It would be remiss to discuss the contemporary Communist movement (and indeed, the modern leftist world in general) without taking some time touch on the subject of America, the West, and the Third-World.
Being an American citizen who spent the majority of his life growing up overseas, I’m in a unique position, having seen a little of both worlds. Considering the highly contentious nature of the subjects I’m about to address, I’m hoping you, the reader, will keep this in mind.
With that request, let’s begin.
“Death to America!”:
You’ve probably heard this slogan, or some variation on it. “Down with the imperialist aggressors!“, “Throw out the neo-colonialists!“, “Destroy the military-industrial complex!” and of course, my favorite, “American pig-dogs!“.
And let’s face it, these insults aren’t without some merit. Even if we forget the attacks on and the abuses of the Native Americans, the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans in concentration camps, the countless injustices inflicted on African Americans and Hispanics- the past decade alone, America has committed more terrible acts than I recount (though if you’re looking for some highlights, the wrongful execution of Troy Davis, Citizens United, and the veto of the Palestinian UN membership bid all spring to mind).
Beyond that, there are the obvious cultural issues. The gross excess of consumerism, the fact that nearly seventy percent of Americans are overweight in a world where starvation and malnutrition affect so many- this all serves only to bolster the US’s image as a corrupt and evil empire intent on the pillaging of the world.
And there is a problem with this mentality.
As I said above, I grew up in overseas- in the Middle East, to be specific. I myself have seen the effects of Westernization, globalization, and Bush’s self-proclaimed “crusade” perpetuated even now by the Obama administration. Thereis unquestionably a lot to decry- but there is such a thing as taking it too far.
Bear with me here. When someone says America, chances are, this comes to mind:
Or even this?
See, my problem with the criticism and condemnation thrown America’s way isn’t that it’s undeserved, but that it too often becomes generalized. When someone screams “Death to America!“, does that include the homeless population, or the people trying to help them? Does that include Mumia Abu-Jamal? Noam Chomsky? The protestors of America’s various wars? The environmentalists? The activists? Does that include the legacy of John Brown, Eugene Debs, or the members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade?
I’m guessing you can see my point here. I’m not saying that criticism is wrong, but the blanket diatribes you often run into when talking to Communists- even American Communists, they’re just… well, dumb. And it’s only dumber when your own nation is guilty of many of the same errors- Europeans, I’m looking at you.
Just look at the English. The British Nationalist Party (BNP)- a fascist political movement with a rabidly racist and homophobic agenda- not only has won seats in British elections, but the BNP’s leader, a particularly vile holocaust denier by the name of Nick Griffin, won a seat on the European Parliament- the legislative body of the EU. To put that into perspective, that would be the equivalent of the leader of the American Neo-Nazi Party winning a congressional election.
Or just look at France’s bigoted treatment of Muslims and the Roma…
Or German chancellor Angela Merkel’s declaration that “Multiculturalism has failed”!
Now is any of this to say that we can’t criticize each other? Not at all. Is any of this to say that Europe is utterly and totally evil? Of course not. My point is simply this: Everyone- everyone has their issues. Every nation has its heroes and villains. Criticism is good, but only so long as it is directed at the real enemy- and the real enemy isn’t one people or another- it’s injustice, imperialism, capitalism, and oppression.
First Worldism/Third Worldism:
This criticism is really aimed at two different groups, Communists who believe that a Marxist revolution can only occur in a “developed” nation (like the US or a European country), and Communists who believe that the revolution can only occur in a third-world nation (you probably know who I’m talking about here).
Now in response to the “First-Worldists”, I can only say “really?”. “You think that people who enjoy some of the highest standards of living in the world are going to touch off the Communist revolution? You think that so-called ‘development’ is what makes or breaks a revolution?”
Granted, having a good education helps. Granted, it’s easier to fight injustice when you don’t have to decide between the picket line and putting food on your family’s plates. Granted, it’s easier to even just have plates to put food on- but let’s face it, you don’t need a PhD to know that you’re being screwed over.
And the reverse arguments aren’t much better. There are those out there who insist that all attempts at revolutionary activity in America and the West are pointless because “there’s no real working class in the first-world”.
Obviously that’s nonsense. Yes, the standard of living in the West is much higher than it is in the rest of the world, but that hardly means there isn’t a Western proletariat, or that they don’t struggle to survive on a daily basis.
I dare you- dare you- to walk through Detroit, Sioux County, Ziebach County, or Appalachia and tell those people that they just have it too well to have “revolutionary potential”.
Let’s be serious- if someone wants to join the struggle against Capitalism, do we really care whether he or she is from an industrialized or rural community? Do we really care whether they were born in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti or Athens, Georgia? Do we really care whether or not they had enough cash to fix their roof after a bad storm?
Despite our best efforts, every once in a while it happens- some idiot professing to be a Marxist tries to make some passionate defense for North Korea. It doesn’t happen much, but that fact that it happens at all is troubling. The various tendencies of Communism do have their differences, but one thing we should all hold in common is that the Kim dynasty is. not. Communist.
Not too long ago, I ran into a would-be apologist for North Korea- though considering he was fourteen, whether or not he was into Communism simply for the furry hats was unclear. Despite pointing out that North Korea had become something akin to the lovechild of an divinely mandated monarchy and a military junta, and that a perpetual disgrace to true Communists everywhere, this kid continued to insist that the DPRK was the sole bastion of Marxism in an otherwise degenerate Capitalist world. Short of North Korea hauling down their red-flags and pulling the stars off their buildings, nothing would convince him otherwise.
Now this is an issue in Communism. Even though most every Communist will agree that North Korea is a brutal dictatorship and corruption of socialism, the same basic issue is at play in support for other countries. This was, in fact, one of my first major issues with Communism- having encountered it during the days of Iran’s ill-fated “Green Revolution”, following outrage at the alleged rigging of the 2009 elections. At the time, Ahmadinejad had the support of many leftists- and considering the past (near) decade of the Bush doctrine, I wasn’t all the surprised. The issue of imperialism was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and the consensus many came to was that Iran, while definitely not a socialist paradise, wasn’t without justification in taking an “anti-imperialist” stance. My own conclusion was that “Hey, you can’t force change on people- if there’s anything to learned from Iraq, it’s that. If the people want to change things, then they’ll do it, and they’re they only ones who can or should do it.”
Which is of course, just what they attempted to do in 2009.
Now I thought to myself “Hey, they feel cheated. They feel that there self-determination has been taken from them- if it’s the will of the masses, let it be so.” I also thought to myself that most Communists would feel they same.
I was in for a nasty surprise.
Rather than cheering the people on, most of the blogs and commentary made by the left were in favor of Ahmadinejad, calling the rebels tools of imperialism and the West. Considering that Mousavi’s foreign policy was more or less identical to Ahmadinejad, that didn’t make much sense to me, but nevertheless, that was the response. I tried questioning it, but the single reply was always a chorus of “Anti-Imperialism!”.
With the current conflict in Syria (where I grew up), I’ve found the same pattern. Rather than supporting the rebels, again there has arisen a near-universal show of support of Assad and again claim “Anti-Imperialism” as their justification.
Let’s clear up why this irks me so much.
First, oppression is oppression, regardless of whose doing it. When you’re having your freedom stripped from you, does it matter where the tyrant comes from. Is coercion less heinous for being committed by a compatriot? Is inequality less unequal if it comes from your own government? Clearly not.
Second, this justification makes the assumption that the regime in question is the sole thing standing between the people and a colonization. It makes the assumption that the people have no investment in protecting themselves from imperialism, that they’re incapable of defending themselves from foreign exploitation. It makes the assumption that the people are simply ignorant sheep who will fold to any Western pressure. How Communists can rationalize such a deeply elitist and condescending view is a mystery to me.
Third, the assumption that the rebels are either (1) Western puppets or (2) militant, theocratic Muslims. The idea that the people might actually have some reasonable grievances they want addressed is simply “out of the question”. Again, this is a severely disturbing perspective- I’m not saying that Western puppets or theocratic don’t exist- my complaint here is that this third possibility is never even considered.
Fourth and finally, the greater assumption made here is that anti-imperialism is the sole issue at hand. A dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance, he merits the support of the left.
If only that were the case. Truth of the matter is, a dictator can brutalize and pillage his own people, but so long as he takes an “Anti-Imperialist” stance against the west. Forgetting Russian or Chinese foreign interests and intervention, just so long as the regime in question isn’t generally cooperative with America or Europe, all is forgiven. It’s like giving a neighbor who’s a wife-beater and an abusive father a free pass because he dislikes the same guy you dislike.
That’s all this is, really. This so-called “anti-imperialist” stance has nothing to do with protecting a people from neo-colonization and globalization, it’s about giving the US the finger. This isn’t Communism- this is simply arrogance at the expense of the people in question. To quote one of my favorite artists:
My revolution is born out of love for my people, not hatred for others.
Look, a few social programs does and opposition to the US does not make a nation “socialist” or worth defending- if that was the criteria, we’d have to support Nazi Germany for their social programs and opposition to America. Support from Communists should never be for a government– it should be for a people. And it should definitely be given simply to put down someone else- which brings me to my final topic…
What Can Communism do for US?
This final criticism is directed more or less exclusively at the Communist movement in the US, though I’d imagine a similar issue may exist in Britain. You see, a lot of the American Communist movement’s energy seems to be directed towards addressing foreign policy- and there’s nothing wrong with that. Palestine, the global antifascist struggle, exploitation of workers overseas, antiwar protests- these are not merely good, but essential to creating, maintaining, and advancing unity among the left around the globe. That said, I can’t help but sometimes feel the issues at home are being forgotten.
Back when I was searching for a party to join, something I noticed was that while most every group had a distinct and clear set of demands for foreign policy, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of addressing the issues of the American proletariat. I know these aren’t the days of the labor struggle, but there’s got to be more to be done. When some poor farmer asks what Communism can do for him, he’s not looking down the road- he’s got kids to feed and bills to pay, and he’s looking for an immediate and tangible reason to back the far left. Simply responding “We’re gonna cut the military budget and raise taxes on the rich” is all good and well, but short of both the Republicans and Democrats forgetting to file some important paperwork, there’s no way Marxists will win a major election in the US anytime soon and these people know it. Again, we need to reinvest our efforts into figuring out how we can improve the conditions of the working class without having power handed to us on a silver platter. How can I, using the limited tools and resources afforded to me, make a difference for myself and my community?
(Lest I be called a hypocrite, I do have some of my own ideas, but that’s for another post…)