For those on the left who follow political blogs, one of the more indefatiguable voices is that of Louis Proyect. For reasons unfathomable, Louis seems to have a fixation with John Wight, of this parish.
A recent article entitled “The social conservatism of the Putinite left” caught my attention due to the following sentiment:
All of a sudden I had an epiphany. People like Kit Knightly, John Wight and Mike Whitney are social conservatives. When Knightly defends the Russian Orthodox Church from “orgy-like protests”, I feel like I am listening to Glenn Back complaining about Lady Ga-Ga. Where do these people come from?
[…] These kinds of people give me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe that’s because I was a bohemian before I became a radical. I am attracted to deviants. I was a fan of male prostitute and petty thief (and distinguished playwright) Jean Genet long before I read Karl Marx. When I read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” in 1961, that was the kind of person I wanted to get to know …
Below the line on the same article there is an hilarious comment from someone called Pete Glosser, who seems to utterly lack any sense of critical self awareness:
I say that as someone who personally shook hands with Genet and William Burroughs in Chicago’s Lincoln Park in 1968 and who was deeply stirred by Ginsberg’s poetry and his charismatic presence during that period.
It seems that for Louis, and many others who were formerly active on the radical left, they have given up on actually changing the world, and instead they just want to critique capitalism in the company of those whom they feel a cultural affinity with. Socialism has become an “identity” that they use for self-definition, not a collective project for real world political change.
Let us be clear, there is no necessary link between being culturally avant garde and being politically progressive. This can be verified by moment’s reflection upon the political views of such Twentieth Century literary and artistic giants as TS Elliot, Ezra Pound, Henry Williamson, Wyndham Lewis, or FT Marinetti.
The cultural avant garde, bohemianism and what Louis bizarrely calls being a“deviant” may be rewarding, and even transcendant, it can enrich and empower lives and imaginations, and of course art which exists “in the public square” is always received in a collective cultural context, and is therefore capable of interaction with progressive politics. Avant garde art can also be pretentious shit. How Louis can see anything progressive in the jejune antics of Pussy Riot gratuitously offending the views of Russian Christians is a mystery to me.
In any event, it is not art, but collective organisation and building communities of solidarity that are the bedrock of socialism. Louis’s celebration of rather individualistic self expression has more affinity to liberalism than socialism.
It is also worth reflecting that collectivism and social solidarity is not only delivered by forces like the trade unions, and the social democratic left, but also from churches, Mosques and other faith organizations. While Louis fulminates against “social conservatism” it might be worth reflecting why Ted Cruz is supported by many blue collar voters, and how it is that GOP has managed to exploit culture wars to build a base among what Americans would call “middle class” voters.
Louis’s oeuvre is typified by pompous and prolix discourses upon matters of utter obscurity. I opened his blog today,and I quote the first paragraph randomly selected:
It would appear that Trotsky’s theory of combined and uneven development informs not only Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule” but four articles I recently read that are critical of Vivek Chibber’s “Postcolonial Theory and the Specter of Capital”. This might lead one to believe that no matter how failed a project the Fourth International was, Trotsky’s ideas remain current especially for scholars grappling with the Eurocentrism of Political Marxism, a tendency that includes Vivek Chibber as one of its most truculent spokesmen.
Remind me to bring that up at my union meeting next week.
While Louis has consciously broken from the organizational forms of Trotskyism, he still holds with the essentially Trotskyist project of promoting and defending a counter-hegemonic belief system and interpreting the world through a largely self-referential and textually based polemic; which is resilient at ignoring aspects of reality that contradict it. As I wrote elsewhere about Trotskyism:
Concrete and specific situations in the modern world are often judged by reference to Trotsky’s writings about related but different circumstances more than half a century ago.There is a certain cognitive dissonance among some “Marxists” who prefer the idealised working class of their imagination to the real, living and complicated mass of working class people; and prefer purity to the compromises and adjustments that are needed to make socialism a living political reality, relevant to the day to day experience of working people.
One of the most extraordinary achievements in advancing scholarly understanding of this sort of Marxism as a belief system, (which in the modern English speaking world is really only the preserve of “Trotskyists”) is the magisterial“The Road to Terror” by J. Arch Getty and Oleg V. Naumov which assembles and discusses hundreds of previously top secret Soviet documents from the 1930s.
The work describes the process of the growing use of state terror, and in particular how the causes were not solely the personal responsibility of Stalin: agency was dispersed and devolved throughout the Communist Party. The extensive use of violence came from a particular type of party organisation that had been forged in specific historical conditions and which then encountered difficult, real-world challenges that triggered an exaggerated repressive response.
Getty and Naumov discuss the peculiar nature of Russian Marxism in the pre-revolutionary period. They reject the conceit of Michel Foucault that the language, patterns and interactions used in “discourse” create meaning – whereby language becomes the mediation through which historical reality is created as a social reality independent of physical reality. Nevertheless, while rejecting this specious and fashionably technical usage of the word “discourse”, Getty and Naumov nevertheless locate the historically specific experience of the Bolsheviks in creating a sub-culture of discourse, within the everyday meaning of that word: debate and discussion creating a particularly text-oriented belief system. As they put it:
“For the Bolsheviks before the revolution (and especially for the intellectual leaders in emigration), hairsplitting over precise points of revolutionary ideology was much of their political life. To a significant extent, Bolshevik politics had always been inextricably bound with creating and sharpening texts”
The nature of Bolshevism was to seek to create an ideologically relatively homogenous political party sufficiently socially insulated and self-referential to dare to overthrow not only the government but also to restructure or replace all of the civil society institutions that mediated daily life; and who were sufficiently self-assured to seek to form a new form of government untrammelled by the historical constraints of precedence or the rule of law.
Louis Proyect’s lousy project is to preserve the nit picking, textually obsessed pursuit of intellectual “Marxist” orthodoxy, while being utterly divorced from practical politics. It is like being in a cult with only one member. Well, it is a sort of a life.