“Ars longa, vita brevis”

Errors of a Swedish Culture Warrior

Karl-Olov Arnstberg defends cultural Marxism from my critique.

Karl-Olov Arnstberg defends “cultural Marxism” from my critique.

I had hoped the paper I released in January would be the last time I needed to discuss the right-wing myth of “cultural Marxism,” but the Swedish ethnologist and fellow blogger Karl-Olov Arnstberg recently wrote a brief response to my post on the subject which, despite its vacuous content, I feel obliged to comment on. Before doing so, however, I should preface this entry by noting that I’m far from fluent in Swedish and therefore needed to utilize a website translator to read Arnstberg’s post. And as a consequence of the crude interpretations such devices provide, there may be facets of Arnstberg’s argument which I’ve misunderstood. I apologize in advance if that occurred.

The primary method Arnstberg employs in defense of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory is a familiar one: he casts Marxism as an ideological precursor of postmodernism, thereby enabling him to link the approval relativism has been receiving in certain humanities departments in recent decades to Marxism in general, and the Frankfurt school in particular. Needless to say, this is a groundless accusation and an egregious conflation of two very distinct socio-philosophical traditions. The suggestion that classical Marxism can, in anyway, be interpreted as relativistic betrays a profound unfamiliarity with the theories that informed Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’s social and political thought. As even a cursory reading of their body of work instantly reveals, both men were staunch epistemological and ontological materialists, not relativists. Arnstberg should also be made aware of the fact that, in addition to being heirs of the Enlightenment and partisans of modernity, Marx and Engels were naturalistic thinkers, influenced by decidedly non-relativistic figures such as Charles Darwin and Henry Lewis Morgan. Indeed, Marxism is regularly criticized by the postmodern elite for producing the very meta-narratives they believe to be epistemologically impossible to sustain.

With respect to the Frankfurt school, the pessimism of modernity and antipositivism characteristic of its members might seem to position the Institute for Social Research considerably closer to the contemporary postmodern milieu, but this too would be an erroneous inference. To quote Martin Jay,

It would be mistaken, of course, to reduce the legacy of Critical Theory tout court to a prolegomenon to postmodernism, however we may define that vexed term. Habermas’s spirited defense of the uncompleted project of modernity, Lowenthal’s last warnings against ‘irrational and neomythological’ concepts like ‘post-histoire,’ and Adorno’s insistence on the distinction between high and low art and partisanship for modernists such as Beckett, Kafka and Schoenberg against the leveling impact of the Culture Industry, all make it plain that in many important ways, the Frankfurt School resists wholesale inclusion among the forebears of postmodernism. In fact, as Fredric Jameson has pointed out, it may well be the eclectic pastiches of Stravinsky (which Adorno despised) rather than the progressive innovations of Schoenberg (which he generally admired) that can be said to have anticipated a key feature of postmodernist culture. The central role of ‘ideology critique’ in Critical Theory is, moreover, relegated to the margins of most postmodernist theory, which lacks—or rather, deliberately scorns the possibility of—any point d’appui for such a critique, preferring instead a cynical reason, if indeed a reason at all, that attacks all transcendent positions as discredited foundationalism and mocks utopianism as inherently fallacious.[1]

Jay proceeds to write that a few of the theoreticians belonging to the school’s first generation may well have contributed to the aforementioned postmodern rejection of meta-narratives by way of their dismissal of Marx’s materialist conception of history, for instance, and that’s a concession I’m perfectly willing to make. However, those theoreticians’ decision to discard such a crucial component of scientific socialism clearly represents a departure from Marxism on the Frankfurt school’s part, not an application thereof—thereby rendering the very term “cultural Marxism” of dubious currency. If Arnstberg is truly interested in the genealogy of postmodernism, I recommend he instead look to the French poststructuralists Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Jean-François Lyotard, or to the radical subjectivism of John Berkeley, Friedrich Nietzsche, and the sophists before them.

Of course, none of this is pertinent to the central claim proponents of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory make, i.e., that the Frankfurt school has succeeded in Gramsci’s alleged strategy of infiltrating the hegemonic institutions of bourgeois society in order to subvert the sensibilities of young adults, therewith undermining the mores of Western civilization itself, in order to prepare the way for communist revolution. Towards that end, nowhere in his post does Arnstberg provide a scintilla of evidence corroborating the claim the Frankfurt school had anywhere near that level of influence on contemporary opinion makers, nor does he persuasively demonstrate why the bourgeoisie would permit an ideology inimical to its reproduction as a class to proliferate on the scale paleoconservative hucksters contend so-called “cultural Marxism” has. The only personality associated with the Frankfurt school to have ever reached a modicum of popularity was Herbert Marcuse, and even then it was chiefly relegated to segments of the New Left.[2] To be sure, students continue to be presented with material from Frankfurt school theoreticians, but as Paul Piccone noted:

Far from precipitating the projected qualitative change in cultural life, a substantial de-provincialization of social consciousness and a more democratic and participatory political reality, Western Marxism, Critical Theory and radical philosophy in general have smoothly blended into the otherwise bland, jargon-ridden and hopelessly conventional framework they originally challenged.[3]

In other words, theories derived from Frankfurt school intellectuals are largely consigned to impotent academic departments and taught primarily during courses on the history of ideas. To understand the source of the changes in culture underway, one must look elsewhere.

Arnstberg claims that rather than “discussing pressing issues,” Jason Wilson (another critic of the cultural Marxism conspiracy theory) and I merely malign our opponents with unflattering labels. Now, I’ve openly admitted that my blog post “On the Myth of Cultural Marxism” is somewhat more polemical than a subject of this magnitude warrants, and I sought to remedy that with a paper nearing 7,500 words entitled “The Origins and Ideological Function of Cultural Marxism,” but I stand by the claims I made in my blog post. The fact of the matter is the vast preponderance of individuals who subscribe to the conspiracy theory under discussion are neo-fascists and paleoconservatives of various persuasions. Is that a sufficient reason to reject the conspiracy theory? Obviously not, and I never suggested otherwise, so I’m perplexed as to why Arnstberg would accuse me of such a transparent logical fallacy; perhaps the crux of my argument was simply lost in translation. What I wrote was that a belief in cultural Marxism has the potential to produce consequences markedly more calamitous than an espousal of equally farcical conspiracy theories, as the Utøya massacre attests.

Arnstberg is also incorrect to say I regard the notion of the Frankfurt school being the progenitors of political correctness as being inherently “racist.” It can be, e.g., when Kevin MacDonald explains it as a group survival strategy employed consciously or subconsciously by individuals of Semitic descent, but it doesn’t have to be. A further error committed by Arnstberg is his assertion that I don’t recognize the existence of political correctness per se. As I wrote in my paper, ‘political correctness’ can best be understood as a liberal mechanism to regulate behavior in a manner which fosters racial tolerance while simultaneously solidifying belief that capitalism’s class divisions are structured along genuinely meritocratic lines—meritocracy being the bourgeoisie’s principal self-legitimating ideological construct in the 21st century. I’m also accused of not wanting to discuss the disruptive consequences of multiculturalism or “Jewish policies to prevent a second Holocaust,” both of which are explicitly addressed in my paper. Arnstberg is of the opinion that left critics are either too ideologically blinded or lack the fortitude to debate these matters publicly, and while that may be true of some, it certainly doesn’t describe me.

At one point, Arnstberg asks how the society I desire might look in practice. He mistakenly assumes what I envisage as the end of history is a “postmodern” society, characterized by him as an order consisting of “free immigration, multiculturalism, anti-racism, anti-sexism, LGBTQ affirmation, feminism, environmental awareness, defense of human equality, and defense of animal rights.” How he came to the conclusion these concepts are exclusively postmodern in orientation, let alone that Marxism precipitated them, is, frankly, beyond me. I would, of course, prefer to live in a society which is cognizant of ecological imperatives, where racial and sexual discrimination have been minimized, and in which no nationality oppresses another—one has to wonder why Arnstberg seems to find these objectives disagreeable. Having said that, like traditional Marxists, I believe cultural transformations generally accompany modifications in society’s substructure, and that, within a communist commonwealth, they should be arrived at freely and democratically, not via government fiat. And contrary to what Arnstberg might think, I’m not under the naïve delusion humanity can ever construct a panacea, so my expectations of post-capitalist social relations are really quite modest. To get an adequate idea of what I actually do desire, I ask that Arnstberg study the history of the regions of Spain directed by the CNT-FAI between 1936-1939, the factory committees operating in Russia prior to the Bolshevik consolidation of power, the radically democratic polity achieved in the Paris Commune, or even the smaller scale examples of workers’ control exemplified in producer cooperatives. In short, I seek an economy wherein workers self-manage the operations of their firms, production is democratically planned, and political policy is administered by a series of councils. A number of names have been assigned to what I’ve just described (council communism, economic syndicalism, libertarian socialism, etc.), but the content is what concerns me.

Next, Arnstberg outlines the ways in which he finds epistemological relativism to have been a pernicious force in the Western world and prattles on about the Syrian refugee crisis currently afflicting his motherland. Given his apparent reluctance to evaluate these issues from a materialist perspective and conspicuous sympathy for the theory of cultural Marxism, Arnstberg likely imagines Marxists and Jewish chauvinists to be the impetus behind these developments. It’s unfortunate that someone of his intelligence could seriously entertain such a preposterously idealist narrative, but it’s a common enough phenomenon.

In a final strange turn, Arnstberg equates moral universalism to postmodernity near the end of his post. If I had to wager, I’d say he missed the lessons in Philosophy 101 which went over the centrality of impartiality in the main moral doctrines when he was a university student, and how the epistemological relativism he laments more readily serves as a conduit to moral nihilism than it does to the moral universalism he adamantly opposes.

[1] Martin Jay, The Dialectical Imagination: A History of the Frankfurt School and the Institute of Social Research, 1923-1950 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), p. xvii.
[2] Thomas Wheatland, a scholar of the Frankfurt school, doubts the extent to which Marcuse legitimately influenced even the New Left. See The Frankfurt School in Exile (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009).
[3] Paul Piccone, “20 Years of Telos,” Telos, No. 75 (Summer 1988), p. 13.

The Intensity of False Consciousness

Climbing to utopia

Climbing to utopia

The other day, while I was opening at work, a talkative customer approached, inquiring as to my ethnicity (apparently he had overheard me speaking to a previous customer and detected an usual “accent”). I informed the gentleman that I’m of northern Spanish descent, which delighted him as he claimed to possess some amount of Iberian ancestry as well. After a brief exchange regarding Spain’s cultural diversity, we drifted into a conversation about the company I work for. The customer was curious if they offered stock options to employees or any other benefits beyond basic health care packages or 401(k) plans. They don’t, of course, and in my response the man could sense that I harbored pessimism regarding the economy in general, and dissatisfaction with my corporate employer in particular. He assured me “ethical” companies exist, citing a few popular examples, and encouraged me to seek employment with them, if I was genuinely discontent where I was. Such proposals are of no interest to me, but I didn’t want to come off as unappreciative of his empathy by dismissing his suggestions out of hand, as it were.

The conversation then took something of a biographical turn. Judging from his tattoos and choice in apparel, in addition to the slang terminology he occasionally employed in the course of our conversation, I conjectured the customer with whom I was speaking was of a lumpenproletarian background. My suspicion was soon confirmed when he admitted to being a former convict. He claimed his criminal past has been an obstacle for him when seeking employment, and, assuming (perhaps erroneously) his crime was non-violent, I expressed sympathy for his predicament. But the prideful man would accept no pity. From his perspective, this impediment had motivated him to improve himself, which will ultimately serve to make him a more attractive prospect to employers seeking applicants in the future. The depth of this individual’s false consciousness was becoming more apparent with each sentence.

Anecdote after anecdote of successful entrepreneurs who began from positions not dissimilar to his own, and nevertheless went on to attain massive fortunes in the market, were adduced. The customer was of the opinion that one’s educational attainment, familial connections, and/or brute luck were simply immaterial to success under capitalism; a positive mental attitude and solid work ethic are all that’s necessary. I asked what the man’s current employment status was, in an effort to see if I could push back against some of these fantasies. He responded that he’s currently involved in construction labor, but aspired to becoming a haute bourgeois (not his words). After gathering this information, I attempted to see if I could prompt the man to evaluate matters from a strictly class perspective, but it was to no avail. Every piece of counter-evidence I cited was met with another bromide. His immediate material interests would simply not take priority over his dreams of wealth and status. I could have approached the issue from an ethical standpoint, to see if it would yield superior results, but I had neither the time nor inclination to do so.

I’m certain the lumpenproletarian environment he was reared in, as well as his peculiar personality, account for much of the man’s inability to evaluate these subjects rationally, but it would be a mistake to ignore the significance of bourgeois ideology here. The brilliance of the latter lies in its astonishing ability to effectively persuade the toiling masses that they can extricate themselves from the indignity of wage labor through tireless effort alone. There are enough rags to riches tales circulating in our society to render the myth of capitalism’s meritocractic class hierarchy plausible to many, causing working people to utterly ignore the exploitation and alienation they endure on a daily basis, in the naive hope they too can one day climb to a position of relative authority and wealth.

First World Phantoms

A specter

A specter is haunting Maoism-Third Worldism—the specter of Marxism…

Jason Unruhe responded to my critique of Maoist-Third Worldist theory in the very manner I suspected he would: sheer incomprehension. Yet again, Unruhe has thoroughly demonstrated that the intricacies of Marxist economic and sociological analysis are beyond his grasp. This would be forgivable, were he to acknowledge his deficiencies and exerted some effort toward rectifying them, but apparently the man wishes to remain insulated in comfortable ignorance. Suffice it to say, productive dialog cannot transpire under conditions such as these, but my previously mentioned lack of more interesting alternatives compels me to carry on.

Unruhe begins his tedious response with a crack at my blog’s name:

I introduce you to Common Ruin (insert joke about comparing First and Third World living conditions here).

The expression “common ruin” is, as many of you are doubtlessly aware, derived from an important passage in the Manifesto of the Communist Party, wherein Marx and Engels describe the history of class struggle as resulting in either a “revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”[1] It’s rather revealing that an individual who professes fidelity to Marxism would fail to make this association and instead erroneously infer that my blog name is drawn from an ill-founded conviction that the standard of living between the First and Third World are analogous.

Unfortunately, Unruhe’s dearth of comprehension only compounds from henceforth.

He next laments the fact that none of his opponents expressed any interest in partaking in a “live debate” with him. But one could hardly be surprised by such a response, given that the specific terms of the debate were never specified by him to begin with (e.g., how would the debate be facilitated? Who would moderate? How long would each side have to present their case? Who would determine the winner?) I informed Unruhe via Facebook that I’d consider engaging in his “live debate,” were the details provided in advance, but he never responded. I sincerely doubt such an undertaking would be worthwhile, regardless.

Amusingly, in his following paragraph, Unruhe proceeds to misinterpret the explanation I offer my subscribers as to why I’ve not had an opportunity to blog in recent months. He insists that what I was really involved in was an underhanded attempt to garner sympathy from readers for my plight as an exploited wage laborer. Unruhe’s modus operandi here is to present what he calls “First Worldists” (i.e., actual Marxists) as having to resort to logical fallacies when debating the merits of Maoism-Third Worldism, when the exact converse is true. Nevertheless, in the interest of full disclosure, I will concede outright that I’m involved in an occupation wherein surplus value is generally not produced, and am therefore not regularly exploited.[2] I do engage in commodity production for a fraction of some working days, however, during which I am exploited. Beyond that, I cannot divulge—lest I risk unemployment.

Moving on, Unruhe devotes a considerable amount of space to bemoaning the ad hominem attacks I admittedly included in my previous blog post. In response, I will repeat here what I told an individual who commented on this issue yesterday: ad hominem comments obviously have no bearing on the plausibility (or lack thereof) of Maoism-Third Worldism, but they do convey my personal dislike for Unruhe and the disservice I believe he’s doing to Marxist theory and communist praxis with his YouTube channel and incoherent writings.

Unruhe is, of course, not above leveling ad hominem attacks of his own,[3] and responded in kind. In addition to being “reactionary” and ‘egotistical,’ he accuses me of being a “middle class privileged college White kid,” whose involvement in radical politics is purely “self-serving.” Part of this is true: I am a college-educated, Caucasian male of Spanish descent who comes from a (formerly) petit-bourgeois household. My current class position, however, is patently proletarian.[4] But I must confess that I have some difficulty discerning how the “privilege” Unruhe assumes I’ve been bestowed has any place in Marxist class analysis, being that those of us who follow the methodology established by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels assign class according to one’s relationship to the means of production, not their relative “privilege.” Furthermore, while my interest in radical politics does contain an undeniably self-serving component,[5] it was initially induced by learning of my great-grandfathers participation in CNT-FAI militias during the Spanish Civil War when I was a teenager.[6]

Unruhe subsequently claims that I ‘misrepresent’ Maoism-Third Worldism when I write that the process of globalization has extinguished the revolutionary potential of the working class residing in hegemonic nation-states:

False. We don’t say there is no revolutionary potential in the First World, we say there is no significant revolutionary potential in the First World. We say that the ‘working class’ of the First World has been bought off with the spoils of imperialism.

This is, for all intents and purposes, a distinction without a difference. For if the working class, as a class, is incapable of developing revolutionary consciousness due to barriers erected from the dynamics of bourgeois imperialism, the potential for proletarian revolution—which is what I was referring to—is practically nonexistent.

Unruhe continues:

It is a mathematically proven fact that super exploitation subsidizes the wages and social programs that First Worlders receive.

Is it, really? Unruhe should have no trouble furnishing us with the empirical evidence to support such a bold claim, in that case. I, for one, am eager to see how he demonstrates that not only is value creation and the rate of exploitation higher in the global South, but that a mechanism exists in imperialist states to directly transfer the subaltern’s surplus value to First World workers.

If we examine global manufacturing alone, by output, we learn that countries in the global South remain nowhere to be found among the top producing nations of the world:

Top Manufacturing by Country as Percent of Output, 1990-2008

The United States, China, Japan, and Germany lead the world in manufacturing output.

First and Second World[7] nation-states continue to dominate the sector. The ratio of variable to constant capital is higher in the global South, so the total number of individuals involved in commodity production (not as a percentage of the population, mind you) might be greater than in the North, but only 20% of manufacturing output originates from the Third World. Subaltern workers are also generally involved in the production of commodities with little exchange value to begin with (e.g., textiles and agricultural goods)—mining being the main exception, although few workers are required in such trades—whereas First and Second World workers produce more valuable commodities at a more productive pace, thereby generating more surplus value than their subaltern counterparts and thus indicating they are exploited to a greater extent than the latter, by Marxist standards. Exploitation in the Third World is undoubtedly occurring in the aforementioned low exchange value industries, but a “super exploitation” is nonexistent.

One might ask, if this is so, why it is that the global South is so impoverished relative to the North. The answer is underinvestment and the balance of class forces. To the extent multinational corporations invest in production in the Third World—and estimates are that only 5% of total capitalist investment is directed to the global South[8]—they only provide the bare minimum to facilitate production, and the workers in those countries possess very little in the way of bargaining power. The laws of uneven and combined development, geography, and the history of imperialism have organized the international division of labor in such a way that high exchange value production and cognitively demanding labor are primarily situated in the global North, while more rote, menial labor is conducted in the South. The low skill required for labor in the Third World ensures that the reserve army of labor is also considerably larger in the global South. But this historical trend is now adjusting, as we see the economic development of East Asia in recent decades beginning to shift the locus of skilled labor from North America and Europe to China, Korea, and Japan, although Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East still lag behind.

To deduce from this unfortunate reality that a neo-colonial “super exploitation,” beneficial to both labor and capital in the First World, is transpiring—as Maoist-Third Worldists contend—is a non sequitur. It is nothing more than happenstance. As the cost of production continues to rise in the First and Second World, capital will be tempted to invest more in the ‘emerging economies’ of the Third, and this may facilitate a change in the overall balance of development. If, however, revolution were to miraculously ignite in the Third World now, the ensuing capital flight would absolutely devastate those countries. Of course, this protracted and unstable process could be entirely circumvented, were a communist bloc established in the global North in the interim, but the very thought is anathema to those inculcated in Maoist Third-Worldist canon.

As for the haute bourgeoisie sharing their plunder of the Third World with their domestic working classes, I already demonstrated how the First World’s violent labor history invalidates this theory, and how globalization has had a deleterious effect on labor market conditions in the global North. Inexpensive foreign imports have not been interpreted by workers as tokens from the bourgeoisie to be accepted in exchange for docility, either. On the contrary, they have been viewed as threats to job security and wage levels, which is why protectionist sentiments remain high among Western workers.[9] Nothing was said in response to this.

Unruhe then invokes his favored “materialist” argument against the revolutionary potential of First World proletarians:

This very comfortable standard of living is enough to keep someone from actually carrying out revolution. No one is going to give up the social benefits they have to become a guerrilla fighter who has a life many, many times more difficult than that of even the lowest paid worker. This is total idealist romanticism on their part.

The irony here is that he believes slum-dwelling sweatshop workers, whose entire existence is intimately linked to foreign capital, would be more willing to take up arms against the system. Contra Maoist-Third Worldist mythology, it is proletarians in the Third World who have more to lose from the vicissitudes of revolution, e.g., their meager means of subsistence. They additionally lack a history to draw upon wherein their material conditions were significantly better, so their expectations of capitalism are far lower than those brought up in the West.

I also explained how the Maoist-Third Worldist model of revolution is fundamentally at odds with Marxist sociology and not at all reflective of how the working class evaluates the necessity of revolution in my previous post. To recapitulate: Workers don’t measure their satisfaction in relative global terms, but temporally. Such is why Marx and Engels were convinced revolution was feasible in the centers of capital. In their view, the asymmetry that expands between the forces and relations of production in class societies would, inter alia, express itself in an immiseration of the proletariat that would transpire during one of capitalism’s periodic crises. This, in turn, would open avenues for radical organizations to challenge bourgeois ideological orthodoxy and therewith introduce the possibility of revolutionary sentiments being fostered in the population. Naturally, Unruhe failed to respond to any of these points.

Unruhe cites the black and Amerindian populations residing in North America as examples of First World groups with revolutionary potential, while simultaneously arguing that their numerical disadvantage would render any activity toward that end an exercise in futility. This is curious, as those particular minority groups are disproportionately represented in the lumpenproletariat, who Marx correctly dismissed as the “scum, offal, refuse of all classes,”[10] an estate which has never assumed a productive role in the history of class struggle and, by virtue of their relationship to the means of production, likely never will. By Maoist-Third Worldist logic, the proletarians among them should presumably be just as docile as their Caucasian co-workers, so why Unruhe believes otherwise is a mystery. Perhaps Unruhe’s confusion here stems from his conflating a population’s potential for national liberation with revolution, only the latter of which is relevant to our discussion.

Next, Unruhe marshals a passage from Friedrich Engels, in a forlorn attempt to persuade readers that Maoism-Third Worldism is consistent with Marxist theory. However, the specific passage he quotes approvingly from, when taken in context, only further substantiates my case. For what Engels ultimately envisaged as a remedy for the English proletariat’s “bourgeoisification,” i.e., their increasingly conservative approach to politics, was simply “a few thoroughly bad years.”[11] In other words, Engels believed an immiseration of the proletariat, precipitated by a crisis of capital, would suffice to reverse the trend. There exists no textual evidence of Engels or Marx ever holding the view that workers attaining a contingently comfortable standard of living under capitalism would permanently obstruct their revolutionary potential.

What’s more, the suggestion Friedrich Engels, of all people, would ever adhere to the tenets of Maoism-Third Worldism is transparently preposterous. His unflattering adherence to subsequently discredited Lamarckian notions of the inheritance of acquired characteristics instilled in him the view that the inhabitants of backward countries—which Maoist-Third Worldists believe will lead the movement for proletarian emancipation—were of such poor quality that they were practically useless; they’d need to be ‘civilized’ by the process of capitalist development and Western tutelage[12] before they’d be of any revolutionary utility whatsoever. Take, for example, Engels’s assertion that individuals of sub-Saharan African ancestry are congenitally incapable of understanding basic mathematics in their current evolutionary state:

If, for instance, among us the mathematical axioms seem self-evident to every eight-year-old child, and in no need of proof from experience, this is solely the result of ‘accumulated inheritance.’ It would be difficult to teach them by a proof to a bushman or Australian negro.[13]

Karl Marx does not fare much better, in this respect. Following the crude and outlandish evolutionary views of Pierre Trémaux, he believed sub-Saharan Africans to be a “degeneration of a much higher type [of man].”[14] Returning to Engels, one of the reasons he was of the view “Aryan and Semitic races” had experienced a “superior development” in their evolutionary histories was because they had a richer and more varied diet than what was available to peoples residing in other geographic areas, resulting in the former developing a larger cranial capacity.[15] So, aside from the inferior development of their productive forces, what retards the potential for revolution in the Third World, in the opinion of Marx and Engels, would be the lesser biological caliber of its residents[16]—an unfounded position, of which the preponderance of contemporary Marxists, fortunately, disagree.

Following that debacle, Unruhe recommends that “First Worldists. . . . read Lenin and Mao” and provides a quote from each theoretician. But, once again, neither passage lends credibility to the Maoist-Third Worldist hypothesis that revolutionary consciousness cannot develop among the working classes of the global North. Lenin’s conception of an “aristocracy of labor” is, without a doubt, empirically groundless,[17] but it’s distinct from Maoist-Third Worldist class analysis nonetheless. Indeed, Lenin and the Old Bolsheviks were unwavering in their conviction that revolution had to unfold in the Western European centers of capital if the Soviet Union was to succeed in transitioning to a communist mode of production. Similarly, the passage from Mao Zedong which Unruhe quotes expresses pessimism about the probability of revolution in Western countries, but not a categorical statement of its impossibility.

My parenthetical remark about Maoism-Third Worldism sharing a bourgeois assumption regarding the infeasibility of radicalism gaining traction among First World workers apparently struck a nerve, prompting Unruhe to write:

This is not what we say at all. Bourgeois theory claims that material living increased so therefore what Marx said was wrong; that exploitation does not cause the effects he claimed. This is not what Third Worldists are saying. We say that the burden of exploitation has been shifted to the Third World. Marx was right, inequality did increase but not in the way he predicted. If we follow the revisionist First Worldist line then the bourgeoisie are right. The inequality became global. The rich countries versus the poor countries, the global cities versus the global countryside. Instead Acuña has decided to lie and change what I said to mean something else. Such dishonesty is typical of First Worldists attacking Third Worldism.

Unruhe should be aware that bourgeois sociologists don’t accept the labor theory of value or ethical critiques of wage labor, therefore “exploitation” never enters into their analyses. And amidst all of these spurious assertions, his accusation that “First Worldists” are “revisionists” is, by far, the most ludicrous, considering the position that proletarian revolution will manifest in the most advanced capitalist countries is the orthodox Marxist stance on the matter. It’s Maoism-Third Worldism that’s widely regarded as a revisionist theory of revolution.

Unruhe then challenges my claim that unequal exchange is foreign to Marxist economic analysis:

He is literally saying that unequal exchange between the First and Third World doesn’t exist in a Marxist economic analysis. The stupidity (yes stupidity, as capitalism is a system of unequal exchange, unless it’s described in Marxism then it’s not somehow) of this statement is unfathomable. He’s literally denying the basis of imperialism. This is the very foundation of imperialism. This metaphorically spits in the face of Lenin and economic reality.

I wasn’t referring to the practice of wage labor when I wrote that line, but to unequal exchange as a theory of imperialism. The concept was first devised in 1972 by the revisionist Greek economist Arghiri Emmanuel, and has since been adopted and modified by a number of analysts sympathetic to Third Worldist ideology. I suppose the fact Emmanuel considered himself a ‘Marxist’ would suggest the theory is not entirely alien to Marxism, broadly construed, but it is absent in Marx and Engels’s critique of political economy—which neither Mao, nor Luxemburg, nor, for that matter, Emmanuel contributed anything of value to.[18]

To forestall being condemned as a ‘dogmatist,’ I should perhaps clarify that I do believe useful contributions to Marxist theory have been made since the 1890s, especially in the domains of sociology and ethics. I’m an advocate of viewing Marxism as a living science and believe Ernest Madel expressed this sentiment best when he wrote

For us, Marxism is always open because there are always new experiences, there are always new facts, including facts about the past, which have to be incorporated in the corpus of scientific socialism. Marxism is always open, always critical, always self-critical.[19]

But being that it’s wholly devoid of any logical or empirical basis, Maoism-Third Worldism should not, under any circumstances, be incorporated into that venerable corpus.

[1] Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1964), p. 58 (emphasis added).
[2] In the scientific use of the term. All wage laborers (myself included), nonetheless, are exploited in a normative sense. Again, see my comments in “Marxism as an Instrument of Bourgeois Ideology: A Reply to Ellerman,” pp. 3-5. Available online at:
[3] A recent instance of this can be found in Unruhe’s video entitled “Dogmatism” (1:08-1:32), where he accuses the former Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha of harboring “racist” sentiments for rejecting Mao Zedong’s theory of a peasant-led revolution.
[4] At least according to Friedrich Engels’s definition, by which proletarians are considered “the people in the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live”; Engels 1964, op. cit., p. 57 fn1.
[5] In the sense Friedrich Engels understood communism to be consistent with self-interest, when he wrote to Marx in 1844 stating: “quite aside from any material expectations, we are communists in virtue of our egoism, that out of egoism we want to be human beings and not merely individuals”; Engels quoted in Sidney Hook, From Hegel to Marx: Studies in the Intellectual Development of Karl Marx (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), pp. 173-174 fn1.
[6] I highly recommend readers look into Murray Bookchin’s comprehensive history of Spanish radicalism, The Spanish Anarchists: The Heroic Years, 1868-1936 (Oakland: AK Press, 2001).
[7] By which I include China, due to its rising standard of living exceeding that of African and Latin American countries.
[8] Charles Post, “The Myth of the Labor Aristocracy, Part 1,” Against the Current, No. 123 (2006).
[9] See Pew Research Center (27 May, 2015), “Free Trade Agreements Seen as Good for U.S., But Concerns Persist,” especially how attitudes vary on free trade according to one’s income level. Available online at:
[10] Karl Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Rockville: Wildside Press, 2008), p. 75.
[11] Letter from Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx, dated 7 October, 1858.
[12] Take, for example, Engels’s celebratory remarks concerning the prospect of American imperialism in Mexico: “In America we have witnessed the conquest of Mexico, which has pleased us. It constitutes progress too that a country until the present day exclusively occupied with itself, torn apart by perpetual civil wars and prevented from all development. . . . that such a country be thrown by means of violence into the historical movement. It is in the interest of its own development that Mexico will be in the future under the tutelage of the United States”; Friedrich Engels quoted in J. Larrain, “Classical Political Economists and Marx on Colonialism and ‘Backward’ Nations,” in Bob Jessop and Russell Wheatley (ed.), Karl Marx’s Social and Political Thought, Vol. 6 (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 174.
[13] Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature (New York: International Publishers, 1940), p. 314.
[14] Letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, dated 7 August, 1866.
[15] Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1972), p. 91.
[16] The primary reason Marx considered African-Americans “capable of emancipation” from slavery during the Civil War was because the generation of slaves in question had become “more or less Yankeeized, English-speaking, etc.” He didn’t consider this approach viable in areas like Jamaica, due to the frequent importation of African “barbarians” taking place there; letter from Karl Marx to Friedrich Engels, dated 14 June, 1853.
[17] See Bernard Waites, Class Society at War: England 1914-18 (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1987), pp. 126-130.
[18] My criticisms of their work exceed the scope of this entry.
[19] Ernest Mandel, “Vanguard Parties,” Mid-American Review of Sociology, Vol. VIII, No. 2, p. 21 (1983).

Answering Jason Unruhe’s “Maoist-Third Worldist Challenge”

YouTube's “#1 Marxist” has issued a challenge..

YouTube’s “#1 Marxist” has issued a challenge..

Training for a marginally superior position at my menial place of employment has rendered my work schedule even more exhausting than usual, thereby interfering with my ability to engage in all manner of leisure activities as of late, including and especially blogging. A more significant factor, however, has been my utter inability to conceive of a topic worth delving into. I’ve thus been reduced to interjecting in vacuous internet debates between soi-disant ‘revolutionary leftists.’ On this post I shall be responding to Jason Unruhe’s recent “Maoist-Third Worldist Challenge.”

Before I begin, a word on the issuer of the challenge is in order—for the sake of those of you who’ve had the good sense to avoid his material up to this point. Unruhe is a paunchy manchild from an undisclosed location in Canada, who frequently dons himself in Maoist regalia and records videos on a wide variety of subjects, uploading the result to YouTube. As one might expect, rather than providing cogent analysis and keen insight on the topics he chooses to cover, Unruhe merely demonstrates his own narcissism, appalling ignorance, and embarrassingly tenuous grasp of basic Marxist theory in these atrocious offerings. That isn’t to say he’s always wrong, of course, but instances of him being on the correct side of an issue are scarce and usually accidental. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. By all means, visit Unruhe’s YouTube channel and observe the spectacle for yourself. The fact he labels himself, with some legitimacy, the “No. 1 Marxist on YouTube” is a testament to how impoverished Marxism outside the realm of certain academic journals has become and how philistine YouTube’s user culture has always been.

With that said, I will now describe the primary reasons why the positions associated with the Maoism-Third Worldism tendency are untenable from a Marxist perspective.

According to those who subscribe to the tenets of Maoism-Third Worldism, First World capitalist countries have been involved in imperial domination of unindustrialized countries for centuries. They point out that this was originally conducted to provide the nascent European and North American bourgeoisie with access to the raw materials necessary for industrial development, which is congruent with conventional Marxist histories of the period. However, Maoist-Third Worldists distinguish themselves by additionally arguing that the dynamics bourgeois imperialism unleashed retarded the revolutionary potential of the working class residing in hegemonic nation-states, and they further regard the contemporary practice of globalization as having finally extinguished it altogether. The latter phenomenon came to pass due to industrial commodity production being offshored, so that companies could take advantage of the superprofit obtainable as a consequence of the abundance of cheap labor to be found among subaltern peoples. The superior conditions service labor provided workers in the First World, in conjunction with the profusion of inexpensive commodities being imported from the Third, produced a standard of living this new class of Western labor aristocrats would not jeopardize through acts of workplace militancy or political radicalism. In short, the haute bourgeoisie in the West provide the workers of their countries with material security, derived from the “super exploitation” of the subaltern proletariat, in exchange for those workers’ docility. Hence there is reason to suspect revolution will not ignite in the most advanced centers of capital, as Marx and Engels predicted,[1] but instead in peripheral, relatively backward territories. To paraphrase Unruhe, Western workers are now in possession of ‘significantly more than their chains’—an argument bourgeois sociologists have been directing against Marxist theory for nearly a century, incidentally.

I trust I have charitably conveyed the basic precepts of Maoism-Third Worldism above, but if I haven’t, Unruhe or his comrades are free to correct any errors I may have committed in my description of their views.

As I will proceed to demonstrate, the deficiencies with this theory are manifold.

First of all, Maoism-Third Worldism hinges on a notion of unequal exchange between the First and Third World that is foreign to Marxist economic theory. If one adheres to the labor theory of value, which Unruhe erroneously believes he does, one cannot simultaneously accept the postulate that an egregious “super exploitation” is occurring in the global South. The reason being that the Marxist conception of exploitation,[2] which logically follows from an adherence to said labor theory of value, solely concerns the surplus value workers produce relative to the wages they receive from their employers, not a workforce’s absolute standard of living. So, within this paradigm, it’s quite possible for highly paid workers to be exploited to an even greater extent than those involved in occupations yielding lower wages, both within and between countries. And, as it happens, workers in developed countries are endowed with skills and technology which result in a rate of exploitation that’s typically higher than that observed in the global South, i.e., the output per unit of labor in the manufacturing and service sectors developed countries generate exceeds that found in underdeveloped countries. This fact alone sounds the death knell for Maoist Third-Worldism from an economic perspective.

Maoism-Third Worldism is equally farcical in terms of its sociological analysis. The suggestion the Western bourgeoisie is, as it were, sharing the spoils of their ongoing pillage of the global South with their national proletariat, in an effort to pacify the latter, simply has no basis in reality. First World countries have been the sites of the most violent labor struggles in the history of capital, and it’s precisely that legacy which secured for the Western working class its standard of living. One could, of course, argue that workers in the global North are benefiting from the aforementioned inexpensive commodities being imported from the Third World, but this neglects the fact that the offshoring of manufacturing work that precipitated this phenomenon has also resulted in more precarious forms of labor giving way in the First World. Moreover, it’s so indirect a benefit as to be essentially meaningless. Workers don’t measure their satisfaction in relative global terms, but temporally. Such is why Marx and Engels were convinced revolution was feasible in the centers of capital. In their view, the asymmetry that expands between the forces and relations of production in class societies would, inter alia, express itself in an immiseration of the proletariat that would transpire during one of capitalism’s periodic crises. This, in turn, would open avenues for radical organizations to challenge bourgeois ideological orthodoxy and therewith introduce the possibility of revolutionary sentiments being fostered in the population.

The Revolutionary Sequence (The Cambridge Companion to Marx, p. 137)

The sequence of revolution envisaged by Marx and Engels [Terrell Carver (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Marx (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 137].

The reason this has hitherto failed to materialize, in my opinion, is because the objective and subjective conditions have not yet been conducive. Apropos the former, capitalism’s utility in developing the forces of production has, until very recently, not exhausted itself. What’s more, the material consequences of capitalist crises have not been sufficiently grinding to radicalize the working class. With regard to the subjective factors involved, the contemporary left’s regrettable foray into asinine intersectional politics in the global North has misdirected energy away from the class struggle and alienated ordinary proletarians. Absent an organization effective in the dissemination of subversive ideas and productively channeling mass discontent, revolution will not come to fruition even under the most ideal material circumstances.

To be fair, Maoist-Third Worldists have a point concerning the greater viability of revolution in the global South. The instruments of state domination, for one thing, are nowhere near as developed as they are in First World countries, and the bourgeois media apparatus is also less sophisticated and pervasive than in the developed world. This offers the potential for bourgeois ideological constructs to be countered, and insurrectionary forces to topple governments, with relative ease—as occurred in 1959 with the 26th of July Movement in Cuba, for instance. But this doesn’t address the question of class consciousness. Take the example of China. Foreign direct investment since 1978 has led to rapid economic development in the country and the steady emergence of a Chinese proletariat and petite bourgeoisie capable of sustaining a lifestyle progressively comparable to their Western counterparts. Labor struggles over wages and work conditions abound, especially in factories consisting of rural migrant workers, but organized socialist movements are as uncommon in China as they are in the developed world. The presence of such movements is more apparent in Latin America, but the potential for long-term success among them is circumscribed for another reason.

Even granting the contentious assumption that explicitly anti-capitalist revolutions will continue to emerge in the global South, as they did in the 20th century, the fact of the matter is they would be isolated and likely defeated by the forces of reaction. The conspicuous lack of a counterbalancing geopolitical power all but assures that outcome. The only alternative would be for the Western working class to thwart their governments’ counterrevolutionary military ventures, but, according to Maoist-Third Worldist theory, they are structurally incapable of developing the requisite international class consciousness to accomplish this, due to their privileged position vis-à-vis the “super exploited” subaltern proletariat. And if, by some miracle, the representatives of international capital abstained from outright military intervention, Third World countries would nevertheless remain subordinated to the law of value by virtue of global capitalist hegemony, the consequences of which have proven corrosive to socialist reconstruction.

The bottom line is there is a practical imperative for revolution to materialize in the centers of capital, if communism is to supersede the bourgeois epoch. Fortunately, as this post has argued, there exist no compelling reasons to suspect First World proletarians are incapable of developing the consciousness necessary to successfully execute socialist revolution. Marx and Engels’s hypothesis remains defensible.

[1] As Marx explains in his preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1904), p. 12, “No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society” (emphasis added). Engels specified the manner he foresaw this process unfolding in his Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith as follows: “communist revolution. . . . will develop in [civilized] countries more or less rapidly, according as one country or the other has a more developed industry, greater wealth, a more significant mass of productive forces.”
[2] To understand the distinction between exploitation as an analytical tool and normative concept, see my remarks in “Marxism as an Instrument of Bourgeois Ideology: A Reply to Ellerman,” pp. 3-5. Available online at:

The Frivolous Trends and Commodities of Late Capitalism: or, Aesthetic Justifications for a Communist Mode of Production

Ethical objections to economic exploitation and artificial (e.g., class) authority,[1] in conjunction with an adherence to the materialist conception of history, are the principal sources of my communist political philosophy. A secondary source of disaffection with capitalism, however, is aesthetic in nature. At times, these relatively superficial concerns I harbor can feel just as salient as my moral considerations, so I’ve decided to share a few of them with you.

As the title suggests, this post will list (in no particular order) a few of the most repellent trends and commodities capitalism has generated in my lifetime. Perhaps they will solidify your opposition to this detestable mode of production—or contribute to your establishing such an opposition, depending on where you currently stand.

Hurl1.) “TWERKING”

Nothing bears the indelible stamp of our lowly origin quite like this spectacle. Women lacking any sense of self-respect, essentially emulating primitive mating calls—their dirty nalgas colliding into one another at high velocity, all for the male gaze. If not for the music industry glorifying this primal behavior for purposes of profit, I think it’s safe to assume the act would have perished long ago in whatever urban cesspool spawned it in the first place. It will nevertheless be interesting to observe how much longer this novel form of objectification will endure in popular culture.


The institutional form most favored by self-righteous idealists (and apolitical drifters) incapable of understanding the structural sources of the injustices they wish to ameliorate. These were the kids whose parents insisted their elementary schools admitted them into their little “gifted” programs—erroneously assuming they possessed an above average fluid intelligence—whose later gestures in these enterprises will do precisely nothing to significantly improve the world .

The Peace Corps is where this sort used to agglomerate, but evidently they’ve moved on to bigger and worse endeavors.

Adult men and women camping outside an Apple Store in order to be the first to purchase the latest iPhone.

Adult men and women camping outside an Apple Store in order to be among the first to obtain a phone.


Don’t misunderstand me, it’s certainly impressive most of a computer’s functions can now be performed on a small, handheld device also capable of making phone calls. Nauseating, however, is the absolute fetish society has made out of purchasing the latest version Apple releases each year, which is trivially different from the preceding model (to say nothing of the undue praise the utterly unremarkable, degenerate entrepreneurs and engineers in Silicon Valley receive). People of modest incomes will brave the elements for days on end, and waste hundreds of dollars, just to buy one of these toys solely for their utility in status signaling. It’s conspicuous consumption at its absolute worst.

The phones may be “smart,” but their owners, more often than not, are anything but.

Cinnabun Cereal4.) EXCESSIVE VARIETY

If this image doesn’t immediately invoke shock, disgust, and/or embarrassment in you, you’re the living embodiment of the ideal consumer advertising agencies have been carefully cultivating for decades—what Erich Fromm termed “homo consumens.”

It’s not only the increasingly unhealthy foods being marketed to the population that is so distressing, but the ridiculous number of brands and superfluous variations of the same product on shelves. Honestly, how many toothpaste companies or flavors of cereal does humanity require? And is it truly an infringement upon our liberty to set a limit, as capitalist ideologues often say in response to the suggestion? One Direction Fans


Another abominable concoction of advertising agencies commissioned to expand opportunities for capital accumulation. Children are no longer permitted to lead a relatively carefree existence for their first few years on this planet. Instead, they must be concerned about the status their clothing and accessory choices convey among their peers, and they’re also expected to navigate the psychological complexities of objectification, because profit can be obtained by companies in the process.[2]

Bourgeois economists often cite the fact entrepreneurs in a capitalist economy can enter the market with relative ease to peddle their wares as a chief source of capitalism’s “dynamism.” And while that may well be the case, it would be dishonest to omit the immense waste of resources this exercise also contributes to. What’s more, the firms which succeed in the competitive struggle of the marketplace don’t necessarily do so because they provide consumers with what they desire. Billions of dollars are invested every year to engineer the aforementioned trends and artificially instill in consumers a desire for these commodities.

But even granting the dubious assumption these trends and products derive from our human nature, at least communism wouldn’t reward people with exorbitant incomes for producing them. In fact, since remuneration would be socially determined, nations could draft legislation which only rewarded those exceptional individuals who contribute to innovations which truly improve the human condition (e.g., life saving technologies) with incomes above the social average. And economic planning would provide the space for society to deliberate on how its means of production and labor power are utilized, which has the potential to lead to more rational forms of consumption being adopted.

There are, of course, hundreds (if not thousands) of other products and trends I could critique, but I’ve exhausted the time I currently have to devote to the subject. I might continue the list on a future post.

[1] Saul Newman aptly describes the distinction figures like Mikhail Bakunin made between “natural” and “artificial authority” in From Bakunin to Lacan: Anti-Authoritarianism and the Dislocation of Power (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007), pp. 38-41. Simply put, the former is derived from intrinsic—and, consequently, inescapable—natural laws which shape various aspects of human nature, while the latter is extrinsically imposed by individuals and institutions exploiting asymmetries of power in society.
[2] To gain an appreciation of how distorting this commercial construct is, view the 2008 Media Education Foundation documentary film Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood. Online:

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