Behind every fascism, there is a failed revolution. -Walter Benjamin
Not only do I really like the writings of Eric Draitser and Yoav Litvin, I had a damned fine evening a few months ago when Eric was in Providence, an experience I would be privileged to replicate with Yoav should he ever end up in the Ocean State. Furthermore I have absolutely no relationship with Caitlin or Diana Johnstone and would be remiss if I did not say from the outset that they are making tremendously problematic decisions by writing affirmative statements about Mike Cernovich and Marine Le Pen.
But I think the notion of ‘fascist infiltration of the American Left’ is above all else an exaggerated claim in that there is no effective Left force in American politics today. If the high watermark for Left politics in the past century was either the Debs-era Socialist Party or the Popular Front era of the Communists, I would say right now that the Left is basically a thousand tiny puddles on a baking plateau as opposed to even being near a waterfront. Those who aspire to Left politics find the movement scattered, sectarian, and beholden to infighting. The Green Party, just as an example, carries on as if it were a genuine national third party rather than admitting what it actually is, a collection of multiple state-level parties with no centralized cohesion or guidance from a national leadership.
Certainly there are Left causes that are being fought for bravely, be it immigration, opposition to fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure expansion, or stopping the privatization of public education. That is the location of infiltration to be wary of, particularly on the issue of protecting the undocumented from police violence. But these are all undeniably single-issue movements that coincidentally might pass along the starboard side of another movement at one point or another. We do not have a party equivalent to the old Socialist or Communist Parties that are building mass membership and unify all these issues into a singular platform of anti-capitalism. In other words, what exactly is there to infiltrate besides a bunch of Facebook groups and blogs? Furthermore, why would those who find themselves in power be interested in such a tiny section of the population that has NO power? Steve Bannon is literally holding open the door for Alex Jones to walk into the press room of the White House, why bother with us?
Recently I re-read Alexander Cockburn’s essay The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left, wherein he wrote something quite useful for this matter:
These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.
What jumps out at me from that passage is something which has not changed, the fact that the study of political economy has taken a backseat to any number of priorities in the past several decades. The answer why is pretty difficult for me to judge, though I suspect that part of it has to do with first the collapse of the moral authority of the Soviet Union and then the actual collapse under Gorbachev. Another culprit could very well be sourced to the strands of anarchism that demonize Marx and Lenin as “authoritarians” who offer nothing useful rather than heavyweights in a tradition whose personal and political actions can and should be judged separately from the merits of their writings.
Did it all begin with the Truther movement? Can we trace the infiltration of the Left by conspiracy theories to The X-Files? Or perhaps the masterfully filmed and certifiably batshit JFK by Oliver Stone? Maybe the more exquisite strands of thought on the MKUltra program? It is difficult to judge but at some point in the recent history the Left went from depending on Marx’s laws of motion to tin foil hats. One interesting side-manifestation of this perhaps is the fetish for the Spanish Civil War, something I myself admit being guilty of. That war’s history and the discussions it generates can be seen as a location where the discourse makes a sudden jump from political economy into Romantic narrative. Romanticism is the foundational story arc of every conspiracy theory, only the external decorations are changed for each iteration. Romanticism provides a set of narrative tropes that can and oftentimes do make the consumer feel not just enlightened but possibly aggrandized. The Romantic narrative invites the consumer into the story and sometimes gives them a role to play within it, a serious boost of self-esteem for those who deeply desire it.
There’s an inversion of a dialectic at play here also. The reality is that an understanding of economics should shape the radical’s view of different political actors and movements. Yet instead we see radical discourse is instead defined by politics first and next to no acknowledgement of economics. I am uncertain if this was Marx’s precise meaning when he wrote the final Thesis on Feuerbach, ‘The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it’, but it is important to understand that philosophy at that moment had a significant focus on economics. This was because a separate discipline within the academy devoted to the field would not happen for some time. As Michael Hudson pointed out in his excellent Killing the Host:
The title of Adam Smith’s chair at the University of Edinburgh was Moral Philosophy. This remained the name for economics courses taught in Britain and America through most of the 19th century. Another name was Political Economy, and 17th-century writers used the term Political Arithmetic. The common aim was to influence public policy: above all how to finance government, what best to tax, and what rules should govern banking and credit.
I mention all of this because, airing on the side of the angels, I think Diana Johnstone does not recognize that, while Marine Le Pen certainly is a corporatist, she is not certainly not “basically on the left”. When she writes a sentence like “And all of [the French presidential candidates] except Sarkozy would be considered far to the left of any leading politician in the United States. This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes,” she betrays the inability to recognize the difference between political and economic programs as separate categories that are quite interchangeable. Putting it as simply as possible, there are an infinite number of ways to frame a political platform while there are a finite number of things that a political leader can do with their national economy.
What Johnstone was trying to say was that she recognized in the French presidential elections a stand-off between neoliberalism as one form of an economic program against corporatism. David Graeber defined the term by saying in a recent interview “[C]orporatists are people who say that employers and employees have common interests with each other against finance. This is the soul of most social democracy. Keynes talked about the euthanasia of the rentier class as this feudal leftover. Galbraith talked out the techno-structure, that in corporations there’s a natural common interest around the thing that the corporation does, so they all tend to see outsiders as interlopers interfering. Social democracy had a certain degree of corporatism, but of course under fascism, where you say, ‘The financiers are all Jews,’ and try to kill them. It tends to be a form of political mobilization that lends itself to a certain form of nativism, at least, and racism, nationalism at worst.”
America had corporatist presidents and legislators on the local, state, and national level for the four decades that spanned from the passage of the New Deal to the Carter years, at which point finance was able to re-assert control of the economy.
However, Graeber also said of Marine Le Pen “She’s an old-fashioned fascist. Fascists are always corporatists. One of the reasons why fascists are doing so well in Europe is for that reason. They’re the only people who can still put out 1940s, 1950s-style economics, which is all about welfare state, full employment, so forth and so on.” Corporatism and neoliberalism continue to duke it out in the political arena these days, though admittedly the complete sell-out of the mainstream social democratic labor parties in Europe and the Democrats in the US has created a giant opening for the right to exploit.
The dead giveaway for me in reading the writings of both Johnstones is their use of the word ‘globalist’. It is a nonsense term that seems to be intended as a name for politicians who support ‘globalization’, which of course is the definition of neoliberal or neoconservative politicians who utilize neoclassical economics. Alex Jones is fond of using the term to describe the dread cabal of Clintons, Wall Street, and the Martian slave masters. Quite honestly, and I don’t want to be too mean here, particularly owing to gender discrimination issues, the use of the word frankly reminds me of Bebel’s description of anti-Semitism as ‘the socialism of fools.’ Just over a century later we indeed find ourselves within very similar coordinates, with a large number of people who know how to write carrying on in the most foolish way possible.
As such, I personally remain unclear if both Johnstone’s are saying what they do about teaming up with corporatist politicians because they have malicious intents or because they are making a jaw-droppingly stupid mistake due to a poor grasp of political economy. There’s no excusing white nationalism or what is called today ‘third position-ism’ and purging that type of thing from the ranks (such as they are) is vital. But I’m also honestly curious if this is a genuine mistake because, if it is, this instance provides an important insight into the agit-prop and educational work that needs to be taken up in opposition to Steve Bannon. We need to have a proper grasp on what coordinates we are starting from with regards to instruction on political economy.
Infiltration, as I understand it, is an act taken up by an enemy that intentionally tries to weasel into an opposing camp so to eventually sabotage efforts of the camp. The overwhelming point that I come away from is that people across America and Europe are sick to death of these neoliberal political hacks and want their corporatist politicians back. The problem is that the vast majority of Americans, (and apparently several leftists) are not able to differentiate between social and economic programs and proceed accordingly from those conclusions. And this is because the left canon has become a stale shelf of holy writ rather than a living, vibrant literary experience that teaches us how to liberate ourselves.
Bernie Sanders is a corporatist. Marine Le Pen is a corporatist. Donald Trump is a corporatist. Paul Craig Roberts and Michael Hudson are sympathetic to corporatist politicians and antagonistic to neoliberal ones. Strom Thurmond was a corporatist and so was Claiborne Pell, the creator of the Pell grants used to fund free college tuition. Mussolini, Hitler, and Roosevelt were all corporatists.
If one thing seems obvious to me it is the need for a Left in American discourse that has a much stronger grasp of Marxist political economy and the Hegelian dialectic that underwrites its logic. From what I gather, Michael Hudson is a proponent of the so-called fourth volume of Das Kapital, Theories of Surplus-Value, being used as an introduction to the history of the economic discipline.
Hopefully people will pick that up and take off the tin foil hats.