The Merit of Online Agitation
Recently Caleb Maupin, an American Marxist and activist, released a book entitled “BreadTube Serves Imperialism: Examining The New Brand of Internet Pseudo-Socialism”. This book was an attempt to deconstruct the phenomenon of BreadTube, an online entertainment trend turned subgenre which has a focus on media analysis, social issues, and generally “left-wing” politics. This attempt is understandable if not commendable; not only is criticism always welcome but BreadTube in particular is deeply flawed. Its politics are vaguely left-wing, yet rarely if ever provide any concrete calls to action. Its aversion towards economic analysis leaves its criticisms blunted at best. And of course its nature as a business means that of all its many flaws, BreadTube is incentivized not to fix the vast majority of them. A more economic analysis might bore people, and undoubtedly wouldn’t have the same level of appeal to BreadTube’s largely labor-aristocratic audience. Calls to action would require more concrete organizing, something BreadTube entirely lacks. Even if this were attempted, BreadTube’s reformist nature and focus almost entirely on social issues means that such organizing likely wouldn't get far. As the saying goes, “You can't have capitalism without racism.”
This, alongside BreadTube’s relatively small outreach, brings into question whether the topic of online agitation is even one worthy of discussion. This could and should be explored in more depth in the future, however for now suffice it to say that yes, online agitation is ultimately niche and largely irrelevant. This is not to say it has no merit, but rather that it should not be hyper fixated on. There are certainly a fair share of high quality agitators online, including on the YouTube platform (channels such as Hakim, BadEmpanada, and others provide well researched and digestible content, suitable for agitation), however even the largest explicitly Marxist channel, Hakim, has only recently reached 100k subscribers. Of that number, how many were Marxists before discovering his channel? How many are or plan to be actually organized? No amount of YouTube videos, social media posts, or articles written by arrogant teenagers can make up for on the ground organizing. This does not mean online agitation is useless, but it should be viewed in context.
The Book Itself
Maupin opens his book by claiming that “The internet culture of “Social Justice Warriors” and the emergence of a group of pseudo-leftist internet voices called “BreadTube” is an attempt to counter the influence of right-wing voices among the US population, with the covert backing of the rival faction of imperialists.”(pg.6) Maupin does not even attempt to back this bold claim up, instead preferring to compare the alliance between social-democrats and Marxist-Leninists against fascism in the 30s to the alleged alliance between BreadTube and Marxist-Leninists to combat the right wing in America. Maupin claims that BreadTube is more dangerous than the social democrats, because the latter were genuinely committed to a version of Marxism which, while watered down, is still far better than the antithetical views held by the BreadTubers. Ignoring that the revisionism championed by figures such as Karl Kautsky and Eduard Berstein was and is itself antithetical to Marxism, Maupin vastly overstates the importance and danger of BreadTube.
He writes “BreadTube voices generally believe technological progress is an affront to mother nature, and that societies around the world are kept in a state of deindustrialization and underdevelopment are more “pure” and “beautiful”, close to some kind of spiritual ideal.”(pg.10) This claim goes completely unsourced, and no effort is made to prove that these views are held by all or even any members of BreadTube. “While Social Democracy in the 1920s tended to oppose illegal activities and militant labor activism, BreadTube has taken the opposite extreme. Bread Tubers tend to favor an escalation of street violence against the right-wing at a time when these forces are much better armed and have a much better organized base among the population. If the eventual escalation that BreadTubers seem committed to inciting were to occur, the result would most likely be a huge crackdown on all political activism by the state, if not an outright victory for the right-wing. Furthermore, BreadTube often seems to almost incite lawless violence and hooliganism against Marxist-Leninists, 21st Century Socialists and Anti-Imperialists at the same time that they call for mob violence against the right-wing. Bread Tube is actively working to change the political discourse, labelling anti-war and anti- imperialist voices as “Red Browns” and “Nazbols,” equating them with Nazis, and setting the stage of mob violence and state repression against them.”(pg.11)
It is true that BreadTube has a love for nonsensical terms such as “tankie” and “red fascist”, the latter demonstrating with great efficiency the utter political ignorance of much of this crowd. Yet Maupin’s claims that BreadTube frequently incites reckless violence and adventurism are once more completely unsourced. No attempt is made to prove such claims, yet this supposed adventurism makes up the core of Maupin’s argument that BreadTube is more dangerous than the revisionists of the 30s. Maupin goes on to write “The purpose of this book is to debunk and expose the dangerous pseudo-leftism which BreadTube espouses. Genuine leftism and Marxism is the only way out of the crisis. The primitivist, worker-coop, “non-authoritarian” society BreadTubers advocate is not really achievable or desirable.” A noble goal, and Maupin is quite right; anti-communism, a fixation on worker-coops, and a rejection of Marxism and as such any concrete and scientific analysis of Capitalism, are all failures of BreadTube. Yet, as we will see, Maupin fails to properly explain and critique these failures.
When it comes to discussing the individual personalities which make up BreadTube, Maupin takes the route of character assassination. Rather than discuss each entertainer's merits and flaws in relation to agitation, Maupin chooses to hyperfocus on their personal lives, usually implying that these details delegitimize the entertainer. He puts forward the claim that BreadTube peddles a conspiracy, one that states Nazis have infiltrated the US government.(pg.116) It has become tedious to note, however I feel I am obligated to remind the reader once more that not a single source is provided to support this claim. In fact, throughout the entirety of the book, Maupin provides almost no sources to support his characterizations of BreadTube. How is the reader to believe a word Maupin writes, when he refuses to make even the barest effort at supporting his claims? Does he expect the reader to already be highly familiar with BreadTube and its flaws? If so, surely there is no reason to read the book.
Regarding Thought Slime, he writes “Matt’s videos tend to fixate on things like slime, feces, genitalia, and other things deemed to be ugly. Matt’s channel is much like the Netflix show 13 Reasons Why in that while it appears to be sympathetic to the mentally ill, it more or less encourages and enables people to fixate on their depressed, rageful, and suicidal feelings, wallowing in self-pity, anger, and hopelessness. This begs a fair question: How many of Matt’s mostly teenage and largely transgender audience have actually committed suicide after stewing with Matt for hours on their dark feelings? The answer is of course unknown.”(pg.24) About Vaush, Maupin writes “The personality of the 25-year-old indicates signs of narcissism and sex addiction. Some have speculated that his blatant rudeness and inability to comprehend other people’s views indicates he may be on the autistic spectrum.”(pg.19) This hyperfocus on the personalities of BreadTube cannot substitute for a proper analysis of their work, something Maupin forgets or ignores for the entirety of his book.
Maupin proceeds to run through a history of counter-gangs and their use during the cold war. Again, he expects the reader to take his claims at face value. Rather than serving as a brief but well sourced education on Counter Gangs, this section serves instead as the means by which Maupin makes the reader comfortable with the notion that Counter Gangs have been deployed frequently, and that as such it isn't such a stretch to believe BreadTube represents just another example. This reasoning is entirely intellectually dishonest. That an event has occurred in the past, regardless of its frequency, does not in and of itself mean it is happening again in the present. Without a proper analysis of the conditions which have historically led to the phenomenon, no claim can be made that the phenomenon is occurring or will occur. Maupin makes no such study of the conditions of counter gangs, instead simply listing instances of their occurrence, and as such he cannot reasonably claim that BreadTube is another such example.
He goes on to write “The important thing to remember about counter-gangs in the late Cold War is that they are generally not conscious deceivers. Some will read the above contents and believe that African Maoists, UNITA, Left-Wing Intellectuals, or the Bread Tubers of 2021, are all “secret CIA agents” or some other crude interpretation. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no doubt that the fighters of UNITA, the Wahhabis who fought alongside Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan, the intellectuals who pushed EuroCommunism, or even the BreadTubers of our time, legitimately believed in what they said and did. While they may be naive about the support they receive, what makes them useful proxies is their sincerity. Selecting certain ignorant and confused young people to be the voice of the movement and perhaps carefully nudging them to frame their rhetoric in a certain way is key. By rewarding them with patrons and clicks, the narrative can be carefully reinforced. A new “socialism” that is not anti-imperialist, not even genuinely anti-capitalist, but is very useful in containing and beating back the right-wing can be cultivated to serve imperialism.”(pg.48)
Maupin is correct in suggesting that a significant portion of the American population distorts socialism, and is equally correct in suggesting that the bourgeoisie encourage such distortion. Yet Maupin again provides no evidence to support his claims. If BreadTube is being provided support, how? In what way is support given? In what quantity and how frequently? Are only the larger entertainers supported, or does support extend to smaller voices as well? Why do the bourgeoisie consider online entertainers to be worthy of their attention, so much so that they would provide assistance to said groups? Do they find the relatively small audiences of such entertainers to be dangerous? Or do they see potential for growth and are instead attempting to co-opt the movement before it grows too large? Perhaps it's something else entirely? None of these questions are answered. Is the idea that a group of young, politically minded liberals, seeing a large amount of far right branded entertainment on their mediums of choice, decided to produce the very content they enjoyed, and to counter the far right while doing so, is that idea so ridiculous? Is the idea that, as more voices began to fill this niche, more people became exposed to such content and were inspired to produce their own, so absurd? Is it inconceivable that their ignorance, the result of a constant and overwhelming propaganda campaign, allowed them to conflate liberalism and social democracy with socialism? And if these ideas are so far flung, if the bourgeoisie do utilize covert aid to prop up this ideologically distorted entertainment, if BreadTubers do have handlers, and if this phenomenon truly is a coordinated and professionally orchestrated campaign of propaganda, where is the evidence? Maupin provides none. Vague and inconsistent speculation is no substitute for materialist analysis.
Maupin’s second chapter criticizes BreadTube for its ignorance of and blatant distortion of Marxist theory. These criticisms are entirely valid, and indeed one of BreadTube’s greatest flaws, though it should be noted that Maupin does not provide examples of such misunderstandings in his sections “The Marxist Definition of Capitalism”, “Imperialism: The Capitalism of Our Time”, “The Marxist Definition of Socialism”, and more. In the section “Marx Wasn’t A Statist” we find Maupins first reference to a specific work of BreadTube, when he criticizes Thought Slime’s video “Prager University Does Not Understand Democracy”. The section Maupin takes issue with is the one in which Thought Slime says “Lenin called the centralization of control over the state and economy Democratic Centralism.” Maupin is right to take issue, as this is a complete mischaracterization of Democratic Centralism. In truth, Democratic Centralism was the means by which Lenin and the Bolsheviks organized their party. The system, roughly speaking, revolved around the notion that democracy should be exercised to the fullest extent during times of decision making, but that when a decision was made it had to be followed by all members of the party, irrespective of individual objections. Thought Slime is an anarchist, and it is possible that they take issue with the level of adherence to the party line required by the Bolsheviks, however they are still incorrect in their depiction of Democratic Centralism and Maupin is right to call this out. It should be noted however that Marx is not mentioned in this video, and Thought Slime makes no claim to the label Marxist, nor do they claim that their views of the state are in line with Marx’s.
Maupin goes on to claim both that Vaush has misunderstood Marx’s work “Civil War in France”, and that Vaush has misunderstood socialism as merely being a society of worker co-ops. These criticisms would be valid if Maupin’s claims could be verified, however his lack of citations means they cannot be. He writes “BreadTube’s insistence that socialism is merely a worker cooperative scheme reveals further the thesis of this book, that BreadTube is largely the creation of the more powerful, globalist wing of the ruling class in its efforts to beat back the rebellions of Trump and lower level capitalists. The pro-imperialist narrative, where Communist revolutions “only made life worse” is repeated by BreadTube voices, despite being overwhelmingly inconsistent with reality.”(pg.93) This anti-communist narrative is espoused not just by BreadTube, but on the contrary is parroted by almost all members of the major capitalist countries. This is not an indication that BreadTube is a bourgeois creation. BreadTube, in all its willful ignorance, has neither the experience nor study to refute anti-communism, and as such thoroughly lacks the will.
Maupin goes on to criticize BreadTube’s view of fascism in his chapter “Nazi! Nazi! Nazi!”. He denies Contrapoints’ claim that fascism can be broken down into three core beliefs, those beliefs being “a belief in the sacredness of the white race, the conspiracy theory that Jews seek to conduct “White Genocide” or “replacement”, and the ultimate goal of creating a “white ethno-state””.(pg.115) Maupin notes that these beliefs summarize the vast majority of white nationalists, but that they are not themselves fundamentally tied to the phenomenon of fascism. Maupin is entirely correct. Fascism, being “Capitalism in Decay'', need not be white, and Contrapoints’ definition is more in line with white nationalism than fascism. Of course, this mistake is understandable as the two often overlap, however Contrapoints should have done better given the intended educational nature of her video. Maupin’s error, if it can be called such, is in blatantly misrepresenting Contrapoints’ video.
I mentioned the three beliefs which Contrapoints claims can summarise Fascism. In truth, these beliefs were paraphrased. Contrapoints actually breaks these beliefs down as follows:
1. People of European heritage are or ought to constitute a biological, cultural, and political unity known as “the white race”-sometimes dog-whistled as “Western culture.”
2. Jews are masterminding the destruction of the white race through multiculturalism and non-white immigration (“white genocide” or “ethnic replacement”)
3. The only way to save the white race is to establish a “white homeland,” or “ethnostate,” from which non-whites and degenerates must be purged.
This summarising of Contrapoints’ claims does no harm in this case, yet Maupin’s allergy to citation or even consistent quotation rears its head in a far more damaging manner later. Maupin attempts to paint Contrapoints as participating in a political witch hunt. He writes “The overwhelming majority of people in the United States feel patriotic, but according to Contrapoints, statements like “I love my country” could be interpreted as coded fascist messaging.”(pg.117) This is incorrect. Contrapoints says, just under four minutes into her video, “The idea that appreciating European culture is in some way linked to establishing a white ethnostate is just nonsense.” Maupin continues “Gestures like “Thumbs up” or “OK” signs are used by millions of Americans each day, but according to Contrapoints, these could indeed be secret Nazi hand signs.”(pg.117)
Regarding the Thumbs Up sign, Maupin could be referring to an emoji in which the index finger is being pointed up. Contrapoints uses this as an example of a sign which, while seeming mundane, could become a dog whistle in the future due to the rapidity in which fascists discard and replace dog whistles. This is done to keep said dog whistles from being exposed, something vital if they are to function properly. It is also possible Maupin simply used the Thumbs Up symbol as an example. Regarding the OK sign, the shooter in the Christchurch terrorist attack flashed this symbol in a court appearance. Members of groups such as the Proud Boys have used the sign extensively, and it spread like fire in 2017 across the more backwards and, one might even say, degenerate corners of the internet. These corners are havens for far right extremists who, until recently, would be hounded and ostracized in public. With the deepening of the capitalist crisis, and the subsequent heightening of contradictions, there has been a wave of far right reaction which has made the public a substantially more hospitable place for the very sort of people who utilize the OK sign as a dog whistle. To deny that this sign has been and often still is used this way is absurd.
Maupin also quotes Contrapoints as saying “I am not a fascist is exactly what a fascist would say.”(pg.120) This quotation is dishonest, and is used to again paint Contrapoints as involved in a witch hunt. Maupin writes “Is it true that many White Nationalists conceal their views, and operate covertly in broader conservative circles? Yes. Is it true that many advocates of a white ethnostate who harbor anti-semitic views will conceal this message when creating broader content? Yes.”
However, Contrapoints video basically argues that anything can be a dog whistle, anyone can be a fascist, and all that is necessary to prove it is something as meaningless as a hand gesture, a slip of the tongue, or most importantly a disagreement with the mainstream of the left.”(pg.116) The full Contrapoints quote is as follows, “This means that if someone acts like a fascist, has fascist beliefs, repeats fascist talking points, and hangs out with other fascists, the fact that they publicly denounce fascism should be worth absolutely nothing to you and shouldn't even enter into your consideration of whether they're a fascist. After all, “I'm not a fascist'' is exactly what a fascist would say.” Contrapoints is not attempting to paint fascism as so vague a phenomenon that anyone can be accused of it, but rather is stating that if one's actions are consistently in support of fascism then public denouncement of fascism becomes worthless. This attempt to use the quote out of context is telling. Additionally, Contrapoints explicitly says “You should never assume someone is a fascist just because of their hair or because of the emoji they use. These are only little pieces of a larger puzzle.” This misrepresentation is solidified when Maupin writes “Of course, in the world view extolled by much of BreadTube, if you dare disagree that the west is a bastion of tolerance and freedom, while China, Russia, Syria, and Venezuela are evil “fascist” regimes, you must be a fascist yourself. Who cares if you are anti-racist, or have spent over a decade working against racism; remember: “I am not a fascist is exactly what a fascist would say.”” Either Maupin is knowingly mis-representing Contrapoints, is being lazy in his research (something hard to believe as these refutations are all provided within the very same video Maupin quotes), or is simply so blinded by his thesis that he ignores all evidence which contradicts it.
This dogmatic commitment to undue criticism is revealed further in Maupin’s fourth chapter, “Understanding Left-Pessimism”. Maupin provides the following quote, “When exactly do you think capital will be done making money? How much money is enough for the ultra-rich jackasses who already have most of it? We’ve long ago sailed past it because several of them own incalculable sums, so much that they could not spend it in a thousand lifetimes and yet they don't stop, despite the consequences, the human cost, the environmental cost, they keep going… There are only so many resources to be extracted from the earth until there aren't any left… They keep going forever, or more realistically, until they can't, and at that point we are doomed… A human being intuitively understands the concept of finite resources… We the consumer, particularly, those of us in the west, bear some responsibility in this too. We buy shit we dont need and throw away shit other people could use.”(pg.125)
Maupin writes “While Matt accepts the premise that capitalism is capable of creating endless growth, Matt thinks this is bad.”(pg.126.) and “In their video championing “de-growth”, Thought Slime argues that humans have gone too far. The problem isn't that working people are increasingly impoverished due to capitalism's inherent creation of poverty amidst plenty, the problem is that average working people have too much stuff. As American workers are seeing their wages go down, their homes foreclosed, and their children condemned to a life of student debt, the problem is that they are still too comfortable. Thought Slime anticipates an ecological apocalypse unless human consumption can be urgently reduced. Matt insists their “degrowth” model is not the same as capitalist austerity.”(pg.126 and pg.127)
This is a complete misunderstanding of Thought Slime’s words. Matt is not arguing for de-growth, rather they are arguing that capitalists, by not engaging in a more sustainable mode of consumption, are destroying the planet. This fact is undeniable. He says “They keep going forever, or more realistically, until they can't, and at that point we are doomed… A human being intuitively understands the concept of finite resources…” This is a complete acknowledgement of the inability of capitalism to create infinite growth. Matt is arguing that, instead of producing infinite growth, capitalism will instead grow until, in all their characteristic recklessness and disregard for life, capitalists have utterly destroyed the earth. While it is true that Matt falls into an individualistic and rather meaningless criticism when he says “We the consumer, particularly those of us in the west, bear some responsibility in this too. We buy shit we dont need and throw away shit other people could use.”, this is not what Maupin takes issue with. Again he overlooks the legitimate issues of BreadTube, instead misrepresenting Thought Slime and arguing against a strawman. That this would happen once in the published book of a self proclaimed Marxist is problematic. That it would happen repeatedly, seemingly carelessly, is unacceptable and speaks to a larger issue.
Maupin seems to have approached his criticism of BreadTube from an emotional, rather than analytical, perspective. This is a shame because BreadTube is indeed a deeply flawed and ultimately ineffective phenomenon, and Maupin notes many of these flaws. Yet rather than deconstructing BreadTubes failings using a materialist analysis, Maupin attacks the character of these entertainers, misrepresents their arguments, and aimlessly speculates at a theory he never makes a serious effort at proving. To say that this work is disappointing is an understatement.
My aim is not to tear down the character of Caleb Maupin, nor is it to discourage criticism of BreadTube and other fascinating but ultimately flawed phenomena. Rather, it is to show that just because a work appears to be on “our” side, that is, a Marxist and ultimately revolutionary side, does not mean that work is devoid of criticism. As Maupin’s book shows, a work can profess itself to be Marxist and still be deeply flawed, so much so that, on account of its methodology, one must ask if it is even Marxist at all. There exists a trend on the left which extolls all that proclaims itself Marxist, regardless of merit. This trend goes hand in hand with the idea of the “Anti-Imperialist State”, an entirely un-Marxist notion. These contrarians vehemently deny any and all criticism of previous socialist experiments, current socialist or self proclaimed socialst nations such as the People's Republic of China, and pass anti-americanism off as activism.
To be anti-American is not enough. To be anti-imperialist is not enough. To be anti-capitalist is not enough. Were the Mensheviks not all these things? Were the left wing terrorists, those who held to the “Propaganda of the Deed” not all these things? Was the Soviet Union, or rather, most of its leaders, not all these things? Yet the Mesheviks did not bring about the Russian Revolution. The terrorists did not bring about the Russian Revolution. And for all its many achievements, the Soviet Union ultimately failed to defend the revolution. Are we to subscribe to a sort of ultimate determinism whereby not just general trends in society but the entire fate of revolutionaries and revolutionary nations is predetermined? Were the Mensheviks doomed to failure. What about the terrorists? The Soviet Union itself? Or was it these groups ideological failings that, among other things, paved the way for their practical failings?
If we subscribe to the latter notion then we must not allow theories, nations, and individuals to go uncriticized simply because they adorn themselves in Marxist clothing. Bernstein, Kautsky, and many other opportunists referred to themselves as Marxists. We know that ideological failing can take on a subtle, almost pedantic form. Yet just as the opportunists failings have and are overt, so too may ours be covert. To say that BreadTube is a flawed phenomenon of little use is an understatement. To say that its failings include paranoia in relation to fascists, a desire for de-growth, and being part of a covert CIA plot is blatantly false, or at the very least unsubstantiated.
And of course, if we instead subscribe to the contrarian view, and an entirely deterministic view by extension, then this is all of no importance. Let us continue along the paths we have already walked, uncritical of whether those paths are always the most sound. Marxists march along, for fate itself is one our side. God knows it's been kind to us so far.
1. The channel “Second Thought” has over a million subscribers and is a self proclaimed Marxist, however as his channel does not focus on this Marxism, instead providing a more timid and introductory anti-capitalism that rarely if ever dips into outright Marxism, I have decided not to include him. This is not meant as a judgment on Second Thought’s channel, rather an acknowledgement of the channel's content.
2. “Prager University Does Not Understand Democracy.” YouTube, Thought Slime, 5 Feb. 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX1nS9L46L4. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
3. This will to ignorance being rivaled only perhaps by that loud and catastrophically large portion of the population which believes that the most effective path to combating “the elites”, “big tech”, and “the mainstream media”, is increased privatization, so that these very fine people may acquire more, not less, of a stranglehold on our lives. This ignorance, mind numbing though it may be, is largely our failing, and must be remembered as such if it is to be combatted.
4. It should be noted that Contrapoints’s definition is intended to describe contemporary fascists, making her error more understandable. It is true that fascism or proto-fascism is predominantly a white phenomenon. Still, this is by no means a prerequisite, and speaks more to the conditions of western capitalist countries than it does to some sort of racial requirement.
5. “Decrypting the Alt-Right: How to Recognize a F@Scist | ContraPoints.” YouTube, ContraPoints, 1 Sept. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sx4BVGPkdzk. Accessed 24 Sept. 2021.
6. “Ok Hand Sign Added to List of Hate Symbols.” BBC News, BBC, 27 Sept. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-49837898.
7. I use this term in its more classical sense, removed from the derogatory connotations it has since taken on. In their day, these terrorists would likely be referred to simply as anarchists, despite the fact that many of those who engaged in “excitative terror” were Marxists, Reactionaries, and ascribed to various other ideologies.
C. Paine is an African American high school student with an interest in revolutionary politics and decolonization.
Mental health crises: depression, schizophrenia and various other disorders, have engulfed the 21st century post-globalisation world. The rate of suicide is at an ever higher magnitude and in our present hyper-connected age of mass media and advanced communication, loneliness is a major issue concerning a large chunk of the population.
We are living in the time of neoliberalism, a set of economic policies characterised by market deregulation, privatisation of previously-nationalised industries or resources, and a support for rugged-individualism and competition on an ideological level. It is accompanied by a rejection of society as a concept and social solidarity as a value. The spread of neoliberalism came with a cut-back on social security and Keynesian welfarism, with cancellation of pensions and monetary support schemes that were helpful to workers in need.
Former UK Prime Minister and neoliberal ideologue, Margaret Thatcher had once said, “There is no such thing as a society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” This blanket rejection of societal causes to the multiple problems of humanity has become injected in the modern public discourse. One of the results of this heuristic is that a politically-oriented problem such as the mental health crisis, is generally looked at entirely from the point of view of an individual.
The approach towards dealing with the mental health crisis has been an atomised and individualistic one. Most explanations and proposed solutions amount to a form of genetic or biological determinism. In this article, I look into studies that provide both qualitative and quantitative data to argue that mental health issues are often products of the dominant economic system and its inherent tendency to multiply finance capital at the cost of its human labour force and their mental stability.
The mental health crisis is a direct result of the atomised, coercive and alienating nature of the dominant economic system. A failure to recognise societal causes by obscuring them with genetic and biological determinism will only lead to making matters worse. In fact, any solution without regard to larger systemic and political change will at best be superficial and not lead to long term improvement of the mental state of the population.
Capitalism and Mental Health
The article ‘Capitalism and Mental Health’ by David Matthews (for Monthly Review) begins by recognising that the world is being engulfed by a persistent mental health crisis. The empirical data at hand is fearsome. The World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that three hundred million people across the world suffer from depression, twenty-three million people show symptoms of schizophrenia and eight hundred thousand individuals commit suicide annually (Matthews, 2019).
The data illustrates the claim that mental health conditions have gradually worsened over the previous decade in the most industrialised blocks, or what Paul Baran refers to as ‘monopoly-capitalist nations’ such as Britain. Biological and genetic explanations, i.e. those which reduce mental health problems to genomic dysfunction, dominate the discourse to the point of discouraging any enquiry regarding social causes of the issues. Make no mistake: biological or psychological explanations are not to be discarded; but a deeper look is to be taken at the economic and political conditions, which Matthews holds as the primary cause of the mental health crisis (Matthews, 2019).
Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide
Let us go back in time to sociologist Emile Durkheim. His book ‘Suicide’ published as far back as 1897 took into account plenty of empirical data to suggest that suicides are directly related to social and political factors. He stressed that the industrial society of his time, with its rising focus on individual self-interest and rejection of social and communal living, was a major factor for rising cases of suicide (Durkheim, 1966).
In his book Durkheim laid out the grounds by refuting theories of suicide based on psychology, genetics and biology (as well climate and geography.) Those factors, he concluded, do not amount to any valid causation of suicide. Certainly not in the large-scale that they were occurring. Suicide, according to Durkheim was not a personal situation, but a socially caused condition (Durkheim, 1966).
Durkheim categorized suicide into three types: egoistic, altruistic and anomic. Egoistic suicides were caused by extreme loneliness and also extreme individualism – both of which are imminent features of capitalism and more specifically the neoliberal monopoly capitalism that is dominant today. A person prone to this form of suicide is characterised by a certain egoism that renders him ‘detached from society’. This is also the kind of personality trait encouraged and idolised today by neoliberal ideology through media advertisements and civil society institutions (Durkheim, 1966).
A serious survey of Durkheim’s theory goes on to show that the politically-oriented nature of suicides is not a revolutionary discovery by the research studies in hand. These have been matters of concern for more than a century now. The fact that this appears radical, tells us something about the nature of neoliberal ideology which has normalised the handing over of complete responsibility of mental illnesses to the individual, with wilful ignorance of societal causes (Durkheim, 1966).
Privatisation of stress
Cultural theorist Mark Fisher in his book ‘Capitalist Realism’ argues that the dominant cultural logic of late capitalism (that he terms ‘capitalist realism’) attempts to create a false layer of reality over what is real. An example he provides is the de-politicization of mental health issues. He writes, “Capitalist Realism insists on treating mental health as if it were a natural fact, like weather.” (Fisher, 2009)
He points out that mid-twentieth century radical thinkers ranging from Foucault in his book ‘Madness and Civilisation’ to Deleuze and Guattari in their book ‘Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ had illustrated that ‘madness’ was not natural but political. Fisher goes further to assert the political nature of not only ‘madness’ in the extreme, but also the relatively commonplace mental disorders (Fisher, 2009).
Ideology of entertainment and consumption
The domination of monopoly capital subjugates the vast majority of the population to a working life that is neither meaningful to them nor satisfactory. The only source of escape is recreation and entertainment, which in the present system amounts to consumption and more consumption of commodities. This form of leisure doesn’t add any meaning or value to one’s life. We therefore associate our recreation with idleness, giving rise to a certain amount of guilt, thus making the experience of pleasure, not pleasurable at all. Through their lack of substance, both work and leisure increasingly lose their inner content and meaning. (Matthews, 2019)
Philosopher Slavoj Zizek termed this phenomenon ‘ideological enjoyment’, which is further drawn from the Lacanian psychoanalytical concept of “jouissance” (which is a French term for extreme enjoyment to the point of exhaustion). This is an aspect of the present day dominant ideology which bestows on the people a vague notion of entertainment which is neither fulfilling nor enjoyable, however is sought after by a multitude of people (Zizek, 2009).
Matthews points out that this ideological validation for such kinds of enjoyment is a necessary means to keep the consumer society running. The system is designed to concentrate finance capital into the hands of the few and hence has no responsibility to be considerate of the population whose basic needs it fails to deliver. This structural phenomenon of monopoly capitalism, according to Baran and Sweezy, results in “the spread of increasingly severe psychic disorders.” (Matthews, 2019)
A thinker who can provide us with insight on the matter at hand, is Erich Fromm. Let us take a look at his body of work in some detail.
Erich Fromm (March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980) was a psychoanalyst whose works focused on the questions of innate nature of human beings and relations with social surroundings. He had a keen focus on individual human liberation that he considered to be unachievable without the liberation of entire humanity, with a restructuring of the entire socio-economic system.
He belonged to the Neo-Freudian school of psychodynamics, having some major disagreements and controversies with his contemporaries. Fromm had a deep and everlasting influence of the Marxist dialectical materialist approach to the progression of history and change in society. He considered the development of history and the subsequent changes in society an important aspect that shapes peoples’ feelings of freedom and relationship with their own self and their fellow beings (Ferguson, 2016).
Fromm agreed with Freud on the tenet that much of human behaviour and experience is the result of a cause that is unconscious, however, he considered the Freudian term ‘unconscious’ a rather mystical representation of mental causative thoughts and processes of which a person is not conscious.
Fromm’s criticism of Freud was primarily about the ideas of Oedipus complex and libido theory. He was of opinion that a human’s personal development was influenced by his interactions with the society he lived in and the power structures present in it, as opposed to predominantly biological and libido-driven factors (Cherry, Biography of Social Psychologist Erich Fromm, 2020).
During his period of study in the University of Munich, he attended seminars organised by dissident psychoanalyst Otto Fenichel about ways in which Marxist and Freudian thought could be reconciled, keeping in mind the emancipation of alienated humanity. (Ferguson, 2016).
Despite having a major influence of the Freudian thought, Fromm indisputably considered Marx the greater thinker, which he made no secret of in his book ‘Beyond the Chains of Illusion: My Encounters with Freud and Marx’ (Fromm, Beyond the Chains of Illusion, 1962) .
Theories and solutions of Erich Fromm
Among his contemporary Neo-Freudians, Fromm stood out because of his deep concern with the fate of the social and psychological well-being of the collective humanity. His writings were marked by an emphasis on the importance of the individual and its liberty to think freely. He held that in order to bring about a positive mental transcendence for humanity, one not only had to increase self-consciousness and non-deterministic free thinking, but also had to strive towards altering the social, economic and political circumstances under which they lived.
Fromm believed that in the age of ever-increasing capitalist tyranny and control over information and thoughts; humans can broadly be categorized into five character types, four of which are the repulsive results of the unevenly designed society (receptive, exploitative, hoarding and marketing character types), while the fifth one is a productive character type, which is possessed by only a minority of people. The receptive character tends to seek constant help and support from his fellow beings, while not being keen to return any of it. The exploitative character is motivated by a selfish desire to attain success and tries to do so at the cost of other people by lying and cheating. The hoarding type tends to collect and stockpile loads of material commodities as their possession, in order to deal with the insecurity caused by their lack of social connection with other humans. The material type tends to look at human relationships merely in terms of the benefits they can gain from it. (Cherry, Fromm's Character Orientations, 2020)
One of Fromm’s most significant works is his first book Escape from Freedom, which he wrote in 1941. This was when his country (Germany) was at the pinnacle of Nazi fanaticism, with various other countries heading towards totalitarianism. He proposed in his book that freedom has a dialectical nature and can be perceived to be of two types: positive and negative. The constructive kind of freedom which humans want to arrive at was positive freedom, and the desire to escape from tyranny and control was negative freedom.
Before the industrial revolution, humans were enslaved and bound permanently to their social positions. No value was ascertained to their individual development. Fromm held that this type of non-individualistic society, while enslaving humans, offered them a sense of security. With the rise of capitalism, we were bestowed upon with a certain freedom that was utterly superficial and left the people in a state of anxiety and powerlessness arising from too much focus on the self, with little regard to the need for community. The individualism that was promoted had little to do with individuality and creative endeavour, and more to do with self-centeredness and narcissism.
Fromm wrote that alongside a desire to be free, humans also possessed a desire to submit to authority and conform to norms. This object of submission, Fromm held, did not necessarily have to be an external authority such as a dictator, but could also be inner ideals of morality, duty and popular opinion. This tendency to submit and conform, along with the narrowness of the political and social conditions of capitalism and bourgeois democracy, result in humans gathering in the bandwagons in support of totalitarian dictators. This was Fromm’s explanation for the rise of fascism as an inevitable result of the capitalist political and economic system. This was in stark contrast to the dominant idea that fascism was an isolated case of aberration from the normal. (Popova, The Paradox of Freedom).
In another significant book The Sane Society, Fromm points out that Western society is not mentally stable by and large and not sane. He adds that the cause of mental health deterioration is not entirely personal, and to a large extent a result of the chaos of power imbalance in the society itself. Humanity as a collective and as individuals, has been alienated, and various thinkers have tried to devise a cause for it. Marx considered it something primarily determined by material reality, while Tolstoy considered it to be the result of a departure from the spiritual values that defined humanity. Fromm tells us that the cause for modern day alienation is ‘robotism’. This is the transformation of humans into unfeeling, unauthentic creatures whose intelligence has evolved, but the emotional capacity to correctly utilize that intelligence, still stays undeveloped. (Popova, The Sane Society)
On an individual level, Fromm proposes that human beings need to awaken to self-consciousness and understanding of their true needs, as opposed to superficial needs that they have been indoctrinated to. Fromm calls for a ‘humanistic communitarian society’ which can be summed up in his own words as:
“A society in which man relates to man lovingly, in which he is rooted in bonds of brotherliness and solidarity, rather than in the ties of blood and soil; a society which gives him the possibility of transcending nature by creating rather than by destroying, in which everyone gains a sense of self by experiencing himself as the subject of his powers rather than by conformity, in which a system of orientation and devotion exists without man’s needing to distort reality and to worship idols.” (Fromm, Conclusion, 1955)
Work and alienation
Human beings are characterised, among other things, by their need to express themselves and make use of their creative faculties. The activities at workplace, where the majority of the population spends a huge amount of their day, have the potential to provide them with utmost happiness and satisfaction. However, that is not the case since most workers in the industrial world are alienated from the products of their labour, they have no autonomy over what work is done or ownership over the fruits of their labour, i.e. the finished products. Work, therefore, is a source of major frustration and alienation of humans from their society and from themselves.
This idea is strengthened by more modern psychological theories such as the self-determination theory (SDT) which states that the intrinsic motivation to perform work is dependent on the feeling of competence, autonomy and relatedness. The capitalist system does not allow its workers the right to those feelings.
Matthews’ study backs up the ideas of alienation with sufficient empirical data suggesting that vast majority of people feel disenfranchised from the work they do and find no meaningfulness. Matthews quotes a survey in Britain where 47% of employees would consider finding a new job, citing such reasons as not enjoying work and feeling unimportant in the process. Severe mental health conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety as a result of unsatisfactory work, are only increasing. A study in 2017 estimated that 60% of British employees had suffered work-related mental problems, with anxiety and depression topping the list. Despite such a correlation, the negative feeling regarding work has become so common, that it is seen not as an ill-condition specific to our economic system, but as a natural reaction to work (Matthews, 2019).
In his book ‘The Society of the Spectacle’, Guy Debord wrote, “The reigning economic system is a vicious circle of isolation. Its technologies are based on isolation, and they contribute to that same isolation. From automobiles to television, the goods that the spectacular system chooses to produce also serve it as weapons for constantly reinforcing the conditions that engender "lonely crowds." In Debord’s list of technologies, among automobiles and television, today one could certainly add social media (Debord, 1992).
The nature of the capitalist economic system disables the capacity for the emotional and intellectual commitments required for leading fulfilling relationships. This causes conversations to reduce into superficial niceties and small talk. In a survey conducted in 2017 in Britain, 13% of the people admitted to having no close friends, and another 17% having poor quality friendships. The core tenet of capitalist ideology, with its focus on individualism and competition, takes away any sense of solidarity between people. People tend to see other people as obstacles to their own needs. An employee survey in 2016 has illustrated that 27% people work longer than they would want to and that negatively impacts their personal life and relationships (Matthews, 2019).
I hope to have been able to make it clear that the rise in mental health problems, is neither an individual issue, nor a coincidence or aberration led by faulty actors. It is an inevitable outcome of the dominant economic and political system that we live in. It is important to note, that medical solutions are extremely important. In our efforts to galvanise and push our governments to legislate for healthcare for all, we must add mental health and therapy. Certainly, the process and nature of therapy that is dominant today, is also not free from being influenced by the dominant neoliberal ideology. In fact there are serious questions to be asked about what kind of role psychotherapy plays in our society, but that is for another article.
Suryashekhar Biswas is an undergrad from India, majoring in media studies and English literature. He takes interest in cultural and literary criticism and wishes to contribute to the glorious lineage of third-world Marxism.
Note by the author: The phrase sex work encompasses many industries not just prostitution. However, the phrases prostitution and sex work will be used interchangeably in this essay.
Throughout leftist spaces one’s ears will constantly be flooded with pro-sex work messages. However, if one spends a cursory amount of time flipping through the basic texts of Marxism such as The Communist Manifesto and Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State, or the works of Marxist feminists such as Alexandra Kollontai and Nadezhda Krupskaya, one will see an overwhelming trend against prostitution. In fact just looking at historically socialist states one will see that the vast majority of them were able to eliminate prostitution and sex work. Most namely Cuba and China both of which were countries plagued by prostitution that is until the communists eliminated prostitution by actually liberating women from capitalist patriarchy. It was only when socialist states opened up to capitalism that one saw a rise in prostitution, accompanied by crime, poverty, and a roll back on women’s rights. The fall of the Soviet Union saw a massive increase in prostitution. Not only among women but also by children! In every socialist state the revolutionaries worked to eliminate prostitution, not because of petty bourgeois moralism, but because they understood that sex work was an institution based on the violent exploitation of women’s bodies. Such an institution was and still is incompatible to women’s liberation and Marxism.
Proponents of prostitution argue that it’s a choice, that women choose to become prostitutes. When viewed through this lens, prostitution is seen as a mutually beneficial relationship. The prostitute (often a woman) gets money. The buyer (often a man) gets to satisfy his sexual desires. This situation however is nothing more than a fantasy. Prostitution is a fundamentally antagonistic relationship among all parties. The prostitute needs to get as much money as possible by doing the least amount of labor and the buyer wants to get as much labor as he can from the prostitute with the least amount of money. In this relationship the prostitute is in the majority of cases coming from a position of weakness. 80 percent of prostitutes are between the ages of 13-25. 90% of prostitutes depend on pimps. 84% of prostitutes in a study done in San Francisco had reported to current or past homelessness.The average age of entry into prostitution is 12-16. Black and Latinx women are more likely to be trafficked into the sex industry. The buyers of prostitution are more likely to be middle-upper class white men. The buyer in most cases has more power over the prostitute and is able to coerce the sex worker into doing something that they might not be comfortable in doing. In fact, according to a study done in San Francisco of 130 prostitutes, 49% of them reported being assaulted as children, 82% had been physically assaulted, 68% had been raped while on the job, 87% of the participants wanted to leave the profession. Prostitution relies on uneven power dynamics between the buyer and the seller. The seller in most cases has the ability to commit the most horrible abuses to a prostitute and often gets away with it because of their disproportionate privilege and wealth compared to the prostitute. How can such a situation be consensual? While a prostitute might not always be threatened by a gun, though that certainly does happen--83% of prostitutes have been threatened with a weapon. In this case it is the dollar that replaces the gun. If a prostitute doesn’t obey the buyer or refuses to take the gig they will be threatened with poverty and starvation. And even if a prostitute can leave a client, that doesn’t mean she can leave the industry as a whole, because of a lack of economic prospects, coercion by pimps, losing her means of sustenance, etc. Prostitution relies on the exploitation and objectification of women and lgbt people. Marxists must be diametrically opposed to all forms of exploitation, including that of prostitution.
Another common argument one will hear from the pro-prostitution crowd is that sex work is work. Such a phrase is often used to absolve the abuses of the industry. However, just because something is work doesn’t mean that it should be absolved of all scrutiny. For example, making meth in a garage is technically work, that doesn’t mean it should be supported. What makes sex work different from all forms of labor is that violence and exploitation are inherent to sex work. Compared to other forms of work where the greatest risks to one’s health are usually accidents such as tripping or falling, or problems like stress which can be remedied with regulation, it’s impossible to regulate out the violence inherent to sex work. Jobs such as farming, fishing, and logging, don’t have to be exploitative, the same can’t be said of sex work. Even “high class” sex workers such as escorts aren’t immune to the violence of the job. Less than a week ago the body of a Wall Street escort was found stuffed in a barrel in New Jersey. Just because the conditions are nicer or more “regulated” doesn’t mean that the violence or exploitation goes away. Even in places where sex work is legal or decriminalized sex workers still face disproportionate rates of violence compared to the general population of women. Consider the fact that about 68% of prostitutes have PTSD compared to 13% of veterans, and in the vast majority of jobs PTSD rates are negligible. The fact that prostitutes have such an immense PTSD rate tells us that suffering and abuse in prostitution is the norm, not the exception. To say that sex work is work would be ignoring the vast amount of pain that the vast majority of sex workers go through. Esperanza Fonseca also known as the Proletarian Feminist summed this up quite concisely.
“Wage labor is exploitative because of the surplus value extracted from the workers' labor. Prostitution is sexual exploitation because it feeds off of extreme vulnerability to maintain a class of prostitutes, coerces sex through money and power, and exposes those women to high amounts of rape and violence.”
Of course when all else fails defenders of prostitution will say that prostitution is the oldest job on the planet, and that it’s always been a part of human society. However, this statement displays a clear ignorance of history. In order for prostitution to exist there needs to be the existence of patriarchy, class society, and money. The first mention of prostitution was around 2400 BC in Ancient Sumer. Human society has existed for at least 10,000 years. 2400 BC was only 4400 years ago. It’s also worth mentioning that the majority of socialist societies which saw great reductions in wealth and income inequality and great improvements in women’s rights were accompanied by great reductions in prostitution. It was only after capitalism was reintroduced and accompanied by a rollback of social safety nets which were crucial in providing women independence from men, that prostitution started to reappear with a vengeance. The fact that prostitution reappeared alongside the introduction of unregulated predatory neoliberal capitalism which had the worst impacts on women tells us two things. Prostitution isn’t liberating or empowering. And prostitution doesn’t have to exist in all societies.
What are the options then? How should Marxists deal with prostitution? The best way as shown by plenty of historical examples is to kick out the capitalists and establish an economy centered around the needs of the people rather than profit, in other words socialism. Such a society must allow women to become economically independent from men by providing them not just with legal rights on paper but also with economic rights such as the right to healthcare, education, housing, childcare, and a job that allows them to live comfortably. As Marxists we understand that the capitalists in this country would do everything they can to avoid actually addressing the needs of working people because that would pose a threat to their profits. Only a government of action that fights for working families can achieve truly liberate women from the threat of prostitution.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
This article was produced by Tankie GF.
How is a man defined by the materials in which he possesses? How does a man’s physical labor become embodied in the objects he owns? On pages 278 and 279 of Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison examines how the material reality that surrounds his unnamed narrator and the characters around him upholds the ideas of an unchanging human nature that leads to the domination of racial and class hierarchies. Ellison explores the intricate relationship between a man’s labor and its products of physical materialism, dialectical struggles between the “law” and the “law abiding”, and the notion of dispossession.
In context, the unnamed narrator is living on edge every single day in Harlem, New York. Not only for the color of his skin, but of his constant struggle dealing with expulsion from school and the struggles of finding identity within the concrete jungle of New York. He is dirt poor and spends his days working at a paint factory in which Ellison purposely structures it as a representation of class struggle confined within the floors of the building. This symbolic examination is as well present in the passage above. Ellison begins by establishing the role of the man in which he is the victim of a passive aggressive act of eviction in which a group of armed men, from the orders of a landlord, throws out a family’s belongings in the middle of the street, disturbing the surrounding scenery of the city. The local folks begin to grow discontent with the acts from the armed men and begin pleading for sympathy. Thus, the narrator jumps into the scene, eager to utilize his passion for speaking, and begins to rile up the crowd (unintentionally).
The narrator begins by asking the male evictee of his employment status. He makes this decision because the narrator is attempting to humanize the man and give him an identity in which the crowd can define him, sympathize him, and emotionally connect with his situation. Therefore, by going a humanistic route, the narrator is successful in giving the random evictee recognition from the crowd as an active member of the community. The evictee responds by establishing himself as a “day laborer”. This ultimately gives an insight as to the shared conflict in which the evictee and the community as a whole go through together. By directly acknowledging the existing struggle of the evictee, the struggle of the people of Harlem becomes embodied by the evictee. The narrator then uses a simile in comparing “his stuff strewn like chitterlings in the snow?” and then metaphorically compares the evictee’s “stuff” to his “day labor” by exclaiming, “where has all his labor gone?” First, by comparing his “stuff” to “chitterlings in the snow”, the narrator gives the image of a literal interpretation of a “pigsty”, as the objects on the ground are scattered like trash. Also, the narrator being from the south, it is very interesting how he uses his southern identity in the use of figurative language. It allows an oddly specific comparison that only those within the community might understand (I myself had no idea what chitterlings were before researching).
Given the status of his day labor, the accumulation of the hours of labor the man had put during his lifetime are symbolized by his objects scattered on the sidewalk. To have a marshal drop by the apartment and throw out one’s “labor” so effortlessly and uncourteously symbolizes the conflict of class and racial struggle of the day laborers of Harlem, and to that thought, the people in the crowd continue to identify with the struggle of the evictee. Continuing, the narrator then uses the age of the evictee, eighty-seven years, as a means of given his materials a reference of time in which they have been accumulated. “Look at his old blues records and her pots of plants, they’re down-home folks, and everything tossed out like junk whirled eighty-seven years in a cyclone. Eighty-seven years, and poof! Like a snort in a wind storm”. This accumulation of material possession reflects the labor and livelihoods of the people who possess them. Ellison portrays the action of the men’s carelessness in the materials of the evictees through simile and hyperbole. By comparing “everything tossed out like junk whirled eighty-seven years in a cyclone,” Ellison gives a hyperbolic sense of the scenery as if a cyclone had passed by and whirled the evictee’s “junk” around the proximity. Comparing the materials to junk is intriguing; as if the narrator is giving the idea that by which he first gives the objects a sense of humanity at first, giving the idea of the “pots of plants” that defines the evictee’s identity as “down-home folks”. However, this is contrasted when the evictors get their hands on them, instantly transforming them into “junk”. It is assumed that Ellison is attempting to define humans by the materials they possess; or could it be vice versa? By exploring this duality, Ellison is successful in drawing the questions as to the nature of the “day laborer’s” relationship with his material possessions. Therefore, it is inferred by Ellison that ideas cannot exist separate from their material conditions that exhibit such ideas.
Next, Ellison tackles the internal contradictions between the “law” and the “law abiding”. The marshal, being metaphorically given the title, “law”, has been indicated by the narrator of being unjust. He infers that when the “law” acts lawless, it is permissible for the “law-abiding” to speak its language.
“Remember it when you look up there in the doorway at that law standing there with his forty-five. Look at him, standing with his blue steel pistol and his blue serge suit, or one forty-five, you see ten for every one of us, ten guns and ten warm suits and ten fat bellies and ten million laws. Laws, that’s what we call them down South! Laws! And we’re wise, and law-abiding,”.
Ellison also uses imagery and repetition of the color “blue” and the “forty-five” (referring to the pistol) to give an image as to whom the “law” is defined. Just as how the evictee was defined by the materials in which he possessed; the “law” is defined that way as well. Interestingly, Ellison develops the concept of the negation of the negation. In this circumstance, the evicted run into their opposites (the evictors) in the course of development. The evicted cannot fully develop in their bloomed potential as they have become ousted by those who possess the keys to their metaphorical “apartment”. Ellison also provides the negation of the negation within the relationship of the marshals and the African American community. The marshal disregards the “objects” (in this circumstance, the material possessions of the evictees. In the metaphorical sense, the development of culture and identity in which the materials were produced and influenced by) as junk, leaving the community continuing to struggle to objectify their identity. In this specific circumstance, the wife of the man, wants to pray in her home one last time. She possesses a Bible, and requests one last wish. She is in a sense, defined by her passion for the Bible, and vice versa. The narrator knows this and utilizes it to his advantage. By exclaiming the words of scripture, “blessed are the pure in heart”, the narrator then is able to ask the question, “what’s happened to them? They’re our people, your people and mine, your parents and mine. What’s happened to ‘em?”. By identifying the couple of evictees as part of the community, the narrator continues to allow the crowd to see themselves in the footsteps of those victimized. Their response, however, gives the reader an interesting word that clearly defines the interconnectedness of the material possessions, what they define, and what the couple represents- dispossessed.
To dispossess means to deprive someone of land, property or other possessions. Intriguingly, an ambiguous question emerges- who is being disposed in this situation? The evictees? The materials? The community? In a sense, all of these assumptions are correct. A person in the crowd introduces the term “dispossessed” and the narrator then says,
“Dispossessed, eighty-seven years and dispossessed of what? They ain’t got nothing, they can’t get nothing, they never had nothing. So who’s being disposed? Can it be us? These old ones are out in the snow, but we’re here with them. Look at their stuff, not a pit to hiss in, nor a window to shout the news and us right with them… They’re facing a gun and we’re facing it with them. They don’t’ want the world, but only Jesus… How about it, Mr. Law? Do we get our fifteen minutes worth of Jesus? You got the world, can we have our Jesus?”
We have already examined the interconnected relationships between material possessions and those who possess them. Now it is next to examine how does one react when they have been dispossessed from their materials. The narrator infers that the evictees have already been dispossessed, and that they have handed their “world” into the hands of the marshal, who acts as an interpenetration of opposites. He becomes the facilitator that blurs the line between the evictors and the evictees. The people only want “fifteen minutes of Jesus” but the marshal cannot allow due to his “orders” and threatens to shoot anyone who approaches the apartment. The narrator then continues by referring back to the symbolism and imagery associated with the color “blue”, saying
“with his blue steel pistol and his blue serge suit. You heard him. He’s the law. He says he’ll shoot us down because we’re a law-abiding people. So, we’ve been dispossessed, and what’s more, he thinks he’s God. Look up there backed against the post with a criminal on either side of him.”
By again referring to the dialectical relationship of the “law” and the “law-abiding”, the narrator is able to then legitimize the calls for the people to respond to the lawlessness of the law in its own “language”. He has successfully riled up the crowd, and they begin the process of repossessing what had been stolen from them- identity.
The narrator operates in an assertive and sincere tone. He is fed up with the “dispossession” and “displacement” of his people, and he utilizes his speaking ability to finally draw the final straw. By examining the relationships of a man’s labor and the materials he possesses, the dialectical relationships between the “law” and the “law abiding”, the “evicted” and the “evictor”, and the weight the word “dispossession” possesses in the circumstance of the evicted family and of the African American community, Ellison is able to whip up a narration that leaves those who listen with answers and motivates an act of reclaiming what is being taken away from you. We shall overcome our eviction by bringing consciousness to the evicted of their dispossession and displacement and bring about a synthesis of a new apparatus.
(1) Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York :Vintage International, 1995.
Jacob Masterson is a looming political science major at an undecided college. He currently specializes in Marxist political philosophy, radical social movements, and American history.
I recently wrote and presented to the people of Mount Desert Island on the delimitation of lighthouses and spaces islanded literally and physically from the “outside” world. The essential premise was on how lighthouses and more broadly spaces islanded from the rest of the world could represent existences that were more isolated by their own volition. Spaces, where we can ultimately see our own Covid19-dictated lives mirrored more satisfyingly. But this also presents a larger question on delimitation in Marxist Revolutions. Immediately we think of the island of Cuba, the relatively small country of Burkina Faso, or the big mass of the Soviet Union. How does an area’s delimitation affect its revolutionary aspirations? And if we look at this from a Marxist perspective we unquestionably have to include the legacy of imperialism. How do countries delimited by their physical boundaries in addition to their economic and social brutalization from imperialism shape out compared to a country not affected by this violence?
To break this down let’s look at delimitation narrowed into two different categories. The first one being the physical, geographic delimitation of a place: its global location, if it is islanded, its indigenous history, and its ability for natural resources. The second form of delimitation that I want to look at is its delimitation in the eyes of imperialism: how a place’s boundaries and limits were forced by the imperialism of a western country.
For the purpose of this examination I will not be looking at the Marxist Revolutions of all countries and places but rather focus on a few: Thomas Sankara’s work in Burkina Faso, the work of Castro and Guevara in Cuba, the huge impact of the Soviet Union, and more abstractly the Black Panthers in the United States.
Thomas Sankara and Burkina Faso:
Burkina Faso’s global location is important. Located in the western part of Africa, it has a dry and tropical climate. (Burkina Faso National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) Official Document (French) - November 2007) More broadly Burkina Faso’s legacy sits among the colonization of the African continent, along with being an example of US military intervention. Importantly, it is landlocked, with no access to the sea, although the country enjoys a rich history of farming which Sankara helped to expand among his vast reforms. The first people to settle in the area were the Mossi people in the 11th and 13th centuries. Their expansive kingdoms were important in the Sub-Saharan trade. In 1890, it was colonized by the French who would start their process of exploitation. (SAHO) Currently, the gold mining sector has colonized and exploited the country and its people in post-Sankara society. Much like other countries on the African content, Burkina Faso is extremely diverse in its peoples, languages, cultures, and traditions. The French forcibly created these non-contextual borders, languages, religions, and economies that had no relationship with the existence of the peoples on the land before. The brutalization of the people of Burkina Faso is a prime example of just how long-lasting the violence from imperialism reaches beyond its effects on people but on boundaries as well.
We can see some inherent delimitations in the country. Its borders and resources make it vital for relationships with other nations; other nations who could (and did) choose to exploit and brutalize the country for its self-determination and bold commitment to liberation through Marxism. Those who took Sankara down were bribed by western interests (or the literal interests themselves), his demise can be seen as a product of the inherent and forced delimitation of the country. Sankara was not in the position to shut out the entirety of the world, erase the lasting effects and people from the nation’s origin in colonization, and/or refuse foreign aid. The natural delimitation of the country’s geographic position in West Africa also reveals delimitation through imperialism. The Western powers (France) that colonized the land were ultimately the ones that had control of the boundaries and foundations of the country.
Yet in some ways, delimitation helped Burkina Faso even have some sort of Marxist revolution. Its smaller geographic area enabled Sankara to communicate better with the entirety of his people. The long tradition of farming and farmers in the area helped to push Sankara’s reforms. And lastly, if we see delimitation as the action of fixing a limit, we could say that Burkina Faso was more open to delimitation beyond borders and boundaries but among new ideas and political ideals. The historical legacy of imperialism created a need for a revolution in the first place, which is why we see examples of left-wing revolutions in countries brutalized by imperialism so often.
Che Guevara and Fidel Castro in Cuba:
This leads us to another example of a smaller country whose people were forced to endure colonization and imperialism by Western powers. Cuba’s geographic delimitation though is a little different. In some ways its position as an island helped the country: one small reason why the Soviet Union allied with the country was the Soviet Union’s affinity for water access. Another element is the lasting effect the tourism industry would have on Cuba pre and post-revolution. Cuba was exploited by imperial powers for its warm climate through the tourism industry before Castro led the proletariat to fight against the imperial powers. Or even before in the climate’s ability to produce sugar. And tragically we can see how the physical delimitation of an island would be hurtful to a revolution unpopular by the global-capitalist powers: after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba would struggle to feed its people because of the inherent inability to be completely self-sufficient in its food production (which should not be, and is not, expected in any other countries).
Yet any young Marxist first learns about Castro and Guevara who in the Sierra Maestras quite literally fought hand and tooth for Cuba’s independence. The ruralness of the island allowed the comrades to ally themselves with farmers spread out from the city center of Havana. We can see then how Cuba’s geographic delimitation first enabled its revolution to happen. Without the cover of the Sierra Maestra and that guerilla warfare, the revolution possibly wouldn’t have happened. But as I mentioned before, in a world where those who reject global capitalism are isolated, inhumanely ostracized, and invaded, an island’s inherent smallness and singular climate made the revolution hard to sustain. If our global picture wasn’t delimited by the constraints of capitalism perhaps Cuba wouldn’t have run into the problems that it was forced to confront in its extremely limited boundaries.
(Map from Nations Online)
The Soviet Union:
Along with the vastness of the Soviet Union’s geographic territory comes even more delimited history; therefore only a few examples will be examined here. As I mentioned before: one of the favorite topics of any high school history teacher is undoubtedly the lack of sea access that the Soviets had. This forced the dynamic of many of its expansion efforts, policies, and relationships with other countries (oftentimes those countries had been brutalized by Western, capitalist powers). Water would also encourage boundaries to expand; the soviets used the power of natural water resources to further their industrial development. (Tolmazin). In fact, there is a longstanding history of the Soviet’s appropriation of natural water resources which unfortunately hurt a lot of natural water climates, although the Soviets have added invaluable scientific research in understanding the impact of harnessing water likewise.
Water is not the only resource the Soviet Union used in its delimitation. I find it important to reflect on not only the geographic position but its size. Geographically its located centrally quite literally between two huge continents: Europe and Asia. Among conflicts and wars, its boundaries and borders were challenged physically, forcing the Soviet Union to henceforth physically respond. This also added to different cultural, social, and linguistic barriers. One specific tidbit that exemplifies this is that in 1914 Vladimir Lenin ruled against a compulsory or official state language after the October Revolution (Comrie, Bernard (1981). The Languages of the Soviet Union. Cambridge University Press). Perhaps it is in understanding the delimitation (or lack thereof) of the Soviet Union where we can best observe these crowning moments. I will though say that a country with less delimitation in the form of extensive boundaries with less physical land area definitely helped the Soviets. Not to mention the Soviet Union’s legacy with imperialism and colonization is obviously way different than places such as Cuba or Burkina Faso. In this way, we can see that the legacy of delimitation from western imperialism in the form of colonizing an independent group of people is less evident and that undoubtedly helped the Revolution to at least exist on a bigger global scale. And lastly, the sheer amount of people under the Soviet Union is the biggest example of delimited space in a Revolution. Although countries like the United States were undoubtedly scared of the Marxist tendencies of mainly Cuba but also Burkina Faso, the threat the Soviet Union would pose in the neoliberal eyes of the Americans was enormously grand.
(Map from Library of Congress)
Black Panther Party in the United States:
Lastly, I wanted to include the effects of delimited spaces in the Black Panther Party. Like the expanses of the Soviet Union, the United States is bigger than the two other countries we previously looked at. No matter how talented the revolutionary, the distance between say Fred Hampton in Chicago and the headquarters in Oakland was immense. This idea of delimitation was something Hampton invariably battled with before he was murdered: how can one focus so closely on the dynamics and lives of their community while also fighting for country-wide, revolutionary change? Malcolm X in much of his autobiography talks extensively about the travel required in his work, and how that changed his overall message. He would assign positions to specific leaders already embedded in their communities because he understood the importance of that local understanding. Tyner writes in “Defend the Ghetto”: Space and the Urban Politics of the Black Panther Party:
“Black communities in the North, far from being in disarray and plagued by dysfunction, waged a protracted fight for justice and equity but constantly had to contend with theories and policies that blamed them for their condition (Theoharis 2003, 7). Theoharis explains that rural, southern African Americans were seen as emblematic of long-suffering struggles, whereas the urban-based African Americans were portrayed- in the media, in academia- as pathological…”
So then not only the delimitation of state-created geography is important to acknowledge but the actual cultural differences between our cardinal directions. The Black Panthers had to contend with not only the systemic racism under capitalism that they were fighting against but the geographic and boundary-based realities of that same system: capitalism.
It is hard for me to see how the inherent delimitation of the United States helped the Panthers. I guess the beauty of unique and niche communities comes from their ability to grow optimistic revolutionaries: not yet scarred from the realities of far-reaching suppression. Perhaps then, that was the one way in which delimitation helped the Panthers: it created the ability for sanguine leaders to at least, attempt to rise void of the suffocating reality that a state with all the power and money in the world would simply continue to suppress through every means necessary.
(Map from Black Panther Party
History and Geography)
There are a vast array of other countries with left-wing revolutions that we could talk about in terms of the role of delimitation in their fight. Equally, there are heaps of small lessons we can see in those countries: is Uruguay’s current left-leaning government more successful because of the lack of indigenous people to be exploited; the country couldn’t be built on that original sin of exploitation and is therefore built on a system of less bloodshed? How has the exploitation of the global south by Nordic countries created systems less pure in their supposed left-leaning morality? How has the legacy of the United States-caused wars created the ability for socialist continuations in the Vietnamese government? The point of course is that we can see moments where delimited spaces gravely impacted Marxist Revolutions on all global levels. So much like how we analyze small spaces of urban planning in our cities and communities, I wonder what the impact of looking at the role of delimitation in larger and more abstract processes of Marxist Revolutions could reveal. From Graduate Hospital, Kensington, and Fairmount in my local Philly, to these larger spaces such as Cuba and Burkina Faso that I analyzed before, the role of white supremacy, neoliberalism, and global capitalism is ginormous. From gentrification to lack of land to farm, the space, boundaries, and borders of an area can divulge telling lessons on some of the biggest Marxist Revolutions.
Black Panther Party History and Geography - Mapping American Social Movements. https://depts.washington.edu/moves/BPP_intro.shtml. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
Burkina Faso | South African History Online. https://www.sahistory.org.za/place/burkina-faso. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
Burkina Faso | UNDP Climate Change Adaptation. https://www.adaptation-undp.org/explore/western-africa/burkina-faso. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
“Republics of the Soviet Union.” Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, https://www.loc.gov/resource/g7001f.ct001610/. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
“---.” Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, https://www.loc.gov/item/2005626536/. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
The Languages of the Soviet Union (Cambridge Language Surveys) by Bernard Comrie: Very Good Paperback (1981) | Fireside Bookshop. https://www.abebooks.com/Languages-Soviet-Union-Cambridge-Language-Surveys/30368345240/bd. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
Tolmazin, David. “Trends in the USSR Water Resources Development Policies.” GeoJournal, vol. 17, no. 3, Springer, 1988, pp. 389–400.
Tyner, James A. “‘Defend the Ghetto’: Space and the Urban Politics of the Black Panther Party.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, vol. 96, no. 1, [Association of American Geographers, Taylor & Francis, Ltd.], 2006, pp. 105–18.
Your Guide to the World :: Nations Online Project. https://www.nationsonline.org/index.html. Accessed 18 Aug. 2021.
Ella Kotsen is an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College. She is majoring in English and double minoring in History and Growth & Structure of Cities. She plays Division III women’s basketball and has received Centennial Conference Academic Honors. Her main subject of interest is in geopolitics and understanding the historical implications of colonization in Latin American countries. She is interested in Marxist literary theory and enjoys the work of Fanon, Eagleton, and Althusser. Ella also writes for her own independent blog where she produces opinion pieces, book reviews, and audio-based interviews.
Breadtube: an amalgamation of Youtube channels who speak on communism, anarchism, progressivism, and leftwing politics. Sadly, Breadtube is the first place that most people go to when learning about leftism. Breadtube likes to champion themselves as the experts on all things related to Leftism. They claim to be the speakers of truth, along with being a helpful hand for confused young people stuck in the alt-right pipeline. However, like The Young Turks this is sadly not the case. Breadtube is controlled opposition, an anti-capitalism approved by the capitalists. Caleb Maupin’s book Breadtube Serves Imperialism is a brilliant rebuttal against many of the talking points made by Breadtubers. The book exposes the wider trend of Synthetic Leftism which is what many Breadtubers subscribe to. It also clarifies to the reader in clear and simple terms what capitalism, fascism, socialism, and imperialism are, and the way forward. All in all it’s a highly recommended book, and should be read by people who are interested in getting into Marxism. Especially, if they want to avoid the ideological cesspool of Breadtube.
The introduction describes the deep divide amongst the ruling class. On one side of the ruling class there exists Wall Street, Exxon Mobil/the supermajors, and Silicon Valley, the part of the ruling class that tends to be more socially liberal. They follow the line created by the Council of Foreign Relations and believe that America should strategically undermine AES and anti-imperialists countries. The other side of the ruling class is composed of lower level capitalists, contains figures such as Betsy DeVos, Mike Lindell (My Pillow), fracking corporations, and military contractors who prefer a more libertarian deregulated economic model and a more outright hawkish foreign policy. The upper level of the ruling class (the former) prefers clandestine operations, proxies, propaganda campaigns, and most insidiously turning leftists against each other and funding certain leftists to create a controlled opposition. The lower level of the ruling class (the latter) typically prefers more direct conflicts and outright invasions. However, this is not to say that the tactics listed are mutually exclusive to each side of the ruling class, after all as Reagan said “We are all friends after six o’clock”. The capitalists nonetheless share the same interests of preventing the proletariat from rising up or effectively challenging their power.
An interesting point that Maupin makes in the introduction is how Breadtube resembles the counter gangs that the British set up in Kenya to fight against the Land and Freedom Army. These counter gangs supposedly hated the British but also hated the Land and Freedom Army. The counter gangs were crucial in helping the British defeat the Mau Mau uprising. Like the counter gangs, Breadtube is used by the upper level of the ruling class to fight against the right wing elements of the lower level ruling class and to also purge true anti-liberal, anti-imperialist, and anti-capitalist voices from the left. It then no wonder that Breadtube loves to participate in cancel culture, label everyone who is truly anti-imperialist a tankie, genocide denier, dictator supporter, or even more disgustinly a Nazi.
Maupin additionally brings up the social democrats in comparison to Breadtube. The social democrats in the early 20th actively worked to discredit the Soviet Union, and today Breadtube actively works to discredit actually existing socialist countries along with dismissing historical socialist countries as “state capitalist.” However, unlike Breadtube the social democrats did not believe in degrowth, many social democrats were and still are active in the labor movement, and working to improve living standards among the working class. While many social democrats today don’t accept Marxist analysis many in the past did. This is in stark contrast to Breadtube and the Synthetic Left which promotes degrowth and deindustrialization. Breadtube sees growth as a danger to the environment. It also for the most part rejects Marxist analysis or in some cases quotes Marxist theorists out of context. The majority of Breadtubers reject central planning and advocate for a type of “socialism” where worker cooperatives replace traditional firms. Never mind the fact that worker cooperatives can fit into a capitalist economy. Also unlike the soc dems in the early 20th century who didn’t support illegal or violent activities, many Breadtubers have been recorded to have supported illegal and violent street activities. Never mind that the capitalist class always uses riots and street violence as an excuse to restrict civil liberties and make it more difficult for true socialists and communists to organize. Breadtube’s goal in essence is to warp the definitions of anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism to make it something that is non threatening to the bourgeoisie while also defeating true communists and right wingers promoted by lower level capitalists.
In Chapter 1, Maupin lists the top Breadtube creators and their backgrounds. Interestingly enough many of these Breadtubers have ties to or have been given the stamp of approval by bourgeois institutions. Contrapoints for example has been written about with glowing remarks by the New York Times and the New Yorker. Steve Hassan, while not a Breadtuber, has no doubt influenced the rhetoric of many Breadtubers and mainstream liberal news networks. Yet, despite being held in high regard Hassan was involved with the Cult Awareness Network which kidnapped people who were suspected to be in cults, the victims were deprived of privacy and the ability to sleep. Yet, despite his involvement with an organization like CAN, Hassan has yet to be arrested or called out for his behavior, rather he is allowed on networks like CNN and MSNBC. He has also been the mentor of Caleb Cain. Caleb Cain was raised by a conservative family who later adopted socially progressive viewpoints. Later, during a low point in his life he went down the alt-right pipeline. He was later brought out of the alt-right pipeline with the help of his girlfriend and started watching Destiny videos. But what’s notable about Cain is that much of his “political beliefs” only went so far as his Youtube recommendations, only “considering” attending Charlottesville. However, he has made it very clear that he is interested in greater censorship on social media, censorship that harms people on the left the most, and more intriguingly Caleb has collaborated with both Contrapoints and Destiny, and has also been featured on MSM like CNN and MSNBC. It’s rather interesting that a group of people online who proclaim themselves to be bastions of revolutionary thought and activity are rarely connected or involved with any Marxist or in certain cases anarchist group. Vaush for example who claims to be an anarchist has no connection to any anarchist group and neither does Thought Slime.
Additionally, many notable Breadtube figures have been endorsed by bourgeois institutions, such is the case of Contrapoints. Breadtube was also overwhelmingly in favor of voting for Biden, with many figures like Vaush, Contrapoints, and Thought Slime preaching to their audiences about how Biden was “harm reduction.” Another thing that’s also rather ironic about Breadtube is their endorsement of US foreign policy with many of them slandering historical and modern AES nations as “red fascist” or dismissing them as “state capitalist” yet claiming to be the true anti-capitalists and anti-imperialists. The truth is abundantly clear Breadtube is a counter gang and loyal to the liberal bourgeoisie, while it’s ridiculous to say that they are directly taking orders from Washington, they still do the bidding of imperialists even if they are aware of it or not.
Many of Breadtube’s most notable figures call themselves anarchists, these figures include Vaush, NonCompete, and Thought Slime. Breadtube takes its name from Peter Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread, Kropotkin rejected Marxist analysis and had an unrealistic belief that every human being had good intentions and thus would be able to operate in a system without coercion. This is in stark contrast to Marxist views on human nature, which sees man as being shaped by their environment and more broadly the economic system, human nature is fluid, not inherently good or evil. Breadtube also rejects Marxist for the most part, with many Breadtubers denying the labor theory of value (Vaush, Socialism Done Left, RE-EDUCATION, and Destiny) basic Marxist definitions of capitalism, socialism, fascism, and imperialism. For the most part when asked about their ideal societies it would be a society where worker cooperatives replaced traditional businesses.They reject central planning or in certain cases don’t seem to know what it is *cough* Thought Slime *cough*. Vaush described his ideal society as such “Everything remains the same but replaced with worker cooperatives.” Worker Cooperatives are of course much better than traditional firms, but that doesn’t mean they are socialist. They keep production for profit, they don’t abolish the commodity form, in this world housing for example would still be built to be sold not to be lived in as would food.
A worker cooperative has the same incentive as a traditional firm to fire more workers or replace them with robots because each worker at the firm would get a larger share of the profits. Also turning Boeing and Raytheon into worker cooperatives won’t stop the military industrial complex, rather it would encourage the workers who work there to want it even more because they would be getting a more direct share of the profits. Breadtube also seems to have a bad habit of not reading their theory and history. This is evidenced by Vaush’s need for a theory compiler. Breadtube seems to vastly misunderstand Marx’s political views claiming that he was not a “statist.” Vaush, for example, points to a quote out of context in Marx’s Civil War in France “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready state machinery, and wield it for their own purposes.'' However, put into context this quote does not mean that states are unneeded but what a post capitalist society must do. In essence this quote is saying the exact opposite of what Vaush means, yes the workers can’t use the ready state machinery to create socialism, they have to create a new state apparatus. Breadtube has shown us that their knowledge on Marxism is extremely limited or nonexistent, with many of them distorting much of what Marx originally meant. Yet we shouldn’t be surprised at this because Breadtube has shown to us that they don’t care about revolution or moving towards socialism where production for profit is abolished. Instead they’d rather keep everything the same but have worker cooperatives. They are in essence anti-capitalists loyal to the super capitalists and we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t actually want to abolish capitalism.
Aside from vastly misunderstanding major works of theory, Breadtube also has an awful habit of smearing anyone who disagrees with them, including people who are truly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist, as a nazi or adjacent to them. This was seen recently with the debate between Vaush and Jackson Hinkle where Vaush accused Hinkle to be in the same camp as Holocaust deniers because he questioned the State Department narrative about Syria. It’s also worth mentioning that much of Vaush’s sources for the debate came from Wikipedia and Bellingcat, along with misreading the leaked OPCW files. Additionally, while claiming to be anti-fascist and virtue signalling to be against the Holocaust, Vaush made incredibly anti-semetic remarks towards Aarond Mate, who’s father Gabor Mate was a holocaust survivor. Vaush isn’t the only person to horribly abuse the nazi lable. Natalie Wynn, otherwise known as Contrapoints published a video detailing how to detect nazis and alt-righters, many of these indicators included doing common hand gestures like the okay sign, patriotism, or even disavowing and claiming that one is not a fascist themselves.
This horrible misuse of the label of fascist or nazi isn’t harmless it actively helps to delegitimize voices who are critical of US foreign policy, and if anything helps fascists. It makes the left look delusional and further alienates it from the working class, which is supposedly the people they wish to appeal to. This very liberal use of the word fascist also insinuates something even more insidious that normal everyday working class Americans are fascist because they might be patriotic, are Christians or religious, hold culturally moderate or conservative views, don’t wish to see their family members die for oil, and want stability and to just feed their families, or even want to have families in the first place. This is in essence the message of Breadtube, the American working class is evil and prone to reactionary ideologies while bourgeois academic socialists championing wokeness and an unrecognizable interpretation of Marxism will be the ones who will save us.
There is also the pervasive notion of degrowth, which is peddled and embraced by many breadtubers, most notably Thought Slime. The idea of degrowth is not a new one and has been around for hundreds of years starting with Malthus. Malthus proposed that because birth rates and consumption rates are greater than production of resources the earth would suffer from overpopulation and face some sort of apocalyptic crisis. What Malthus failed to realize is that innovation and ingenuity are unlimited, humans have been able to advance and innovate productive forces to further accommodate more people. There is currently more than enough food and shelter for everyone. The planet has eight billion people but can feed ten billion people.
In the US we have three million vacant units but half a million homeless people if not more. The reason why we have so many people in poverty is not because of a lack of resources but because the allocation of those resources is determined by profit not by use. A worker cooperative society promoted by Breadtube wouldn’t change this. People are being overexploited and can’t buy back the goods that they used their labor to make. This isn’t due to overpopulation or overconsumption, but because in order to live people must sell their labor to a capitalist. Overpopulation and Malthusianism have also been championed by eugenists like Margaret Sanger and genocidal regimes like the British Empire who starved millions of people in India because the people on the subcontinent “had too many children.” Overpopulation and degrowth is a complete and utter lie promoted by the capitalist class and would make the lives of working people worse.
Much of Breadtube is very pessimistic, it criticizes capitalism without actually offering any feasible solutions, and dismisses any real life socialist experiments. Socialists must not only criticize capitalism but also offer workers a path out of poverty and exploitation. Socialism has to be constructive and progressive. Communism is not a society where everyone is equally poor but a society where there is so much material abundance that class hierarchies, states, and money no longer need to exist. Communism cannot be achieved through pessimism, degrowth, McCarthyite smears of calling everyone you dislike a Nazi, and most importantly a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is. The transition to communism will be difficult but anything offered by counter revolutionaries will be worse. Even during harsh sanctions and constant sabotage the Soviet Union and other socialist republics gave workers a better life than what became before, often feudalism or subjugation under imperialist powers, and what came after, austerity and privatization leading often leading to the rise of a corrupt oligarch class and a falling standard of living continuing to the present.
The Center for Political Innovation founded by Caleb Maupin offers a four point plan to rescue the country. The first point is a mass mobilization of workers to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, including the building of high speed rail and a revamping of the university system. A five year economic plan would also be overseen by the brightest minds of the country. The second and third point is the nationalization of natural resources and banking. The lending of money will no longer be done for profit but will be overseen by the local community and country over all. A national bank will be established to replace the financial sector. Credit will be given out if it aligns with the economic plan to secure long term developmental growth. Interest will also be paid back into the public budget. Finally, there will be an economic bill of rights. The four point plan is intended to move the US towards a rationally planned socialist economy free from the anarchy of production. American workers need of government of action to fight for working families!
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
“Why I am an Atheist” is one of the paramount revolutionary and rational texts written in the Indian subcontinent. It’s a 24-page essay that Bhagat Singh wrote in 1934 when he was in Lahore Central Jail. He was detained for being involved in the assassination of Deputy Superintendent of Police John Saunders in retaliation to Lala Lajpat Rai’s death. In the prison, he met Baba Randhir Singh, a religious man and member of the Ghader Party who was convicted in the first Lahore conspiracy case. Baba Randhir Singh wanted to teach him about God and his beliefs, but Bhagat Singh maintained his atheistic stand. Reacting to his atheistic attitude, Randhir Singh said, "You are giddy with fame and have developed an ego which is standing like a black curtain between you and the God". As a reply to Randhir Singh, he wrote this essay on October 5th-6th, 1930.
Bhagat Singh was an Indian Marxist revolutionary who was a member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association. He was heavily impelled by the works of Vladimir Lenin and called himself a staunch Leninist. His two revolutionary acts against the colonial British Raj led to his hanging in 1931 at the age of 23 which gave him an Olympian status in Indian revolutionary history. He is today remembered as a figure who not just wanted a political revolution but a social revolution to break the age-old discriminatory practices. Bhagat Singh has written many articles on untouchability in Indian society and communalism. “Why I am an Atheist” is his magnum opus.
He begins the essay by elucidating that vanity is not the cause behind his atheist views. He rebuffs the existence of the almighty God from his experience of what he witnessed around himself and in society. He further explains that vanity cannot lead to atheism that these two are in contradiction to each other. When someone is lead by vanity he either reckons himself to be in possession of godly qualities or declares himself a god. According to Comrade Bhagat Singh, none of these two individuals are atheists. They are theists who believe in supernatural powers that are controlling the universe.
Bhagat Singh says that he has not turned atheist after he received acclamation after the constituent assembly bombing. He has been an atheist for a long time. Initially, he too like most Indians was a staunch believer. He used to recite the Gayatri Mantra in school for hours. However, eventually, he came to question his belief and started believing in disbelief. When he joined the revolutionary party, and came to know his comrades well, he was surprised to find them having no sense of impiety. The members were neither here nor there in matters of belief and some were closet atheists. There were Comrades who according to Bhagat Singh were well-read on socialism and communism but yet they couldn’t suppress their desires to recite Geeta. There was one who Comrade was not involved in such practices as he considered religion to be the outcome of human weakness or the limitation of human knowledge, but yet he was not critical of the existence of the omnipresent almighty god.
When he joined the party, he had the desire to study more so that he could challenge other Comrades during debates. He writes:
The romance of the militancy dominated our predecessors; now serious ideas ousted this way of thinking. No more mysticism! No more blind faith! Now realism was our way of thinking.
He first studied mysticism and blind faith and next he replaced them with the cult of realism. He studied the works of Bakunin, Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Nirlammba Swami. He roved into the mysteries of the world, studied them, and found no direct proofs for them. Instead, what he found were several religions that were mutually incompatible with each other - Hinduism is very different from Islam, and Buddhism and Jainism with Brahmanism. All faiths differ on the rudimentary questions but each of them claims to be the only true religion. Bhagat Singh calls this the “root of the evil” as instead of instigating the ideas of ancient thinkers and thus dispensing ourselves with the ideological weapon for future struggle, we cling to orthodox religion and in this way reduce human awakening to a stagnant pool. This very dissertation is very important to understand the religions such as Buddhism which started as the struggle against Brahmanism in India but after some years it became a regressive religion that was supported on the foundation of serfdom, especially in Pre-China Tibet. Therefore, the lack of a single universal faith in this world was proof that there was no God. By the end of 1926 when he was 19 he was convinced that the existence of an almighty God is a façade.
Bhagat Singh elaborates on Karl Marx “Religion is the opium of the masses" quote by saying;
Beliefs make it easier to go through the hardships, even make them pleasant. Man can find strong support in god and an encouraging consolation in his name. If you have no belief in him, then there is no alternative but to depend on yourself.
Marx when he said "religion is the opium of the masses" believed that religion had certain practical obligations in society that were similar to the function of opium in a sick or injured person: it reduced people's immediate suffering and provided them with pleasant illusions which gave them the strength to carry on. In this sense, while Marx may have no sympathy for religion itself, he has deep sympathy for those proletariats who put their trust in it.
Bhagat Singh discussing vanity tells us that in difficult times, vanity evaporates and man cannot defy the beliefs held by the general public. He wrote this in the most difficult phase of his life and still had not given up his rationalism as he had no hope of afterlife like religious people; instead, he stressed moving to nothingness after death.
He draws a fine line between the morality among theist and atheist, that atheist conduct moral acts without any selfish motive of the reward in this life or afterlife. An eternal reward and damnation is the basic premise on which religion thrives. Atheist wages war on oppressors, tyrants or exploiters not to become a king or for a bounty, but to cast off the yoke of slavery and establish liberty and peace. This reason explains why morality has been hijacked by religion, one of the biggest scams of mankind, namely, many people believe that you cannot effectuate moral acts without the fear of almighty and eternal damnation.
Bhagat Singh apprises us by saying that it is incumbent for every person who stands for progress to lambast every doctrine of the old belief. This is a common thing in many revolutionaries and is also found in the writings of Mao Tse-tung. He says that faith is appreciated in any theory if it has been subjected to rigorous reasoning as reason is the guiding principle that shatters blind belief which is hazardous as it makes a person reactionary by depriving his understanding power.
Bhagat Singh says in a way that it is not enough that only atheists have to explicate their ideas, theist should be held liable in this debate as well to explain why they believe in something that they cannot see. He asks a simple question that why God created this world that is full of misery and plight, where no one lives in peace. He says that the concept of an ‘omnipotent god’ is not sound as he is held by a law that prohibits from ending melancholy or maybe it’s his pleasure to torture humans. He compares him with Roman Emperor Nero who burnt Rome, killed many but still a limited number for his leisure and enjoyment. History remembers him as a psycho and mass murderer who enjoyed torturing. Pages are blackened with invective diatribes condemning Nero: the tyrant, the heartless, the wicked. He also takes the example of Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan who slaughtered thousands and asks that why almighty created such a world where the majority of his creations are slaughtered and oppressed by the few. Millions are dying of hunger and living grim lives. Labourers are leading an awful life while the rich vampires are sucking their blood.
Hindus believe in the concept of reincarnation, that one gets reborn after death and that his next life is determined by the deeds of the present life. So if anyone is suffering and is oppressed in this life, then he must have been a sinner in the previous one and the one who is oppressing others in this life were godly people in their previous life. This provides legitimacy to their oppression. Lenin also in his works on religion illustrated this. In ‘Socialism and Religion’ Lenin explained how capitalists use religion as a tool for their profits and to justify their actions and they assure the workers who work in terrible conditions of getting an astounding afterlife by obeying their employers conscientiously. Lenin believed that religion is a historical phenomenon tied with feudalism and capitalism.
Bhagat Singh thereon talks about the philosophy of jurisprudence. He says that the punishment can be of three types. These are revenge, reform, and deterrence. Out of these, reformative has significant scope but Hinduism gives no room for reformation. As no one remembers one’s past, one is denied the opportunity to reform. One continues to suffer blindly without knowing the causes or effects. Bhagat Singh does not seem to consider the possibility that remembering all of one’s past will place an unbearable burden on one’s soul, and hence one is allowed to reform with a clean slate and redemption through suffering. That’s why he called poverty the capacious punishment and called it a sin.
Bhagat Singh raises the question of why an all-loving almighty god cannot stop someone from transgressing. Why he cannot see the plight of millions and learns the truth only after millions had undergone untold tribulations and penury. What is the fate of a person who by no sin of his, born into a low caste family, is shunned and hated by the upper caste all his life. He cannot go to school and hence remains ignorant. Why are lower caste kept illiterate by Brahmins. If they heard a few words from the Vedas, Brahmins would pour molten lead into their ears. Bhagat Singh asks that if someone commits a sin, who is responsible, the person or the god who, according to various scriptures, is responsible for anything happening in this universe. These are few questions he asks the theist to justify their imaginary lord.
Bhagat Singh exposes religion as follows:
My dear friends, these theories have been coined by the privileged classes. They try to justify the power they have usurped and the riches they have robbed with the help of such theories. Yes! It was perhaps Upton Sinclair that wrote at some place that just makes a man a believer in immortality and then rob him of all his riches and possessions. He shall help you even in that ungrudgingly. The dirty alliance between religious preachers and possessors of power brought the boon of prisons, gallos, knouts and above all such theories for the mankind.
The above quote reveals why religion is a pertinent tool of capitalism. It justifies the authority. In early times, monarchies were buttressed based on ‘Divine rights of the king,’ that is, the king dictated to the population because he is the figure most adjacent to god, and it was the god who entrusted him to rule over people. With the advent of capitalism, a similar approach was taken by the bourgeois to preserve an unequal status quo and pacify the proletariat. The working class needs to abandon religion, only then only they would be able to rise against the bourgeoisie and gain control of the means of production.
Bhagat Singh says that people rebut socialism on the pretext of implementation even though common people understand the merits and the welfare of people under socialism. So he asks theist that if an almighty God is so loving and filled with love and compassion then he must step up and fill the hearts of people with altruistic humanism that forces them to give means of production to the working class and free them from the shackles of money.
He casts aspersions on the other freedom fighters as he says that the British is not ruling from God's consent, but the reason, rather, is that we lack the courage to oppose it. British are commanding us at the point of gun and coercion through police and militia. He asks that where is God when one nation oppresses the other for imperialist goals, which according to him is "the most deplorable sin".
Bhagat Singh instructs the readers to read Darwin’s Origin of Species, which is a stalwart book against religion as it offers a logical explanation of the creation of everything in our surroundings, including that the progress of mankind is due to man’s constant conflict with nature and his efforts to deploy it for his own well being. He further says that God was invented by man in his imagination when he realized his weaknesses and limitations. This gave him the courage to face impediments and also to circumscribe his outburst in prosperity and affluence. He in the end coaxed the readers to be rational and oppose every regressive narrow concept of religion and face adversaries with valour. It is more salutary to face dilemmas in a realistic and judicious manner instead of anticipating for them to solve themselves with prayers. Thus, his atheism is not the outcome of vanity.
Religion enslaves people; it makes a mockery of human potential by curbing people from expanding their knowledge and understanding of the world. It makes us slaves of an imaginary being and makes us bow in front of the figurines just like how it was during serfdom days, except in this case there is no one on the other side who can be held culpable. We have to spend our entire lives on our knees thanking him for saving us from his wrath yet all of us face tragedies.
He ends the essay with a heavy message:
Let us see how steadfast I am. One of my friends asked me to pray. When informed of my atheism, he said, during your last days you will begin to believe! I said, No, dear Sir, it shall not be. I consider it an act of degradation and demoralization on my part. For such a selfish motive, I am not going to pray. Readers and friends, "Is this vanity"? If it is, I stand for it.
As said before, the biggest tragedy of humankind's history remains that religion has hijacked morality. This makes people fall for various religions as many assume that you cannot be morally upright and conduct righteous acts without being religious.
Harsh Yadav is from India and has just recently graduated from Banaras Hindu University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry. Harsh is a Marxist Leninist who is intrigued by different Marxist Schools of Thought, Political Philosophies, Feminism, Foreign Policy and International Relations, and History. He also maintains a bookstagram account (https://www.instagram.com/epigrammatic_bibliophile/?hl=en) where he posts book reviews, writes about historical impact, socialism, and social and political issues.
“History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened...You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
The story of UNI’s underground press and its student staff stands as a microcosm of the burgeoning political and social changes seen in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. At the University of Northern Iowa, small-town Iowa students and working-class youth became the messengers of the era’s radical politics and student action.
At the national level, the United States of the 1960s and early-1970s was a time of massive social upheaval marked by the conflict in Vietnam, social/political movements, and the rise of the “freaks” and the New-Left. We have no shortage of books seeking to explain why so many American youths grew restless and dissatisfied with their country, and why so many turned to left-wing politics throughout the decade. Whether they’re viewed through a liberal, conservative, or socialist lens, the Sixties (the all encompassed decade) is a topic that is still fiercely debated today. Depending on the researcher or daytime television wonk, the Sixties stands as a watershed moment in American culture. But the counterculture of these youth rebels and “freaks” is most often attributed to the coastal cities and major universities in the USA. Areas such as the Midwest are often forgotten about or brushed aside by the more “exciting” locations such as San Francisco and Berkeley. So, it is my goal with this article to nullify those notions and discuss the radicalism that was present at UNI.
The counterculture of the Sixties was a diverse and expansive list of comedy, music, drugs, and writing. One facet of this massive ocean of movements was the rise of the so-called underground press in cities such as New York and San Francisco, especially at the universities. For those on the New-Left, underground newspapers were the alternative to the dismissive critiques of the mainstream media and provided their readership with a vulgar, passionate look into the cultures in which they lived. In 1965, the New Left could only claim 5 such newspapers, mostly in big cities, but within a few years, several hundred newspapers were in circulation with a combined readership in the millions. Underground newspapers, according to Abbie Hoffman, were the “... most important institution in our lives... It keeps tuned in on what's going on in the community and around the world. Values, myths, symbols, and all the trappings of our culture are determined to a large extent by the underground press.”
The story of the underground press at the University of Northern Iowa begins with a newspaper called the Campus Underground in 1968. The Campus Underground was conceived by a publisher named Doug Warrington who aspired to make it a nationally syndicated newspaper. Its office was located 401-⅓ Main Street, Cedar Falls, Iowa, presently the location of the Voodoo Club Bar. In the beginning, the paper had 30 representatives from colleges and universities across the state who contributed articles and tips. The paper’s editor, Bruce “Bruno” Niceswanger, was a master’s student at UNI who was recruited by Doug Warrington after a search at all three state universities in Iowa. The first issue was released on October 21, 1968, In this issue, they discussed segregation at Loras College, draft board protests across the state, and a feature-length editorial from David Quegg on his experiences among the protesting and riots at the Chicago DNC Convention of 1968 that previous summer. But after a few issues, a lack of resources and communication led to less participation from other campuses, and Cedar Falls became its primary audience. While not a major success on campus, the paper gained a dedicated following as it grew more progressive and bolder with each issue.
That was until the late fall of 1968, in which a review of Norman Mailer’s “Fall of Miami and the Siege of Chicago” by Carl Childress, a controversial UNI English professor, used a quote that contained a certain four-letter word. After this, the local printers refused to print any further issues unless the obscenity was removed, especially as the pressure of printing an underground newspaper grew. The staff of Campus Underground was then forced to build their own light tables and lay out the paper themselves. After this, the paper began to face financial woes as the costs were just barely met from each issue to the next. By the spring of 1969, the staff began to print notices informing the readers about their financial situation while asking for donations. According to a 1971 article from the Northern Iowan, at one point the staff was short $100 of the printer’s fee and frantically rushed around the Hub looking for donations until they finally received the necessary funds. The last Campus Underground came out on March 10, 1969, due to a combination of financial problems, student disinterest in politics, and everyone going home for the summer. But this was far from the end of the underground presses run at UNI.
The summer of 1969 saw Woodstock and the birth of Abbie Hoffman’s “Woodstock Nation”. This saw the blossoming of the cliché Sixties counterculture that we know today. By that fall, scores of “freaks”, or hippies, began to arrive at UNI, and with them came the rise of more radical elements such as members of the New Left. With this new wave came the arrival of the rebranded Campus Underground, now named the New Prairie Primer. Edited again by Bruno Niceswanger, the paper was assisted by the dedicated core group of Dave Quegg, Peg Wherry, Jean Seeland, and Gary Hoff. The New Prairie Primer, which I’ll refer to as the Primer from here on out, served as the epitome of this new spirit on campus. The first volume of the Primer Released on October 4, 1969, with a several page long expose by Bruno on his and David Quegg’s experiences at Woodstock titled “Going Up to Meat County.” This article proved to be very popular among UNI students, and it helped set the mood for future iterations of the paper with its quick wit, vulgarity and Hunter S. Thompson style prose and reporting.
Following the success of their first issue, the Primer had received enough donations to print thousands of copies for their second edition, a free issue about the Vietnam War to coincide with the events of the STOP Vietnam War Moratorium across the state. This issue contained stories from draft dodgers across the state, including a UNI student named Dick Simpson who explained why he refused induction into the armed services. It was also the first publication anywhere in Iowa to list all the state’s war dead. This issue also showed a great deal of cooperation among various statewide church ministries with the radical left and anti-war hippies in the anti-war movement. But this seemingly unlikely coalition produced results unlike that seen anywhere else in Cedar Falls. The previous 1968 moratorium had brought out only 300 marchers, but by the moratorium on October 15, 1969, nearly 2,000 marchers flooded the UNI campus. But this relationship also drew some ire from the community at large, especially as the Primer’s office was in the Bethany House on College Hill, where the Primer had special arrangements with the United Christian Ministry to use their property.
One chief critic of this relationship was a cantankerous, editor of the Waterloo Daily Courier named Bill Severin, also known as the Iron Duke. On the front page of the October 12th issue, the Iron Duke stated, “I have no quarrel with Niceswanger, Quegg, et all, or their right to publish a radical leftwing newspaper. But they and the United Christian Ministry would seem to make strange bedfellows.” In response, the Primer blew the incident out of proportion with a smug, tongue-in-cheek center spread titled, “Primer Staff Bewildered, Hurt”, featuring their high school pictures and squeaky clean, cliché records as small-town Iowan youth along with their own reactions to the Iron Duke’s accusations. This incident was a boon to the Primer’s sales and cemented the Primer’s tone for the rest of the year as a humorous, yet informative publication on campus counterculture.
The Primer’s first run was an array of everything from local music reviews and interviews with Waterloo civil rights activists. Having shifted their focus from national news in the Campus Underground to local coverage, the contents of the Primer give an interesting look into the culture of the Cedar Valley during this time. Of course, one of the most important issues on campus at the time was that of drugs. The Primer featured tongue in cheek critiques of the local CFPD “Narcs” and the pearl-clutching of the more conservative Cedar Falls residents. In one such issue the Primer covered a community symposium on the issue of recreational drug use in the Cedar Valley. In response to the symposium, the Primer printed tutorials on how to make your own joints and listed the local street prices of dope, hash, and LSD at the time.
One informative, and fascinating article from this period was an interview conducted by the Primer’s own Bruno Nicewanger and their secretary Marsha Petersen titled “3 Viet Vets Rap on the War”. Released with the fourth issue in November 1969, the Primer spoke with three UNI students that had served in Vietnam about why they became involved with the anti-war movement after their time overseas. In retrospect, what made this article fascinating is that the interviewees represent what I deem to be a decent overall representation of Iowan’s backgrounds at the time. Tony Ogden was a 24-year-old white male from Sanborn, Iowa, a town in Northwestern, Iowa. Dave Sessions was a 28-year-old white male from the medium-sized industrial town of Mason City, Iowa. Sam Dell was a 22-year-old African American male who was born in Phillip, Mississippi, but had grown up in Waterloo, in eastern Iowa. While not a full cross section of Iowa’s socioeconomic makeup, these three men represent facets of Iowa’s urban and rural population who converged on Iowa’s campuses during this period of cultural and political turmoil.
In summary, all three guys described their experiences overseas, their backgrounds, and their journey towards realizing the atrocities and injustices happening in Vietnam. Tony described the brutality he saw unleashed upon the Vietnamese people he came close to, Sam talked of the racism that followed the military overseas, and Sessions spoke of the bureaucratic apathy towards the death and destruction being perpetuated by armed forces. As such, each man's experiences caused them to question their values and ideological frameworks, driving them towards becoming radically against a system they saw as needlessly unjust and cruel. A passage that stood out when reading this interview was from its final page, which saw all three men ruminating on the meaning of the “American tradition” and the contradictions they saw during their service. As Tony put it, “Seeing marines kneeling within sight of a pile of bodies having a chaplain cram wafers down their throats, under a cross.”
While there are plenty of sections one could discuss from these interviews in the Primer, I see this insight into these three young men as a poignant look into the mindset of the emerging student radicals in the United States. But I have also not yet been so clear as what constitutes a student radical currently. And in sincerest sense I have struggled to find a definition insofar as who “they” were. In 2019, even as much then, the term “student radical” has many different connotations depending on who you ask. For the most part, a “student radical” is usually considered to be someone who holds left wing values and belongs to various flavors along the left-wing spectrum. To the politically illiterate, this would mean anyone to the left of the center right or is a “liberal”, but I digress. While a whole paper can be made on the distinction, a radical can be most definitely defined as an individual who opposes the status-quo and calls for a new system of governance and the distribution of resources. In the era of the Primer, as Vietnam raged and COINTELPRO lurked in the shadows, “student radicals” were a hodge podge of nondenominational leftists, middle-class liberals, and the “flower power” freaks.
Much like discourse in the vague progressive leanings of today, the ‘60s were a ripe era of barraging liberals and infighting amongst different leftist ideological sects. However, for the most part, UNI’s left-wing and liberals found somewhat common ground in the anti-war movement and demands for more succinct student rights on campus. As is, the Primer got an uptick in sales due to the pearl-clutching of local Cedar-Loo residents after allying with the United Campus Ministries in October of ‘69. And as further articles prove within the Primer, Cedar-Loo was not that far off from the rest of the United States. Labor disputes, gentrification, environmental pollution, and racial tensions were proliferating in Waterloo. Like Joker's duality of man in Full Metal Jacket, Waterloo, Iowa, has had a tumultuous history with segregation. In the fall of 1968 these issues, and industry layoffs, led to instances of rioting in select areas of Waterloo. Other concerns at the time included pollution being released by the John Deere Company and Chamberlain Manufacturing Co. that was potentially contaminating the Cedar River.
The Primer then served as a repository, or even a messenger, of these causes that were not often covered by the mainstream media in the community. In a special issue about ecology, the Primer advertised events from an environmental group called SOMETHING, deriding the local tv station for passing environmental pollution onto the individuals during a special sponsored by John Deere and Chamberlain Co. The Primer also teamed up with the Grinnell based-paper the High and Mighty to co-author the so-titled “Military-Industrial Complex” and Iowa’s role in the US war machine, in which they listed the major Iowa companies with defense contracts, including the amount of the contract and what products they produced for the military. Chamberlain Co. of Waterloo was a company that was directly targeted by the Primer due to their production of ammunition for the war movement. But of course, the Primer did not neglect campus issues, especially as they covered the Spring 1970 student government elections in which the Primer backed Students Rights Party participated.
However, after suffering a defeat, the Primer declared a so-called “revolutionary student government” on campus which was coordinated by UNI students Al Woods, Sam Dell, and Tony Ogden. By this time, Bruno stepped down as editor to form a collective editorship with everyone on the staff, in which the Primer did its part to become a forum for those who wanted to organize on campus. Among other issues, the Primer waged an aggressive campaign against the Dean Voldseth, Dean of Students, in the leadup to the potential referendum of 1970. The Primer, for several issues, was inscribed with the back-page message of “Dean Voldseth is alive and well in Cedar Falls--Still.” This campaign fizzled out once the student senate was unable to override Student President Mike Conlee’s veto against the referendum. However, that following spring UNI would face one of the largest events to happen on the campus during its history, the UNI 7.
Throughout 1969 and 1970, the Afro-American Society, led by UNI students Palmer Byrd and Sam Dell, had been working with the administration at UNI to establish a minority culture house on campus. The process, however, was arduous and the prospect of minority students having their own cultural house drew flak from administrators and parents of students alike. So, in March 1970, 10 African-American students at UNI visited President Maucker’s home late at night to have a discussion with him to take more concrete action on the request for a minority culture house before the board of regents. However, the discussion became visibly heated as the hours went on and President Maucker repeated that he would not sign a document for a specific house and demanded that they leave. The students refused and Maucker returned with his wife to bed while a night guard sat with the youth in the living room as they decided to sit still until some action was taken. By the next morning, rumors began to fly around campus and students began to clamor around the President’s House to view the commotion. By then the sit-in had grown to 40 individuals as radical elements and sympathetic liberals showed their support to the Afro-American students against the slowness of “the system”
But after a few more hours, the arrival of the press, and an incoming injunction, the sit-in students elected to move to an administrative building to continue their sit-in, but decided to end the sit-in with no press release which might rile up the administration and media. By the end of the week, Dean Eddie Voldseth announced that seven students were to be suspended pending an investigation by the student conduct board. By the March 31, 1970 issue, the Primer had begun to cover the case and the subsequent student hearings. The staff also worked with other students to storm the hearings and helped solidify a growing campus movement that fed off the growing student dissatisfaction of the administration with the 7. Then with the coming of the invasion of Cambodia and the Kent State killings, the campus grew more divided as there were those who wanted to act and those who did not.
But by then another summer was on the way and most students at UNI had packed up to go home. That summer was predicted to be the summer of “Ohio”, or the summer in which the radicals and progressives alike take extreme action in honor of the dead at Kent State. However, this prediction never came to pass. Once students returned to UNI in in the fall of 1970, the political fervor and calls for radical change had seemingly disappeared overnight. While the Primer did return that fall, almost all the papers veterans and staff had either graduated or lost interest. The paper was then edited collectively by John O’Connor, Dick Faust, Bill Yates, and Diana Morgan with a shifting focus away from the “freak” audience that had been its base. John O’Connor thought that while the counterculture and drugs had been useful in radicalizing people, it was coming to the point where it was becoming counterproductive. O’Connor instead sought to change the Primer from being an entertaining, informative magazine for the counterculture to being like that of a classical, educational journal that sought to discuss theory and ideology.
In O’Connor’s own words, “We’d like to think people would rather read about a problem and make up their own minds than go to a Speak-Out and find out what happens to be in the wind that day. It is unfortunate that people around here seem to think they need a leader for solutions. They should come to their own conclusions. But this is not to say that they shouldn’t unite, once those conclusions have been reached. We hope that the articles we’re printing now will help people to become better informed, so that the eventual decisions reached will be the right ones.” In this stripped down format the Primer hoped that by losing the “freak” edge they would be better able to reach liberals and workers alike. But this third edition of the New Prairie Primer lasted for only 8 issues from June of 1970 to December of 1970. The Primer finally floundered in December 1970 after a lack of money prevented them from printing any more issues. Considered the longest running underground paper in the history of the state of Iowa, the New Prairie Primer had only lasted for two-and-a-half years.
As such, the New Prairie Primer was the first and last of its kind on the campus of the University of Northern Iowa. While this wouldn’t spell the end of student action on campus, far from it, the end of the Primer marked the end of a short but explosive era of student politicization at the University of Northern Iowa. Dozens of committed students and volunteers spent countless hours working to create the Primer in their dorms and in the streets. But one thing is clear, we will never again see anything like the underground press of the Sixties. The technology that spawned the underground press is practically obsolete and it is simply no longer exciting or cost-efficient to transfer inked images to paper. And as John McMilian says in his book “Smoking Typewriters”, “...The movement that fueled the growth of underground newspapers is likewise extinct. Of course, the Sixties remain а force in American popular culture; so momentous were that decade's events that even subsequent generations have come of age in its afterglow. But the underground press had а specific raison d'erre: it was created to bring tidings of the youth rebellion to cities and campuses across America and to help build а mass movement. And for all its shortcomings -- intellectual, and even sometimes moral-- this is something it did remarkably well.”
Whether they advanced the hard-nosed analysis of SDS and its offshoots, or the likes of Huey Newton and Noam Chomsky, or championed the new liberated lifestyles seen with the Woodstock Summer, radical newspapers became the medium through which the youth transmitted their arguments and ideas to try and popularize their rebellions. And because of the underground newspapers’ extraordinary inclusiveness, they helped frame the decentralized operations and diverse social relation within the New Left. But as we saw with the Primer, this did not come easily. For many papers like the Primer, their staff were often deluged with bills they couldn’t pay, lack of time, and coordinating a group made producing an underground paper a nightmare. But this didn’t discourage thousands of youth radicals to create their own papers across the United States. After reading something like the Primer, one can see it was a finished product of love-labor that tried to communicate with kindred minds and maybe had converted a few minds along the way.
The Primer’s demise is but a small example of this short, yet manic era in American history. As the Sixties ended and gave rise to the Seventies, the passionate campaigns of American radicals and their youth following had seemed to fall on deaf ears. Vietnam still lumbered on in the background for five years, Nixon and Kissinger performed their own dirty backroom deals, the enthusiasm on the campuses seemed to wane. Thus, we had entered the era of Taxi Driver and Deep Throat, the forces of evil had seemingly won as the far-right gathered momentum and prepared for the launch of Reagan and Bush less than a decade later. But the democratic sensibilities that Sixties youth had brought to journalism not only persist, but have also taken on a life of their own. And they are still likely to endure in some fashion or another. For radicals today, the internet holds tremendous promise and opportunity with the rise of online forums, social media, and internet podcasts.
But much of what the 2000s blogosphere and left-wing YouTube, referred to as “BreadTube,” have accomplished today with building communities and democratizing the media was accomplished more than 40 years ago by the frank, vulgar, and threadbare papers of the underground press. While there may be little evidence left of the Primer’s impact on the University of Northern Iowa, the culture of student activism hasn’t completely died out. While it lies mostly nascent, the vigor and passion of the 1960s still emerges for a moment every decade or so. Whether that be the Iraq War protests of the 2000s or the Racial and Ethnic Coalition of 2019, and statewide campaigns by Iowa Student Action.
In conclusion, the story of UNI’s underground press and its student staff stands as an example of the burgeoning political and social changes seen in the United States during the 1960s and 1970s. At UNI, small-town Iowa students and working-class youth became the messengers of radical politics and student action during their time. The culture the Primer spread to the masses persists today with the new generation of radicalized youth.
 McMillian, James. Smoking Typewriters (New York; Oxford University Press, 2011), 4.
 Hoffman, Abbie. Steal This Book (Pirate Editions, Grove Press, 1971), 92.
 Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 1.” Northern Iowan, February 12, 1971.
 Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 1.” Northern Iowan, February 12, 1971
 Niceswanger, Bruno. “Editor’s Note.” New Prairie Primer, December 9, 1968.
 Niceswanger, Bruno. “Editor’s Note.” New Prairie Primer, January 27, 1969.
 Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 1.” Northern Iowan, February 12, 1971
 Quegg, David. “In This Issue.” New Prairie Primer, October 4, 1969.
 Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 1.” Northern Iowan, February 12, 1971
 “Scenes from the Revolution: Iowa #1.” New Prairie Primer, October 25, 1969.
 Wherry, Peg. “Underground Newspaper In Circulation Under New Name.” Northern Iowan, October 7, 1969.
 Severin, Bill. “Bill Severin, the Iron Duke.” Waterloo Daily Courier, October 12, 1969.
 Bruno Niceswanger, et all. “Duke Blasts Bedfellows!!!” New Prairie Primer, October 25, 1969.
 “Primer Special Drug Supplement.” New Prairie Primer, March 3, 1970.
 Bruno Niceswanger, et all. “3 Viet Vets Rap on the War.” New Prairie Primer, November 13, 1969.
 Nelson, Thomas. “This week marks 50 years since the 1968 riot in Waterloo. We look back.” The Courier, September 9, 2018.
 “.” New Prairie Primer, April 27, 1970.
 “Revolutionary Student Government Declared.” New Prairie Primer, March 31, 1970.
 Ogden, Tony. “UNI 7.” New Prairie Primer, March 31, 1970.
 Niceswanger, Bruno. “The UNI Struggle: What It Means.” New Prairie Primer, April 27, 1970.
 Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 3.” Northern Iowan, February 19, 1971
 McMillian, James. Smoking Typewriters (New York; Oxford University Press, 2011), 188.
Hoffman, Abbie. Steal This Book (Pirate Editions, Grove Press, 1971)
McMillian, James. Smoking Typewriters (New York; Oxford University Press, 2011)
Nelson, Thomas. “This Week Marks 50 Years since the 1968 Riot in Waterloo. We Look Back.”
The Courier. September 9, 2018. https://wcfcourier.com/news/local/this-week-marks-years-since-the-riot-in-waterloo-we/article_761a2ea4-3bdb-5ea9-89f7-e90172d41a82.html.
Niceswanger, Bruno, et all. “3 Viet Vets Rap on the War.” New Prairie Primer, November 13, 1969.
Niceswanger, Bruno, et all. “Duke Blasts Bedfellows!!!” New Prairie Primer, October 25, 1969.
Niceswanger, Bruno. “Editor’s Note.” New Prairie Primer, December 9, 1968.
Niceswanger, Bruno. “Editor’s Note.” New Prairie Primer, January 27, 1969.
Niceswanger, Bruno. “The UNI Struggle: What It Means.” New Prairie Primer, April 27, 1970.
Ogden, Tony. “UNI 7.” New Prairie Primer, March 31, 1970.
Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 1.” Northern Iowan, February 12, 1971.
Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 2.” Northern Iowan, February 15, 1971.
Pedersen, Steve. “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Primer Pt. 3.” Northern Iowan, February 19, 1971.
Quegg, David. “In This Issue.” New Prairie Primer, October 4, 1969.
Severin, Bill. “Bill Severin, the Iron Duke.” Waterloo Daily Courier, October 12, 1969.
Shackelford, Christopher J., "A Midwestern culture of civility: Student activism at the University of Northern Iowa during the Maucker years (1967-1970)" (2013). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 29
Wherry, Peg. “Underground Newspaper In Circulation Under New Name.” Northern Iowan, October 7, 1969.
“Primer Special Drug Supplement.” New Prairie Primer, March 3, 1970.
“Revolutionary Student Government Declared.” New Prairie Primer, March 31, 1970.
“Scenes from the Revolution: Iowa #1.” New Prairie Primer, October 25, 1969.
“Special Edition on Life” New Prairie Primer, April 27, 1970.
Ty Kral is an undergraduate student of History at the University of Northern Iowa, with a primary focus on public history and museum studies. Ty is a socialist obsessed with the study of history and is particularly interested in Marxist thought, Iowa history, and the history of the Soviet Union. He has been a member of the UNI YDSA for over two years. After school, Ty hopes to find work in museums or archives and eventually go to graduate school.
The cries to be intersectional echo from every corner of the woke left. Those who are deemed to be not “intersectional” are shamed as TERFs, class reductionists, brocialists, or even fascists and right-wingers. Of course as leftists we should condemn bigotry wherever it may occur, even within our own movements and organizations. But that does not mean we should uncritically support all ideas that arise within the left. Especially something like intersectionality which arose out of the academic new left, which was propped up and funded by bourgeois elements like the CIA. Nothing must be left unchallenged or uncriticized, intersectionality included.
Intersectionality is commonly defined as the intersection of multiple oppressions typically caused by identities such as race, class, sex, gender, etc, resulting in the creation of overlapping and interdependent forms of oppression. Intersectionalists call that no form of oppression be thought of and treated separately. An example of this is with abortion laws, how they don’t exclusively affect women negatively, but disproportionately harm women of color and working class communities. While there is nothing fundamentally wrong with this explanation, that’s all it is. Rarely is there a coherent solution that intersectionalists offer. Additionally, Marxists have long recognized this fact that oppressions can overlap and intersect. Engels recognized the intersection of class and gender in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, as did Marx, Lenin, Kollontai, Hampton, etc. The only difference however, is that this pattern wasn’t called intersectionality, people weren’t called to be “intersectional” rather the word intersectional was replaced with the word solidarity.
However, there are many issues amongst the supporters and theoreticians of intersectionality, the main issue being that identities such as race, sex, and gender are seen as these abstract isolated floating bodies, there is very little material analysis within intersectional analysis. Intersectionalists call for a comprehensive and inclusive approach to help the marginalized groups but what is an intersectional solution? Many of the marginalized peoples that intersectionality advocate for are in the working class. Women are more likely to live in poverty than men. According to the Center for American Progress of the 38 million people in poverty 21 million of them are women. In 2019, using data from the Census Bureau, poverty rates for Black and Hispanic people were at 18.8 percent and 15.7 percent, almost ten points greater than Non-Hispanic White people. And according to the Williams Institute 22% of LGBTQ people live in poverty compared to 16% for cisgendered people. Transgender and bisexual cis women have a povety rate at about 29%. People of marginalized identities (PMI) face significantly higher poverty rates than the national average. Poverty and class based oppression is a major issue in many marginalized communities, yet in many discussions about intersectionality rarely does class get brought up, or it is seen as a secondary subject. Additionally, in many “progressive” circles the working class, especially the rural working class is dismissed as a monolith of white people in the Midwest who hold reactionary views. This view is not only incredibly wrong, it’s classist and bigoted, as it’s marginalized people who suffer poverty at higher rates, especially if they live in rural areas.
That’s not to forget of course that much of the language surrounding intersectionality and the woke left is incredibly alienating to the working class, including PMI working class. According to a Yale study people responded more favorably to policy proposals emphasizing class. The people tested were given policy proposals ,advocating for the Green New Deal, affordable housing, weed decriminalization, increasing the minimum wage, and forgiving $50,000 of student debt, framed in class, race, and race + class lens. The policy proposals framed with class did the best. What this shows is that even if you care about racial justice the best way to help minorities is to frame your policies in a way that emphasizes class. People care about bread and butter issues, and we don’t need a Yale study to back this up, we can look at the Sanders campaign. The Sanders campaign for a long time polled incredibly well among minorities. In California, he had an approval rate of 49 percent among Latinos, and 39 percent in Texas. Sanders also did incredibly well among young black people and LGBT (4 in 10 LGBT voters supported Sanders). Sanders championed a platform of class based issues, most notably Medicare for All and Free College, issues that are explicitly class centered but benefit minorities greatly. The elites did everything they could to sabotage his campaign and threw all of their known insults towards him and his supporters, including that of “class reductionist”, “brocialist”, and “bernie bro”, never mind that Sanders had overwhelming support among women and minorities. Of course Sanders is a social democrat and many of his proposals would have been unlikely to pass due to the political system being created to serve the interests of capitalists. However, the fact that minorities and women overwhelmingly supported Sanders who is straight, white, and male over other candidates like Harris, Buttigieg, and Warren shows us that people care more about actual policy that actually helps them over symbolic gestures of wokeness.
Speaking of which race/identity neutral class based policies championed by Marxists and other socialists but often sneered at or dismissed by the wokeists have helped minorities and women the most. Take social security for example which was heavily championed by Marxists and labor activists, women are the majority beneficiaries of social security, making up 56% of beneficiaries 65 and older, and 66% of beneficiaries 85 and older according to the National Academy of Social Insurance. Social security is a lifeline for many women in older age against poverty. Wokeists constantly shrill about being intersectional, and to account for all forms of oppression in one’s activism, yet they themselves rarely take into account class and how closely tied it is to the oppression of the minorities they so claim to stand with.
Class is often the last issue to be brought up in woke and intersectional circles, whereas individual identities such as sex, race, and gender are raised onto a pedastal. They are seen as essential to one’s identity, regardless of one’s class position or their role to the means of production, a person becomes an amalgamation of their identities. What is more essentialist and individualistic than that? As Eve Mitchel, a marxist feminist, writes in critiquing bell hooks, “Similarly, theories of an ‘interlocking matrix of oppressions,’ simply create a list of naturalized identities, abstracted from their material and historical context. This methodology is just as ahistorical and antisocial as Betty Friedan’s” Wokeists often fail to take into account the historical and material context of identity. They claim that racism and sexism existed before capitalism therefore, so called “class reductionism” is bad (even though most accusations of class reductionism are brought up when someone starts talking about class). Yes racism and sexism existed before capitalism, but capitalism compounded the oppressions and created new ones. Additionally, capitalists have used racism and bigotry to distract from solidarity amongst the working and colonized peoples. For example, in Rwanda the Belgians favored the Tutsi minority over the Hutu majority, allowing the Tutsis to oppress the Hutus leading to resentment among the Hutus, eventually leading to the Rwandan genocide. This can also be seen even in America where the media stokes up racial fear and hatred of Black, Asian, Latino, and Middles Eastern people to prevent the white working class from recognizing that it’s not immigrants or people of color who are stealing their jobs, but rather it’s the capitalists who are exploiting them and making them replaceable. The isms and phobias don’t exist in a vacuum; they are enforced by class society. It has always been the upper classes who have stoked racial and xenophobic tensions. It wasn’t the people of Rome who decided randomly to go fight the Goths but the patricians who commanded the people of Rome to fight against the Germanic tribes to protect and expand the borders of Rome. The same can be said today in America and in the imperial cores. It is the upper classes, the bourgeoisie who stoke racial tensions through the media, education, popular and high culture and combined with a loss of jobs and lack of prospects create resentment amongst the white working class. The saying “It’s a rich man’s war but a poor man’s fight” describing the draft on both ends that was supposed to be applied to all men of combat age but ended up being dodged by the wealthy can be applied today. The military is largely composed of underprivileged people of various ethnic origins, it’s poor schools that recruiters target not the wealthy ones, yet the wokeists rarely acknowledge that, heck they don’t even seem to acknowledge imperialism or even question the imperialist narrative at all! If anything they’d rather make it “intersectional” as seen with the recent military and CIA ads featuring women and people of color.
This is nothing new as imperialists have historically used progressive cases to further imperialism and even more insidiously they have been absorbed without question by the social democrats and many so called “intersectional” leftists who believe the imperialist narrative about many anti-imperialist countries such as Syria, Venezuela, Iran, Russia, China, the former USSR, etc. The intersectionalists fail to recognize that class society is at the root of racism and sexism, or that people of color, women, and lgbtq people make up a large portion of the working class. If they truly want to eradicate racism and sexism they would focus their attention on the bourgeoisie, the bankers, financiers, and landlords who contribute nothing while leeching off of the hard work of workers (often of marginalized identities themselves) rather than sowing division and preventing solidarity!
History is a class struggle not an identity struggle. It is through class struggle that has paved the way for social progress and our conceptions and ideas of identity are based in the mode of production. However, intersectionalists fail to recognize that, rather they see identity and bigotry as abstract floating bodies in space. They see oppression as signs of individual hate rather than a way for capitalists to more ruthlessly exploit one section of the population, driving the working conditions down for all workers and preventing solidarity. Intersectionality has failed to recognize this, rather the ideology’s followers fail to recognize how entrenched class society, particularly capitalism, in every facet of our lives. They see identities as lines that are intersecting with each other forming unique and individual experiences of oppression, yet they fail to see the class nature behind the oppression, and often any critique of their philosophy is often dismissed as reductionist or right wing. However, no mode of thought is immune to criticism, especially one that makes claims as outlandish as intersectionality.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
Within the last few decades, we have seen the emergence of neoliberal feminism, feminism that is seemingly revolutionary yet maintains the institution of capitalism. Though completely contradictory to each other, for most, feminism and capitalism come hand in hand. Feminism is to many, “the advocacy for equality between the sexes,” and in a lot of ways that translate to diversifying the workplace and politics. But this is antithetical to any sort of real change, extending power to a few oppressed people will not liberate a majority of the oppressed.
Covertly, this form of feminism has been more effective in harming the communities it claims to protect than actually protecting them. It has given us the illusion of progress when in reality it hasn’t even achieved the bare minimum for social change. In fact, it has been overwhelmingly successful in forcing the complacency of oppressed people; because finding a solution to their suffering was never the goal. To a certain point, it has convinced us that a woman in power is the solution to patriarchal oppression.
Amongst the empowerment narratives pushed by neoliberal feminists we have only seen the continued normalization of the exploitation and oppression of proletarian women, especially trans women and women of color. The normalization and even encouragement towards the sex trade is one example that comes to mind. Participation in the sex trade is in almost every circumstance the result of economic desperation and when someone has to rely on the trade for their primary source of income, which tends to be the case for most involved, the ability to consent is removed from the situation. Trans women and women of color have been disproportionally affected by the sex trade with 40% of black women and 24% of Latinx women having been reported as victims of sex trafficking (Banks and Kyckelhahn). Meanwhile, roughly 10.8% of transgender people have reported participating in the sex trade with transwomen being twice as likely to participate than transmen (Fitzgerald).
Neoliberal feminism has conditioned us to ignore the material conditions that requires individuals to become involved in the sex trade in the first place. It has become so ingrained in our collective psyche to the point of idolization of the trade. That is the genius behind neoliberal feminism. It creates empowerment in being the exploiter and in being the exploited. Such as the recent phenomenon of things like “OnlyFans.com” and the massive support from neoliberal and liberal feminists alike. While it has made it possible for participation in the sex trade to be safer for those involved (which is objectively a good thing), it is still extremely exploitive and predatory.
Simply put, creating a better alternative to a bad and exploitive thing does not make it no longer bad or exploitive. Whether advertently or inadvertently, support of these industries by neoliberal and liberal feminists is less successful in demystifying the stigma towards individuals in the sex trade and more so successful in promotioting the commodification of individuals bodies. As well as promoting the capital interests of these industries.
But this is not at all to say that participating in the sex trade is shameful, entirely nonconsensual, or entirely unempowering to every individual. Although, we have seen from the perception of the sex trade through the neoliberal gaze not only a lack of comprehensive understanding of these industries but a lack of intersectional understanding of feminism as a whole. Having an intersectional approach to feminism is vital as feminism without intersectionality can quickly become a tool for enforcing white power.
Like I said earlier, feminism is widely recognized as “the advocacy for equality between the sexes.” What this misses however is how women can be discriminated against for various identities beyond gender. Without acknowledging this and acting according to this fact, your advocacy is not for all women but for one type of woman. This type of woman oftentimes being cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-class, and white. When the bulk of feminist advocacy is not intersectional, it results in upholding and enforcing white power structures rather than aiding in ending the oppression faced by all women.
Through the advocacy of “white feminism” as it is commonly referred to and neoliberal feminism, the oppression of proletarian women persists. In a lot of ways, neoliberal feminism and white feminism go hand in hand to perpetuate oppression. But how can intersectional feminism work to alleviate and even eradicate these forms of oppression? By viewing feminism through an intersectional lens and understanding how someone may be discriminated against because of various identities, we can begin to understand that feminism is not and can not be just one thing. There is no one solution to the inequalities women face, but by pushing forward the voices that experience these overlapping modes of discrimination, recognizing the historical context associated with these issues, recognizing how these marginalized groups are at the highest risk for experiencing natural disasters, health issues, poverty, gender-based violence, etc, and looking at how our system reproduces these inequalities can help us approach these issues in a way that can actually create positive change.
The work of Angela Y. Davis is a great example of exploring intersectional feminism; her historical and dialectical approach to exploring feminism is effective in helping us understand how it is deeply rooted in white supremacy. Her analysis of the women’s suffrage movement can really be applied here. “Whether the criticism of the Fourteenth and Fifthteenth Amendments expressed by the leaders of the women’s rights movement was justifiable or not is still being debated. But one thing seems clear: their defense of their own interests as white middle-class women--in a frequently egotistical and elisist fashion--exposed the tenuous and superficial nature of their relationship to the postwar campaign for Black equality” (Davis). Their position was not to push for equality of all oppressed people or all oppressed women, in fact. Rather their position was one heavily rooted in white supremacy and held bourgeois interests, choosing to mostly separate themselves from issues that were not those of the white middle-class woman. To this day many white feminists have not far separated themselves from that position.
Neoliberal Feminism and white feminism have created a barrier for progression and embracing intersectional feminism can help demystify many of the inequalities perpetuated in our current systems. Understanding intersectionality and deconstructing much of the racist ideology of these forms of feminism is crucial to truly transform our society for the better. Without looking at feminism through an intersectional lens, being critical of these forms of feminism, and being anti-capitalist in your approach, then feminism will continue to truly be antithetical to real progress.
Banks , Duren. “Characteristics of Suspected Human Trafficking Incidents, 2008-2010.” Bureau of Justice Statistics, Apr. 2011, www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cshti0810.pdf.
Women, Race and Class, by Angela Y. Davis, Vintage Books , 1983, pp. 76–76.
Fitzgerald, Erin. Meaningful Work: Transgender Experiences in the Sex Trade. National Center for Transgender Equality, Dec. 2015, Meaningful Work-Full Report_FINAL_3.pdf
Tara Thomason is pursuing an bachelor’s in Political Science and Gender Studies. Their main interests are police and prison abolition, decolonization, black liberation, women liberation, and the global proletarian struggle. Much of their work goes towards organizing mutual aid efforts in my community and educating on Marxism.
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About the Midwestern Marx Youth League
The Midwestern Marx Youth League (MMYL) was created to allow comrades in undergraduate or below to publish their work as they continue to develop both writing skills and knowledge of socialist and communist studies. Due to our unexpected popularity on Tik Tok, many young authors have approached us hoping to publish their work. We believe the most productive way to use this platform in a youth inclusive manner would be to form the youth league. This will give our young writers a platform to develop their writing and to discuss theory, history, and campus organizational affairs. The youth league will also be working with the editorial board to ensure theoretical development. If you are interested in joining the youth league please visit the submissions section for more information on how to contact us!