Saturday, January 24, 2009

Communism and the left

Communism is not a "left-wing" political philosophy. Communism is on a whole different axis than the left-right split in contemporary politics.

The left-right split is about what kind of capitalism we want. The right wing wants an authoritarian, force-based, racist, national-imperialist capitalism; the left wing wants a more subtle, internationalist, "meritocratic" capitalism. Make no mistake: although they're both inside capitalism, the left-right split is very sharp and sometimes violent.

The focus of the left on identity politics and multiculturalism supports this thesis. The goal of quintessentially left-wing identity politics — for women, blacks, gays, immigrants, atheists, etc. — focuses on allowing individuals from these groups to enter the bourgeoisie. The goal of "multiculturalism" is to make the bourgeoisie an international class, to defend non-Western social and political ideas — such as the subjugation of women under Islam — that allow leaders of cultures outside the imperial nations to participate in the international bourgeoisie. The bourgeois left argument against colonialism is not that exploitation is bad, it's that foreign exploitation is bad.

It is a mistake, I think, to count left-wing bourgeois intellectuals as natural allies in the struggle for communism; calling communism a "left-wing" political philosophy makes this mistake seductive.

11 comments:

  1. Raised in the highly liberal atmosphere of the late 80s and early 90s in the interior of British Columbia, I think a large part of the my political disillusionment has rested upon the failure as I see it of multiculturalism. While I am all for freedom of beliefs and expression, the over-encompassing attitude which muddies the waters by allowing those to claim their own cultural freedom to suppress the freedom of others (like the subjugation of Islamic women which you mentioned) has left a sour taste in my mouth (not to self promote, but this post on my own blog may help clarify what I am trying to say). However, I still adhere to the idea of socialism within our current system as the most promising form of government (kind of like a mixture of our Green and NDP parties with a mixture of our Liberal party to keep them on their toes). I think I am perhaps counted within that bourgeois intellectual group that you dismiss as natural allies, but I'm not entirely sure that is an appropriate dismissal. After all, I am here reading your blog and thinking about hard about your ideas, which I would hope counts for something.

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  2. Moz: Just so you know, I encourage self-promotion, so long as you cite work that's relevant to the discussion.

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  3. I say that the liberal bourgeois intellectuals are not natural allies. I myself used to be a liberal bourgeois intellectual, and I became an ally of communism, but only after I had transcended bourgeois class orientation in my own thinking.

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  4. I think one of the most pertinent things you said was that the left-wing wants a more subtle form of capitalism, and it is essentially why I think most of your new allies are likely to be found within the ranks of the left-wing intellectuals. After all, the subtlety of the exploitation is such that it might not necessarily register, so when left-wing political activists fight for equality, the equality they envision might actually be along the lines of communism. They simply do not realise it yet (and I am included in that they).

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  5. Do you see all (good) politics as fitting into this picture (of a left-right axis within capitalism, and communism outside opposing it)?

    I am inclined to suggest that, for instance, a picture with left- and right- wing patriarchy in a bubble, and then radical feminism outside opposing it, is not obviously less reasonable. There might be communists who do not take dismantling gender very seriously - who, perhaps, want to retain the binary classification of genders but make the two poles more 'equal'. And there might be radical feminists, who want to dismantle the gender binary altogether, and anticipate that a society without masculinity and feminity would change at every level as a result, without seeing much difference between a capitalist patriarchy and a communist one.

    Perhaps both would be wrong. But I'm not sure it's right to put all non-class issues within one bubble, and have communists outside all bubbles. There may be many overlapping bubbles (is this physically possible?).

    Your definition of 'left-wing' also seems odd to me. Given that it is, to my mind, more historically associated with communism than with liberal capitalism, why does it get relegated to within the bubble? And if there are multiple bubbles, how then is it defined?

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  6. Your definition of 'left-wing' also seems odd to me. Given that it is, to my mind, more historically associated with communism than with liberal capitalism, why does it get relegated to within the bubble?

    I don't tend to agree that it's more historically associated with communism, but even if it was, so what? We aren't talking about historical abstractions, we're talking about current realities and the reality is (at least in the U.S. that Barefoot Bum's left/right dichotomy is very accurate.

    While there is a socialist bent to the political lefties, it's really little different than the socialist bent of the right (shh! don't tell the righties). But more importantly, capitalism is very solidly entrenched in the left wing politics of equality.

    What the left is focused on, is not absolute equality, but equality of opportunity and minimum standards of living. American lefties are insistent that everyone be provided with an equal opportunity to succeed on the capitalist playing field.

    Beyond that, socialist instincts are pretty well limited to the notion that certain things, such as healthcare, housing, food and shelter (education falls solidly under equal opportunity) that are basic human rights.

    I know this it true of the U.S. and I suspect it's mostly true of Europe as well. Socialism and capitalism aren't mutually exclusive. Communism and capitalism are. Or to express it in terms of dichotomy; communism is to the left, as fascism is to the right. And I think it is reasonably accurate to say that communism and fascism face a similar dichotomy as the left and right do. But these are separate dichotomies, not extremes on the scale.

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  7. "Socialism and capitalism aren't mutually exclusive. Communism and capitalism are...communism and fascism face a similar dichotomy as the left and right do."

    I really don't know what you mean here. To my mind 'socialism' means "a society controlled by the working class, based on collective ownership", which is exclusive of capialism. I'm not sure what it means that fascism and communism "face a similar dichotomy". Are you talking about how communists are divided into statist Leninists and more libertarian/anarchist communists?

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  8. I really don't know what you mean here. To my mind 'socialism' means "a society controlled by the working class, based on collective ownership", which is exclusive of capialism.

    Ummm, no. Socialism is an integral part of every western capitalist democracy in the world. Socialism is a very broad grouping of economic/social theories, that transcends simplistic idealism.

    In this context we use the label of socialism to describe the redistribution of wealth through the mediums of direct transfer and a progressive tax structure. We also use it to describe a system of opportunity equality through education.

    Pure capitalism and pure socialism would be mutually exclusive, but neither exists anywhere in the world. And I would argue that neither can exist, because the populace would never allow it. So not only are socialism and capitalism not mutually exclusive, in practical terms, one cannot exist without the other.

    Are you talking about how communists are divided into statist Leninists and more libertarian/anarchist communists?

    Not at all. I am saying that the communist/fascist dichotomy is an oppositional spectrum all it's own.

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  9. I don't even need to be here! DuWayne seems to be carrying the ball as well or better than I would have.

    "Socialism" is just a label. A lot of people and groups use the label in mutually contradictory ways. Historically, socialism and communism are synonyms, but a lot of contemporary groups use "socialism" precisely to distinguish themselves from communism and the central communist principle of the "dictatorship" of the proletariat. The split goes all the way back to 1900l; Lenin addresses the split direectly in What is to be Done?, polemicizing against (among other things) Economism. The modern left, especially so-called liberal and progressive Democrats, are completely committed to Economism.

    I don't see all politics — or all "good" politics — as fitting within the left-right axis; I just see contemporary politics as being on that axis, and I think there are deep theoretical reasons why our politics happen to be so constrained.

    Feminism seems often constrained by Economism: as DuWayne notes:

    What the left is focused on, is not absolute equality, but equality of opportunity and minimum standards of living. American lefties are insistent that everyone be provided with an equal opportunity to succeed on the capitalist playing field.

    This is a huge point. I'll write more about it when I have a proper keyboard.

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  10. I just see contemporary politics as being on that axis, and I think there are deep theoretical reasons why our politics happen to be so constrained.

    I think that it's also important to recognize that this constraint is largely superficial. A prime example is the topic of a post I am working on for my own blog.

    In the guise of fighting the patriarchy, left leaning, puritanical feminism embraces the very worse excesses of the rightwing patriarchy, the suppression and oppression of sexual expression. Both would claim to be, and in some ways are, in polar opposition to each other. Yet on one of the most fundamental issues that define the rightwing patriarchy, they are not only in close agreement, they use almost the exact same language.

    And there are innumerable examples of this phenomenon. This right/left dichotomy is mostly smoke and mirrors, a product of extreme partisan politics.

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  11. And there are innumerable examples of this phenomenon. This right/left dichotomy is mostly smoke and mirrors, a product of extreme partisan politics.

    No argument there.

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