Beware those who try to discredit Leninism from a “decolonial” angle By: Rainer SheaRead Now
Capitalism will co-opt anything, so long as it can be used to make profits or to aid its narrative campaigns. It doesn’t care about how “left” or “radical” an idea is, all it cares about is its potential utility within the class war. That’s where the phenomenon I’m going to talk about comes from: a project by the narrative managers of bourgeois class power to create a controlled opposition. To cultivate a leftism, or even a “communism,” that doesn’t fundamentally support class struggle, but in effect acts to obstruct class struggle.
Parenti identified the 1990s precursor to this type of controlled opposition when he wrote about what he called the “anything but class” (ABC) left:
To the extent that class is accorded any attention in academic social science, pop sociology, and media commentary, it is as a kind of demographic trait or occupational status. So sociologists refer to “upper-middle,” “lower-middle,” and the like. Reduced to a demographic trait, one’s class affiliation certainly can seem to have relatively low political salience. Society itself becomes little more than a pluralistic configuration of status groups. Class is not a taboo subject if divorced from capitalism’s exploitative accumulation process. Both mainstream social scientists and “left” ABC theorists fail to consider the dynamic interrelationship that gives classes their significance. In contrast, Marxists treat class as the key concept in an entire social order known as capitalism (or feudalism or slavery), centering around the ownership of the means of production (factories, mines, oil wells, agribusinesses, media conglomerates, and the like) and the need—if one lacks ownership—to sell one’s labor on terms that are highly favorable to the employer.
In the post-2008 crisis world, where class has been shown to be extremely relevant, the ABC leftists have had to change their tactics. They still don’t recognize that class is the primary contradiction in the core, like how in their foreign policy analysis they still don’t recognize U.S. imperialism is the globe’s primary contradiction. But our conditions have made it essential for those claiming to want radical change to at least adopt the rhetoric of Marxism, as shown by how the social democrats are utilizing language which sounds “socialist” on a surface level. So the ABC leftists have largely come to claim to be “communists,” something that’s useful when building a brand or a community in left-wing spaces during the social media age. This is why it’s important for serious Marxists to understand that just because somebody online calls themselves a communist, doesn’t mean they’re worthy of your trust, or mean you should change your own stances in order to gain their favor.
These pseudo-radical ideas are in the same category as those of the ABC theorist Herbert Marcuse, whose efforts to obscure the class reality have been described by the Marxist Eric Scheper as such:
What can a bourgeois intellectual do to serve U.S. imperialism? He employs his “academic expertism” to manufacture theories which try to explain political and social features of class struggle between U.S. imperialism and the working and oppressed people in such a way as to argue that the basis of change and development in society is not class struggle, that man’s life is guided by the “demands of the life instincts.” That the productive machinery of U.S. imperialism promises to deliver everybody from the curse of work, and that “the higher historical truth would pertain to the system which offers the greater chance of pacification” (One-Dimensional Man). Marcuse touches upon every aspect of class struggle in order to “prove” that the problems of the decadent and parasitic U.S. imperialism do not originate from the contradictions inherent within the system. It is for this reason that periodicals like the Guardian, which serve U.S. imperialism, also praise and idolize paid agents of U.S. imperialism
Marcuse’s reformist ideas, represented by the Democratic Party, are what these pseudo-Marxists ultimately work to advance. This is still true if unlike Marcuse, they understand that U.S. imperialism’s evils come from the system’s contradictions. Because even if they posture as revolutionary, they share his view that these evils don’t foremost originate from class contradictions. Instead, they tend to claim that the primary contradiction is settler-colonialism. Which of course is an evil that must be rectified, but as Parenti said, the issue with the ABC leftists is not that they talk about the injustices which particular groups are subjected to. It’s that they act like these injustices make class not the central factor.
Part of the way these modern ABC leftists demonstrate this stance is simply through their practice. Instead of mainly directing their energy towards ends that actually advance the class struggle—anti-imperialist information warfare, aiding the working class movement, rigorous theoretical study—their focus is primarily on things that don’t on their own pose a serious threat towards the bourgeoisie. One can talk about social injustices all they like, but without a serious class analysis, their efforts won’t truly be offensive towards the ruling class. They’ll still be allowed a platform within bourgeois media, academic institutions, and left opportunist online spaces. A prerequisite for gaining this power is to present a type of “Marxism” which is off. Which includes accounts of history that are skewed to advance a certain narrative, or analysis of our present conditions that portray the working class as fundamentally reactionary.
When confronted with these critiques, these ABC types may say they’re aware that class is relevant, and that the job of Marxists is to win the working class away from reaction. Yet even if they genuinely hold these correct beliefs, the fact that their wider practice and analysis work to the detriment of class struggle renders this knowledge of theirs ineffectual. If you’re not interested in what must realistically be done to win the people, and to narratively defeat the imperialist order which keeps the state strong, then you’re hurting your own cause as a communist. And that’s assuming all of these actors are even communists. They’re part of a larger ideological coalition that’s compatible with anti-communist anarchists and social democrats, since these types of liberals often also claim to be “decolonial.”
It’s easy to call oneself “decolonial.” The CIA weaponizes “decolonial theory” to advance its global regime change goals, liberal academics talk plenty about this theory, and essentially every Democrat-aligned NGO employs rhetoric adjacent to it. It’s harder to come to a synthesis between anti-colonialism and class struggle, and go forward without letting one’s analysis be corrupted by the liberal ideas which our imperialist institutions have presented as “anti-colonialism.” True anti-colonialism recognizes class as the primary contradiction, as the systems of capitalist extraction that perpetuate colonialism can’t be defeated until the class struggle is won. And it will never be won as long as the faces of Marxism in the imperial center act like class is a secondary thing.
When one acts like this, it doesn’t matter how passionately they claim to oppose the present social order. Their way of operating in effect does nothing besides aid the Democratic Party. It’s a cycle of ineffectualness that the left has been trapped in for generations, ever since the suppression of the communist movement allowed for the three letter agencies to cultivate a “New Left” that’s fundamentally disinterested in winning power.
In our circumstances of intensified class and geopolitical conflict, this left is trying to appear as if it’s now a Marxist vanguard, but it’s ultimately on the side of the system. For example, the modern ABC leftists largely claim to be pro-China, but not for the same reason that serious Marxists are pro-China. Marxists support it because it’s a socialist state, ABC leftists say they support it because they view doing so as useful in advancing their (non-Marxist) aims. I phrase it as “they say they support it” because as soon as they learn their aims aren’t actually compatible with those of the PRC, they’ll come to oppose it, just like the rest of those who hold imperialism-compatible ideas.
This last year’s geopolitical developments have shown that the PRC, due to its continued cooperation with Russia and its recognition that Russia was provoked, broadly has the goal of changing the balance of global power. More than that, it aims to continue building socialism in a future where U.S. imperialism can no longer threaten its revolution’s gains. Radlibs ultimately oppose China’s project to keep strengthening its workers state for the same reason they ultimately oppose its challenging U.S. hegemony: because both of these objectives are aided by Operation Z, and Z is something the radlibs will never support. Under no circumstances will they oppose Democrat foreign policy to the degree of backing an instrumental step towards defeating the U.S. empire’s strategic objectives. If they were to support Z, they would lose their support from the Democrat-aligned institutions and communities which give them their power.
To fully break from these opportunistic actors, I’ve needed to realize that power on its own does not equate to effectiveness at changing society. Power, on an individual level, is like money: pleasurable to have in a superficial way, but not something that can necessarily make one an active agent in history. In fact, the cost of attaining power can be giving up one’s historical agency so that those who hold the power will let you in. Then you’ll still be an observer in history, only an observer with higher social status.
I’m not here to get power or money, I’m here to change the direction history takes to the greatest extent possible. That’s the correct attitude for Marxists to have, as indicated by Parenti’s Blackshirts and Reds in which he points out how communists don’t actually thirst for power. Our aim is to advance history’s development, by any means that will need to entail. Including being willing to alienate the Democratic Party, and its adjacent ideological fronts. They do nothing besides hold back the class struggle, they’re not worthy of our respect.
This article was republished from News with Theory.
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