“AOC’s Revolutionary and Subversive Socialist Gown”
Glenn Greenwald’s latest Substack essay shows how it is possible to be bright, seemingly progressive, stupid, and stealthily reactionary all at one and the same time – a common affliction of petit-bourgeois intellectuals who’ve never had a proper Marxist education.
“While AOC’s revolutionary and subversive socialist gown generated buzz,” Greenwald writes, “the normalization of maskless elites attended to by faceless servants is grotesque.”
Greenwald is referring, of course, to the recent kerfuffle about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wearing an expensive designer gown emblazoned with the phrase “Tax the Rich” at a pricey fundraiser (the “Met Gala”) for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.
The second part of Greenwald’s statement is dead on. It is revolting to see the various ruling class narcissists he critiques in his essay – liberal financial aristocrats at the Met Gala, California elites at a recent rich folks’ Democratic Party fundraiser in California, and liberal bigshots who cavorted at the neoliberal imperialist Barack Obama’s recent birthday party – cavort in close indoor contact without masks while their servants are required to wear face coverings. With the qualifications that many servants may reasonably prefer to be masked and that servers have more random and unpredictable face-to-face interactions than do those they serve – it seems reasonable to find those images of class disparity repugnant.
But the first part of Greenwald’s statement is idiotic, as are the portions of his essay in which he defends AOC’s gown as a brilliant statement of “revolutionary socialism.” Here Greenwald has a problem common among some who have been wrongly considered leading “left” intellectuals in recent years: ignorance of what it means to be a revolutionary socialist (a reflection, I think, of having never deeply read and understood Marx and the best Marxist thought and writing.) Revolutionary socialists seek the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and commodity rule (what Marx called “the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie”). They advocate capitalism’s radical replacement by a socialist mode of production (“the dictatorship of the proletariat”) on the path to the communist abolition of class distinctions and class beliefs and the “reign of the associated producers,” animated by the spirit of “from each according to their abilities, to each to according to their needs.”
While radicals of the Left have long aligned themselves with the call for progressive taxation (the imposition of a disproportionate tax burden on those with high incomes and wealth), “tax the rich” is by no means a “revolutionary” and “socialist” demand. It’s a reformist call for enhanced equity that has long been advanced by corporate liberals seeking to preserve and stabilize the bourgeois order. Anyone familiar with elementary Marxist thought and writing and American history should know this. Progressive tax advocates Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were not fans and allies of Marx, Lenin, Rosa Luxembourg, and Eugene Debs.
But it gets worse in Greenwald’s essay. The FOX News favorite, Tucker Carlson pal, and January 6th defender Greenwald actually wrote this (are you sitting down, fellow and actual revolutionary socialists?):
“This was not, contrary to the grievances of her small-minded and jealous critics, AOC reveling in one of Louis XVI’s court festivities. Instead, she was storming the Bastille: not with weapons or fire but with the graceful designer elegance of the insurgent Marxist renegade, which made her presence all the more deceptively disruptive. While it may have appeared that Vogue’s perfectly-coiffed red-carpet correspondents and other Met luminaries were gushing with admiration and awe at her bold fashion statement, they were actually shaking with fear over what AOC had wrought. They were quivering with rage and fear, not swooning with delight as it appeared.”
Greenwald even calls AOC’s “inventive praxis” (nice Marxist-sounding lingo) a (no joke) “watershed moment for working-class politics.”
I am not making that up.
What the f*#k.
No, AOC’s Met Gala stunt was an exercise in that timeworn dysfunctional petit-bourgeois morality play of “speaking truth to power” – exactly the opposite of what the revolutionary Left has always counseled, which is to fight and generally f*#k with concentrated wealth and power. Listen to AOC’s own statement after the fundraiser gambit: “When we talk about supporting working families and when we talk about having a fair tax code, oftentimes this conversation is happening among working- and middle-class people. I think it’s time we bring all classes into the conversation.”
Does that sound remotely like an “insurgent Marxist renegade” who engaged in a “subversive act” worthy of French Revolution analogies and meant to inspire “rage and fear” in the ruling class? She wants the wealthy Few to be part of “this conversation” about the need for progressive taxation. That’s the Charles Dickens dream that George Orwell brilliantly (if too approvingly) exposed as anything but Marxist and socialist: go into the elite looking for decent, kind, and benevolent bourgeois saviors like Mr. Brownlow in Oliver Twist.
I can guarantee that AOC succeeded in having some polite and serious discussions about the need for a more progressive tax structure with Met Gala attendees. That’s because many highly educated New York City bourgeois liberals know very well that progressive taxation is not at all revolutionary and that a certain upward distribution of the tax burden could help stabilize their class system.
I like that AOC wanted to pull a stunt to highlight progressive demands. I remember her coming to Iowa City-Coralville in late 2019 to say (among other things) that she wasn’t “even sure that electoral politics is the best way” to advance progressive goals. How many times do we hear something like that from an elected Congressperson?! But how about going to get arrested protesting the eco-cidal pipeline (Enbridge Line 3) that environmentalists and Indigenous people are fighting in Minnesota? AOC could have joined the BLM protesters challenging white supremacism outside the Met Gala. There’s any number of direct popular actions she could assist and even trailblaze in the streets, public squares, factories, and oil fields beyond the preserves of the rich and powerful, where she wants to bring the parasitic ownership class into “the discussion” of how to make the peasants’ lives less onerous. (That said, any ruling class traitors who want to contribute to the building of an anti-capitalist movement are encouraged to write me as soon as possible).
We could leave it at that, with the obvious points that Greenwald doesn’t understand what it means to be a revolutionary socialist or why “tax the rich” is not a revolutionary socialist slogan. We could do that if only Greenwald’s essay didn’t show his ongoing tilt to the neofascist right by taking delight in exposing the mask hypocrisy of liberal and Democratic elites while failing to mention the horrific, anti-science, covid-fueling and pandemo-fascist anti-masking and anti-vax practices, policies, and politics of the Amerikaner Party of Trump (the Republicans). It’s difficult not to suspect that this inconsistency reflects the ugly fact that Greenwald does not share the ACLU’s position on behalf of common sense covid protections and is significantly aligned with the demented antivaxxers and anti-maskers who also make it regularly onto Fatherland News.
And then there’s this little noxious nugget buried deep in Greenwald’s essay: “all of this stopped being about The Science™ long ago — ever since months of relentless messaging that it is our moral duty to Stay At Home unless we want to sociopathically kill Grandma was replaced overnight by dictates that we had a moral duty to leave our homes to attend densely packed street protests since the racism being protested was a more severe threat to the public health than the global COVID pandemic.” Please note four subtle and pernicious things here: the revolting ageist dissing of concern for the special vulnerabilities of old people (“Grandma”); the pandemo-fascist-bootlicking dissing of consensus epidemiological and public health science (derided as “The Science™”); the sick, Tuckems-style white boy suggestion that it was hypocritically pandemicist for George Floyd protesters to take to the streets en masse in 2020 (that suggestion is bullshit since the protests were outdoors and heavily masked and did not in fact function as covid-spreaders); and the revolting implied disregard shown for the critical importance of systemic and murderous white racism as an social and political issue, consistent with his curious alignment with the white-nationalist neofascist Donald Trump and the January 6th marauders in their purported struggle with “the deep state.” (This is consistent also with how Greenwald broke into the public eye many years ago – as the lawyer for Illinois Nazi leader Matt Hale.)
(Recently a prominent left author told me they couldn’t understand “why the left has turned on Glenn.” I like this author and didn’t know what to say. Greenwald broke on through to the wrong side during the Trump years, so clouded by his understandable contempt for liberal and Democratic hypocrisy, corporatism, and imperialism as to become a willing accomplice of the white nationalist right. There is no chance that his fake-left and rightward shift “will pass,” a hope expressed by his old friend Noam Chomsky. He’s a dead man walking on the left, or what’s left of the left, for some very good reasons – an endlessly self-promoting FOX News legitimizing “libertarian” who jumps in bed with the fascist right while claiming to like revolutionary socialists even while he has no idea what a revolutionary socialist is all about.
What the f*#k.
The Pandemofascist Humiliation and Terrorization of the Professoriate at the University of Iowa
Speaking of pandemo-fascism and white right, local school districts in Iowa have recently been given a respite by a US District Court judge who ruled that their right-wing Amerikaner state’s ban on requiring masks in public schools is an unconstitutional assault on the civil and educational rights of students with disabilities. School boards in Des Moines, Iowa City, and other Iowa cities and towns quickly ordered mandates, an obvious and elementary effort to contain the deadly Delta variant. The state’s Nazi Lite governor “Covid Kim” Reynolds has of course appealed the decision, claiming that it violates the holy personal liberties of anti-science parents and their offspring – their right, as “Killer Kim” would never say, to spread a deadly disease with horrific “long haul” consequences yet to be thoroughly understood by medical researchers.
Good for the Des Moines and Iowa City public schools. Too bad public “higher education” can’t follow suit in Iowa. Unlike its bill banning honest discussion of white systemic racism by teachers in public education, the Republican state government’s anti-mask legislation never covered Iowa’s public universities, including the one based in Iowa City – the University of Iowa. The state Board of Regents controlling those institutions is free to do the elementarily right, science-recommended thing by requiring masking, distancing, and vaccines for students and staff. Thanks to the deadly political culture of this noxious right-wing state (which hatched the disgraced Congressman Steven “Someone Else’s Babies” King), however, the University of Iowa is in the only Big Ten University without a mask mandate. A vaccine mandate is unthinkable in this Covid Sanctuary State, an upper Midwestern branch of the mostly southern Covid Confederacy
But it’s worse than all that. In a remarkable interview published in the most recent issue of The New Yorker, University of Iowa geography and sustainability professor Silvia Secchi explains what it’s like to teach at a university where professors are not permitted to discuss students’ vaccination status, to arrange seating in accord with mask usage, or to offer any “tangible incentives” for wearing masks.
New Yorker: What classes are you teaching now, and what safety protocols are there in those classes?
Dr. Secchi: At the moment, I am teaching two classes. One has four hundred students, and I’m responsible for the lecture part, which is online, but I’m also responsible for coordinating the discussion sections. There are seventeen of them, with six teaching assistants, and they’re all face to face. And then I also teach a class that has about fifty-five students, which is also face to face.
In terms of the safety protocols, we don’t have any mask or vaccine mandates. We also are really limited in our online options if something happens—so if I get covid and I have to quarantine, I can only teach online for one or two classes. If I want to keep teaching online, I have to have somebody in the classroom with the students while I Zoom from my home, essentially to proctor. So we have another person in my classroom just to make sure the students are there, potentially exposing another person.
New Yorker: You’re allowed to tell people what the school’s recommendations are and say that you support those guidelines, but without requiring them. Is that accurate? And are you allowed to ask any questions of your students?
Dr. Secchi: No, we are not allowed to ask any questions regarding their covid vaccination status, why they are or are not wearing masks. So everything is geared toward protecting their feelings. I would say it goes beyond confidentiality. We don’t have equivalent measures to protect the health and feelings of those who decide they want to be masked, who are vaccinated, and who may feel uncomfortable in a classroom where their classmates are not.
New Yorker: …for anyone who’s ever been in school, your professor or your teacher usually has a fair amount of leeway in what they tell you to do, whether it’s not to put your feet up on the desk or not to show up without a shirt on, or not to interrupt people. The idea that a teacher should have some control over his or her own classroom is generally, I think, pretty universally agreed upon.
Dr. Secchi: We cannot even ask for them to wear masks during office hours, in our own offices. That’s where we’re at. And what you’re pointing out, too, is how this is actually really troubling to me as an instructor because I feel like my agency is being restricted, in ways that negatively impact my pedagogy in ways that go beyond covid.
I mean that I am being forced to behave in ways that are contrary to the best science and the best public-health advice. And I cannot even discuss this with my students. My students and I talk about power and power structures and how progress is impeded by powerful interests who prefer to have things the way they are, when we talk about climate change. And I feel the same thing is happening to us now with classrooms, but I am being gagged and I cannot discuss this with my students.
One might well ask why Secchi and other University of Iowa professors would agree to work under these insane, epidemiologically terrorist circumstances. What stops them from walking out en masse? Beyond academics’ general predisposition towards cowardice and surrender, there’s the Republikaner state legislature and governor’s largely unspoken but well understood threat to strip public university faculties of tenure. It’s a rare tenured academic who is going to put their remarkably privileged job status – lifetime job, income, and benefits security – at risk to defend public health and common good. Economic terrorism can be wielded against the petit-bourgeois professional class as well as against the immigrant packinghouse workers #KillerKim forced back into the state’s disease-ridden slaughterhouses early in the pandemic.