This is the beauty of podcasts. While I can't run out and read every book I should, I can spend an hour a week listening to different discussions that encourage me to leave my mental book open. The biggest takeaway of all is just how easy it is for people to become ridged inside of a narrow spectrum of belief. That lesson came to me first and foremost from the gonzo-philosopher, Robert Anton Wilson and his notion of getting stuck inside a "reality tunnel."
A reality tunnel is simply any belief system we can cling to with such conviction that it isolates truth into a pre-defined box. Such belief boxes can quickly become a thought prison. While I tried to reorient myself after reading RAW, the truth is that I still carried a lot of biases and selected identities to define myself by. It's a hard bug to shake. It's a choice I have to make every day.
I started listening to RLR host Brett O'Shea each week and found myself able to drop political guards I had up and begin to start saying to myself, "well, maybe." Maybe what I have heard about Che Guevara was not based on unbiased facts? Maybe there's a lot of disinformation I picked up about Karl Marx? Maybe the distances between say a Marxist-Leninist and a Peter Kropotkin anarchist aren't so far apart? When I listen to guests on Brett's podcast with as much humble disposition as possible, it turns out I can learn a lot by stepping outside of my reality tunnel. Even a miserly audience has to admit that Brett and his guests are very well-read in their subjects.
While, I haven't thrown away all the principles I brought with me, rather I've expanded the realm of possibilities and ways of being that still very much include the libertarian socialist ideals I tend to prefer.
A lot of my openness is a direct result of the personality and tone that Brett has cultivated for himself as a speaker. His ethics for discussion and engagement with complex philosophical content reaches a height that allows for guards to be dropped, for civility to be won. That's hard to manage given the high-stakes drama of the topics at hand.
As you'll see in the following interview, he speaks from direct experience as well as academic rigor. You may not agree with his perspectives, but if you have a shred of intellectual objectivity or curiosity, you can't walk away unchallenged.
Revolutionary Left Radio has tremendously opened up my worldviews and made me a more critical thinker. I have begun to apply to my political thought the same openness I've achieved on my spiritual quest. Only through an honest search can new ideas and experiences enter our lives. I may have fought hard to acquire the beliefs I hold, I'll be damned if I'm going to stick a fork in it now.
What I know most of all is how little I know and how much more there is to learn. When it comes to radical politics, I can think of few better sources to aid me along those lines than Brett O'Shea.
COME WITH CURIOSITY, GO AS A COMRADE.
How did your childhood impact or shape your political worldview?
I grew up in the lower echelons of the working class. We lived in a very small house and my parents (my mom and my stepdad) often struggled to pay their bills. Sometimes we would come home from school to no electricity or water. I remember one time coming home to see my mom crying on the front porch because her car had just been repossessed by the bank. My parents worked really hard and went to their jobs every day, yet they still struggled. At age 17, after being hospitalized for depression, I moved to Montana with my biological father. In Montana, we lived in a small town on the edge of the Crow reservation. So I was able to experience, first hand, the poverty and isolation and hopelessness of Native Americans. It affected me deeply.
After I came back to Omaha to go to college, I was introduced to radical left wing philosophy and history. As I explored that, I realized that nothing else I had ever encountered politically spoke to my experiences as well as Marxism did. Ever since then, its just been a matter of deepening my understanding and putting it into practice via organizing in my community and helping educate others via my podcasts.
What were the first texts that radicalized your thinking?
If we are using “texts” in the broadest sense of the term, I would argue that hip hop was the first radicalizing influence for me. Artists and groups like Dead Prez, Goodie Mob, Nas, Outkast, NWA, and so many more really awakened and developed my political consciousness; especially my understanding of class and race. Hip hop allowed me, as a poor white guy, to have a window into the black experience in this country.
And when I heard a group like Dead Prez talk *explicitly* about socialism and anti-capitalism in their lyrics, it tied it all together: the racial oppression and the class-based oppression that I see all around me are deeply tied together and capitalism is the over-arching force that maintains these hierarchies. So it was hip hop that radicalized me, and only then did I begin to dive into the literature and the history books. I think The Communist Manifesto was the first truly radical leftist book I ever read, in my late teens, and I haven’t looked back since.
Beyond that, I got really interested in history, and once you start studying history, especially with a Marxist lens, everything continues to fall into place.
What were the stages you went through as a part of your political evolution?
I started out, as so many do, as a liberal when I was first introduced to conservative talk radio at around age 15. I knew next to nothing about anything, but I would listen to people like Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh every day, and I would start to find points of intuitive disagreement. This is well before Montana, books, or even serious hip hop, so I had no frame of reference other than my experiences growing up.
But even that was enough to start to be skeptical of what these guys were talking about on the radio everyday. As I developed through my teens and into my early 20’s, I became a democratic socialist, then an anarchist, then a libertarian Marxist, and now, finally, I just identify as a Marxist (or a socialist, or a communist, etc.).
But I draw heavily from many revolutionary traditions, including both anarchism and Leninism. I have a deep and profound respect for both broad traditions, and I have friends, comrades, and mentors that come out of both traditions. As a Marxist, I am committed to a materialist understanding of history, politics, and economics, and then I apply that analysis and methodology to situations I see all over the world.
I am deeply anti-sectarian and anti-dogmatic. I think radical leftists need to stay as open and as dynamic as history and current events are, they need to pull from a myriad of different revolutionary traditions, and they need to spend much more time educating, learning, organizing, and building dual power than they do tearing down other leftists or re-hashing centuries old debates that are only marginally relevant to the issues we face today. Moreover, I think leftists need to maintain a consistent internal critique of themselves and their ideas at all times; to not do so is a form of intellectual laziness that gives rise to static and unimaginative.
Getting right into Marxism here, What are some of the most common misconceptions of Karl Marx and his philosophy?
This is a huge question! I can say that the VAST majority of critiques of Marx and Marxism, whether they are employed by reactionaries or liberals or even non-Marxist leftists, are absolutely mired in ignorance, false assumptions, and bourgeois propaganda emanating out of the Cold War.
I’ve studied Marxism for a decade, and I still do not know everything there is to know about it. I still have aspects that I am learning about, working through, etc. So you know damn well when some Fox News conservative or clueless liberal tries to launch an attack against Marxism that they have almost certainly not dedicated the time and energy to studying the ideas in question, and so their critiques are so weak and absurd. The best sort of critiques come from other leftists; either principled anarchists or Marxists themselves.I have the same sort of question about communism as a whole – what do people get wrong about it when attacking it, perhaps by employing Straw Man?
But that’s what so wonderful about being in a revolutionary tradition: there is so much to learn and so much to do. You can always deepen and widen your understanding while others are deepening and widening theirs, and then you can talk to and learn from your comrades in turn.
But as it pertains to Marx as a person, I think many people don’t understand how much he sacrificed, how hard he worked, and how much real life organizing he did. Marx was a deeply loving family man and father who, along with his wife Jenny (who was essential to Marx and his work), were in constant confrontation with various European governments because of their organizing efforts. There is a great biography on Karl and Jenny called Love and Capital by Mary Gabriel that I would recommend to anyone who wants to learn more about the kind of people they were.
Well, communism, for most people, is inseparable from not only the Soviet Union under Stalin, but also from the misinformation that came out about the Soviet Union under Stalin.
Communism, in both the anarchist and the Marxist traditions, is not a form of government. It’s a stateless, classless, and global society where the wealth and resources of our planet are enjoyed by everyone, and where every human being is free from structural oppression, exploitation, and domination. So already, we can see a huge problem here: any critiques of communism that refer to governments or leaders are already confused and false, by definition.In laymen’s terms, what is "Dialectical Materialism "and how is it crucial to Marxist theory?
Now if people want to critique the possibility of communism, or dispute how to get there, that’s fine. But if they want to critique it as if it were a certain set of governments in the 20th century, then what they are really critiquing is something wholly different. We can, and should, have those conversations. But we wouldn’t be talking about communism in the real sense of the term.
Beyond that, a lot of lazy misunderstandings abound, ranging from the idea that communism is against human nature, to the idea that communists are all just lazy and don’t want to work. These are incredibly absurd, low-energy critiques that can be dismissed out of hand. I don’t have the time to dismantle these arguments here, but we certainly touch on them in our podcasts, and there are two episodes of Revolutionary Left Radio, entitled “Refuting Common Arguments Against the Left” and “Red Hangover” where we address the human nature argument in depth, among other critiques, if anyone is interested.
Dialectical Materialism is a way understanding history and the development of societies as an evolutionary process undergirded by the economic system and pushed forward by confrontations and class struggles that emerge out of contradictions based, in part, on the underlying economic system. It pulls from evolutionary biology in that it views human societies as evolving in stages, and it asserts, like evolutionary biology, that new states of being emerge at different stages of the evolutionary process.
The term “dialectics” refers to Hegel’s idea of “Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis”. Hegel used this term in an idealist context referring to the development of Absolute Spirit, but Marx and Engels discarded the idealist metaphysics, and applied it to the material world and the development of human history rooted not in metaphysical ideas or in god’s plan, but rather in the way that human beings produce, distribute, and use material goods necessary to human life and well-being.
Here is one example of a dialectical process (simplified for brevity):
Thesis: The US begins the cross Atlantic slave trade in order to bring in free labor to work for the burgeoning bourgeoisie.
Antithesis: The horrific treatment of Africans give rise to a whole slew of rebellions, condemnation from other countries and people, and grassroots abolitionist movements ranging from insurrectionary attacks on slavers to policy proposals in government to outright civil war.
Synthesis: Slavery is abolished.
However, abolition doesn’t get rid of racism or race hatred; nor does it get rid of the capitalists need for cheap labor, so new forms of oppression take place, and a new thesis is created, and on it goes. At every major stage of the dialectical process, progress is usually made.
So, when Marx, for example, says that “what the bourgeoise produces above all else are its own gravediggers”, he is referring to a dialectical process in which working people are exploited and dominated by the capitalist class, and he argues that eventually we will get sick of it and rise up; which has happened in a million different ways and in a million different places ever since capitalism’s beginning. Socialism is the pinnacle of this rising up on a mass level, and the foremost antithesis to capitalism.People like to criticize the flaws or failures of historical revolutionaries like Trotsky or Guevara in attacking socialism in general. Or they blame Marx for things that Stalin did. What is wrong or short-sighted about doing that?
I hope this qualifies as being in “laymen’s terms”!
First of all, nobody is above critique and every human being is flawed in kaleidoscopic ways. Moreover, revolutions are infinitely complex, messy affairs. So any attempt to undermine socialism by critiquing individual revolutionaries is inherently short-sighted, and since literally every person on Earth is imperfect it seems trite to focus too much on personal failures of individuals.
Having said that, its worth critiquing revolutionaries and their tactics/behavior (as opposed to merely their personalities) insofar as we are trying to learn from their failures and their successes.
The urge to criticize leftist individuals, though, is both a manifestation of liberal individualism which puts the focus on individuals instead of the material context they were operating in, and its also an attempt to slander people of influence on the left. When it comes to Che, there is a cottage industry of reactionaries who dedicate their lives to simply lying about Che in hopes of, at the very least, muddying the water and confusing people, and at the most, stripping him of his ability to inspire and motivate people today.
Che was extremely charismatic, intelligent, courageous, and honorable. So it is in the interest of reactionaries to do whatever they can to tear his legacy to shreds, even if that means outright lying and making a career out of it. We have an entire episode on Rev Left dedicated to working through every single slander against Che and debunking it thoroughly. If one wants a more in-depth discussion of this, go check out that episode!
Lastly, blaming Marx for the actions of Stalin is just logically absurd and laughably infantile. It betrays a disorienting lack of understanding on every relevant front. There is not much else to say about that.
If you had to sell someone on a new political and cultural society, not from an ideological perspective but simply from a pure vision of an ideal society; how would you pitch it in the most general terms?
We want a society whose core goal is as follows: to create the highest quality of life possible for every sentient being, drawing from sociology, philosophy, psychology, economics, history, and every relevant branch of science. We want an egalitarian society without arbitrary hierarchies of domination and exploitation, without hatred or prejudice based on race, gender, romantic and sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, etc.
Every human being should be provided the social context in which they can flourish and ultimately self-actualize, and our civilization should be premised on a sustainable and respectful stewardship of the natural environment and all its creatures. We should strive to live in harmony with nature, not in conflict with it. We believe that the wealth, resources, and technology at our disposal should be employed entirely to this end.
We do not believe in wealth inequality, because it always results in power inequality. We do not believe in private property (as opposed to personal property), in wage labor, in nation states, in the concept of profit, in war, or in the idea that the production and distribution of goods and services should be dictated entirely by an amoral, unconscious, and volatile “free market”.
We rebel, and will continue to rebel, endlessly against a society which contains both billionaires and homeless people, which is founded on genocide, colonialism, slavery, imperialism, and death, and which atomizes and alienates human beings by stripping them of community and reducing them to consumers and workers.
We have one life in this amazing universe, and we refuse to spend it toiling away at meaningless jobs for a few dollars an hour so that someone who does not give a shit about us, and the people we love, can increase their profit margins by a fraction of a percentage point and live a life of extreme luxury on the backs of the rest of us.In a new revolution guided by communist aims, how can we defend against the prospect of the forms of repression or dictatorship that has played out in previous historical “actually existing socialisms”?
We weren’t born to be cattle, we weren’t born to serve the rich, we weren’t born to clean your dishes, or push your papers, or crunch your numbers, or make your food. Period.
A better world is possible, and we are going to fight for it.
We have to learn from the past. We have to be extremely aware of how things have played out historically, and we have to dedicate a lot of time, thought, and energy into making sure those failures are accounted for and that they don’t replicate themselves again. This is why being able to pull from many revolutionary traditions is important. Marxist-Leninist movements have been some of the most powerful liberation movements of the past two centuries, but they have also tended toward bureaucracy and in some extreme cases, arbitrary tyranny against regular working people.
Anarchism, on the other hand, has produced some of the most pure and beautiful liberation movements in history, but they have also tended to be isolated geographically and smashed by more powerful forces, often reactionary state forces. Finally, Democratic Socialist movements, like we’ve seen in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez, in Chile under Allende, and in Iran under Mohammad Mosaddegh, have had all the democratic legitimacy and as much popular support as anyone could ask for, and used electoral politics to get into power, but they have been far to open to external infiltration, to coups, and to reactionary counter-revolution (often funded, supported, and even orchestrated by the CIA and other western intelligence agencies).
So the question becomes: how can we learn from all of this? How can we take the best of both traditions while accounting for their respective failures and weak points? I don’t have the answers to this, because it depends on the context and material conditions we are operating in. But I think we can study movements from Cuba to Chiapas, from Venezuela to Rojava, and from the Soviet Union to Catalonia, and learn from them all.
The Revolution in Spain
One point about the US in particular, is that, for all its antidemocratic character, there is a long historical and cultural tradition of at least thinking of ourselves in terms of democracy. Therefore, if and when a revolutionary movement emerges and grabs power, that democratic impulse will be a strain that cannot be repressed. This will help protect against extreme forms of authoritarianism from any political direction, imo. Leftists in the 21st century aren’t looking to replicate the Soviet Union under Stalin, and they never could even if they wanted to. Conditions in the 21st century US are wildly different than they were in early 20th century Russia. So ultimately, I think the fear of “dictatorship” in 21st century revolutionary movements is unfounded and genuinely not worth worrying about.
In Richard Wolff’s book Democracy at Work, he states that we have historically seen “state socialism” which he equates with a variation on capitalism more so than true socialism. Is that how you see it, that the world has never really seen socialism or communism implemented in an accurate way in which to judge it?
I have a few thoughts on this:
1) All capitalism is state capitalism. Capitalism cannot exist without a state, so the term “state capitalism” is redundant and muddies the water around these discussions.
2) Socialism, in the Marxist sense, is a transition stage. It is not going to be immediately socialist. It takes a lot of work, a lot of experimentation, and a lot of trial and error to figure out how to move beyond capitalism. So the fact that some of the earliest attempts to transcend capitalism were imperfect doesn’t mean they weren’t legitimate attempts to build socialism. And since socialism is a process, any and all sincere attempts to build it can reasonably be called socialist, in my opinion.
3) Depending on one’s view, one can argue that a certain level of development must be completed before a true transition to socialism can be accomplished. Marx certainly felt that socialism was a stage *after* capitalism, and that capitalism had to be built up before it could be transceded. Many socialists since Marx have disagreed. But we do see Marx’s point manifest itself in the attempts by Russia and China to build socialism.
What ended up happening was that they were forced to undergo massive industrialization projects. Both Russia and China, at the times of their respective attempts to build socialism, were poorer countries with large peasant populations and very little capitalist development. Now, both of those countries were able to develop and industrialize their societies at a staggering rate.
The Soviet Union went from a relatively backwards czarist country to racing the most advanced capitalist society to outer space (and, in fact, beating them!). The US had a huge head start on the Soviet Union, and yet the Soviet Union was able to catch up in a truly mind-blowing and brief amount of time. China had a similar story. All industrialization projects, from Great Britain and the US to Russia and China, came with huge costs, including in terms of lives lost. And that is a tragedy. But still, the accomplishments by the “state socialists” can’t be denied.People are familiar with the term sectarianism from religion. How does it apply to politics specifically on the left and why do you think it is detrimental?
So whether you call those societies “state capitalists” or “socialists”, the fact remains that they had to go through a certain stage of history, and both of those countries are better off today for having gone through it. The question for leftists then becomes: if the Soviets and the Maoists (and the Cubans, for that matter!) were able to achieve such amazing things from such poor starting points, imagine what the US or Germany or Japan could do today if they decided to go socialist, with all the resources and wealth and historical lessons we have now.
As with any historical movement, organization, or philosophy, there will be people with different interpretations, different ideas, different tactics, etc. And with the Left, we are talking about a multi-centuries long tradition encompassing a seemingly indefinite number of sects, factions, and tendencies. This is unavoidable and very real differences do exist that should not be ignored.
Now when it comes to “Left Unity”, I do not think we should uphold left unity based on some arbitrary dividing line on a political spectrum, or because we loosely fit into some realm of ideas, but rather because there is a material need for broad coalitions of leftists to unite against common enemies, and to build mass movements that can actually grab power. We simply cannot split into smaller and smaller groups based on ideological purity and expect to do either of those things effectively; or at all.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t struggle with our comrades over differences in opinion, nor is that to say we should water down our own tendencies or ideas to fit some vague amalgamation of ideas that fall under the abstract umbrella of “the left”. We can be both principled *and* comradely. We can struggle over lines *and* work together around shared goals. And, ultimately, we can learn from one another and become better thinkers and organizers because of it. This is a core goal of Rev Left Radio, and something we strive to help facilitate.The Marxist writer David Harvey has some interesting takes on how both anarchist and Marxist theory can work together and in fact counterbalance each other in creating a powerful new society. Are you sympathetic to that notion and could you describe how it might work in practice?
As I often say, I know far too many amazing, principled, and inspiring comrades of all tendencies to be sectarian. Sectarianism is rampant on social media, because the medium of the internet lends itself well to fighting and arguing and dehumanizing one another. But when you get those same people in a face to face situation, all of the social pressures of human interaction come into play and people are far more willing to hear one another out, be polite, and work together. This is why organizing is so important. Get off facebook and twitter and into the streets with other leftist organizers, and more times than not you will discover that you have far more in common with one another than you initially thought.
Absolutely. Not only am I sympathetic, I’m an advocate for exactly this. I think in the conditions that we are operating in currently within the US, we are best served as a movement if we stay open to a dynamic phase of history and pull from the all corners of the principled revolutionary leftist tradition broadly. Though, I totally understand that not everyone agrees with me, and that is fine.
If you are a Leninist or a Maoist or an anarchist, and you are deeply committed to that tendency and that line, then embrace it and do work on that basis; organize with those of the same tendency and push it as far as you can. In essence, I want to see the left run the experiments of organizing along different left wing lines so that we can see which movements get the most support and which movements actually threaten power.
I will join with any *principled* leftist organization or movement that actually challenges power, has the most mass support from the working class itself, and is the most effective at getting us closer to a better world.
Do anarchists who abhor the State and hierarchical systems have reason to be skeptical of Marxists? How can this be overcome?
Historically speaking, yes. But not all Marxists. I think, more specifically, they have reason to be skeptical of certain strains of Marxism (eg. Leninism) because of what has happened historically. But Leninists also have some reason to be skeptical of anarchists too. I think we exist in a very complicated tradition and historical legacy. But when I look around at where we are in this country now, I think it’s silly to obsess over these historical conflicts which, by the way, arose in certain conditions which no longer hold for us.
We may get to a point where those fundamental differences are irreconcilable and force people to commit to one side or the other, but I do not think we are there yet, and we may never get there at all. In the meantime, it makes sense to not be at one another’s throat all the time, and instead to form coalitions based on trust and good faith to fight against our common enemies: fascism and capital.For those unfamiliar, how would you define “libertarian Marxism”? How is different from say libertarian socialism or anarcho-communism?
Libertarian Marxism highlights and emphasizes the more democratic and anti-authoritarian aspects of Marxism and challenge some of the more hierarchical and vanguardist inflections of Marxism. Ultimately however, it’s still very much rooted in the Marxist critique, methodology, analysis, and revolutionary tradition.How do you think about intersectionality as a radical leftist? Is class alone insufficient for a leftist movement?
It's firmly in the Libertarian Socialist school of left wing thought, but its not synonymous with anarchism precisely because its rooted in Marxism in a way that anarchism isn’t, theoretically if not so much in practice. Council Communism, Left Communism, Autonomous Marxism, and even Marxist-inflected strains of Democratic Socialism (think Allende and Hugo Chavez) are all variants of libertarian Marxism, in my opinion.
Yes, class alone is insufficient for a leftist movement. Intersectionality is of extreme import for any movement that wishes to speak to, and ultimately combat, the oppressions and indignities faced by human beings all over the planet. To only focus on class and to eschew the importance of other forms of oppression and domination is antithetical to the core of any movement which is dedicate to true liberation for all people. Class Reductionists commit a fundamentally right wing, and ultimately reactionary, deviation.
Any liberation movement must be intersectional to the core. There is no way around this fact.
From your own experience, how would you critique wage labor and why should everyone who is not a boss or capitalist be against it?
There are so many ways that I could address this question, from the time it takes off our lives, to the larger forms of hierarchical domination that it maintains, to the arbitrary and absurd nature of who becomes bosses and who becomes workers. But at its core, wage labor is exploitative because it necessitates the renting out of your body and your time to someone who has more wealth and resources than you so that they can profit off of the labor you engage in and the value you create.
The only way profit can exist is if someone does labor for someone else and they are not given the full amount of the value they create, but rather given only a fraction of the value they create while the person for whom the labor is being done siphons off a chunk of that value and puts it in their own pocket in the form of profit. The basic relationship here is one of exploitation and inequality. When the concept that a boss can profit off of the labor of someone else is taken to its full, logical conclusion, you get slavery. Wage labor is a sort of servitude and it operates on the same logical premises that slavery operates on.
We want a world where, insofar as labor needs to be done to reproduce the needs of humanity, that labor is collectively organized by the workers themselves and the parasitic relationship that the capitalist has to the worker is ended completely. The workers themselves decide how to produce things and distribute the value created by their production. If you believe in liberty, in freedom, and in basic fairness, you cannot accept an economic relationship where those with more money and power can leverage that money and power to force others (who do not have money and power) to further enrich and empower them. That set up is antithetical to every democratic impulse one can possibly have.
What would you say to someone like me who works to promote multinational companies and feels very guilty and dirty about it but more or less has to sell my labor to them in order to handle college debts and providing for a family?
Don’t ever blame yourself for having to make a living in a system you don’t agree with. We are all stuck serving the ruling class in one capacity or another, if with nothing else than with the fact that we aren’t in open, active revolt all the damn time.
The burden of bucking this unjust system does not fall on the shoulders of individuals and their personal life choices, it falls on the shoulders of collective mass movements and their organizers.
That doesn’t mean that we have no individual moral responsibility to behave ethically as best as we can, in fact I think as leftists we should hold ourselves to high standards of behavior towards other people and sentient creatures. But ultimately, beating yourself up for taking a job that supports your family is not only unhealthy, its exactly what the system wants us to do: to internalize all social problems as individual problems. This is one way the ruling class shields itself through ideology; in this case the ideology of individualism.There’s prevailing belief that humans are naturally competitive, hierarchies are natural and that collectivism goes against human nature and morally wrong. What would be the counter evidence to that ideology?
I would argue that insofar as humans are naturally competitive, they are also naturally cooperative. Insofar as humans form hierarchies, they also organize horizontally. The thing about human nature is that is encompasses *all* of human nature. So yea, people are both competitive and cooperative. Both hierarchical and horizontal. Have individualist impulses as well as communal ones. It’s a fallacy to try and separate these things and claim that only one side of this coin is truly “human”.What do you say to people who buy into Jordan Peterson or his predecessors assertions that there’s a conspiracy called “cultural Marxism” or “Postmodernism” taking place and it’s basically a disease of thinking and behavior that threatens our existence?
As for the notion that collectivism is against human nature and morally wrong, I would use literally any evidence in biology and anthropology. Its an absurd, anti-scientific claim to argue that humans are not communal. We evolved as social apes in the context of tight-knit tribes and communities. Individuals can’t exist without communities. Language itself is communally constructed. Without language, a human being cannot even formulate inner dialogue or thoughts. Individuals manifest out of communities. Take a person at birth, separate them from other humans, and watch what happens.
These arguments are lazy rhetorical nonsense spouted by people who haven’t thought deeply about this issue at hand, and have never bothered opening up a science book.
Jordan Peterson, and his followers, are sad, confused, lost people. Peterson has cultivated a following composed of deeply alienated and ignorant young men searching desperately for direction and meaning in our neoliberal late capitalist context. When you ask these people to define these terms in their own words, they are at a loss.
I’ve asked many Peterson fanboys to please define postmodernism in their own words and, I kid you not, every time I ask, it ends in crickets. These people do not know what they are talking about. Postmodernism and Marxism are deeply antithetical to one another. They are mutually exclusive concepts. Postmodernism rejects Marxism, and visa versa.If there is to be a revolution against the ruling class empire, how should very diverse sects or groups that have an underlying shared interest set aside ideological wedge issues and unite to fight that battle?
If leftists want a really good break down of the Enlightenment and Modernity, I would recommend “Radiating Disaster Triumphant: Modernity and its Discontents”, by J. Moufawad-Paul. It’s a short article but it really fleshes these issues out and gives leftists a really good interpretative angle through which to understand the complex historical movements.
Intersectional Solidarity. By coming together in respectful acknowledgement of all of the myriad intersections of identity oppression, and by listening to one another and engaging in good faith, I think we can go a long way to building bridges instead of burning them. Ultimately though, I have no good answers to this. Solidarity in the context of a revolution can only be solidified through struggle.
Factional splits seem inevitable, though. Ultimately the power structure we live under attacks us from all sides, and that means any revolutionary movement will have to defend and solidify all sides of said movement and move forward around a set of shared interests. Usually these shared interests will revolve around our material needs, which has the capacity to unite a diverse range of people; but the struggle for liberation cannot be reduced merely to material needs. Liberation must address all forms of oppression, or its not liberation at all.Can we expect capitalism in the West to simply crumble under its own contradictions and flaws or does it need to be attacked or pushed to fall?
It always needs to be attacked and pushed. Moreover, even if capitalism crumbles under its own contradictions, that is no guarantee that socialism will replace it! It could lead in any number of possible directions. This is why we have to organize and be ready now. I am not a determinist with respect to socialism. Capitalism falling only represents an opportunity, not a guarantee. Any crude determinism which asserts that capitalism will fall of its own accord and people will naturally build socialism is as naïve as it is dangerous.
Educate and organize now. Get involved in your community. Build coalitions. Struggle over lines. Defend your comrades. Construct dual power. We are the vehicles through which history unfolds, and it’s our duty to be active. NOTHING IS GUARENTEED.
Right wing conservatives are extremely dedicated to their beliefs, incredible hostile to leftists and heavily armed. Looking at a divide so deep, how can we set up this egalitarian socialist society under such conditions? Is there a way to allow all communities to live however they want without anyone having to surrender or sacrifice their core beliefs? Or is this a pipe-dream and violence is inevitable and necessary to settle the difference?
Politics is about power, and the moment any movement or commune or political project threatens power as it exists today, it will be attacked and dismantled. Even mere street protests are confronted by the brutality of the state via militarized police. So if we try to imagine how the State and the forces of reaction would respond to an attempt by leftists to construct alternative societies inside the territory dominated by said State, its not difficult to realize what that reaction would be: violent.
So, unfortunately, I do not envision any attempt to build socialism that doesn’t involve militant self-defense. From the Paris Commune to Rojava to Catalonia to the Black Panthers to Cuba to Venezuela to the USSR, the history is very clear: the ruling class and the forces of reaction will not sit idly by and let socialist projects be built. They will attack such projects mercilessly. We cannot be naïve about this.Where did this phenomena of Anarcho-capitalism come from? Is it really a legitimate form of anarchism?
“Anarcho”-Capitalism is an absolute fantasy which manifested out of, and is maintained by, upper middle class white boys with no understanding of class society and no grasp of history. Its peak idealism, in that it asserts a form of capitalism which never has, and never can exist, and which is totally abstracted away from materialist conditions and class conflict. Its an extreme form of liberalism, and it takes liberalism’s in-built idealism and individualism to preposterous levels.
Capitalism requires a state; its the most convenient vehicle through which the ruling class can manage its affairs. And even if, hypothetically, an “anarcho”-capitalist society was established, it would either immediately collapse due to a hyper-intensified set of basic contradictions, or it would naturally give rise to a state. How can private property exist in a context in which there is no organized state to defend it? In lieu of a state, how would capitalists exploit labor and maintain the wealth inequality inherent in capitalism?
Why would the vast majority of us simply submit to the domination of the ruling class without the brute force of the state to keep us in check? The answer is simple: it wouldn’t work. It would immediately devolve to a sort of state of nature and either disintegrate or build up a state to protect it.Based on my coming of age as an anarchist and what I see online, it appears that this AnCap movement has as many or more followers in the West as the classically socialist oriented anarchism? Is that possible or are they simply over-represented on social media?
As for it being anarchist: of course not. Anarchism is a firmly left wing ideology that opposes inequality and which opposes hierarchies of exploitation and domination. Anarchism is directly opposed to capitalism and must be, by definition. Combining the two is as incoherent as trying to combine racism and racial equality: the two are mutually exclusive concepts.
They are vastly over-represented on social media. This isn’t even a real movement, it exists entirely online. AnCaps have no base of support in any community. There are no anarcho-capitalist rallies or protests or movements. There has never been Anarcho-Capitalist societies. This is an online fantasy where bored, wannabe petty bourgeois white boys in the West come together to play the political philosophy equivalent of Dungeons and Dragons.
What would be your leftist argument for gun ownership?
Its simple: while we wish to build a world where war and violence are not a part of everyday life, the fact is we have to operate rationally in the context we actually exist in. And while we should never fetishize guns or violence, we should also not succumb to pacifism in the face of a violent, brutal system. If cops have guns, if imperial militaries have guns, if fascists have guns, then we need guns to. We need to be able to defend ourselves, our families, and our communities in the face of any threat.
|The Black Panther Party|
When we have hate crimes happening every day in this country and when we have pigs murdering innocent people on camera with no accountability, what is the point of pacifism? Its an idealist error to think that we can be pacifists in this world and build anything worth having. I hate violence. I wish it didn’t exist. It makes me sick to my stomach. I wish we could all live in peace and harmony. But that is a fantasy. We live in a shit world, and we have to deal with it at face value. It’s as simple as that.Which groups or historical movements went the furthest to put socialism or anarchism into practice in a successful way?
Lots of movements have built socialism and anarchism in different ways with differing levels of purity and with differing levels of success. I always say that anarchist-influenced movements throughout history have put together some of the purest forms of socialism, but have also either been crushed brutally or isolated to small regions, unable to expand.
On the other hand, Marxist movements have made some enormous gains for working people and have been able to defend those revolutions against some of the strongest forces of their times, but have also tended towards forms of bureaucracy and, in some cases at least, repression. So my position is that we should strive to learn from all of this history, the successes and the failures, and move forward in the conditions we find ourselves in. In this context, I find hyper-sectarianism unhelpful because its instincts always tend toward arrogance and tearing down other leftists more than it tends toward humble and principled coalition building and creating true dual power.Armed revolution is a divisive issue on the left. Is non-violence as a tactic possible to defeat the ruling class?
My rule of thumb is twofold: diversity of tactics and materialist strategizing. Sometimes non-violent approaches work in certain contexts and with certain short-term goals. Other times, militancy is needed. To adhere to one over the other a priori is to place an idea in front of material reality.
We need our tool box filled to the brim with every tool imaginable, and then we need to pull from that tool box the proper tools for the specific fight we are engaging in. Right now, armed revolution for the left in the US on a wide scale is foolish and impossible, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to be armed or that militant self-defense in specific situations should be rejected or that guerilla tactics shouldn’t ever be employed.
What are your thoughts on the Democratic Socialists of America? Are you a member and should other radical leftists join? Are they just trying to get social Democrats elected?
Years ago, as I was developing politically, I was a dues paying member of DSA. I have since left those politics behind and moved in a more explicitly Marxist and revolutionary direction. Having said that, though, the DSA is an important and essential political formation. It acts as a bridge by which liberals can move leftward, and it engages in important electoral battles that many Marxist and Anarchists eschew for other approaches. That’s fine by me.
We should all engage in whatever area of the left we feel most aligns with our values. The idea is not to get every leftist in line with your specific theory and approach. Its impossible and a waste of time. The point should be to get involved wherever and with whomever aligns with your values, and push as hard as you can from that direction. So I support the DSA as a political formation, even though I am not a democratic socialist or a member of the DSA. They play their role and I am glad they exist.
I’m a big fan of the Libertarian Socialist Caucus of the DSA. Can you comment on their agenda, mission and purpose? How are they being embraced by the DSA membership as a whole?
I was involved with some comrades who worked to get that off the ground, and I applaud their work. My focus was in different areas, and so I dropped out of that very early on. So, I am by no means an expert on the LSC and am not qualified to speak on it, other than to echo what I said above about the DSA broadly. Do your thing! I support it.
What do you think about the Green Party or a third party in general as a means of activism?
It’s a dead end. The system is set up legally and structurally to maintain the two party hegemony. A third party will simply not be allowed to rise and win national elections based on these structural blockades. It’s a losing strategy, and people should move toward the DSA if they want to engage with the electoral system in a more meaningful way, since the DSA does not tie itself to third party-ism.
Do you vote for Democrats to prevent Republicans from winning?
Voting is almost totally meaningless on a national level and should not be the focus of any revolutionary movement. Having said that, it takes like 5 minutes, so I have developed a habit of voting against republicans because it’s easy, takes no time or energy away from my actual organizing, and I think republicans, on the whole, are worse than democrats, on the whole. But again, its meaningless to debate over this stuff, because it is so minor and marginal. When it comes to voting, do whatever you want.
Local elections are a bit more effective, and I do encourage leftists to engage in local politics if they can. Having leftists on city council or as mayors can’t be anything but helpful, even if only marginally. Having explicit leftists in political office doesn’t help move the Overton window to the left and gives us a small base of power in certain areas. So, if we embrace a diversity of tactics, and a leftist is running for local office, it seems silly to me to not spend the 5 minutes it takes to cast a vote for them.
What is liberalism and why should no one confuse liberals with leftists?
This is a huge question. I am actually writing a book on this exact topic, and so I hope that can eventually act as the full answer to this question. In the meantime, we recently did an episode on Rev Left called, aptly, “Rev Left Radio in Dialogue with Liberalism”. This might be a good place to start if anyone wants to learn more about this.Do you celebrate government reforms like the New Deal, The Civil Rights Act and the New Society? Or were these concessions to the left designed to protect the inherent structure of capitalism?
There are lots of problems and blind spots with a lot of these legislative moves (the New Deal had huge racial and gender blind spots, for example), but at the same time they made a real difference in people’s lives, and radicals have always led the fight for these big, sweeping reforms. I support anything that materially benefits the working class, that fights back against racial oppression or bigotry in general, and which moves us, even slightly, in a leftward direction.
But every reform that happens inside the confines of a capitalist society can, and almost always is, immediately attacked and scaled back as soon as the ruling class has the opportunity. These things are only as good as they are defended, and with every meaningful reform we manage to obtain, we must also conceptualize it inside the bigger fight to over throw the class society that makes these wins difficult to get in the first place, and which places their continued existence in constant jeopardy.
Do you think the radical left is any bigger or smaller than it has been historically? What would you ascribe that to?
This is hard to say, globally. But in the US, I think its bigger than its been in a long time, maybe even bigger than it was in the 60’s. Because although the 60’s had a lot of political action, it was still the Cold War, and most movements were still pretty liberal and individualist. There were some really interesting leftist movements that arose out of the 60’s and 70’s, including the Black Panthers, but overall I would venture to say that there are more actual leftists today than there was back then. Beyond the 60’s, we would have to go back to the 30’s and 40’s to get close to real, movement-oriented leftism in this country.How should the Alt-Right or other fascist, neo-Nazi groups be confronted?
As capitalism continues to ravage the Earth, fail to deliver on its promises, and vomit up these disgusting elites that litter the ruling class, more and more people will be looking for alternatives. So I believe that the radical left will continue to grow and develop, and its our jobs to push that envelope forward by reaching out to the apolitical and the young folks coming up. It’s a long, generational fight. We must organize now and think on a
scale of decades.
Aggressively, militantly, and by any means necessary. Nothing is off limits, in my opinion, when it comes to fighting fascism. It must be destroyed and it must not be allowed to grow. I support any and all action that is dedicated to that premise.
People love to conflate the far left and the far right and argue that “both sides” are equally violent, repressive and destructive to culture. How would you argue against that?
This false equivalency manifests out of liberal confusion and fear. Liberalism is confined by a narrow imagination, and anything that doesn’t fit into the liberal paradigm is lumped together as “more or less the same”. Liberalism broadly doesn’t ever engage with any political philosophy outside of itself, and when it does, its almost always in a really muddled, and hyper-ideological way.
Liberalism, although its founded and maintained by brutal violence all over the world, still holds up ideals of dialogue and electoralism as the only way to work through social problems. For this reason, when illiberal movements rise up, the liberal mind can’t help but conceptualize them as a unified phenomenon which is *not* liberal.
Other times, though, it’s done consciously and cynically in an attempt to defend liberalism itself. By muddying the water, and demonizing the left, they help solidify their grasp on the public’s mind as the only progressive alternative to the Republicans.Antifa has blown up in the public spotlight this past year. Are their tactics proving to be effective?
Overall, its not so much arguing against it as it is pointing out an objective fact about political philosophy and the political spectrum. The far Left and the far Right are polar opposites, and liberalism sits in between them. This is not up for debate or interpretation.
Empirically yes. Hundreds of far-right wing events have been cancelled because of Antifascist action, thousands of fascists have been outted to their communities, fired from their jobs, kicked out of their houses, etc. Richard Spencer literally came out recently in a video and said that antifascists have out organized the far right and that it’s just not safe for them to appear in public.
The liberal approach, from day one, has been to “just ignore it”. That approach never has worked in history, and it doesn’t work today. Antifascist action is objectively the best approach to combatting a resurgent fascist presence.
When did you start your podcast, Revolutionary Left Radio, and what has that experience and response been like?
We started it after Trump was inaugurated. We had begun organizing here in Omaha over the year leading up to the inauguration, and we had strong street protests for many months. But as our organizing developed, we realized that we needed to help educate and politically develop people, and Rev Left Radio as an idea arose out of that organizing need.
We never expected it to take off as it did, and we were surprised with how many people took to it. We suddenly realized there was a sincere thirst for theory and alternatives to this system in the wake of such a charade of an election season, where both candidates were absolute trash, and we helped provide that.
Moreover, I’ve been a fan of talk radio and podcasts for years. Yet I had trouble finding truly leftist podcasts. So, I very much had the idea to create the podcast that I would want to listen to, and that’s what I did. I made the show that I wish existed. Ever since then, I’ve continued to be humbled and amazed at how intelligent, caring, and engaged our audience is. I’ve met some amazing people through this podcast, and I sincerely hope that we can continue to play our small, humble role on the left as time goes on.
Any plans for the podcast or other projects we should be on the lookout for?
Yea, we are continuing to build the show and get new guests. We’ve also expanded into a sister podcast where my cohost and I cover current events and give in-depth analysis. That podcast is called “The Guillotine” and can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, etc._____________________________________________________________________________
Beyond that, I am working on a book and Rev Left Radio has recently joined the leftist media collective “Critical Mediations”. It consists of leftists podcasts and essays, and is expanding to include music, art, and other cultural products. The idea is to build a media infrastructure and network to push leftist culture generally. We accept essay, music, and art submissions from leftists generally, so feel free to submit your stuff to Critical Mediations at CritMediations.com!
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