Tag Archives: capitalism

The Idiot Left Speaks


A Facebook comment by a well known radical journalist denigrates Noam Chomsky and Chris Hedges for not being real leftists.

Why?

Because they “don’t want a violent revolution.”

“Real leftists” according to him, “want a violent revolution.”

It needs to be understood that his position goes well beyond the longstanding Marxist assumption of violent revolution as inevitable. Those who have accumulated wealth and privilege, so the story goes, will necessarily deploy violence to defend it and the working class should prepare itself to respond in kind.

While it might be a mistake, regarding violent revolution as a regrettable necessity is rational.

Wanting one, as the leftist in question does, is the opposite of rational.

It is insane.

To see why, it is worth itemizing what he can expect if his wish is fulfilled, which includes some if not all of the following:

**Witnessing your sister or daughter sodomized with rifle butts.

**Being chained to a wall while having electric cattle prods attached to your genitals.

**Subsisting on a diet of whatever rotting vegetables, raw oatmeal and canned food you managed to hoard during a famine precipitated by the breakdown of the food production and transportation systems.

**Not knowing for months or even years the whereabouts of friends and family only to discover that they were summarily executed by an informal revolutionary tribunal.

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Recognizing that this is what a real -as opposed to fantasy-violent revolution entails raises a question: what term should we apply to those who want these and other atrocities to materialize?

Before answering it, it’s worth mentioning that this comment occurred within a thread bemoaning Amy Goodman’s failure to book the leftist in question to promote his new book on Democracy Now.

This points to an underlying “materialist” explanation (as the Marxists put it) for this kind of high dudgeon rhetoric.

It is a category mistake to understand it as in any way political.  Rather, it is  commercial-nothing more or less than a sales pitch to differentiate this leftist’s “brand” from the competition, i.e. other left media “product” available to us “consumers.(1)

It designed not to convince, but simply to move units among his target demographic.

***

And with that in mind, it is pretty easy to answer the question posed above. A one word description for this and other leftists in this line of work is not one they will want to hear but it is the fact of the matter. The word is capitalist.

The term idiot suggested in the title turns out not to be applicable to them since they know exactly what they’re doing.

It applies more to their followers who imagine that by feverishly clicking their assent and maniacally forwarding their rants to their network of followers they are doing anything other than helping to destroy the left.

(1) See here for some reflections on the ambiguities confronting left journalists in connection with the work of iconic left journalist Alexander Cockburn.

Updated 11/9: Minor editorial alterations for clarity.

A Moral Panic: Cui Bono

1) To recognize an incipient moral panic-as appears evident from the ten most forwarded New York Times stories displayed above- in no way denies the significance of sexual misconduct.  Nor does expressing concern about its dangers minimize the suffering of the victims. In fact, it constitutes the opposite: a climate of hysteria does nothing to advance the interests of those victimized since (by definition) it conflates victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment of varying degrees of seriousness with those whose claims are either frivolous or altogether baseless. The latter category includes those taking commercial advantage of the media publicity now accorded to those making accusations. Those denying the self-interested motives of at least a few are referred to the previous posting .

2) The widespread media spotlight on accusations of sexual assault and sexual harassment does not constitute a) a “paradigm shift” in power relations in the workplace, as some commenters on social media and elsewhere have claimed. Nor is there any basis for believing b) the familiar catechism based on the assumption that since “capitalism and patriarchy breed each other”, victories against against the latter constitutes signficant steps forward for an anti-capitalist agenda.

3) A moment’s thought will bring with it the recognition that 2) a) is wishful thinking and 2 b) in many instances simply delusional. Whatever the outcome of the charges, up to and including the perpetrators serving stiff sentences, neoliberal capitalism will continue to define the most significant aspects of most of our lived experience. It will continue to produce grotesque, and highly gendered, levels of income and wealth inequality, mass homelessness, lower life expectancy, senseless wars, possible nuclear conflict and the near certainty of major environmental catastrophe within the next generation.

4) The focus on the moral turpitude of abusers rather than the systemic economic basis of their power and authority is misplaced. While usually not intended as such, doing so necessarily takes the focus off of unspeakable tragedies resulting from the system’s normal operation when it is managed by moral, upstanding and ostensibly decent individuals. In some cases, those focusing on the moral bankruptcy of individuals are doing so because they are incapable or unwilling to face up to the apparent or real moral rectitude of those who do great evil. That removing patriarchical hegemony will undermine the system of savage exploitation at the root of the living nightmare experienced by its victims is a comfortable fiction immediately revealed as such by reciting two words: Margaret Thatcher.

5) The moral panic surrounding sexual misconduct leaves entirely unmentioned the only mechanism which could have prevented many of the abuses now being aired publicly, namely, collective organizing by workers themselves. That is, it is union representation and only union representation which allow workers to seriously combat the dictatorial power of management and the abuses of individual managers. It is no coincidence that the successful predations of numerous corporate executives has taken place in a climate in which union representation is at an all time low and that many of the worst abuses are occurring in industries in which there ls little to no union presence.

6) It is also, perhaps, no coincidence that the corporate media which is the mouthpiece for elite ranks of management has no problem circulating these accusations. As mentioned in 4), they recognize that the removal of bad apples will serve to shore up rather than undermine the moral foundations and legitimacy of major capitalist institutions. They also understand what businesses have for years, namely that moral panics are by their nature reactionary almost always either initiated or fomented by the right who recognize that a climate of fear and suspicion militates against the kind of solidarity which is a prerequisite for successful organizing in the workplace and outside of it.

That said, three points follow which to some extent mitigate the perspective advanced in 1) – 6).

7) Not every favorable social development is connected to the struggle against capitalist exploitation.

8) While they do not constitute a paradigm shift, the public shaming and likely criminal prosecution of the perpetrators will send a signal to prospective sexual predators taking advantage of their positions of social power and economic dominance. Many of those who would previously have thought nothing about engaging what was previously regarded as routine, acceptable social interactions will now understand them as unacceptable forms of sexual harassment and even sexual assault and consequently will be less inclined to act on their worst impulses.

9) The ultimate effect of these is likely to amount to a significant improvement in the working conditions of many-possibly hundreds of thousands or even millions-or women. The importance of this should not be minimized.

On Jazz Music, Jazz Politics and “Failed Ideas”

New Music Box, the house organ of the composers advocacy organization New Music USA has issued a two part request: that I respond to a posting attacking my article Jazz after Politics, and that I do so on their site, “subject to . . .  editorial review”.

As for the former, as it is mostly composed of trivial misrepresentations which I have dealt with previously, what I have to say about it I will deliver more or less in passing.  What is worth discussing is the latter: why it would be impossible to convey my reaction under New Music Box editorial auspices. The reason is that doing so requires broaching the main subject which I have been writing about over the past few years, namely, the relationship of the high arts to traditional elites of the past and present. Given that the organization has declared what I and others have to say on this matter essentially off limits, as I will observe in the following, it will be necessary to convey the substance of my position on this matter and on others relating to it elsewhere.

That NMB has imposed and maintains a de facto ban on these subjects may have passed unnoticed by most of its readers, though those who read it carefully will have recognized that something of the sort might be the case.  More conclusive is behind the scenes evidence provided by two episodes from my own experience with them.(1)  The first concerns their having commissioned me to write on composers’ reaction to the Occupy movement which was then attracting considerable attention.  The piece I submitted was initially enthusiastically received by the editors.  However, when it was forwarded it to higher-ups for approval, a problem was detected in that it “named names” of certain dubious financeers who are also funders of new music. Mentioning this rogues’ gallery would, according to them, draw an unfavorable response from their board possibly having financial consequences for their organization.  And so they rejected a piece they both commissioned and approved-or to be more precise, they censored it.

A second piece submitted to them on the subject of the historical relationship between composers and socialist politics was also initially favorably received, albeit in draft form. Unfortunately, the edited version they returned to me eliminated entirely the introduction where the subject of composers’ current relationship to the plutocracy was connected to prior epochs.  The result of this cut and others was logical and rhetorical hash which failed to convey what had been the article’s main point, so I decided to publish it elsewhere.

***

While it might initially seem otherwise, I should stress that I am not mentioning these facts to criticize either New Music Box, its parent organization New Music USA, or to criticize them for running this article.

We all make various compromises to manage within the brutal economic realities which capitalism in its late, neoliberal form imposes all of us in the 99%, including artists and arts organizations. When it comes to composers, it has always been the expectation that we keep our opinions to ourselves about the hands which are feeding us and to stifle our inclination (insofar as we have one) to bite them.  In the current climate, what is required goes beyond this traditional arrangement in that what is increasingly expected by elites in exchange for their largesse is not only the suppression of ideas they find unpalatable but actual cheerleading.

That is the context in which the following assertion from the article, which claims to be a defense of jazz against what it sees as my attacks (2), is to be understood.

“It’s The Man who preserves failed ideas—like Marxism.”

While I was initially annoyed by this, in retrospect I’m grateful that the sentence, tying together de rigeur bashing of academics with no nothingist red baiting, appeared.  For if nothing else, it removes any doubts that a hipster variant of rightwing ideology has penetrated into new music circles.

It also serves a nearly perfect illustration of two of the major points of the piece.  The first of these is that jazz has long since lost any connection with a past in which it was taken, at least by the left, to serve as a vehicle for radical, or at least minlmally progressive sentiments.  Long gone are figures such as Max Roach, the “Marxist Mozart” Teddy Wilson or Fred Ho who would have quickly dismissed the description of Marxism as a failed idea.  Now, whatever its purely formal musical virtues, and I heartily agree that these are substantial, jazz has become politically neutered and arguably reactionary, a development the author seems to approve of. (3)

What is likely behind the shift to the right is a second point discussed in the piece, namely, the substantial corporate funding jazz institutions have received over the past decades. A primary objective of this support is that just mentioned: to co-opt potentially dissident voices who might use their reputations to challenge the domination of the 1%.  It has been known for years that making artists aware of who pulls the strings is a guarantee that they will be less likely to exercise their independence, so this tactic should by now be familiar.

Another tactic, however, is more subtle and more insidious:  by supporting an art form deeply rooted in the historical sufferings and struggles of African Americans, elites masquerade as allies, or at least sympathetic.  The reality, as documented by historians Gerald Horne and Edward Baptist, among others, has always been exactly the opposite: economic elites were the predominant beneficiaries of the slave economy, of the Jim Crow policies which followed and, most recently, by the waves of offshoring, deindustrialization and wage stagnation by which African Americans have been among the hardest hit.

As I noted, waving the flag for jazz does effectively nothing for the five centuries of victims of the past or those of the present.  That we as musicians think otherwise is understandable though, of course, delusional on our parts. On the part of elites, however, it is not a delusion at all, but much worse: it is part of a cynical game by which they exempt themselves from legitimate demands that they return some reasonable fraction of the wealth they have accumulated on the backs (disproportionately African) of those who have produced it.  What they offer as compensation is patronage for a tiny percentage of those involved in the creative arts judged as “worthy”.  That this is a distraction from the unpleasant reality is among the core “failed ideas” that can’t be mentioned in New Music Box, except as a smear.

***

It is, of course, well known that the establishment media functions as a megaphone for the elites agenda while limiting access to those attempting to challenge it. While it does consistently excellent work, like many other mainstream outlets, New Music Box is ultimately part of this establishment.

Given this fact, I hope that New Music Box has convinced its board that composers and jazz musicians’ flirtation with radical, anti-capitalist politics is long in the past.  Let’s hope that nine and ten figure contributions to NMB are in the mail though for reasons I have discussed, I don’t consider this likely.

In the meantime, composers and musicians need all the help they can get. New Music USA plays a vital role in providing it and they should continue in this capacity.

But that does not exempt those benefitting from it from the responsibility to recognize the ultimate taint from which the support derives and the underlying agenda being advanced through it.

 

The article is a useful demonstration of how far we need to go to achieve this awareness.

(1) I have informally recounted some of this story here.

(2) As discussed here, my response to the jazz canon should be seen as normal criticism of the sort which any serious artform should not only expect but welcome.
(3) Rather than applauding jazz’s right wing turn, other response to the piece challenged the claim that jazz musicians are no longer sympathetic to left wing causes. It’s obvious by now that the “concerts that jazz musicians staged in support of U.S. President Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008”, taken as an indication of left sympathies should be viewed as quite the opposite.