.

A key insight that Lenin misses here, ironically enough, is the importance of the party. A Soviet democracy must actually be one where democratically organized mass parties collaborate. All states are essentially party-states to some degree, but this doesn’t mean they can’t be democratic. In general, a state is only as democratic as its ruling parties are. This means the internal regime of the those parties; do the rank and file meaningfully determine policy, are factions allowed? Even in a “one party state” different factions of the party can serve as different political options that people can vote for. This opportunity closed in 1921 with the banning of party factions. The nature of the soviets in a state where one monolithic party was ruling could only be to legitimize the rule of that party, and so any hope of bringing workers into the administration of society (which was still maintained in the course of the Civil War) was lost. The role of soviets became changed not because the Bolsheviks crushed them, but because conditions of the war, loss of interparty democracy, and the betrayal of the Left-SRs who launched a terror campaign against the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty (which also meant the armed wing of the revolution, the cheka, would become monopolized by the Bolsheviks). Whether soviets, citizens councils, or mass assemblies, these regional decision-making bodies on their own do not ensure democratic governance. This doesn’t mean rejecting such bodies, but realistically understanding their role, and the need for political parties that are themselves member-run and democratic.

An argument often made (see Brinton’s Bolsheviks and Workers Control) is that the Party essentially betrayed the Soviets by promoting its authority against their authority, overthrowing the authentic revolution. In this narrative the Soviets are basically “destroyed” by the Bolsheviks. What happened was moreso that the Soviets were hollowed out and the Bolshevik Party was the only force left to fill in the gap of authority. Ultimately, for the soviets to have governed, it would have been in partnership with a political party/parties and not in opposition to them. It is not possible to remove political parties from councils without banning parties outright, which would simply be a way to destroy programmatic politics and meaningful democracy. Political parties are not contrary to democracy, but essential for it, as no parties means no real political choices can be voted on, just personalities. Rather than looking at the question in terms of “do the Soviets govern or does the party govern” we should look at it in terms of “how will the parties and councils work together to ensure a government based on proletarian democracy.”

There is also the question of how useful the model of the “Soviet pyramid” for socialists governance is. To summarize, the model works where lower bodies elect delegates to regional bodies, and these delegates then elect the delegate of higher, central bodies. This idea is supposed to give more power to lower regional bodies but instead allows a single party to more easily concentrate power within the councils. This is because of a mediary regional council elects the central council, which creates a degree of separation between the voters and the central council. This ‘pyramid’ can have even more layers of mediation between the voters and the central gov, increasingly alienating the voters from their representatives. A more simple way to go would be to have local councils elected by locals and a central council elected universally that local councils are responsible to. While Soviet pyramid model is favored by Trotskyists, Council Communists, and Anarchists as “more democratic” it is actually less democratic.

sovietpyramid.png

An example of the “Soviet Pyramid” model from Cornelius Castoriadis, 1972.

 

This is not to dismiss the importance of councils of workers and local assemblies of governance in the revolution. As Engels pointed out in a footnote to Marx’s 1850 Address to the Communist League, “local and provincial government” can become “the most powerful lever of the revolution”. He cites the example of the local assemblies and communes of governance in the French Revolution, which were able to fall within the general laws set by the national assembly while pushing the revolution forward. It was these types that were first destroyed in the Thermidor according to Engels. Furthermore Engels argues that such “local and provincial governance does not “stand in contradiction to political, national centralization.” Rather than seeing a strict dichotomy between the locals and central governance Engels sees them both playing a cooperative role.

There is no doubt that such organizations like the Soviets becoming hollowed out signified a defeat for the Russian Revolution. Yet one must understand that the power of the Soviets ultimately failed because the party regime failed, and both must work together to be truly democratic. Organizations like the citizens councils of the Paris Commune and the Russian Soviets where the masses partake in government are essential for any kind of “proletarian civil society” to exist. The point is that we cannot count on the spontaneous activities of councils to solve the problem of governance; they are not a solution to bureaucracy on their own.  

Of course one cannot blame the failures of the Bolsheviks to overcome bureaucracy on Lenin’s lack of clear vision or a theoretical blunder. Ultimately the question of bureaucracy comes down to class struggle, the battle for proletarians to control officials and specialists through democratic measures. Yet Russian proletarians faced a situation of being in a peasant dominated country with a lack of modernization, hoping their revolution would spread internationally. To quote Rosa Luxemburg: “It would be demanding something superhuman from Lenin and his comrades if we should expect of them that under such circumstances they should conjure forth the finest democracy, the most exemplary dictatorship of the proletariat and a flourishing socialist economy. By their determined revolutionary stand, their exemplary strength in action, and their unbreakable loyalty to international socialism, they have contributed whatever could possibly be contributed under such devilishly hard conditions. The danger begins only when they make a virtue of necessity and want to freeze into a complete theoretical system all the tactics forced upon them by these fatal circumstances, and want to recommend them to the international proletariat as a model of socialist tactics.”

Lenin wrote more about issues of bureaucracy in his latter years, after it became clear the vision of Soviet democracy was not the immediate outcome of the revolution. Instead the regime of the NEP, closer economically to Lenin’s original plans, took place of the unfeasible attempt at ‘war communism’ and Lenin began in his last days to try and solve the problem of bureaucracy. Ultimately, a full on Thermidor with the rise of Stalinism ensured these issues would never be properly dealt with, the NEP society that was the ultimate outcome of the revolution being destroyed in favor of a militaristic bureaucratic industrialism.

While State and Revolution is a masterpiece of communist theory, it has certain limitations that have been shown by the historical attempts to apply its ideas. It does provide a useful framework for thinking about the state, emphasizing the importance of its inherently class nature.What it doesn’t contain is all the answers about the complexity of the state during the transition to communism and exact answers to how one will construct the dictatorship of the proletariat. Rather than simply studying State and Revolution on its own we must study the Russian Revolution to see where its assumptions hold up, and when they don’t, why this is the case.

Kill All Normies – neither radical or useful

If you’re searching for a materialist analysis of the alt-right or modern identity politics, look elsewhere.

Angela Nagle’s Kill All Normies is a short book, but its created a massive amount of controversy in the left. Unfortunately much of it has taken the form twitter harassment rather than actual debate. The topic of the alt-right, which is basically the current ideological form of “counter-revolution” in the US is a serious topic Marxists should understand, despite how marginal it is. However much of the controversy around Nagle’s book is focused on whether or not she is a transphobe. Nagle’s gender politics are definitely conservative, but more important than Nagle’s personal views is whether the book provides an accurate and useful narrative for understanding the alt-right and how these views influence her understanding. I believe the narrative that Nagle presents regarding the rise of the alt-right is basically off the mark and will try to provide an alternative narrative. I have spent quite a bit of time studying the alt-right and the beliefs of their main ideologues, so I feel like I have some level of knowledge that I can bring to the table.

First of all, what are the merits of the book? On one end it does provide a decent geography of the alt-right subculture, and does comprehend that this subculture is very much divided. On one end you have the alt-right proper, who are committed white nationalists and patriarchal traditionalists that believe in anti-semitic conspiracy theories.  These are your followers of Richard Spencer, Greg Johnson, Red Ice Radio, Identity Europa, Matt Heimbach, Kevin Macdonald, and Christopher Cantwell. On the other end you have what is derided by these more hardcore white nationalists as the alt-lite, figures like Milo, Paul Joseph Watson, Sargon of Akkad, Jordan Peterson, Mike Cernovitch and Gavin Mcinnes. The alt-lite stays away from anti-semitism and focuses more on opposing identity politics, rejecting the alt-right for being identity politics for whites. While there are reactionary viewpoints of all kinds shared by both sides, Nagle does have awareness of some of the contradictions within the broader new right. 

Nagle does also demonstrate how social media has changed the terrain of politics, where memes are now an important part of a presidential campaign. While focusing on this instead probably would’ve made for a more interesting book, Nagle does demonstrate how the ability of the alt-right to use the internet to wage a campaign of cultural subversion is an example of how online spaces have become places where political discourse is developed. There is an argument to be made that the far-right has done the best job at mastering the medium of the internet so far, leading to the popular phrase that “the left can’t meme.”

The left of course can meme, but its internet subcultures are critiqued pretty harshly by Nagle. Her argument that tumblr ID politics are based on a cult of victimhood is coupled with a sort of dismissal of the actual reason tumblr ID politics exist. Her take on identity politics has also been a large part of the controversy around the book. For example, Nagle mocks the “spoon theory” that people with disabilities use to describe the drudgery of suffering from chronic fatigue and physical dysfunction in a cruel world of market domination. She also says that women who have never been in the military most likely don’t suffer PTSD when arguing wholesale against the idea of trigger warnings. There is also her treatment of Judith Butler, where she is blamed for the fringe phenomena of ‘otherkin’ which is mostly invoked to mock transgender individuals. It comes off in bad taste, callous and dismissive of the real oppression people suffer from. Fans of Kill All Normies point to the negative reaction to the book from “social justice tumblr and twitter” as proving the books point. All it really proves is that leftists aren’t a fan of conservative gender politics and mocking disabled people, which is correct and rightfully so.

The reason tumblr ID politics exists is that people experience real oppression in their daily lives, and a lack of collective solutions leads people to individualistic methods of coping with this. Of course this culture can also have a toxic side of heavily policing people’s views and online harassment. But the alt-right doesn’t simply gain followers by seeking out the most absurd and excessive examples of tumblr ID politics to try and paint the entire left as ‘irrational’ rather than emotional. This is a tactic the right has always used, taking the excesses of the left to argue against the very principles of the left. Most people can comprehend that what a small minority that the right focuses on doesn’t represent the entire left.

While it was treatment of the topic of tumblr feminism that caused the most rage from some quarters of the left, the primary problem with Kill All Normies primarily lies within the narrative of how the alt-right came into existence, using a methodology that itself has more in common with liberal cultural theory than marxist materialism. Nagle’s theory is essentially this: 1) liberal multiculturalism and diversity have become the main ideology of “elites” 2) there is a long tradition of transgression that goes back to the Marquis De Sade, that once belonged to the left and 3) now that liberal multiculturalism is the dominant ideology, attempts to be transgressive today will simply mean attacking the values of these liberal elites and the culture of 4chan provides a perfect medium for this. So therefore the Alt-Right are not so much in the tradition of far right politics but rather that of Antonin Artaud, George Bataille or even the Situationists, subverting the modern hegemony of liberal political correctness. 

There are many problems with this narrative. For one it mostly sees the alt-right as a purely online phenomena, while ideologues like Richard Spencer and Kevin MacDonald have been organizing their think tanks and affinity groups for quite some time, and as proven by events in Charloettesville they are quite willing to take their ideas ‘to the streets’. There is a lack of information about the actual alt-right as it exists in the real world. Politics happens in the real world, not on the internet. Nothing is said about the efforts of white supremacist organizers like Identity Europa or the Traditionalist Workers Party to organize frats or rural workers and what kind of visions these groups have (a balkanization of the US and the create of an all-white “enthno state” is a common one). Rather Nagle pretends the alt-right is only an online phenomena, when these people have been trying to promote these politics for years. While one could say the book is focused on online culture wars, these “culture wars” do not exist in a vacuum isolated from the society that created them. 

Nagle also completely ignores the role of Ron Paul libertarianism. Anyone who understands the alt-right knows there’s a connection between libertarian politics and the alt-right, and that many people disappointed by the failure of Ron Paulism turned to the alt-right. Most of us can name at least one libertarian friend who ended up going pro-Trump or full on white identitarian. Libertarianism, an ideology where all morality is based on property rights in a country built on a foundation of slavery and segregation attracts racists. Libertarianism’s emphasis on competition can lead its followers to embrace Social Darwinism and explore ideas related to race realism. This creates a connection between white identitarians and libertarianism.  A case example is Christopher Cantwell, who started as a libertarian online ideologue but came to decide that fascism was needed to create a white “ethno-state” that would make libertarian economics possible. But this is hardly a new phenomena, since libertarians like Murray Rothbard have also cooperated with the racialist right. From Ron Paul’s libertarian paleoconservatism it was very easy for many to move further to the right, especially realizing that Ron Paul wouldn’t solve their economic problems. It’s a common trope that there’s an expressway from libertarianism to the alt-right, with Richard Spencer himself starting in politics as an anti-war libertarian. The ‘base’ created by Ron Paul gathered people disaffected with the republican party with racist paleo-conservatives. There is a sort of vulgar positivism to libertarian ideology that bides well with race realism. Libertarianism ideology, at its most extreme in anarcho-capitalism, has even flirted with endorsement for monarchism over democracy such as in the works of Hans-Herman Hoppe. Seeing markets as more democratic than any kind of state institution, free market liberalism is itself is critical of all that is egalitarian and democratic and therefore in its most extreme variants biding well with the ideology of the alt-right.

Another problem lies in the premise that liberal multiculturalism, as expressed at its most extreme on tumblr, is the ideology of the ruling elite. The very notion of a ruling elite should be thrown out, for we live under the power of a ruling class. Furthermore, the ruling class is not homogeneous and competes within itself. So it is hard to say that there is one monolithic ruling class ideology, but rather there are different competing ideologies that are often contradictory. So while liberal multiculturalism is part of the ruling ideology, so is white supremacy. Bourgeois society isn’t one unified bloc.

Nagle seems to find the contradiction between the alt-right’s aesthetics of anime porn, vulgarity, and appeals to traditionalism as a fascinating new development in the right. It is true that we are used to typical religious conservative appeals to family values and condemning obscenity. Yet at the same time how many of these religious conservatives have been found to be complete hypocrites? A sense of moral transgression and deviance was also present in the original fascist movement. Gabriel D’Annuzio, whose attempt was to create a colony in Fiume based on the rule of bohemian intellectuals fueled by national chauvinism was a classic example. As Wilhelm Reich noted in Mass Psychology of Fascism, Nazi subculture used promises of sex and rebellious behavior like smoking cigarettes to win support from the youth. Julius Evola got his start in dada, and one cannot also ignore the influence of the avant-garde Futurists on Mussolini. So fascists have used forms of transgression before. It’s just not a transgression that attacks the basic moral fabric of capitalism and class society itself. Rather, they attack the democratic aspects of modern capitalist society, like universal suffrage and the notion of human rights for oppressed groups, which are often won through popular struggle in defiance to capitalism. It is the simply part of the psuedo-revolutionary aspect of fascism, presenting tradition and order as a revolutionary alternative to the decadence of modernity.

The idea the alt-right are being transgressive against the rulers of culture is only true in the most shallow sense. Their inherently anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic ideology is actually fully compatible with capitalism. Ultimately, norms like nationalism and the family are upheld by the alt-right, norms which are essential for the reproduction of capitalism. While some alt-righters might try to move towards a sort of third positionist attempt to combine anti-capitalism with their idea of counter-revolution, ultimately their ideas amount to economic nationalism and localism and don’t actual challenge the rule of private property. So while the alt-right may revel in their sense of transgressiveness, it has nothing to do with the tradition of transgression represented by De Sade or Bataille who were attacking the moral authority of the ruling class itself. The alt-right yearn for a ruling class with firmly established moral authority.

The roots of the alt-right are not in the historical tradition of transgression. Rather they are part of the tradition of counter-enlightenment, the ideologies of those who wished to forever undo 1789 and 1917. De Maistre and Carlyle, Nietzsche, Julius Evola, Oswald Spengler, Carl Schmitt, Mussolini, and Martin Heidegger are the intellectual heritage of the alt-right. It is the intellectual heritage of opposition to enlightenment ideals and the marxist perfection of these ideas, such as universalism, human equality, the desire to be free from domination, the attack on illegitimate authority, an opposition to the patriarchal family. These are thinkers who in the cases of the bourgeois revolution of 1789 and the proletarian revolution of 1917 virulently opposed the general attempt to make a better humanity and put forward ideals that directly negated the notions of human equality, questioning of tradition and self-rule. Instead tradition, hierarchy, patriarchy, and ethnic collectivism were to be upheld. The intellectuals of the Alt-right like Richard Spencer are part of this tradition of ‘counter-revolution’ that most fiercely manifested itself in the Nazi death camps.  Yet they are counter-revolutionary ideologues without a revolution to crush.

We are living in a period where liberal centrism seems to be in crisis, and it’s hard to imagine things going the same way much longer. There is a sense of alienation and fear about the existing conditions, as well as a sense of paranoia. Without a strong left, the far-right will grow in situations like this even if there is no revolution to crush. And with swathes of young middle class men who are sexually repressed and blame the decadence of modern society as the cause their problems, specifically freedom for women, this counter-revolutionary politic can find a base. This is explored in the chapter on the manosphere in Nagle’s book, but hardly sufficiently.

As Matthew Lyons has pointed out, the modern alt-right is especially sexist and misogynistic compared to the far right of the past. Nagle does touch on this in her chapter that focuses on the manosphere, but in the process reveals her own conservative gender politics. For example she concludes in her chapter on the manosphere by saying that the “sexual revolution” has led to a “steep sexual hierarchy”, the decline of monogamy creating a “pecking order” amongst men. So accordingly, some men are inherently going to be at the bottom and denied sex, hence leading to the insanely sexist reactionary politics these men carry. So essentially the MRAs in a sense are right according to Nagle, that the “sexual revolution” has created a pecking order where some men are simply bound to lose.

Nagle doesn’t conclude from here that we need a reestablishment of intense patriarchal gender norms like the alt-right, but she essentially agrees that this has dealt men a bad hand which leads them to embrace reactionary gender roles. Yet it is better to understand the embrace of reactionary patriarchy by these young men as a reaction to the actual gains feminists have made for the rights of women, which men ideologized as being at their expense. They imagine an ideal where being born white and middle class would mean they’re guaranteed a hot wife, a 6 figure job and a family they’re in command of, an ideal that never existed. Instead they develop an ideology around the hatred of women and resentment, blaming ‘cultural marxist feminists’ for talking away this idealized past. The idea that these men just can’t get laid and are therefore doomed to be this reactionary just feeds exactly into the ideology of reddit incels.

The breakdown of the family as a unit of production under capitalism does do a huge blow to patriarchal relations and the domination of the family structure without eliminating it. This allows radical gender politics to develop because there is less of a patriarchal structure enforcing gender norms. The amount of divorces that occurs is a good metric for how much freedom women have. The rise of mass society also allows for women to participate in politics. One can see the intense sexism of the modern alt-right as a reaction to this. One particularly controversial alt-right meme is “White sharia”, the idea that whites need their own sharia law to put women back in their place. People don’t believe this stuff because they’re at the bottom of some imaginary sexual hierarchy, but because they’re delusional conspiracy theorists and revanchists against freedom for women. Their own hatred of women and feminism is probably a factor in why they are ‘incel’.

While there isn’t a revolution to be counter to, in the sense that they want to roll back the advances made for women due to the breakdown of family structures the alt-right is still in the tradition of reaction and counter revolution. For example, Julius Evola warned that capitalism is just as revolutionary and subversive as communism. So a sense of sexual resentment against women winning rights can be seen as a main factor that fuels the alt-right. The ideas of Wilhelm Reich (in his marxist period) on how the sexual repression of the patriarchal family structure fuels counter-revolution make sense in the context of the alt-right.

Another factor to take into consideration is the weakening of the global color line and the structures of white supremacy being less embedded in a formalized political hierarchy. The post-colonial world of a multinational proletariat was created by a blow to white supremacy and in turn has led to a desire for white revanchism which is justifying with false ideologies of victimization. White supremacy, while still a major force, was relatively weakened by decolonization and movements for civil rights. Yet petty-bourgeois whites are still raised in the US to expect a special social status. The extreme racism of the alt-right can be seen as a result of anxieties about loss of this status. Alt-right racism is very much an expression of the anxieties of global white supremacy, where the main item of faith is belief in a white genocide due to immigration changing demographics.

The irony is that for its hatred of post-structuralist inspired identity politics, Kill All Normies is basically a discursive account of the alt-right, focusing on the online discourses created by the alt-right and not looking at the actual material conditions that have given rise to his ideology. As much as the alt-right is an internet phenomena, the conditions that give rise to this ideology aren’t explainable purely through online discourse. What’s being used is an essentially liberal methodology. What is needed is a materialist understanding of the alt-right and what factors in society have given rise to it. Simply focusing on its online discourse provides a shallow surface level analysis.

Kill All Normies isn’t Marxist. It’s hardly even leftist. It comes mostly from a liberal centrist opposition to “extremism”. Yet opposition to identity politics from the left has led many self proclaimed communists to embrace the book, despite the inherently conservative nature of Nagle’s arguments. While it is true that identity politics can be used as a way to suppress class politics, Nagle doesn’t even seem to think that class politics should replace identity politics. Her primary problem with identity politics seems to its “oversensitivity” and “extremism”, not their failure to adequately address exploitation and oppression in a materialist manner. Communists should critique bourgeois identity politics not to dismiss fighting against oppression, but rather to develop a more materialist and effective means of doing so.

How the Bolshevik Revolution Inspired Americans

The Bolshevik Revolution aimed to inspire workers of all countries to unite for the creation of a world soviet republic. Workers in the United States were no exception. 

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“Nowhere are all the means of political power so shamelessly purchasable as in America: administration, popular representation, courts, police and press; nowhere are they so directly dependent on the great capitalists. And nowhere is it more apparent than there that a proletariat with a Socialist conscience is the only means of saving the nation, which is falling even faster into complete servitude to the great capitalists than they are able to subjugate foreign countries.” – Karl Kautsky, 1902

Today it is hard to imagine the current neo-liberal regime going on as it has for much longer. The rise of populism from both the left and right has shown that the project to de-politicize society in favor of the rule of the market has failed. In both reactionary and progressive ways the masses are entering the stage of politics and rejecting the notion “there is no alternative”.

However, a crisis can simply mean another repeated cycle of barbarism as failed attempts to transcend capitalism are overtaken by reactionary forces, which we saw in the period from 1917-1945. While 1945 ended with a sort of class compromise, the gains that workers have been able to make have only been rolled back according to the imperatives of capitalism. The dream of social-democracy still lingers on however, as well as the dreams of regressing into a “simpler way of life” based on autonomous communes and/or small local communities. There are both right wing and left wing variants of these visions, but both ignore that that the destruction of capitalism can only result in an emancipatory society if it happens on a global scale.

Much of the left has given up on this project, its roots in the defeat of Bolshevism by Stalinism and other factors. The left has instead looked inward to the nation, looking for solutions to the problems of capitalism within the confines of the nation-state. It is of course very difficult to imagine a global communist revolution given the current popularity of nationalism (and the mere difficulty of organizing such a project), so it is no surprise that this vision for most of the left has been disregarded as utopian. Only small sects of Trotskyists and Left-communists still seem to have true internationalism at the core of their beliefs.

Yet in 1917 a section of the left didn’t take the path of least resistance, and launched a revolution that looked beyond national borders. The universalism of the Bolsheviks message was a true universalism meant for all of humanity, so it is little wonder reactionaries like Oswald Spengler saw the Bolshevik Revolution as signalling the death of “white civilization” as revolutionaries in the colonies took up the call to arms as well as in Europe. The message of global revolution resonated throughout the world, far beyond Lenin and company. It even inspired revolutionaries in the United States of America, where sociologist Werner Sombart previously claimed socialism could never get a foothold.

Of course, the Cold War historiography aims to deny this, painting Bolshevism as a sort of foreign contaminant to be rooted out of the real American nation that had no use for such ideas. Bolshevism was presented as completely alien to “real American life” with no real resonance beyond a few immigrants. The direction of this historiography (reflected in the works of Theodore Draper and Harvey Klehr) has been to paint all the activities of the Communist Parties as a sort of “foreign interference in our democratic process”, not a popular movement that attracted actual adherents. For many it could come as a surprise that Bolshevism did inspire many American workers, and it was often the experiences of workers as militants in the USA that attracted them to Bolshevism.

The experiences of John Reed as an American Bolshevik are generally well known; there are many more examples of Americans who were inspired by Bolshevism that are not. While John Reed was a famous intellectual, often forgotten are the mass actions of rank-and-file workers that were inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution, as well as the reactions of lesser known intellectuals and public figures.

While internationalist politics spread like a wildfire due to the Bolshevik Revolution, many American workers already had their own experiences of organizing on internationalist grounds in the syndicalist IWW. The IWW aspired to be One Big Union that would unite all workers regardless of race or gender and was directly influenced by syndicalist movements in France and Italy, as demonstrated by Salvatore Salerno’s Red November, Black November. Some members of the IWW even found themselves fighting alongside Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magon. The IWW had a vision of workers directly taking over production through industrial unions or syndicates formed in organized direct action against the employers. For members of the IWW, the Bolshevik Revolution’s promise of “soviet power” where workers councils would rule was linked to their own ideas of taking over production through syndicates.

The militancy and universalism of the IWW stood in stark contrast to the Socialist Party USA, which had denounced direct action and had instances of segregated locals. However the SPUSA did have a left wing, best personified by Eugene Debs who supported the IWW and intransigently opposed the First World War. By 1915 the left wing of the party formed the Socialist Propaganda League due to tensions with the reformist right. There was also Daniel DeLeon’s Socialist Labor Party, which was less of a political force but through its combination of industrial unionism and party politics attracted many radical workers. While Socialism in the USA was a divided force, there was no lack of a “vanguard” of workers who would be willing to take up the cause of the world revolution in the footsteps of the Bolsheviks.

Despite the conservatism of much of the Socialist Party, members like John Earl Haynes of the Cleveland Socialist Party issued statements of support for Bolshevik universalism. The Cleveland SP’s statement would praise “the Bolshevik effort to establish peace…without annexations and without indemnities” arguing that the alternative was the utter destruction of human civilization. The statement also pledges allegiance to the Bolshevik cause of wiping out imperialism to establish a world commonwealth without regards to nationality. This shows that almost instantly throughout the US the Bolshevik revolution resonated with certain groups in the left, many of them part of organizations whose conservatism held back the radical views of the rank-and-file. What is present is not an in depth knowledge of Bolshevik ideology and theory, but rather enthusiasm for the universalism of the cause that the revolution stood for.

Even a  preacher like Dr. John Haynes Holme could find inspiration in the October Revolution, who gave a sermon titled “Thank God For The Russian Revolution”. To reduce Holmes to a pastor would of course do disservice to his commitment to democratic freedoms: he was an early member of the NAACP (and white) as well as a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union. Holmes’ sermon is a Thanksgiving Day prayer that declared a hope that “The spirit of Tolstoy today is ruling Russia” and is “not a thing we can give too much thanksgiving” as the “peasants of Russia have overthrown the Czar, and with him the spirit of autocracy, war, Siberia, and oppression.” The vision set forth by Holmes is one of pacifistic Christianity that has little in common with Marxism except a sense of universal human equality. The sermon is in fact rather naive; the Bolsheviks who saw liberation through heavy industry with the peasants as a historically doomed class couldn’t be further from Tolstoy’s vision. Yet the sermon shows a very key aspect to how the revolution struck a chord in people of all backgrounds and belief systems, resonating with those all around the world to all who identified with the struggle to end exploitation and oppression. One did not have to be Marxist to identify the abolition of Czardom and call to end WWI as historic breaking points in the struggle for a more equitable and free humanity.

While many individual socialists would praise the revolution with words, others would organize specifically to support it. The first pro-Bolshevik group in the United States formed within a month of the October Revolution, the Friends of the Russian Revolution. According to Theodore Draper the organization saw prominent participation from the left-wing of the Socialist Party. The organization’s main goals were to promote a peace without annexations, which saw them lobbying senators to prevent the damage the US would do to the new workers republic in Russia. Their demands were for “friendly relations between American and Russian democracy” which included fair play in commerce with the new Russian State and for a “peace parley” under Russian leadership to develop a peace without annexations worldwide. The demand for peace, as evidenced in the aforementioned examples, seems to have been one of the calls of the Bolsheviks that most clearly resonated to an international base. The Friends of the Russian Revolution also held mass demonstrations, including one in Carnegie Hall where after they changed their name to Friends of the New Russia. While police marshalls intimidated the gathering, ultimately the meeting attracted enough supporters around the cause of recognizing Revolutionary Russia to make police repression fruitless. Future Communist Party leader James Cannon would speak, arguing that international cooperation between nations would be needed to end war, calling on the United States to accumulate no territories or tolerate such from their allies.

These initial outburst of support in the US would eventually take organizational form beyond groups lobbying the Senate for fair play. A group calling themselves Red Guards with support from the Socialist Propaganda League would combine and throw together a group of 500 volunteers called Red Guards (after the institution in Russia) and send a delegation to ask the Wilsonian War Department for permission to go fight in Russia. Of course the venture was a failure, described by Theodore Draper as “inglorious” and “pathetic.” While the actual attempt failed, it did bring Richard Fraina, an idealistic internationalist, to the forefront of the pro-Bolshevik faction of the socialist movement, who would address a mass meeting in support of the Red Guard thats workers of all nations should “refuse to fight against the revolutionary workers and peasants of Russia, whose cause is their cause” and to “sweep aside the infamous, imperialistic socialism of Schneidemann and all the social patriots, and to rally around the standard of Karl Liebneckt and Rosa Luxemburg for the social revolution.” This internationalist call showed how partisans of Bolshevism aimed to spread the view that the success of the Russian Revolution was not a mere Russian matter, but the cause of workers of all nations. While ultimately the attempt to send a division of troops to Russia failed, one wonders whether it was meant to be successful at all or to reveal the real attitude of the US government to the Russian Revolution. Either way it showed a growing support for the revolution that was expressed not just in words but in deeds.


The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), arguably the most radical workers organization in the USA at the time, had no lack of members who were inspired or influenced by the Bolshevik Revolution. Many pamphlets were produced and distributed by IWW members praising the revolution, particularly in Tacoma. On January 26th, 1918, the IWW paper Industrial Worker would print “The trend of events in Russia sustains the IWW contention that power of the workers lies in industry and in their unions on the economic field.” While there was a contradiction between the emphasis the Bolsheviks had regarding the centrality of the revolutionary party and the focus on pure industrial action that the IWW espoused, this did little to prevent the IWW from showing strong solidarity with the Bolshevik Revolution. A pamphlet written by Harold Lord Varney, a proletarian militant with experience as acting secretary of the IWW, would write a pamphlet called Industrial Communism which aimed to prove Bolshevism had applied the principles of the IWW in Russia, would express this contradiction. For Varney “the communist proletariat are Bolshevists in Europe….in America, they are the Industrial Workers of the World”. He makes a direct comparison between the Soviets in Russia, that aimed to represent the entire working class in a given region and the Industrial Unionism of the IWW that aimed to build “one big union of all workers”. This idea of Soviet Power is seen as uniting the IWW and Bolshevism, which Varney admits come from different traditions of struggle, with the IWW a “spontaneous product of capitalist despotism” and Bolshevism “a sprout of political Socialism” with roots in the 2nd international He continues to argue that the IWW, as opposed to other global trade unions, is a thoroughly Marxist and Communist organization at the core.  


This document is very revealing for understanding how the October Revolution and Bolshevik Party were initially understood by militant American workers. While not ignoring their differences, Industrial Communism essentially projects onto Bolshevism the ideas of the IWW, seeing Soviet Power as the essence of Bolshevism and Soviet Power as essentially the same as the IWW. For Varney the two merely differ due to national circumstances, with Bolshevism more suited for Russia while the IWW was more suited for the United States. “All power the soviets” is translated to “all power to the IWW” for Varney, showing that he is looking at the revolution through the lens of his own radical tradition, almost seeing the Bolshevik Revolution as the dream of the IWW being put into practice.

Yet for Varney, the revolution that the IWW will usher forth is different from the Bolshevik Revolution in another key way – it will develop from the IWW forming the “new society” in the shell of the old and then coming to state power through mass strikes, not needing any kind of red terror in order to govern. For Varney the Bolsheviks were forced to terror because they came to power in a country where capitalism had yet to exhaust itself, while the American IWW will not make this mistake and see that capitalism evolves into socialism as peacefully as possible. Yet Varney does not make this argument to propose some form of American exceptionalism, claiming the red terror in Russia also could have been averted by learning from the Industrial Unionism of the IWW. These differences are less important for Varney than the practical task of unity between the IWW and Revolutionary Russia:  “The Russian Bolsheviki have given to the I. W. W. the thrill of success. They have given to the I. W. W. a great historic example of tactics….as the proletariat of America rally to the IWW they build an organization which shall rise in victory beyond Bolshevism to INDUSTRIAL COMMUNISM.” While the pamphlet can’t seem to decide whether to portray the IWW as American Bolsheviks or argue for the superiority of the IWW over the Bolsheviks, the point that workers in the IWW should rally for the cause of the Russian Revolution makes it clear he sees their struggles as intertwined and in solidarity. Varney also makes it clear the Bolshevik revolution provided an impetus for militancy, providing the “thrill of success” that has made the goal of a workers society not a mere abstraction but a reality to actively fight for in the now.

Labor movement support for the Bolsheviks went beyond the radical IWW, though often pushing against conservative labor leader. The general view of Bolshevism by union bureaucrats like Samuel Gompers was negative, trying to hold back worker militancy. Gompers initial reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution was condemnation. Yet this came up against opposition from the rank and file, with delegates at the AFL convention on 1919 in Atlantic City making resolutions that called for an end to US intervention in Russia, with a delegation from Seattle claiming “The workers of Russia are endeavoring to establish in their country a government of and by the workers; and the capitalist of the world are seeking to annul their efforts.” The resolutions weren’t passed, but the AFL leadership eventually compromised with a resolution that called for the withdrawal of US “at the earliest possible moment.” On the other hand the ILGWU were able to pass resolutions that condemned the US blockade and a reestablishment with trade with Russia. The Amalgamated Clothing Workers (ACA) was even more supportive of the revolution, denouncing the American blockade and calling for solidarity with the Soviet Republic. Yet the AWC was not affiliated with the AFL and therefore not responsible to Gompers, who would criticize their position. The labor bureaucracy, as capitals last line of defense, was quick to denounce Bolshevism. However, according to Philip Foner, the rank-and-file of the AFL was supportive of the Bolshevik Revolution and campaigns to stop US intervention. Lenin himself would note that “In the United States, the strongest and youngest capitalist country, workers have tremendous sympathy with the Soviets.”

The rise of Soviet Power and Bolshevism in Russia most importantly impacted the labor movement in the Seattle General Strike. In 1919 workers in Seattle essentially attempted to take power over the city in a mass strike led by the AFL Metal Trades Council and IWW that shut down the city. The strike erupted out of a series of labor disputes that developed to the point where workers across industries agreed to strike. A strike committee composed of delegates elected from each local was put in control of the city once all major industry was shut down, a situation similar to the idea of workers councils running society. According to Jeremy Brecher, the lead up to the strike saw distribution of massive amounts of propaganda about how workers had taken power in the Bolshevik Revolution with even the more conservative members of the Seattle Labor Movement supporting the revolution and US intervention. There can be little doubt that the militancy of the strike action was spurred not only by the strike wave hitting the nation as a whole that year but also by example of the Bolshevik Revolution. One leaflet stated quite clearly that “The Russians have shown the way out,” urging workers to take full control over industry and begin establishing a socialist society. Yet the Seattle General Strike could only last for so long without a national plan to take power, something the Bolsheviks had that the Seattle strikers didn’t. Eventually the delegates elected to the strike committee in charge decided to end the strike. However without the precedent set by the Bolshevik Revolution, it is hard to imagine workers going as far as they did.

Seattle_General_Strike

The Seattle General Strike can be seen as an attempt of American workers trying to create a version of “soviet power” in their own city. What was inspirational to workers was not so much the sophisticated Marxism of the Bolsheviks but their rhetoric of workers control and soviet power, which seemed amenable to the syndicalist ideology of the IWW. Also inspiring was the internationalism of the Bolsheviks, which told workers across the ocean that they were essentially engaged in the same struggle. This appealed to workers across political divisions who thought that the American Socialist movement was too nationalist and narrow in its concerns. The Seattle General Strike showed the militancy that American workers were capable of, yet whether they were able to organize into a force able to take state power was another question. Bolshevism, with its emphasis on the proletarian party, would provide an answer for workers who wanted the militancy of syndicalism but the benefits of party organization.

The Seattle General Strike was not the only workers revolt inspired by Soviet Power however. In 1919 Local 25 of International Lady Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) saw female insurgents organize “workers councils” like the Soviets of Russia in a rebellion against the male leadership which they deemed as conservative. This uprising was linked to a general factional conflict in the ILGWU that reached an apogee in the 1920 between communists and more conservative leaders. Local 25 was considered a “girls local” by the conservative leadership, but in the period of 1909-1919 the union saw major growth. Yet women wanted more of a voice in the union, and looked to the model of the Russian workers councils as a means to challenge this lack of democracy. In this case women workers took the ideas of “soviet power” to challenge the sexism within their union, within a male dominated labor movement that often simply cared about “pure and simple” trade unionism. The victory for women’s rights in the Bolshevik Revolution, which saw female suffrage introduced before the US, acted as inspiration for proletarian women to challenge the male dominated labor movement.

Black radicals were also driven to militancy by the Bolshevik Revolution with its call for an end to colonialism and freedom for the oppressed in all nations. Black Americans were often sidelined and ignored by the US Left, with Socialist Party locals in the South often being segregated. As noted by Mark Solomon, the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution saw independent socialist currents emerging in black Harlem such as the 21st AD Socialist Club and the Peoples Education Forum. Intellectuals such as Hubert Harrison, Cyril Briggs and Claude McKay were all inspired by both the Irish Struggle for independence and the Russian Revolution and would go on to form the African Blood Brotherhood, which “sought to draw together the themes of race patriotism, anti-capitalism, anti-colonialism, and organized defense against racist assault.” The African Blood  Brotherhood would work in alliance with the early Communist Party, aiming to apply a politics that reflected the influence of Bolshevik class struggle and its broader anti-colonial call with the experiences of Black proletarians in Harlem. Claude McKay would also speak to the Comintern on the specific topic of racial oppression in the US in 1921, and was inspired by the fight in Russia against anti-semitism to link the struggle against racism with the organization of the working class. He stated that: 

“Every Negro…should make a study of Bolshevism and explain its meaning for the colored masses. It is the greatest idea afloat in the world today. 

Bolshevism has made Russia safe for the Jew…it might make these United States safe for the Negro. If the Russian idea should take hold on the white masses of the western world then the black toilers will automatically be free.” 

Like the Wobblies who applied the idea of Soviet Power to their own ideas on Industrial Unionism, groups like the African Blood Brotherhood would apply the rhetoric of international revolution and self-determination associated with the Bolsheviks to their experiences as oppressed black Americans. The African Black Brotherhood, while coming from a black nationalist background, would come to communist positions and in their manifesto call for alliances with “the class conscious white workers who have spoken out in favor of African liberation and have a willingness to back with action their expressed sentiments.”

Winning white workers, even communists, to the struggle against racism would prove no easy task. Communists in the US were not free of race prejudice, and the anti-colonial clarion call of the Bolshevik revolution would not cleanse the US communist left of its racism. In his 1921 speech to the Comintern, Claude McKay would say “the Socialists and Communists have fought very shy of it because there is a great element of prejudice among the Socialists and Communists of America. They are not willing to face the Negro question,” leaving the task to the “reformist bourgeoisie.” It would take Comintern intervention to get the US Communist Party to actively fight for civil rights rather than simply treating race as a subsidiary of the labor question. This entailed a struggle within the US labor and communist movement against white supremacy, one which would see the Communist Party eventually become a strident crusader for black rights. Ultimately the fears of white supremacists like Oswald Spengler were correct about the Bolshevik Revolution being a threat to global white supremacy.

Attempts to actually form a Communist Party aligned with the Comintern that came out of the Russian revolution would of course prove to be no easy task, and many IWW militants who were initially attracted to Bolshevism would become alienated by the bureaucracy of the Comintern who chose to work within the AFL instead of the IWW. While a functioning Communist Party would eventually form, it was not because of a lack of support from the militant working class for the mission of the Bolsheviks to spread worldwide communism. With the consolidation of a military dictatorship in the USSR, many workers probably saw the ideals of “soviet power” once embraced by the Bolsheviks as having been betrayed.  While John Reed would claim in 1918 that “Nothing is farther from the normal desires of the American Socialist party than a Revolution. It is really the refuge of almost all intelligent humble people who believe in the principles on which the American Republic was founded” events like the Seattle General Strike showed that a growing revolutionary trend inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution was picking up steam. Where the US left may have been behind the European left in radicalism, lacking a militant movement like those that existed in Germany, Italy, or Finland, a tradition of radicalism that existed in the US working class was certainly invigorated by the Bolshevik Revolution to pursue a more militant and radical course. Ultimately it was the example of Internationalism in action as pursued by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution that showed the possibilities of socialist internationalism as a possibility and not simply an empty slogan. Why revolution never broke out is another question that requires further investigation.

 

Statement on war with Syria

This statement reflects the general views and positions of the Communist League of Tampa. 

“Death to Imperialism!”

We, the Communist League of Tampa, resolutely oppose the recent attacks on Syria that have united the Democratic and Republican war-machine. An attack on the people of Syria is an attack on our fellow citizens of the world and must be opposed for that reason alone. US intervention has always increased civilian deaths and instability, as it will be done on the terms of the financiers and industrialists who rule our government and carve the world into spheres to plunder for financial profits. The capitalist class has decided once and for all that Trump is fit to rule the US now that he has given up his isolationist pretensions. In their sick eyes this has made him truly “presidential.” Yet Trump is merely falling in line with the needs of the ruling capitalist class, staying true to the legacy of US dominance and hegemony over less developed nations. This is of course no surprise; Trump never once represented the interests of working people.

Of course the recent attacks in Syria are not a break in US foreign policy, as intervention through proxies has been the norm for quite some time. The ideology of American exceptionalism tells the public our bombs are for democracy, giving consistent US presence in the Middle East a “humanitarian guise”. However, the very notion that one nation has an inherent right to rule another is anti-democratic at the core. While US crimes against the people of Syria are nothing new, a full on attack against Assad escalates this conflict to a new level and shows increased imperialist tensions that are against the interests of humanity.

Imperialism is inherent to the global system of capital accumulation, based on the competitiveness of firms and military rivalries of nation-states. For the sake of commerce the bourgeoisie wants to maintain a relative peace, but the permanent crisis of capitalism drives nation-states into military competitions that can explode into all out war. Capitalist overproduction has led to a lack of profitable markets, and nothing works better for businesses interests than war. This conflict is not a mere matter of politician’s decisions but a symptom of an inhumane economic system.

Therefore imperialism, a crisis of capitalism, cannot be opposed by supporting one capitalist state against another. Hence, while the main enemy is at home, we reject any position that grants Assad political support of any kind. We call for a ‘third front’ of the democratic working class to develop an opposition to the Assadist regime, US Imperialism, and reactionary Jihadists. We support any efforts that promote the development of such a front.

To make concrete action against the war we must challenge the very system that props up imperialism. Those in the armed forces should take whatever action is possible to resist the war, up to and including mutiny against officers. We also demand unconditional support and citizenship for Syrian refugees. Workers in war production should do what they can to sabotage the military industrial complex. Nationalism and militarism can only be defeated with proletarian internationalism.
No War Between Nations, No Peace Between Classes!