Dividing the Left

It’s May Day, which means that it’s the perfect opportunity to discuss the state of the Left. For the past ten years, I’ve often sought to build bridges between disparate groups in order to encourage organization.

Here, however, I want defend dividing the left for the time being.

There are times and places to build united fronts, of course, but at the moment, we need to have the opportunity and space to continue discussing, debating, pinning down ideological points. With sweeping generalizations being made about every event – Syria, Brexit, Trump – it is the time now to swim in polemics.

Now is the time to divide.

I'm voting for the Communist block

In Germany in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were essentially three factions on the Left who were opposed to one another. There were the anti-nationalists, the anti-imperialists, and the anti-Germans.

The anti-nationalists focused, obviously, on nation-states and treated all of them with equal contempt. Anti-nationalists saw all states as equally repulsive, whether the U.S. or Senegal. Since all states are mere constructions in capitalism, then they should all be fought.

The anti-imperialists argued that imperialism is the dominant force in the world, which therefore meant that different states (or non-state actors) occupy different positions in relation to imperialism. Forces that encourage imperialism (mostly stemming from the United States and Europe) should be fought and forces resisting imperialism (whether nominally leftist or not) should receive at least critical support.

The anti-Germans took the position that Germany was the primary entity that ought to be opposed, as Germany was responsible for the most horrific crimes of the 20th century. Anti-Germans were against German reunification, against NATO bombing Serbia, and against EU economic policies, all the while offering uncritical support to Israel, as the Jews had been the primary victims of Germany’s past. After 9/11, Anti-Germans used Marx’s formulation of the economic stages (feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism) to support the Amerikkkan invasion of of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. Since all of these peoples were lumped into “anti-Semitic feudal Islamists”, then the U.S. was going to force the Middle East into capitalism, which would then open the world up for the next stages – socialism and communism.

As you can probably tell, I’m pretty anti-anti-German.

I’m far more sympathetic to the anti-nationalists and anti-imperialists.

In Germany today, the differences between these groups are disintegrating. One of my friends recently told me that he’s happy about this development, because he thinks it’s more important to build coalitions.

I am not so sure.

It seems to me that these distinctions were never made in the United States leftist scene. Ideologically speaking, it’s more difficult for anarchists and communists to come together than anti-nationalists and anti-imperialists, even if those anarchists and communists aren’t sure why.

The political constellations are different and, in my opinion, much more weakly defined.

As a prime example, the tendency in the United States is the endless question of “uniting the Left”. Personally, I’ve sat through countless brainstorming sessions that reached hair-brained solutions to the “factionalism” and “sectarianism” between leftists.

Differences shouldn’t be articulated and politicized, argue these saviors of leftist in-fighting.

But why not? Through polemics, we have leftist groups engaging one another. Communist parties and organizations vie for correct positions and anarchists clarify their positions as they adopt and adapt their adjectives: Anarcho-Syndicalist-Communist-Primitivists!

However, it’s clear that I’m in the minority. A lot of leftists crave “unity”, because they see that as a way of organizing and thereby succeeding. (Never mind the fact that “success” here means something entirely different to every grouping.)

The main point for them is openness.

This openness is the idea that brings us a magazine like Jacobin.

I should mention here that I often like articles on Jacobin and have cited them numerous times on this blog. However, Jacobin represents this tendency and there are plenty of articles on Jacobin that are absolute nonsense.

In the goal of “unity”, Jacobin, posturing as a broad-leftist, big-tent magazine, is careful not to talk too much about characters that are divisive: Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao go almost totally unmentioned. Even Marx and Engels are barely cited.

The usual cast of characters of leftist debate are mostly left untouched, as this might cause division.

Jacobin articles are particularly philosophically empty.

Rather than offering a structured system of analysis in any way, Jacobin magazine leaves us to dwell in a post-modern, non-polemical space.

We are free to take up contradictory political positions based on feelings. Politics in this world are based on convenience. You can check your brain at the door, as long as you’ve brought your heart along.

stalin churchhill fdr

“I don’t know who to support here!”

The Soviet Union is gone, the PRC is totally capitalist, Castro is dead, we don’t have to defend anything icky!

Although in some ways we can see this ideological vacuity an asset, it seems to me rather often to result in the publishing of some rather absurdly silly arguments.

At the same time, because the differences between positions like anti-nationalism and anti-imperialism were never articulated on the American Left, there is no space for a proper discussion on these points between mainstream leftist tendencies.

But Jacobin still encourages its readers to take hard political positions.

A good example is this article, super critical of Hezbollah for not being “proletarian enough” and this other article that calls for general solidarity with the Rojava, while pointing out criticisms from a left-liberal human rights perspective.

So, we are told, we shouldn’t support Hezbollah, based on a Marxist analysis, and we should critically support Rojava, based on a liberal analysis.

Where does that leave us?

Why one and not the other?

Is the PKK/PYD seriously representative of the Kurdish proletariat? Obviously not.

Jacobin does us no favors here. Due to the lack of ideological clarity, we have a variety of positions on a variety of issues and they can range from left-liberal to Marxist, which, it should be noted, are competing and mutually-exclusive worldviews.

(This hypocritically coming from the Muslim communist.)

Without any ideological rigor and in the constant attempts to “unite the Left”, we’re offered almost nothing. All the “solutions” don’t give use anything concrete.

When we’re divided over polemics, we’re at least negotiating ideological space, when we’re “united”, we’re barely saying anything of substance to each other.

So on this May Day, 100 years after the Russian Revolution, I’d like to say to all my fellow leftists:

Let’s remain divided, at least for now.

Bill Oreilly

On the First Day of Ramadan, My True Love Gave to Me

“Virtue does not consist in whether you face towards the East or the West; virtue means believing in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the prophets; the virtuous are those who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and to the poor, and to travelers and those who ask for charity. The virtuous are those who set slaves free, and who attend to their prayers and pay the alms, and who keep their pledges when they make them, and show patience in hardship and adversity, and in times of distress. Such are the true believers; and such are the God-fearing.”

 -The Qur’an 2:177

I’ve been struggling with this verse all day. It’s one of my favorite verses of the Qur’an, but it left me pondering an existential-crisis-inducing question.

How can you possibly be virtuous today?

In our post-industrial age of perpetual technological bombardment, is virtue even possible?

How do you find virtue in your actions in the endless cacophony of pop culture and superficiality?

Does virtue even matter? Or, as post-modern philosophers would argue, is the idea of virtue a nonsensical, moral boundary that can be dispensed with in our era after the supposed death of God?

Here, I disagree with the post-modernists, but that’s where my distress comes in.

"Dis dress comes in?"

“Dis dress comes in?”

Bad pun, sorry.

I consider one of the most important moments of my life to be the moment I stopped thinking personally and started thinking politically.

Politically meaning with regards to social relationships and social structures.

When I was around 15 or 16, I walked by a television that had been left on in an empty room. Immediately as I passed, on came one of those missionary evangelical Christian commercials.

“For the price of a cup of coffee, you can feed this child for a week.”

Despite the self-serving, imperialistic, evangelizing message of the commercial, it has influenced me more than perhaps any other single moment.

The images of the sick, impoverished children haunted me.

I suddenly realized that these were real people.

Real people.

Not on some intellectual level, but on a true, deep, visceral level.

It made me ask the most important question that someone could possibly ask.

Why?

Why is it that children around the world are starving and are in need of a mere 65 cents in order to get food?

Why is it that my clothes are made (mostly) by poor women across the world, but never in my own country?

Why is it that so many innocent people are dying needlessly in wars across the globe?

But, more importantly,

Why is it that I’m not?

disney_sweatshop

Today, nine years later, on the first day of Ramadan, I’m stuck asking those same questions.

The amount of money I give to charity is a pittance compared to my income. The shirt I’m wearing as I write this was made in India. Perhaps it was made in a city that I visited last year as a rich, white, awful tourist. And, as everyone knows from the news, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Honduras, The Central African Republic, Egypt, Myanmar, Thailand, Somalia, Mexico, Libya, Pakistan, Nigeria, Yemen, and South Sudan aren’t doing so hot right now.

That’s why being virtuous is important to me. How can you look at the world with callous indifference?

The United States is funneling money and weapons into Syria and Iraq.

Obama is pursuing an absurd foreign policy of supporting the militants when they cross into Syrian territory and killing the militants when they cross into Iraqi territory.

This only makes sense if you consider the fact that the U.S. clearly wants the Syrian conflict to continue.

And why would the U.S. government ever want that?

It’s a very meticulous historical strategy of divide and conquer.

Like an empire?

Bingo.

And how can you be virtuous when you live in the center of an empire at its peak?

George W. Bush’s State of the Union in 2002. I’ve had a difficult time watching that clip for years.

Something about it makes me want to cry.

I’m not sure whether it’s the fact that Bush said that in an apparently sincere way or if it’s the insidious policies he pursued that contrasted that statement. How do you say Muslims are people and then subsequently drop bombs on Muslim children?

Maybe it’s just the way he said “Allah“, as though we worship some alien god.

Maybe it’s all of those things simmering together in a minute of intense emotion.

Honestly, it’s not easy to be a Muslim and an American.

Not because I feel discriminated against. Not because I’ve ever felt the racist backlash against Muslims. Not because I’ve ever felt the micro-aggressions and evil glances for my attire.

But for me, the difficulty is reconciling my beliefs with how I live my life.

For me, the difficulty is in being virtuous.

29artsbeat-robin-jumbo

boo hoo

How can you possibly be virtuous today?

As an American, the ability to live a virtuous life sometimes feels as though it has been stolen from me.

The taxes I pay go to funding militant groups and corrupt governments across the globe.

The gasoline I buy props up oppressive dictatorships and monarchies in the Middle East.

And any money I put into the economy by purchasing any item directly fuels this entire system of imperialism and capitalism.

It’s easy to feel helpless.

But for the next 29 days I will try my best to think deeply politically.

As a human being, thinking politically means opposing the structures and hierarchies that lead to mayhem, war, and genocide.

It means acting upon that base compassion for others and being mindful of your words and deeds.

It means recognizing the world as it is, but striving to continuously make it better.

Image

This Ramadan is my fourth. It gets easier every year. From dawn to sunset, over a billion Muslims go without food or water.

Why?

In order to fulfill the divine injunction on all able Muslims to fast.

In order to remember the poor and the hungry.

In order to empathize with those who are suffering.

In order to increase self-reflection, humility, patience, kindness, and strength.

In order to find an outlet to be virtuous. Or at least to learn virtue.

In order to be like the Prophet Muhammad – may God’s peace and blessings be upon him.

In Surat al-Imran, the 3rd chapter of the Qur’an, it says:

“Say, ‘If you love God, follow me and God will love you and forgive you for your sins. God is most forgiving and most merciful.'” (3:31)

The goal is to be the best person you can be. If not, then why bother living?

On the first day of Ramadan, my true love gave to me some guidance when I felt lost.

InshaAllah, that will only continue.