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What the hell kind of country is China? – China Rising, Part 1

In this series of articles, I am going to be digging into the the most populous nation on Earth and its ambitious plans for a China-lead future.

China is on the rise.

If you are a leftist, you need to be paying attention to China. Since the dawn of the 21st century, this giant of a nation has been expanding its reach across the globe and building power. Today China is fielding an ambitious package of foreign and domestic programs that will be grabbing global attention for years to come.

As the largest and oldest nation in the world to claim to adhere to communist principles, China centers heavily in reactionary propaganda targeting leftism. The Chinese Communist Party is used as a bogeyman to demonstrate the evils of communism by everyone from liberals to fascists and everyone in between.

But is the Chinese government even communist? That’s an issue that’s hotly debated, even within leftist circles. I’ve seen China labeled as everything from Marxist-Leninist to fascist to state capitalist. The liberal media simply labels them as “Communist,” but anyone with a basic grasp of Marxist communism should be baffled by the fact that there are so many flagrantly billionaire capitalists permitted to do business and turn profits within China.

China’s official state philosophy is described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

So what the hell is China? What terminology can best be used to describe the form of government and economy modern China has assumed?

China’s official state philosophy is described as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” That’s a pretty slippery description of a complex foundation of principles, ideals, ambitions, and, yes, characteristics that the Chinese state is built upon.

It’s not really surprising that there is no simple answer to this question, given the complex nature of Chinese social, economic, and political systems. Perhaps we can start with the process of elimination. What isn’t China?

Is China a Republic?

Chinese citizens can elect representatives, but only at the lowest, local level.

The official name of China is the “People’s Republic of China.” In a Republic, leaders are elected to represent citizens in a legislative body.

In China, elections are hierarchical. On the local level, Chinese citizens directly elect representatives to their local congresses. These local congresses elect higher officials, who in turn elect higher officials, and so on, up to the National People’s Congress, which currently consists of 2,980 people.

Technically it is possible for non-members of the Communist party to run for office. However, the Communist Party must approve any appointments to positions of power, so in practice there can never be a true opposition party to the Communist party beyond a limited local level.

What this means is that party membership is not necessarily required for local offices, but it is required to attain any higher level offices. In addition, Chinese citizens do not vote directly for national-level officials. They vote for local representatives who, in turn, vote for the higher levels of office.

This does, certainly, have Republican features. However, the Chinese Republic has many limitations: it is effectively single-party and highly indirect in nature when you get to the highest levels of national power. And, as we’ll see, the Chinese Republic may not be as democratic as it seems on paper.

Is China an Autocratic Dictatorship?

How much power does Xi Jipining really have?

It isn’t uncommon to see China described as a dictatorship, especially since the rapid rise to power of current president of China, Xi Jinping. To be sure, Xi is a powerful man with a complicated past that includes multiple rises and falls throughout his life before cementing his current position as head of the Communist Party of China.

Today, Xi has three primary official titles: as President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi is the head of state. This is a largely ceremonial position. As Chairman of the Central Military Commission, Xi is the commander and chief of the armed forces of China. But Xi’s real font of power is his position as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China.

Since China is in practice (though not officially) a single-party state, the leader of the party has sweeping power over the state apparatus.

It’s an open question as to how much direct power and influence Xi has over these bodies, but it’s certain that Xi has been central in developing many of China’s most important and far-reaching policies. . .

By most accounts, Xi has been strengthening the office of the General Secretary since taking power in 2012. He has built two new bodies of the Communist Party: the National Security Commission, and the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms. These bodies were formed to develop general policy direction for national security and economic reform, and both groups are headed by the General Secretary.

In short, Xi now holds the reins to the Chinese military and economic policy development.

Xi’s status as leader of the Chinese military is not much different than powers held by most heads of state. The president of the United States of America, for example, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

But Xi has powers over economic and social policy that extend beyond the powers of most Western-style liberal democracy executives. It’s an open question as to how much direct power and influence Xi has over these bodies, but it’s certain that Xi has been central in developing many of China’s most important and far-reaching policies, including the “Belt and Road” initiative, the “Go Out” initiative, and the initiative to eliminate poverty in China by 2021.

The vote to scrap term limits for the Chinese presidential office was almost unanimous.

Since the announcement that China will be scrapping term limits, many Western pundits have speculated that Xi has become president-for-life. The truth is slightly less sensational: term limits have been removed, so he could be president for life in theory, though there’s no explicit guarantee.

One noteworthy example of Xi’s power is the lionization of his political philosophy by the Communist Party of China. In 2017, the Communist Party Central Committee embedded Xi’s political philosophies, referred to as “Xi Jinping Thought,” into the Party Constitution. The only other person in Chinese history to have this honor was Mao Zedong himself.

All of Xi’s offices are, technically, elected positions. In the recent presidential election, Xi netted a 100% victory, receiving each of the 2,970 votes that were cast.

Xi’s unanimous re-election can be viewed in two different lights:

Cynically: We could assume that Xi’s re-election was more or less “rigged,” a foregone conclusion, and that Xi holds so much power that the National People’s Congress that elected him essentially had their hands forced to re-elect him.

At face value: On the contrary, we could assume that Xi’s re-election was earned by way of the significant achievements and results he has shown as president.

Now, I hate to do this, but let me get anecdotal. I’m not an expert on Chinese culture, nor on the Chinese communist party, but I have met and spoken with exactly two members of the Chinese communist party who have voted in Chinese Communist Party elections.

Social harmony is an important cultural value in China.

The way they explain it, Chinese culture emphasizes things like collectivism and harmony in ways that can seem pretty alien to outside cultures. Because of this, they tend to work together to reach a consensus on an important issue before any official ballot is cast. For them, it’s a matter of social harmony and unity, and unanimous election results are seen as a sign that society is functioning properly.

I don’t expect you, dear reader, to take these anecdotal explanations as conclusive evidence that China’s government is a perfectly functioning democracy. I am just raising the point that it could very well be a Western-centric position to expect democracies and elections to function exactly like ours do in every nation.

So is China’s democracy truly free and above-board, or are all of China’s elections complete shams? I believe the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Xi will likely need to continue to succeed to maintain his power.

Xi certainly holds wide and sweeping power over the Chinese state apparatus, but it’s unlikely that his power is absolute and eternal. Based on my experiences living and working in Asian societies, I personally believe that Xi’s power is incumbent on showing results and making progress. Xi will likely need to continue to succeed to maintain his power. If he had made a mess of things after taking office in 2012, I highly doubt that he would have ever been re-elected twice.

Of course, the determination of whether Xi is seen as a success of a failure is made by the highest level echelons of the Communist Party of China, and it’s entirely possible that they would put their own selfish agendas before the needs and wellbeing of the public at large.

Ultimately we just have no way of knowing for sure just how far Xi’s power extends. The best we can say is that China does have autocratic tendencies, though to some extent there might be cultural explanations for some of these dynamics. The real extent of Xi’s power is unknowable, but he does not wield absolute authority for life — at least officially.

Is China a State Capitalist Economy?

China has a lot of State Owned Enterprises, but they are heavily outnumbered by private businesses.

State Capitalism is a system in which capitalist institutions are owned and operated by the state as state-owned enterprises. China definitely has state-owned businesses, banks, and other entities, which means it does embody State Capitalism to some degree. But even the USA owns some enterprises, such as the US Postal Service. True State Capitalism would place all (or at least a clear majority) of market entities in the direct control of the government.

China does not own and operate the vast majority of for-profit enterprises in the country, and most Chinese workers collect wages from privately-held businesses. The lines do blur a bit, however, when you consider the degree of power the Chinese government holds over capitalist enterprises.

The Chinese state can impose its authorities on capitalist institutions however it sees fit. The Communist Party of China has far-reaching authority to set policies and guidelines which corporations must follow. Even though China has a large and wealthy capitalist class, and even though these capitalists own the means of production and take labor value from employees in the form of profit, they are still very much subordinated to the state apparatus.

This is very different from capitalist nations like the United States, South Korea, Japan, and most European nations. In Western-style capitalist democracies such as these, the capitalist class in many way rivals the state in terms of clout, reach, and power. In Japan and South Korea, large family-owned corporations (called “zaibatsus” and “chebols,” respectively) have incredible and far-reaching power. In the USA, corporations like Amazon and Uber have so much power that they are able to bully and manipulate municipal, state, and federal government authorities.

This could never happen in China, at least not in the bold and open manner that it occurs under Western capitalism. I have no doubt that Chinese capitalists have far-reaching political influence, but you will never see a Chinese corporation openly flouting or challenging state authority in this manner.

So there are aspects of state capitalism at play in China, however, since most businesses are privately owned, we must ultimately declare that China is not truly engaged in State Capitalism.

Is China Fascist?

There is a cult of personality in China, but it revolves around the deceased Chairman Mao.

Fascism can take many forms, but there are some ironclad features that most fascist governments have maintained.

Going back to the subject of executive authority, most fascist states are controlled by one strong, charismatic leader. Italy had “il Duce” Mussolini, Germany had “der Feuhrer” Hitler, Spain had “el Caudillo,” etc.

So, what about “Big Xi?”

I don’t see Xi as a fascistic ruler. He has certainly managed to consolidate a tremendous amount of power for himself, but his power is not explicitly absolute. Likewise, there has not been any effort to build a cult of personality around Xi. We don’t see public campaigns to plaster his face all over Beijing, for example — that privilege is still reserved for Chairman Mao, who has been dead since 1976.

Fascist nations are invariably nationalist in character, and the government of China is certainly nationalistic. But here, too, we see stark contrasts between fascist nationalism and Chinese nationalism.

Fascistic nationalism is typically exclusionary in nature, with an emphasis on racial or national superiority over outsiders.

Chinese nationalism is certainly not ethnocentric, since one key aspect of Chinese nationalism is the notion that every inch of Chinese territory is Chinese. To the Chinese nationalist, Tibet is not some kind of colony of expansionist conquest – it is simply China, and Tibetans are considered Chinese by Chinese nationalists. Although there continue to be tensions over suppressed or resistant regions such as Tibet, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, the official stance on domestic issues of nationality is simple: it’s all settled, beyond the scope of debate.

According to University of Michigan professor Kenneth G. Lieberthal, the Chinese consider Tibetans to be backward, feudal, superstitious, and reliant on China for modernization.

“So I think they regard it as bizarre that the advanced industrial countries would humiliate them by boycotting the opening ceremonies of the Olympics over the Tibet issue,” says Lieberthal, “as America would find it if [former Chinese President] Hu Jintao suddenly refused to visit the United States because of our history of treatment of Native Americans.”

Chinese nationalism is complex and multifaceted.

Chinese nationalism has other unique characteristics: Chinese nationalist propaganda maintains strong anti-imperialist rhetoric that positions China as a victim of Western colonialism, and also plays up the nation’s “5,000 years of glorious civilization.”

Broadly speaking, Chinese citizens have become increasingly nationalistic over the years, and modern Chinese youth have been prone to pouring out intense, emotional nationalist rhetoric, especially online. This emotional nationalism is in part due to state propaganda campaigns and education that play up the official (altered) history of the party. Ironically, the state media has urged Chinese citizens to tone down nationalist rhetoric to project an image of peace to the outside world.

All of this taken into consideration, I don’t find Chinese nationalism to be fascistic in characteristic at all. Chinese nationalism is just too complicated and nuanced – nothing like the stark and aggressive nationalism of fascism.

How about economics? As I’ve explained in a previous article, fascist economies tend to blend capitalism with authoritarianism. The state’s primary economic function is to broker relations between capitalists and workers, and the state accomplishes this primarily by organizing and imposing its will on the working class.

While the Chinese government does support capitalist entities and helps to preserve capitalist power structures, these wealthy corporations must still submit to the power of the Communist party, and there are many examples of the Communist party running roughshod over large Chinese corporations. The power dynamics are completely different than the cozy relationships between the state and the bourgeoisie typically observed in fascist nations.

Given the lack of an explicit authoritarian ruler and explicit nationalist fomentation and the official subjugation of capitalist entities to the Communist Party of China, I’m ready to call it: China is not a fascist state.

Is China Communist?

Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, oh my!

China was ostensibly founded on Marxist-Leninist principles, and these principles were further refined by Mao Zedong into what is now referred to as Marxist-Leninist Maoism, known in leftist circles as MLM.

Marxist-Leninism relies on a planned economy and stated-owned industry as opposed to capitalist institutions. Of primary and immediate concern is the dismantling of the capitalist bourgeois class and the elimination of for-profit institutions and corporations.

Maoism is an ideology dependent on iconoclasm – the elimination of cultural and social systems and ideas that are incompatible with Marxist proletarian dictatorship. Economically, Mao also advocated for smaller-scale industrial development and agricultural collectivism.

Mao also made tweaks to Leninist principles. For instance, he replaced Lenin’s concept of a “vanguard party” with the principle of “mass lines” that are supposed to connect the ruling party more directly to the working people.

All of this is largely irrelevant in a discussion of modern China, however, since the economic reforms of Deng Xiaoping in 1978. This massive overhaul of the Chinese state replaced most of Mao’s policies with a new set of ideals known as “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.”

Deng ushered in capitalist institutions and businesses with the goal of fostering economic growth and boosting productivity. Today, China has a well-established stock market that is about to go fully global.

The wealth gap in China is tremendous (comparable to Western capitlaist democracies), with 1% of the population owning a third of the country’s total wealth.

The state does own a large number of banks, corporations, and other such institutions, which does nominally put at least some of the means of production in the category of “collective ownership,” but by and large, most Chinese workers are wage laborers who work for private for-profit entities.

There are certainly socialist policies in effect in China, including the previously mentioned  plan to eliminate all Chinese poverty by 2021. The official goal of the Communist Party of China is to eventually develop the nation into a state of communism, but that is a distant fantasy as capitalist free markets drive the present-day Chinese economy. The means of production are not owned by workers, a bourgeois class is allowed to steal labor value from workers on a grand scale, and the majority of commerce and industry is driven by for-profit corporations and capitalists.

China may be ruled by a Communist party, but it is not a Communist state.

 

Final Tally

So, here’s a breakdown of the scoring so far:

Republic: sort of…?
Dictatorship: kind of…?
State Capitalist: a little bit…?
Fascist: NO
Communist: NO

Well… So… What is it?

Will China continue its rise? Will it maintain its current form of government or continue to evolve?

I have been studying and analyzing China’s social, political, and economic systems for quite some time. I have talked to Chinese people, including members of the Chinese Communist Party. I have spoken to professors and United States military officers about China. All of this is to say that my survey of China has been wide and deep and, dare I say extensive, so I am pretty confident with my ultimate conclusion about the Chinese form of government:

China is…

China.

It’s a complicated country with a lot of moving parts, shifting power dynamics, and complex social systems embedded into the fabric of the state.

The Chinese system of government is far from perfect – indeed, from an anarcho-communist perspective, it’s deeply flawed.

China’s governmental system is a chimera which exhibits aspects of autocracy, republicanism, state capitalism, free market capitalism, and socialism. Ironically, China carries almost no concrete features of fascism or communism, even though these are the labels most often applied to the nation by its detractors.

The Chinese system of government is far from perfect – indeed, from an anarcho-communist perspective, it’s deeply flawed. In my mind, it gives capitalists too free of a hand in robbing workers of their labor value. The state apparatus is far too authoritarian in nature and I am certainly not a fan of the roles state media, propaganda, and bowdlerized education play in controlling the Chinese people. China is overly antagonistic of regional neighbors and too oppressive of certain ethnic groups within its own borders. However, China deserves respect for playing a strong hand strategically in building its economy and its power abroad, and I certainly give China credit for going to such great lengths to eliminate poverty with their 2021 initiative.

Moving forward, I hope that the Chinese state will do more to ease repression of its citizens and give them freer access to information. I urge China’s Communist party to flatten their governmental hierarchy, reduce the autocratic powers of high government officials, and eliminate all capitalistic exploitation of the Chinese working class.

If you liked this article, I hope you’ll also check out my YouTube channel where I cover a wide range of leftist topics. In my next article about China, I will be discussing China’s ambitions plans for the years ahead – follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Mastodon if you don’t wanna miss it!

Incels and Toxic Masculinity: a Res Publica Podcast Interview

I was recently invited to do my very first podcast interview with the great folks at Res Publica Podcast. We had a great discussion about incels and toxic masculinity. Give it a listen now and be sure to subscribe! They’re on SoundCloud and iTunes!

An Anarchist Defense of the Sickle and Hammer

The author in a sickle and flag shirt standing in front of an anarchism flag.

Hey! You got communism in my anarchism!

Ado:

As a leftist YouTuber and blogger, I get a lot of push-back and negative comments every single day about my worldview and the content I generate. As you’d expect, the vast majority of the criticism I receive comes from white male reactionaries: they hate the idea of feminism. They love the idea of capitalism. They are resistant to fundamental changes that would upset the privileges they enjoy in our current society.

These criticisms are generally easy for me to handle. They’re usually coming from a place of ignorance and fear. I know this because I used to BE a right-winger, myself. I know exactly what it feels like to have that nagging awareness deep in the back of your mind that you might be wrong about the world. This kind of existential doubt and discomfort lead me to be a very toxic and negative person for many years, as I’ve touched on in previous videos.

I have always felt very prepared to deal with this kind of criticism. After all, YouTube (and the internet at large) is rife with alt right trolls and angry right-wingers, and leftist positions are few and far between in our society. As leftist content creators, we have to enter into this work with a thick skin and an understanding that we will come under continuous and relentless attack from the far right.

But then there’s the “friendly fire.”

Hell, I admit it, sometimes I even have fun knocking out an ignorant Nazi with cold, hard logic.

When I receive criticism and negative feedback from my fellow leftists, it’s quite frankly a lot more difficult for me to process. I like to think we’re all on the same team, and I also like to think that I have done my homework and prepared myself before I choose to write an article or put together a video enough that I’ll essentially be preaching to the choir in leftist spaces. So when I read a negative comment from a fellow leftist it can really throw me for a loop.

See, when a right-winger comes swinging, I swing right back without hesitation. I know most of the arguments they’re going to make before they even make them, since I used to be on the far-right myself. And the more toxic and abusive their comments are, the less threatened I feel. Hell, I admit it, sometimes I even have fun knocking out an ignorant Nazi with cold, hard logic. This isn’t really a good thing, and it can even become performative and counter-productive (which is a whole other issue I’ll probably be writing about in a near-future blog post) but the TL;DR is that sticks and stones can break my bones but Nazi words can never hurt me.

Further Ado

Leftist words, on the other hand, can really mess me up. I’m a big advocate of leftist unity, and I want very much for all of us on the far left to be on the same page, arm-in-arm, resisting the oppressive forces that dominate this world. Points of contention really concern me, because the division within and among leftists has done more to stymie our movement than any reactionary anti-leftist force in history.

I get a LOT of negative from my fellow anarchists about my use of the sickle and hammer.

So when I keep seeing the same negative comments cropping up about my videos, it really gives me pause. If something I’m saying or doing is unpopular with a signifant number of viewers, I really want to stop and reflect and self-crit and make sure I’m not wrong before proceeding to defend myself. I don’t mind being front-footed with reactionaries because I used to be a reactionary myself, and I know how wrong they are. But when it comes to leftists, I know I’m dealing with people who are, for the most part, principled and thoughtful and nuanced in their conception of the world. I take negative feedback from my fellow leftists very seriously.

And I get a LOT of negative from my fellow anarchists about my use of the sickle and hammer.

I composed this long preamble because I want you, the presumably leftist reader, to know that I have put a great deal of thought into what follows. I have examined the arguments against the sickle and hammer. I have weighed and considered them. I realize that advocating for the display and use of the sickle and hammer symbol is a risky and controversial position to take. Worst of all, it is potentially divisive, and here I am, a guy who’s always preaching leftist unity.

Symbols Matter

Portrait of Hugo Boss

Hugo Boss was a big ol’ Nazi.

This subject may seem flippant and unimportant. Should we really be this concerned about something as silly as a logo when there are people suffering capitalist exploitation, racist violence, sexist oppression, and all the other injustices of the world? Why am I even wasting my time typing up a diatribe about an old flag when there are so many more pressing issues that need to be addressed?

The fact is that symbols really do matter. The way we present ourselves is important. As a student of history, I know just how powerful (and dangerous) symbolism can be for any political movement. There’s a reason Nazi Germany funneled so many resources into imagery and design. Incredibly talented designers like Hugo Boss and Karl Diebitsch designed uniforms, equipment, and logos for the Third Reich. Leni Riefenstahl was commissioned to create propaganda films with breathtaking and painstakingly composed photography. Everything the Nazis put their hands on, from the architecture of buildings to the artwork of postage stamps, was meant to intimidate, inspire, and indoctrinate the German people. And it was terrifyingly effective.

Pre-Soviet Origins of the Sickle and Hammer

Together, the sickle and hammer have origins that predate Soviet communism.

Working tools have long been symbols of proletariat struggle. Used separately, there is no doubt that the hammer and the sickle have origins as workers’ symbols that predate the Soviet Union by thousands of years. The classical conception of a blacksmith or factory worker has long been a burly man with hammer in hand, depictions of farmers at work have always included reaping with sickles.

A 1933 Chilean Peso with sickle and hammer.

1 UN PESO is Spanish for 1 ONE PESO (…I think)

Together, the sickle and hammer have origins which predate Soviet communism. It’s hard to find concrete examples of these symbols being used together, but they have certainly been used together on Chilean coinage (albeit uncrossed) as a symbol of the working class since 1895. This Spanish-language blog article seems to go into more detail about the use of the symbols – I don’t speak Spanish, but from what I gather these symbols were commonly used together, non-politically, as a heraldic motif to represent the working classes long before the Communist revolution in Russia.

Soviet Iconification of the Sickle and Hammer

Early 20th century leftists understood the power of design, including Vladimir Lenin. One of the problems faced by early communist revolutionaries in Russia was a huge divide between urban workers and rural peasants. Early on, the Bolsheviks were largely rooted in industrial workers’ unions. Lenin and his Bolshevik contemporaries wanted to win peasants over to their cause.

First seal of the Soviet Union.

The first draft was a little busy, but it had some pretty sweet grain. I give it a B-.

A design contest was held for a logo that would symbolize the unification of peasants and factory workers, and the winning design featured a sickle, a hammer, and a sword, though Lenin nixed the sword because he wanted to portray the new Soviet nation as peaceful.

In this fascinating article, Christopher Warton explains the importance of these kinds of symbols in the Russian revolution:

Symbols of the government and party, rituals, mass demonstrations, and social illustrations each played a vital role in revolutionary ideology. Party emblems, seals, iconography, posters, and political insignia, from the hammer and sickle to the red five point star, were essential mediums in conveying the messages of the revolution. In addition to the imagery of symbols, rituals and public demonstrations such as parades, unveilings, celebrations, chants, and motivational rhetoric in speech and communication found significance as well because they signified socio-political change, and indoctrinated Bolshevik ideology. Symbols and rituals of 1917 essentially set the parameters that defined post-revolutionary Russia.

In conclusion, though the sickle and hammer as symbols have been used for centuries to represent the working class, there is no question that the iconic configuration of the sickle and hammer we know today was devised by the Soviets under the direction of Vladimir Lenin and the rest of the Bolshevik party leadership.

Anarchist Usage of the Sickle and Hammer

The Soviet adoption of the sickle and hammer as symbols of Leninist-style communism did not stop libertarian socialists from adopting and using these symbols throughout the 20th century. The best and most striking examples I have found are those used by anarchist groups during the Spanish civil war, as can be seen in these beautiful posters:

In a more modern context, it is not uncommon to see anarcho-communist use of the sickle and hammer online and at demonstrations. Typically, the sickle and hammer is presented in white over the black and red flag that was also developed by anarchists during the Spanish civil war, or in white over a red flag. There are also renditions of the sickle, the hammer, and the Anarchist “A” symbol intertwined:

Admittedly, these presentations are most often seen online. I have found very few images of anarchists and antifa demonstrators sporting the sickle and hammer in the real world (if you have any, I’d be very pleased if you send them my way), but I do see them used in online leftist memes, websites, and forum posts fairly frequently.

All this to say that sickle and hammer symbolism is far from universal in anarchist communities, but it is also far from unprecedented and unheard of. This begs the question: why do so many anarchists reject the sickle and hammer? And why do some anarchists (including myself) choose to use a symbol that was devised by Lenin and tied directly to the state communism of the Soviet Union in the minds of most people?

This is a complicated question, and I’ll try to unpack it by first presenting anarchist objections to the symbol and then submitting my responses, one-by-one.

Of Gulags and Purges

The most eloquent and reasoned criticism of my use of the sickle and hammer came via email from one of my subscribers. This person wrote:

I understand that the USSR’s iconography is powerful (I’m a big fan of Soviet propaganda posters myself) but it’s the same flag that flew over gulags that killed millions of people for dissenting thought, and the soviet project itself was ultimately a failure. It might not be the best choice of motif for your channel. And it’s also ‘classic leftism’ – I’d like to think we’ve gone further since 1917.

Let’s break these (and other common) arguments down, point-by-point:

1. The Soviet Union was a totalitarian state that killed millions of people and suppressed dissenting thought. We should reject all Soviet symbolism.

First of all, I will be the first to admit that the Soviet union was tremendously problematic. I recognize that the Soviet state committed atrocities. I know that the Soviets assassinated anarchists and imprisoned and executed a lot of good and innocent people. I am not naive and I am not a Soviet Union apologist.

Russian soldier holding Sickle and Hammer flag in Berlin at the end of World War II.

You gotta admit, that thing looks better than a Swastika

But I am also not willing to completely demonize the Soviets as completely evil villains of history. To begin with, we have to recognize that much of what we learn in school about the Soviet union is Western propaganda. Many — not all, but many — of the atrocities the Soviets alledgedly committed were grossly exaggerated or else completely fabricated by Western capitalists, Nazis, and other reactionary regimes. In the future, I hope to go into more detail about some of the more egregious anticommunist myths and lies about the Soviet Union, but for the time being, let it suffice to say that we as leftists should take the Western narrative of the USSR with a grain of salt (just as we should take the official narrative of Soviet officials themselves with a grain of salt). The Soviets and capitalists of the 20th century fought a propaganda war that lasted decades, so the fact is that it can be tremendously difficult to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to Soviet successes, failures, and atrocities.

Did the Soviets do very bad things? Of course they did. But that doesn’t erase the good things that were achieved under Soviet leadership. They were crucial for the defeat of Hitler in World War II, they helped to liberate Cuba and Vietnam from capitalist-imperialist and colonial rule, they made remarkable advances in science (including many victories in the space race), they had one of the highest literacy rates in the world (surpassing even the USA), and so on.

It’s easy to forget where the Soviets began. Russia was a feudal agricultural nation under the absolute dictatorship of the Czar. They were devastated by World War I and had very little industry to speak of. The fact that they were able to become a world power with such industrial and military might in such short order is objectively impressive. The accomplishments they made after the devastation they suffered in World War II is equally impressive, especially when you consider the tremendous pressure and aggression they faced from capitalist powers in the USA and Europe.

A Soviet cosmonaut

At least they got the “space” and “communism” part of Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism right…

This is not a love song for the USSR. I believe that their regime ultimately failed because of its authoritarian nature. I am, at the end of the day, an anarcho-communist, and I disagree adamantly with many of the decisions that were made by the Soviet Union. But when I look at the USSR in toto, especially compared to the capitalist-imperialist states they opposed, I have to conclude that they were generally on the right side of history and were able to accomplish a great deal from very humble beginnings.

And, remember! The Soviet Union was not just its leadership. Set Stalin and Lenin and Khruschev aside and you still have millions of soldiers who fought and died beneath the sickle and hammer to defeat Hitler. You still have millions of workers and farmers who struggled and toiled together for decades to try and advance their own society. It’s easy to be cynical, in hindsight, and pretend that the people of the Soviet Union never bought into communism – that’s certainly what capitalist propaganda wants us to believe – but that erases the efforts and accomplishments and sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of comrades who did believe in the dream of the Soviet Union and did want to create a better world for the working people of the world.

The Soviet Union was a major part of the history of leftism, and we must accept the role they played, warts and all. For my part, I may have strong criticism for many of the leaders of the Soviet Union, but I am proud of the good things they were able to accomplish. I will not disown them, but at the same time, I will recognize their faults and flaws and learn from their mistakes. The Soviets were people, and people are flawed. Most of us call ourselves Marxists even though Marx himself was highly problematic.

Communist flags for sale in Vietnam

Is there anything more capitalist than selling communist flags?

In addition, the sickle and hammer logo was not only used by the Soviet Union! Cuba and Vietnam use the sickle and hammer to this day. Granted, these regimes were never perfect. I live in Vietnam, and I know full well that the communist party of Vietnam has tremendous problems with corruption. I understand very well the mistakes that have been made by Vietnamese communist leadership, including the assassination of Trotskyists and anarchists and the abuses against South Vietnamese citizens which occurred immediately after the war. I have personally interviewed communist dissident Nguyen Dan Que who has been imprisoned several times for speaking out against government corruption.

But I’ve also talked to many Vietnamese veterans who fought for leftist ideals. I have heard their stories about watching their friends and family members die before their eyes. Many of these freedom fighters proudly display the sickle and hammer to this day. As they explain it to me, the nation and its government may not be perfect, but it is their nation. Vietnamese communists – with tremendous support from the Soviet Union – did repel American imperialism and overthrow colonial rule that stretches back over a thousand years, they have managed to rebuild their nation after being “bombed into the stone age” by the mightiest military in the world, and they did liberate Cambodia from Pol Pot. They are also one of the happiest countries in the world according to the Happiness Index.

These are all leftist accomplishments worth celebrating.

As for Cuba, again, they have their fair share of problems and failures. But they also have one of the best medical systems in the world, including universal healthcare, their international disaster relief is the finest in the world, they provide free education to citizens and their literacy rate is among the highest in the world. Today they are making strides in combating sexism and racism and eliminating poverty.

These are all leftist accomplishments worth celebrating.

The fact that the Soviet Union and its allies have been less than perfect is not an excuse to completely throw the baby out with the bath water nor to completely disown the legacy of the sickle and hammer in my mind. To me, the sickle and hammer represents more than just the states and their leaders. They also represent the millions of comrades who have fought and died in class struggle.

2. “Have we gotten further since 1917? Are these old symbols and ideas really relevant? Is this the best way for us to be presenting ourselves?”

Grafiti that reads "queer" with a sickle and hammer.

Intersectional communist grafiti really does it for me

To be sure, leftist thought and theory has had tremendous advances since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In my mind, one of the biggest and most important advances has been the concept of intersectionality. 20th century classical communists could scarcely have conceived of the ways in which we are combining the struggle against capitalism with struggles against racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and so many other social ills.

But we did not invent these ideas from whole cloth. Earlier communists were concerned with solidarity between races and liberation of women, even if their concepts of intersectionality were less developed in their time.

Just because past leftists made mistakes and, yes, even committed atrocities, that doesn’t mean I want to sever myself from them. On the contrary, I think it’s important to celebrate what they were able to accomplish in such dire circumstances.

Furthermore, I believe that trying to distance ourselves from past communists will ultimately backfire. I believe that people are very sensitive to authenticity and falseness. I strongly believe that trying to deny and distance ourselves from our political heritage, such as it is, would ring incredibly false.

I am a marketing professional, and I have watched closely how entities deal with crises and other such problematic situations over the years. Efforts to rebrand in order to conceal or evade mistakes and failures always meet with embarrassing failure.

BP Logo parodies with oil

Does BP stand for “Bad PR?”

As an example, look no further than BP. After the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, BP came under heavy fire. It was one of the worst PR disasters in history. In the fallout, BP decided to rebrand, updating their logo. This was met with public outcry and derision and a flurry of vicious memes calling them out on their attempt to distance themselves from their mistakes.

Imagine if McDonald’s had a terrible PR disaster. Say, for example, a batch of bad Chicken McNuggets killed a thousand people across America. Now, let’s say McDonald’s responded to this disaster by… changing their logo. How do you think people would react to that decision?

This may come as a surprise, but I believe every leftist should study marketing. We should have a good grasp on the way corporate branding, PR, and advertising, because they have spent billions of dollars and employed some of the best minds in history to develop the craft of human communication. Just as we can learn about good design from the Nazis, we can also learn about branding and marketing our ideas from the capitalist opposition.

One of my favorite books about branding is called Chasing Cool, by Noah Kerner and Gene Pressman. The basic argument of the book as that trying to be cool will always backfire, because people are highly sensitive to such subterfuge:

Chasing someone else’s notion of cool is the biggest mistake one can possibly make. . . The only way to build a true communion with an audience – to a point where they might deem you or your work ‘cool’ – is to follow a personal vision and stay true to that vision no matter what.

Soviet propaganda poster featuring a communist holding a sickle and hammer.

How could you not want that dude to be your comrade?

For me, the history of our movement is a vital aspect of who we are today. When I think of the struggle and sacrifices of the generations of leftists who came before me, I find myself humbled and awe-stricken. Their successes and their victories and, yes, their failures and flaws, lead us directly to where we are today. I don’t want to distance myself from any comrade who fought or died for the working class. I want to celebrate them and learn from them and incorporate that lineage into the identity of our contemporary movement. For me, the sickle and hammer is an important part of our story, and one that I choose to adopt in my work today.

“3. We’re anarchists, not communists. Why would we be using communist symbols?”

If you’re an anarchist and you don’t want to incorporate communist symbols into your praxis, then I absolutely support your decision. As for me, I am an anarcho-communist.

I AM a Marxist – that is to say, I subscribe to Marx’s views of class struggle and of history. It’s not an option for me to put my fingers in my ears and say, “THOSE Marxists were DIFFERENT, I’m NOTHING like those Marxists!”

If I were to try to pretend my ideology has no connection whatsoever to 20th century state communism, I can’t expect anyone to take me seriously. It’s much better to say, “Those Marxists were human, they made mistakes and put some bad people in power and also did some terrible things, but I understand how and why they made those mistakes and how those mistakes can be prevented moving forward.” Owning up to the past gives me a lot more credibility with people who are actually paying attention and engaging with my content.

Artwork featuring Anarchist and Communist men kissing

I’m cishet as hell but this turns me on

I also feel like there’s something to be said for the dynamics of leftist solidarity and unity that come with using a symbol that was designed by Lenin even though I, myself, am not a Marxist-Leninist. I hope that principled ML comrades will see it as the olive branch that I am symbolically extending by incorporating one of their symbols into my own leftist identity. For my part, I feel plenty of warm fuzzies when I see Marxist-Leninists flying the black-and-red-flags logo common in Antifa circles. In my mind, we are on the same side, and though we might have some disagreements we can still stand side-by-side and share some symbols and beliefs.

I have a lot more to say about leftist unity, but I’ll leave it at this for now: I don’t hate Marxist-Leninists, on the contrary I have some good ML comrades, such as Patrick with the First Marxist Leninist Demonstration of South Carolina, so the fact that Lenin played a hand in the symbol’s design doesn’t keep me up at night.

4. “Liberals and centrists are going to be instantly turned off by the sickle and hammer! You’re going to drive people away with that symbol… it’s counter-productive!”

It’s true: the sickle and hammer is an instantly recognizable. In marketing terms, it’s a “powerful brand,” and it does, indeed, evoke an instant emotional response.

In simplistic terms, there is something to be said for “shock value.” If nothing else, shocking people can get them to pay attention to messaging they might otherwise ignore. This shock value definitely worked on me. When I first moved to Vietnam, I was completely creeped the hell out by all the sickles and hammers I saw. I was still a centrist when I first moved here and in my mind it was absolutely no different than seeing a bunch of Nazi swastikas hung up all over the place. It made me feel uncomfortable and alarmed.

In hindsight I can definitely say that this exposure made me really curious about this kind of aggressive, in-your-face leftism and sent me on some of my first forays into Googling modern-day communism.

On the inverse, there is also a case to be made for normalization of leftist words and symbols. After my first week in Vietnam, the sickle and hammer stopped being so scary. I barely even noticed them after a month or two, they just blended into the background.

Bernie Sanders

“SOCIALISM SOCIALISM SOCIALISM”

Fast forward a few years to the 2016 election. This was when I learned for certain that stigmatized symbols, words, and ideas CAN be rehabilitated and inserted back into the mainstream. A great example of this is Bernie Sanders’ use of the word “socialism.” It’s hard to remember and even believe now, but just a couple of years ago the word “socialism” was absolutely a dirty word in USA politics. No Democrat in their right mind would admit to being a socialist or advocating socialism, such was the success of Republican propaganda efforts against that word.

Then Bernie came forward and started using the word “socialism” in every other dang sentence. In the beginning of his campaign, he was considered extremely fringe for using that word, but the more he used it, the more normalized it became, and the more people were willing to actually analyze it and see what it really meant. For my part this was fundamental to radicalizing me to the left, because I was one of those people who bought into the idea that socialism was evil before Bernie first: normalized it in my mind then, second: got me to pay attention to the positive aspects of socialism and the evils of capitalism.

When I began to dig deeper into true leftism, I went through this same process of normalization all over again. Seeing the sickle and hammer plastered all over leftist Facebook and Reddit groups freaked me out at first. I felt like I was falling into some dark corner of the Deep Web where evil lurked. For the first week or two I was incredibly weirded out by talking to these people with their black flags and their sickle and hammer avatars, but over time it became normal, and my mind was able to reinterpret these symbols as friendly and welcoming.

Normalizing radical language and symbols is a basic Overton Window strategy, and one which the far right has been using to net real results in politics. We should not shy away from our own authentic political identities and having pride in our leftism, even if we know there will be initial pushback and resistance.

You Make the Call

Me in a tank

Come at me, bro

Believe it or not, I’m honestly not trying to sell you on the sickle and hammer. I don’t really care if you use it or not. If you don’t feel like this symbol represents your political identity and ideology then I don’t expect you to use it. This is simply my explanation for why I, personally, identify with the sickle and hammer and choose to display it in my content.

If you disagree with me, that’s totally fine. I welcome your dissent. For my part, we can still be comrades. I just hope you realize that my decision to use the sickle and hammer came with careful consideration, and I hope you’ll consider my points carefully before attacking my use of the symbol.

Hell, I could be wrong! If I am, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

If, after reading this entire article, you still think I’m tankie scum for using the sickle and hammer, feel free to drop a comment on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Mastodon!

Here’s how you can start enjoying Mastodon RIGHT NOW so we can all ditch Facebook and Twitter

Facebook and Twitter ain't no good

Facebook and Twitter ain’t no good

If you’re a leftist, or even a liberal, you probably know you shouldn’t be using corporate social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The Faustian trading of our personal information in exchange for a fun environment to swap cat memes stopped being comfortable a long time ago, and we are learning more every day about how these companies are manipulating us, selling us out to evil corporate political mercenaries, and pulling our puppet strings in ways that are profoundly disturbing. These sites even record your camera and microphone feeds whenever they’re active, for cryin’ out loud!

I’ve already written about my suggested platvform for leftist engagement: Mastodon. I suggest you read that one first before continuing… You can read it by clicking this very link!

Once you’ve chosen your Instance and set up your account, there’s a good chance you won’t know what to do next. It took me a couple of weeks to really get a groove on Mastodon and, to be honest, I’m still acclimating to it. But I have picked up some tips and tricks along the way that should hopefully make for a more engaging experience for new Mastodon users.

The key to enjoying Mastodon, like any social media platform, is finding folks to get social with. So here are my five tips to kickstarting your Mastodon experience:

  1. Make an #introductions post

Your very first post should start with the hashtag #introductions. This will flag you so that other people will be able to find you and connect with you if you share some common interests. It doesn’t have to be too fancy, just write a couple of sentences describing yourself and what you like to talk about, then tack on a list of hashtags that are related to your interests.

  1. Look for the "pin" button under the settings for a hashtag search results panel in your news feed.

    Look for the “pin” button under the settings for a hashtag search results panel in your news feed.

    Pin hashtags

This is currently easiest to do in the desktop interface. When you run a search for a hashtag, the results will open up in a new panel to the right of your home panel. Click the settings button on the top right corner of the search results panel for that hashtag and you can “pin” the hashtag to your news feed. If there are topics that interest you, you can follow those topics by pinning them to your feed.

  1. Follow Newsbots

Newsbots post constantly and they can be a great starting place for kicking off discussions or finding interesting news you might not find anywhere else. Here are some newsbots I follow:

Anarchism News: @[email protected]
BBC News (World): @[email protected]
Vox Twitter Relay: @[email protected]

  1. Be active!

Try to post at least twice a day, and make sure you use #hashtags to flag over other people to your corner of Mastodon. Over time, as your follower count grows, I think you’ll find that Mastodon is a much more engaging and interesting place to hang out than Twitter and most of Facebook.

BONUS TIP: Language Filtering

You can filter languages quickly and easily in your user settings.I wanted to add one more tip to improving your Mastodon experience “out of the box.” Because Mastodon isn’t using a nefarious algorithm to filter the posts you see, and because it’s a truly international platform, you’re likely to see see a lot of different languages you probably don’t speak cropping up on your news feed. You can filter out languages you don’t speak in the settings if that bothers you… or you can get a browser plugin to automatically translate what you’re seeing if you want a more GLOBAL フ無臆 experience!

Is it a perfect experience? Not yet! But it sure beats having your identity bought and sold and your mind toyed with by corporate oligarchs, doesn’t it? In addition, Mastodon is an open-source, user-developed, federated system, so if you have ideas for improvements you can jump into the development discussions and start pitching in!

Looking for more tips for going online as a leftist? Check out my video: The Cyber-Comrade’s Guide to the Internet… and be sure to follow me on Mastodon: @[email protected]

3 Things leftists can learn from the far right

This is part one in a series on Learning From Our Enemies, in which we will examine three lessons we can learn from modern reactionaries.

The Party pointed out to the army that it had to look for its equipment on the front line, to capture enemy weapons to arm itself and shoot at the enemy with his guns.
-Vo Nguyen Giap, People’s War, People’s Army

There can be no question that the far-right has made significant gains in the past couple of years. From Russia to the Philippines to Europe to the USA, reactionary elements of the right wing have seized tremendous power and developed popular movements that have managed to recruit young people in droves.

Protestor holds a sign reading: "Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite"

Reactionary forces have been growing in recent years

As an American, and as a former right-wing libertarian myself, I am intimately familiar with the strategies, tactics, and cultural hallmarks of the so-called “alt right,” white nationalists, and similar movements of the American far right. These groups have managed to seize the White House and the media spotlight as they brazenly march through streets across the country carrying torches and weapons and chanting racist slogans. They even wage war on the internet, with legions of trolls plotting daily campaigns of online terror, harassment, and propaganda campaigns.

Meanwhile, it is fair to say that the left is more or less anemic in the Western world. Most Americans don’t even know the difference between centrists and liberals LINK, and there is functionally no leftist party in existence in the USA. Even the liberal parties have drifted steadily towards the right over the last several decades. Generations of exposure to reactionary propaganda have resulted in the vast majority of Americans oblivious to the true nature of leftism. It’s taken for granted that capitalism is necessary, even vital, for the function of a free society and nobody questions the free market.

In my view, it’s a stark truth that fascism is winning. The silver lining is that these remarkably stark and startling times have lead to the development of a burgeoning little community of American leftists. Even as reactionaries have gripped mainstream attention and the apparatus of the state, our little underground movement of grassroots leftism has put us into a position where, for the first time in many decades, the left could stand a chance of building real world power and momentum.

Somewhere in America: a Nazi rally

The far right continues to grow emboldened in Western society

The first step to strength, in my experience, is always humility. If we hope to confront the growing threat of the far-right in our society, we have to be willing to take a sober and honest look at these movements and understand how they have grown and what they are doing that is putting them on this trajectory of growth in strength and numbers.

This is not to say that we should copy what our enemies are doing directly. Any strategies or tactics or philosophies that we consider adopting must align with leftist values. Where reactionary actions and ideologies tend along the lines of deception, virulence, and individualistic self-service, our doctrines must be rooted in honesty, compassionate, and community-minded.

With these principles in mind, let’s take a look at three things the left can learn from modern far-right movements:

1. Mainstreaming

Donald Trump Tweet on CNN

Donald Trump has been able to dominate the media landscape with his vitriolic rhetoric and inflammatory Tweets

The far right has made remarkable inroads into mainstream politics. White nationalists and the alt right have aggressively taken command of direction of the Republican party in America. The Overton Window of the mainstream media has been pushed far to the right. Alt right activists and leaders have managed to dominate and warp the popular discourse to great extent.

Here’s what they’re doing:

The alt right understands the modern news cycle and the way mainstream media outlets tend to chase and legitimize sensational and outlandish political positions for the sake of clicks and views. Nobody has proven to be a more masterful manipulator of the media than Donald Trump, who launched himself to victory in 2016 by hijacking the media and to this day wields the power to derail and dominate American public discourse by rattling off a single Tweet.

Rightwing extremists have also had tremendous success fielding candidates who espouse highly reactionary views on a more local level. One famous example is holocaust denier and active white supremacist Arthur Jones, who recently won a nomination from the Republican Party in the Illinois state congressional primaries.

Nazis can absolutely “win” even when they lose by dominating the conversation and normalizing fascism.

The Republican party has officially denounced Jones and his candidacy and are seeking to run an opposing candidate against him, but the fact of the matter is, from a communications standpoint, his candidacy is already a victory for far-right reactionaries. Countless newspaper articles have covered his candidacy and elevated his views — far-right, fascist, reactionary rhetoric — to the mainstream spotlight. Whether he wins or loses, he has already pushed the Overton window substantially to the right just by running and taking the nomination.

This is key to understand! Nazis can absolutely “win” even when they lose by dominating the conversation and normalizing fascism. The more we talk about them, the less shocking they are to the public at large, and the easier it is for Nazis to recruit normal folks over to their cause.

Here’s what we can do:

Bernie Sanders on CNN

Bernie Sanders made it safe to say the word “socialism” in public in the USA for the first time in decades

The real left is in desperate need of more mainstream visibility and exposure. We need to be shoving our views into the spotlight as much as possible, owning our positions, and fielding and pressing candidates to acknowledge our point of view.

We must demand that candidates address our key causes, such as denouncing capitalism, acknowledging that racism and patriarchal oppression is endemic in our society, and demanding relief for the most vulnerable sectors of society in the form of healthcare, homes, food, and better education for those in need.

Neither is perfect, but which would *you* prefer?We should also identify and select candidates who support key leftist issues, even if they are otherwise more liberal and not as radical as we’d, perhaps, prefer. There’s a lot of conflict in leftist circles over whether or not Bernie Sanders is a friend to leftism, but there is one victory I must absolutely give him credit for: he single-handedly got America talking about “socialism” for the first time in many decades with his campaign.

Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren

Neither is perfect, but which would *you* prefer?

If you really stop and think about what American politics were like before Bernie’s candidacy, this is actually quite phenomenal. Throughout my life, the word “socialism” was a dirty word — it was more or less anathema for any national candidate to claim to be a socialist and the word was carefully avoided by most Democrats. Now socialism is very much on the table of discussion and I believe this had lead to many Democrats discovering the real left and becoming radicalized as anarchists and communists —– myself, included.

There’s a major tendency for leftists to dismiss mainstream candidates outright because they don’t pass the “leftist test” and hold too many views that are liberal or centrist. The far right does NOT have this problem and will push forward any candidate who is even remotely willing to give any of their core issues attention. This has lead to a major shift in the Republican party as candidates have started to realize that they must be mindful of the watchful eye of white nationalist and fascist interests, which has lead to many victories for the far right.

We should be fielding candidates for city, state, and regional offices.

Candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Jill Stein, and parties like the Democratic Socialists and the Green Party, may not be “true leftists” by any stretch of the imagination, but in many cases they’re the best we have and we could stand to learn from our opposition in the far right and support candidates who are considered radically to the left in the mainstream even if they don’t meet our own standards.

Of course, we should also be pushing forward candidates who ARE true leftists. The easiest way to arena to do this is on the local level. We should be fielding candidates for city, state, and regional offices. If you have ever in your life considered running for public office, now is the time for you to step up and throw your hat into the ring! It really doesn’t even matter if you win or lose as long as you work your way into the conversation and make leftist positions known.

Me running for mayor of Columbia, SC in 2010

For some reason, the media didn’t take my candidacy seriously

Eight years ago I ran for mayor of Columbia, South Carolina. I was only 27 years old and my candidacy was NOT taken seriously by the mainstream media, but I showed up for nearly every public debate that was held and forced key issues into the spotlight that were otherwise being largely ignored.

Through our campaign we were able to get people talking about public transportation and the removal of the Confederate flag and I was able to influence the discussion of homelessness in the mayoral race. Even though I overwhelmingly lost, netting less than 2% of votes, I still feel like I “won” by forcing the other candidates to address these issues head-on. You (yes, you!) can have the same or more impact by running or supporting leftist candidates. If this sounds like something you might be interested in then I encourage you to contact me, I’d be glad to give you some advice about putting together a campaign.

2. Propaganda

Here’s what they’re doing:

Alex Jones

Alex Jones, host of InfoWars, a wildly successful alt right content producer.

It’s a harsh fact: YouTube, Reddit, and the blogosphere are jam-packed with reactionary content creators. Many of the famous memes you like and share every day on Facebook were conceived in their original forms in alt-right underground meme workshops.

There’s no doubt about it — the far right is dominating the online propaganda battlefield.

Alt right trolls learned the power of “meme magic” early on even celebrate it with cults that are so drenched with irony that it’s hard to tell where the joke ends and the ugly truth beginsFascist right-wing propaganda is so powerful that it’s widely considered to be somewhat responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

Social media is so simply saturated with alt right rhetoric. Alt-right YouTubers and bloggers have achieved fame and fortunes and public spotlights which make them the rivals of any network TV news personality. Trevor Noah’s daily show pulls in about 820,000 viewers per night, which comes out to something like 16,000,000 views per month. Meanwhile, notorious alt-right online personality Alex Jones pulls in 26,000,000 global views per month. Granted, TV ratings and online views don’t exactly line up, but Alex Jones is just one online personality among hundreds, perhaps thousands of fascist content creators.

Mainstream media vs. InfoWars graph

InfoWars is has won more subscribers than any mainstream media outlet on YouTube

The alt right is also an online powerhouse when it comes to generating “agitating propaganda,” or AgitpropThe basic goal of this kind of propaganda is to engage and stir up the public with works of art and media. In our contemporary context, alt-right Agitprop usually takes the form of inflammatory, prurient, shocking, or otherwise click-baity memes that provoke online flame wars and give alt-right agitators a platform and opportunity to espouse reactionary viewpoints in social media spaces.

The alt right has also been tremendously successful at inserting buzzwords and slogans into mainstream parlance. “Fake news,” “snowflakes,” “triggered,” “cuck,” the list of slang that right-wingers have managed to insert into our everyday discourse is overwhelming. Every leftist should know the power of language, and it’s startling how much power right-wing fanatics have over contemporary conversations.

Here’s what we can do:

We need to ramp up our output tremendously and build a more cohesive community of leftist content creators.

While the far right fields a virtual army of YouTubers, bloggers, and meme farms, the list of truy leftist online personalities is atrociously short, while communist and anarchist mainstream presenters and pundits are so few and far between as to be virtually non-existent. There are a few of us out here writing blogs and making YouTube channels, but we’re few and far between. Membership levels of leftist groups on Reddit and Facebook are puny compared to the overstuffed enrollment of alt right web communities.

We need to ramp up our output tremendously and build a more cohesive community of leftist content creators. In the days and weeks to come I will begin compiling a list of leftist blogs, YouTube channels, and other content outlets. If you know of any good ones, send them my way.

If you’re a leftist, I encourage you to start up a blog or a YouTube channel. What I’ve learned form starting this blog is that you don’t have to be an expert or a genius to make contributions. I have huge gaps in my knowledge and I’m still very much at the beginning of my leftist journey, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do my part to try to radicalize liberals and teach newbies the ropes of leftism.

Contrapoint

Contrapoints is one of a scant few leftist YouTubers (and I encourage you to subscribe to her channel)

Indeed, in my view we need basic and beginner-friendly content more than anything. The internet has plenty of advanced political tracts and aging texts that explain the deep theory of leftist ideology, but there’s very little in the way of content that breaks things down into bite-sized pieces that are fun, accessible, and easy to share.

We could also stand to take a page from the far right when it comes to Agitprop. Leftists invented the form and it’s time for us to seize it back. We need more memes that stir the pot, make people uncomfortable, and point out the stark conditions of society that make leftist necessary, and we need to share these pieces far and wide.

Something I have heard from a few of my readers and viewers is that they don’t feel comfortable with sharing my content with their friends and family. Some folks are afraid their reactionary families or bosses will see them posting leftist content, or that they may become targeted by Nazi trolls. These are valid concerns, and as someone who has “gone public” with my leftism I understand why you might be hesitant about sharing your leftist views with the world.

…the more we hide in the shadows and conceal our true politics from our friends and families, the more power we give the right.

All I can say is that you must balance your needs with the needs of society at large. Becoming a vocal leftist is, undeniably, a risk, and will cause discomfort and friction in your life. There are ways to mitigate this kind of friction — I encourage every leftist to have access to aliases and burner accounts online to protect identities and shield our ranks from employer retribution and troll activity as much as possible. The enemy does not fight fair and there are lots of dirty tricks that they can and will pull on known leftists. But on the other hand, the more we hide in the shadows and conceal our true politics from our friends and families, the more power we give the right. I encourage you to think carefully about this and consider raising your profile as a leftist. As scary as it can be, you really aren’t alone, and you will find a community of strong, smart, and courageous comrades to support you if you ever do land in hot water.

Even if you decide to stay “under cover,” there are things you can do. You can create a burner Reddit or Facebook or Twitter account and invest 15 or 20 minutes a week into online meme generators and crank out some spicy leftist memes or, at the very least, supporting leftist bloggers and YouTubers and sharing leftist content in liberal spaces.

3. Future Prepping

What they they’re doing:

Doomsday Preppers

They’re creepy and they’re kooky and they’re way more prepared for the devastating effects of global climate change than we are

This one is a bit of a wild card, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot, recently. Right-wingers have a fairly long tradition of “prepping” that includes everything from stocking up on food and learning survival skills to forming full-on militias and going through paramilitary training to prepare for unforeseen disasters.

Liberals like to poke fun at right-wingers for these “kooky” activities, but we, as leftists, have to admit that they are more prepared than we are for the various forces of chaos that are mounting in our world.

As leftists, we should be acutely aware of how unstable our society is becoming. We know that the ecology is sustaining incredible, perhaps irreversible, damage. We know that capitalism is an inherently unstable system, rife with conflict and chaos. We know that fascists typically come into power with startling rapidity.

Should we, as leftists, really be ridiculing right-wingers from learning how to survive in extreme conditions and training to fight for when push comes to shove? Or should we, instead, be incredibly nervous that they’ve got a huge head start on us when it comes to preparing for the worst and expecting the unexpected?

Here’s what we can do:

Redneck Revolt

We need more leftist organization, preparation, and agitation

Leftists need to begin familiarizing ourselves with the fields of survival, disaster prepping, self-defense, and general preparedness. We should analyze the strategies and materials of right-wing preppers and develop strategies and materials of our own.

While reactionary survival strategies tend to be hyper-focused on individualism, we should develop strategies and tactics for more community-oriented survival and defense. In particular, I would like to applaud groups like Redneck Revolt and the John Brown Gun Club for their efforts to organize and defend communities. While many leftists may disagree with their stance on guns, LINK I think we can all learn from their example of community organizing and education.

We need more groups like these and we need to generate content of our own that deals with issues of future prepping and organized community survival and defense.

We have nothing to lose but our chains!

"We have nothing to lose but our chains -- we have a world to win!"The far right may, indeed, have the upper hand over leftism at the moment, but they stand on the unstable ground of privilege. They are the few who vye for power over the many.

As leftists, we are the many. We can unite and overtake these reactionary forces — but first, we must dispel the propagandistic lies of capitalism, racism, sexism, and all the other reactionary forces that keep us divided, and we must be willing to learn from our opposition to develop new and better strategies that will engage and win over new members to our cause in modern society.

As I often do, I’ll close with some words of inspiration from the late, great Pyotr Kropotkin:

“Be strong. Overflow with emotional and intellectual energy, and you will spread your intelligence, your love, your energy of action broadcast among others! This is what all moral teaching comes to.”

How a Bunch of Gangsters Stole Our Entire Planet: a Brief History of the State

Early Man

“This sucks.”

Long ago, we were all just a bunch of people. We wandered around, gathered stuff to eat, hunted stuff to eat. Sometimes we fought each other, but mostly we fought nature, because the whole “surviving” thing was pretty tough.

Then one day we invented agriculture, so we had to stick around in one place to wait for our plants to grow. And we ate a lot of plants, and we also started keeping animals around

This agriculture stuff meant we could have a lot more food, and we sexed it up a lot, so suddenly there were a lot more people all spreading around to find new places to wait for plants to grow.

Some places were better places to wait for plants to grow, because there was lots of fresh water and the dirt was good for plants to grow in.

Sooner or later people got to fighting over the very best dirt. Some people were really good at fighting and killing other people and they ganged up together and took command of that wonderful plant-growin’ dirt.

So those were the first gangsters: tough dudes who took power and land because they were really good at being violent.

Hammurabi

“Working sucks. You will do all the work for me or I will beat the hell out of you.”

One gangster would usually end up on top as the toughest, meanest gangster of them all, and he would call himself a “king,” and he’d make sure his son became the next king-gangster, and that’s how we got our very first hereditary monarchies.

There kept being more and more people and they spread out all over the dang place until there were gangsters pretty much everywhere, and every gangster had their own patch of dirt, and they got to tell all the people who lived on that dirt what to do, and that’s what we call a “state.”

A state is a system where some people who are very strong get to tell everyone else what to do, and if they don’t do what they’re told, they’ll get beaten up or killed or imprisoned or otherwise suffer some kind of nasty punishment.

Now, one thing you should know about gangsters — they are super lazy. They really don’t want to do any work themselves. So as soon as a gangster became a king the first thing he’d want to do is set it up so he’d have an army to do all the fighting for him and capture a bunch of slaves to do all the work for him.

Eventually some of the gangsters decided it might be nice if they could vote on stuff. But of course not everyone could vote on stuff — that wouldn’t be very gangsterish! No, only the gangsters who had been the best at beating people up and stealing dirt and who owned the most slaves could vote on stuff. They called this democracy.

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, working sucks. I hereby propose that we continue just having slaves do all the work for us.”

Those democracy-gangsters did a pretty good job voting on stuff because they were able to build really huge gangs and stole a lot of dirt from a lot of those old-fashioned king-type gangsters and took the people who lived on that dirt as slaves. It was a pretty nice life to be a dirt-owning voter-gangster at that time.

So this went on for a long time but eventually the old-fashioned king gangs got it together and took all the dirt back from the democracy gangs.

Now, these king-gangsters needed help from some the other gangsters who helped them steal the dirt, so they created a system called “feudalism.” Under feudalism, a lesser-gangster called a “noble” would get a bunch of dirt and also the people who lived on that dirt in exchange for serving the king-gangster. It worked pretty well and the king-gangsters in Europe got particularly rich, especially after they found out about these cool Chinese things called guns that were really good for killing people.

Then this one European gangster sent out some gangsters on some boats to go out and find some more dirt to steal, and that gangster found some really sweet dirt. This was dirt nobody in Europe knew about. The gangsters went bananas over all that sweet dirt.

Hernan Cortes

“I have sailed across the great Ocean Sea to literally murder you so my king can continue sitting around on his ass not having to work.”

So the gangsters sent huge gangs over to take all the dirt. Incidentally, they named this dirt “America,” after a gangster who liked to make maps of the dirt they wanted to steal.

There were some gangsters already living in America, and also some other folks who never really got into the whole gangster thing — anyway there were a lot of people livingg in America already but the European gangsters didn’t care, since they were gangsters. They were like, “this is our dirt now,” and they killed off huge numbers of the native people in America with diseases and guns.

See, these European gangsters were more “civilized” than the folks who were native to America.

(“Civilized” is an adjective that means “better at killing people and stealing dirt.”)

The gangsters who went to America from Europe started to notice that their skin was a different color than all the people who they stole the dirt from. They convinced themselves that the reason they were able to steal all this dirt was because their skin was whiter and they had a better God, and not because they were just a bunch of incredibly violent thugs who were really good at murdering people and stealing dirt.

“Civilization”

In addition to being bloodthirsty and violent and “civilized” they were also super lazy, and it turns out getting plants and shiny rocks and stuff out of the dirt is really hard work, and they didn’t want to do it themselves, so they sent gangsters to go buy human beings from some other gangsters in Africa. They convinced themselves that this was okay to do, because the human beings they were stealing had darker skin.

So here we have a bunch of murderous gangsters who stole a bunch of dirt from people they wiped out then imported a bunch of human slaves to work on the stolen dirt. But they got mad because the gangsters back in Europe still wanted their cut in the form of taxes.

The gangsters in America were like, “we ain’t payin’ you any more, we don’t need a king-gangster over here, go to hell.”

So the most “civilized” white male gangsters who had stolen the most dirt decided to try that democracy stuff again. But of course only white male gangsters who owned stolen dirt could vote. So they fought a gang war with the king gangsters from back in Europe and won, then they all patted each other on the back about how ethical they were. They thought they were especially ethical because they weren’t using the feudal system of gangsterism any more.

“Damn, I love watching all these ladies work almost as much as I love not doing any work, myself.”

See, something interesting was happening right around this time. All the trading that was going on between America and Europe was making the American non-king gangsters incredibly wealthy, especially because they had all these slaves who were working on their plantations for free. So they had all this high-quality dirt and all this free labor and they got super rich. At the same time some other non-king gangsters were having something called the “industrial revolution.” basically, a few gangsters realized that they could build a factory and pay folks a very small amount of money to work in the factories and then become even more rich and powerful.

So the lazy gangsters in the South were building plantations where slaves would work for them for free, and the lazy gangsters in the North were building factories where they were paying workers very small amounts of money so they could in turn bring in a LOT of money. This was called “capitalism” and it was a revolutionary system for gangsters.

They had a few setbacks along the way, like how eventually they had to stop owning slaves, but they realized it wasn’t even that big of a deal because they didn’t have to pay workers very much anyway. Just the bare minimum to survive was usually enough of a wage to fill a factory with workers. After all, there were plenty of desperate folks who didn’t own their own dirt and were too poor to open their own factories, and they needed to work for the capitalists to survive.

“We want fair working conditions!”
“For that you must die!”

Sometimes the workers would get angry and realize that they weren’t getting a fair deal. They saw the rich capitalist-gangsters running around with fancy clothes and lots of wealth while they were living in poverty. They realized that they were working long, hard hours and the capitalists were being lazy. They developed what was called “class consciousness,” which means they wanted to get a fair deal and work in safe conditions and get paid a fair share of the profits for their labor. They started to form unions to try to demand a fair share from the gangster-capitalists, but the gangster-capitalists had designed the government and were firmly in control of the violent state so it was easy for them to force the workers to accept whatever terms they were offered.

The smartest capitalist-gangsters also realized they didn’t even really have to go out and conquer dirt any more if they wanted to expand their private empires.

Sometimes just to let off a little steam they’d agree to little concessions like maximum number of working hours and a minimum wage but they never stopped stealing the vast majority of the value of the workers’ labor in the form of profits.

The smartest capitalist-gangsters also realized they didn’t even really have to go out and conquer dirt any more if they wanted to expand their private empires. They could just go out and build factories and plantations in countries that were more poor and pay those workers even less money than they were paying the workers back at home, which increased their profits dramatically. If those workers had a problem with it they could always just conquer the dirt the old-fashioned way and force them to do as they were told at gunpoint. This system is called “capitalist-imperialism” and it’s a really efficient way for gangsters in rich countries to suck all the money and resources out of poorer countries and into their own pockets.

Several centuries of violently plundering the rest of the world sure makes for some pretty towns.

As you can see, all of the wealth and prosperity of the Western world was built up through gangsterism and incredible violence. Paris has some really pretty buildings, right? Well that’s because they gangstered up on places like Vietnam and Senegal and stole all kinds of stuff from those countries for hundreds of years.

England has a pretty nice healthcare system, right? And that London Underground is pretty swanky! Well, it’s easy to have nice stuff like that when you spend a few centuries running around the world robbing people at gunpoint for gold and silver and oil! The jolly ol’ English empire was gangster as heck!

And the USA? Daaaamn! Gun-boat diplomacy? CIA-backed coups? Wars for oil? We are the gangsta-est-ass-gangstas in human history!

So remember, if you own a house, or run a business, or have any kind of wealth at all in your life, you owe that luxury and comfort to our culture’s long and violent history of gangsterism. Every sports car. Every iPhone. Every home. It can all be traced back to a violent source. No matter what you’re buying and selling, it’s ultimately the fruit of violent gangsterism.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all white male landowners should get to keep ALL the stuff we stole.”

The United States of America’s entire society was designed by a bunch of white male slave-owning gangster dirt-thieves who violently seized that very dirt from violent European gangster-monarchs, who had originally stolen that same land from the native Americans.

As Albert Einstein wrote in his seminal piece Why Socialism:

…most of the major states of history owed their existence to conquest. The conquering peoples established themselves, legally and economically, as the privileged class of the conquered country. They seized for themselves a monopoly of the land ownership and appointed a priesthood from among their own ranks. The priests, in control of education, made the class division of society into a permanent institution and created a system of values by which the people were thenceforth, to a large extent unconsciously, guided in their social behavior.

As anarchists, we call for an end to the state.

See, that’s what a state is. It’s a system of non-consensual government based entirely on an aggressive monopoly of violence. We never consented to being United States citizens, and yet we are forced to pay taxes every year that go to fund wars in foreign countries. These taxes pay salaries and legal defense funds for police officers who murder people of color in cold blood, they pay for a fascist gangster to take golf trips every weekend, and they pay to fund wars in foreign countries that make military-industrial capitalists absurdly wealthy. It’s a nasty and reprehensible system and we are forced to take part in it. If we refuse, it’s off to prison for  us.

“Give me the power, and I both can and will free you from the miseries which press so heavily upon you.”

A state is a system that preserves power structures through violence and forces people to be complicit with oppressive acts and to finance terroristic acts of war and plunder or else face dire consequences.

Pyotr Kropotkin wrote extensively of the overwhelming power of the state in our lives and even in our minds:

We have all been brought up from our childhood to regard the State as a sort of Providence; all our education, the Roman history we learned at school, the Byzantine code which we studied later under the name of Roman law, and the various sciences taught at the universities, accustom us to believe in Government and in the virtues of the State providential.

Of course, these gangster states only take care of the ruling gangster classes as they pile more misery and suffering onto the bulk of humanity.

As anarchists, we call for an end to the state. We aim to establish a new system of consensual self-government, free of exploitation, where we, as individuals, come together as equals. The violence and exploitation inherent in state coercion lifted from our backs, we will be able to support one another and build a new society based on mutual aid and support.

If it sounds like an impossible dream, it’s only because you’ve spent an entire lifetime being brainwashed by the state. As Kropotkin explained:

To maintain this superstition whole systems of philosophy have been elaborated and taught; all politics are based on this principle; and each politician, whatever his colours, comes forward and says to the people, ‘Give me the power, and I both can and will free you from the miseries which press so heavily upon you.’

Let’s be finished with the superstition that the state is beneficial or necessary in any way. Let’s put to rest the lie that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and all the other framers of the constitution delivered anything more than an illusion of freedom to the people of the world, and let’s demand real freedom from state gangsterism which defines the United States of America and all the liberal democracies that followed in its footsteps.

Abolish the State, the personification of injustice, oppression, and monopoly!

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