Sunday, February 21, 2016

Terrorism and communism

I don't want fisk CK MacLeod's article, The Libertarian Praxis Problem: Part 1, but it's useful background for my communist perspective on the same issue.

I want to push back against the "spectrum" view of politics. There is not a neat continuum that can capture the "far left", i.e. communists and socialists, the "far right", i.e. authoritarians and fascists, with opposing capitalist viewpoints: the capitalist left is not just quantitatively but qualitatively different from the socialist "left", and similarly for the capitalist right and the fascist "right". There are probably more points of similarity between socialists and capitalists leftists than capitalist rightists, but points of similarity do not make a continuum. Fundamentally, the capitalist left upholds the private ownership of the means of production, and it upholds the right of the elite to rule, and the "true" socialist left opposes those ideas. (The capitalist left and right differ on the composition of the ruling elite, and the modes of interaction between economic production and elite rule.)

"Liberal values" are of the same nature as most religious myths, as a mask and apologia for specific power relations; no one with any actual power regards them as fundamental. Freedom of speech, freedom of property, etc. are always highly selective. As it must be so logically: without qualification, "freedom" is incoherent, because freedom is always in conflict, and the purpose of government in general is, and has always been, to determine and enforce whose freedom's give way when freedoms are in conflict. The purpose of all social systems is to determine which freedoms are legitimate, to what degree and under what con

MacLeod charges,
The Left, in [pillsy's] depiction, does not favor freedom of speech as an end in itself, but as a practical necessity in relation to the Left’s actual primary interests, including its organizational self-interest or survival interest. . . . Because the Left’s commitments are not to those values and institutions, it can, once in power, or once the organizing objective has been achieved, discover their dispensability, and, cut to the chase (at least as the critics write the movie): the Terror, the Purges, the Gulag, the Cultural Revolution, and the Killing Fields – or, rather less climactic, “PC” speech. [emphasis original]

This quotation delivers several elements of egregious nonsense. First, it is completely stupid to compare "'PC' speech" to terrorism. MacLeod asserts that it is tantamount to terrorism to demand that people speak professionally — i.e. not speaking as utter racist and sexist assholes — in a professional setting, be it academia or the popular press.

What MacLeod charges to "The Left" is true of capitalism itself, true not only of the socialism and the capitalist left, but also of the capitalist right and authoritarianism and fascism; indeed it is true of Libertarianism itself.

Part of that truth follows from the incoherent nature of freedom. Freedom always engenders conflict: one person's freedom is another's oppression. The slave-owner is free to oppress the slave, and the slave can gain his own freedom only at considerable cost to his owner; the forced imposition of a cost is, objectively, always oppression. The distinction between the slave-owner and the slave is not a matter of principle but of preference.

Additionally, the tools — "terrorism" broadly defined — that MacLeod attributes to the left are, in fact, ubiquitous in the formation and maintenance of state power. (Even in the utter absence of anything even vaguely resembling state power, individuals use terrorism to dominate and subordinate other individuals.) One cannot deprecate terrorism itself, one can honestly only approve or condemn the ends to which one or another employs terrorism: to maintain or overthrow (in various directions) the status quo.

The terrorism of the status quo is, of course, always hidden, given the blessing of "justice" by the explicitly or implicitly religious nature of the dominant ideology (presently the religion of "liberalism": private property, rule of law, "civilized" behavior). But of course capitalism employs terrorism; without terrorism, the working class would never accede to its subordination and exploitation. Some of capitalism's terrorism is obvious and egregious: centuries of slavery, upon which capitalism built its economic strength, today's literal war by the police and courts on black people, the dominance and subordination of women economically and physically, the McCarthy-era suppression of anti-capitalism, the international imposition of neoliberalism, etc. ad nauseam. But most of capitalism terrorism inheres in the relationship between the capitalist owners and their workers. The majority of people who are not privileged to have jobs with tenure or personal power feel the pointy end of the boss's oppression every day. They submit to this oppression in part because it is blessed by the liberal religious ideals, in part because lacking organization (and attempts to organize are suppressed most violently), resistance is futile. (Even with organization, resistance is dangerous and difficult.)

In Terrorism and Communism, Trotsky is direct and explicit: terrorism is the only way to take power from the capitalist class. The capitalists will never voluntarily submit to the rule of the working class, so they must be made afraid of the working class's power. The only alternative to terrorism of the capitalists by the workers is for the workers to submit to the terrorism of the capitalists.

It is one thing to say that capitalism is better than communism, and the terrorism necessary to suppress communism is justified to preserve the better ideology from the worse. Obviously, I don't agree with that position, but it is at least honest. It is, however, rank hypocrisy to say that communism is worse than capitalism just because it requires terrorism to implement, while ignoring the terrorism capitalism must necessarily embrace to maintain itself.

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