May 22, 2020
It goes without saying that the work of building a new society is complicated, multifaceted and difficult. Like any process it’s complications arise from a whole host of actions that are by themselves simple, but as Clausewitz “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.” The single most important process that is necessary to building a new society is the personal one, the leaving of the cave, the engagement with the world as it is and not as it is presented to you. Going hand in hand with this is maintaining your understanding of the outlook of those who have yet to leave the cave. Most aspiring radicals that I know or have observed tend to be good at this, to a point. Coming mostly from the centre left cultural bloc it is often difficult for radicals to talk to right wingers.
The principle contradiction in capitalist society remains the conflict between the owning class and the working class. Despite this historic fact, the Marxist paradigm has yet to emerge in the United States. This is intentional, as the parameters of popular debate can never threaten the system that it is contingent upon. American politics is arrayed along cultural lines. The dominant cultural groups are the two wings of the white liberal population, Red Tribe ‘Conservatives’ and Blue Tribe ‘Liberals’. Non-white ethnic groups participate in these ‘Tribes’ to some extent but to a large degree they have their own cultural divisions. If I were to list in detail how all of these groups interact I would be talking out of my ass and spending more time writing than I am currently comfortable with. All of that being said, this state of affairs is not organic.
The cultural conflicts between these two groups are perpetuated by competing capitalist media conglomerates that despite shallow differences agree on one fundamental thing, that class society needs to be upheld at all costs. Disagreements on tax policy and how many dead civilians are acceptable overseas make up most of the topics up for discussion, but the necessity of hegemonic wage labor is never under discussion. This remains true whether you watch CNN or Fox News.
Most anarchists, communists, socialists, college activists, and anti-colonialists radfem types tend to come from liberal middle class and petite-bourgeois families. It’s easy to see how coming up in a cultural milieu of Daily Show viewers, contrasting themselves to the calculated displays of folksiness from the Bush administration, could result in someone sprinting as far to the ‘left’ as their horizons permit and begin to associate appeals to the rural American archetype with reactionary positions. This has been reinforced in recent years with the rise of the MAGA right and the continuing association of liberal, blue tribe cultural values (principally, diversity and civility) with mainstream youth culture. Coming from the blue tribe cultural sphere there is an often unconfronted assumption that Liberals are merely mistaken Socialists, that one can walk them backwards from their ‘left’ cultural positions and get them to reach genuinely radical ones. While this surely works on occasion it has proven itself to be a losing strategy, as the ascendancy of the Biden campaign indicates. The class interests of the existing professional managerial class and the debt-laden woke reserve army of Buzzfeed writers will always reassert itself in opposition to any genuine challenge to the status quo, and it will mask this reassertion of bourgeois structures in the most progressive language that Zeitgeist permits.
This assumption of good intentions for what has so far been the most destructive political force in North America’s recent history, Democratic Party supporters, is almost never extended to the other half of the culture wars. When ostensibly right wing activists cite concern about government overreach, alphabet boys, and the outsourcing of labor to China, it’s all too easy for wannabe lefties to cluck their tongues and dismiss them as bad faith actors. Sure, some of them are, we live in the age of the grifter after all, but the concerns they are aping to sell 2nd Amendment t-shirts or jump start their Veteran owned CBD company are the real concerns of huge swaths of the Proletariat. It’s the ‘right wing’ mirror of the appropriation of formerly radical aesthetics by corporations to sell gay cars or whatever it is when a bank sponsors a pride parade. Aspiring radicals, even and especially your prototypical precariat yuppy DSA member, often fall into this trap.
. We must be effective in laying bare the contradictions of North American society and sabotaging any attempt to reconcile them in favor of the master class, and if we want to be effective in that we have to disabuse ourselves of the notion that furthering the liberal cultural project is conducive to our goals. There is nothing compatible to socialism in racism, homophobia, or patriarchal domination but equally we must recognize that liberal identity politics is just the cosmopolitanization of a formerly white supremacist system at best, and at worse just a wallpapering over of an inherently white-supremacist capitalist system. That is, you can’t fix capitalism with diversity in the boardroom or rigid language policing. By refusing to engage with the white working class on it’s own terms in a misguided attempt to signal appropriate, woke social values to our class enemies we are doing the work of the bosses. Dividing the proletariat along lines that are inherently irreconcilable (i.e, the debate surrounding ‘Happy Holidays’, whether you drive a truck or Prius, etc) and setting at one another with all the ferocity that liberal norms permit. As destructive as public call outs and doxxing can be to individuals, these tactics and the moralistic assumptions behind them do nothing to actually engage with class society.
In short, if you are serious about doing the work of building a new society free of domination you have to get comfortable with and good at talking to people that self-identify as conservatives. I say self identify, because there are many liberals that call themselves radicals there are plenty of people on the cultural right that have nothing more than a surface level affinity for the MAGA movement and what it represents. NRA members with Mexican wives, young veterans that oppose racism in all its forms in their private lives, hillbillies that have been evading the law for generations. People who are genuinely ungovernable. As the child of middle class liberal lesbians growing up in a ‘Shallow South’ college town this was difficult for me to grasp. The only thing that forced me out of the moralistic liberal mindset was my class position changing rapidly and significantly in my adolescence. Putting me in working class environments entirely incompatible with any degree of “call out culture” and removing me from liberal cultural sphere. Now, probably to my detriment, I’m more comfortable talking to conservatives-types about my politics than liberal types.
I’m not suggesting that every sociology student in the flyover starts wearing cowboy hats and boots. That would go over about as well as all of us all wearing doo-rags. What I am suggesting is that we don’t wrap ourselves in a thin veneer of cultural superiority and marry ourselves to causes that have very little to do with our real project. The abolition of class and thus all of its contingent social systems. Our duty is not to morally posture, our duty is to defeat capital. To do that we have to disentangle ourselves from surface level cultural struggles that do nothing to challenge the basis of capitalist power. Until a sufficient mass of class conscious workers reach these conclusions we will be stuck as the useful idiots of one block of capital or another.