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Stan Goff is a member of the coordinating committee of Bring Them Home Now, a campaign of military families, veterans, active duty personnel, reservists against the war in Iraq. His books include Hideous Dream: A Soldier’s Memoir of the US Invasion of Haiti, and Full Spectrum Disorder.
He retired as a Master Sergeant in the US military in 1996 after serving for 26 years, most of them with Special Forces. He lives in Raleigh, NC, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Recently, DEREK SEIDMAN caught up with Stan Goff to get his thoughts on “Fahrenheit 9/11”, the situation in Iraq, the possibility of a draft, the upcoming US elections, and more.
DS: Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” recently passed the hundred million dollar mark in the box office. Some people on the Left have been very critical of the film for various reasons, while others have emphasized the broad, positive impact it’s having as a conveyer of progressive ideas and impulses to a mass audience. Of course, appreciating the film and being critical of it are not necessarily opposed to one another. What’s your take on the film and its impact? Anything we could or should learn from this Michael Moore here?
SG: Sure, there are a lot of “we”s and a lot of learning to do. I’d start by making a qualitative distinction between the different political currents that seem to get shoehorned together as “left.” Putting liberals, class-absent populists, class-conscious populists, social democrats, and several varieties of revolutionaries along some kind of linear spectrum, running right to left, is a pretty significant conceptual error. The point of unity between these different currents right now is their opposition to the actions of the current United States government–not the US state, and not capitalism, but the Bush-Cheney government.
The post-9/11 drive to expand the power of the security state domestically and to accelerate the international plan to restructure the global accumulation regime by military force set off alarm bells among all those currents, then the build-up to the March 2003 ground offensive against Iraq became the catalyst for a very big tactical alliance that we started referring to as an anti-war movement. But all the distinctions–and they are pretty heavy distinctions–within that polyglot remained. I’m not anti-war and neither are a lot of other people in this movement. We are anti-imperialist. I don’t oppose the war in Iraq. I oppose the US occupation. To say I simply oppose the war- as war- is to deny the Iraqi’s the right of resistance. I’m sure the Bush administration now opposes the war. They want the resistance to stand down. In this, they share a goal with pacifists, who say no one should fight. As long as there is a US occupation, I must defend the Iraqi’s right, even duty, to resist.
Anyway, now there is a spate of documentary films coming out from several of these currents. Moore’s film was well financed, because he had the money from his class-populist bestseller, “Stupid White Men,” and a rep from “Bowling for Columbine” and “Roger and Me.” Moore has finessed that money, that rep, and his in-your-face style into an extremely effective form of publicity. His clash with Disney over distribution hooked the capitalist media like a brown trout. Moore is from Michigan, where fishing is very popular.
Whomever “we” is, some of us seem to be learning how to make incursions into mass media, and to break down the confidence of people in what they usually get from mass media. There’s a lot we need to learn from that.
I don’t think it makes much sense–aside from advancing a critical analysis among socialist intellectuals of the ideological current that Moore represents–to burden the film with unrealistic expectations. When we know Moore is thinking of his old neighbors in Flint as his audience, and we have heard Moore say things that show clearly he is not going to attack Zionism or embrace what he considers the coffee-house intellectual left–a straw man, but one he believes in–then why would we expect his film to depart from his populist formula?
There are good reasons to be critical of Moore’s movie, and I emailed back and forth with Robert Jensen, who was pretty hard on it, about my own criticism of his criticism that I posted a while back on a listserv. Robert Jensen and I have served on panels together. We are both very interested in correcting our own and the left’s ignorance–I know, I just said “left”–on gender. We share a lot of ideas about a lot of things, and we like and respect each other. Bob assured me that his criticism was intended as part of that critical analysis, and I admit that much of my reaction to his piece was ill-directed at him, but was really my own impatience with the kind of endless kvetching that was beginning to dominate socialist discourse, and the fact that people weren’t having discussions about specifically how to take advantage of the film’s impact.
This tendency of thought, of constantly crying about the world not conforming to our wishes, is a symptom of a deep malaise among socialists. There’s good reason for that malaise. We’ve been getting our asses kicked for a long time, and we’re still trying to learn some hard lessons from history. But history is moving into a period right now where we are needed, and not as a bunch of whiners. We have to break that habit, which can provide excuses for not organizing and teaching the way we need to. And the masses don’t respect it.
There is a desperate need to refound the so-called left, and trying to refound it on ideological lines will not work. The masses don’t follow just well-articulated ideas in a crisis. They follow those who can organize an effective fight. That’s why Moore’s in-your-face style, even as it presents ideas that are not well developed, is very attractive to people. We identify with that anger, and we identify with that combativeness.
And a lot of the kind of knee-jerk criticism was about what the film did NOT do. That’s kind of a critical fallacy in looking at a two-hour film. The list of things any film does not do is infinite. The question is, in my mind, what did the film DO–beginning with the understanding that Moore is coming at this as a class-populist, and having no illusions about that perspective? And what I mean is, what impact did the film have on its mass audience, and who was that audience?
Because, while there is no linear continuum from right to left that mechanically defines the diversity of social positions or ideas about politics, there are definitely conjunctures and events that raise important questions that have the potential to shake up ideological categories and cause people to question aspects of their own world views. The whole post 9/11 conjuncture is doing that, and Moore’s film moved into the dominant ideological space–the mass media–where it effectively undermined some hegemonic premises. That doesn’t mean that it brought us to the doorstep of the revolution, and it doesn’t mean that Michael Moore’s world view is not rooted in a sectoral, or mixed, or limited if you will, consciousness.
DS: Do you know how the film has been received in Fayetteville and Fort Bragg, especially with regard to reaching folks in the military and their families?
SG: I don’t live in Fayetteville, and I haven’t for almost nine years. But my son and grandson are there, and we visit often. There is also a very energetic group associated with the Bring Them Home Now campaign of Vets for Peace and Military Families Speak Out, and they were impressed with the impact the film had. It was massively attended, and massively attended by military personnel and their families, who came out with a lot of doubts about the war that weren’t there before they walked into the cinema.
The reaction was a good example of what Moore’s film DID do. It undermined confidence in the mass media. It exposed what superficially looks like cowardice and hypocrisy among Democrats. It undermined the sort of unspoken faith in the political omniscience of heads of state. It exposed–again, a sectoral reality–the war profiteering associated with the war in Southwest Asia. It gave many people their first look at real images of the effects of war, and of the kind of sadistic transformation that happens to the young people who are tasked to carry the war out. And it highlighted class relations in the war. The other thing it did, which is something we really need to learn, is it connected with people’s affective lives. It hit people in the gut emotionally.
DS: In your latest book, Full Spectrum Disorder, you often invoke the concept of “the initiative” in military and political struggle. Can you define what you mean by it, and how would you assess the current situation in Iraq through this perspective?
SG: In any open strategic conflict, whether it is chess game, a boxing match, a social movement, or a war, there are actions and reactions. Those actions are based on decisions. Each decision is the culmination of a decision cycle. Military theorist John Boyd described this as an OODA loop, meaning we observe the situation, we orient to what is significant for us in that situation, we decide what action to take… observe, orient, decide, act–OODA. That action then changes the direction of the unfolding situation, and the cycle begins again. The initiative is when you have moved “inside” your opponent’s decision cycle and disrupted his ability set the terms of the next move. It is basically when you are making the decisions to which your opponent must now react, meaning he no longer has the ability to adequately observe and orient.
In games with rules and predetermined end-points, we technically have a standard for that result, for who wins. But in conflicts where this cannot be resolved in a linear way, we can only at any given point assess the progress. We can only ask who is winning for now. Who is in control of the tempo, time, and place of the conflict? Not who is killing the most people, the body count method, or even who controls so-called strategic terrain. Who has the initiative?
In war, we have to take that a step further. Military outcomes are not determined in the final analysis by tactical outcomes, but by political outcomes. War is a political activity, not a football game. If we look at Iraq and Afghanistan right now, we have to ask what are the political objectives and what are the political costs? Moreover, what are those goals and costs not just in-theater, but internationally, and domestically?
Using these criteria, the US is losing–for now–the war in Southwest Asia.
The US military has long attempted to use Boyd’s discoveries to reconfigure the military. But neither the institution of the military nor the US state can really adopt Boyd’s principles of tactical agility. Boyd worked his principles out in aerial combat, and they are principles for conscious actors. The military is too bureaucratic, foreign occupiers have difficulty “orienting” accurately, and the political goals of the US state create and amplify their own resistance.
And the ruling class is stuck in its own thought process. They reduce everything to a technical problem to “solve.” That’s how Rumsfeld’s so-called Revolution in Military Affairs came about. They take a concept like tactical agility, and they try to apply it with a digital thought process.
But strategic conflict is not ultimately resolvable through technology.
Technologies change the framework, but strategic conflict is a contest of consciousness, and war is political, again subject to human agency. That’s why I haven’t been able to share the anxiety of many allies about US military invincibility, or even about the attempt to create a panopticon society here. We’re better off focusing on understanding their vulnerabilities, so we can fight them. We have to consciously reject internalizing their gaze, as Foucault might say.
In fact, Boyd’s principles contained a strong dose of chaos theory. Every action creates a cascade of consequences that are unpredictable and often momentous… the butterfly effect. That’s precisely why tactical agility is achieved with minimal long-term planning and the refinement of the intuition in order to go through the OODA cycle faster than your opponent. This makes an ally of that so-called chaos, instead of an enemy. Look at Iraq right now, and tell me who is reacting to whom.
The Rumsfeld doctrine was one that was applied in Iraq to “solve the problem” of how to establish these “lily pad” forward bases through the region in order to facilitate rapid projection of a highly technological, highly lethal force. So the goal of the invasion was not to nation-build and all that.
It was very simple. Get the bases. All the other bullshit is ideo-mystificatory window dressing.
They asked themselves, can we force our way in with these bases and hold them? They answered themselves, yes. But the reality was not that simple, and the actual post-invasion situation confronted the Bush administration with a political problem and consequently a military failure.
When we measure the tactical success or failure of this operation at the end of the road, we have to look at that. Do they have the bases? Yes. Can they keep them? Well, that’s still open, isn’t it?
But the ultimate test is still political.
My assessment of Iraq right now is that it has the US state tied up in a war it cannot leave and it cannot win. My question is what can we do with that? What do we observe? What are the aspects of this conjuncture that we need to orient upon, specifically emerging vulnerabilities? What are we going to do? And when we do it, let’s take stock as often as we can of how what we are doing is changing the dynamic.
DS: There’s a lot of speculation being thrown around about the possibility of a military draft in the not-so-distant future. With the recent call-ups, the transferring to Iraq of troops stationed in South Korea, and the crunch in numbers that the occupation is taking and will continue to, it seems there is certainly cause for this speculation. What do you think about it all?
SG: I hope they do bring back the draft. Bush has put himself out on a limb on troop strength, and Kerry is painting himself into a corner on it by promising to become the Lyndon Johnson of Iraq. It’s a vulnerability. We’ll eat their asses alive with the draft. The person who seems to understand this most keenly, and for whose intelligence I generally have little respect, is Donald Rumsfeld. He is violently opposed to the draft, even as he conducts a backhanded draft through stop-loss orders that indefinitely extend troops’ service obligations beyond their discharge dates.
Again, the important thing to understand about all this is not how wicked and powerful they all are. They are just doing what they do. This whole adventure, which is scaring the bejeezuz out of the technocratic element of the American political class, is accelerating the crisis which it is intended to interdict. They are not operating from a position of strength, but of incredible weakness.
The technocrats didn’t oppose invading Iraq. They opposed doing it in a way that undermined the US state’s legitimacy. But the conquest of Southwest Asia is, in the final analysis, a necessity from the standpoint of the capitalist class. The entire restructured accumulation regime that developed beginning from the Nixon administration to the present is in eminent danger of collapse.
DS: With the occupation dragging on indefinitely, have you seen a growth in interest and activity around groups like Bring Them Home Now (and other military and military family antiwar organizations) from people serving in the military? What types of activities are you doing these days?
SG: As they said in “Fargo,” oh, you betcha.
The activity coming out of the military is not like the Vietnam era GI work. So much is different, particularly the absence now of the general social turmoil that created more spaces of resistance for GIs to gravitate to as they moved out of the military. Lots of folks base their expectations now on what happened then, and some people are even attempting to organize the same models. We’ll see what works best through trial and error. What we see now is, first of all, a putative volunteer military, embedded in a society that is unlikely to exercise meaningful solidarity with GIs who resist openly, faced with draconian penalties for dissent, and not a lot of great options outside the military. These kids in the military today have grown up not in a period of non-conformity like we did during the 60’s, but in the 90s, probably the most conformist period since the 50s, drowning in consumerism as an unrecognized ideology and brain-dead from it. So it’s a tougher proposition to get resistance going within the military.
But there have been two points of vulnerability that we looked at with the Bring Them Home Now campaign.
One, there is a ruling class fight taking shape between the Department of Defense and the generals. This Iraq debacle is creating very real institutional problems in the military itself that will take years to sort out. Many of the generals, who are the custodians of that institution and often genuinely devoted to it, are very unhappy with the way the executive branch is using the institution up, and with how they are making massive and often stupid changes in doctrine. They are also not particularly happy with the impacts of privatization–the contracting out of every task in the military, now including even some combat missions. This is worth exploiting. It’s kind of a weird tactical alliance, but it need not be a coordinated alliance.
Second, and where we have made the biggest inroads, is among the family members. They are in a unique position, both inside and outside the institution and the war. Rather than try and go face-to-face with the troops, which is logistically difficult when most are deployed or living in communities that frighten activists, we have reached out to a spontaneous movement among the families, often parents, mostly spouses, and the majority women. The latter is important, because their gender identity is not so thoroughly tied up with warfare.
Again, the so-called left has not been good in the past as accounting for these powerful affective realties. Male sexual terror and the violence that accompanies it, often called masculinity, is a real and potent thing that colors everything it touches. Often, the only person who has access to a GI somewhere inside that masculine emotional armor is his wife, sweetheart, or mom.
There is a kind of mass-line approach we are taking… consolidate the advanced section, win over the intermediates, and isolate the backward. You can see that if you read between the lines on the web site. With the exception of the Speak Out section, which we don’t edit or censor, we evade appeals to chauvinism, even if they are “anti-war” appeals to chauvinism… peace is patriotic, and shit like that. We provide an abundance of information that is de-emphasized in the media. And we punctuate with analysis that points the way to understanding the system behind the war.
The campaign itself is a kind of internet-based campaign that uses our web site to get people in touch with us, and to have them link GIs up with the web site, where all sorts of subversive information lurks. Once that contact is established, we try and move people into one of the organizations, Veterans for Peace for vets, and Military Families Speaks Out (www.mfso.org) for the family members. Right now, the web site gets contacts almost every day from various media wanting to speak with a vet of family member who opposes the war. That’s one way we plug them in locally. And there is some one-on-one leadership development–a lot done by Nancy Lessin and Charlie Richardson who have become the globe-trotting reps for MFSO. Recently, a new group, growing directly out of this campaign, composed exclusively of Iraq vets, called Iraq Veterans Against the War, with sixteen returnees. That’s very exciting.
DS: In the last interview we did, I asked you the question, “If you were a soldier in Iraq right now, what would be going through your head?” After reading Full Spectrum Disorder as well as Catherine Lutz’s wonderful study, Homefront ((which you mention in your book), it seems this was a loaded question with a false assumption about the military: that it’s basically homogenous. This was lazily-conceived, and for our practical purposes it’s really not wise to think of the military-on both a human level and a structural level- as if it’s a single entity. The people in it have incredibly diverse interests, positions and ranks, motivations for service, political leanings, etc. In Full Spectrum Disorder you talk about how the Left has some serious faults when it comes to thinking about and dealing with the military and the people it’s composed of.
SG: That’s the paradox of the military. It actually IS homogeneous in one sense. That’s both a strength and a weakness. The institutional imperative of the military is to impose homogeneity on a heterogeneous population. By the same token, almost every GI retains a strong sense of identification with his or her cultural roots. The longer people stay in the military, the more homogeneous they become, but that still doesn’t mean they are robots. That’s the caricature I get wrought up about.
I am definitely, more than anything else, a product of military culture, because I stayed in it for so long. My sense of place is stronger by orders of magnitude in Fort Bragg than it is in Raleigh or Hot Springs, Arkansas, or St. Charles, Missouri. But we are not transformed into machines, any more than someone who spends her whole life working for IBM (no pun intended).
Actually, the message to the left to drop the generalizations seems to have taken hold. I see less and less of it all the time. It’s a point that I wanted to make with some force, but it seems its being made now, with the exception of a very few but stubborn idealists who are interested in establishing their moral superiority.
DS: In your book you write: “Their [the neocons] true weaknesses are ruling class myopia and astonishing hubris. They are constitutionally incapable of understanding history as a process that involves the masses.” I thought this was one of the most insightful lines of the whole book. Can you flesh it out?
SG: The key word is constitutionally. This myopia is not a character defect, but the reflection of their lived experience, as a class. As owners and rentiers, they see the masses as a thing to be exploited and manipulated, and their position requires them to see themselves as inherently superior. Institutionalized as the state, they must see the masses also as a perennial threat and therefore a potential enemy, and themselves as the custodians of order. Their concept of history is the one we learn in school, a history of great individuals with human agency, directing the masses without agency, or at best a dangerous and irrational agency.
This leads to amazing errors, like believing you can conduct a military conquest in a place where people are determined to resist. I didn’t see that as an original insight, just one that applied to the Bush-Cheney clique with special force. The international anti-war movement blind-sided them. The Turkish parliament blind-sided them. Then the Iraqis blind-sided them. Then the Spaniards. These boys are not fast learners.
DS: In Full Spectrum Disorder you tell us that your next book is going to be on gender and the military. I want to ask you about masculinity, which you have a lot to say about. It is something that is deeply internalized in our society, it has very detrimental effects on a lot of things. When reactionary policies are coated in gendered terms, for instance, it makes popular consent much easier. What are going to be some of your main points and themes about masculinity, both with regards to the military, and in general?
SG: Sex & War is running behind schedule, but I will finish it and probably publish next year.
It will be a little like Full Spectrum, in its eclecticism. Several essays, really, pulled together as a book, all dealing with some aspect of the interfusion of militarism and patriarchy. I’m quite a bit more tentative in this one for the same reason I’ve gone slowly on it. This is the deep water for me, and I’m a novice swimmer. I’ve read somewhere around 60 books to prepare for it, and I still should read that many again, just to get all the perspectives that are out there.
One thing I’ve discovered is that the excuses made by many Marxists, and I proudly count myself as a Marxist, for why we’ve been on our asses with regard to gender are not very good ones. Feminist writing and feminist theory constitute an extremely rich body of work. And plenty of feminist theorists have been trying hard for decades to engage Marxism, while many Marxists have simply failed to do their homework, refused a principled engagement, or retreated into orthodoxy–“main” contradictions and all that other schematic bullshit.
I also became painfully familiar with some feminisms’ essentialism and philosophical idealism.
My own hypothesis is that gender IS a class war.
Just as racism in the US, for example, is contradictory as hell, until you get your head around it as a national-colonial question, it’s hard to see how it articulates with class struggle in the production process until you see it as a national question.
Gender is a violent class system. It has adapted and been adapted to social evolution. It is difficult to see as a class struggle because, in a sense, it is a class struggle that runs perpendicular to the class struggle in the production dimension of society. The classes are the predominant biological sexes, men and women, conditioned and disciplined by gender. There are other struggles related to this struggle, particularly now queer liberation–an extremely important arena of struggle–but the system is fundamentally designed to exploit and subjugate women. It’s the policing of this gender order that gives rise to homophobia.
Masculinity and femininity are the behavioral expectations of this class order, a class order that operates both inside and outside the productive process, particularly in social reproduction, in the so-called domestic sphere.
I don’t argue for a new masculinity, or a kinder gentler masculinity. I argue for the abolition of masculinity, whereupon femininity will also disappear because it is defined in relation to masculinity. I argue for the goal of a classless society. I’m a gender communist.
The struggle for Marxism and feminism is to take these perpendicular struggles and get them on parallel.
In Sex & War, I want to confront certain currents of feminism’s tendency to essentialize gender when they take on the military, as Cynthia Enloe has. I also want to use the military-patriarchy interrogation to explicitly critique many Marxisms’ adoption of liberalism with regard to gender.
Enloe, who has done a great service with the volume of research she has compiled on the military and its effects on women, still treats the military as if it were a uniquely malignant institution because of its male supremacy. This is decontextualized, first of all. The military is part of the state, and embedded in a larger social structure that conditions what it is and how it is. There is no inherent and isolated military culture. But she also tends to paint the picture that the military is an outgrowth of some inherently male characteristic.
Most Marxisms, on the other hand, ever since Engels wrote “The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,” and even before in Marx’s explications of capitalism, has adopted a political position only in favor of women’s legal equality.
This is pure liberalism that fails utterly to account for gender having the characteristics of class. Would any self-respecting Marxist argue for simple legal equality between classes? Marxism has tended to naturalize women, explicitly so in many cases, which contradicts the rest of our intellectual tradition. That’s partly because of patriarchal assumptions that we are unwilling to examine, and partly due to a biological reductionist standpoint on the question of sexuality.
But these points, while important in the book, are not the bulk of it. I prefer that my abstractions touch the ground. So I am writing about queer people in the military, about a serial rapist in the military, about Jessica Lynch and how that resounded culturally, and about family relations in the military. I’m using my own experience again as a point of departure, not because I want to write an autobiography. It’s just what I know and a way to directly relate the ideas in the book to the material world.
Masculinity is more than an ideology. It is deeper than ideas, because it is enculturated earlier and with more emotional force. So it is extremely stubborn and intimidating. In fact, I think Robert Connell, himself very Marxist in his interpretive methodology, has it right when he says there are multiple masculinities. But they are all part of policing some gender binary, and that polarity is about the social subjugation of women. My point is that it not only damages women, it damages us… damages men.
I’ve already written a few things exploring this in more detail at Freedom Road.
The main thing I bring to this is a different audience. A lot of men are reading my stuff, comparatively speaking. They write me.
They are people who might not pick up bell hooks, Joy James, Nancy Hartsock, Chandra Mohanty, Catherine McKinnon, Gloria Anzaldua, or Maria Mies. Most people have never heard of these women.
If they read this book however, something called “Sex & War,” written by some ex-military thug, they will encounter bits and pieces of all these writers and thinkers, on whom I relied so heavily, and hopefully that will send the curious looking further into what these people have to say.
Returning to masculinity, gender is policed through fear, often profoundly primal and irrational fear. It is inculcated almost from birth, and gender norms are particularly good at disguising themselves as natural; gender is reified.
With the combination of fear and absolutist conviction, there is always the potential for violence. The policing of gender is extremely violent… look at domestic violence statistics, at rape and the threat of rape as a social intimidator, at gay-bashing, at the incredibly cruelty of adolescents to ensure gender conformity, and you begin to appreciate how entrenched and hegemonic gender is, and therefore how important it is as an arena of struggle. I myself am now convinced that the full social emancipation of women is not a task of the revolution after we take power, but a precondition for effectively taking and holding power.
DS: John Kerry just finished his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. I was a little surprised, actually. It was a little more aggressive than I thought it would be. He’ll probably get many people-including some on the Left-behind him more adamantly now. How do you think we should assess and respond to the upcoming elections, especially with regards to the Democrats?
SG: The election has done us one service. It has exposed the fault lines in our so-called anti-war movement. We can see how many of our allies among the chattering class are running back to cling to the skirts of the Democratic Party.
That said, I don’t think it serves us well to decomplexify elections as a phenomenon. I will not vote for John Kerry, nor will I vote for my oily, manipulative Democrat Congressman, David Price. They are both cheap fucking zookeepers in my opinion, who have pissed all over our legs then told us it’s raining.
I am enjoying watching the Republicans confront John Kerry with his untenable so-called position on the war. Here’s the technocrat trying to weasel-word his way past the electorate on the war, and the Republicans are the ones taking him to the woodshed. It’s hilarious in a gallows-humor kind of way.
Not voting Kerry or Price is more than just a protest. I don’t see the point in expressive politics. This is instrumental.
One of the things the more politically advanced in the United States can do now, and I mean advanced in terms of understanding the role of the bourgeois state, is to exercise the actual political power we have in our present state of under-development to shake up the situation–again, a Boyd tactic, make a strike, then reassess the situation for new vulnerabilities–is to deny the Oval Office to the Democrats, and make it public knowledge that this is an intentional political act.
This begins to disrupt the inertia of the good cop/bad cop routine the two party system keeps pulling on us. It says we are no longer so afraid of the Republicans that we run back to their doe-eyed body-doubles again and again. But when and if we do that, if we encourage that route of revolutionary defeatism, then we are duty-bound to be prepared and organized for the follow through. We have to be prepared to escalate our tactics against the returning Republicans. Calling on people to take risks carries with it some responsibilities.
I will vote, because there are elections here in North Carolina and Wake County and Raleigh that matter in very real and immediate ways as part of ongoing sectoral struggles. Mike Davis alludes to this in his extraordinary mapping of changing urban environments in books like Ecology of Fear and City of Quartz, and the important if contradictory spontaneous struggles that appear in response to those changes.
I’m not an idealist. While I recognize that the Democratic Party is a bourgeois institution, I acknowledge that we still live in a bourgeois society. We work for capitalists to get money. We obey even laws we disagree with and so on. We have to live inside the system until there is a different one, even those of us who work to see it replaced. There are actual struggles going on here, as there are everywhere, that are local and immediate and that engage people less abstractly than national elections, and there are real reasons, in my opinion, to fight here to preserve some of the hard fought gains that have been made in carving out spaces of Black political power, which right now is still exercised through local Democratic Parties. We want to hang onto that power, then struggle with ways to extricate that power from both the Democratic Party and the abundance of jack-leg Black comprador opportunists. It’s contradictory, and we have to work through those contradictions and not merely dismiss them as spectators.
I still feel some ambivalence about the national elections, for that matter, because I’m not 100 percent confident that the left is prepared to truly escalate, and because my crystal ball doesn’t work. I don’t know what will happen with another Bush-Cheney term. They are really a dangerous crew, and we shouldn’t underestimate that. They want to nuke someone, as a trial balloon like Jose Padilla, jus to see what they can get away with.
But in another sense, that risk is exactly what the advantage is to having them back. Bush is reported to be on drugs right now to mellow out his mood swings, Cheney is as popular as cancer, and a number of scandals are still cooking in the kitchen. I think a lot about Nixon these days. It would be interesting to see that kind of crisis of legitimacy flowing into the second dip of a recession… maybe even another period of stagflation.
The form of imperialism is unstable right now. Neoliberalism is in a serious crisis. It is a monetary-military system, and the war in Southwest Asia is wrecking the myth of American military invincibility upon which the current system depends. The neocons are stepping on the gas to try and leap the gorge, so to speak, and the technocrats like Colin Powell, Jimmy Carter, John Kerry, et cetera, want to stop the car, get out, and recon for a way around the gorge.
Just as important for the so-called left is that we continue to promote any activity that deepens the political polarization of the United States and grow the revolutionary left while deepening its connections to concrete struggles.
The elections can do that through organizing around the Nader-Camejo challenge, but I don’t overestimate the impact of that.
The election phenomenon is ephemeral. Once the elections are over, and I’m personally impatient to see this distraction pass, then we will have a better opportunity to get back to the business of building and strengthening the social movements… and pulling them away from the non-profit NGO sector, by the way, where they are currently being contained. That’s a book that needs to be written, but not by me.
He also wrote a review of Stan Goff’s Full Spectrum Disorder.