Little Tent

Today’s new crop of social democrats think communists like us must be stupid. We won’t give them a break with our ruthless criticism, and this they can only take as indicative of our minoritarian mania for ‘purity.’ They seem to think in terms of a linear gradient of self-declared ‘political positions’ that runs from right to left — there’s a clutch of fascist nutjobs on the one side, a blind and blinding white, and then a slightly warmer hue begins to creep in as we move through the vast mostly-working masses of Joe and Jane Publics who consider themselves sensible conservatives or reasonable liberals. And then we come across our social democrats (or ‘democratic socialists,’ their current false mustache), whose goal it is to coax some of these reasonable folks in the middle a few inches left into the pink of a rose lapel pin, rosy with reasonable things like public health insurance, progressive taxation, and maybe even the nationalization of a ‘key industry’ or two. And they see us at the extreme left end of their gradient, our crimson so bloody it clots into black giving them hell, and they think: “these deluded sectarian fools with their impossible purity tests! If they think we’re ‘too far right,’ whatever can they think about the benighted common people that we, at least, will bend over backwards to meet where they’re at? How could they ever even begin to build a mass base that’s no longer afraid of the word socialism?”

But they don’t understand at all. We haven’t written off everyone to the right of Anton Pannekoek — in fact, we don’t see the same gradient of political affiliations: we see the circuit of reproduction of capitalist social relations. What the social democratic journalists and academics and politicos and ideologues don’t understand is that we hate them specifically. Not because their ideas are ‘not left enough,’ but because their place in that circuit is as a stratum of specialists in reform whose job security depends upon their remaining capital’s loyal opposition, the proletarians’ professional representatives. Their scheme of coaxing liberals (and conservatives) to the left is only really comprehensible to those like themselves who think in political terms — to the veterans of school newspapers and debate teams and student governments that make up the backbone of organizations like the DSA.

For all their patronizing concern about meeting working people where they’re at, ensconced in their editorial boards and steering committees, they don’t seem to notice what we notice all the time at work and in our everyday lives — that loads of workers (and those increasingly excluded from work) hate all politicians, hate the cops and bosses riding their backs, hate their bullshit jobs, and generally think everything is bullshit. They want nice stuff and if they could get it without needing money or work, most people would go for it in a second, as is laid plain every time a riot kicks off. And they’re hardly some monolithic moral majority of Fordist family-men that requires pandering by disavowing the weirdos, homos, hookers, damaged, disabled, druggies, perverts, criminals, counterculturalists, migrants, etc. — these latter make up a significant portion of today’s proletariat. To maintain otherwise against all evidence is — ironically, for these ‘class first’ haters of identity politics — nothing but superficial identity politics concocted by comically out-of-touch self-hating professionals aimed, unsuccessfully, at wooing a narrow stratum of nativist workers afraid of losing their slight, highly relative privilege (the increasingly devalorized wages of white citizenship), clumsily conflated by inevitably opportunist electoral calculus with ressentiment-fueled work-worshipping segments of the culturally-blue-collar petit-bourgeoisie.

Like Marx and Engels, we’re certainly not saying that we “regard the proletarians as gods,” or already always spontaneously communist — far from it. Until social reproduction beyond the wage emerges in crisis as a real possibility, proletarians’ immediate interest is securing the wage, which depends upon the vicissitudes of the (increasingly stagnant) capital accumulation process, breeding fierce intra-proletarian competition. And after all, we’re all mangled, massified, atomized, form-determined goods, so often Stockholm Syndromed into work ethics, bigotries, identity logics, authoritarian personalities, contemplative stances, and fears of freedom. But we’d always sooner struggle with, and argue amongst, those covered in the muck of ages, than those bathed in a rosy glow promising to make it all better if we’ll only vote for them or join their union or ‘org’ or political campaign or sign on to their cockeyed scheme for state-controlled capital markets. We won’t be a part of anyone’s ‘base.’ We already know what that feels like, and our backs are killing us.

A New Institute for Social Research