Conserve Communism

by Abraham Marx on July 19, 2013

“In all toil there is profit,

But mere talk leads only to poverty.”

–Proverbs, 14:23

“Learning carries within itself certain dangers because out of necessity

one has to learn from one’s enemies”

— Trotsky, Literature and Revolution

I have had time to rethink my North Star article ‘Occupy the GOP.’ It was not well-received, poorly understood, and fell into oblivion.

There are worse fates.

But after the passage of time I realized that there’s a larger truth, a deeper impulse, behind this tactical idea. The GOP can rot, for all I care. But the Earth cannot. We are fast approaching the cathartic point when global communism will be more conservative than present and future capitalism. Not conservative as in Burke or Goldwater, but conservative as in conservation – Teddy Roosevelt or John Muir – or deeper still, conservative as in agriculture and husbandry, Joseph and Hesiod.

Let me repeat myself. The root thesis which I had arrived at, if subconsciously, was made clear only after my article’s publication and execration. Capitalism is more corrosive to human culture, destructive to the earth’s ecological makeup – in a word, more revolutionary – than would be a changeover to global communism.

Those of us who see capitalism as the problem are the last best hope for preserving the human species. Capitalists, billionaires, presidents, generals, economists, op-ed writers, these are the scum that threaten the ecological harmony of the planet, the status quo of human civilization. Our task has not changed; it has expanded. Our language has yellowed; fresh blood and bold plagiarisms are needed. Our framing is not wrong, it has been fore-shallowed by the shallowest short-term thinking our species has ever pretended to call thought.

Let us recess the frames a bit, and tune out the minute-to-minute gyrations of a solipsistic stock market, the hourly yammering of the news networks, the firehose of information that is the internet. Some of us may do well to take sabbaticals from the internet.

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In America, the two-party system is destroying its own foundation by eradicating all real differences between the two parties. The ‘destroy Snowden’ lockstep is proof enough of this. The ground is shifting underneath our very feet. The tectonic plates underneath the old loyalties and labels and coordinates are being sundered. The possibility of reform, even the mildest restoration of civil liberties, has been foreclosed by the Hope and Change President. Our golden opportunity is nearing, and to do so we will need to embrace the Father Gapons and Ron Pauls and Alex Joneses who have stood against bad governance as staunchly as any Marxists, if only to bring their followers onto the right path.

It is on this basis that our battle must be fought. Here is where the difference between the salt-of-the-earth conservative and the rich puppetmaster-Republican lies. It is the difference I was trying to point out in my previous article, an undefended flank that would reward Marxists going over to the offensive, if there are any Marxists who remember how to do that instead of splitting hairs.

Many people wish to labor and to procreate (these terms, loosely used, overlap significantly). That’s all. They may or may not need a higher cause like an -ism, a sports team, or an Allah to do this happily. But that is first and last a matter of taste. The best way to allow most of these people to live this genuine happiness is through a global communism that sustains the planet. Fin. Appeals to groups with different ideals, higher causes, or palates need only be couched in something common to all: a sense of honor (e.g., an intrinsic incalculable worth), of preserving meaning or tradition, of tasting some degree of immortality. To struggle, pray, labor, love, die.

Marxists, for example, hold up Spartacus and the Brothers Gracchi, Jan Huss and John Ball, Louverture and Robespierre, Liebknecht and Guevara in their pantheon of heroes. To conserve what is best of the human heritage, against capitalist distortion, for commemoration in a communist future. To remember the Tailor of Ulm.

Whatever your legacy, whether your sports team, patch of Earth, your deity, your favorite comic book superhero, philosopher, or inward scholastic debate, or canon of leaders, martyrs, warriors, it is always the same essential impulse to preserve, remember, dare to improve upon. In this, we have far more in common with the broad mass of humanity, across all of human history, than we do with this, or any, ruling class, whose memory cannot stretch back past Reagan, let alone the last election cycle or fiscal quarter.

Real conservatives must face up to the fact that they are dealing with a different kind of revolutionary than the Black Bloc, Black Panthers, or red spectre haunting Europe. They are dealing with revolutionaries who know that anything, everything, can be made into money, a means of making money, a means of protecting money. The past is for sale, the present is a market, and the future is on the auction block. Bloomberg bought his way past term limits and is now trying to buy clout on the gun issue, probably in order to try and buy his way to the presidency in 2016. Romney, Adelson, and Rove tried to buy an election that they could not win on merits or demography. Obama out-fund-raised McCain in 2008 and people power is less powerful than legal tender. He outspent the billionaire Romney in 2012. Monsanto has bought the right to own the genetic code of certain seeds. Companies own slices of human DNA, the rights of publication to long dead artists and musicians. The music of Bach, the writings of Dante — overpriced beyond any good sense. They all demand their pound of flesh. And a pound of flesh is very dear indeed when the lower echelons of the working class may as well be concentration-camp Jews, young black men in prison, or herd animals in Jurassic Park.

Revolutionary is too positive a term for these ones; they are nihilists, buying up arks for the flood they themselves have brought to pass. The missing water of Chinatown. For these wicked plutocrats, we are subjected to thousands of advertisements everyday, made to think in trite soundbites, shrinking the scope of consciousness to a sales pitch, ‘generating buy-in.’ We are turned whore for a minimum wage, boxed in by the maximum benefits payable for health insurance or any other actuarial safety-blanket. Examples abound of commodity ascendant. Hitler at least thought in terms of a Thousand-Year Reich; Mussolini with resurrecting the Roman Empire. Our ruling nihilists see nothing past their own lives. Let their children worry about containing the deluge. They can buy anything they need to stay above the tide. The world is a money store.

Capitalism has only two options left. War or slavery. On a revolutionary scale. And these nihilists revolutionizing all of nature and culture are cooking up contingencies for either case.

World war, on a scale that will make World War Two a Three Stooges routine. It would be extremely optimistic to rule out nuclear exchanges in such a conflict. There are at least two clocks counting down to this war: 1) when America is overtaken as the world’s premier economy 2) when China is hit afresh with Tiananmen-style rumblings. Neither option is acceptable to its respective ruling class; military intervention is the only means of pre-emption. Not to mention Israel, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Taiwan, Pakistan. Or Syria, Colombia, the Congo, the Sudan, the horn of Africa.

Most serious discussion and preparation for this contingency takes place behind closed doors; among military brass, corporate boards, diplomatic consulates. Yet the military blogosphere – and segments of the foreign press – are startlingly forthright about the possibility. This threat trumps all other considerations. All our energy should be bent on prophesying such a conflict, warning against it, preparing to turn a conflict between states into one between classes. A left that has no plans for this is a set of amateurs playing with theories.

The other option is a glacial settling into a form of bureaucratic collectivism that resembles feudalism more than anything else. A détente between all ruling classes, carved up spheres of influence. The Trans-Pacific-Partnership points the way forward; the Troika exemplifies the current state of this art. The capitalism of Dickens, with fewer ladders, and these with fewer rungs. No Soviet Union to counter the U.S. A divergence in lifestyles so stark there may as well be two species of humans, debt-serfs and globe-trotting masters. Global communism for the aristocrats. The veal-pen for all the rest. War will be a controlled pressure valve pitting the poor against each other if it isn’t turned into a recreational sport. Whether Earth-death or species-death happens first is a moot point; the human spirit and primeval fertility of the planet will have broken long before the end. The capital-owners, paper-deeded nobility, will live very well right up until the end.

A footnote glares, exceptional. An obscene technological breakthrough could save capitalism: three-dimensional printing, cold fusion, a cure for the common cold. But even this merely postpones the unresolved issues by fueling a bubble or sequence of bubbles.

Much more could be said about this. But let us leave off with Orwell’s image of the boot upon the human face, or Rosa’s formulation, ‘Socialism or Barbarism.’ There is no middle ground. The center cannot hold. The human race is backsliding.

We risk losing what is best about the postwar era. The glorious 30 years after World War Two, arguable peak of human history, have given way to a regression towards Gilded Age monopolism, accelerated by Gorbachev’s failure. Sixty years without world war. Organized labor, collective bargaining, nifty things like the weekend, workweek, minimum wage, universal social guarantees. A still surprisingly open system of global travel, cultural exchange, and dissemination of information. World war will take all this away. Feudalism will whittle it down into a fractured system of privileges and obligations distributed unevenly between competing blocs of peasants. (1945-1979 was not perfect, had a great deal of war, but the statement stands; any other 30-year period of human history would be worse.)

What is best about the contemporary period, from the Enlightenment to the present, we also risk losing. Talk of ‘human rights,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘equality,’ ‘self-determination,’ even habeas corpus, mere platitudes with lots of holes in them, all are increasingly subordinated to a governing rhetoric of institutional prerogative, the moral imperative of austerity, an anal-retentive obsession with debt and fiscal obligation, the throwing around of very big and very scary numbers, endless statistical studies; as if it all rises or falls on the veracity of the Reinhart-Rogoff model’s spreadsheets instead of human needs. The way endless polling before elections dampens real protagonistic choice, dissuading turnout, self-fulfilling prophecies. If Obama can win the Nobel Peace Prize AND keep Guantanamo open AND nullify habeas corpus AND keep Europe in line, the snowball of precedent will lead us back to an absolutism all the more absolute for being dispersed across a handful of bureaucratic organizations (instead of personified in a Napoleon, Stalin, or Nixon).

What has been taken for granted by humans since the dawn of time is being lost. A hospitable planet, for one. Clean air, water, tillable soil, animal companionship. The human connection to nature, sunrise, meadows, the smell of trees and flowers, is fading fast. Oil spills, pipelines, overfishing, deforestation; cars and highways over bicycles or human scale zoning.

The long legacy of human culture is fading away, lost under sheer volume of stupid bullshit – Facebook, the echo chamber of politics as gossip-porn, standardized testing. Homer and Shakespeare are diluted into futzy old farts or slandered into irrelevance, or put behind the gates of an ivory tower, price of admission ever inflating. Their insight, timeless and invigorating, made arcane, nerdy, forgettable.

The right and necessity humans have to labor is being forgotten. The very concept of unemployment, which should be prima-facie preposterous, is dangerously normalized. Adam banished from Paradise by God, yet barred from tilling the Earth by other men, unless he takes a Faustian bargain. A despotism all the more hateful for its meanness. It is utterly ridiculous, completely against the grain of human nature, an absurdity of social abstraction that those who wish to work cannot work. If preventing war is the international stand, the right to labor is the domestic.

If King Solomon believed that true wisdom was to distill vast volumes of experience and knowledge into pithy little proverbs, and Lenin, who read and re-read Hegel and wrote Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, can distill his platform into three words – land, bread, and peace – then it is time for Marxists to return to the simplest and clearest forms of social and political communication – simple unconditional demands – or fail in our historical mission to save the human species from capitalist degradation, imperialist war, or ecological self-destruction.

The Marxist can no longer see his task as revolutionary, not as Marx or Lenin did. All the technical and organizational means for global communism are at hand. What is lacking is a revolutionary will that forces the terrible present to become one good future against many bad futures. Global communism means saving the world from a capitalism that will revolutionize everything for the sake of nothing but money.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Abraham Marx July 21, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Well, I have to say that that picture is truly amazing.

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Chris Lowe July 21, 2013 at 10:42 pm

I refuse to work with Ron Paul who is an authoritarian bastard, a neo-Confederate ally who masquerades as a libertarian but actually is a states rights advocate who wants to repeal the 14th Amendment. Alex Jones is if anything worse, a fabulist whose disinformation speculations both undermine real, serious critique of power and distract it away from where it needs to go. If I were an Alex Jones type thinker, I would assert that he is a disinformation agent working to disrupt coherent opposition politics. I’m not, so I won’t assert that, but I wonder it. What he is, beyond any doubt, is a person who turns questions like that into assertions of fact without any evidence, an opportunist who promotes incoherent thinking for his own profit, and completely untrustworthy. There could be no meaningful alliance with him.

Both Paul and Jones oppose controlling global warming restrictions, btw. Paul is in bed with the fossil fuel industry (Texas? hello?), and combines extreme “free market” ideology with wacko financial economics. Jones sees attempts to control global warming as part of the Agenda 21 conspiracy to create a New World Order.

If this is where North Star is going, I will be parting ways soon. I thought you had more sense.

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Pham Binh July 22, 2013 at 12:36 am

The left is so weak that occasionally people bring up the fanciful idea of left-right alliances. Nader did this in 2004 when he temporarily allied himself with the Reform Party. It would be a mistake to disown people who stray in this manner, just as it would have been a mistake to disown Occupy which had quite a few Paultards and Jones fans in its ranks. From what I understand, these forces were actually a majority in some of the encampments in the South. Refusing to engage and debate bad or crappy ideas doesn’t make them go away: if anything, it strengthens them.

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Abraham Marx July 23, 2013 at 10:47 am

I think this gets to one of the single biggest issues.

How do you bend the stick of polemic so that it falls on Southern ears in an appealing way? Not as europhilic, yankee, etc. To radicalize the South you’d need a rhetoric that uses patriotism – American history; religion – the powerful appeal of Bible stories or anecdotes; and to do so without sounding stale or condescending.

If you radicalized a significant strata of the South, you have a revolution on your hands. Against Dixie, Confederacy, Jim Crow.

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Pham Binh July 23, 2013 at 10:58 am

Hammer and Hoe is a great book that gets into this question and how the 1930s-era Communists did it. I highly recommend it.

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Pham Binh July 30, 2013 at 9:41 am

I took a stab at it: http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=2328

As you can see from the comments, it didn’t go over well with the choir.

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Chris Lowe July 30, 2013 at 1:33 pm

I see this up to a point. The old CP did some of this in the 1930s in its Popular Front period. For example the song “Ballad for Americans” promoted a kind of working class patriotism that also tried to rewrite the narrative of the grounds for feeling patriotic. The Alliance for Democracy today argues for using American idioms.

However, for exactly that reason AFD argues against using the word “socialism” and instead is explicitly populist. “Socialism” is relentlessly painted as European or Europhilic. We have to take that bull by the horns.

Similarly, I’m a Yankee (born in Chicago, raised in Massachusetts, live in Oregon) and there’s really nothing I can do about that, except to try to redefine what it means to people who meet me. But calling for a revolution against Dixie, Confederacy, Jim Crow is going to be seen as a Yankee agenda by a lot of people, I would think.

Which goes to a deeper issue. It’s not just a question of polemic or rhetoric. It’s actual politics. Southern conservative working class patriotism is tied to militarized nationalism. As with Jim Crow’s descendants, I want to end that version of patriotism. To try to pretend I didn’t almost certainly would sound condescending.

The religion issue is even harder. I am not a militant evangelical atheist like some on the left, rather a soft secular agnostic, with a personal history of being raised in a liberal “mainline” church and spending a little time as Unitarian as a teen. I frequently work with religiously motivated progressives, and like doing so. But that’s pretty different from the kind of Calvinist-rooted, born again varieties of Christianity that are powerful in the South. Again the risks of seeming insincere or patronizing seem high.

I feel like I need leadership from Southern progressives about these things, as I am sure they are further down the road of struggles between principle and effective engagement.

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Abraham Marx August 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Good comment.

I feel like the best way of framing it is sorta like what happened to Tsarist Russia as it began to fracture after 1917 – the northern Russian segments were Bolshevik and communist; the Ukrainians and others were primarily anarchist.

Revolutionary ferment, if it is ever to take hold in the South, will have a deep anarchist streak and tone. Which means it won’t easily subordinate itself to any type of utopic project.

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Jack July 22, 2013 at 12:43 am

Please don’t let the north Star become the RT of bad left ideas.

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Abraham Marx August 1, 2013 at 6:15 pm

You are quite the snobby consumer of news. Because really, hearing opinions you don’t like is really something to be avoided, huh?

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Abraham Marx July 22, 2013 at 10:32 am

Where do I begin?
It’s a little like convincing Virgins to dance with you….
If you wanna find a fount of pure theory go read some theology. There are no tactical deviations up there.

No purely “communist” mass movement will spring forth, fully formed, Athena-like, from the forehead of any periodical spinning forth theories and analyses.

Rather, things will happen, like the Snowden affair, that will put Ron Paul types (most of whom have good instincts on personal liberties, but have been spoonfed terrible economics… Snowden was a libtard…) in the same trenches as the remnant of the left, nous Marxistes, firing away at the mass surveillance state. Would you wanna waste your precious ammo on them or those in power? Maybe we should critique Snowden for wasting his time on civil liberties instead of economics?

The left is stuck snowglobing.

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Chris Lowe July 22, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Where did I say I refuse to debate?

It is not a question of not engaging or debating crappy ideas. It is identifying crappy people, or people who are too deep into it to be worth spending effort in more productive areas.

The point for me comes exactly from my engagement with Ron Paul types in Occupy Portland. Some of them are deep true believers with whom real discussion isn’t possible unless events change their views. I know a few people who mainly like him because they are pot legalizers & suspicious of the Fed who I work with on some other things at times. Them I debate with.

But my main concern is engagement with people who have not been politically engaged, who don’t have a clear framework yet for understanding why what they don’t like about capitalism is the way it is or what to do about it. Treating Paul and more deeply Alex Jones as if they deserve to be taken seriously is just a mistake.

Jones does not even have ideas. He has an attitude and a style that he applies incoherently but systematically to events. He does not want or need consistency. The people who promoted Jones-style ideas in Occupy in some cases were deliberately doing in the camps the political and social equivalent of trolling — right wing crypto-fascist gun nuts who thought Occupy posed an potential threat and deliberately sought to play on the credulity of people who think that critical thinking begins and ends with rejecting “official” or “MSM” ideas and who promote “oath-keeper” ideas (military-police coup ideology) in other contexts. I would no more “engage” with them than with LaRouchites or Moonies.

@Abraham Marx, no I don’t want to waste my “ammo” on them. Many of Paul’s followers may have good instincts on state surveillance. If they do it’s because they don’t really understand Ron Paul, who favors authoritarian states, just at the state level rather than the federal level in the U.S. system. So maybe they will figure that out.

In terms of fighting the police state we should cooperate with anyone who really is doing that, *on specific issues.* Dick Armey was a critic of the Patriot Act. But there is no basis for expecting wider unity. None.

As for Jones types, their paranoia is not helpful, and would need to be fought any time it crops up.

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Chris Lowe July 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm

The short version — these folks are complicated to deal with and we should not waste time or energy on them, but focus on more important priority categories of people to engage. I would not have raised them at all if Binh had not done so.

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Jack July 22, 2013 at 4:51 pm

A better idea is to get liberals to jump ship. some groups already do that such as Socialist Alternative, The Greens, and…..well…. the ISO.

Granted, it’s not a perfect strategy. Many of these liberal types are much too afraid of the right to let the democrats lose, and still prop that party up. In some cases that has led to some more right leaning Green parties to just become pro-democrat.

The other groups employing this strategy tend to be those that go way hard on the paint with activism (which burns people out) and have some bad group think, the same group think that led to he SWP debacle last winter.

I grew up as a socialist in a right dominated area.I know how it is, but jumping on with them isn’t helping our brand of politics. Chris is right, the Paultards and Jone’s moonbats are just crazy. and if you’ve met the RCP or the Sparts, you know we’re in no need for more crazy.

The best thing socialists can do? I think the folks that follow the brand of politcs from this website and the ISN guys who got burned by the SWP should form a sort of group. That group should do normal activist stuff, but also work for a space for some of the stronger and arguably more sane groups to talk about activism and political strategy and work together. That would be more productive than jumping on with 9/11 truth.

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