By Rainer Shea – Jun 23, 2023
Communism used to be a mainstream force in the United States. The state saw communists as capable of replicating the Russian revolution, so it orchestrated mass raids against them simply for being involved in the movement. Communists were a pivotal force in labor organizing. Communists were able to pose big enough of a threat to American capitalism’s future that FDR got intimidated into implementing the New Deal.
Then the efforts to force them out of public life scared the movement’s major representatives (too easily) into ceasing their operations. And when the Black liberation struggle and the antiwar movement both underwent a great rise in influence, making a communist revival possible, the state destroyed the Black Panther Party while building a pseudo-radical alternative to Marxism. That alternative being the New Left, the generation of critical theorists who are informed not by the thinkers who’ve actually advanced the class struggle, but by CIA academics like Herbert Marcuse.
This effort to transform “Marxism” from something genuinely threatening, into just another one of the “critical theories” that liberals can take or leave in their analyses, was so successful that it turned the Panther Angela Davis into an agent for it. From the start, Davis was a student of Marcuse’s Frankfurt School, and now adheres to its ideas more than ever. Davis was part of a group of political actors who further deradicalized American communism by disavowing “authoritarian” socialism after the USSR’s fall, and is among the “radical” public figures who promote the Vote Blue stance.
It’s these kinds of figures who represent the default sources of guidance that developing radicals in modern America turn to, because for generations we haven’t had a mainstream Marxist movement that’s authentic. Aside from Parenti, the only voices in our major discourse who’ve claimed to be communists do not actually practice Marxism. They practice a distorted version of “Marxism” that acts like class struggle is only one among a series of struggles, ignoring how all the different identity struggles are themselves class-based.
It’s this focus these figures put on racial, national, women’s, and LGBT liberation which makes them widely seen as credible. The assumption many developing radicals make is that these critical theorists and their ideas have a value which can’t be overlooked, due to the importance of rectifying the distinct types of injustices that are experienced by different parts of the people. The fallacy in this idea is that we Marxists are obligated to let our ideas and actions be influenced by New Left thinkers, just because these thinkers support social justice. Which extends not just to pseudo-Marxist academics like Davis and Horne, but to the activists and online discourse agents that are informed by this type of revisionist thinking. As Parenti pointed out, in the post-McCarthyism era there’s arisen an “Anything But Class” left, and in the social media age this element has been able to portray itself as being more influential than it actually is. To make it look like Marxists have no choice but to appeal to it.
I talk about these radical liberals like they’re part of an astroturf campaign because that’s essentially what their movement is. They get their perceived credibility by making it look like if you lose favor with them, there’s no way you can succeed. Like they hold the power to make you forever irrelevant. This is the idea that comes through in how they claim to speak for entire marginalized groups, implying that if you don’t appease them, then you’ve by extension alienated yourself from everybody within these groups. This threat of theirs is a bluff, a bluff that’s used to intimidate developing Marxists into abandoning their Marxism.
We’ve seen this in how many American Marxists who’ve been able to unlearn the anti-communist narratives about existing socialism have reacted to the Ukraine war. As well as to the recent intensification of ideological conflicts within the left which relate to the war. These actors praise China and the DPRK. Yet when China has effectively backed Russia in the conflict, while the DPRK has outright stated support for Russia, they’ve taken the “neither NATO nor Russia” stance. Their declining to follow socialist Korea’s example of being in solidarity with the Russian people’s struggle against Nazism has everything to do with a desire to fit in within “left” spaces. Which in a post-Russiagate world means distancing oneself from the pro-Russia stance, since this stance is portrayed by the left as inherently right-wing.
When “but is this what someone on the ‘left’ would think?” is the basis for your ideology, the act of “supporting” existing socialism loses its substance. Loving China, Cuba, or Korea becomes just another part of one’s social media brand. What’s the point of “supporting” the successful revolutions if you’re not willing to adopt the ideas and practices that can make you win proletarian victory within your own country? This is a shallow kind of “support,” especially when coming from a resident of one of the imperialist countries that’s waging war against socialism.
By declining to fight the information war against NATO, these modern Anything But Class leftists are not just acting chauvinistically towards imperialism’s global victims, but hindering the revolutionary struggle in their own countries. We won’t be able to get revolution in the core until U.S. hegemony has been sufficiently weakened, a cause that we in the core have the ability and the responsibility to contribute to. The more we weaken imperialism’s narrative control, the more untenable its war operations become. To deny this is to avoid fulfilling an essential duty.
How to reconcile this decision not to do the things the revolutionary struggle needs us to do the most at the moment, with the belief these radlibs have in the need for rectifying our systemic injustices? The way they’ve rationalized committing this betrayal is by claiming it can’t be a betrayal, because fighting the narrative war against NATO is according to them not the best way we can weaken the state at this stage. They claim that combating U.S. hegemony is secondary to the fights regarding our domestic social issues. This has come through not just in how I’ve seen radlibs directly say this, but in how CPUSA, PSL, and the other anti-Russian socialist orgs consistently prioritize the culture war over the anti-imperialist movement.
I say the culture war, and not social justice, because these orgs don’t truly advance social justice. They only tail the Democratic Party by reactively holding events and making statements whenever the Democrats are trying to co-opt a struggle against social injustice, never asserting their own agency within protest movements. Because if they were to do something disruptive, like become principled and aggressive about opposing Democrat foreign policy, this would hinder their ability to appeal to the DNC’s base.
The calculus behind this liberal tailist strategy, where they compromise on anti-imperialist stances to not appear “pro-Putin” or continuously try to distance themselves from anti-NATO groups that liberals have deemed untouchable, is the notion that liberals are the group best able to be brought towards Marxism. This is a fallacy. Even if it were true—which it no longer is, since Russiagate has made many on the “left” into obstinate neocons—we still need to win the parts of the people who aren’t liberals. What about the apoliticals, many of whom don’t vote because their class status has made them alienated from bourgeois politics? What about the types of conservatives who’ve gravitated to libertarianism or MAGA only because these camps have initially looked like the best alternatives to what the Democrats offer, and could be brought to communism?
A growing number of those in these categories are coming to an anti-imperialist consciousness in reaction to Ukraine. Why should we discard them? Because they have backwards beliefs? Mao said it’s our job to bring those with backwards beliefs to a better place, should we ignore him?
There are two alternatives to joining the united front that’s emerged against NATO: join with the PSL-aligned camp that’s interested in tailing the Democrats rather than in winning; or denounce every organizational element of the American socialist movement, due to none of these elements being free from real or perceived contradictions. If you do the latter, the only place for you to go is the insular online communities the modern ABC left has formed. Spaces that are built on resentment, rather than on anything constructive or deliverable, as they have no organizational basis and don’t want to adopt the strategies needed for attaining one. To win the people, Marxists have to focus on winning the people, not on appeasing the gatekeepers of these spaces. It’s best for us to build our movement without any fear of what the unserious people will say.