“The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky” –Flannery O’Connor.
In this essay/speech, Linda Gordon reviews historical evidence from the US, revealing how, in an inegalitarian society, even altruism comes out all wrong (not unlike egoism). She commences by condemning the modern reification of childhood innocence.
In addition to the shock doctrine and Policy Drift (Hacker & Piereson), pimping out victimhood (here feminism) is a third pillar neoliberal strategy in coordinating the advancement of conservative policy.
People’s desire to “do something” altruistic with their feeling of victimhood (which they are groomed to misread) meets their timid desire to do something reassuringly “close-to-home”–producing righteous, cowardly energy, easy fodder for neoliberal elites cultivating hoi poloi-screwing neoliberal crises.
At this blog site, Joanne Namerow discusses the main Wikileaks outrage, from elites’ perspective: States’ use of surveillance technology, rendering subjects’ lives and political views transparent to rulers, can occasionally be used to make capitalist state and capitalist elite machinations transparent to the public. What Namerow doesn’t discuss is that transparency isn’t half of what’s required for political mobilization. The state has the advantage of being run on behalf of antidemocratic elite interests, whereas the capitalism in front of our faces remains illegible to most of the unorganized public. Further, the leaks can’t stop the great assembled masses of neocon strategists and secret polices from doing their job #1–suppressing democracy and promoting Anglosphere financial-militarist capitalist interests.
The public elite freak-out over Wikileaks is a nice, petulant, fascist law’n’order rallying cry and all, and it’s not like they don’t have the excess machinery to prosecute their campaign; but it is also a lot of wasted energy and resources. But hell– I’m all for elites & their retainers wasting their considerable, malevolent, ne’er-do-well energies, and they’re wasting our appropriated resources anyway.
Democracy Now! hosts a Dec 20, 2010 debate between a socialist feminist, Naomi Wolf, and a neoliberal feminist, Jaclyn Friedman over the international persecution of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.
What’s at stake in this debate is setting the criteria for the circumstances in which socialist feminists coalesce with neoliberal feminists, and the circumstances in which socialist feminists must break off from neoliberal feminists and regroup as a separate network (cf Nancy Fraser).
When Karl Rove comes knocking at your door and tells you he will let you decry rape for 15 minutes on teevee if you sell imperial tyranny for him, and your reaction is “OK! Sounds like a bargain!”, you know you’re a fucking neoliberal tool. If and only if in the context of an international antidemocratic elite campaign, you do not believe that women have the capacity to make decisions, then you are not a feminist; you are a paid neoliberal shill. Since we are strict pomos and we must allow women to label themselves feminist if they want (or if it serves their career networking), we could gamely specify them as Karl Rove feminists. Which version of feminism led Friedman naturally to resort to yelping, “Fear! Fear! Fear is the reason!” at the end of the Democracy Now! debate.
Yes, most of us women and many men have been raped; it involved fear and other emotions, and rape is one of the overlapping abuses of power in a rapacious, proliferating, inequality-based political-economic culture of alienation and “unmaking,” as Elaine Scarry might put it. The existence of abuse in individual relationships requires us to morally oppose the further development of the institutions that foster such oppression. The long elite antidemocratic campaign is a central corrupt and corrupting institution.
Inasmuch as it first pointed to hypocrisy (as articulated by Naomi Wolf and Michael Moore), the charge that Sweden underprosecutes rape is a distortion of the actual legal strength of women in Sweden vis-a-vis sexual violence. Sweden has a very different legal system that approaches almost all crime with restitution, rather than vindictive, long-term punishment as in the Anglosphere; and that social democratic legal tradition is an asset that reduces alienation and oppression. (In ignoring this, Amnesty is cooperating with a local Swedish effort to use the international public sphere for local political purposes. Perhaps in the Swedish context, Amnesty’s classification of women in Sweden as particularly vulnerable to consequence-free violence supports women’s emancipation; perhaps instead it supports neoconservative efforts to augment inequality by replacing the current legal system with a punitive, capitalist class-biased Anglo legal system.) There is a very good reason why some Swedes are angry with the state prosecutor and the neoliberal feminists for assaulting that reconstructive social democratic tradition.
This Assange prosecution case will most definitely NOT make Sweden and the world better at opposing rape, contrary to Friedman’s baseless assertion. It will only continue to give conservatives license to destroy democracy in the glorious, cynical, patriarchal name of protecting the sub-rational womenchildren sub-citizens. Sweden has a conservative Law’n’Order government that got into power and stays there by flogging the idea that swarthy immigrants threaten the virtue and accomplishments of “real,” “liberated” Swedish women. Those politics of pimping out feminism are honed to a fine art in Sweden, as you can see from watching the cynical Swedish lawyer in the Democracy Now! report.
Sweden’s conservative government is absolutely colluding with other conservative states to pimp out women’s fear and rage at being raped for these rulers’ own antidemocratic purposes. Wolf knows what she’s talking about, and her incisive analysis is impressive.
Assessment of socialist-feminist / neoliberal feminist coalition:
In the Assange case, the neoliberal feminists are not fighting for rape victims or any women. They are serving as a voluntary army for politically-organized international capital. But simply wrapping the terrifying, bloody flag of sex victimhood around the shoulders of this conservative campaign cannot make it liberatory for anyone but already overly-mobile capital, rapist of whole communities and societies, progenitor of alienated, dehumanizing, abusive, exploitive relationships. And I speak not just from a political perspective, but also from an experiential perspective, as a feminist who was raped by an IDF soldier.
This is a point where socialist feminists cannot reconcile with the political program of neoliberal feminists, which has led directly into the pit of extreme social inequality, including gender inequality–if you recognize that women make up the majority of the world’s poor, exploited, dispossessed and disenfranchised. In today’s political context, mutual opposition to rape and patriarchy is not enough, nor is mutual commitment to women’s advancement. Which rape? Which patriarchy? Which women’s advancement? These are crucial questions, because the neoliberal feminists’ abstracted emotional triggers cannot hide the bloody flood of wretched disparities in life chances that we have seen and will continue to see under the management regime of such neoliberal supplicants to the conservative movement.
This is a point at which socialist feminists must regroup around their own separate, historically-rooted Left feminism. They can and must fight sexual violence and promote women’s networks separately from the neoliberal feminists. Mobilize their own constituency. Build upon their tradition’s own ideas. The neoliberal feminists’ only policy answers are sealed within the bleak, corrupting world of Reagan, Thatcher, Mulroney, and Reinfeldt, wherein Karl Rove’s Angels can sell their glossy, full-color magazines to the self-righteous daughters and wives of finance, insurance, and real estate.
Considered strategically, socialist feminists should remember, however, that over an historical sweep, the existence of elite conservative feminist hegemony–while destructive in many terrible ways–can produce something of a hegemonic check on Left patriarchs. As Paul Lichterman’s work has shown, it’s sometimes wise to refrain from enjoining fierce bullying with all your firepower–but rather to practice some jijitsu. You don’t want to completely alienate or destroy all enemies.
Naomi Wolf is a good model. She articulates a consistent, clear socialist feminism firmly and confidently, even while she is being savaged by the neoliberal feminists. The trick is to regroup with other socialist feminists at such junctures–not to let the neoliberals get inside your head.
There will come a point in the future where the competing feminist groups will have temporary use of each other. You want your head clear to take advantage of that moment.
It is communism that elicits culture in capitalism. Britain’s Channel 4 and The Independent newspaper report the story “Modern Art Was CIA Weapon” of how the CIA in the mid-20th century promoted and used modern art–Abstract Expressionism–to flog the idea that capitalism can foster artistic freedom, where communism cannot. However, the extent to which the market fosters artistic freedom was greatly exaggerated–by the elite cadre of American secret police that temporarily, for propaganda purposes, fostered that freedom. And that little mid-century “long leash” blip of freedom depended on capitalists who believed that they had to compete with communism for world opinion.
Without communism, do we have freedom in capitalism? For the working class, the post-communist evidence points to “not much” or “no.”
Interesting in the report are 2 subplots:
1) The mid-20th century division of labor/personnel between the CIA and other ruling institutions in the US, and
2) An early chapter in the long tradition of media manipulation:
“The decision to include culture and art in the US Cold War arsenal was taken as soon as the CIA was founded in 1947. Dismayed at the appeal communism still had for many intellectuals and artists in the West, the new agency set up a division, the Propaganda Assets Inventory, which at its peak could influence more than 800 newspapers, magazines and public information organisations. They joked that it was like a Wurlitzer jukebox: when the CIA pushed a button it could hear whatever tune it wanted playing across the world.”
“We are a country born in secession against a distant colonial power. The Declaration of Independence asserts that ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed,’ and that ‘whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it.’ This does not imply the perpetuity of established states; should a government commit ‘a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations,’ the people have not only the right but the duty to throw it off. To secede means to withdraw. It is not self-effacement; the seceding party does not disappear. It simply removes itself from an arrangement it no longer finds satisfactory and sets up another” Bill Kauffman. 2010. Bye Bye Miss American Empire.
Kauffman argues for the Left to embrace seccession in the US. Yes, a big structural problem behind the intransigent problems of the global economy, US militarization, and global imperialism, is that the US is a leviathon.
But given not just the domestic but also the global elite interest in maintaining the US as a large market and center of high resource and profit extraction, and given the massive level of police militarization in the US, I think the Left should strategically consider its position in the natural geographic faultlines of the US.
First, let us acknowledge that in the United States, the Left today is not just balkanized, but atomized. The Left in the Anglosphere has for much of the past several decades been deactivated, disoriented, and sometimes reduced to a puppet–Without philosophical coherence, solidarity, and multipronged, wide-view strategic vision, its adherents are only capable of implementing prefab conservative policy–as long as they’re enunciated in an altruistic or fatalistic way, not building progressive policy.
However, in the early 20th century, a small number of Leftists cohered to mobilize people. They influenced policy, including the framework of the thinkable. If some dedicated, mobilization-oriented cohesion were to again emerge within the Left (From a basis in OWS?), collective Left strategy could be pursued again, and humane and economically and environmentally-facilitative Leftist ideas could influence North American societies again.
Cohesion does not mean undifferentiated identity. Successful social movement strategy requires different groups of people engaging in distinct tactical “prongs,” under a framework of guiding ideas and long-term goals. This allows a coalition to take advantage of different kinds of people’s strengths and meso/micro-philosophies.
As necessary as it is, the multi-pronged movement is vulnerable to individuals’ and groups’ lack of discipline and perspective; different coalition groups and actors must be disciplined to recognize and be tolerant of the mid-to-long-range strategic necessity of multiple, different tactical prongs that superficially “clash” in the short-term. For example, social movement requires both within-establishment work and independent outside disruption. Two coalition prongs are needed in Left movement.
The majority of the Left coalition, including Left-liberals, social anarchists, anarchists and Leftists who are primarily interested in prefigurative politics can, for example, engage movements such as Transition Town, where they plan, mobilize, and organize to wean communities off their vulnerable dependency on highly-extractive, capital strike-prone, financial-military elites’ political-economy.
Strategically-minded Leftists could take a page out of the FBI Cointelpro book. They can organize to pose as Right-wing commentators on-line and as community members in churches, urging the Right wing to press for seccession. This approach would strategically use frame resonance, a social movement concept which Snow & Benford tend to lean too much on (because usually it’s impossible for Leftists to mobilize for Leftist goals). Encouraging the American Right to take up its traditional, localist version of conservatism, however, is a real framing opportunity for the Left.
Right-wing average Americans have historically taken and would take to a seccessionist movement. They could put their money, their energy, their communal passion behind it, and in creating a threat to governmentality, they could bear the brunt of police and military repression. [Discuss: Obama Presidency as time-delimited political opportunity for activating Imperial Apartheid social contract framework, mobilizing American Right populists around secessionist movement.] At the very least, this could force a useful split between the organized capitalist Right and the populist Right in the United States. The limit of this strategy is that at this point in history, capitalists are highly cohesive, across geography. That could change.
The Left can facilitate, or refrain from opposing–and take advantage of– a populist Right-wing secessionist movement, to gain strength in particular territory, and to mobilize the progressive public around labor- and environmentally-friendly ideas, policies, and institutions.
Because being pro-US seccession will activate the massive police and military apparatus, for the Left this should be about the basic tactical consideration of geography. The strategy should be about mobilization, laying down a left organizational foundation in regions and cities that have not been irrevocably overdetermined by slavery, military bases, and financial institutions, and therefore have not been heavily, deeply influenced by conservative theory and culture.
Securing territorial contiguity between the Atlantic and Pacific has always been a vital interest of American elites. Even Jefferson sacrificed his vision of the good society to attain that continent-spanning territory. Lincoln engaged in domestic war to secure it. It would probably be most strategic for Leftists to plan to organize in northern territory that would leave to the conservative capitalist elite a strong territorial corridor between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
To maintain less-obstructive external relations, the Left should take a page out of capitalism’s book and facilitate a broad (but not infinite) range of symbolic cultural concessions–eg. “celebrations”: pride parades, carnivales, ethnic food and culture fairs, recognition awards, artistic tolerance, free speech and academic freedom, a degree of self-funded religious networking tolerance, some personal private property– to identity-liberation groups–but never at the price of undermining a permanent campaign of labor-focused economic literacy and advocacy. Never at the price of giving up the war of position.
“Therein resides the dialectic of the Old and the New: it is those who propose the constant creation of new terms (‘postmodern society,’ ‘risk society,’ ‘information society,’ ‘postindustrial society,’ etc.) in order to grasp what is going on today who miss the contours of what is actually New. The only way to grasp the true novelty of the New is to analyze the world through the lenses of what was ‘eternal’ in the Old. If communism really is an ‘eternal’ Idea, then it works as a Hegelian ‘concrete universality’: it is eternal not in the sense of a series of abstract-universal features that may be applied everywhere, but in the sense that it has to be re-invented in each new historical situation.” Slavoj Zizek. 2009. First as Tragedy Then as Farce.
“The Progressive Era developed the view that public utilities and other natural monopolies rightly belonged in the public sector, where governments would provide their basic services at a subsidized price or even freely as in the case of roads. The idea was to keep user fees no higher than the actual cost of production, so as to avoid rent seeking. This pejorative term means extracting income by placing tollbooths on the economy’s key infrastructure. To leave roads and railroads, electric and power utilities in private hands ran the risk of private owners ‘rack-renting’ the population, adding to the cost of living and doing business.
(Today) U.S. policy is just the opposite (of Progressive Era rent-reduction policy).”
Hudson, Michael. 2010. ” The Deficit Commission and America’s Neo-feudal Economy.” Creditwritedowns.com, December 6.