Beyond that subtle pessimism of low expectations

"But while Thin Man is right when he says "this is the first time since the 1960s an activist movement has an opportunity to get out from under the stifling top down command structure and the enervating 1960s nostalgia of the organized left" -- I don't want older revolutionaries to go easy on my generation, to stand by and romanticize our actions without supplying us with the proper and necessary criticism their life experience provides.

"To do so would be a great disservice to us."

We have been working on a critique of that cranky and conservative sectarianism  emerging (among some leftissts) toward the Occupy Wall Street. In that discussion TNL wrote:

"But what is most distressing to me is hearing YOUNG revolutionaries (much younger than I) nay-saying this important eruption. No doubt many will rethink this, but it is still a distressing sign of the grip of the past on the minds of the living."

The following comment was then written as a contribution to that discussion.


* * * * * * * * * *

by Ghan Buri Ghan

As one of the young revolutionaries in question, I feel the need to defend myself.

When Marxism became a vacuum

My generation came of age after the dissolution of the Soviet bloc. (I myself was only a year old when the Soviet Union dissolved)

There is an attitude among many of my generation that Marxism is outdated, irrelevant, authoritarian, etc.

Lots of counter-productive ideologies have filled the "vacuum", so to speak; Polyanna social-democracy and pious faith in local entrepreneurialism and the NGO-industrial complex, (esp. in the form of "green" social-democratic capitalism, "localism", and "community mediation") sketchy third positionism (as evidenced by the popularity of 9/11 truth, Alex Jones, Zeitgeist, etc.) with a quasi-fascist hatred of finance capital, (which stripped of its modern cultural context would be just as at home in the John Birch Society) eccentric mutations of anarchism, (anarcho-primitivism, extremist egoism, parecon, anarcho-capitalism, etc.) pure nihilistic apathy, and so on. (Or, most commonly, a schizophrenic cocktail of all of the above.)

Those of us who ARE interested in the traditional left-wing criticism of society articulated by Marx, Engels, et al., must constantly struggle against much animosity and hostility to make our voices heard.

Several generations lived through an era in which half the world was controlled by capitalist political powers that made a tentative ideological claim to "Marxism", ours is arguably the first to grow up in an era in which the geopolitical establishment has universally decided that quasi-Marxist ideology is not a useful form of social control, (e.g. Dengism, Gorbachevism, Juche, Raulism, etc.) and many working-class youth operate under this assumption. There is a cynicism, perhaps understandably, that Marxist socialism "never worked" and would inevitably lead to Stalinization if implemented once again.

Of course for many, such as myself, this is an incorrect premise. But the pervasive nature of such attitudes puts a rather severe pressure on us to agitate for a more scientific critique of society amongst our peers. (E.g. expressing to them the notion that it is perfectly feasible to analyze the failures of 20th century socialist revolutions using traditional Marxian concepts)

Crisis and an alienation of generations

To illustrate the urgency of what I'm talking about, let's look at a poignant quote from a Socialist Worker editorial:

"Economic disparity and lack of opportunity is ravaging my generation while our future Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are being taken away in order to pay for the economic crisis that YOUR generation caused! If you need any more proof of that, just take a look at Wisconsin, London, Greece or the Arab Spring revolutions and realize that they are all fighting the same thing."

As true and inspiring as that statement is, it also highlights the crisis of my generation. The proletarian left in Greece failed to take advantage of momentum among the proletarian masses, and decided they wanted to be romantic warriors fighting for the class interests of the lumpen petit-bourgeoisie against the 'reactionary' proletariat. (And like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the proletarian masses lost interest in social-revolutionary politics)


In London, the radical left mostly washed their hands of the riots and, in most instances, joined the choir of reactionary voices denouncing the "senseless violence" of the youth, and the riots fizzled out, failing to gain a broader political trajectory.

In Wisconsin the protests took a social-democratic populist direction which resulted in cops and corrections officials being welcomed into the fold as part of the "peoples' movement".

In North Africa, the working-class revolt was redirected into Soviet Bloc collapse / color revolution-style "democratic reform", with historically regressive results in the case of Libya.

We can look at other examples:

The Indignado movement in Spain has been and is being suffocated by the dominant ideology of peaceful protest, participatory democracy, pluralism, reformism, and anti-corruption, leaving no room for communist politics.

A similar situation in Israel, where the mass-unrest is being channeled into official reformist cooperation and compromise with the state; a shameful exposition that seems entirely interested in ignoring the demands of indigenous Palestinians who helped build the mass-movement in the first place.

Many of the protests organized by Anonymous in the US indicate a strong lack of practical real-world experience on behalf of the organizers, coupled with a self-policing mix of social democracy and right-wing conspiracy theorism. (E.g. anyone interested in something beyond passive protest is an "agent provocateur") During recent BART protests in Oakland organized by Anonymous, there were messages traveling across IRC and Twitter that there were "agent provocateurs" handing out flyers. (Of course no proof was offered, it was pure reckless snitch-jacketting) Allegedly the purpose of this was so the police could charge members of Anonymous with the crime of littering, ignore the fact that Anonymous was engaged in a non-permitted demonstration, a far greater criminal offense than littering, and BART authorities were already prepared to use full legal force to suppress the protests.

Similarly, during the beginning of the "Occupy" movement in the US, there was plenty of chatter on the Occupy Wall St. and Occupy FDSF Facebook walls (much of it from the leadership of these events) about how anyone committing illegal property destruction was an "agent provocateur" who needed to be filmed and reported to the authorities. (The irony of snitching on someone because they are an alleged mole was apparently lost on these people) It was only after the passive protests were met with ruthless police violence that the Wall St. Occupation developed a slightly more militant undertone. (And I say "slightly")

Signs of revolutionary potential

My point is not to encourage pessimism and defeatism, but rather to discourage the subtle pessimism of low expectations. The Greek uprising, the Arab Spring, the London Riots, the Wisconsin demonstrations, Anonymous, the Indignados in Spain, the Israeli tent protests, and now the occupation movements in the US - these are indeed the germs of a new revolutionary movement, they are indeed signs that my generation has great revolutionary potential.

But while Thin Man is right when he says "this is the first time since the 1960s an activist movement has an opportunity to get out from under the stifling top down command structure and the enervating 1960s nostalgia of the organized left" -- I don't want older revolutionaries to go easy on my generation, to stand by and romanticize our actions without supplying us with the proper and necessary criticism their life experience provides.

To do so would be a great disservice to us.

People in this conversation

  • Guest - redpines

    Ghan Buri Ghan’s comments are important and sobering.

    Even as we become enthusiastic supporters of the occupations, we should remember that none of these uprisings elsewhere have developed a communist character, and few have had large numbers of openly communist participants. Even in Greece, anti-communism is rampant in the squares–though it has a different character than it does in the US. Should the movement in the US continue (and it seems likely), we need to think seriously about long-term strategies and ways to pose communist ideas as legitimate within these movements.

    And to do so, we’ll have to start by engaging with the people in these situations, figuring out how to speak, how to apply the mass line and so forth.

  • I agree with Red Pines. Thanks for this.

  • Guest - laborshallrule

    I do agree with all comments above, and Ghan Buri Ghan is on spot! Excellent post.

    I too was only one when "communism" collapsed. My exposure to revolution and socialism was limited when I was growing up. But I knew something wasn't right when my dad's insurance expired right when he got a donor for his kidney transplant, or when my mom's severance pay was running out and we had to stay at grandmas for a few months, and so on. While privilege plays a part, settlerism is a dynamic that is slowly but most surely undoing itself. And we have to be there whenever it happens.

    Seeing and understanding the anatomy of an oppressive system is a protracted process that everyone, old or young, is still involved in. That, let alone knowing how to act to erase the injustices it produces, is hard to envision for many kids who live in a time where there are no living examples of socialist states. There should be more of a focus on political education, i.e. through study groups.

  • Guest - Avery Ray Colter

    With regard to random window breakers, while I appreciate Ghan seeing irony in the idea of turning in supposed agent provocateurs to the police from which they may have come, what do the people here think of Lenin's "Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder", and specifically the anti-terrorist portions of that essay, or his contention that those living in nations where it is legal for a socialist or communist to run for office should do so? The idea of encouraging people to consider being part of a people's army as a necessary element (as indicated by the recent posts about Indonesia) means encouraging, one would think, a sense of coordination and discipline in the application of destructive activity, and more than a little thought about whether particular destructive acts will really permanently or at least pointedly DESTROY anything valuable to capitalism as a whole. Am I the only one who is not that impressed by a broken window? Does anyone think petty property destruction makes the captains of the empire lose one eyeblink of sleep?

    I do think there needs to be accord between those who would act nonviolently and those who would be more aggressive. For my part, while some might think it reckless, the contingent which faces the first wave of assault unarmed seem to me the bravest of all, and the most sympathetic for holding out the peaceful option. Those who feel they will be hurt and that things will come to blows need their voices heard as well, but can they take the position of "We can do it the easy way or the hard way"?

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