On July 31, the Ukraine Socialist Solidarity Campaign held an important meeting on the issue of “Fascist Ideas on the Left: Past, Present and What to do About It”. This was the first of a two part series on the issue. Here is a video recording of the meeting. Below is a transcript of the presentation of this writer, John Reimann.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the recurring historical issue of parts of the Western left aligning with far right and even fascist positions. That is not without precedent. What is unprecedented though, is that this is the first time in history that the majority position of the Western left is in such an alignment .
While it’s true that bots, trolls, and covert assets have led this alignment, the historical inability to tell the difference between fascist ideas and values and our own such ideas and values represents a degeneration of the socialist movement that has been a long time in the making.
Today I am going to discuss “What are the political roots of this degeneration on the western left” and “How have fascist ideas expressed themselves on the left historically?” I will also present some ideas on where this leaves socialists today. After, I look forward to a shared discussion on this complex topic.
For clarification before I begin, I will refer to the combined US and Western European left as the “Western Left”.
With that out of the way, I would like to begin:
International Working Class Solidarity
The majority of the Western left has abandoned its most basic duty, which is international working class solidarity. Among other things, this is demonstrated by the majority of the Western Left not taking the slightest interest in what the working class or the left in Ukraine is thinking and doing. In place of aligning itself with the Ukrainian working class and the Ukrainian left, this majority of the Western left has at a bare minimum given political cover to Vladimir Putin, the head of state who is the foremost centralizer and promoter of the forces of chauvinism, bigotry and outright fascism in the world today. And the fact that most of the Western left claim to “oppose” the invasion makes no difference whatsoever given that they give political cover to it by spouting all Putin’s excuses about NATO, and all of Putin’s claims of Nazi domination of Ukraine and that 2014 was a “coup”, while simultaneously the Western left openly opposes the ability of Ukraine to get arms to actually fight the invasion.
If we are serious about combating this political degeneration of the Western Left and its alignment with fascism, we have to study the process through which this collapse in the elementary duties of socialism developed.
U.S. Capitalist agents
But first, before we discuss the political roots of degeneration, we must acknowledge that there are outright capitalist agents deeply responsible for the alignment of the Western left with Putin. They have played a significant role in cultivating the landscape for reactionary political thinking, and even fascism. Here are three of many examples of agents of the US government and of the American far right.
First, we have the influential so-called left economist Michel Chossudovsky from Canada, who works with the far right conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. Jones is famous for his website InfoWars and for his role in promoting Sandy Hook denialism. He is also a racist.
Second, we have have Ramsay Clark, who helped develop COINTELPRO – the US government program to infiltrate and disrupt the civil rights/black power movement and the anti-war movement in the US in the 1960s. Later, Ramsay Clarkwas closely associated with the forces that overthrew the radical government of Maurice Bishop in Grenada. As a lawuer in private practice, Ramsay Clark also represented various international fascists. Today, Ramsay Clark is influential in the US “antiwar” movement through political work inside and with the Workers World Party, known as the WWP.
Third is the example of former CIA agent Ray McGovern, who is a key figure in the US Party for Socialism and Liberation, commonly branded as the PSL. We should note that this PSL is entirely different from the PSL or Party for Socialism and Freedom in Venezuela. The only thing they have in common is the same abbreviation. Both Workers World Party and the US Party for Socialism and Liberation are central in the US left’s so-called anti-war movement.
Russian, Chinese and Syrian capitalist agents
There is another side to this capitalist agent coin: As numerous principled activists on the US left and in internationalist circles have pointed out for years, we also face the situation of having paid agents of the Chinese and Russian capitalist governments holding a visible presence in both fringe and more mainstream leftist media and organizations. These agents drum up easy disapproval of U.S. policies while promoting or strategically remaining silent on Russian, Syrian, Chinese, and Iranian state policies, riddled with fascist positioning. These presumably paid agents include Vanessa Beely, Benjamin Norton, Max Blumenthal, Eva Bartlett, Neville Roy Singham, Chris Hedges, and the now deceased Robert Fisk. Fisk, by the way, gained considerable credibility reporting live on the war in Afghanistan. However, he then went to Syria and became an agent of the fascistic Assad regime. Also, Neville Roy Singham, as an agent of the Chinese government, is a particularly important although little known figure who has also played a key role in disrupting the labor movement in South Africa. We will be discussing him and others in more depth next week.
These so-called journalists and so-called socialist activists and similarly paid types consciously sow the seeds of the betrayal of socialist principles, the most critical being: getting the left to abandon the fundamental principle of international working class solidarity.
But, I want to emphasize, for the seeds of fascist thinking to sprout, these agents need receptive soil and climate. It is our task now to understand how this pseudo-socialist soil and climate developed and what is its nature today.
I would like to begin this historical discussion by looking at the period between the two world wars. This is also known as the interwar period.
“Eurasianism” and Francis Parker Yockey
Here in the US, there is the tendency to see fascism simplistically, as being either German Nazis, or as exclusively US ultra-nationalists. However, during the inter war period, there was the development in Europe of pan-European fascism. This Pan-European fascism was also known as Eurasianism. This tendency attacked the role of the US which it saw as controlled by the Jews and too multi ethnic and not European enough. Eurasianism centered around a form of cultural racism more so than biological racism. A man named Francis Parker Yockey, who was an American born fascist but spent most of his political life in Europe, was a key figure in developing these “Eurasianist” ideas. We will see the significance of this trend with the rise of Putin later in this talk.
There has also always been a trend of radical, anti-capitalist, populist demagoguery in a layer of the fascist movement in both Europe and the US. A particularly clear example of this trend is what the Strasser brothers – Otto and Gregor Strasser – represented in the Nazi Party. The brothers went in somewhat different directions, and it was Gregor Strasser who ended up leading the “Strasserite” wing of the Nazi Party. This wing combined radical attacks on finance capital with support for German nationalism and anti-semitism. And what could be more natural since according to the anti-semitic myths it’s the Jews who betrayed Germany in WW I, causing its defeat, and it is the Jews who supposedly control the banking industry?
In fact, Strasserism was the Nazism that existed before Hitler took over. Hitler, in his 1920 Hofbrauhaus speech, said, “Since we are socialists, we must necessarily also be antisemites because we want to fight against the very opposite: materialism and mammonism… How can you not be an antisemite, being a socialist!” When Hitler took over the party, he wanted to get rid of all the socialist teachings of the party. He kept the name initially, for the sake of name recognition and to attract German workers to the party, but in 1934 Hitler purged all the Strasserist elements on what was called “The Night of the Long Knives” killing Gregor Strasser and those who belonged to the Strasser wing of the party.
It is important to understand the context, the situation in Germany, in which “Strasserism” developed: It was the period in which German national pride or patriotism had taken a blow due to its defeat in WW I. The result was that patriotism – German nationalism – was on the upswing. Also there was an extreme economic crisis in Germany, first with runaway inflation and then with the worldwide Great Depression. The result of that was a rising anger at the capitalist class. So what Strasserism did was combine these two moods and channel them into fascism through the Nazi or “National Socialist” Party.
The significance of Strasserism can be seen if we look at the US today. Here we see a similar situation except not as extreme: We see the weakening of US imperialism over the last decades. We also see the continuing economic attacks on the US working class. And MAGAism exploits both of these. Think about some of Trump’s main themes when he ran for office in 2016 – rebuild US heavy industry, oppose the Trans Pacific Trade Pact, and return the US to its former position of unchallenged global power. His campaign had elements of Strasserism in it.
From Left Populism to Racism and Fascism in the U.S.
This leads us to the question of the trend of radical anti capitalist and populist demagoguery in a layer of the fascist movement in United States. American fascism is similar to European Fascism in that it holds anti-Semitic and racist views and similarly has a history of attacking aspects of capitalism; and yet, as one might expect, early American fascism had a peculiarly American flavor.
Now, in the US fascism has usually been directly associated with biological racism as opposed to cultural racism. But there are some exceptions, the most prominent of which is the Proud Boys, who advocate cultural racism. In common with European fascism, US fascism has an anti-Semitic core.
Here are two examples:
First, at the turn of the 20th century you had Tom Watson of Georgia, who went from being a leftist politician to a far right racist demagogue. Tom Watson had been a leader of the Populist Party, which was a left wing radical agrarian party in the US South. Watson and the Populist Party attacked the bankers and the railroad trusts, and called on poor white people and poor Black people to unite against the so-called “parasites”. But what the Populist Party and Watson never did was attack the whole system of white supremacy itself. They never dealt with enforced segregation, lynchings, and the denial of the vote to black people. Watson ran for office based on an appeal around the common economic interests of black and white poor farmers. When he was defeated for office based on that very limited appeal, it wasn’t that hard for him to shift directly to demagogic racist and nativist appeals.
Another example was Huey P. Long in Louisiana. As governor, Long instituted quite a few public works projects and he became immensely popular including among black people. He catapulted this popularity into becoming Senator where he initiated a movement called “Share Our Wealth”. This movement Criticized FDR’s “New Deal” and being inadequate, and it called for massive federal spending, a wealth tax, and wealth redistribution.
Long laid plans to run for president against FDR but he was assassinated in 1930 before he could run. After that, Long’s chief lieutenant in the Share Our Wealth movement, Gerald L. K. Smith, linked up with the anti-semite Father Coughlin and from there turned to overt Nazism.
Some Peculiarities of US Capitalist Development
These examples give us a glimpse into a trend of radical, anti-capitalist, populist demagoguery in a layer of the fascist movement both in Europe and in the US. However there also were some things that were specific to the US brand of both radical left and fascist movements.
The peculiarly US flavor of these movements resulted from two unique factors of how US capitalism developed:
First was that alone among the imperialist powers, the US capitalist class never had to fight a war of ideas against a feudal aristocracy like they did in Europe. The result was that simplistic and extremely pragmatic thinking tends to be particularly strong in U.S. culture irrespective of class. Marx’s co-thinker Frederick Engels explained it well. Engels described the US contempt for theory as “a superstitious belief in every philosophical and economic absurdity… religious sectarianism and idiotic economic experiments, which however are profitable to certain bourgeois cliques…” This has been expecially seen in the tendency toward all sorts of simplistic monetary panaceas or cure-alls – including the panaceas of a single land tax, greenbackism, and free silver. Today we have the “Modern Monetary Policy” (MMP) that will supposedly solve all our economic problems. MMP is supported by Alexandra Ocasio Cortez among others.
The second unique factor of how US capitalism developed, results from the existence of the US Western frontier as a release valve that allowed east coast, midwest, and southern workers, overwhelmingly white workers to be clear, to escape the working class by moving out west. That contributed to a US class consciousness that has always been weaker than in other industrialized countries. It exists, but is weaker than elsewhere. We saw partial appeals to class consciousness in the southern Populist Party’s turn of the century appeals to “the common man” and their use of the terms “producers” vs. the “parasites” and the “moneyed interests”. The term “producers” refers to white male manual industrial workers which not only excluded black workers; it also implicitly excluded Jewish workers. It also excluded women. As for the “parasites”, that term referred to men who did not work with their hands – banker-types, who were sitting more comfortably in offices, and at the time they implicitly were Jews – the international bankers conspiracy and so on. For comparison, today, we see fascistic US Senator Josh Hawley – who gave the clenched fist salute to those who attempted the armed coup on January 6 – giving similar populist and implicitly anti Semitic speeches against “Wall Street”.
In sum, there has always been a trend of radical, anti-capitalist, populist demagoguery in a layer of the fascist movement both in Europe and in the US. The rejecting of a serious approach to theory in the United States, combined with an incomplete class consciousness, together were ripe terrain for racist demagogues to insert themselves in a peculiarly American way. That’s what Tom Watson of the Populist Party and Gerald L.K. Smith, originally of the Share Our Wealth movement, represented.
Russian Revolution and Stalinism
Now, as we know, the Russian Revolution of 1917 had a profound effect on the world’s working class, including here in the US. And every socialist or even anarchist movement was partly defined by how it related to the new leaders of the Soviet Union, with the supporters of that leadership – the various Communist Parties – really coming to dominate the left. I would like to briefly touch on the results of the degeneration of the Russian Revolution. I will leave for another day a further discussion the reasons behind it. But for anybody with eyes to see and ears to listen, it’s clear that that degeneration did happen and that that degeneration did have a profound effect on the left.
What we can say is that in my opinion the Russian working class lost control over their own movement. In their place, a monstrous, corrupt, inefficient and repressive bureaucracy developed. (Again: some claim that that bureaucracy was a capitalist class. I disagree, but I think and hope that that issue can be delved into another time.) Since that bureaucracy arose on the back of the revolution, it had to mouth rhetoric of the revolution while at the same time completely distorting the ideas of socialism – of Marxism – both in theory and in practice. But also, because of how that corrupt and oppressive bureaucracy arose in the first place, it was in a precarious situation. As a result, this bureaucracy had to viciously suppress the working class and in particular all those so-called “Old (or genuine) Bolsheviks”. Almost every single last one of them was executed by Stalin and his henchmen. The Stalinist bureaucracy eliminated its left opposition both in the Soviet Union and wherever the supporters of that Soviet bureaucracy gained any power abroad.
Here in the United States the degeneration of the Russian Revolution opened the door to a harsh capitalist counter-attack, especially starting after WW II. That counter attack was carried out by all wings of the government, by the employers and even by the union leadership. It was aimed not only at the Communists, but at any socialists whatsoever, and it sharply affected the working class. A whole layer of militants inside the unions was driven underground or out. It hardly mattered whether they were Communists, socialists or otherwise. If they weren’t outright expelled (which many were) they were ostracized and silenced.
I, personally, experienced this inside the Carpenters Union in slightly later years of this same period.
The expulsion of the Communists and others on the left from the unions was a major factor in opening the door to the domination of the unions in the United States by a conservative bureaucracy. That domination continues to this day with disastrous consequences, including a further lowering of class consciousness and a further lowering in international working class solidarity.
Crippling Effects of Stalinist Politics in the rest of the left
But it wasn’t only the attacks from above. The U.S. Communist Party insisted on blind loyalty to Stalin and his leadership around the world, starting around the 1930s.
For example, if the Stalinist leadership of the U.S. Communist Party got the word that we must oppose the US entering WW II, then no questions asked, that was the line. If after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, the Stalinist leadership turned on a dime and said we must enter WW II to defend the Soviet Union, then no questions asked, that was the line. If, in the course of the war, that meant scabbing on strikes, or opposing struggles against racist hiring practices, both of which were clearly unprincipled positions at odds with true socialism, then no questions asked, that was the line. And if the Stalinist leadership insisted that the Soviet Union was a workers’ paradise and that all criticism was simply lies and capitalist propaganda, “fake news” it would be called today, then no questions asked, that was the god-given truth.
This is strikingly similar to today, where we have Western leftists touring Venezuela as guests of the Maduro government or YouTubers and others touring Syria as guests of the Assad government and coming back with glowing reports. Back then we had similar visits to the Soviet Union with similar reports on the workers paradise that supposedly existed there.
What resulted from this hard line culture within the dominant wing of the left at the time was a degenerate and reactionary political posturing – whereby anybody who actually tried to ascertain the actual facts for themselves was considered disloyal and probably an agent of US imperialism.
Doesn’t that sound familiar?
And keep in mind, this was the 1930s and ‘40s!
No Clear Class Perspective
There was also another element to the political approach of those who supported the Soviet bureaucracy – again, let’s call them by their proper name, Stalinists. That was to get as far away as possible from a clearly articulated class consciousness. Instead it was the “progressive peoples of the world” and the “peace loving nations” and that sort of thing. Moving language and theory away from a clear class consciousness paved the way for abandonment of the class struggle in class terms, and in practice led to abandoning the socialist’s most basic duty, which is building international working class solidarity.
I want to reemphasize here that the emergence of Stalinisn is a critical juncture in the history of socialism. This Stalinist wing is overwhelmingly responsible for creating the soil and climate for both the degeneration and in fact utter perversion of socialist theory and practice.
Stalinism and Fascism
So what happened was this: Although they come from completely different situations and the dynamic is totally different, in its outer appearance Stalinist rule actually came to resemble the rule of fascism in some ways. This included totally crushing freedom of speech, all-out government surveillance of the mass of the population, and mass incarceration and mass executions. Any organizing of, by and for workers was crushed altogether. I want to emphasize, though, that in my view the equating of Stalinism with fascism is fundamentally mistaken mainly because fascism springs from a capitalist dynamic and the Soviet Union was not capitalist in my opinion.
The rise of Stalinism also affected the revolutions of the 1950s and ‘60s against colonial rule in Africa and Asia – from Congo to Algeria to Vietnam, and many stops in between. It affected both the course of these revolutions and it also affected how the left in the imperialist countries of Europe and the US saw those revolutions.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the revolutions against colonial rule convulsed the planet. It was an inspiration for tens of millions of youth in the imperialist world, including here in the US. And the Soviet bureaucracy played a major role in those revolutions, as did a variant of Stalinism: Maoism, which came on the scene in 1948, and it became basically Chinese Stalinism.
Yes, the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies supported these revolutions with both money and arms. But they insisted that these revolutions must not attack capitalism itself and that the working class must subordinate itself to theso called“national” capitalists. In the view of Stalinism, in the course of the revolutions against colonialism the working class had no independent role to play. They were not the subjects of history; they were just its objects – pawns to be pushed around. They were not to organize through their own, independent organizations. They were not to adopt a world view based on their experiences as workers. They were not to bring the small farmers and others along behind them. Yes, they could be called upon to be the foot soldiers in an army controlled by a wing of the capitalist class, but just as any foot soldiers ever, their experiences and their suffering also didn’t matter. All that mattered is the role of the “generals”, which in this case was the conflict between the Stalinist bureaucracy and the imperialists. The working class only mattered insofar as they served the interests of that Stalinist bureaucracy.
That is why the suffering of the modern day “foot soldiers” – the working class and its allies – first in Syria and now Ukraine doesn’t matter to these adopters of a modern day version of Stalinism. That. is. why.
It was Trotsky who vigorously opposed this Stalinist view in both theory and practice.
Stalinism’s goal: Buttress the Russian or Chinese Bureaucracy
The goal of Stalinism for any struggle was simply whatever the Soviet (or Chinese) bureaucracy saw as being in its immediate interest. Thus, for example, the Arab communist parties supported the foundation of the racist State of Israel because, so the argument went, that would weaken British imperialism. The fate of the Palestinian people didn’t matter.
Now what happened within the wider left here in the US – the left outside of the Communist Party and its immediate orbit?
The 70s and 80s became an important turning point. The wider US left found itself working increasingly closely with the Stalinists via coalition building.
You had, for example, coalitions to support the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Of course such revolutions deserved support of the left in countries like the US, but what was effectively prohibited was any critique of the politics of the leadership of that revolution and similar ones. These leaderships followed the dictates of Stalinism. Discussion of these political conditions by the wider US left was shut down not only by US Stalinists, for example, but also by those in coalition with them – liberals, radicals, and even supposed “Trotskyists”. The wider left adapted to the Stalinists, including its variant, Maoism. It was largely completely uncritical support. Any attempt to raise political questions about these struggles was branded as supporting US imperialism. What followed was inside the unions you began to see US leftists adapting to the union bureaucrats, as had the Stalinists; and outside the unions US leftists began adapting to the liberals and the nonprofiteers.
There were two threads that ran through all of this. These threads reinforced each other. One thread was the denial of the independent role of the working class. That applied to the working class from South Africa to Nicaragua. It also applied to the working class inside the unions in the United States. The other thread was a consolidation of the culture of “go along to get along” and refusal to seriously investigate actual events. It was a self-imposed blindness. Rudy Giuliani’s statement on the 2020 election could be the motto of these left coalitions: “We have our theories, we just don’t have the facts.”
Now, I talked about the disastrous effects of Stalinism. We’ve seen how the ideas of socialism became thoroughly perverted and also how any sort of independent thinking, any attempt to actually ascertain the actual facts or to build working class independence was suppressed.
But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its return to capitalism this degeneration of socialist politics got even worse!
Putin’s rise to power in 2000 initially amounted simply to the chief gangster dominating his rival gangsters. But Putin came to realize he had to build a base of popular, public support at home. With the 2004 color revolutions in Eastern Europe, followed by the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions, Putin was increasingly aware of the growing distaste of totalitarian leaderships. The 2014 Maidan uprising in Ukraine was the final straw. Putin began building his base through boosting the Russian Orthodox Church and its ideology of mystical appeals to the glory days of the old Tsarist Russian empire, and actual fascism.
Putin used, and uses to this day, the propaganda theme that both the Stalinists and a previous generation of fascists used: anti-Americanism. Not in the sense of opposing imperialism and oppression on principle; simply that the United States was the source of all evil in reality because it was a rival to Russian imperialism. In other words, Putin has slowly revived the 1920s and ‘30s fascist ideals of Eurasianism. These ideals today are expounded by the Russian fascist ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin.
An event of central importance that we really should discuss further was a conference held in Moscow in December of 2014. This conference was organized by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia – the AGMR.
Aleksandr Dugin and AGMR Conference
Behind the scenes was this key figure, Aleksandr Dugin, author of the 1997 book called The Foundations of Geopolitics. That book is now a playbook for fascists around the world. Dugin had spent decades traveling around Europe meeting up with different fascists and today he is the main political advisor to Putin, “Putin’s brain” he is called, and in my opinion he probably played a key role, if not the key role, in Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine.
So, in Moscow, in December 2014, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia conference revolved around 2 themes: (1) a “multi polar world” and (2) “the right of nations to self determination.” Those sound like something that any socialist should support. But in reality it was a revival of the fascism propounded during the interwar period by Francis Parker Yockey, the American fascist and Eurasianist ideologue I mentioned earlier. By a “multi-polar world” what was really meant was a return to a form of Eurasianism. As for the right of nations to self-determination: What was really meant by “nations” was that different ancient cultures and “ancient peoples”, should have the sole right to inhabit any particular nation. Therefore, the right of nations to self determination as advanced by the AGMR and similar forces is simply another form of cultural racism. Carried to its ultimate extreme, it can become an excuse for mass ethnic or national cleansing and even genocide.
When Putin today talks about Ukraine having no right to exist, he does it in those terms, talking about the ancient Rus peoples. We see its real meaning most clearly with the example of the Hungarian chauvinist leader Viktor Orban who put it perfectly when he said in 2015 “We do not want to see in our midst any minorities whose cultural background differs from ours.” That is what they mean by “national self determination”.
Now Dugin in his “fourth political theory” advocates that there is no left or right anymore. He argues that the left and the right should unite, and that is exactly what happened at that Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia conference. You had fascists from all over Europe and the United States in attendance, including the overt white supremacist group League of the South.
But you also had key figures from the US “anti-war” left there – mainly from the radical left milieu around those two probable US agents I mentioned, Ramsay Clark, the architect of COINTELPRO who is now part of Workers World Party & Ray McGovern, a former CIA Agent who is now involved in PSL – Party for Socialism and Liberation.
The largest left group in attendance was United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC), the American so-called leftist organization that purportedly advocates against police abuse at home in the States and against Washington’s military interventions abroad, but fails to condemn police abuse in Russia and Russia’s military interventions abroad. UNAC attendees included: Margaret Kimberley of Black Agenda Report, Bill Dores of the International Action Center, and UNAC Co-Coordinator Joe Lombardo. UNAC is a regular guest at the People’s Forum, which is connected to Code Pink founders and Uighur genocide denier Neville Roy Singham, who was mentioned earlier as being an agent for the Chinese government.
So, as you can see, for one of the first times, the US left came into physical proximity and overt ideological alignment with the fascist right. It was a significant moment.
Now, as I said earlier, the return of capitalism to Russia made the degeneration of socialist politics in the Western left even worse. Together with his number one ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, Putin not only built a base in Russia but also worked to build a base outside of Russia. As Dugin’s “Fourth Political Theory” advocated, Putin built a base of support in both the Western far right and the Western left.
Not Putin Alone
Putin has succeeded in helping to bring much of the Western left into political alignment with the Western far right. But I want to emphasize: It wasn’t simply Putin alone; nor was it the other agents I’ve mentioned alone – including the US capitalist agents. The conditions had been prepared by all the previous history – in the U.S. by the relatively weak class consciousness and the tendency towards pragmatism which spring from the very way US capitalism developed; globally by the disastrous role of Stalinism; and then, ironically, by the return of capitalism in Russia, its so-called satellite countries, and in China. These theoretical confusions were already there when Putin arrived on the scene. The neglect and even outright denial of the centrality of the independent role of the working class both at home and abroad was already there. The neglect for the lived experiences of the working class and the masses of people was already there. The refusal to seriously examine actual facts and actual events was already there. All of this had its own inherent logic, its own natural course of development. These theoretical confusions in and of themselves organically led to the abandonment of international working class solidarity. That is the main point.
I conclude with this: There is a long historical precedent for theoretical degeneration in the socialist movement. At the outbreak of WW I, the majority of the socialist movement betrayed the world working class and betrayed socialism by siding with their “own” capitalists in their imperialist ventures. French socialists sided with the French capitalists, German socialists sided with the German capitalists, British socialists sided with British capitalists, etc. They abandoned that fundamental principle: international working class solidarity. That betrayal didn’t come out of nowhere; it simply revealed a rot that had been developing for a long time before WW I. But out of the ashes of that old socialist movement a new, invigorated revolutionary movement developed. That that movement also degenerated – how and why – is the subject of this discussion. And what amounts to effective support for the fascist loving Putin is simply the culmination of this degeneration.
Where does this leave us? What can we help to accomplish in conjunction with thousands of others? Our collective task is to understand what happened and why and to contribute to the struggle to rebuild a new, revolutionary socialist movement on the ashes of the old.
After a full discussion, this was my reply to the comments:
First of all, I want to give a nod of thanks to the fellow members of this team that put this together. Linda, Cheryl, and Megan, and especially Megan, who spent must have been 30 hours or more with me, helping me work through these ideas. And so what I want to emphasize is, this is not a product of any one individual. And there’s a political lesson to be drawn from that, in that our struggle to understand what’s happening, and without which we cannot deal with what’s happening. And that struggle has to include an understanding of the history of where we come from. That is not the struggle of any one small group of people. If you found this discussion interesting or useful, I hope you will return and urge others to come back to next week’s meeting.
I’d like to start by commenting on what Charles had to say. And I’ve known him for years. I like him. I’ve worked with him. And I completely disagree with his approach. I want to comment on on his general point, but first and foremost, and I think somebody else was commenting on this, maybe it was Simon, especially in this period, you cannot start with a preconceived notion. Of course, we have our conception of how we see the world, which is to say, our theoretical views, and you can’t just discard them at the drop of a hat. But sometimes, when things just don’t feel right, you have to say, “Well wait a minute now. Is something changed in the world? Is something different?” And you have to go and investigate the actual facts. And I have to say, I think that’s exactly what Charles is not doing.
I don’t want to pick on Charles himself. But there’s a wider point here: that is what the overwhelming majority of the Western left is not doing. You can pick out this or that or the other particular fact, in order to so called “prove” your point. But it’s a bit like, if you look at a river, and the river flows in this direction, but there will always be some little back eddies that go in the opposite direction. So you can pick out watching that little back eddie over here and say, well, that proves my point, that the river is going that way [points to the right], when in fact, the main current is going that way [points to the left]. And I do feel that that’s what Charles is doing, and well on, let me change that: I do feel that that is what the majority of the Western left does, when they call this a proxy war and inter imperialist war and so on. Yes, of course, there are elements of that in this invasion. But start with just one particular fact: that there were so many workers that volunteered to fight against the invasion right at the sign, that the Ukrainian army couldn’t handle them all. According to many reports, people were trying to pay the military recruiters to get into the military.
Now, if this is an actual proxy war, you’re not going to see that sort of thing. And so, as I say, you have to look at the actual facts. And we have to think also about what are the consequences of what we advocate. And again, that’s looking at things in a concrete way, not just in the abstract, not just imposing our theoretical concepts, or constructs. We can’t get anywhere without theory. But the theory is just the generalized history. And what the majority of the Western left calls for is two things. No sanctions on the one hand, and number two, no arms to Ukraine. So what does that mean? Well, no arms to Ukraine: We know what that means no arms to Ukraine. Now the sanctions: You know, I’m not saying I support all the sanctions, but let’s look at it concretely: there are numerous reports and enough that they have to be believed that a lot of the the arms factories in Russia, are starting to shut down entirely or slow down, because they cannot produce or repair the arms that Russia is using to bomb Ukraine to smithereens (and) just slaughter 1000s of Ukrainian people. They (the Russian military) can’t produce enough arms because of the sanctions. So what is the Western left calling for? They’re, in fact, in practice calling for arming Russia, but not arming Ukraine! So again, my point is not so much. who’s right and who’s wrong on this issue. But again, the position of 99% of this western left says in words, they oppose the invasion, but their position actually, if it had any effect, would strengthen the invasion! So and as I said, that is an example of this whole historical trend, that I tried to point out of imposing certain theoretical constructs without looking at the actual facts.
And I have to say this for myself: you know, when the invasion started, I had to think long and hard: “do I support the US sending arms to Ukraine?” I mean, that goes against everything that I stood for, for the last, I don’t know, 40 years or something like that. Or it seemed to, because I’ve always opposed us military involvement anywhere in the world. But I had to think it through exactly in that way. And I don’t think I was alone in that. I’m raising myself as an example. Because it’s not an easy conclusion. For many of us, especially people of my generation. It’s not an easy conclusion for us to reach. But when you look at it concretely, which is what Marxism is supposedly all about, how can you escape that conclusion?
Incidentally, what that really shows is that something that’s fundamentally different that’s arisen in this period in history, and I’d like to drag in by the hair another aspect: I wasn’t alone in being almost absolutely certain that Hillary Clinton was going to get elected in 2016. And when that didn’t happen, you know, my view was, “oh, well, Donald Trump is in. they’re going to get him in line just like any other Republican. But that didn’t happen. And what did you see the great majority of the left here in the United States, the same left that now in practice supports the Russian invasio (what did they say)? Ever since that time, they say, “well, Trump is not fundamentally different. He’s nothing different from Bush, Reagan, and so on.” Really? Yeah, Bush and Reagan – they really organized tried to organize a military coup to retain to remain in office. I mean, again, it’s that same method of insistence on what was true in the past has to be true now. And it’s a disaster. It means that the left cannot play any serious role except, whether they intend to or not, actually supporting Putin. And I want to reply to what Luke said, that, “yes, there may be some well meaning people who in practice support Putin.” But you know, it’s not only what you think affects what you say. It’s (also) the other way (around), that what you say will affect what you think and will affect your actual intentions. And if you repeat lies often enough, if you often enough cover for mass murder, mass rape, mass atrocities… you see, there’s a video circulating of some Russian soldier actually castrating a prisoner, a Ukrainian prisoner of war. If you cover up that stuff often enough, then your whole socialist revolutionary working class, whatever you want to call it, integrity gets flushed down the toilet. So you might have start, I’m not referring to Luke with this, I’m referring to the general process, they might have started out as good and well meaning. But you know, it’s not anymore.
I also I want to thank Patrick, not just for his presence here and for the points that that he made. And, and, yeah, this Neville Roy Singam guy is a really interesting character. And as Megan said, we didn’t mean to say he’s the founder of Code Pink, he’s married to one of the founders of Code Pink, Jody Evans, I think is their name. And he must be the main financier behind it. And, of course, Code Pink is probably the most prominent, so called “peace and justice” group in the United States. And they’re not only calling in effect for Ukraine to surrender by just simply a negotiated peace at this time. That’s what that means. They’re also supporters of the Iranian dictatorship – Code Pink is. So I mean, that’s calling for justice? And it’s not just Code Pink; it’s the fact that Code Pink isn’t laughed or booed out of the arena by everybody else on the left. And so we have to see how this has played out in in other parts of the world. And I think that what Patrick raised about South Africa and NUMSA… I remember in in the 1980s, the black, South African labor movement, was the envy of serious trade unionists all around the world.
And what happened there? It’s not that not that different from what’s happened here [in the U.S.].
And I’m ever reminded of what Giuliani said about the elections here: “we have our theories, we just don’t have the facts.” And that could be the model of 75% of the Western left!
I [also] agree with what Szymon said about this not being 100%, linked to to the role of Stalinism. And in the United States, you also see the liberals, social democrats and so on – who historically have not had any problem working hand in glove with the Stalinist many, many times – you see it happening again.
And also, as I explained, [we have] the role of populism in the United States, the denigration of the role of theory, and pragmatic thinking, and all of that, which has been a historic trend here, way before Stalinism was ever even came on the scene.
Also, I think that what Cheryl said about being cut off from the working class is fundamental. Because if you don’t keep in mind what the working class is, thinking and doing, and their experiences in your own country, you’re sure as hell are not going to be keeping [that] in mind as far as the Syrian or Ukrainian working class.
So, in conclusion, you know, the world working class, and the socialist movement, which should stand at its head, was caught unprepared for World War One. And it suffered the consequences of that. And I would say that we ourselves have been caught unprepared for these developments and we are suffering the consequences of that. And the only way to try to prepare at least a small layer of the world socialists and anti-capitalist movement is to try to prepare it and try to repairsome of the damage that’s been done, by going back, studying history, studying what happened and why, and then draw some practical conclusions for the future. And that is what we are trying to do here in this one meeting as one small part of that overall task. And I hope that others here and elsewhere, especially in Ukraine, that they will play a huge role in preparing that, in preparing for building anew out of the ashes of the old, a new genuine world socialist revolutionary movement.