Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Marxism is Incompatible with a Two Camp Perspective

A couple of quick, unsystematic jottings:
  1. I'm thinking of sort of "two campist" politics that sees the entire field of global struggle in black and white. That is, the sort of crude political perspective that accepts as exhaustive a distinction between (a) the imperialist governments of the major capitalist powers, and (b) any state formation whatsoever that is antagonistic to them. The task of leftists, then, is an easy one: unconditionally side with (b) against the aggression of (a). I think one could plausibly argue that this basic perspective shapes the politics of groupings like the Party for Socialism and Liberation. This is how they wind up unconditionally defending the likes of Gaddaffi, Hussein, Milosevic, Mugabe, Kim Jong Il, and so forth. This is nothing more than a crude inversion of liberal Cold War politics.
  2. "Two campists" get one thing absolutely right: imperialism on the part of major capitalist powers is never a force for good and must always be staunchly opposed.
  3. A basic argument for "two campism" goes something like this. The Left must fight against capitalism because it is an exploitative and oppressive system. Thus the Left must uncompromisingly oppose imperialism, that is, the subjugation of the people of poorer nations by the ruling classes of richer nations. (I'm still on the bus at this point). Opposing imperialism means unconditionally standing behind any state formation that brushes against the grain of imperialism. (This is where I get off). Thus, the Left must unflinchingly defend all states that part ways with the imperialist powers. (To be fair, there are many other arguments for a two-camp position not covered by the above.... e.g. that there is (or was) such a thing as "really existing socialism" that justifies two campism... or that any Left alternative to two-campism is merely utopian dreaming in need of hard-headed realpolitik).
  4. Though the argument above has an anti-capitalist edge to it, it is not Marxist. Whatever else is true, Marxism is not a state-centric social theory. It does not tell us to understand the world by fetishizing the state as an explanatory device. It enjoins us to focus on production, on class struggle. When looking at any social formation whatever, Marxism asks us to see it as a dialectical totality, i.e. as a constellation of different elements (different social institutions, organizations, interests, classes and so forth) which mutually constitute one another and co-evolve in complex ways. Of course, in stressing the concept of totality, Marxism isn't an "anything goes" social theory in which we're told nothing more than "everything relevant affects everything relevant". As I said above, Marxism understands production to be in some sense fundamental to social explanations. But two-campism rejects this basic insight of Marxism. In the case of the major capitalist powers, two-campists employ a more or less Marxist analysis. But when it comes to allegedly "anti-imperialist" regimes like Mugabe or Gaddafi, the Marxism falls by the wayside. Whereas any Marxist worth her salt would want to understand, say, the Gaddafi regime the same way she understood any other state, two-campists refuse to undertake such an analysis. It is for this reason that two campers couldn't offer a genuinely Marxist analysis of the rise of Stalinism and the unraveling of the gains of October.
  5. Marxism is about working-class self-emancipation. It's therefore not a politics suited to supporting state formations that oppose the interests of their own working classes. Yet that is precisely where two-campism leads. When the Left should be defending the interests of workers full stop, two-campists defend despotic regimes that oppose the interests of workers. They are pushed into this position for a number of reasons, e.g. because the despotic regimes allegedly represent the interests of workers, or because the regime's opposition to imperialism abroad somehow mitigates its repression at home. Neither of these reasons are adequate.
  6. I'm not against black and white assessments tout court. Marxism, after all, is a politics that, in opposing capitalism, opposes ruling classes as such. It therefore rejects reconciliation with the capitalist class. Class struggle is thus a black and white struggle between oppressors and oppressed. But class struggle is one thing, and the head-butting of state formations on the global stage is another. Two-campists confuse the two. I'm fine with seeing the global political arena in black and white if that means, more or less, seeing nothing but oppressed peoples and oppressors. So let's not forget, as two-campers do, about the oppressed peoples of marginalized nations who are dominated by regimes that happen to oppose the interests of the US in the global arena. They, not their governments, are the ones in need of unconditional support from the Left.

6 comments:

JM said...

Bravo! :) Although it seems that currently, the fighter in Libya who have decided to present themselves as the rebels are just as bad as Qaddafi.

t said...

Just as everyone who resists imperialism isn't therefore a leftist... not everyone opposing Qaddafi is doing so because they are a revolutionary.

There are, to be sure, serious reactionary elements among those opposing Qaddafi in Libya (and we can be sure that the Washington is doing everything it can to bolster such elements and win them to their side). But the revolt against Qaddafi is no monolith. It began more in the spirit of Tunisia and Egypt, but devolved quickly into a military struggle (rather than a groundswell social movement like in Egypt) because Qaddafi responded with violence so quickly. Let us not forget that Qaddafi immediately strongly chastised the Tunisian people in public statements for overthrowing Ben Ali. He was clearly afraid of the same thing happening to him for similar reasons. Of course, refusing to apologize for the many oppressive actions undertaken by Qaddafi by no means entails that we give the opposition a free pass either. But in the context of the Arab Spring, I think it's absurd to stand behind tired old despots like Mugabe and Qaddafi who themselves oppose the revolutions.

The real crux of the disagreements on the left re: Libya, it seems to me, has everything to do with the Qaddafi regime itself. Cynthia McKinney, the PSL, and some of the folks at BAR have this view that he's a pan-africanist left-winger who's serious about black liberation. If only! The facts, unfortunately, tell a different story. I was recently in Nicaragua, and some old Sandinistas I talked to compared Qaddafi to Somoza. I think that's more accurate than pretending that Qaddafi is the next Che.

JM said...

Yeah, the mania from McKinney and the like is pretty sad to watch though it ain't new: she's favorably cited an anti Semitic conspiracy theorist while Glen Fords' favorably praised Mugabe. Didn't know about Qaddafi's comments on Tunisia though.

JM said...

And speaking of the "official" rebels:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/13/world/africa/13libya.html

I think this wouldn't have happened if NATO didn't get involved.

Anonymous said...

Hi, pink scare! So you support US intervention? What do you hope to see happen here? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

@anonymous 1:58:

what part of "imperialism on the part of major capitalist powers is never a force for good and must always be staunchly opposed" don't you understand?

No to US intervention! Victory to the revolution! Down with Assad!