How Christian Parenti got class wrong, learned to talk like Trump and lost his mind: an autopsy

Rembrandt Autopsy

Comrade Motopu performs a political autopsy on Christian Parenti's status as a Left Intellectual.

Submitted by Comrade Motopu on April 29, 2022

Introduction: From Resisting Neoliberalism to Embracing Illiberalism

Reviving “working class politics” seemed a panacea to reverse the declining strength of the US Left since the end of the post WWII boom. Neoliberal policies had gutted worker power, purged radicals and Marxists from unions and universities, brought about declining job security and wages, environmental protections, and living standards since the mid 1970s. Understanding how capitalism works, various classes’ social relations to power and the means of production, the changing geography of capital’s production, distribution, etc. all have to be deeply considered before it is possible to fight back against bosses and owners. It may seem obvious, but not everyone who talks up the working class is on the Left. We need to recognize when Right populists make appeals to workers and the general population to promote reactionary positions, partly because these appeals are anti-working class, but also because they are inhumane.

Christian Parenti has advocated for materialist, Marxist, class-centered, and historically grounded politics throughout his work as a journalist, writer, and now a tenured Professor of Economics. Over the last two decades Parenti wrote and spoke about how the Left lost its deeper (Marxist) class based analysis, embraced anti-intellectualism, and in the process, lost their advantage with working class voters to the Right. The Right, he said, used populist language around jobs, against deindustrialization and foreign wars, far more effectively than the Left.

He and many other “class-firsters” were a big presence in the newly energized Left in 2016. Demands for student loan forgiveness, free college, universal health care, and a living wage were signs of an uptick in Left politics. This materialized in support for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, helped the Democratic Socialists of America grow their membership, Jacobin magazine increase its readership, and brought more favorable attitudes toward labor unions from the public. Many of these activists hoped to build a Left that could once again demand a New Deal type compact between the state, capitalists, and large sections of the working class, bringing back the stronger economic and social stability that had been steadily eroded since the mid 1970s.

It may seem surprising that many of this Left started drifting Rightward, as exemplified in Parenti’s latest piece for Grayzone. They took on far Right talking points complete with the underlying exclusionary ideology, Right wing populist appeals to workers, and an embrace of illiberalism in the hopes of attracting “normal” voters. Many of the academics, social media influencers, and activists who shift Right have maintained the pretense of carrying out “materialist” analysis in the service of the working class.

This residual Marxist and class analysis based rhetoric is stitched into a new syncretic patchwork ideology that ends up resembling a shooter’s manifesto. Mixed in with messaging about free college, healthcare, and support for strikes are Right populist and conspiracy framings, including: Vaccines are dangerous or don’t work; liberty and the Constitution are threatened; liberals use false narratives about climate change and pandemics to usher in authoritarian shadow governments; normal and traditional values are in danger; touchy feely liberal policies hurt people, cities, and the economy, all as liberal elites use their media and schools to stoke racial violence and gender confusion creating the chaos in which they thrive. Many also make arguments that sound a lot like plain vanilla capitalist calls for increased productivity and a return to a “normal” economy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I’ll look at Parenti’s political trajectory from 2004 to the present to consider how he and others in this milieu embraced all manner of Right wing political stances. I’ll focus on three articles:

2004 Article: “Action Will Be Taken”: Left Anti-intellectualism and Its Discontents
2016 Article: Listening to Trump
2022 Article: How the organized Left got Covid wrong, learned to love lockdowns and lost its mind: an Autopsy

2004 Article: "Action Will Be Taken":Left Anti-intellectualism and Its Discontents

In 2004 Parenti, along with Doug Henwood and Liza Featherstone wrote a critique of the Left. Their piece was largely motived by the Left’s failure to stop the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. It wasn’t for lack of moral outrage or willingness to show up and protest. The problem was the pervasive anti-intellectualism, a focus on constant activity in reaction to crises without deeper reflection.

They coined the term “Activistism” to describe the ceaseless, but largely directionless and ultimately futile efforts of the Left as they saw them. The term was partly borrowed from Theodor Adorno’s critique of the Frankfurt University student protesters in 1968. (Adorno died in 1969.) He had described the German students’ “actionism” which he said was “embraced by people who imagine themselves to be radical agitators,” but whose “thoughtless compulsion mirrors the pragmatic empiricism of the dominant culture.” Adorno was angered by the way this movement “refuse[d] to reflect on its own impotence.” [1]

Parenti’s charges against the US Left echo Adorno’s. One of the main themes in the 2004 piece is that the US Left, more than their European and other counterparts, lacks political theory to guide their activity. The authors want to fix the “political illiteracy of hyper-mediated American culture” and carry out “an assault on the stupidity that pervades American culture.” When they suggest alternatives at the end of their article, one of the few “concrete” suggestions is participation in the World Social Forum, the alternative to the corporate World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But, they say, “Americans shouldn't have to go all the way to Brazil or Italy to talk and think about this stuff.”

To be fair, they are not suggesting the Social Forum format was the way forward, only that this was one place it seemed people were hashing out ideas and that working class folks could be participants. From 2022 we can look back to see that the World Social Forum became dominated by sectarian parties, Left celebrities, and “anti-imperialist” leaders like Hugo Chavez, as well as a huge presence of NGOs, some of the very suspects of Left activist culture Parenti’s 2004 article critiques. At the time of their article, the World Social Forum was already such a big topic among the very Left they described as hyper-mediated idiots that it seems they did not have anything new to offer to correct the situation.

To sum up this 2004 assessment of “what is to be done,” the authors’ wanted to normalize worker, citizen, and activist participation in the process of creating theory. Since all action and no theory can’t win, democratizing the thinking process of the movement was the goal. They also implied a specifically “American” problem for the Left.

2016 Article: Listening to Trump

Twelve years after the “activistism” article, and days after Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to win the Presidency, Parenti’s desperation about the ongoing failures of the Left made him more willing to “listen to” the Right. Through this process, the Left could understand how to better appeal to voters, workers, and the general public. This approach is consistent with his 2004 position that activists “have to do a better job of understanding how this world really works,” in order to better organize. By 2016 though we see Parenti shifting away from Left activists formulating anti-capitalist theory, turning instead to the need for populist rhetoric that will throw the widest net to both Left and Right voters. Having lamented the “political illiteracy of hyper-mediated American culture” and wanting to carry out “an assault on the stupidity that pervades American culture” the strategy seems to have become “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

Parenti knows that Trump is “a racist, misogynist, and confessed sexual predator who has legitimized dangerous street-level hate,” but believes that people took from his message what they wanted to hear, not all the bad bigoted stuff. They loved the focus on jobs, the recognition of their economic suffering, and the ways Trump’s words “beat-up the smug liberals of the professional managerial class.” He hears Trump “articulate surprisingly subversive political truths about the economy and America’s role in the world.” He hears Trump’s rhetoric about withdrawing from NATO commitments and demanding that other countries pay a greater share of global security costs as “anti-war, anti-NATO, maybe even anti-imperialist riffs.” Parenti believes MAGA fans might even hear Trump’s constant mantra about building the explicitly anti-immigrant wall, as “a public works scheme, an infrastructure based jobs program.” It seems he wanted to hear a lot of hidden New Dealism in Trump’s rhetoric.

I see three main options when assessing Parenti’s claims about how Trump’s messaging is “actually” received. Option one is to agree with his portrayal of the pro-working class, anti-imperialist, anti-elitist/professional managerial class, anti-war, Trump exhilarating the US masses on those frequencies (even if he didn’t really mean it). Option two is to contemplate that it is the racist, anti-immigrant, hyper-nationalist, pro-capitalist, sexist, anti-woke traditionalist, macho, street-level hate messaging that resonated most. A third option is to see both as partially true: Trump’s messaging about restoring American greatness resonates with his base precisely because it is wrapped in the reactionary bigotry of his presentation. Regarding Parenti’s wish to see latent socialism in Trump’s base, I’m reminded of something Gerald Horne said to me: “Just because it’s working class doesn’t mean it’s good.”

But maybe first we need to determine whether or not Trump’s base is even working class. Phil Neel, in his book Hinterland: America’s New Landscape of Class and Conflict[2], locates Trump’s base as mainly “in the whitening exurb,” made up of “the wealthier landholders, business owners, cops, soldiers, or self-employed contractors” who “recruit from adjacent zones of abject white poverty, essentially funneling money from their own employment in urban industry into hinterland political projects.” Mobilizing votes for Trump was one such political project. As for the “working class” as Trump’s base, Neel says there “was not even resounding support for Trump across the mud-soaked trailer parks and wind-swept mountain hamlets of the American hinterland, where most people simply did not vote” (Neel, Hinterland, 57).

Another study entitled “Nationally Poor, Locally Rich” found that while many pundits claimed “the white working class” made up Trump’s base, their claims were based on national income statistics. By adjusting the income data to what average incomes for different regions in the US are, the authors found that “support for Trump was strongest among the locally rich — that is, white voters with incomes that are high for their area, though not necessarily for the country as a whole.” [3]
Parenti’s explanation for “why almost 60 million Americans voted for him” now falls flat. He believed in 2016 that “[t]he answer seems clear: it was Trump’s ersatz populism, anti-war message, and his ability to, in a Bill Clinton style, ‘feel’ people’s real pain.” When it is the richer voters in any given locale who vote for Trump, and more generally for Republicans, the “anxiety of the white working class” explanation is far less persuasive. Maybe Trump’s rhetoric is not so much “ersatz populism” as it is just “Right wing populism.”

Parenti was listening to Trump but without the needed geographical and economic context he was unable to understand why people voted for him. In the process, Parenti validated Trump’s rhetorical style, a Right wing populism with appeals to working class issues wrapped in hyper-nationalist racism. The locally richer voters, a kind of small business/petit bourgeois class, heard and understood Trump’s messaging, which is why they voted for him. It’s important also to remember that almost 54 million eligible voters sat out the 2016 election, meaning 44% of eligible voters.

In table 2 of the US Census report “Characteristics of Voters in the Presidential Election of 2016” [4] we can see that the higher the family income, the higher the voter participation. I understand income is not the same as class but even with caveats about local rich versus national, the correlation between lower income and less voting still goes against the notion that Trump’s messaging hooked into working class anxiety and pain to energize them to action.

2022 Article: How the organized Left got Covid wrong, learned to love lockdowns and lost its mind: an autopsy

We have to start with Parenti’s choice of media outlets to showcase his “autopsy” of the Left. Grayzone is a “campist” media project. Essentially, campism sees the world as polarized between an “imperialist camp” of mostly western nations led by the US, and an “anti-imperialist camp” mainly China, Russia, Syria, North Korea along with much of the Global South and the ex-colonized countries. Campism is prominent among Marxist-Leninists and many Maoists, and is mostly synonymous with the term “tankie.” The traditional “internationalist” socialist position meant the global working class united against capitalists everywhere. Campists instead align with national regimes that self-identify as anti-imperialist, even as those regimes implement capitalist exploitation against their own national working classes, invade other nations, or even engage in imperialist war or genocide. [5] Grayzone has dutifully whitewashed the bombing campaigns and war crimes of Assad and Putin operating as a kind of reverse Fox News meets Qanon/Infowars level conspiracy theory outlet in the service of what Leila al Shami called “the anti-imperialism of idiots.” [6] Grayzone share Parenti’s justified frustration with the Democrats but also his increasing willingness to reach out for far right ideology and allies. Both Grayzone and Parenti continue to frame their increasingly reactionary politics with Leftist rhetoric.

Parenti published through campist Grayzone because he too is a tankie. In his 2012 article “But Did The Lights Stay On?” [7] he outlines, in measured academic language, the ways in which the Soviet Union hesitatingly intervened in Afghanistan. While he admits there were some national security concerns, he paints a picture of the Soviet presence promoting human rights, women’s liberation from rural patriarchal oppression, and modernization in the face of feudalism. His tone reads a lot like a US State Department overview of any conflict that needs justification, but for the Soviet side. You have to read the whole article to be sure Parenti comes down on the side of the Soviet invasion as a well intentioned but doomed attempt at liberating, democratizing, and modernizing Afghanistan only to see it fall into barbarism. In the end Parenti subscribes to a “Tankieism or Barbarism” state socialist view.

Below, I will lay out some of the broad categories of Right wing propaganda he peddles in this 2022 article, and then conclude with an assessment of how he got here and where he is now politically.

Right Populist Language

Repackaging Left critiques of state power, capitalism, surveillance, anti-working class politics, corporations, media, etc. for Right wing consumption is a hallmark of the style Parenti now exemplifies. It’s most glaring when he talks about liberals.

Parenti says “leftists and liberals” are a problem. On the one hand these categories set the groups apart from allegedly authentic socialist materialists like himself, while on the other they attract the ire of center to far Right readers. These liberals make up a “lockdown left,” which immediately paints them as snitches, cops, and prison wardens. He might have labelled them the “protect your fellow worker left” but it doesn’t have the same ring. These liberals side with “unaccountable censorship by large media and technology corporations.” This charge would be more convincing if we couldn’t place Parenti’s overall narrative in the general Republican talking points about twitter, facebook, and the media pushing “fake news” and “cancel culture” but we can. So we know most of this outrage is generated by things like people challenging Joe Rogan’s Covid conspiracy theories. Parenti of course uses Rogan as an example and calls the complaints about this centimillionaire “coordinated attacks” presumably by evil worker-hating liberals. The liberals “cheered on unprecedented levels of repression aimed primarily at the working class,” meaning the attempts to implement measures to slow and or halt the spread of Covid-19. If you find Parenti’s language to be intentionally misleading, you might be a victim of the “panicked and stampeding herd that is the left-wing consensus.”

He elaborates his positions with weird Covid Denialist sources throughout his article. These monstrous elites who hate workers relish their ability to harm “those who could not afford private schools and could not comfortably telecommute from second homes.” Ha ha. I’m laughing as I raise a glass of 1959 Dom Perignon to toast the death of essential workers from my second mansion in the Hamptons. The weirdly entertaining hyperbole about these purveyors of “blue-city provincialism” runs throughout the piece. “Its adherents drink high-quality coffee and enjoy bike lanes,” as they come to a nefarious “consensus in Cambridge, Brooklyn, Bethesda, or Berkeley.”

Not only are those who supported vaccine mandates or school closures, mask mandates or social distancing, all elites, they are also irrational believers in magic and fairy tales for whom “Covid vaccines have become a fetish, a talisman to wave against the specter of ‘contagion.’” He puts contagion in quotes because that makes it seem like a eugenicist definition of some people as vectors of disease rather than a straightforward term to describe an airborne virus. It would be hard to argue that the million Covid deaths in the US are spectral rather than material, but Parenti does his best in a section using the Right wing talking point about the Covid death tally being too high because it counts people who died “with Covid” as if they died “of Covid.”

As for these Leftists attacking socialist principles, they have engaged in a “weaponization of solidarity” reducing it to a “lifestyle via their obsessive masking, scolding, and hiding” while promoting “anti-social and scientifically ungrounded policies like the indefinite shuttering of schools.” 

It’s not inconsequential that Parenti’s critiques of liberals, pitched to centrist and Right wingers, takes up space that might be allocated to actually radical, materialist, or even just Left critiques of liberalism. It’s depressing that he is part of a growing and identifiable tendency.

Vaccine Science and Covid Denialism

We’ve all heard the conspiracy theories: “The White Helmets carried out the gas attacks attributed to Assad” or “Russian bombings of specific targets were actually false flags carried out by Ukrainian Nazis.” One would need to go down a never ending rabbit hole to debate those promoting these conspiracies who would never accept any amount of evidence as proving them wrong. The same is true of Covid Denialist arguments. The Grayzone, among other contrarian media groups who are ostensibly “Left” have fallen down all of the above rabbit holes. Parenti is free to shoot from the hip when he admonishes Leftists who have supported vaccine mandates, social distancing, mask mandates, school closures, and other measures to combat the spread of Covid.

Space will not allow for debunking all of Parenti’s dubious sources, so let’s examine one major source that epitomizes his terrible scholarship. He promotes something called “focussed protection” which is a way of saying we should allow healthy people to go about their business and spread Covid, while focussing on protecting the constitutionally vulnerable. He claims that the Left, “like the liberal mainstream, immediately attacked ‘focused protection’ not on the merits of the argument but with guilt by association – because the GBD was associated with a libertarian think tank.” “GBD” refers to the Great Barrington Declaration, [8] which was indeed dismissed, not only by “the liberal mainstream” but by scientific consensus around Covid policy.

Before addressing this we should note that “the Left” Parenti is part of did not universally reject the Great Barrington Declaration. One of its three main authors, Martin Kuldorff, was given a feature interview in Jacobin magazine online alongside Katherine Yih. [9] Published on September 19th, 2020 (before vaccines were released to the public) they were billed as “public health experts” offering a sane way to deal with the pandemic. Kuldorff said that “there is no scientific or public health rationale to close day care centers, schools, or colleges,” going further to say “I don’t think it’s wise or warranted to keep society locked down until vaccines become available.” Instead he argued for “herd immunity.”. The two experts argued for focussed protection, allowing healthy people to go about their lives, contracting Covid-19, surviving, then emerging from their illness with immunity. The old, sick, and immunocompromised would be protected, how is never elaborated in the GBD. Kuldorff cites Sweden as a success, having a somewhat laissez faire attitude toward Covid while allegedly protecting the vulnerable.

For starters, Kuldorff misuses the term “herd immunity.” Angela Mitropoulos is a scholar of capitalist policies on disease and pandemic control. She points out that this “herd immunity” is a complete distortion of the original term. One of the earliest uses in a scientific journal was in 1923 in a study by Topley and Wilson. Their use of the term stated that herd immunity could only be created if there was an “‘inoculation’ by a ‘protective serum’” available, meaning a vaccine (Mitropoulos, 62). [10] Topley’s research led to further studies and eventually a Lancet study in which the consensus was “any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable.” [11]

While GBD pays lip service to protecting the vulnerable, the strategy of keeping the economy open to avoid the negative effects of isolation simply results in the most vulnerable suffering the most. As I wrote on her views in my review of Mitropoulos’ book:

The populations who are worst hit by pandemics where capitalist herd immunity is implemented will always be the most socially vulnerable: immigrants, the poor, the elderly, people with pre-existing conditions, and those who are not financially or occupationally able to stay at home. Those who must continue to ride public transit, to report to work, to provide “essential services” whether that involves health care work, agricultural work, service sector jobs at supermarkets, or other occupations, or whether it is people trapped in “quarantined” situations like elder-care homes or prisons, will be, and are being, decimated. The strategy of capitalist herd immunity is a direct descendent of Malthus’ view of expendable populations and Mitropoulos declares that this is in reality a policy of eugenics, of culling the herd to preserve the old order, the “natural order” of capitalist accumulation.

[12]

When Parenti and the GBD authors claim that lockdown is a cure that’s worse than the disease, they have it backwards. Capitalist “herd immunity” which they demand actually drives the carnage and death of a pandemic. Instead of making stronger political demands on governments for greater social safety nets, free healthcare and food, rent and mortgage forgiveness, etc. they called for reopening the economy and a “let er rip” approach to Covid, no matter how much they deny it.

The World Health Organization, The American Public Health Association and many other public health groups condemned the Great Barrington Declaration as bad science. The majority of the scientific community have called the GBD out as fringe science, and extremely dangerous. Why Parenti acts as if marshaling the GBD is some kind of trump card is anyone’s guess, especially at this late date in the research on pandemic policy.

Kuldorff’s citing the Swedish policy as exemplary was ridiculous even at the time he said it. Deaths per million people from Covid-19 were far higher in Sweden than in neighboring countries in 2020 and 2021 and this was down to the refusal to enact lockdowns and stay at home orders. In tandem with the laissez fair approach to lock down, “restaurants, bars and shops remained open; children under 16 were required to attend school in person with no exceptions for those with at-risk family members; and no mask mandates were ever implemented.” The predictably horrendous results were assessed in a March 2022 study [13]

Parenti relies on other Covid Denialist experts like Peter Doshi who has garnered a lot of attention for running the British Medical Journal’s (BMJ) reputation into the ground by publishing anti-vaxxer articles. source: [14]

While there are valid critiques of overzealous or ineffective use of lockdowns, Parenti’s “lockdown left” arguments veer headlong into Alex Jones territory. At one point he cites CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky saying in an interview that vaccines don’t reduce transmission, then he concludes “Thus, we cannot vaccinate our way out of this crisis.” The implication there is not to feel bad if you didn’t get vaccinated. But mRNA vaccines have been found to reduce _infection_ rates by 91%, [15] aside from lowering death and illness rates among those who do contract a “breakthrough infection.” It’s factually wrong to state that vaccines don’t reduce transmission. Studies have shown that some vaccines reduce transmission to a greater degree than others, that being fully vaccinated does so to a greater degree than being partially vaccinated, and that some variants are less affected than others as far as transmission rates, but not that “vaccines don’t reduce transmission.” [16] Even CDC Director Walensky’s original statement was in response to a discussion on emerging variants, at a specific time in the pandemic timeline, and its dangerously irresponsible to cherry pick one sentence and pretend it is evidence that “vaccines don’t reduce transmission” as Parenti does. [17]

The State

Parenti is a believer in the power of the state and is deeply offended that the “socialist left, which wants to use state power to discipline capital has instead accepted the negative image of its goal: state power used to bully, harass, and discipline workers.” Contrary to his talk of turning the state against capital his entire argument here is that the state needs to control people to the benefit of capitalists. It needs to get workers back to productivity and earning and get children back indoors during an ongoing pandemic. It doesn’t matter what workers are saying they want, for example how teachers’ unions have protested face to face classes or healthcare workers begged people to do everything possible to halt Covid’s spread. Embracing the Great Barrington Declaration is not just “guilt by association” with a Libertarian think tank, it shows Parenti openly adhering to Right Libertarian pro-capitalist argumentation, promoting policies that are already responsible for killing millions globally. Parenti is a walking talking version of those shopping bags that appeared after the 9/11 attacks that said “America: Open For Business.”

Get Real, Parenti

Parenti does not even define “the lockdown left” other than to say they are out of touch elitists, so it could include anyone from Democrats to Communists. Reading his April 2022 article a person would be forgiven for thinking the lockdown left set the agenda and that lockdowns are still a huge problem in the US. An NYT state by state overview was last updated in July of 2021 at which point 49 states were reopened and only a handful even had mask mandates which usually only applied to the unvaccinated who were going indoors. [18] Parenti’s Lockdown Left didn’t seem to be in charge even in mid 2021 if they ever were.

Even CDC Director Walensky, from whom he cherry-picked one sentence saying vaccines don’t reduce transmission, had, by February 3, 2021 said that “Vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for safe reopening of schools.” [19] I remember this clearly because as an adjunct professor at a small community college and the brother of a high school teacher I found this outrageous. Parenti needs to explain how standing against teachers and some of their unions who were demanding continued online classes because of the deadly ongoing pandemic is “socialist.”

He tries to wave away any need to show his position is even on the left of the political spectrum with statements like “The Lockdown Left, being mostly members of the Professional Managerial Class generally has no idea about such things” by which he is implying professionals do not know that some workers oppose getting vaccinated. The “Professional Managerial Class” bogeyman, was originally an attempt by Barbara and John Ehrenreich to better organize professionals through a deeper understanding of their class position (part proletarian, part manager for capitalist institutions) and its contradictions. [20] Now it is used as a Right wing, Fox News style method of painting Leftists as elites.

Parenti’s descriptions of professors in the US as an out of touch elite is laughable when you realize that over 75% of all university professors are “adjunct” or contingent faculty without tenure, often without union representation or health benefits. They can be fired or laid off at the drop of a hat, or more usually, a drop in enrollment numbers or state funding. Covid-19 has been a major tool in the neoliberal box to wield against adjuncts as departments are streamlined, entire programs discontinued, and the teaching profession is in general under attack. State officials and school administrators join to enforce a “business model” on educational institutions, meaning higher productivity for less money. Class offerings are also limited and more focussed toward work skills over critical thinking, again to meet the needs of the business community. Tellingly, neoliberals apply pressure on government and university officials, boards of regents, etc. to reopen class rooms. Parenti is allied with that class that demands reopening in the face of a pandemic and worker protest.

How Did Parenti Get Here?

There is a lot of continuity in Parenti’s approach to social change from 2004 to 2022. First, there is bitterness toward an insufficiently radical Left. Parenti in 2004 saw American political idiocy despite good intentions. His corrective was more democracy, and more opportunities for participation in formulating theory. By 2016, his focus was more squarely upon the political corruption of the Democratic Party who could not muster any platform from which to reach the working class. Trump could. Parenti’s focus now became retooling Party rhetoric to more broadly appeal to workers beyond mere Left and Right concerns. Streamlining out superfluous “woke” politics around identity and remaking the correct line in terms of worker self-interest: free healthcare, college and no US entanglement in foreign wars would make winning appeal. As noted above, Parenti based this assessment on the belief that Trump voters were actually reacting to self-interest in a way socialists could use, not Trump’s racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, misogynistic bigotry. So the change in Parenti’s focus moved in a conservative direction in the hopes of broadening the appeal of his Left/socialist beliefs, on shaky assumptions that don’t hold up.

Parenti is also consistent in his insistence that we must see reality not as we want it to be but as it is. He moves from anger at mere Leftists with no theoretical chops to the Democratic Party, and finally to a frustrated imagining of a professional managerial elite who draw their energy from sacrificing workers to Covid as they enjoy “convivial socially-distanced outdoor cocktail hours with neighbors on their sundrenched” streets in elite town USA. The Fox News style language is on full display now. In the end Parenti’s “clear vision” of reality looks a lot like him expressing a politics of resentment very similar to the MAGA adherents he wants to appeal to. Whatever role his materialist historical analysis played in this has been negated given this ideological terminus in reactionary and conspiracy driven politics.

We can see a change in his source and media analysis, which has become glaringly ideological, entirely throwing out any semblance of critical thought. As shown above, the 2022 “autopsy” for the Left is clearly a case of projection about his own critical capacities, as he reaches for the nearest tin foil hat Covid Denialist screed, the most obvious being the Great Barrington Declaration.

Any legitimacy as a class centered thinker Parenti might have had is gone. Anyone who promotes obviously Malthusian positions to reopen the capitalist economy and endanger all essential workers and those who can’t avoid work is not “for the class” even if they are “of it.” Parenti self-deprecatingly insinuates that he is not working class, but professional managerial class (PMC): “Prior to the pandemic quarantines, many left intellectuals already lived as if they were on lockdown. I know this because I am part of that class.”

It’s clear he’s not in touch with working class struggles if he is pushing in the direction of the GBD. Would the workers of the Amazon Labor Union, whose recent victorious strike started over a lack of workplace Covid safety measures, have insisted that all workers reenter work environments to contract Covid and build “herd immunity” naturally? Of course not. Health Care workers were pleading with the public to self-isolate, mask up, vaccinate, wash hands, etc. to lower the numbers of people overwhelming many hospitals. Teachers were demanding online over face to face. Bus drivers had to confront riders who refused to mask. Workers quit jobs en masse because they knew it wasn’t worth risking Covid for minimum wage. They demanded Covid aid checks and unemployment extensions.

Parenti wants us to believe that it was the half measures implemented to halt Covid transmission that caused the negative effects of lockdown, not that the capitalist class refused to pay the full tab for the necessary protections to prevent workers getting sick. Capitalists consistently undid those protections thereby reigniting Covid spikes across the US over and over again.

Conclusion

From 2004 to 2022, Parenti went from vague advisories that Leftists become smarter, to acceptance of the Right wings’ superior messaging, to becoming a ventriloquist dummy for Covid Denialists and Right populist politics. He simultaneously promotes a “socialist” use of the state to combat capitalists and a Right Libertarian pro-capitalist use of the state to drive workers back into production, unprotected from a deadly pandemic, ostensibly because this is what workers want.

Christian Parenti’s Grayzone piece marks the death date of his political legitimacy as a Left intellectual: March 31st, 2022.

Comrade Motopu, April 28th, 2022

Footnotes:
[1] The Adorno essay is available in: Theodor Adorno, “Marginalia to Theory and Praxis,” in Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005).
[2] Phil Neel, Hinterland : America's new landscape of class and conflict (London : Reaktion Books, 2018).
[3]  Thomas Ogorzalek,Luisa Godinez Puig, and Spencer Piston, “White Trump voters are richer than they appear,” The Washington Post, November 12, 2019. URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/11/13/white-trump-voters-are-richer-than-they-appear/
[4] Thom File, “Characteristics of Voters in the Presidential Election of 2016” Current Population Survey Reports, P20-582, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington, DC, 2015. URL: https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/demo/P20-582.pdf
[5] Jason Schulman and Dan La Botz, “Against Campism, for International Working-Class Solidarity”, Socialist Forum, Winter 2020. URL: https://socialistforum.dsausa.org/issues/winter-2020/against-campism-for-international-working-class-solidarity/
[6] Leila al Shami, “The Anti-Imperialism of Idiots. “ Blog entry, 04, 14.2018. URL: https://leilashami.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/the-anti-imperialism-of-idiots/
[7] Christian Parenti, “But Did the Lights Stay On?” Zcomm Online, October 9, 2012. URL source:https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/but-did-the-lights-stay-on-by-christian-parenti/
[8] Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Dr. Suetra Gupta, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, “The Great Barrington Declaration” October 4, 2020. URL: https://gbdeclaration.org
[9] Martin Kuldorff and Katherine Yih, “We Need a Radically Different Approach to the Pandemic and Our Economy as a Whole.” Jacobin online. September, 19, 2019.
[10] Angela Mitropoulos, Pandemonium: Proliferating Borders of Capital and the Pandemic Swerve,  London: Pluto Press, 2020.
[11] David Jones and Stefan Helmreich. “A History of Herd Immunity,” The Lancet. September 19, 2020. URL: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-67362031924-3/fulltext
[12] Comrade Motopu. “Review of Angela Mitropoulos' Pandemonium,” Libcom.org, Blog entry. September 15, 2020. URL: https://libcom.org/article/review-angela-mitropoulos-pandemonium
[13] . “Mary KekatosScathing evaluation of Sweden's COVID response reveals 'failures' to control the virus.” ABC News online. March 24, 2022. URL:https://abcnews.go.com/Health/scathing-evaluation-swedens-covid-response-reveals-failures-control/story?id=83644832
[14] David Gorski. “What the Heck Happened to the BMJ?” Science Based Medicine online, November 8th, 2021. URL: https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/what-the-heck-happened-to-the-bmj/
[15] “CDC COVID-19 Study Shows mRNA Vaccines Reduce Risk of Infection by 91 Percent for Fully Vaccinated People,” CDC Newsroom Press Release. June 7, 2021. URL: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2021/p0607-mrna-reduce-risks.html
[16] David W. Eyre et al. “Effect of Covid-19 Vaccination on Transmission of Alpha and Delta Variants.” The New England Journal of Medicine, February 24,2022. URL: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2116597
[17] Valerie Pavilonis. “Fact check: COVID-19 vaccines primarily designed to prevent serious illness, death.” USA Today, January 21, 2022. URL: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2022/01/21/fact-check-vaccines-limit-serious-illness-and-death-covid-19/9185671002/
[18] “See Reopening Plans and Mask Mandates for All 50 States.” New York Times, July 01, 2021. URL: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/states-reopen-map-coronavirus.html
[19] Interview with CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “ Schools can safely reopen without vaccinating teachers CDC says.” Youtube. URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEHI_Ia6zmg
[20] Barbara and John Ehrenreich. “The Professional Managerial Class,” Radical America, Volume 11, number 2. March-April, 1977. URL: https://files.libcom.org/files/Rad%20America%20V11%20I2.pdf

Comments

Winstanley

1 year 8 months ago

Submitted by Winstanley on June 24, 2022

Useful, well done.

gamatiasz

1 year 7 months ago

Submitted by gamatiasz on June 30, 2022

This is a quite thorough dissection of Parenti who has recently turned full tankie. Bravo!