Category Archives: Off-topic

Ethical Socialism

There are few things I find more pretentious in the political sphere than inventing your own ideology. Over the past few years my own ideology has evolved quite a bit based on acceptance of certain objective facts, some of which compelled me to reject other beliefs because I refuse to live in a state of unreality. Despite the more eclectic nature of my beliefs, I still don’t resort to coming up with some neologism or long string of hyphenated words to describe them. These days I typically just say “socialist” and if someone wants to inquire further we can take it from there.

This being said, I’ve been struggling for some time now with the question of what sincere socialists can do in a world where open fascism at worst and proto-fascist authoritarianism at best appear to be on a triumphant march across the globe, especially considering the increasingly disturbing convergence between the traditional left and the far-right. While in the West radical leftists still display admirable ability to confront open fascism in the streets, leading some far-right figures to go as far as to concede defeat, they have at the same time displayed incredibly poor judgment when it comes to foreign policy, often defending the propaganda of authoritarian and right-wing states and sometimes regurgitating and/or otherwise legitimizing the talking points of literal fascists. At this point it matters little whether they still do it unwittingly or not- results are what matter, and the results we’ve seen in the past decade has been a major net gain for fascism. Indeed, this has been the case despite a historical crisis of global capitalism that ought to have been a major boon to proponents of an alternate, more humane system. To put it simply, the left clearly fucked up.

How did we get here? This is a question that demands a thorough autopsy, one that delves to the very root of the problem. For if we do not get down to the root and pluck it out, we will never fix what’s wrong with the left. And believe me, something is very wrong.

While most leftists openly proclaim they are in favor of equality, freedom, democracy, and the breakdown of unjust hierarchies, we have seen how in certain contexts they are easily capable of displaying xenophobia, Islamophobia, Orientalism, or other behaviors totally antithetical to their stated values. When it comes to universal healthcare at home or human rights in Gaza, the average American leftist is a moral saint and a humanitarian. Switch the venue to Syria, Ukraine, or now Nicaragua, and suddenly they identify with the oppressors and authoritarians while dismissing masses of people they don’t know in countries they’ve never been to as pawns without agency in a geopolitical game. I’ve seen some even refer to the “socialism” that some Western leftists seem to want as “Herrenvolk socialism,” or in other words- socialism for my kind- fuck the rest of the world.

As we dig for the roots I’d concur with others that there is a major epistemological problem on the left, one which leads to these corrupted, deformed takes on certain issues. Put simply, the problem is an out-of-date approach to politics and a Dunning-Kruger like conceit that prevents many from correcting their ideological errors. The former tends to manifest in “campism” or vulgar anti-Americanism, whereby countries are sorted into America and its allies, i.e. “the empire” or “hegemony,” and the countries that are supposedly “resisting” that hegemony. The latter manifests in the insistence that one’s leftist politics somehow give them a more internationalist, informed point of view when oftentimes it can be just as ignorant as the xenophobic rightist view.

To see this in action all you need to do is invoke the right event in the right place. For example, your average leftist would bristle with rage at the assertion that Palestine is a made-up nation whose population consists of terrorist-sympathizers. But they will readily accept the Russian imperialist-colonialist narrative that Ukraine is a contrived nation whose population, insofar as they identify as a separate people, consists of right-wingers and neo-Nazis. The leftist would similarly react at the assertion that residents of Gaza have no right to complain about IDF bombing when their territory is used by Hamas, elected by the people, to fire rockets into Israeli territory. Yet when there’s talk of Assad and Russia’s bombing of civilian targets in Aleppo, Idlib, and so on, we hear how these territories are controlled by “jihadists.” In fact, leftists who routinely talk about Palestinian rights have often been utterly silent on Assad’s treatment of Palestinians in his territory. In Afghanistan and Iraq, leftists routinely pointed out that one cannot bomb terrorism away, and that bombing civilians only radicalizes more people into becoming terrorists. Yet leftists curiously don’t employ that formula when it’s Assad doing the bombing. In short, Syria alone has transformed much of the Western left into Bush-era neocons cheering on their own War on Terror, all because it isn’t “the empire” carrying out the atrocities.

With similar inconsistency, the Western left expresses indignation at conspiratorial accusations that they are controlled by George Soros or Vladimir Putin, yet they are more than ready to accuse protesters in other nations as dupes of the CIA or State Department. For Americans, to use one example, it is not necessary to identify with one’s government. One is allowed to dissent and stand up for better rights and against policies which negative impact them. But for residents in countries which the leftists deem “anti-imperialist,” there is no such luxury. Here the interests of such nations are expressed via their ruling classes rather than the majority of the people. Ergo Yanukovych represents Ukraine, Assad Syria, and Ortega Nicaragua. The only ordinary citizens of these countries worth listening to are those who support the “legitimate government.” One who is personally acquainted with the situation in such countries or at least similar situations in other countries need not strain their imagination as to how those same leftists would act if the “legitimate governments” in their own countries were to adopt the practices of their arbitrarily-chosen “anti-imperialist” heroes.

The inconsistencies mentioned here are often so glaring it’s infuriating when some leftists act so oblivious to them, but there lies that root of the problem, the epistemological problem. Speaking generally, leftists adopt these erroneous positions because they reverse cause and effect between their political identity and the values they purport to have. In other words, they identify as socialists, anarchists, etc. and then assume this means they hold certain values, rather than holding certain values which lead them to adopt a socialist worldview. The result is that they assume they can’t be racist or xenophobic because the identity ostensibly negates that possibility- though in reality it obviously doesn’t.

So what is the solution? Well this is where terminology comes in. If there’s one positive trend I have seen on the left in recent years it is the tendency to characterize socialist politics not in terms of theory but rather basic decency and morals. For example, people point to our healthcare system, one of the most irrational in the entire developed world, and rightfully declare it immoral. It is immoral that in a country so wealthy, wealthy enough to pass an annual defense budget of over $700 billion and announce the creation of a whole new military branch focused on space, people are forced to resort to online crowdfunding to get medical treatment. It is immoral that people with insurance can’t even see a doctor because of the bureaucratic red tape that comes with private insurance.

This is a very positive development. Some time ago I began to realize that the trick to advancing socialism (and we have precious little time if we are to preserve human life on this planet) cannot possibly lie in getting everyone to consciously adopt a certain theoretical worldview or even identity (i.e. socialist), but rather in advancing the idea that capitalism is inherently immoral. As I once put it- get people to see capitalism the way they see cannibalism or pedophilia and you’ve won. A person may not identify as a socialist, but they should see the way Amazon treats its works as disgusting, and by extension they should see a system that requires and rewards such practices as disgusting. That day will be the true day of triumph for socialism.

Here is where I break my rule and humbly suggest that a term is needed to define this kind of socialism. I’ve been referring to it as ethical socialism. The idea is that you begin with certain values- that people are equal and have worth, that it is wrong to require the majority of people to give up the majority of their life so that a minority can live in luxury, that if we can provide everyone with the necessities of life then we should and it is immoral to do otherwise, that unjustified hierarchies deserve to be abolished, and so forth, and your political identity as a socialist flows logically from those values, rather than assuming you must hold them simply because you called yourself a socialist.

I believe that once you make this switch erroneous ideas that lead one toward reactionary thinking suddenly become exposed. If you believe all humans have rights and you have the right to protest against your government for its authoritarian practices, then others have the same right. If you believe that fascism is a danger that must be opposed at all costs, you will not be echoing their talking points and sharing platforms with them.

Naturally this isn’t a silver bullet solution. We can still make errors of judgment, usually due to lack of information. But I would assert that it is far better to start with certain core values and base decisions on a case-by-case consideration of said values rather than adopting some identity and just assuming this means you hold all the values traditionally associated with it. My experience living in the Former Soviet Union, where yesterday’s “ardent Communists” and “internationalists” often rapidly reinvented themselves as right-wing reactionaries has ultimately taught me to put more faith in people’s values and how they adhere to them than the labels they might adopt.

As such, a label like “ethical socialist” would seem paradoxical. Thus I intend to use it only to describe a certain concept, an approach to socialist politics, rather than a label. Ethical socialism is about living and advancing certain values first and foremost. I can only hope that it will catch on.

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What Is to Be Done About the Left?

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, the Western right is basically one big grift. One way or another you dupe middle class white boomers or frustrated 20-something NEETs into giving you money while ultra-rich individuals, think tanks, and corporations give you a platform with which to do it. There are many different forms of this grift, often rehashed with little variations here and there over the years. One such grift is the “I used to be a leftist!”

This is where the person claims (or in some cases they actually were) they used to be on “the left” until they were “driven away” by something, most often “political correctness” or some other vague bullshit. Now I’m not about to disparage anyone’s so-called lived experience here; I’m sure in some cases these people were actually truly believing leftists of some sort. It’s cultish to the extreme to dismiss this phenomenon by saying “they never truly believed” or that they never fully understood the politics. But these conversion stories always seem to me as highly dubious. After all, I can totally understand being fed up with a certain community on the left, but if you really held basic progressive core beliefs why would you go and join, or aid those who represent diametrically opposed values? Why not migrate to those among the left who you feel better represent those basic values?

But these days I find myself confronting a very unusual situation. What happens when you find yourself pushed away from the left, mainly because you want to avoid the far-right and with each passing year you see the former increasingly tailing the latterWhat about avoiding the mainstream radical left to avoid looking like an Infowars-level conspiracy crank at best, and associating with literal fascists at worst? This is quite a conundrum, but recently I’ve discovered on Twitter that I’m not the only person to notice this phenomenon.

One individual has taken a very harsh stance on the matter. Rather than specifically call out “tankies” or “red-browns” they have flat out accused “leftists” of being fascists, albeit with plenty of good evidence and logical arguments. I voiced my disagreement with this wording, because I believe that no matter how difficult it can be to communicate with some radical leftists from time to time, it is our responsibility to try to set people on the right path whenever and wherever we can. As sayeth Jesus in the scripture, it is not the healthy who need a physician but the ill.

That being said, I must concede this individual had one compelling argument for being so harsh on the radical left as a whole. Paraphrasing their words as best I can, they pointed out how next-to-impossible it is to convince leftists that they are engaging in fascist, racist, or anti-Semitic thinking simply because they identify as left. In other words, they are convinced that by virtue of being leftists, Communists, socialists, or whatever, their core beliefs could not possibly be contaminated by reactionary ideas. While I still disagree that this is justification for writing off the whole radical left there’s a compelling argument here, so much so that it bears devoting some time to developing a solution.

Since 2014 the danger of red-brown,or as one comrade eloquently put it, “bloody shit,” organizing has been rising exponentially. A lot of this, incidentally, has been thanks to Russian propaganda organs such as RT and Sputnik, along with lesser known websites like Fort Russ or Vinyard of the Saker. It is through these vectors that propaganda largely inspired by the fascist Alexander Dugin is diffused and distributed to different ends of the political spectrum. To the leftists is an anti-corporate, anti-globalization message, and the far-right receives a message promising “self-determination” in the form of national separation. The main purpose of all of this, of course, is to push the Kremlin’s foreign policy goals. It matters little whether the recipients think Ukraine is controlled by a neo-Nazi junta or a cabal of conspiring Jews- and Russian propaganda regularly insists both simultaneously- all that matters is that the recipient believes that Kyiv is the ally of their enemies and Russia has a right to intervene in Ukraine as it sees fit.

I do not plan to get into more details of current red-brown activity in this post. I have already done that some time ago, but for those who want to look into the matter further I recommend starting with this link. My focus in this post, which may become part of a much longer series, is to try to determine why the left continues to be vulnerable to far-right entryism and what can be done about it.

Acceptance

The sad fact is that a lot of the left is in denial about the red-brown problem. Some call it guilt by association. Others dismiss it as “horseshoe theory.” Some insist that if they happen to take the same position as fascists, they have completely different reasons. Others are still inexcusably ignorant about the problem entirely.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem. In this case we need to identify the problem of red-brown activity and far-right entryism. Many veterans of the left may look at the attitudes of millennials toward socialism or the rise in popularity for movements like Democratic Socialists of America and decide this is a very positive trend. What they may be missing, however, is the fact that many of these young people have no idea what socialism is and they are merely reacting to the vagaries of so-called “late capitalism.” As such, their theoretical foundation is quite weak. Older leftists should welcome them, but also educate them. At the same time, we need to reevaluate our own values and rhetoric and ask ourselves if we are being consistent in our opposition to racism, imperialism, and so forth.

Many young leftists, and far too many old ones, seem utterly oblivious to the the idea that far-right organizations often seek out alliances with them for their own ends. This is by no means a new phenomenon. Alexander Reid Ross has written a comprehensive book on the subject (though it fails hard on Ukraine, ironically because at least one of the cited sources on that topic was himself a member of a red-brown Russia-affiliated front). The basic summary is that almost from the very dawn of modern socialism, there have always been attempts to appropriate some aspects of that movement and meld them with reactionary, right-wing values. And there’s an interesting thread running throughout this long history to the present day- it seems wherever red-brown activity has taken place, it is always the right that gets the most benefit, while the left is typically weakened. It doesn’t matter if we’re speaking of Germany in the Weimar days or today, where parts of the left and far-right sound almost identical on topics like Syria or Russia, yet it is the far-right that is in power and ascendant while the left still flounders ineffectually. There’s a powerful lesson in this- red-brown activity is poison for the left and a boon to fascists. 

Once we acknowledge how serious the threat is, we need to do something about it.

 

Educate

The most important thing is for leftists to understand that this is a serious phenomenon and it is not some centrist liberal horseshoe theory. This has a very long, well documented history and new activists need to be made aware of it.

Also, while teaching good theory can sometimes lead to disagreements and sectarianism, it can also sometimes act as a vaccination against typical red-brown tactics. A person who has a more robust understanding of capitalism and socialism is less likely to fall for the “anti-establishment,” “anti-globalization” rhetoric so often used by the far right entryists. But far more important than theory is a solid system of ethics. History has shown that by divorcing socialism from its moral imperative, all manner of atrocities and unprincipled compromises are possible.

Our moribund concept of “anti-imperialism” is a perfect example of this. So many leftists get so bound up in “opposing imperialism,” which is in their eyes solely Western if not American, that they willfully embrace outright reactionary if not fascist regimes (the Assad regime for example, is arguably fascist by definition). We must never lose sight of the fact that we must oppose all forms of imperialism, but never to such extent that we end up defending far right regimes and regurgitating their propaganda. This is precisely what much of the left is doing now, particularly when it comes to Syria, and in doing so they have literally joined the chorus of far right Assad backers such as the alt-right and old Nazis like David Duke.

Summing up this point, what is far more important than political labels are the values that motivate us to adopt them. Edgy teenagers and college students readily become “Marxists,” “anarchists,” or whatever because this often provides a necessary sense of solidarity and belonging.  But when organizations become nothing but a social circle or a club, cult-like thinking begins and there is pressure to go along with the group in spite of moral conflicts. One should adopt an ideology stemming from basic values. In my humble opinion, one should be a socialist based on values of true liberty and equality, not for social or aesthetic reasons. When you are guided by these basic values, you are less likely to make unprincipled compromises based on purely tactical reasoning such as the enemy of my enemy is my friend (probably the worst concept in political history).

Another thing we need to be educating leftists about is something I’ve seen some Twitter folks refer to as unreality. Unreality is a somewhat novel concept that it is a bit more nuanced than propaganda. Unreality is a state where one bends reality to fit their political worldview. It goes beyond typical conspiratorial thinking in the sense that conspiracy theories become mandatory as a way to process events. For example, in order to maintain the fiction that Assad is the “least worst” option in Syria, one must not only ignore the indisputable fact that his regime and its backers have caused the vast majority of deaths in that civil war, but every particularly egregious atrocity, especially chemical attacks, are nothing but “false flags” designed to provoke a Western regime-change invasion that never comes. Once you can accept some of these claims, there’s no reasonable argument to refrain from going full on Infowars. Remember- when we give up a belief in objective truth we give up the core of our revolutionary theory.

Lastly, it’s time for leftists, especially Americans, to stop living in the Iraq War era where every negative comment by the presidential administration is treated like the run-up to a massive military invasion. One of the most idiotic things I see are claims that criticism of the Kremlin could lead to World War III. Turkey shot down a Russian military jet, one of whose pilots was killed as a result, and in a matter of months the their two dictators had kissed and made up. More recently, the United States wiped out dozens of Russian mercenaries and the Kremlin has been curiously quiet on the matter. If Russia is so volatile that it will launch a nuclear holocaust in response to criticism, that really says more about Russia than it does about the West. In any case, the militaristic rhetoric that has been a staple of Russian media for many years is far more confrontational than anything we see in the US media even in the midst of “Russiagate.”

No Platform

This one is pretty simple- do not accept a platform from the far right or any outlet the routinely gives them a platform. That means no RT, no Sputnik, and certainly no Tucker Carlson (he’s basically a full on blood and soil nationalist now). Do some research to find out whose behind the outlet offering you a spot for commentary or a job.  It is far better to keep your message pure and independent than to get a larger audience via a compromised platform. After all, a large portion of that audience is most likely diametrically opposed to your values anyway.

To be Continued…

I’d like to say there’s a conclusion to all of this, but the truth is that I am merely scratching the surface with this post. It is one thing to study historical phenomena and draw conclusions based on it; it’s another matter entirely when we are actually watching things evolve in real time. We may very well be living in an era of American proto-fascism, and I’m convinced that one of the ways we got to this point has to do with the far right doing a comprehensive overhaul of their strategy and tactics in the past few years. That process is ongoing as well. Among the main changes include things that were traditionally associated with the left, from pro-Palestine activism to opposition to Reagan-Thatcher neoliberalism and embracing Russia despite the regime’s overt display of Soviet imagery.

Since the far right is not bound by the kind of moral values which ought to guide the left, they can rapidly evolve and molt much faster than their opponents can respond to their tactics. As such we are playing catch up and there is precious little time. It is my hope that in the near future every prominent left organization will start taking the red-brown menace seriously. Otherwise we may not have an organized left at all.

The Dark Future: It’s a Blog About Star Wars Again

In a few years they will start making Star Wars films via computer algorithm. They will be designed to create a pastiche of characters and images that reference the original series, post original trilogy, prequels, etc. A Star Wars for every fan.

The program will create a random-named protagonist and then it will be assigned to be a relative/acquaintance/friend/mentor of some important character from the main original films, e.g. Wint Blinko, Han Solo’s forgotten nephew. Based on this, a plot will be assembled with various references to Han Solo’s story, e.g. it will turn out that our hero learned about the importance of a blaster from Han! Or a love interest will say “I love you” and he’ll respond with “I know,” and the whole audience laughs and claps because they get the reference.

Of course technology being what it is, many of these computer-manufactured films will have errors and bugs. Some may introduce subplots that are unresolved, or a supporting character may be missing in the second half of the film for no reason. In this case, Disney will release no refunds nor apologies. There will just be a statement like: “We regret that our latest film, Uncle Owen’s Garbage Man: A Star Wars Story, was released without an ending or audio from 1:09:47-1:13:08. We hope next months release of AT-ST Pilot Adventure works out better.”

Fans the world over will curse the company, and yet they will continue to fork over their money.

Generations later, war has ended human civilization. Nature begins to reclaim the Earth. But there, in a Disney bunker complex somewhere in northern California, the Star Wars supercomputer lives on, immortal. Directly connected to cinema screens around the world, every few months a new Star Wars movie is released. If an alien visitor were to touch down on the planet and stumble upon a cinema, they might be able to catch Wookie Battle: A Star Wars Story.

Powered by nuclear batteries designed to run on fuel that won’t run out for millions of years, the Star Wars computer lives on as the final tombstone of humankind…

Moving On

Some time ago I promised to write about why I’m dialing down my operations, including this blog (it’s not going away though). That day has come. As I alluded to around the same time, part of the reason has to do with changing employment and focus on other activities such as martial arts and trying to learn screenwriting. In other words, I’m “getting out” of the Russia watching business mainly due to very positive changes in my life. And that is a big relief, because to be honest this business is ugly and I’ve been trying to break out of it almost since the very beginning.

I suppose the main reason for hanging up my spurs is that to be honest, the blog accomplished what it was meant to. I never managed to make a living directly from it, but it got me plenty of work and jobs thanks to the people it reached. Nowadays it seems kind of redundant because while Russia does still come up with the occasional curve ball, it tends to follow the same pattern for long periods of time. When it comes to commentary, there’s very little I can say that I haven’t said before. Yes, my views on these subjects do evolve as more facts become available, but in general things don’t change. And when it comes to breaking news about Russia, I could never hold a candle to a site like Meduza or The Moscow Times. 

Another issue is the tribalism surrounding Russia and especially Ukraine, the latter being “my side,” so to speak. This tribalism is what leads to the phenomenon of taking fire from your own side, because you fail to fully conform to what the tribe demands. This, more than anything else, is the most demoralizing aspect of this business.

In the tribal discourse, you are attacked by your own side for failing to say the right slogans, or questioning certain claims, strategies, tactics, etc. I put special emphasis on the word say here, because for tribalists, whom I have in the past dubbed as cheerleaders or football nationalists for their resemblance to sports fans, all that matters is that you say the right things in public. Actions to back your words are rarely a concern. Whether the slogans or talking points are conducive to a winning strategy is also irrelevant to the tribe. To put it simply, this is magical thinking, whereby engaging in rituals and saying the correct invocations equates to positive results in the real world. And yet while these empty gestures continually fail to achieve real results, the tribe insists that you do not question them, otherwise you are disloyal and working for the other side.

This magical thinking seems to pervade nearly all politics these days. If Trump tweets that the economy is good, then it’s good. If you question that you must be a libcuck who wants to hand out green cards to ISIS fighters. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the 2016 election must have been “stolen” by the Russians, even though nobody has bothered to actually look at the impact of its interference in terms of changing voters’ opinions.* Question that, even if you overtly acknowledge the facts of Russian interference, and you’re an apologist for the Kremlin.

I have little tolerance for such childlike behavior among adults. I do not confuse obstinacy with integrity or moral consistency, just as I do not confuse the world of politics for the world of team sports. If there’s one consistent thread in the positive feedback to this blog over the years, it’s for balance and honesty. Not balance for the sake of balance, mind you, but balance based on evidence and context. This is probably the reason why I’ve managed to attract so many loyal readers whose political worldview differs so greatly from my own. In a world where people increasingly choose their own realities, I have tried to maintain an appreciation for what can be asserted as objectively true.

I’ll continue to post here from time to time, though the content might be very different from what I normally wrote about. Also, I will be looking to write for various publications as well as finally get around to writing my book, something I wasn’t able to do during the roller-coaster years of 2014-2017. The struggle does not end here- I’m merely writing another chapter.

Letting the Chips Fall

In debates over healthcare it is not uncommon to hear both mainstream conservatives and “libertarians” insist that healthcare is not right, and therefore those who cannot afford it are shit out of luck.

Some of these folks don’t even shy away from coming out and saying “let them die.”

 

Of course this is an immoral worldview, but conservatives have a wide variety of excuses for peddling it. In general, they will defend their claims with vague references to “freedom” and “personal responsibility,” often rationalizing letting fellow Americans die by essentially writing mental fan fiction whereby those poor Americans become undeserving. They’re lazy, they have too many kids, etc. Hey whatever helps you sleep at night, right?

But there’s another problem with the whole “let ’em die” attitude, and it extends beyond the realm of healthcare into the broader question of the welfare state itself. As it turns out, we do have historical experience with societies that lacked any sort of significant welfare state. Sadly, there are few Americans alive today who can personally remember that era, and Americans in general have next to no understanding of the Gilded Era. And Victorian Britain? Forget about it.

The important lesson we can get from the history of such times and places is that the sink-or-swim, let ’em die attitude simply does not work, because as it turns out, people really prefer living to dying. To see what I’m getting at, we must first envision how the conservative attitude plays out in their own heads.

In the conservative worldview, the government doesn’t waste money on helping unemployed people or those who need healthcare and can’t afford private insurance (or the prices hospitals arbitrarily set in collaboration with said insurance companies).

 

This, of course, is supposed to lead to lower taxes, making the government run more efficiently! More Americans get to keep more of their paychecks, and businessmen feel so generous that they create more jobs and raise wages. People who are poor, knowing there is no safety net, have an incentive to work hard and be extra productive, and if they do not- they’re screwed and it’s all their own fault. There’s an element of social Darwinism to it, because the lazy and inept get culled from the herd.

The only problem with this, however, is that in real life people aren’t poor due to their personal decisions or qualities but rather due to the fluctuations of the labor market, commodity prices, injuries or illnesses, generational poverty, sudden divorces, etc. More importantly, nobody who suddenly comes down with an illness or whose relative does simply throws up their hands and says: “Well I guess I should have worked harder so I could have afforded healthcare!” Same thing when it comes to food and shelter. People fight, unsuccessfully perhaps, but they fight nonetheless to survive.

Have you ever noticed how developing countries often tend to have problems with crime of all sorts in their major urban centers? When society orients itself to serve the super-rich and upper-middle class with no significant concern for the poor population, the latter doesn’t just go off into the forest or desert to die. They eke out a living in slums or favelas and they survive. That being said, these areas tend to be rife with crime, crime which can often claim victims among the middle and upper classes. So it was with urban centers in the United States for decades. Ditto Victorian Britain. Same with Moscow in the “Wild 90’s” or some parts of Ukraine these days.

The main takeaway here is that the cost of a laissez faire, “let ’em die” society far outweighs almost any form of bureaucratic welfare state. Most Americans don’t know shit about how their own welfare system works (or doesn’t) anyway, but what’s worse is that they have no idea what happens if you got rid of what’s left of the system. In their mind they put away that extra money they save in taxes and start their own business. In reality, whole areas of cities if not cities themselves turn into dens of crime and murder, the very thing that conservatives are constantly in fear of. If you deny people the ability to survive and get ahead via legal means, a certain portion of them will inevitably take what they need by any means necessary.

This is why the whole debate about healthcare and welfare needs to change. It’s not about “caring for the poor” or being compassionate. To be sure it is about those things on a certain level, but that doesn’t do enough to drive home the imperative. These things must be properly portrayed as an investment in America and its society, an investment in the American people. And this investment is necessary because without it, there is an alternative too terrible to consider and there is precedent to back that up (for this I highly recommend getting this book). Even if someone wants to stick by their immoral position that the poor or those who can’t otherwise afford healthcare should be left to their own devices, this degenerate person should be reminded that their ideal scenario would not play out in the real world the way it does in their head, and for that reason alone their proposal must be dismissed as utterly unworkable.

It matters not what you think these healthcare or welfare recipients are like or whether you think their decisions in life are the right ones. For one thing, you don’t actually know their situation, and what is far more important is that this person or their relatives aren’t driven to carjack you one day because they lack access to the basic necessities of life. If you value wagging your finger at hypothetical “unworthy” poor people you imagined in your head (and a lot of Americans tend to picture that person incorrectly) more than you value living in a developed country with a healthy society, well then perhaps you’re the one whose expendable.

The Last Jedi Without BS (Spoilers)

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has been called the most polarizing Star Wars movie to date. At least I’m pretty sure I’ve seen someone say this on the internet. It is undeniable that people seem to either really love or hate this film, or perhaps people with access to publishing platforms or who just happen to be unbearable loudmouths do. However, it has got bad reviews from some pretty serious voices (at least serious to me) like Red Letter Media:

 

Over Twitter and Facebook I have gradually spooned out a few opinions on it, but I never got around to writing a full review. Well the day of judgment has come. Here is my Last Jedi review.

Summary

If you want my short opinion with no analysis, here it is. I would say that Last Jedi is a film that tried to do bold things and break with some of Star Wars’ sequel/prequel weaknesses such as fan service and rehashing plot points from the more acclaimed originals. However, these bold moves are somewhat mitigated by some really dumb ones, although I wouldn’t say they ruin the movie. If you think about it, there are some really dumb things even in the original trilogy, but they don’t necessarily wreck the entire plot. The dumb things in Last Jedi are awkward and cause issues with pacing but I don’t see them destroying the overall story arc or ruining anything like the prequels or Rogue One did.

 

Proper thorough review (Spoily bois ahead)

I’m just going to jump into this with a pros versus cons approach, starting with what I liked.

The Good

First off the bat is porgs. Porgs are awesome. Porgs are life. If you don’t like porgs there is something fundamentally wrong with you. No, they didn’t become the new Ewoks. They were mostly benign and used sparingly. I can forgive Chewbacca for roasting one porg and seeing the error of his ways, but if he harms one more he’s done. Yeah I know wookies can pull arms out of sockets, but can he fight on the ground? Probably not. Ninety-five percent of fights go to the ground, Chewie.

 

Moving on to main positive points, I like the way the movie tried to break with traditions and formulas. The biggest complaint about The Force Awakens was that it was a direct copy of A New Hope. You can’t really make similar accusations against Last Jedi; it is genuinely different from other Star Wars films. Of course what was different in this film wasn’t always necessarily good, but here I’d like to concentrate on what I feel worked.

For me, the best innovation here was the theme of letting go of the past, even killing it if necessary. Believe me, when your whole life revolves around Russia, Ukraine, and Eastern Europe, the idea of killing the past is veeeeery attractive. One of the biggest problems with modern Star Wars is of course fan service. I’ve already mentioned TFA, but some people felt that Rogue One  was nothing but fan service as well. The prequels can also be looked at as fan service in the way they incorporate characters from the original trilogy that never needed to be involved in that story. Why, for example, does Boba Fett (a young clone of his father Jengo) have to be involved with such a monumental event in the history of the Republic? Remember how we meet Boba Fett in Empire? He’s there with a bunch of other bounty hunters. He’s not singled out except when Vader tells him “No disintegration.” Is that how you’d treat the son of the guy whose DNA built the whole clone army that you used to fight with for years?

Some of the complaints about Last Jedi are basically whining about how different everything is. “But Luke Skywalker is old and cynical and he’s not heroic anymore!” Excuse me what did you expect? Was he supposed to hop in his X-Wing and take out the First Order forces with a well-placed pair of proton torpedoes? Wasn’t copying things from A New Hope the reason you whined about Force Awakens?

Luke being cynical and jaded makes perfect sense. He was involved in this great victory and tried to continue his study of the Jedi arts. Meanwhile the remnants of the Empire pretty much swept right back into power and his student, his own nephew and son of his best friend, got seduced by the dark side on his watch. He was on top of the world and through arrogance or some other failing he managed to fail at the most important thing in his life, you know- like Obi-Wan failed with his father? Yeah I’d get a bit cynical after that too, especially if I had to live on an island drinking blue milk. If you want happy-go-lucky Luke Skywalker, go watch the first film.

The biggest advocate of slaying the past is, in this film, at least, Kylo Ren, who literally voices this exact concept. Indeed he does “kill the past” when he kills Snoke (Spoily boi!). If you were expecting the series to be exactly like the original trilogy with the older Emperor and his younger apprentice, Kylo subverted that expectation for better or for worse. He does invite Rey to join him similar to Vader in Empire, but it’s not entirely clear what he wants to rule over or how. He wants the resistance gone because it’s part of that past, a past of never-ending war, but it seems like he has radical plans for the First Order as well.

Now I can’t bring up killing Snoke and the scene with Kylo and Rey together without mentioning how many people were pissed off about this. First there’s the killing of Snoke with no explanation as to who he is or why he’s so powerful. A counter-argument to that is “Well the original trilogy just introduced the Emperor with no backstory or explanation of his powers and you bought that just fine!” Let me just say that both sides have compelling arguments here. I was a bit taken aback by Snoke’s death. It would have been nice to get at least some explanation as to his backstory or how he got to be so powerful. I really don’t care if he came from the original trilogy or the prequels, but we’re introduced to this extremely powerful dark side force-user who has somehow become leading this First Order and we know nothing about him. What’s worse is that since he’s dead, we’ll probably never find out what his deal is.

As for comparisons with the original trilogy Emperor, yeah this argument works at first glance. Hell, the name “Palpatine” is never uttered in the original trilogy. On the other hand, from the first film we know there’s an Empire, and Empires are typically headed by Emperors and Empresses. We were expecting an Emperor. When he finally, appeared it didn’t matter too much for the story. We already knew the Empire exists. When he revealed his powers we didn’t need any explanation. It was clear he was in tune with the dark side, he was senior to Vader and obviously much older. He also looked like an evil wizard and he clearly wasn’t carrying a light saber, so while some people might have been surprised to see him turn on the lightning, it wasn’t breaking any rules of the universe, nor was it inexplicable or confusing. What else would he do?

Snoke is a character for an entirely different era, an era in which Star Wars is this massive expanded universe based upon a foundation of six films. Backstories became a thing as soon as the first prequel dropped (dropped being a very good word for it). Remember the original Star Wars was never intended to be part of a trilogy. They “save” Vader strictly to leave the possibility of a sequel open but other than that it’s a standalone story. More importantly, that film came from an era when movie plots were much less complex and it was also inspired largely by the Second World War, a struggle which many people of the time saw in very simplistic, black-and-white terms. There’s nothing particularly subtle about the A New Hope– the good guy and the princess wear all white while Vader is in all black and the rest of the bad guys dress like space Nazis.

So to sum up that point- yeah, it kind of sucks that we get no Snoke backstory, if only because it would also form part of a rise of the First Order backstory. But this is counter-balanced by the fact that the series trope of master and apprentice, emperor and enforcer, is quite literally slain.

Now the other element of this scene that led to serious butt fury was Kylo telling Rey that her parents were nothing but dirt farmers who sold her for booze money. I find this complaint amusing because one of the biggest gripes against the prequels was midichlorians and the implication that your sensitivity to the force has a lot to do with your bloodline, since, you know, midichlorians are in your blood, like antibodies or the HIV virus. Thus Lucas had supposedly “ruined” many a childhood because some die hard fans fell in love with the idea that anyone could attune themselves to the force, whereas George was reducing it to some physical, quantifiable thing. And yeah, I get that. Midichlorians are dumb. But The Last Jedi’s reveal about Rey’s parents subverts that very idea.

When Force Awakens came out, I heard a lot of speculation about Rey and how she just had to be Luke’s long lost daughter. And to be fair that kind of made sense. She seemed to have a connection to him and was very adept at the force almost immediately. Now, if we are to trust Kylo’s word (and why would we do that, exactly?) Rey’s bloodline is, in itself, entirely worthless. Everything she’s done she has done on her own, through belief, will, and so forth. Isn’t that cool? Is it at least interesting? Don’t you want to find out just why she is so talented with the force?

And as I alluded to above, I must ask why fans are so adamant about taking Kylo’s claim at face value. Remember, this scene takes place as he’s asking Rey to join him, to rule the galaxy, and of course let go of the past. Don’t you think he might just be lying to manipulate her? How would he even know about her parents? The force? Or what if he knows that her parents are really important people and thus is definitely lying because he’s sure she would refuse his offer if she knew the truth?

I should also point out that I’ve read or heard somewhere that J.J. Abrams never had any particular plan for Snoke’s backstory or Rey’s parents. If correct, he basically just passed the buck to Rian Johnson. Maybe Johnson just didn’t want that burden and thus felt forced to either come up with a half-assed backstory (which probably would have angered some fans anyway) or just do away with both threads entirely.

To wrap up this point, I would say that I can get over my disappointment in regards to Snoke, and I have no investment in Rey’s parents. If they turn out to be dirt farmers it just means that Rey is special for other reasons that we will discover later. Or maybe we’ll find out Kylo was lying and her parents are in fact very important. No need to declare the film heresy over this.

And while we’re speaking about characters, Kylo really shines in this film. As I said earlier, Star Wars tends to revolve around very black-and-white villains and protagonists. But in this movie Kylo is a mystery. Is he turning good? No? But he turns against Snoke, right? Does that mean he’s good? Oh no- it doesn’t. But he’s “bad” in his own way. In other words, we spend a fair bit of this film trying to figure out which way Kylo is going to go. Having his story about Jedi training with Luke differ from Luke’s own narrative was also interesting. Here we have a follower of the dark side suggesting to us that we might not be entirely able to trust Luke Skywalker, which would be a novel concept.

To conclude the overall topic of breaking with the past I also don’t buy the complaints about Skywalker wanting to see the Jedi die out. To fans that seems inexplicable, but it’s very believable when you think about it. As others have pointed out, the Jedi aren’t so great. Their whole order got duped and nearly wiped out by villains who were often right under their noses. They were dicking around teaching younglings how to block lasers with tiny light sabers while the clone army was being built. They thought Sith Lord Count Dooku was just a “political idealist” even though he was a guy wearing all black played by Christopher Lee. If you can rescue any coherent, genuinely interesting plot out of the prequels, it’s that the Jedi Order got complacent and weak, leading to their downfall.

And what a downfall it was. Remember that Anakin Skywalker turning to the dark side in many ways basically led to the rise of the Empire, which in turn would lead to the destruction of an entire planet. Luke knows all about that. If he was wrong about Kylo, you could imagine that he was just afraid of unleashing another Sith on the galaxy. He knew full well what that could lead to (plus the First Order also nuked a few planets into dust so Luke would have been right).

We are now entering an era when we can expect to see two Star Wars feature films released every year. Think about that for a second. Personally I think it’s a huge mistake that is going to eventually wreck the brand by flooding the market. I’d like to think that Johnson or someone else in charge has figured out that Star Wars will need to evolve in order to survive. We can’t just have more Sith lords battling Jedi knights with light sabers, bigger and bigger Death Stars, and AT-AT walkers with six legs or something. The format of a Star Wars movie must change, and to be fair Rian Johnson definitely took big risks. The whole space chase thing was kind of weird, but very original for this sort of film.

I respect Johnson’s boldness in this film. It was a big risk and some of it doesn’t pay off so well, but some director had to do it eventually. If you can’t handle it, just stick with your original trilogy.

The Bad

Before I get into this part, I have to point out one thing that kind of ruined my viewing experience. When I got to the cinema there was only one seat available, right in front of the screen on the far right of the theatre. In other words, literally the worst seat you could have. I went with it because the showing was kind of late and I didn’t have any other plans but I almost immediately came to regret that decision. Apart from the extreme discomfort, things on the left side of the screen get very distorted. Obviously you can appreciate a film visually a lot more if you are sitting comfortably with a full view of the screen.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about what didn’t work. I think I’ll start in a sort of semi-chronological order here, which means I’m going to have to call out what I felt was a significant plot problem in the opening text crawl.

It may not seem too crucial to the film, but the text crawl, at least for me, reveals a problem with the overall narrative. Basically the overarching plot doesn’t resemble a war. At the end of Return of the Jedi, the Emperor and Vader are both dead. Second Death Star is destroyed. For some reason this immediately leads to the collapse of the Empire if you’re watching Lucas’ special edition. Thirty years later, the First Order is so powerful it has a “Resistance” against it (you think the Resistance would just be the Republic), and they are in possession of a weapon much stronger than the original Death Star. So far not too bad- they had thirty years after all. Hitler rebuilt the German war machine in about twenty. But at the end of Force Awakens the First Order has taken a serious blow and lost their superweapon. Of course they could still recover, but the opening text crawl in Last Jedi tells us they did that and much more. They’ve basically reduced the fighting rebels to a force that fits on a small armada of ships, and by the end of the movie the entire movement fits on the Millennium Falcon. And all that happens after the First Order loses yet another capital ship in the beginning of the movie.

Suffice to say this is not how wars tend to go. About a week before the Red Army’s counter-offensive at Stalingrad, the Germans had suffered a decisive defeat at El Alamein in North Africa. Then they lost at Stalingrad the next year, in the spring they lost in Tunisia, they lost Kursk, then Sicily, and so on. While the Germans were occasionally able to mount counter-offensives and on some occasions even recapture some territory on both fronts, 1942 was a turning point from which they could not fully recover, and then it was all downhill from there. But with the First Order it’s as if they fail upwards.

Moving on from the text crawl, I have to say that the scene with Poe in his X-Wing “prank calling” the First Order was a little bit too funny, too soon. It created a tone problem especially when it’s followed up with a battle where dozens and eventually hundreds of people get killed. Humor in Star Wars is usually witty dialogue, rejoinders, etc. This was different. This was a bit.

Also it’s rather strange seeing him just floating in front of a heavily armed starship during this scene. You would think that in the First Order officer’s academy there would be a lot of required reading about the Battle of Yavin, when a single X-Wing was able to blow up the Death Star due to it being designed to withstand a large starfleet attack. You would think that in thirty years the First Order’s designers would devote a lot of attention to developing defensive systems that would protect large ships from small fighters.

Moving on- yes, Leia’s survival in space was kind of dumb. I don’t usually complain about physics or science in Star Wars. It is pointless to do so. Ignoring that there’s no sound in space, every time you see a spaceship in Star Wars do a banking turn or anything else like a fighter jet- that is completely wrong. You can’t maneuver a space craft that way. For me, Star Wars is a series where you ignore all the laws of physics and relatively. In a way you could say it’s more comparable to fantasy than sci-fi. Or you could call it sci-fi fantasy. The fantasy element is basically stuff not working the way it usually would according to the laws of physics. But still, Leia’s survival was pushing it. One way or another, this should have been the film where she died, because after all, she did die. That scene with the bridge getting blown up would have been a perfect spot to end the character, with dignity.

Now we get to one of the most annoying parts of the film. Since Force Awakens there has been a tradition of alt-right losers loudly declaring that “the SJWs have ruined Star Wars!” Some of them were so angry that they apparently made an edit which literally removes every major female character from the film. I have no idea how they managed to do that and keep anything resembling a coherent story. It reminds me of this time I saw a Mormon video rental store which had titles such as Die Hard and The Usual Suspects in it. Such movies couldn’t possibly make sense if you edited out all the profanity, extreme violence, etc.

Obviously the “anti-SJW” crowd is full of shit, but I think it’s hard to pretend that pandering, corporate feminism didn’t have an influence on at least part of the film. Yes, you probably guessed I’m speaking about Holdo (Laura Dern) and Poe. Vanity Fair praised this interaction, pointing out that Poe is a brash shitbag who gets lots of rebels killed because he doesn’t follow orders, whereas Holdo is a strong woman in authority who knows what she’s doing, just like a certain real woman who is referenced later in the article!

I’m very sorry but while Leia was totally justified in criticizing and demoting Poe, the Poe/Holdo interaction is incredibly stupid. Holdo withholds vital information from a subordinate and deliberately makes herself look incompetent during a crisis situation. When someone is asking about a plan and the commanding officer can’t offer any answers, it looks like they’ve frozen up. Anyone remember this scene from Band of Brothers?

 

Now I’ve seen some people defend Holdo by saying that she didn’t need to tell him the plan since he fucked up and got demoted. Sorry but no- competent leaders brief their subordinates about the mission. Sure, Poe went off on a wild goose chase that got more people killed, but he only did that because the person who was in charge, the person who was supposed to have a plan, deliberately pretended not to have any plan at all. And that same person actually told almost everybody else on the ship about the plan, possibly before that same scene where Poe is asking her what her plan is. What possible good reason would there be to keep the plan only from Poe and a few of his compatriots while telling literally everyone else? When the plan is actually enacted, he’s not too opposed to it.  Again, he went off and did his own thing because the person in charge feigned total incompetence.

This isn’t feminism; it’s corporate, liberal, pandering feminism. It’s the type of feminism that sees progress as female ICE agents kicking down doors and dragging family members away or female CEOs in charge of tech firms that work their no-benefits employees 80 hours a week and deny them bathroom breaks for minimum wage. In this case, women and girls are supposed to look up to the idea of being an unaccountable authority figure who is not to be questioned. What a great message!

Here’s a tip, Disney. If you want a positive message for girls, young women, and pretty much anyone, cast the scene differently. Have an old male officer demanding deference to his by-the-book, cookie-cutter plan, perhaps one that’s already been tried and failed before. Then you have a young female  character challenge him using logic, which is contrasted with his conventional, outmoded thinking. You get two messages in one- don’t automatically defer to authority; think for yourself, and if you’re a girl don’t be afraid to question a confident man. Instead what we got in this movie is “Hey guys, if a woman is in a position of authority just shut up and do what she says even if she appears to be utterly incompetent. Listen to mother!”

The same scene could have been better written even if we use the same characters. Holdo could reveal her plan, and Poe could argue about it or whatever reason you can come up with. Holdo makes rational, cogent arguments, but Poe is too wreckless and up his own ass to pay attention. Then he gets a bunch of people killed the same way he does in the actual movie, and we expect Holdo to say “I told you so” right before she kamikazes that First Order ship, but instead she says something that makes Poe see the error of his ways while retaining the high ground. Poe is changed. Arc achieved.

In conclusion on this point, no, feminism is not ruining movies. What’s happening is monopolistic corporations see a marketing angle. First, you pander to the feminist side by acting like every female role in your film is a blow to the patriarchy. Some marketing that portrays your movie as having a “girl power” message helps as well (see Wonder Woman). What this inevitably does is create volcanoes of buttrage from the internet’s alt-right/Nazi/incel/MRA/human refuse population. Now you use the male backlash to garner more support from pro-feminist people, who will want to see your film more and maybe even convince themselves that they like it just to spite the fedora-wearing demographic. I’m not saying this is specifically the case with The Last Jedi, but the whole Holdo/Poe conflict really seems to have been influenced by this kind of underhanded marketing strategy. And if you think this isn’t really a thing, check out this trailer to the last Transformers film:

 

I have listened to reviews that say this girl barely has any role in the film, meaning that whole “fight like a girl” thing in the trailer was almost certainly an attempt at pandering to feminism…by Michael Bay…the man who in the same series of films would often shoot scenes with Megan Fox from practically inside her vagina. Girl power, indeed, Mr. Bay.

Next on the bad list we have the infamous Casino Night Zone scene. The biggest complaint I’ve seen in connection with this is about pacing. I totally agree. I’d describe it this way- here we’ve got the rebels running from the First Order. It’s a chase. Then they decide to send some people to another planet to get this guy and somehow catch up with the space ships that were chasing each other presumably at top speed the whole time. The movie already establishes that fuel is an issue and that the ships go different speeds. Just imagine a film with a car chase where two characters bail out of the escaping car to go do something else, then they have to somehow get back to the car chase. It would be weird. It’s weird in this movie.

Another thing that sucks about the Casino Night Zone scene is that Rose and Finn don’t really accomplish anything here. They bumble their way through the whole thing and only manage to get lucky because the code-breaker they need happens to be in the jail at the same time. What about the guy they were initially looking for and seem to find? Nah, forget him. They just get caught and either the guy they’re looking for is already in jail or there just happens to be another master code-breaker in this place. Okay.

As bis as these problems are, the Casino Night Zone scene did bring up some interesting points. I liked the idea that there was a class of people profiting off of the sale of weapons to both sides. I like the idea of someone challenging the idea that the Rebellion is inherently good. This is breaking with the past, with simple black-and-white good-and-evil storytelling. It would be good if they could follow up on this, like show how the lack of a legitimate Empire or Republic has led to chaos in the galaxy that is fueled by a 90’s Somalia-like glut of arms. The most awesome thing I could think of is the Rebellion turning evil, perhaps forcing Rey and Kylo to really join together to bring it and the First Order down for good, perhaps solving the galactic governance problem via Abdullah Ocalan’s ideology of Democratic Confederalism.

apo

‘Help me, Ocalan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!’

All that having been said, this all could have been executed better. It really did hurt the pacing.

Next I’ve got to talk about Rose. I don’t really understand Rose hate. She’s fine. The only sticking point is that she does something really, really dumb near the end of the film. You probably already guessed if you’ve already seen the film. Finn is about to do something incredibly heroic, just like Holdo. Actually he’s more heroic than Holdo because Holdo lets several transports get blown to pieces before she finally decides to go Mohammed Atta on the First Order’s flagship. Finn, however, sees what he must do and aims his speeder at the giant cannon, only to be knocked out of the way by Rose in her speeder. I’m sorry but that’s a total dick move, Rose. Finn is a soldier, only he gets to make that decision to self-sacrifice or not. Watch Four Lions some time. But the worst thing about it is that there was no guarantee that her crashing into his speeder would have saved him as she intended. They could have both been killed, or just disabled so he couldn’t do anything. Basically she could have brought the worst of both worlds. This was dumb. There’s no other way to say it.

rose

Luckily, Rose survived her incredibly stupid deed, so perhaps she’ll be able to redeem herself in the sequel.

Conclusion

Weighing my pros and cons here, a certain big picture develops. It may seem from this review that the good and bad either balance out, the latter outweighs the former. But there is a major qualitative, not quantitative difference between the positive and negative aspects of this film. True, the things that are dumb are really glaring. That’s what dumb things in movies do- they stick out, knock you out of the film, confuse you, anger you, and so on. But the positive aspects of this film have more depth and substance, and they cannot be easily torn down by a character’s stupid action or a half-assed attempt to appear woke.

The theme of change, evolution, breaking with the past is intriguing as it necessary if Star Wars is to avoid stagnation as we approach full year-round Star Wars saturation. With the Luke and the Jedi sacred texts gone, with the Rebellion whittled down to a handful of people, everything must begin anew. Rian Johnson has removed the audience’s floaties and tossed them into the deep end. This series isn’t going to be neatly wrapped up by Luke Skywalker suddenly dropping in and saving the day by taking out everyone with a light saber.

Of course this film does set up a very difficult task for the next director. With the Rebellion in such dire straits, its hard to imagine how the next film will tie up all the loose ends. Perhaps the Rebel message to the galaxy, which seemed to garner no support, was in fact well-received, and the First Order will suddenly face a massive revolt in every system. Maybe there will be a split within the First Order. Perhaps, due to some understanding between Rey and Kylo, the First Order and the remnants  of the Rebellion will team up against the real threat- the arms dealers who have been growing fat off the war and could have been using the profits to start a new political faction…like…some kind of federation…that is based on trade. A Trade Federation, if you will. But seriously, this film’s conclusion means the sequel’s director will have their work cut out for them, but it might also free them up to do something really revolutionary. Hopefully Rian Johnson will be working with closely with J.J. Abrams on Episode IX in order to tie up everything in an epic way. Of course knowing Star Wars fans, we might see another wave of buttrage at that film too. I’m sure there are many people who, upon seeing Last Jedi and hating it, cynically concluded that this series is already dead in the water and nothing can redeem it. I have some advice for such viewers.

You will never see a Star Wars film that recaptures the magic of the first films you saw as a child. Never. You’re an adult in an increasingly ugly world. You are simply chasing the dragon. At your age magical feelings don’t come from space fantasy movies. They should come from things like the birth of your first child, passionate sexual encounters, scenes of incredible humanity in the midst of war, petting a really nice dog, eating a delicious burrito, or owning people on Twitter.

anakin

One day you’ll try to introduce your kids to the original trilogy, and they may very well think it’s lame. They may think The Phantom Menace is awesome and you’ll seriously considered abandoning them in the woods across state lines, but you’ll have to face the fact that time, technology, and generations change. In a few years there will be over a dozen feature-length Star Wars films in existence, not to mention the countless comic books, video games, TV shows, and novelizations. If you truly love this series so much you’ll learn to enjoy the the stories you love and just ignore the ones that are mediocre or just disastrous. You don’t have to let other films or stories ruin the ones you love just because some nerds accept them as “canon.” Canon is essentially religious dogma. Let go of the past. Kill it, if you have to.

Some people have been ranking Last Jedi in the whole series so far, and this is something I can’t possibly do. I don’t think it can beat any of the original trilogy; it’s definitely not “the best since Empire Strikes Back,” but I’d definitely put it above any prequel film. I say that Force Awakens and Last Jedi  cannot possibly be worse than the prequels because the prequels (including Rogue One) actually undermine the original trilogy, whereas anything that happens after that doesn’t necessarily mess with that story line. If you don’t like the new films you can just act like Star Wars ended with Return of the Jedi and go on and enjoy the books, comics, or video games.

Of course my own opinion on the best Star Wars film has changed radically in recent months. Whereas up til then I would say for me it’s a toss up between the original New Hope and Empire Strikes Back, now I’ve come to realize that the greatest Star Wars film currently in existence is, of course, Star War the Third Gather: Backstroke of the West. Get your popcorn and watch the whole masterpiece right here!

 

 

Has Socialism Been ‘Tried?’

Recently I’ve hinted at the fact that I’m going to be winding down my blogging and social media operation. This is due to several reasons, one of them being that I have a completely new life on which to focus, and the other being that I’ve really said all there is to be said for the foreseeable future on topics like Russia, Ukraine, and propaganda associated with them. During the time I have been blogging, I have often had to keep my personal politics in check so as to prevent my readership getting whittled down to a tiny portion of far-leftists who like reading long theoretical polemics. At the same time, my views have evolved radically thanks not only to my ongoing study of various subjects, but also due to exposure and challenge to different viewpoints. But with the blog at its near end, I think I shall indulge on my soapbox and answer a question that seems to come up in a lot of discussions recently. With this out of the way, proceed if you dare.

How many times have you seen this brilliant meme: Someone like one of those Turning Point USA chuds shows a bunch of pictures of bad things that happened under 20th century “socialist” regimes and then sarcastically writes “But socialism has never been tried!” The implication here is that modern socialists, who of course are all social media obsessed millennial snowflakes, have no answer to those horrific events of the 20th century other than what amounts to a “No True Scotsman” fallacy by saying that socialism hasn’t actually been implemented.

Now to be fair, there are some self-proclaimed socialists or Communists who are guilty of doing this. I suspect that most of them tend to be younger people with very little historical or theoretical knowledge in most cases. I’ve always suspected the process goes something like this:

  1. Young person wants to be edgy and rebellious, gets attracted to Communism, usually for aesthetic reasons.
  2. Parent, teacher, or someone on the internet says something like, “You’re a Communist?! Don’t you know that Communism killed 100 million/150 million/200 million/1 billion/all the people?!”
  3. Disheartened, young person goes online and finds some kind of Trotskyite page.
  4. Young person proudly proclaims, “That wasn’t Communism! It was Stalinism!
  5. Checkmate

Despite the fact that a combination of youth plus poor education more likely accounts for most of these instances, I think it’s safe to say that one can find a fair number of adults who should no better either making this argument, or at best, making an argument which sounds like “That wasn’t true socialism!”

However, there are very sound reasons for a person to declare that what we commonly think of as socialist societies were not in fact objectively socialist. Whether they are just pulling a No True Scotsman or actually making sense really depends on their definition of socialism and whether or not they can substantiate their argument with objective evidence.

What I intend to do in this post is explain how or why someone may legitimately question whether or not a society was socialist and thus why for such people bringing up the activities of 20th century “socialist” regimes may in fact be nothing but a red herring and thus an invalid argument.

What is more, I’m going to attempt to do this in the most approachable way possible, without delving too deep into obscure historical events or theoretical texts. Obviously this means sacrificing detail in some places, and some arguments may not be fully represented or they may be omitted entirely (I’m sure there are plenty of tendencies I’ve never heard of still, and new ones form as well). I realize this approach will piss off some partisans or even just those leftists who love thorough theoretical polemics, but they are not my primary audience- the layperson is.

 

Can you ‘try’ socialism?

In order to answer the question as to whether or not socialism has been “tried” we need to deal with the question, which is already distorted. I have always hated the phrasing of “But socialism/Communism has never been tried.” Saying “try socialism” sounds like “try rebooting your router.” You don’t just “try” a mode of production. And speaking of modes of production, we should probably start with the definition of socialism. That in itself can get pretty complex very quickly, which is why I’m going to stick with Merriam-Webster’s definitions in this case:

Definition of socialism
1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property
b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done

Already we have some statements that socialists of several tendencies would vehemently dispute, but we’ll get into that later.

Another problem with definitions is that the people who tend to make fun of the “No True Socialism” trope more often than not happen to be the very same people who tend to label almost anything socialism. Public libraries? Socialism! Single-payer healthcare? Socialism! Food stamps? SOCIALISM!  Indeed, many of these people spent eight years telling us how Barack Obama was not just a socialist, but a Marxist socialist…and a radical Islamist too.

And since we’re merely talking about the problems with definitions, we cannot ignore the fact that there are plenty of self-proclaimed socialists or people sympathetic to socialism who are also guilty of applying the label to things that have nothing to do with socialism. For example, in this pro-Bernie Sanders video, Sarah Silverman actually calls fire departments socialist.

 

 

Whichever side we’re talking about when it comes to throwing the S-word around, the result is the same- total failure because if these things were in fact socialist, then nearly all the world is by-definition socialist because every country has some kind of taxes, state intervention in the economy, fire departments, etc.

In order not to stray too far from the matter at hand the definition which most concerns us is the third one, as it is related to Marxist theory and it is Marxist theory which was nominally the foundation of the 20th century “socialist” regimes.

But if we ignore the problems with the phrase “try socialism/Communism” for a second and just ask the question as to whether socialist or communist (note the little c) societies ever existed at all, let me answer that in the affirmative.

Hunter-gatherer society was what Marx and Engels labeled “primitive communism.” Virtually all able-bodied members of the tribe were engaged in labor to survive, private property did not exist, and class distinctions were also virtually non-existent. Prior to the agricultural revolution, humankind spent quite a long time in this state. Sorry, but The Flintstones lied to you when it depicted prehistoric society as capitalist post-war America with dinosaurs. Of course while the egalitarian aspect and lack of class differentiation might seem enticing, primitive communism was no utopia. People lived that way simply because there was no other choice. Imagine life on an island where you are shipwrecked with some other people. As you organize labor to survive you’re unlikely to replicate the traditional modern corporate hierarchy, but whatever relief you get from that lifestyle is negated by the fact that you barely eke out enough resources to survive day-by-day.

In more modern times, there have been and in some cases still are small-scale examples of socialist societies. These range from large territories like the so-called “Free Territory” in Ukraine and anarchist Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War to isolated communes or big projects like the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (often still called Rojava). On the American frontier, groups of pioneers often adopted a communist lifestyle, distributing resources according to need.

But what of the most obvious examples of 20th century socialism, i.e. those states born of “socialist revolutions” which proclaimed themselves to be socialist and run by socialist or Communist parties? This is where it gets complicated. Some people would say they were never socialist. Trotskyites, for example, might call them “deformed workers states.” Left Communists and anarchists refer to them as state capitalist (this refers to a system where the role of the capitalist class is replaced by the state). Anti-revisionist Marxist-Leninists will typically argue that certain states were socialist when they had certain policies but that theoretical revisionism led them to adopt policies that made them state capitalist and thus led to their downfall.

Where do I fall on this spectrum? I would say that at least the Soviet Union and Socialist Albania achieved what could rightly be called a primitive, rudimentary form of modern socialism, but that in both cases concern for things such as geopolitics (for the USSR) and the security of the regime (pretty much every self-proclaimed 20th century “socialist” state) far outweighed the goal of building a functioning socialist society and more importantly, a socialist society aimed at achieving the original goals of socialism in the first place- greater freedom, equality, justice, etc. That being said, please keep in mind that me saying this or that regime was objectively socialist is entirely independent of my judgement of that regime or any of its actions. Whether or not a particular society or country is socialist or capitalist is a matter of concrete, objective factors and not the color on a flag, the name of the ruling party, or the declarations of the government.

Does socialism/Communism kill?

No, it does not.

Oh…You want an explanation. Okay fine. First of all I find the claim that Communism or socialism kills to be quite ridiculous because the same people who make this claim not only never talk about how many people capitalism has killed (which would necessarily be far higher than any 20th century Communist body count), but they don’t even acknowledge that capitalism can kill. Either they’ll label a dictatorial regime “socialist” even when said regime was allied with the West during the Cold War and never claimed to be socialist, or they will say that these are the actions of bad actors like governments and not the fault of the capitalist system. It stands to reason that if Communism can kill people, capitalism must be able to as well.

At the most superficial level, most people who were killed under self-proclaimed socialist regimes died for the same reasons as those killed by capitalist regimes. Namely you had a certain group of people in power who feared losing it in one form or another, and thus engaged in repressive measures to hold onto that power. In other cases (though you could argue that this is at its root, the same as the previous reason), the state put economic goals above humanitarian ones. This sort of thing affects millions of people throughout the world literally every year.

Now at this point someone might perk up and say, “Wait a minute! Surely you wouldn’t say that Nazism doesn’t kill people!” No, I wouldn’t say that, but in terms of mode of production Nazi Germany was, brace yourself, a capitalist state. You can argue about the increased role of the state in economic affairs, but in this sense Nazi Germany didn’t differ much from many other countries during the era, including the United States.

The reason Nazism kills is because mass killing is literally a part of the ideology. It’s all laid out very clearly by Adolf Hitler. The “race” needs to survive and thus needs room to expand and secure resources to feed a growing population. Racial or ethnic mixing leads to “blood poisoning” according to Nazi eugenics, so that “living space” needs to be cleansed of foreign elements. The conquest and extermination of entire groups of people, according to the Social Darwinism-influenced worldview of the Nazis, was seen as entirely natural if not positive. It is worth nothing that the Nazis got such ideas largely from the American eugenics movement, which enjoyed generous funding from leading capitalists.

By contrast, there’s nothing in the theoretical works of Marx and Engels that allegedly served as the basis for the Soviet Union and other socialist states that says you should be exterminating people. You may argue about the ethics of expropriating capitalist property without compensation, but there’s nothing I’ve seen in the body of Marxist literature saying this is an absolute necessity. In fact, members of the bourgeois class can actually voluntarily cease being de facto capitalists if they wanted to, either by just giving their private property (means of production) away or by turning into a collectively owned enterprise with their workers. Twentieth century socialist regimes typically justified their atrocities or repression by claiming to be fighting counter-revolutionaries. None of this justifies what was done, it merely explains why it is not inherently linked to Marxist theory, let alone socialism.

Please let me make it clear that the above does not justify nor deny the very real examples of repression or atrocities committed by self-proclaimed socialist regimes. That is not the claim being disputed here, but rather the claim that “socialism kills.” In short, if socialism can kill, so can capitalism, and if we’re just going by body count, capitalism takes the high score by far, especially since 20th century socialism has been dead for over a quarter of a century.

I would also like to point out that I don’t believe that regimes which carried out repression or mass killings were not socialist simply because they did these things, even though such things really do contradict the moral values underpinning socialism and Marxism. I do think that a society that sincerely implements socialist ideals and revolutionary reforms would be less likely to commit mass atrocities or repressions, but it is foolish to assume that this alone could entirely preclude atrocities or violations of human rights. After all, even the “libertarian” socialist projects of Ukrainian Free Territory or Anarchist Catalonia were not totally devoid of violent repression against counter-revolutionaries or other actions we’d regard as unethical today.

Whose socialism? 

Getting back to the topic at hand, there are many people who have every right to insist that certain 20th century regimes (or currently existing ones like North Korea) are not socialist and thus cannot be used as an argument against them. Any group or even individual who’s definition of socialism significantly contradicts that of the Soviet Union or any such regimes has a right to object to being made to answer for them. Whether their own definition of socialism is accurate is another matter to be determined, but suffice to say it is stupid to insist that an anarchist answer for things like the Great Terror in the Soviet Union. Trotskyites on the other hand may have a weaker case, but I don’t want this to turn into an inter-Marxist polemic.

On the other hand there are many socialists of various stripes who engage in apologia for any and every self-proclaimed socialist regime. If they are going to uphold those regimes as positive role models, then they have to take responsibility for explaining and defending their actions, and to be honest this often takes the form of accusing every critical source of being linked to the CIA or Nazis. I’m not saying that there isn’t legitimate revisionist history of 20th century socialism or that many of its “crimes” have been grossly exaggerated or distorted. On the contrary- I’ve spent a fair deal of my political life studying that very history. The problem is that many of the people engaged in defense of these regimes don’t seem to have done the same homework. Instead they confine themselves to a small number of pro-party sources or even contemporary state propaganda. This may convince people who are already sympathetic but as a strategy for attracting more people and building movements it’s a dead end. I’ve even found that legitimate revisionist history is largely dead weight as well.

There is another group which may in all honesty condemn the actions of 20th century regimes, yet for whatever reason adopts the aesthetics of those regimes. Take a look at this video, for example:

 

 

 

It’s a fairly good explanation of exploitation for beginners. I can say anything about the video’s author. I don’t know if they are “Trotskyite” or “Stalinist.” What I do know is that at the end of the video “Communism” is held up as the solution to the problem of exploitation, and it is depicted with stock footage from the Soviet Union with the Soviet national anthem in the background. Or in other words- it is associated with what can only be called a failed state, one which fares well in comparison only with the old Russian Empire that preceded it and various developing countries or colonies which surrounded it. Now maybe the author is totally opposed to the policies of the Soviet Union. Maybe their ideas about what constitute socialism are totally different from the centralized, authoritarian model we saw in that state. But if you’re going to deliberately associate your socialism with that state, its symbols, leaders, aesthetics, etc., then don’t be surprised when your opponents decide that bringing up the USSR is a valid argument. Don’t wrap yourself in Soviet imagery and expect people not to associate your politics with that state. If you’re going to shackle yourself to a corpse, own it.

Socialism failed everywhere it was tried

Another common trope you might hear is this: “Sure, there were many socialist countries, but they all failed!” The implication here is that they are acknowledging that 20th century socialism was not just one monolithic entity, but that every attempt to construct socialism, regardless of variances, ultimately failed. This is still incorrect because if we’re talking about socialist states, virtually all of them patterned their politics on one model, or other models that grew out of that original model. I am of course referring to the Soviet Union. In addition to this, many of these countries’ regimes were set up by the Soviet Union and their governments more or less subordinated to the Soviets’ political demands. In other words, it’s not as if you had a variety of socialists coming to power by their own unique theories and strategies.

Add to this the fact that some self-proclaimed “socialist” nations never even achieved the type of “socialism” found in the USSR or China. The modern case of Venezuela is even more instructive. Here is a state where the regime actively portrayed itself as “socialist,” and even popularized a theory it called “21st Century Socialism.” In reality Venezuela could never have been called socialist. In fact, here’s Fox News making exactly that point by noting how the country’s economy is still dominated by the private sector. Of course I’m sure for Fox News at least, Venezuela becomes “socialist” any time they’re doing a story about empty stores and food riots.

So what went wrong?

This is a question that people have devoted entire books to, and I promised at the beginning that I would make this as layperson friendly as possible. But based on my study and experience living under an authoritarian regime, I’d say that what it all boils down to is the balance between security and freedom. To understand this, we must go back to what many consider to be the first “socialist revolution,” the Paris Commune of 1871.

To give you the bare-bones rundown on this revolution, basically the French empire got its ass kicked at the battle of Sedan by Prussia in a conflict appropriately named the Franco-Prussian War.  French Emperor Napoleon III was captured on the field. In early 1871, the acting French government was forced to sign an armistice with Germany, under which it had to disarm its army but not its National Guard. Eventually radicalized Parisian workers, many of whom served in the National Guard, refused to accept the government’s authority, and using their arms they proceeded to essentially seize power within Paris.

Contemporary socialists like Karl Marx and anarchists like Petr Kropotkin and Mikhail Bakunin watched developments within the Commune with great interests. To this day different left tendencies still argue over the nature of the Commune- was it socialist akin to something Marxists would advocate, was it an early attempt at anarchism, or did it not go far enough in eliminating the state? One thing that is certain about the Commune is that it did display unprecedented levels of freedom. It certainly couldn’t be called totalitarian by any stretch of the imagination. Even members of the local bourgeoisie were floored to see how society functioned without the intervention of legions of policemen in certain neighborhoods.

If the Paris Commune sounds like a great utopia, hold up for a second. It had one flaw, namely it was crushed within about two months and as many as 20,000 Communards were killed, mostly in mass shootings. Marauding French soldiers reestablished the authority of the government with violence, rape, and pillage. This experience weighed heavily on the minds of socialist revolutionaries worldwide after the fact. It was certainly on the minds of Bolshevik leaders like Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin. History taught that revolution leads to counter-revolution, and not only did the Bolsheviks have the historical case of the Paris Commune to point to, but they also had the aftermath of Russia’s failed 1905 Revolution to consider when planning revolution in 1917. Once power was seized, letting go could easily mean bloody repression on the scale of Paris 1871 if not much worse.

In general, the Paris Commune raised a question that still remains with us today- how do you liberate society, and maximize freedom, while simultaneously securing that society from more powerful forces that wish to crush the revolution? Historically anarchists have shown the ability to establish very free societies, albeit ones that are either short-lived or if they do last, ones which do not manage to equal the standards of living in developed capitalist nations. On the other hand, the Marxist-Leninist model has managed to conquer huge swathes of land and withstand the worst onslaughts in modern history, but they utilized incredibly authoritarian means to do so and ultimately failed to achieve their economic promises or convince a majority of people to fight for the preservation of the system.

Today there is such a struggle going on in Syria, where the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) led the fight against ISIS in Syria and created what is known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria. Currently it is facing an armed invasion by Turkey and its Islamist Syrian proxies, and if the Assad regime decides to get involved with Russian help, the autonomous territory will be in a critical situation.

The PYD claims it is building a confederation where people exercise control over decision making via local direct democracy and the election of representatives to higher bodies. Those who observe on the ground, however, say this is not exactly true, and that while local communities do have control over local issues, the PYD is firmly in control of the area. But this just raises another question: Given the situation the whole territory finds itself in, doesn’t it make perfect sense for the well-organized, well-armed (relatively) PYD to exercise more direct control, if only because of the war?

A fanatical anarchist might insist that war doesn’t justify the suspension of what they see to be essential liberties (an argument heard during the Spanish Civil War as well as in America after 9/11). Others might see the centralized measures as justified by the circumstances. But if we choose the latter, we must also ask as to what sort of actions are justifiable.

In the Soviet Union, which in many ways became the model to one degree or another for every other self-proclaimed socialist state, heavy-handed measures were used, often with terrible results. For example, in the book Farm to Factory, Robert Allen shows that the advantage in industrialization gained by collectivization (which of course led to the Holodomor and a lot of other excess deaths in Russia and Kazakhstan) was only slightly higher than what they would have achieved had they stuck with the NEP (New Economic Policy). But more industrialization means more tanks to fight the war that Stalin predicted was coming as far back as 1931, right? Well that argument might work better had the USSR not performed so dismally in the start of the war with Germany despite all its tanks and planes. At the battle of Dubno (also called the first battle of Brody), the Red Army had around 3,500 tanks against 750 German tanks and the latter won. The Soviets lost 800 of their tanks and many of them never made it to the front lines thanks to mechanical failure or lack of fuel.

Now suppose the USSR had tried a different strategy to defend itself from a fascist threat. Rather than centralized control and repression, the government stressed liberty and worker control of their means of production based on the concept that a populace which experiences such freedom will be more likely to defend it to the death. Programs like Ukrainianization are allowed to continue, but without the heavy-handed methods that drew some pushback from the Russian-speaking populace. In short, the Soviet government decides that their best weapon is their society itself (in fact Stalin would later claim that it was the USSR’s socialist system that really deserved credit for the victory in WWII).

Obviously this is a very counter-factual scenario, but what we can say for sure is that the methodology used by the USSR to defend itself from foreign invasion not only costs millions of lives directly and indirectly, but also failed to establish a sustainable socialist system capable of surpassing the capitalist West. In our counter-factual version, the USSR might have instead built a society where every man, woman, and child was more than willing to defend the gains they felt they’d made from any foreign invader. The invading Axis troops might find no crowds cheering them as liberators, willing collaborators, no mass of soldiers surrendering in droves. Seeing as how even in 1941 there were people (including many Ukrainians) who defended the USSR that tenaciously in spite of everything that had proceeded the war, it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine that had the Soviet system not been so repressive far more people would have rallied to the colors from day one instead of after months of defeat. More importantly, perhaps the Soviet stagnation and collapse never would have happened, and perhaps today the Western capitalist world would be struggling like Cuba while a massive socialist super-continent enjoys the benefits of a system run according to human need and not the profit motive of the few.

But for now it is enough to say that in the case of 20th century socialism, much of what bad did happen had nothing to do with socialist theory but rather military and geopolitical considerations. This by no means absolves the decision makers who were responsible. With actions like the deportation of entire ethnic groups they put strategic and geopolitical goals above the humanistic values of socialism. By putting rapid industrialization ahead of any concern for the peasants producing grain, the authorities essentially committed the same crime that capitalists have been committing for centuries up to this day. Specifically, they put economic results above human life. If that is socialism, or more specifically if that is what socialism must inherently be, then we would be right to reject it today. But the simple truth is that this is not inherent in socialism, nor is it inevitable.

So what can be done? 

Again, laying out a solution to the problem of how to implement socialism is far beyond the scope of this article, but I would like to lay out a few points.

The first is that it is important to remember that Karl Marx really didn’t write much about this socialism or Communism that he envisioned. To Marx this would be like the utopian socialists which he tried to distance himself from. Rather Marx analyzed and critiqued capitalism; he concerned himself more with understanding the problem, not the solution. What we’ve seen in the decades since his death is that in spite of all the failures of 20th century socialism, Marx’s critique of capitalism not only still holds up, but is far more explanatory than mainstream neo-classical or Austrian school economics. This means the ball is in our court to determine how we resolve the contradictions of capitalism in order to create a better, more moral system.

Many solutions and combinations thereof have been suggested in order to build a socialist society, besides the 20th century centralized state-based methods. Some of them include labor-time calculation using computer networks, some form of a Universal Basic Income, sovereign wealth funds, or the de-commodification of goods deemed necessary to life.

As for my own opinions about what socialism will be, in recent years I have come to realize that the foundation of building socialism must be ethical. Put simply, capitalism is immoral. It forces people to act in immoral ways. It is also unsustainable. The Earth and the universe do not require there to be human life. Earth has had mass extinction events before. Now that we are faced by existential crises such as climate change and everything that can result from that change, we cannot sit back and hope that the world’s richest capitalists will see enough promise of profit in sustainable technology to redirect sufficient investment into that field. We cannot properly husband Earth’s resources to preserve human life on this planet if we are divided into national and racial groupings at odds with one another. Oh you’re a patriot? You love your country? Well nobody’s going to give a shit about your country and its illustrious history after mankind is wiped out following a massive war over resources exacerbated by irreversible environmental degradation. Capitalist apologists insist that somehow capitalism can solve all these problems itself, but history and the present say otherwise, and the longer we wait, the worse things get.

Apart from being rooted in ethics, socialism must be rooted in human rights. Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Paul LaFargue, once wrote an excellent satirical piece called “The Rights of Horse and the Rights of Man.” In it, LaFargue lampooned the liberal idea of the rights of man (what we’d later call human rights) by pointing out that in society of that era, the rights of horses, who were given shelter, food, and the greatest of care by their owners, were much more desirable than the so-called rights of man. Truly he was right on the money, but unfortunately many decades later I know many socialists tend to discard the concept of human rights as a meaningless liberal idea. That liberal society is hypocritical when it comes to human rights doesn’t negate the concept itself- only liberal society and the capitalist system. Human rights implies an equality of humans which simply does not exist in capitalist society. Thus as socialists our aim should be not to simply roll our eyes when we hear liberals speak of human rights, but rather take up that torch and use it to beat them over the head with it. For example, have you ever read Article 25 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights? The first paragraph reads:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

This concept should form one of the foundations of a future socialist society. What is this but a call for distribution according to one’s needs? More importantly, what liberal democratic society today actually manages to avoid violating this human right?

In the future, socialism must be democratic. This might not mean direct democracy for every aspect of life (after all, the idea of socialism is to work less and attending endless councils or meetings counts as work), but any organ with any measure of vested authority needs to be accountable to the people it serves. The idea that the entire working class can be “represented” by one party which will inevitably act in its interests because it is run by “true Marxist-Leninists” (whatever that even means) has been disproved by history.

On that latter note, socialism will also need to be pluralistic somehow. This might sound like heresy to some, but one cannot ignore the fact that the world’s most successful capitalist countries are often run by two or at most a handful of parties, which often hate each other with a passion, and yet somehow the capitalist system runs along like clockwork (well, clockwork with periodic crises and environmental degradation). The United States, for example, has a remarkably stable political system from the time of the ratification of the Constitution till today, when the President is a man whose brain is being feasted upon by spirochetes. If one insists that socialism can only be built by one hegemonic “party of the working class,” we must ask what basis there is for this claim when that exact system failed. If someone says “because Stalinism!” or “because revisionism,” they must then explain why things like Stalin or revisionists managed to irreversibly fuck everything up. Andrew Johnson was a shit president and got impeached. Nixon was forced to resign. The system went on, as usual.

One key component that might help solve the mystery as to why capitalist countries manage to maintain stability in spite of cutthroat competitive political systems is the concept of rule of law. Of course as socialists when someone speaks of rule of law we should always ask “whose law?” But as with concepts like freedom or human rights, it does not mean the idea should be dismissed offhand. If we look at the government of the Soviet Union, for example, we see that almost nothing worked the way it was supposed to according to the Soviet constitution (which also changed several times). The Supreme Soviet was elected via universal suffrage, but real power in the USSR was in the Central Committee of the Communist Party and in particular, the Politburo (which was chosen by the Central Committee during party congresses). In post Soviet Russia today, the State Duma and Federation Council are basically rubber stamp legislative organs which offer no opposition to President Putin, but apart from that one point power nominally rests more or less where its supposed to even in the kleptocratic, authoritarian Russian Federation. The result of the lack of rule of law in the USSR (and many other socialist countries patterned after it) was that politics almost always boiled down to conspiracies and interpersonal struggles within the party, out of sight of most of the people this party supposedly represented.

Another reason rule of law is crucial is in order to facilitate direct democracy. Within a firm set of rules establishing citizens’ rights and responsibilities, direct democracy could become nothing but mob rule. Some things shouldn’t be left up to the majority, particularly things that violate human rights. One’s individual freedoms end where another’s begins. Rule of law can also help explain how pluralism can exist in a socialist society. The idea that every member of society would become a committed anarchist or Marxist-Leninist is simply a pipe dream. If anything, the cult of the individual in advanced capitalist society means that many people would reject such labels simply in an attempt to be different or not follow the crowd. Is this a disaster? Does it make socialism impossible? Not at all.

To understand why, just watch people playing football or basketball in a park. Here you have people with different values, life experience, beliefs, religions, etc., and yet they all manage to play this competitive game without continually resorting to fist fights or rampant cheating. The reason is because in order to accomplish the task of playing a game of basketball, everyone agrees to certain basic rules. Sure, arguments do occur and in formal games referees are necessary to enforce closer observance of the rules, but nobody can dispute the fact that countless games of pickup basketball or football are routinely played in parks around the world, many concluding without incident.

The lesson from this is that a socialist society can exist without everyone declaring themselves to be a fervent socialist or even a socialist at all. We do this by making everything based on core ground rules that everyone can abide by. This is where human rights and the moral imperative shine. Virtually all religions around the world have some form of what we call “the Golden Rule.” Socialism must advance its form of this as the basis for cooperation between people with disparate personal beliefs and values.

I think above all socialism must produce results for the people living under it. If it’s super democratic but requires a communal lifestyle far below that of developed capitalist societies, it will only attract people who personally happen to value living in that society. It will not be able to attract large swathes of any populace or expand and overthrow existing capitalist systems. On the other side of the coin, if it is just as authoritarian as a right-wing capitalist system, it will produce only bitterness and resentment, which leads to betrayal and collapse. In short, a socialist society needs to give people tangible benefits they simply cannot get in any capitalist society. It must go beyond things like free healthcare or higher education, which is in fact quite common in developed capitalist countries which are not named the United States of America. Most of all, I think people need to truly, viscerally feel that they personally own a share of society, a share of their country, and that is also paired with a responsibility to defend it. If they let up and capitalism is restored, that which they own will be taken from them and they will no longer be fully in control of their own lives and destinies. If people feel they truly own a share of the means of production and the society itself, they’ll defend it even when times are tough and their socialist revolution is at a disadvantage relative to the capitalist states. If everything is owned by the state and the worker exercises little to no control over that property, they’ll question whether it matters if that property is owned by the state or a private capitalist.

Lastly, on the topic of defense of the revolution, future socialists must realize that the key to defense will not be large conventional military forces and secret police, as the Soviets used. None of these things managed to stave off the collapse of those societies. If there is a socialist revolution anywhere, surrounding capitalist states will try to strangle it. They will resort to the playbook that worked during the 20th century- exert pressure, stoke fear and paranoia, and wait for the socialists themselves to tear themselves apart. Future socialists must not fall for that trap. They must never fall victim to institutions like intelligence agencies or conventional, traditional armies. I would recommend a small volunteer professional force augmented by conscript reservists of both sexes. Both would train together to excel in unconventional warfare. Any invading army would find every town crawling with snipers, spies, assassins, and IED teams. Special teams should be ready to carry out operations against the invader internationally, striking at legitimate targets on a global stage. Having an open policy towards media and engaging with global audiences in their languages would also help garner the power of public opinion (a crucial factor in many successful insurgencies) and stymie attempts to crush the socialist country in question with military force.

Conclusion

It’s important to realize that I’m merely putting forth a few very general observations here, based on many years of study and experience. Don’t look at these recommendations as answers but rather questions that need to be discussed. I need to discuss them myself because I don’t believe I have adequate answers yet. I do realize that many of these observations may sound heretical to socialists of various tendencies, but what every one of those tendencies must admit is that to one degree or another, their politics have thus far failed to abolish capitalism.

My approach to politics is very much influenced by the martial arts of judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu (itself derived from judo). For those not familiar with the art, judo was developed by Kano Jigoro by refining traditional jiu-jitsu techniques so they could be practiced against a fully-resisting opponent in real time. While traditional styles of jiu-jitsu from that era emphasized “lethal” techniques, Kano rightly determined that techniques which could not be practiced in real time would be unreliable. In forming the Kodokan school of judo, Kano and his students would have to go through challenge matches with representatives of other schools, even if it meant facing their deadly techniques. Kano’s students almost always came out on top, proving the efficacy of his art. When judo was introduced to the Gracie family of Brazil by the master Maeda Mitsuyo, it went through a similar refining process in no-holds-barred streetfights. Decades later, Brazilian jiu-jitsu would help popularize mixed-martial arts competition in the United States and demonstrate that efficacy once again.

The lesson here is that you have to go with what works, and discard that which has been shown either to not work at all in real-life conditions or to be unreliable. Even after grappling arts like Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and sambo, as well as striking arts like Western and Thai boxing demonstrated their efficacy in MMA competitions, the representatives of discredited traditional martial arts were undaunted. They began dreaming up excuses as to why their martial arts were useless in the ring yet deadly on the street.

 

And look, I realize that building a totally different society with a different mode of production is far more complicated than a martial arts system, and of course there are external factors that will be outside of any socialist party or organization’s control. But that’s just more reason to discard techniques or policies which have been proven not to work or proven not to be sustainable instead of making excuses for failure and insisting on defending or advocating the same failed policies out of some fetishized love of some historical leader we never lived under and might not want to have lived under if we were being honest. That may sound harsh but that’s reality, and as socialists we’re supposed to be guided by reality and not our imaginations.

Anyway, that’s the end of my massive quasi-polemic. I am happy to try to answer any reasonable questions. In the near future I promise to get back to the usual observations about Russia and Ukraine, as well as the dick jokes. At least before I decide to wrap all this blogging business up for good.