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Replacing Ideology With Class

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“The genius of any slave system is found in the dynamics which isolate slaves from each other, obscure the reality of a common condition, and make united rebellion against the oppressor inconceivable.”

—Andrea Dworkin

There is something very peculiar about how politics is talked about. The things that are true and proven to work are called “left” while the things that are false and are proven to fail are called “right”. This is why upon education most everyone becomes left, barring a greater force than truth itself in one’s interest in education. This is an unprecedented dynamic. Take any other field. In mathematics, in science, in language, truth is proven and then more or less accepted. In politics this isn’t the case. Despite things such as socialism, peace, education, regulation, housing and equality always working, there remains a debate about whether or not these things work.

This dynamic never occurs in other fields. Chomsky talks about how democratic the phone lines are on sports radio, for example. The reason politics is reduced to a political spectrum rather than what is true is because the stakes are just too high. The class warfare has too high stakes for there to be an honest assessment of it.

For example, say one gets sick and goes to two different doctors for consultations. There may be some disagreement about the best practice to take, but generally there is accepted medicine and procedures across the board. Imagine if Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were the two doctors one went to see. They are the two most prominent politicians in the United States and they disagree on everything. Say a patient came in feeling fatigued all the time. Bernie would likely prescribe the patient with a treatment, maybe involving some combination of medicine, rest and diet, with the advice of checking back in soon if the patient was not feeling any better. Donald Trump would simply hand the patient a gun and tell them to point it at their head and pull the trigger. Such disagreements within the medical field would naturally seem nonsensical, but is widely accepted in politics.

So this brings one to a new conclusion. The so-called political spectrum simply has to do with one’s relationship to power. What is traditionally left rebels against the rich and powerful, what is traditionally right acts in the interest of the rich and powerful. Hence, the class warfare.

There is a debate which works better for the ruling class. This is a debate between left or right. This is a false debate. The left always works better. But there are benefits to being right wing. There always are benefits to taking the side of power. The difference boils down to this: right wing ideology works because one gets direst rewards from the powerful while left wing ideology works because you take power away from the powerful.

Therefore one has to conclude that the debate over left and right is itself a ruling class construction made to obscure the real relationship between the classes which is by definition a conflicting one.

The left could also should be called an ideology in favor of community as a whole while the right is an ideology in favor of the individual or extensions of the individual such as the family, nation, gender or race. The appeal of being right wing is that it can often help the individual and those around them. But if everyone was right wing then the community as a whole gets very little benefit as it relies upon selfishness at the expense of the community. Just as if everyone was left wing we’d see a benefit for the masses because anytime people work as a team a larger goal can be achieved. These are basic facts that are widely agreed upon but rarely acknowledged when the ruling class frames politics as equivocally as “right to left”.

Look no further than the fates of anyone who takes the positions in question. Take someone who is on the left. If they are active politically they will go to jail, get fired, smeared, be poor or even be killed. The fate of most truly radical leftists is prison or death. On the contrary, someone who is an extreme conservative will likely make a lot of money, be hailed as a genius, live a long and comfortable life and keep many of their friends because of their material success. Naturally most of us navigate somewhere in the middle. Most people have some level of conscious but most are also not willing to make tremendous sacrifices for their morals. Therefore these conflicting fates are navigated.

Indeed the reason most people may take up a political position is their strategic goal in life. Someone feeling like doing good for others may turn left but then when discovering the perils of this position revert back to the right. Or someone may go right, feel some guilt and go left once more. So, one should be left whenever they can afford to be. And if the world is to become a better place many people will have to be left when they can’t afford it.

All of this is to say that the traditional framing of two equal sides is wrong. People have material interests and moral interests in life and it is only afterwards that a political ideology is made to justify it. Now many people have this connection unknowingly. Few on the right are thinking “let’s be selfish today”. But it is a strategic decision that comes out of fear or cynicism or even to be more charitable to them, desperation or despair. Hence one sees the inherent irrationality of most of the populist right that merely echoes the fear of their masters. Immigrants, regulation and taxation hardly are scary for the poor. They keep the poor afloat. But they do scare the rich. And if the strategic goal of the right is to align with power then of course they will mirror the fears of the rich.

But we see how one really comes before the other. A deeper fear of the rich and submission to them comes before this alignment that theoretically meets a consistent political ideology that has legitimacy. This sounds like a damning critique of the right, which it is. But why not then simply be left-wing?

The reason is this: the political spectrum itself is a construction by the ruling class meant to obscure the more fundamental class struggle that is at the root of our lives. Based on our material condition and both the formal and informal education we have received to tell us about this condition we come to certain conclusions about the strategies to deal with this condition and these strategies fall somewhere along the political spectrum. By accepting the construct of the political spectrum we keep our minds colonized in a space that is one step removed from our oppressor.

This is only one reason. If the position of left-wing resulted in the same ideology as a living fulfillment of the class condition then we might say nothing is at stake here beyond the clarity and urgency necessary to deal with the ruling class. It is however not that simple. Accepting any set of beliefs leaves one blind to the more material necessities of the time.

Politics is no different than religion in this way. While both attempt to explain the material condition both always fall short of accurately evaluating because the material condition itself is a mystery beyond comprehension and therefore is fluid. Based on this evaluation religion may get more right than politics, but that is for another day. Why must an unknown be fluid? Because there are constantly new discoveries of it by the individual and the community at large.

Therefore ideology can keep the subject stagnant and reactionary, or even manipulated. But what this mean in a practical sense? Some new ways of dealing with things outside of the political spectrum. Firstly, rather than evaluate every figure, institution or policy based on its relationship to an artificial spectrum of beliefs, why not directly relate this quantity to power and money itself?

One of the ruling class tricks the left tends to fall for is to evaluate all thrusts against power within its own rather rigid and purist ideas. This can lead to a self-sabotage of thrusts against power. There is still a spectrum thinking here which is flawed. Are you on my side or their side? Too often one needs to be completely to one side to justify their act against power or else it is seen as not worthy.

Rather we should live by the principle of give what you can, when you can. We should be able to evaluate actions not on their relationship to the achievement of some grandiose revolution but on the practical implications of them for the working class. This means being able to evaluate every action and being able to accurately see what its practical gains and practical flaws are as well as the choices within the actions at hand.

If we operate on the assumption that the left is simply an opposition against power while the right is simply an acceptance of it we can see how if power is sophisticated it can actually trick both sides as easily as the other. Power on the right is “honest”. One actually hears this about right-leaning politicians. They aren’t hypocrites. The right will take the side of power no matter what. So if power were to lie for the right and advocate something that takes away from their power we would see the right accidentally becoming opposed to power by promoting power’s own stance against itself. No need. The right easily accepts oppression by believing whatever awful things their leaders say.

The left appears to be harder to wrangle. But not so much. Power needs to say they are doing something beneficial for the working class. The left, being opposed to power, finds a stance that contradicts power no matter what. Therefore the left ends up opposing what is actually beneficial simply because they are stuck in the propaganda loop. Furthermore, real power that brands itself as insurrection against the rule of the time can often present a charisma too romantic for the left to deny even when this power must be questioned in an unabating manner. This coopting of anti-power by power itself must always be interrogated because the ruling class naturally has an interest in silencing the real working class skeptics, even if they must appear to listen to the working class along the way.

This is not to draw false equivalencies. The left values thinking, while the right values order. Yet by remaining on the “left” our position can and will be obscured and manipulated by the people in power. The 1% often smears and criminalizes the left. People can only believe these punishments to be just because the left can be framed in a way it is not simply because the term “left” means nothing. Without understanding the central relationship to power the left often appears as a threat to the timid and powerless because the left threatens the order of things. Therefore their punishment is often supported because people are scared of change. But no one says this, or says it clearly enough. People may be very sympathetic to the left, or even ‘convert’ to the left if it was understood that the real goal of the left is to oppose power and empower people.

The debate remains to the side of what it is. Theorists line up with conflicting theories. None of the experts can agree, they often say the opposite thing. There is a common theme. Anyone who takes the side of power is promoted, and anyone who isn’t is punished. This should give us more hints about who is right and who is wrong than the ruling class debate between what is right and left.

There also may be blind spots for the left when power itself calls itself left, and then becomes above criticism. It is in this instance the left forgets its more fundamental role of class subversion. Likewise, the tendency to dismiss degrees of variance within a system that will always oppress the poor to various degrees is a miscalculation. Study history and one will find that very often the revolutions themselves were class violence and the propaganda promoting them were ruling class. Even when revolutions do benefit the working class, the ruling class will always be fighting back under capitalism. Therefore it remains perilous to fall for any revolution as a utopian goal. The gains will always need protection and also no gains should be dismissed as the absence of revolution.

If an action helps one working class person, it should be embraced. If an action hurts one working class person, it should be opposed. With of course realistic knowledge of what possibilities are in mind and what power is doing to channel less radical ideas into our minds. But the struggle must remain material and never should it erase history or real gains for some ideology created by the ruling class.

The origins of the terms right and left, according to Wikipedia: “The terms right and left refer to political affiliations originating early in the French Revolutionary era of 1789–1799 and referred originally to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France.[1] As seen from the Speaker’s seat at the front of the Assembly, the aristocracy sat on the right (traditionally the seat of honor) and the commoners sat on the left, hence the terms right-wing politics and left-wing politics.[1]” There is basic distinction here. If it was understood by the working class there would be much better conditions for everyone on the whole.

It also can be said that the left is in part responsible for its own lack of people power. This comes with an allegiance to the power of revolution or authoritarianism that is practically quite bad for most working people even when it generally calls itself left precisely because it pushes back against the so-called neoliberal rule of the day, which is undoubtedly a complete disaster and tragedy for the planet and the working class.

The fight against power must remain constant and it must be recognized as an eternal struggle that is fundamental to the human condition. It is in this sense that the revolutionary mindset is extremely beneficial. Chris Hedges, one of the most admirable resisters of power in this country, says a phrase that at one point sounded profound but now seems to miss the mark. It went something like this: “we don’t fight fascists because we will win, we fight fascists because they are fascists.”

This phrase, while with good intentions characterizes the self-defeating nature of a fight for a materially blind goal. There are always victories. Even in times of complete chaos. There are also losses. Even in times of communist rule. What matters is the strength of utility of every living being in the present and in the future. Not utility in the reductive economic sense, but the utility of happiness in a deeply human sense, in which material gains are central to the fundamental struggle of life. Ideology can and should be used to further these gains but to do so in the most practical way we must invert our order of operations.

In the modern sense of the political spectrum we have seen how the literal spatial difference between the classes have been devoured by neoliberal capital rule. It once was acknowledged that the difference between left and right was merely a class difference. A literal separation, not an ideological one. Now billionaire liberal capitalists are called leftists and dirt poor fascists are said to be on the right.

A poor person on the right is a contradiction. A pillar to the theory of Karl Marx is that the subject is alienated from themselves under capitalism. Desire is formed and manipulated by the need to survive and the means to get there in a society that has hungry and homeless people simply because people are too greedy to give up their excess money. A poor person who sides with the rich is only on the right in the modern sense where capitalists produce propaganda at a record rate via the Internet. In a material sense, the poor person is always on the left and the rich person is always on the right. And this is the paramount material divide that creates class conflict.

To excuse the modern right and their affiliation with power is not the point. It is rather to examine the way the system itself colonizes the mind and makes siding with power an incentive. Only by expanding the material possibilities of the masses beyond survival and production of capital will a society form that checks itself in an honest way. In this way public education is at once a necessity and also a potential tool of power that too should be questioned precisely because of its potential for positive or negative influence on a mass level. The privatization, automation and even militarization of the public school system as well as the clear class differences in funding for both teachers and students should be a leading battle going forward.

Ideology makes us blind to the material reality in front of us. It makes us blind to others as the ideology becomes an extension of self. It is only by continuing breaking down the formations of the prejudice of any ideology that the subject can land at a state that is close to revolutionary truth. It is by continuously breaking down the formations of ego and hierarchy that a community stays democratic, just and equal. It is only through an incessant questioning, evaluation and confrontation of power itself that any society stays free of oppression. In this historical moment it is the 1% and the system of capital that enslaves the bodies, minds, and time of the working class that acts as the chief and central oppressor. If such a statement is left wing in the modern sense of the word then it is only by a lack of attrition from the original meaning of the term.

There should be a radical reclaiming of the original meaning of “left-wing”. As the French was first forming its new government, the term was purely a spatial class difference. Reclaiming this definition is urgent. Discovering our spatial relationship to the ruling class is pertinent when one considers the way the ruling class functions.

For example, as climate change, imperialism and globalization uproots families from their homes, space is manipulated by the ruling class through fascist immigration policies that clearly state that our country is “full” and anyone who tries to get in is welcome to die, go to prison or get their children taken away from them. The freeing of capital means trade deals such as NAFTA which can operate throughout space while leaving the working class at home with diminishing and precarious returns..The space of the home remains a colonized space where men are allowed to leave the home and women are forced to stay inside of it to bear children for the reproduction of capital and the male ego and disregard that is quintessential to this formation of capital.

Additionally, the concept of space is necessary to examine the ways that communities within the United States are separated through institutional classism and racism that creates disturbing disparities in things such as: air and water quality, access to healthy food, access to dignified public schools, and freedom from a lawless police state. Connected to this is the glaring mass incarceration state which uses space as a confine to distinguish class difference as well as make money off of the disciplining of the poor. Similarly, one sees how imperialism and colonialism create disparities in the world’s wealth and systematically employ violence, slavery and pollution in spaces the most poor and least white.

The right will continue to side with the ruling class, and often in very dangerous and destructive ways. By understanding the spatial implications of such actions we can identify the true violence by every member of the right. This may be a class expression, but that does not mean the right should be met with a class excuse. Taking the side of the ruling class will always hurt other people and this is the selfish choice the right has made and it reflects a soullessness that will not be solved through political ideological debate. Rather the right must be exposed for who it is: the individual choosing to rule over a society rather than act within a society that has concern for the people or earth around them.

The term ‘left’ then can reflect both the perils of the time and the heroics of the group if it reclaims its origin as a spatial and class relation. The American Dream collapses on itself, American Empire expands to an irrational and hidden purveyor of violence in every corner of the globe, the economy is deregulated, social programs are gutted, inequality rises, social conservatism speaks again as the fascism it always was, the propaganda consolidates into a more and more obtuse, yet also more present form, and climate change creates a chaotic and uncertain present and an unrecognizable future. Such conditions open up the possibility for us all to identify with the left side of the class spectrum that we truly occupy in the age of a global oligarchy. Such conditions also make identifying with this oligarch power through right-wing ideology all the more appealing. Both sides can be seen clearly through this new framing and politics can reclaim its significance as the struggle for material survival within the structures of capitalist class rule.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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