Left Wing Communism: A Personality Disorder?

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batswill
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Aug 8 2011 00:56
Juan Conatz wrote:
I think this is super spot on. Just wondered what others thought.
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I would someday like to write a pamphlet called “Left Wing Communism: A Personality Disorder.”

I find some of the intellectual content of the left communist milieu compelling, especially as filtered through some friends of mine, but in my experience of that milieu socially I find it less compelling. An older radical I met once said “all the Situationists I’ve ever known have been morose alcoholics.” That’s a bit unfair but it’s not *just* unfair. The Situationists shouldn’t be reduced to that emotional tenor, and I’m not here trying to reduce anything or anyone in that manner, but still, these emotional and social dynamics are real. That is to say, a lot of left communist ideas are worth taking seriously, but so is the fact that that milieu tends to be socially disfunctional, and the connection between the ideas and disfunctional character of the milieu is worth taking seriously as well.

To put it another way, there’s a left communist structure of feeling that’s problematic. As I wrote here, “Our traditions, organizations, milieus, networks… whatever it is we move and act within, they are as much a structure of feeling as they are a body of ideas. Particularly in terms of the elements that shape our actions.” As I wrote here,

The British marxist Raymond Williams wrote about what he called a “structure of feeling” made through a combination of people’s conscious efforts and unconscious activity. Williams used this concept to analyze common qualities in the everyday experiences of life in specific places and times. A structure of feeling is a set of outlooks, perceptions, and common impulses that people share. Structures of feeling tend to differ across different generations and groups of people. They are intimately bound up with the value system and world-view of a group and are often have as some of their core components imagery, metaphor, style, and narrative.

I think part of the left communist structure of feeling is a readiness to throw in the towel and move along, to retreat to more comfortable ‘critical’ positions, which means in part networks of people that involve primarily talking to people we already agree with in terms we all share rather than having to deal with the difficulties of lacking a common vocabulary and having to try to establish common values with people in order to move them toward our values. The theory provides a justification for that, and encourages the structure of feeling that’s ready to pick up and go. Part of what underlies all of this, though, is that emotional readiness to up and go, to unplug from relationships and from contexts. The relationships that are maintained are in part ones based on or tied to strong ideological agreement as much as or more than other forms of affinity.

Little of this seems conducive to the happiness of the people involved, as they often seem dour and abrasive (”morose alcoholics”) nor does it seem like it helps them accomplish much in the way of the goals they’d like to see. That self-defeating character is part of why I feel comfortable using the term ‘personality disorder’ though I mostly just meant it flippantly.

Inquiry is a collective social process, which requires conversations. In my experience a large part of the left communist set of conversational moves are moves that up the temperature in conversations. Often conversations get heated enough that they start to erode the social/relationship basis for conversation in the first place: they become self-undermining and inquiry seizes up.

Those interpersonal (anti!)social conversational habits are part of maintaining the tenor of the left communist structure of feeling, maintaining the propensity to say “fuck it, I’m out.” Another piece is a sense of futility.

In my experience, people are generally held back by fear or futility or both. I don’t think there’s any real correlation between political ideology and getting over fear and futility, I think it’s something else. I think a lot of left folk are sometimes an organized voice of futility when it comes to certain kinds of projects. To some extent the insurrectionary anarchist milieu is a voice against fear and futility to a limited extent — with their whole “ATTACK!” thing. I think this is a lot less a matter of theory than it is an expression of where they’re at otherwise,it’s a matter of their structure of feeling. To put it another way, I basically agree with Martin Glaberman that “action precedes consciousness”, which means in part that in any given moment the clear conscious ideological aspects and decisions people have made are only part of the total set of things going on in their actions. I think it’s really more like a process of action-then-consciousness-then-action-then-consciousness with tiny changes each time, and I think “consciousness” is at least as
much or more about gut level impulses and vague terms like right and wrong and fairness and justice (terms that are so vague that they’re almost meaningless in terms of their idea content but which still
express people’s deeply held emotional responses to their world).

In terms of people in the grip of fear and futility, I think they’re not going to be talked out of it via ideas alone — some cats just aren’t believers right now in terms of lived outlook/emotional orientation. They believe in future big stuff, and current big stuff far from them, but they’re not willing to plug away and deal with messiness. And the left communist ideology helps craft a story each time along the lines of “I knew it wouldn’t work out…” or “I should have known…”

Other notes:

As I’ve mentioned, I’d eventually like to try to write a sustained and serious piece on the philosophy of language and speech practices in left circles. I’ve talked about this a bit with regard to institutions of schooling and their effects on people: speech practices are real. They shape how people act and feel. They’re not the only shaping force but they’re one piece of the puzzle. This is one of the things I think is useful in Ranciere’s work on education. I think these dynamics are especially powerful, speech is especially powerful, when it’s a matter of stories people tell and stories people imply. Narratives and metaphors have power.

Part of what I like in Badiou’s work is his insistence on “keep going.” For me “keep going” means in part “maintain commitment.”

http://whatinthehell.blogsome.com/2011/08/04/is-left-wing-communism/[/quote

Don't know what happened with the previous post I had attached, just some thoughts, nothing heavy,,,
Tangentially I think society is 'a personality disorder'. Persona is identity to any milieu, even the critic exists within the field of being identified as 'critic'. Solidarity is not formed out of a familiarity of values, or the desire for companionship, however these are basic biological needs that evolve into cultural norms. To critique conformity is to place oneself within the realm of the recluse, the iconoclast, the misanthropist. lonely places. I view any leftist pursuit directionally, not on its methods, because in the end, individual idiosynchrasies determine the total outcome.

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Juan Conatz
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Aug 8 2011 01:01
Peter wrote:
Anyone else think that Nate's screed reads like a lot of racist discourse? Just replace "left communists" with "blacks" or "Jews" and see if it reminds you of the sort of crap you see in the tabloid press most days.

wow.

bastarx
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Aug 8 2011 02:24
Juan Conatz wrote:
Peter wrote:
Anyone else think that Nate's screed reads like a lot of racist discourse? Just replace "left communists" with "blacks" or "Jews" and see if it reminds you of the sort of crap you see in the tabloid press most days.

wow.

So I see you've picked up your co-thinkers mastery of using evidence to buttress your argument. Tbf you did earlier give some examples of shitty behaviour by left-commies although it still remained pretty vague.

I'm being serious with the comparison with racist discourse. Modern mainstream racism usually focuses on something supposedly wrong with a particular group's culture rather than something inherent to the individuals. In Australia the usual examples have to do with the alcoholic and welfare dependent nature of aboriginal society and the homophobic, misogynist, anti-democratic nature of Islam. And it usually remains at the level of vague insinuation with maybe a few anecdotal examples to damn the whole group.

When Nate wrote "I find some of the intellectual content of the left communist milieu compelling..." it bought to my mind "some of my best friends are black but...".

FWIW I don't even think Nate is entirely wrong. A lot of radicals are pretty fucked up but so are lots of 'normal' people too. In my experience left-commies are no worse than adherents of other tendencies.

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Aug 8 2011 02:43

unbelievable.

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Aug 8 2011 20:42

[delete]

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Aug 8 2011 14:55

Edit: My post below is way too long, sorry about that. In the interest of not spending any more of my time on this, and not subjecting anyone else to long-ass posts that no one want to read, and because this already feels like a bit of a mess that's beyond my abilities to sort out, I'm not going to reply further on this thread.

Peter wrote:
Anyone else think that Nate's screed reads like a lot of racist discourse? Just replace "left communists" with "blacks" or "Jews" and see if it reminds you of the sort of crap you see in the tabloid press most days.

Damn it. Juan, I told you they'd see through my smoke screen. I should have kept the original title, "Left Wing Communism: A Bunch of Arab Black Fat Foreign Gay Gypsy Immigrant Jew Muslim Retarded Terrorist Women Who Should Be Exterminated, All Fifty of Them."

Jokes aside, I'm totally willing to admit my piece was clumsy in all kinds of ways. My blog's a clumsy place, actually it exists so I have a place to do clumsy thought and clumsy writing as part of a process of trying to think and write my way toward less clumsy suff. Anyway, I clearly have some responsibility here for this as I wrote my post in an insensitive way. On that, though, it strikes me as a bit funny that my being insensitive about left communists leads to such an over-reaction. Then again, if I took my own points seriously I should have written the post differently -- part of what I was saying is that I think there are problematic elements in the left communist milieu I've encountered - emotional stuff/structure of feeling, interpersonal behavior etc, so I should have known that saying this would provoke a big negative reaction, since part of what I was saying is that left communists strike me in part as people who are prone to big negative reactions. Part of why I didn't take my own ideas seriously in that post is because I didn't have those ideas until I wrote them, I wrote my way to those ideas, which is part of the point of the blog. If I was to rewrite the post based on the ideas I wrote my way to, I'd make it different. I don't really feel like this one's worth rewriting though. That's usually what I do on there, I write my way to an idea and am like "oh okay, that's what I think of that, works for me" and move on. Occasionally I get onto something where I'm like "I want to work on this more, there's more I want to think about" and I try to write in a more sustained way about it (I've been doing that a bit with the idea of a 'structure of feeling' because there's something about that idea from Williams that resonates with me, I don't have a clearer explanation right now of why), and sometimes I'm like "I want to revise this to make it a piece of writing for an audience" and I clean that up and try to submit it somewhere. Most of what's on the blog I don't do that with, though. Anyway --

It also seems a bit ironic to me that I'm like "left communists - a bit emotional and over the top sometimes," and I get reactions like "NUH UH FUCK YOU THAT'S NOT TRUE YOU'RE RACIST AGAINST LEFT COMMUNISM" etc.

I have to get going so I'm going to copy in some stuff I wrote in response to an email I got about this and add a bit to that --

There's no reason why anyone here should know this but I don't write my blog as a magazine or a publication or something like that. I write it as a notebook for my own use and for some private conversations with a handful of people (private but in public, like a group of friends at a bar or in a booth at a diner). So nothing on there is meant as a definitive statement unless it's a draft I've revised repeatedly, and when I do that I try to find another home for that stuff where people might actually read it. I think of my blog as mostly think-pieces I'm writing in order to clarify my own thoughts and occasionally as part of a conversation with a handful of friends. They're not pieces I think of as articles or stuff I'm deliberately publishing and asking people to read. (Honestly, some of y'all on here, please don't read my blog, seriously.) On the occasions when people have read bits of it or reposted it they've sometiems treated it like that. If my piece was a magazine article I could see people having more of this reaction you're having. And there's no way of y'all knowing that it's not, given how it was reposted here. I'm not the one who reposted it, though.

I should also say, I deliberately write in my blog in a flippant and brash tone. That's why every post takes the format "What in the hell... is XYZ?" This is partly for fun, I like to write in that tone, but it's also because I find writing intimidating especially about complicated topics or about topics where the stakes are high, like political stuff. I'm a lot less intimidated than I used to be, in large part because of the blog - I set it up to force myself to write and think and so on despite feeling intimidated (I used to do this via email lists a while back when I had what felt like a comradely email list for doing that. Doing my thinking in a semi-public place is nerve-wracking and often embarassing because there's a record of dumb things I've said as I've fumbled toward hopefully less dumb things, but it works for me for some reason). Here too, the tone is easy to misread and it's partly my fault for not having a disclaimer on the blog to this effect, that all statements on there are provisional in the way that talking over drinks is provisional and that it's not meant to be taken as seriously as a proper and deliberate publication. Again there's no way of folk knowing this stuff.

Finally I want to point out, Peter says

Peter wrote:
FWIW I don't even think Nate is entirely wrong. A lot of radicals are pretty fucked up but so are lots of 'normal' people too. In my experience left-commies are no worse than adherents of other tendencies.

I get how it comes across this way in my post but I don't mean to say left communists are more fucked up human being generally. I think there's an intellectual culture within the left communist milieu as I've experienced it (which, admittedly, is a small sample size, I'm not trying to be scientific or whatever) that is very knowledgable, correct in its content about a lot, and is very sharp in the sense of being smart. It's also very sharp in the sense of a tendency to be very cutting and to me it feels kind of competitive sometimes. And it has other interpersonal etc dynamics that I wrote about and won't repeat here as I've already gone on too long. I find this stuff particularly annoying in part because I'm around this stuff more than I am around the stuff in other political tendencies in the modest amount of stuff I'm involved in, in part because it strikes me as behavior that could be changed so that more could be made of the positive aspects of left communist ideas. Anyway, my point wasn't to be like "left communists: worse than anyone else" it was to try to think through for myself what the specifically left communist things are that bug me. Anyone who has ever been to an anarchist bookfair in the US will probably undersand that there are ways to be "anarchisty" that are annoying in their own particular way. That blog post was partly me trying think about the specifics of what is for me a particuarly "left communisty" way to be annoying that I sometimes run into and hadn't been able to directly articulate before.

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Aug 8 2011 16:20

guys the racist comparison is a disgrace to people who really do suffer from racism, for that, and for not being able to laugh at yourselves at what clearly a fucking joke, i think this should be binned!

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Aug 8 2011 17:46
Peter wrote:

Anyone else think that Nate's screed reads like a lot of racist discourse? Just replace "left communists" with "blacks" or "Jews" and see if it reminds you of the sort of crap you see in the tabloid press most days.

I agree, it's just another form of racism, like when cops aren't allowed in coffee shops

RedHughs
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Aug 8 2011 19:54

Does this thread perhaps belongs in Libcommunity?

A discussion of the social dynamics of political subgroups might have some value if you ... clarified your aims, defined your terms, defined your methods of analysis and contextualized the discussion within the larger society and capitalist system.

But considering there's just none of that here, the blog-post seems to boil down to a veiled attack by persons-unnamed on other persons-unnamed. Libcom doesn't benefit from being a forum for such things (I don't really think libcom benefits from Libcommunity in general but better there than here).

batswill
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Aug 8 2011 20:14

I think Stirner summed it up perfectly and ironically quoted it from the bible.
'Thoust (depends on the Hebrew translator) hast conquered sin, however thoust has become a slave to righteousness"
If thoust gets the drift of this, like umm, nature is flawed, humanity is flawed, but lets not construct a correctional institution as if it is a necessity, rather, accept the imperfections, and in a spirit of tolerance embrace the flaws of existence, rather than instituting an enforcement by law.

nastyned
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Aug 8 2011 20:51

I think it's time for a bit of left communist lunacy.

RedHughs
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Aug 8 2011 22:51
Nate wrote:
On that, though, it strikes me as a bit funny that my being insensitive about left communists leads to such an over-reaction.

Dude...

Uh, how many organizations have been torn apart by ad-hominem baloney?

And sure, if everyone on the Interwebs was super smart, trolls wouldn't have a fine stomping ground.

You still seem think there's some possible real meaning that can be taken out of calling people "socially dysfunctional" where it is so nebulous a term that when you publish that shit, it only really boils to more or less verbally spitting on the group. And sure, you're verbally spitting some group of people I don't personally know but I have not trouble saying, please, stop the baloney, this is entirely inappropriate way to deal whatever frustration you have with whoever the fuck.

Any content your post have is gone when your primary effort boils down to name calling. And I don't really care who you're calling name. It is simply bad way to approach politics.

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Aug 9 2011 00:36

once again (although it's been a while) I'm with revol.

And Red Hughes, obviously

bastarx
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Aug 9 2011 01:10

Very well put Revol.

The reason I said Nate's piece gave me the same "structure of feeling" as racist stuff is because it seemed to damn all left-commies for the alleged bad behaviour of some individuals. That whole objectification/de-individualisation/pathologisation thing that Nate and his fanboys have done is extremely offensive and unsurprisingly elicited some pretty angry reactions but that just proves that we're all psychos right? Imagine the outcry here if someone wrote "anarchism: a personality disorder?"

NB. for all you folks who can't/won't read I never said Nate's piece was racist but SIMILAR TO racism. If you don't agree how about saying why?

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Aug 9 2011 01:14

I don't think Revol's post really supports your crappy racism argument.....

bastarx
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Aug 9 2011 01:23
Arbeiten wrote:
I don't think Revol's post really supports your crappy racism argument.....

Did I say it did? Do you have an actual argument against what I wrote?

Let me give you some help because you are obviously in need of an adult to hold your hand while you attempt to say something non-vacuous. "Nate's argument against left-commies is not similar to racist arguments because [fill in the blank here like a good little boy Arbeiten]"

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Aug 9 2011 01:30

because communism is not an ethnicity it is a political position.....

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Aug 9 2011 01:35

I don't believe thats racism, stereotyping yes, but racism no. Saying it is racism is a sort of analogy children make....

bastarx
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Aug 9 2011 01:44

Learn to fucking read moron, I did not say it IS racism but LIKE racism.

And well put again Revol.

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Aug 9 2011 02:20

Ah, I'm sorry I made this thread now. Although no one convinced me the OP was wrong. In fact, this thread actually made me think what I thought more than I did already. But maybe I'm racist towards left communists? hand

The fact is, I am pretty sympathetic to left communism and I know others who are, too, but our hesitancy to get too far into it as far as contact with other groups or identifying as such is pretty directly tied to the reasons laid out in the OP.

If you think that's bullshit, fine. But calling bullshit doesn't do anything to get sympathetic people to see your way. This isn't a contest. The point is to get the people that think this way to not. Some of you have not really attempted this (besides alf and devrim, which I'll respond to later) in a real way. What would you say to someone who was interested in joining an organization but had these hesitations?

In any case, this thread has brought a lot of nonsense from the past libcom days up and should be bounced to libcommunity.

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Aug 9 2011 06:05
revol68 wrote:
I think his point was that it follows the structural argument of racism by taking indivduals traits and generalising them across a wider group, either in a manner which is simply empirically wrong, or if containing a kernel of truth mistake this for some sort of essence.

A kevin of truth?

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Aug 9 2011 14:08

ok, sorry guys, I was a bit cranky last night and probably a sending quite short posts. Busy getting my mind bombarded with crappy BBC journalism. But don't tell me I can't read when I clearly said it was a shite analogy.

Quote:
I did not say it IS racism but LIKE racism

When something is described to be LIKE something else and not actually the same as that, it is an analogy

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Aug 9 2011 15:33
RedHughs wrote:
Does this thread perhaps belongs in Libcommunity?.

indeed it does

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Aug 9 2011 15:39

Yeah the better analogy would be to criminology, not racist "prejudices", which are pretty harmless compared to the policy of the actual state (as Zizek would explain against self flagellating liberals), though I like the analogy to Stalinist psychiatry as well.

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Aug 9 2011 15:51
Peter wrote:
Imagine the outcry here if someone wrote "anarchism: a personality disorder?"

Like Lombroso's The Anarchists: a criminal-psychological and sociological study. It's entertaining to read, especially the many pseudo-scientific terms invented for calling anarchists retards grin

edit: and Kautsky's rebuttal (because yes there were people defending Lombroso as a friend of the left)

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Aug 9 2011 15:54

Lombroso is a better comparison to make yes. But Lombroso claimed a certain level of scientific understanding, i thought this article came across as a bit of a (deliberate) joke....

Black Badger
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Aug 9 2011 16:36

Well, Lombroso was a Jew, and you know how those people are...

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Aug 9 2011 18:20

insert circumcision joke

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Aug 9 2011 23:01

I think comparing things to racism on web forums is a good way to end discussion, but I think generalizations about whole categories doesn't really generate much either.

Some of what the original post, and Nate later, talks about seems to me like a reaction against perceived hyperbolic language and rigidity in applying class analysis to specific organizations, forms of organization, and movements combined with the refusal of left communists to participate in the aforementioned when they are completely in the control of the ruling class. I think there is a very strong concern, coming from specific experience in the history of the tendency in the 3rd International, to unmask wolves in sheep's clothing in the workers' movement, to denounce and combat what tricks the workers into collaborating in their own defeat, etc., and I think this is sometimes difficult to do well in as convincing and thoughtful a manner as possible. This was especially hard for me when I was first developing a critique of the unions, the leftists, etc., and I think especially when people come from the reformist left (or from an ambivalence toward them), there is a definite break that has to be made in terms of practice and propaganda and probably it will take people a little while to be able to debate with those one thinks are (usually unintentionally) misleading the working class in a convincing and thoughtful way.

Maybe that's all obvious, and everybody can make mistakes in propaganda and practice, but I think the focus left communism puts on the counter-revolutionary and bourgeois nature of the left parties, the unions, etc., which are all implanted in the workers' movement, may make the specific sorts of mistakes mentioned in the OP (as opposed to subculturism, lesser-of-evils-ism, etc.)

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Aug 10 2011 01:34

I wish I'd never compared Nate's article to racism because it was clearly a tactically unsound way to criticise a cuntish piece that basically claimed left commies are psychopaths with only the vaguest of supporting arguments.