The Lame Left: Eight Afflictions*

Photograph Source: US Senate – Public Domain

*This is a selection from a larger document available on my Website – a document constructed from the first three parts of a five-part series originally published on The Paul Street Report between late January and early March of this year: “The Lame Left: Seventeen Afflictions.”

Part One, January 29, 2023

Call me an American revolutionary Marxist, socialist, and/ or communist. Just  don’t tell me I’m “on the [US-American] left.” Part of the problem here is that the dominant US media politics culture has let the neo-McCarthyite right dilute the term “the left” so far as to mean anything from hot yoga and wind farms to Madonna, drag queen story times, M&M mascots without high heels, organic vegetables, academia, the Brookings Institution, the AFL-CIO, and the dismal, dollar-drenched corporate-imperialist Democratic Party. The term has been watered down almost beyond recognition.

At the same time and more to the central point of this essay, which will continue through at least next week,  most of what can legitimately be said to constitute “the left” in the United States today is deeply dysfunctional. Thanks to two intimately related deficits — the lack of any serious notion of a revolutionary societal alternative to capitalism-imperialism and the absence of a properly scientific, evidence-based theory of how to understand and change history in a desirable fashion — the US-American left(s) is(are) stuck in a disastrous cycle of failure reflecting a doomed project: trying to achieve meaningful human liberation within their country’s dominant,  deeply conservative social and political institutions, forsaking what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels knew to be the proper socialist goal: “the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large.”

The alternative to such radical and systemic change, Marx and Engels wrote in 1848, is “the common ruin of all.”  Those words feel haunting 175 years later, in a time when it is now clear that we must — as I argued in my last Paul Street Report — overthrow and transcend capitalism and radically replace it with socialism before it tips humanity into a terminal environmental catastrophe and/or nuclear war.

Part One, The Paul Street Report (TPSR), 1.26.2023

In this and the next four Paul Street Reports I will go through 17 different pathologies on the US left, such as it is: sheep-dogging electoralism and parliamentary cretinism; revisionist economism and trade unionism; “woke” hyper-identitarianism; dependence on foundations; sentimental standpoint “class truth” proletarianism; geopolitical neo-campism; neo-Strasserite “pink-brown” Trumpenleftism; deranged conspiratorialism; anarchism; mutual-aid-ism/direct-service-ism, localism, single-issue-ism; pacifism; academicism; pessimism; retreat to self-ism; (and last but not least) anti-communism.  Many of these afflictions overlap and mutually reinforce each other, making up a cumulative simultaneous equations system of defeat and surrender.

1. Sheep-Dogging Left Electoralism, Parliamentary Cretinism, and Mass Demoralization

One symptomatic feature of US left failure is the remarkably durable symptom of left electoralism and  —  to use an on old but still-relevant Bolshevik term —  parliamentary cretinism. Even now, nearly half a century into the full “neoliberal” capitalist takeover of US politics and policy, this pathology is embraced and advanced by self-declared progressives and “democratic socialists”  who seem incapable of understanding the need for radical and revolutionary movements beneath and beyond the killing confines of the nation’s rigidly time-staggered big money candidate-centered major ruling class party electoral politics. This left tendency functions as a sheep dog or Judas Goat for the capitalists, herding masses into the US electoral slaughterhouse – a right-tilted minority rule regime that violates the elementary democratic principle of one person, one vote on multiple levels (here is one of my many primers on the deadening nothingness of constitutional bourgeois democracy, US-American-style).  Never mind the US-American system’s openly anti-democratic presidential Electoral College, its absurdly powerful and lifetime-appointed Supreme Court, its brazenly plutocratic campaign finance rules and corporate media, its rampant voter suppression and racist disenfranchisement, its pervasive and revanchist gerrymandering of legislative districts, its ridiculously powerful and lethally malapportioned US Senate (which vastly overrepresents the nation’s most reactionary regions and states), and its deeply reactionary states’ rights tradition.

This Dem-captive left politics can be quite shameless. The nation’s leading “democratic socialist” journal, Jacobin – named after 18th Century bourgeois French revolutionaries (wouldn’t a socialist journal be named Communard or at least Sans Culotte?) – argues that “the Left” won last November’s mid-term elections, during which the Republi-fascist Party took back majority control of the US House of Representatives after surpassing the Democrats by three million votes in the national popular House vote. Jacobin applauds as “left” triumphs the mid-term victories of Democratic candidates who supported fracking, increased imperial war spending, and increased funding of the nation’s massive racist police state. Many if not most Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapters refused to denounce the Biden Democrats’ collaboration with the Republicans in blocking a recently threatened and overdue strike by badly overworked rail workers seeking paid time off to recover a measure of mental and physical health.

Why stoop so low? Because the purported project of building “socialism” (milquetoast semi-social democracy at “left”-most) within the dismal, dollar-drenched, and demobilizing Democratic Party requires lowering peoples’ sights far downward. It’s pathetic and part of an old story: the more “progressives” try to make the corporate Democratic Party become like them, the more they themselves become like the corporate Democrats. 

The perverse idiosyncrasies of US American elections, party and governance system (still tethered an 18th Century slaveowners’ Constitution, remarkably enough) aside, serious radicals take an unflinching look at the harsh class-rule limits of electoral democracy under really existing capitalism – what Marxists have long called bourgeois democracy. As the great Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm noted in his magisterial volume, The Age of Capital, “the global triumph of capitalism” meant “the triumph of a society” based not at all on popular sovereignty but rather on “buying everything (including labor) in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest.” The social and political formations joined to that kind of soulless social order — one in which every noble sentiment and impulse is “drowned in the icy waters of egotistical calculation” (Marx and Engels, 1848) — was (and remains) a society where (in Hobsbawm’s words) “participation in politics [on the part] of the common people” takes place only “within such limits as would guarantee the bourgeois social order and avoid the risk of its overthrow.

One terrible consequence of the longtime Judas-Goating habit of leftish groups like Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) and DSA is the demoralization of the masses that follow the elections that leftists sold to them as great opportunities for progressive change.  The money-soaked elections and their predictably dismal outcomes become regular discouraging rituals of popular fecklessness. This is one of the underestimated hazards of buying strongly — as many left-identified folk do (one especially dogged and sad example is progressive filmmaker Michael Moore) — into the masters’ definition of the quadrennial and biennial big money, corporate-crafted mass-marketed, big media, candidate-centered “electoral extravaganzas” (Noam Chomsky’s term) as democratic “politics,” the only democratic politics that matter.  This pitifully constricted definition of relevant political engagement deletes a critical historical fact: the biggest progressive changes won by popular forces in the US have always been about mass social movements – about who’s sitting in the streets, workplaces, schools, and public squares, not just who’s sitting in the White House and other elective offices.

The ballot-fetishizing left electoralist affliction – morbid attachment to the “coffin of class consciousness” (the late Marxist historian Alan Dawley’s phrase) that is the US ballot box – is not limited to those who sheepdog and Judas Goat for the Democrats. US Green Party and other third- or fourth-party left activists often place absurd levels of undue emphasis on what one does or doesn’t do in the voting booth, as if participation in the capitalist-imperialist US electoral regime (which renders third parties powerless beyond occasional spoiler roles) is the focal point of popular struggle. They may not herd sheep for the Dems but they are still dogging for the bourgeois  “Election Madness.”

2. Economistic and Trade Unionist Revisionism

Another venerable and remarkably durable non- and anti-revolutionary/revisionist left symptom is economistic class reductionist trade unionism, focused on winning small wage, salary, job, and benefit victories that briefly get some ordinary working people a bit more of the imperialist system’s spoils. Revisionist “socialists” in the trade unionist tradition display little if any elementarily radical interest in confronting and replacing the soulless and exterminist capitalist-imperialist system that is ruining (and perhaps ending) life on Earth. “Progressives” mired in the economistic collective bargaining mode seem to have the radical “change we need” confused with occasional union representation and labor contract triumphs for small pockets of employees. They typically combine this narrow and conservative economism with national chauvinism and a class reductionist politics that fails to grant proper seriousness to problems of racism, sexism, nativism, imperialism, eco-cide and fascism, much less the related catastrophic chaos and anarchy of capitalism, which is actively cancelling livable ecology (and thus a decent human future) and commonly eliminates the very jobs from which organized labor tries to extract the membership dues that pay for its mis-“leadership’s” salaries.

This “left” embodies what Lenin rightly criticized as the narrow mindset of the “trade union secretary,” who fights for material crumbs at the masters’ table instead of for the revolutionary overturning of that table. As Lenin argued, the proper goal of principled socialist activism regarding the working class isn’t merely the attainment of more for some sections the proletariat under capitalism-imperialism but rather the radical enlistment of the working class as “tribunes of the people” — all the people — in the many-sided struggle against all oppression: women’s oppression, racist oppression, religious oppression, imperial oppression, and capitalist exploitation and parasitism, deeply and globally understood.

There’s considerable ironic overlap between the first two left afflictions, leading to the spectacle of trade-unionist “democratic socialists” lining up behind a president and party (Joe “Sleeping Car” Biden and the Democrats) who recently and predictably joined with Republicans in pre-emptively breaking an overdue national rail strike and in slashing benefits for the working poor – this while the two capitalist parties signed off on a giant, record-setting “defense” (Empire) budget that steals from the working class to provide lethal corporate welfare for high-tech war-production firms that are raking in super-profits from the inter-imperialist US-Russia proxy war in Ukraine.

Of course it’s better to work in a union shop than a non-union one, but US collective bargaining agreements and organized labor have long tended to attach workers and union officials to the parasitic and catastrophic capitalist-imperialist order while helping employers codify existing hierarchical job and wage and structures resulting from the alienating, oppressive, and exploitative capitalist division of labor.  They also tend to focus union members only on what can be won for themselves in their jobs and industries instead of what needs to be won for the proletariat as a whole – health care for a certain group of autoworkers (for example) instead of socialized medicine and health care as a human right for all.

3. “It Feels Like a [Right-Wing] Op”: Hyper-Identitarian Wokester Call-Out Culture

More specifically symptomatic of the neoliberal era than the two previous afflictions (but not without ancient foundations)is the profoundly anti-revolutionary left pathology of wokester left identitarianism. An army of hyper-“woke” lefties are plagued by the crippling mental infirmity of “standpoint epistemology.” Acting something like the reverse negative image of the white Christian nationalist neofascists with whom “the Trumpenleft” (to be discussed in my next installment) has perversely bedded down, they bestow highly exaggerated and even outrageous intellectual and political privilege on one’s skin color and/or gender and/or sexual identity and/or ethnicity over and against scientific investigation and objectivity. Left wokesters’ left-ness is all about who you are, with the who being all about your race and/or gender and/or sexual identity instead of what intellectual and political work you’ve done and how you propose to work with others to liberate humanity from oppression. They come from the subjective and experiential standpoint of identity defined these ways rather than from the standpoint of science and objectivity. Their “standpoint” is one of subjective identity and experience rather than objective reality and evidence.

Left woketarians are invested in cancel culture, which is a real and obstructionist thing even if the neofascist white Christian nationalist right exploits and distorts that pathology for revanchist purposes.  Confusing victimization with moral and intellectual attainment and political vision, the hyper-identitarian left also promotes an “Oppression Olympics” mindset that seeks to determine who are the most truly oppressed people of all instead of how to build a movement against to defeat all oppression. And left identitarian wokesters are often plagued by an extreme individualism so obsessively focused on their own (or their designated victim groups’) oppression and personal and small groups experience that they lose all sight of the broader historical and societal contexts of class rule and empire and of racism and sexism and LGBT-bashing deeply understood in relation to the underlying madness, menace, and modes of capitalism-imperialism.

A long report by Ryan Grim in the Intercept last June showed how the nation’s liberal and progressive nonprofit/NGO sector had over recent years become so crippled by constant, self-cancelling identitarian “call-outs” and cultural wars as to be incapable of meaningful activism on their issues: abortion rights, civil liberties, livable ecology, and more. By Grim’s grim account:

“[An NGO] leader said the strife has become so destructive that it feels like an op. ‘I’m not saying it’s a right-wing plot, because we are incredibly good at doing ourselves in, but — if you tried — you couldn’t conceive of a better right-wing plot to paralyze progressive leaders by catalyzing the existing culture where internal turmoil and microcampaigns are mistaken for strategic advancement of social impact for the millions of people depending on these organizations to stave off the crushing injustices coming our way,’ said another longtime organization head. ‘Progressive leaders cannot do anything but fight inside the orgs, thereby rendering the orgs completely toothless for the external battles in play. … Everyone is scared, and fear creates the inaction that the right wing needs to succeed in cementing a deeply unpopular agenda.’” (emphasis added).

The bitter “me, me, mine and my identity” sniping is so extreme and widespread that Bernie Sanders had to tell his lieutenants not to hire any “activists” for his 2020 presidential campaign.  Sanders knew he couldn’t trust people from the non-profit “activist” world not to turn his campaign’s organization away from its external political goal of winning the Democratic presidential nomination and into endless internal factionalism over real and alleged incidents of racial, gender, ethnic, generational, and sexual orientation bias.

The hyper-woke bourgeois-identitarian call-out culture is a remarkably nasty affliction which the present writer has seen rear its paralyzing head again and again in left movements (and also in higher education).  Actually radical activists are reluctant to confront it head-on for fear of being reflexively accused of embracing vicious right-wing narratives.  (Here I am looking at the problem not from the racist-sexist-LGBT-bashing right but rather from a revolutionary Marxist perspective that opposes all forms of oppression including sexism, racism, nativism, homophobia and trans-hate – a perspective that takes very seriously racial, gender, and sexual oppression while pointing out that none of those and other oppressions will ever be overcome under the class dictatorship of capital, that is under capitalism-imperialism.)

Left wokesters are often played by bourgeois electoral identity politics. They get all too easily co-opted into the US major capitalist party candidate-centered election madness and all too easily soothed by the narcotic of incremental reformism (parliamentary cretinism) by the strategic placement of bourgeois non-white, female, and gay “faces in high places” – elite politicos who help the nation’s predominantly white and male ruling class deceptively re-brand their capitalist-imperialist order as “diverse,” “tolerant,” and “multi-cultural.”  Barack Obama (Black with a Muslim-sounding name), Hillary Clinton (female), Kamala Harris (Black and female), Pete Buttigieg (gay), Nancy Pelosi (female), and Tammy Baldwin (female and gay) are some of the neoliberal figures left identitarians have been excessively prone to applaud simply because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation. It’s sad to watch left-identified people recurrently grant support to ruling class politicians and officials on the basis of the politicos’ skin color, gender, and/or sexual identity (as well as their partisan/Democratic status). Pelosi, Butiggieg, Harris, Obama, Amy Klobuchar, and a vast swath of non-male, nonwhite and (in some cases) non-straight Democratic “leaders” are dedicated agents of and believers in the system that is literally ending life on Earth: capitalism-imperialism.

4. Foundation Dependence

The US-American nonprofit/NGO “activist” left is also and relatedly crippled by its dependence on bourgeois foundations. Much of what passes for a left here gets critical and core funding from corporate foundations who, as Grim writes, “aren’t accountable to the public for failing to accomplish anything, as long as the foundation flows continue.” Big foundations and grant-funded nonprofits don’t have to report to the people whose interests they claim to represent. They report to people with a ton of money. Gosh, what could go wrong with that – a left answerable not to the masses it claims to serve but rather to concentrated wealth in the savagely unequal United States? And Grim’s investigation discovered that foundations often function as powerful promoters of the hyper-identitarian bourgeois call-out culture that renders so many NGOs ineffective in the face of right-wing onslaught.

Part Two, February 2, 2023

5.  Proletarian Standpoint/”Class Truth”

There’s a workerite version of the standpoint and identitarian affliction among some left-identified folk. Call it proletarianism. It is spread by people who talk endlessly on supposed behalf of “the working class.” In proletarianists’ “class truth” chatter, “the working class” wants this and “the working class” thinks that, this is “good for the working class,” and that is “bad for the working class,” and so on, on and on. One’s leftness is all about the extent of one’s alignment with “the working class”/“the proletariat.”

Sentimentalist proletarianists like to make snide comments against radicals not born into working-class households, as if someone can’t seriously champion socialism if her father is a heart surgeon or her mother a professor. It’s a different, more traditionally left way of believing in what Bertrand Russell once mockingly called “the superior virtue of the oppressed.” So much for Karl Marx (son of a successful lawyer), Frederick Engels (son of a wealthy German and British industrialist), Lenin (the son of a schoolteacher and school inspector), Leon Trotsky (son of a wealthy Jewish family in Ukraine), Che Guevara (the son of an upper class Argentine family), Fidel Castro (the son of a prosperous Cuban sugar cane farmer),  Mao (the son of an affluent farmer and grain dealer), and Lin Biao (son of a prosperous merchant family).  Each of those great revolutionaries matched Marx and Engels’1848 observation that “Just as, at an earlier period, a section of the nobility went over the bourgeoisie, so now a portion of the bourgeoisie [here we might add petit-bourgeoisie and professional class – P.S.] goes over to the proletariat, and in particular, a portion of the bourgeois ideologists, who have raised themselves to the level of comprehending theoretically the historical movement as a whole.”)

Left proletarian romanticizers often exaggerate their own proletarian credentials. If they’ve ever actually been employed for any considerable period alongside real world proletarians in a mine, mill, cannery, or factory or in transport or as custodians (I’ve got wage-labor background in four of those categories and narrowly escaped major injury if not death in two of them – hooray for me!), they might be less prone to proletarian sentimentality.

Champions of proletarian identity and standpoint – working “class truth” (to use Bob Avakian’s characterization of the problem) – often talk about the American working class in woefully outdated terms, as if:  the working class today is the giant industrial mass production workforce of earlier times; the working class today doesn’t contain numerous severe internal segmentations (see this essay I published years ago on [among other things] working-class fragmentation in the neoliberal age); US capital didn’t start exporting production to low-wage regions and nations across the parasitic world capitalist system many decades ago.

Whatever their true class background, standpoint “class truth” proletarianists do the masses no favor by trying to deprive them of input and activism from people whose relative privilege has given them time and other resources to develop revolutionary understandings rooted in a scientific approach to history and society. Extreme positional and standpoint obsession with “the working class” gets in the way of understanding socialist revolution as something required for the liberation of all humanity, both within and outside the proletariat – and as something that requires the participation of people from all class backgrounds.  What makes the proletariat a potentially revolutionary class is not some special wisdom inherent in the experiential and subjective positionality of proletarians but rather the wage-earning’s population’s objective position as the critical, natural, and exploited, historical-material source of capitalist surplus value and (thus) profit. Socialist revolutionaries of any and all class backgrounds work to enlist and inspire proletarians to use their strategic relationships to production and value creation to free homo sapiens from all oppression – wage labor most certainly included – and from the broader many sided and eco-cidal anarchy of capital within and beyond the workplace.

6. Geopolitical neo-Campism

The Putin Left, Absurd as that Should Sound

In the long and tragic absence of revolutionary socialist states and relevant national and international communist movements nearly half a century after the capitalist road was taken in formerly Maoist China, some left USAers  have grasped at the noxious straws of geopolitical neo-campism. A strange and poisonous left attachment to the at once neoliberal and neo-fascist regime atop post-Soviet Russia is promoted by left-identified  people who confuse and/or cynically conflate opposition to the arch-criminal US-American Empire with embrace and defense of the imperialist butcher and authoritarian, anti-Marxist tyrant Vladimir Putin. This  tendency’s adherents either actually think or cynically claim to believe that there is only one blood-soaked imperialist power on the planet – the United States. Making Orwell blush, they back the blood-soaked criminal Putin’s mass-murderous and openly imperial war on Ukraine in the name of anti-imperialism and “anti-war” politics.  Unwittingly, perhaps (though certainly not in all cases), they embrace the Russian imperialism that was explicitly articulated in the February 2022 speech in which Putin announced his “special military operation” – an address in which he attacked the great Russian revolutionary anti-imperialist Vladimir Lenin for supporting Ukrainians’ right to national self-determination.

As the brutal anti-communist gay- and trans-bashing uber-oligarch Putin sends tens of thousands of disproportionately poor Russian conscripts to horrible deaths like so much cannon fodder in Ukraine, as he locks up untold thousands of peaceful Russian antiwar protesters, the fake antiwar Putin left doesn’t call for a new Russian socialist and anti-imperialist revolution. It doesn’t reach out to antiwar groups and people in Russia. No, pseudo-radical Kremlin cheerleaders at places like GrayzoneMint Press, and Consortium News (to mention just three of the most decrepit outlets of this “left” cancer) double and triple down on the Putin lie that Ukraine is a “Nazi” regime – curious justification for Russian forces’ Nazi-like slaughter, torture, and rape of ordinary Ukrainians.

The gangster Putin currently has masses of propagandized Russians preposterously believing that Ukraine started the war by attacking Russia with “LGBT ideology.” He will soon sign (or has already signed) a measure granting Russian soldiers, mercenaries, and allies full immunity for any crimes they commit in carrying out the Russian imperialist assault on Ukraine. The Putin left is okay with all this even if it sometimes pretends otherwise.  Bring up Putin’s criminality in Ukraine (and elsewhere) from a revolutionary socialist, internationalist, and anti-imperialist perspective – a perspective that is witheringly and thoroughly critical of US/NATO imperialism and provocation within and beyond Eastern Europe – and the Putin left will reflexively and absurdly accuse you of supporting US/NATO imperialism and of unhinged “Russophobia.” Masters of deflective what about-ism, they pretend to justify Russian violations of international and human rights law (when they are not busy denying those crimes) by bringing up something that every serious radical already knows – that the criminal US Empire has long evaded and trashed the very same law. Their response to radical internationalists (and others) who denounce Russia’s  war crimes has commonly been to literally deny those epic transgressions (for example, to claim that the hideous Bucha massacre was Western “fake news”) or to claim that Russian offenses are somehow justified by Washington’s long and horrific criminal record. When you question this childish and reflexive what-about-ism, the Putin left accuses you of being allied with US-NATO imperialism, no matter how radically  critical you have always been and still are regarding US-NATO imperialism (please see these two publications of mine, just a small portion of my publications on and very much against US, NATO, and Western imperialism: Paul Street, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power [2010]; Paul Street, “the World Will Not Mourn the Decline of US Hegemony,” Common Dreams,  February 22, 2018. )

Moronically enough, the Putin left seems to have the fascistic uber-oligarch, nuke-mongering war criminal Putin and the imperial butchery of the Russian mercenary Wagner Group confused with Ho Chi Minh and the National Liberation Front. Worse, it appears to have  dropped or never understood elementary revolutionary socialist internationalism and class analysis. It has opted instead for geopolitical and “multi-polar” neo-campist alliance with any state on the wrong side of Washington’s imperial agenda.

Caveat: F-Zelensky Too, or Fight Capitalism, Not its Wars 

Revolutionary Marxist criticism of the ridiculous and dodgy Putin left should not be taken to mean support for the US-NATO proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Left-identified folks who are jubilant over the recent German and US decision to send more advanced tanks to Zelensky’s military are engaging in their own variant of heedless tankie-ness.  There’s no call for jumping in bed with Western imperialism here. While Putin’s invasion is unjustified, it was not unprovoked by the US led-West. It could perhaps have been avoided had Washington said clearly that it had no intention of incorporating Ukraine into NATO.  The invasion has clearly been welcomed by the Biden administration as an opportunity to weaken a leading geopolitical rival – Russia – by saddling Moscow with a “Vietnam” on its own borders (the same sentiment was behind US provocation of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s). The war in Ukraine is a great profit-making windfall for US arms-makers and oil and gas exporters. Uncle Sam, whose blood-soaked Empire (replete with more than 800 bases in more than 80 countries and accounting to 40 percent of global military spending) and crimes (No Gun Ri, Operation Tiger Force, “many My Lais,” the Highway of Death, Fallujah, Nissour Square, Guantanamo Boy, Bagram Air Force base, the destruction of Libya, Bola Boluk,  the direct and indirect invasion, domination, and torture of dozens of Third World countries…the list gone on and on and on) dwarf those of Russia, has been crying about Ukraine all the way to the bank.  Biden has no more regard for Ukrainian lives than the psychopath in the Kremlin.

Biden and his commanders are perfectly content to see masses of ordinary Ukrainians die in a prolonged war. As combined Ukrainian and Russian civilian and soldier deaths run into the many tens of thousands if not past a hundred thousand by now, Washington and US media sell the Ukraine War as a grand historic battle between “democracy,” represented by Ukraine, and “autocracy,” represented by Russia.  This is absurd. The notoriously corrupt Zelensky government represents oligarchs and suppresses trade unions and left parties. The US itself is an open corporate and financial plutocracy wrapped in the deceptive flag of unmentionably bourgeois democracy – a late bourgeois republic still suffering under an 18th Century slaveowners’ charter and now teetering on the edge of authoritarian/fascist consolidation. The United States has long supported and still supports despotic regimes — Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, all US client states, are good examples today —  that  it considers to be on its economic and geopolitical side in the world capitalist system.

To make the Ukraine War even more problematic, to say the least, it raises the specter of World War III.  The conflict dramatically elevates the very real threat of thermonuclear war, with Putin repeatedly declaring his willingness to use nuclear weapons in existential defense of Mother Russia while the US and its partners send ever more lethal weaponry into battlefields located on Russia’s vast, repeatedly West-invaded southwestern underbelly. Imagine an imperial reversal, with Russian and Chinese weapons being used by soldiers fighting the US in Canada and/or Mexico. Would Washington be brandishing nuclear weapons in such a situation? Do bears defecate in forested areas?.

Gosh, whatever could go wrong?

Thanks to how the Ukraine War has jacked up the menace of global Nuclear Winter while accelerating the eco-exterminist extraction and burning of fossil fuels, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has recently placed its Doomsday Clock at the most extreme level of peril in history: 90 seconds to Midnight.

Hello? Those parts of the left who have gone all in with Zelensky – this includes some self-described radical socialists (surprisingly enough to this writer) along with the standard cruise-missile Democratic Party liberals and progressives – are playing with fire, putting 8 billion human beings at risk for the sake (they seem to think) of 44 million Ukrainians.

The war in the Ukraine is a lethal nightmare that must be ended as soon as possible, something that requires some undeserved concessions to the monstrous Putin. Meanwhile hundreds of millions of people across the global South deserve and require assistance in the struggle for liberation from oppression. When do we arm the Palestinians? Any US military support coming for the masses fighting a right-wing coup in Peru and living under dictatorships and autocracy in Egypt and the Saudi kingdom? Of course not: the US remains aligned with reactionary forces in these nations and around much of the world, no small part of why it has not found much support for its embrace of the Zelensky government in the global South? When do we the people take over the US Empire and use it to liberate the imperially super-exploited peoples in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere in Africa, where US and European imperialism has provided openings for Chinese and Russian imperialism?

An old socialist slogan seems relevant here: Fight the rich, not their wars. It’s up to the Russian people to organize to overthrow the parasitic, exploitative, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and war-mongering rulers of their own country. It’s up to the US-American people to organize to overthrow the parasitic, exploitative, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and war-mongering rulers of their own country. It up to the Ukrainian people to organize to overthrow the parasitic, exploitative, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and war-mongering rulers of their own country.  It’s up to the people of the world to organize, with as much international coordination as possible (socialist revolutions typically take place in one nation at a time — the all-at-once dreams of 1917-1919 are a Trotskyist fantasy that Lenin understandably but only briefly shared ) to overthrow the parasitic, exploitative, racist, sexist, eco-cidal and war-mongering world capitalist system.

China Syndrome

Also stupid and/or cynical is some US leftists’ neo-campist identification with the fake-communist state-capitalist post-Mao Chinese state. Sharing the Putin left’s mistake of thinking – or pretending to think – that there is only one relevant capitalist-imperialist power on Earth (the United States), they absurdly portray the  counterrevolutionary Deng Xiao Ping – Xi Jinping regime (1976-present) as an example of anti-imperialist “industrial socialism” (actual language from the Marxist geopolitics guru Michael Hudson).  Some of these China-touting leftists should apply for jobs in China’s sprawling industrial hinterland, where workers driven to despair and suicide by their alienating and exploited work lives.  Post-Mao China is so “socialist” that these viciously oppressed workers are repressively policed by a hyper-authoritarian state tasked with keeping the Chinese proletariat producing oceans of surplus value for national and global corporations for whom the Chinese revolution has been ironically turned into an historically unprecedented pooling of cheap labor power — a disastrous and remarkable windfall for the eco-cidal world capitalist system. The restoration of capitalist social and production relations in post-Mao China — insidiously “justified” by supposedly communist state officials under the bourgeois counterrevolutionary Deng Xiaoping’s insipid pronunciation that “to get rich is glorious” — has of course fueled skyrocketing class inequality inside “communist” China over the last four decades

Raise the absurdity of calling contemporary China a model of anti-imperialist socialism and left China campists will accuse you of supporting US imperialism – this no matter how witheringly critical you are of US imperialism. How dare you suggest that noxious, authoritarian and eco-cidal, labor-exploiting capitalism-imperialism can be found anywhere but in the United States?

Left Campism Was Bad Enough Before Capitalism Was Fully Restored in Russia and China – Now It’s Truly Insane

Western left campism was problematic when it was over-attached to Joe Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s (genuinely revolutionary-communist) China, the Third World nationalist Hanoi government, and the Soviet-aligned Castro regime. Far too many post-1917 Western leftists came to badly over-identify the cause of socialist revolution with a supine posture towards the Soviet Union (such cringing subordination helped create the almost comically anti-revolutionary revisionism practiced by the US “Communist” Party, which once absurdly claimed that “Communism is 20th Century Americanism”).  Certain formerly Maoist intellectuals and activists couldn’t break their attachment to the line from Beijing even after Chinese capitalist-road counterrevolutionaries overthrew Maoism and reintegrated China into the world capitalist nightmare, with disastrous consequences.

Still, previous officially socialist and Marxist state recipients of often excessive Western left love and obedience had some legitimate anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist credentials and accomplishments. It is beyond bizarre and quite disturbing to see the campist affliction extended to a fascistic and war-criminalized capitalist oligarchy like Putin’s Russia and to a chilling state-capitalist, arch-authoritarian, and counter-revolutionary behemoth like the so-called People’s Republic of China.

Putin is arguably the leading hero and agent of the resurgent fascist right in the world today. It’s not for nothing that white supremacist neofascists across Europe and the United States identify with him.

Leftists in this strange post-Cold War neo-tankie space (left-identified folks oddly attached to Russia and China long after both countries transitioned to capitalism-imperialism and with the former state helping leading global fascism) garner faux-radical street cred with some US lefties because they have aligned themselves with official state enemies and rivals of the US Empire.  That might seem “badass” and bold, radical even, but it is actually a deeply conservative and anti-revolutionary surrender to bourgeois rule and the nightmare of capitalism-imperialism, with all its attendant oppressions.  The dream of a unipolar global Pax Americana was always just that – a dream, an unachievable dream lodged in the power-mad minds of Washington planners. A more multi-polar world capitalist system is still very much a world system wired to destroy life on Earth via environmental ruin, war, pandemicide and authoritarianism/fascism.  Never confuse the anarchies of capital and the capitalist world state system with the forward march of socialism.

Part Three, February 9, 2023

7. “A Blanket Pass” to the Right: The Pink-Brown Trumpenleft

Also specific to the neoliberal and post-Soviet era (like the Putin Left and the hyper-identitarian wokester Left) and also (like the Putin Left) predominantly white and male is the curious rise within the USA of a pink-brown Trumpenleft, heavily overlapped with the Putin left and containing an indeterminate number of mostly white and male ex-Bernie Sandernistas (from pathologies 1 and 2). This bizarre, weirdly soft neo-Strasser-ite tendency (Gregor and Otto Strasser tried to uphold a workerist and socialist tendency within the capitalist fascist German Nazi Party) is linked to a reptilian handful of grifters including (in descending IQ order) frequent Tucker “Goebbels” Carlson Fatherland News guest Glenn Greenwald; Krystal Ball (it may be unfair to include her but maybe not); Max Blumenthal; Caitlin Johnstone; the late Diana Johnstone (who once wrote me that climate change has nothing to do with capitalism and likens Marine Le Pen’s fascist National Front to the Vietnamese national liberation movement);  the comical Boogaloo Bois fan and Carlson friend  Jimmy Dore; People’s Party activist Nick Brana.

I first coined the term “Trumpenleft” (adapted from the brilliant CounterPuncher Eric Draitser’s mocking phrases “Trump Left” and “Trumpenproletariat”) in (I think) 2018. The term was meant as a politico-nomenclatural jest  to capture the Orwellian idiocy of the remarkable number of vaguely left-identified people who were reacting with bitterness and anger against my elementarily accurate observations that the Republican Party had gone neofascist under Donald “Take Down the Metal Detectors Cuz the Guys with the AR-15s Don’t Want to Hurt Me” Trump and Steve “All Hell’s Gonna to Break Loose” Bannon.  It turned out to be more than word play. My most recent book, This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (2021), includes a chapter on fascism denial containing 8 pages refuting 18 false narratives advanced by a surprisingly widespread cast of, well, Trumpenleftists during the Trump presidency. I list these narratives in an appendix (below), but you’ve got to get the book to see them fully critiqued.

This mostly white and male cohort includes ex-“Berners” whose response to the corporate-Democratic quashing of the Bernie Sanders movement has (sadly) been not a “leftward” turn to revolutionary socialism/Marxism/communism but rather a look for imagined proletarian, populist, and anti-elite comrades on the “populist” (fascist) right. Seeming to want a Lenin (or Chomsky) Prize for having figured out something that every seriously radical Left thinker knows – that the Democrats are a corrupt capitalist and imperialist party beholden to corporate and imperialist elites – these odd fellows absurdly accuse principled revolutionary Marxists who oppose Amerikaner neofascism of alliance with the neoliberal Democrats.  They accommodate the neofascism and white nationalism of the Trump-era Republican Party in the name of a “left-right populism.”

Here is an I think useful online reflection sent to me by the clever Dutch socialist Pepijn Uitterhoeve:

“It took me a while to getting around to [write] this because Glenn Greenwald is so distasteful, but there’s kind of a coherent political project he’s engaged in, and you can see this reflected in the politics of Jimmy Dore, Max Blumenthal, Revolutionary Blackout Network and to some extent Krystal Ball – and I try to be maximally charitable here, staying away from accusations that they’re grifters [I grant no such charity – P.S.]. Their position is that it’s key to unite as many people as possible against The Elites. They’re not explicitly anti-capitalist. They’re not interested in traditional left-wing values like anti-racism, feminism and the like. They’re not interested in any critique whatsoever of right-wing hobby horses. They’re willing to give right-wingers a blanket pass on all their horrifying bullshit as long as they would please please please help in the fight against the people in power. They want to say to the Right: we don’t care about your obsession with the nuclear family, your disregard for women’s rights, your preoccupation with sexuality, orientation, or gender roles. We can look past your naked racism towards migrants and various minorities, your support for police brutality and your science denialism. We want you to help us take down these people who start wars, deny you healthcare, make everyone impoverished, curtail your rights and treat you like useful but disposable pawns in an empty, irrelevant, meaningless fight between corrupt interchangeable ruling parties. In short, they reject the Left-liberal coalition that Sanders was trying to build. They want to instead build a ‘populist’ Left-Right coalition. And they explicitly prioritize the Democrats as a target, because after all that’s the cheapest ticket to getting the ear of a reactionary….What I find interesting [about the Trumpenleft] is the degree to which right-wing positions are adopted and amplified. It’s a really weird situation where it’s all give and no takeThe Tucker Carlson right-wing that’s being courted gives zero concessions. They’ll go along with anti-war positions, because anti-war positions have traditionally had some currency among some of the Right. But you don’t see right-wingers anywhere making passionate arguments for things like Medicare for All, which Dore knobs want…”

Well said! The Trumpenleft insists that there’s no real difference between the two US major parties and even that the Democrats are every bit as fascist as the Republicans.  These is false in numerous ways, including this: the Democrats retain a commitment to the values and procedures of bourgeois constitutional democracy and rule of law, such as they are; the Republicans, now the Republi-fascists, do not. Criticizing this false equivalence hardly makes one an apologist for the Weimar Dems. It  just means that one isn’t a mentally and/or morally deficient jackass who is either incapable of or cynically opposed to grasping obvious divisions within the US capitalist ruling class and differences between its two reigning political organizations.

The disproportionately white and male Trumpenleft is grossly tolerant and/or sickeningly approving of Trumpism-fascism’s white supremacism, nationalism, sexism, homophobia, fundamentalism, trans-bashing, conspiratorialism, covid pandemicism, authoritarianism, and eco-cidalism. It engages in related empirically false neo-Strasserite fantasies about Trumpism-fascism’s supposedly proletarian (and potentially socialist) base. Consistent with the Trumpenleft’s race-gender demographics, some Trumpenlefties have purveyed the notion that the problems of racism/white supremacism, sexism/patriarchy, nativism, homophobia and trans-bashing are nothing more than ruling class diversions, even “scams” (to use the language of the leading Facebook Trumpenleftist and thankfully retired political scientist Gary Olson) concocted with help from “PMC” (professional managerial or middle class) liberals to divide the proletariat.

There is considerable overlap between this left category and the Putin left.  It’s been remarkable to witness how often left-identified folks who have (absurdly) told me that (a) the bourgeois-democratic Democrats are “as fascist” or even “more fascist” than the Republi-fascist party, (b) racism and sexism are fake and diversionary issues (“scams”!) that matter only to divisive bourgeois politicos, and (c) Trumpism’s base isn’t really all that bad (it’s the [um, white] working class don’t you know?) are the same left folks who back thoroughly non- and anti-Marxist monsters like Putin and Bashar al-Assad, the butcher of Aleppo. Many of these Trumpenlefties really dig Moscow’s criminal invasion of Ukraine. Like the Putin left, they seem incapable of, or cynically opposed to grasping the difference between the anti-racism and anti-sexism of revolutionary Marxists on one hand and the bourgeois identity politics of neoliberal Democrats and identitarian Wokesters on the other hand. (This matches the false conflation of Marxists and liberals that is part of the fascist ideology with which these dodgy pink-brown Caitlin Johnstone, Jimmy “How ‘Bout Those Proletarian Boogaloo Boys?”  Dore, and Glenn “Tucker Carlson’s Mouthpiece” Greenwald fans play faux-populist footsie.)

(Dore has recently informed his predominantly right-wing audience that the Q-curious Congressperson Marjorie Taylor Greene is a “left-wing” champion of the working class.  Dore’s more gifted and affluent friend Greenwald has also recently embraced the openly neofascist maniac Taylor-Greene.)

The Trumpenleft shares the noxious habit of reflexive what-about-ism with the Putin left. Any reference to the fascist menace posed by the Republican-Amerikaner right elicits automatic reference to the undeniable sins of the dismal and imperialist Dems, as if Trumpist neofascism is somehow justified by Clinton-Obama-Bidenite neoliberalism – and as if a serious radical like the present writer don’t regularly and radically criticize both political wings of the US capitalist-imperialist order.

(I almost hesitate to include Greenwald in the “Trumpenleft.” Despite his many pre-Trump alliances with pinkish leftism, Greenwald entered the public eye as the nasty and dedicated lawyer for the Illinois Nazi leader Matt Hale. It strikes me that his frequent appearances on the nightly fascist Hate Hour conducted by Tucker Carlson, the Joseph Goebbels of US neofascism, is richly consistent with his origins. Perhaps he is just returning to form. Last I looked, this money-hungry and far-from-stupid (unlike Dore) “journalist” has left  Substack for Rumble, which is highly popular among far-right Web-users….I considered adding the supposedly progressive Democrat-turned “conservative” Trumpian nationalist Tulsi Gabbard to the Trumpenleft roster but her past “left” identification seems too shallow to merit inclusion. The ex-Congressperson, Hindu-nationalist, and possible Krishna cultist Gabbard is associated also with the Putin left, with whom she shares a creepy alignment with the Syrian butcher Assad.)

8. The Conspiratorial Left: The Paranoid Portside

Now we turn to the depressing malady of left conspiratorialism, a natural and indeed classic outcome of the absence of a scientific approach to history and politics. The right-wing has no monopoly on this disorder, which renders its victims incapable of grasping the historical and social-structural taproots of oppression.  Almost anything that involves the making and enacting of decisions atop structures of concentrated wealth and power (like US capitalism-imperialism) becomes a dastardly conspiracy in the “paranoid-style” mind.  Rather than confront the underlying and interlocking oppression systems (of class, race, empire and gender) that  produce terrible outcomes, rather than scientifically investigating and critiquing the society they inhabit, conspiratorialists concoct elaborate and shadowy detective stories, fanciful who-done-its seeking to identify small cabals and perfidious individuals to blame.

Take the 9/11 jetliner attacks and how they were exploited by the George W. Bush administration.  Left conspiracy nuts put their JFK obsession aside long enough to devise elaborate and unsubstantiated narratives on how 9/11 was an  “inside job” perpetrated by the Bush43-Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz puppet masters and their CIA and Pentagon agents in the search for “a new Pearl Harbor” (the language of the Project for a New American Century’s retrospectively haunting pre-9/11 call for a US military ramp up and invasion of Iraq and Iran) to justify imperial war and terror abroad and repression at home.  In reality, the attacks were thoroughly predictable and significantly predicted Islamo-terrorist “blowback” (a venerable CIA phrase popularized on the left by the historian Chalmers Johnson) resulting from the United States’ long petro-imperialist intervention in the internal politics of the super-strategic-because oil-rich Middle East. Among the many US provocations in that region that led many observers (the present writer included) to expect significant terrorist “blowback “on US soil (I was thinking suitcase bomb, not hijacked airplanes, to be sure) by the late 1990s: “the immense slaughter of Iraqi civilians during the Gulf War; the devastation of Iraq by U.S.-instigated sanctions throughout the [1990s], the U.S.’s crucial role in supporting Israel’s 35-year occupation of Palestinian territories, its support for brutal dictatorships throughout the Middle East that repress the local populations, and on and on.” (Peter Mitchell and John Schoefell, “A Note on the Events of September 11, 2001,” p. xiii in Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky [New York: New Press, 2002]).

The 9/11 attacks were  naturally and predictably exploited (as Chomsky and others including myself foresaw the minute the planes hit) by the petro-imperialist neoconservatives atop the messianic-militarist Bush43-Cheney regime as, yes, “a new Pearl Harbor,” leading to the horrors of the US War of (“on) Terror and the criminal, mass-murderous US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, all in line with the long provocative and opportunist history of US capitalism-imperialism. This was not a mysterious conspiracy atop the US government.  It was US imperialism, imperial “blowback,” and standard US-imperial exploitation of that “blowback,” aided and abetted by the majority of the nation’s ruling political and media classes. The record of Orwellian deception and criminality is available to anyone who bothers to investigate.

Or take the Covid-19 pandemic, the predictable and to no small extent predicted outcome of global capitalism’s relentless, systemically inherent accumulation-/“growth”-addicted assault on previously existing boundaries between homo sapiens and multiple and ever-mutating zoonotic viruses that transmit between species.  Unable or unwilling to follow the science on this grave problem, unsolvable under the world capitalist system (like the related climate catastrophe), a depressing number of  left- and formerly left-identified folks have fallen for conspiracy “theories” that make wild and unsubstantiated, Internet-fed claims about a Big Pharma plot to reap super-profits by manufacturing viruses in weaponized biolabs in order to turn us all into “vaccine slaves”!  This is how your former “socialist” friend became a Ron DeSantis cheerleader and RFK, Jr, fan who thinks that “Anthony Fauci is a Nazi” and that January 6th wasn’t really “all that big a deal” compared to the “real fascism” of Covid 19 vaccination and masking.  It’s all part of the globalist “Great Re-Set,” don’t you know? It’s not that big a leap from this kind of “theory” to neo-fascist Great Replacement Theory, blood-libel neo-Nazi QAnon claims that George Soros and his friends atop the Democratic Party dine on human children, and science-denialist eco-fascist claims that global warming is a “radical Left hoax” meant to suppress humanity’s holy right to burn every last fossil on the planet.

The US ruling classes have nothing to fear from the conspiratorial left, which focuses not on structures, institutions, and ideologies of class rule, empire, and oppression but rather on an endless series of imagined elaborate schemes attributed to nefarious and shadowy elites, the untangling of which sends people down long black holes of bias-confirming “research” on the World Wide Web. I am reminded of something Noam Chomsky said in one of many public discussions he engaged in during the 1990s and that are captured in the previously cited book Understanding Power.  In a sub-section of that volume book titled “Self-Destruction of the U.S. Left,” he says that “there’s a huge amount of frittering away of energy on real absurdities.  There are parts of [the left]…where huge amounts of energy go into things like trying to figure out exactly which Mafia figure might have been involved in killing John F. Kennedy, or something – as if anybody should care.  The energy and the passion that goes into things like that is really extraordinary, and it’s very self-destructive.”

In my experience, for what it’s worth, conspiratorialists are among the most menacing bunch one confronts on the left.  Their taste for dark and mysterious conspiracies and their weakness on institutional, historical, and social-structural analysis predisposes them for collaboration with like-minded sorts on the heavily conspiratorialist right, with whom they share the paranoid mindset. I know currently and formerly left-identified people who have fallen hook, line, and sinker for numerous wild conspiracies shared with the far right, from Covid-19 as the product of a US-Chinese bioweapon research to the notion that the global elites are poisoning us with chemtrail poisons planted in airplane fuel. It all has something to do with Hunter Biden’s lap(top) and the FBI-ANTIFA assault on the US Capitol on January 6.

(I do not mean to suggest that bona fide conspiracies never exist. Of course they do. I, for one, have never really believed that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone and will be unsurprised if conclusive evidence ever shows that James Earl Ray had collaborators in the US imperial state. But when conspiratorialism becomes a substitute for radical thought and all one’s energies are poured into unravelling elaborate mysteries, the ruling class wins.)

See the full document here for “Lame Left afflictions” 9 to 17.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).