Right after the 2016 election, several of my well-intentioned (but comically misinformed) male friends attempted to console me with the argument that Trump’s presidency would only hasten “the revolution” and was hence a net good. It wasn’t a comfort. Lemme tell ya why.
Accelerationism, whether of the pseudo-intellectual cyberpunk or the vacant Bernie Bro stripe, is the privilege of the comfortable and clueless. I don’t blame anyone for wanting to check out on the Rob Zombie-produced stage play that is contemporary electoral politics, but only someone who has never had to consider the idea of being in arbitrary physical danger (and has never been exposed to detailed information about the history of large-scale revolutions) could flippantly bandy about the idea that we’re due for a “revolution” without thinking about what that might entail. Hence, most lefty chatter about “the revolution” emanates from overconfident white dudes who have never even been poor.
The variety of lefty “revolutionary” movements these days is about as broad as it was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (probably more so), but there’s a key difference: lefty revolutionaries in earlier eras created well-elaborated critiques of capitalism as it functioned at the time and theorized alternative arrangements that at least made an attempt at plausibility. Another fairly important characteristic of these movements was the recognition that economics, politics, and culture were not discrete realms and that any revolutionary program that hoped to achieve meaningful change had to address all three. (Nota bene: they all still eventually failed, probably because none of them bothered to include women as anything but dupes/tokens.)
One of the keys to the capitalist world system’s increased success in the aftermath of these movements was the construction of conceptual walls between culture, the economy, and politics in the academy and in the minds of the populace. Capitalism is agile and adaptable. It functions almost nothing like it did during its brief period of fragility, which very few half-stepping neo-revolutionaries seem to realize. Hence, anyone who espouses one of these proliferating and laughably incomplete ideologies is too stupid to follow anywhere, even on social media.
I don’t want to sound like Jordan Peterson or anything, but “let’s burn everything down and then figure out what to do” just isn’t a sound program for the future, especially given the history of how women have fared during revolutions and their aftermaths, the unpredictable nature of revolutions themselves, and the absolutely ludicrous premises of most contemporary revolutionary movements. (Ever heard of brocialism or manarchism?)
Sure, there’s a chance that things could get better “after the revolution” (depending on what revolution we’re talking about), but the far more likely outcome is things becoming exponentially worse (especially for women and children) in the short and medium term and, once the dust settles, a much worse system emerging out of the vacuum that would result from the lack of thorough post-revolution planning.
And let us not forget the historical leitmotif of radical women being assured by dishonest male revolutionaries that all they needed to do was sideline their own concerns for the duration of the revolution itself, after which — no, I swear — all of that “women’s stuff” would automatically be resolved in women’s favor. Ding Ling comes to mind.
I’m not too worried about the fallout of any of these aspirational revolutions, though, because they’re all about as likely to occur as Law and Order is likely to be taken off the air. It’s pretty hard to imagine any of the infinite number of anarcho-whatever or Marxist groups on social media emerging as armed mass movements capable of overthrowing the US (or any other) government. It’s hard to imagine any of them even taking over a student council group at UC Santa Cruz.
Seriously, why are people still arguing the finer points of dead revolutionary ideologies? Marxism has limited functionality as a system of critical analysis of capitalism. Anarchism correctly (when it’s actually understood — a rarity) questions hierarchical social arrangements. That’s about it. Marxism and anarchism are now forms of white male identity politics in my book (and so are a lot of other groupings — but that’s another post).
Watching people call each other “tankies” and argue over Trotskyism on social media is like listening to a bunch of teenage boys argue about the officiating of a Super Bowl they didn’t even see. And it’s about as likely to lead to political change. I know that fantasizing about participating in a violent revolution of one sort or another appeals to people raised on first-person shooters and Michael Bay movies, but it ain’t gonna happen (at least not in the way they think).
There are exceptions, but the tide of neo-identity politics has hamstrung most would-be revolutionaries on the left and the alt-right and trapped them in the splintered realm of cultural antagonism and archaic politico-economic pedantry, leaving economic and political structures immune to disruption. When some faction of the rabble gets a little too restive for comfort, the elites drop a meaningless policy concession on them and get right back to business, and this new-and-improved identity politics continues to serve as a buffer between the masses and the true beneficiaries of the neoliberal global order, especially the rapacious neoconservative/neofascist bloc in the US.
Studying and taking account of culture, geopolitics, economics, feminism, and (ideally) world-systems theory isn’t quite as fun as ripping on people whose social values appear clownish, but if your revolutionary program ain’t doing all of the above, it ain’t doing shit but creating meme fodder. The atomization of political culture and the pitting of tribalized factions against each other in a series of increasingly stupid and violent culture wars were intentional moves by the beneficiaries of the global order. They cannot be successfully combated while we’re combating each other over a bunch of manufactured “outrageous” bullshit and impractical esoterica, and that’s the whole point.
(I don’t wanna hear any nonsense about feminism being a form of identity politics. “Women” isn’t a term that coheres around a manufactured identity, it’s a material reality. We’re more than half the population globally, and extending human rights and proportional political participation to half of the population is not tokenism. This is also not a traditional lefty “class before race/sex/etc.” argument but a “class and race/sex/etc.” one. That dichotomy/opposition is a neoliberal falsehood that benefits no one but those elites we were just talking about. Oh, and lefty white dudes.)
When Democrats spend their “mental energy” drawing elaborate analogies between Trump and Voldemort, when Libertarians and Anarchists concoct an opium-nod of a future based on digital Monopoly money, when Republicans envision an unhinged libertine leading the nation into an extended episode of Leave It to Beaver despite all evidence to the contrary, when Marxists/Socialists delude themselves into believing a proletariat still even fucking exists, they’ve all rendered themselves NPCs. It’s called intellectual decadence, and it’s one of the chief indicators of a system in collapse.
It’s an unfortunate and repetitive occurrence; systems in collapse are ripe for intelligent manipulation, but only intelligent and manipulative people seem to recognize and act on that, which is exactly what the nihilist/realist moneyed class is doing in order to ensure its own survival. They know what’s coming down the pike and they expect the culture wars (that should become Civil War 2 any day now) they’ve fomented to distract everyone else while they enact their own silent revolution that ends with them all sipping the last of the world’s Moët on man-made, floating resort islands and laughing while we kill each other over water.
Culture can and probably must be the starting point of a comprehensive, prescriptive political theory that could lead humanity out of the morass, but only if it starts from scratch from a set of ethical reference points that completely supplants tribalism and the politics of fear and extends outward to politics and the economy. You know, weird shit like empathy, self-control, dignity, curiosity, critical thinking, the recognition of the humanity of every human being. Identity politics ceases to be necessary if we aren’t focused on fighting over crumbs bestowed by a divide-and-conquer governing/corporate elite. Easy, right?
In the meantime, go ahead and proactively fight for the lesser of whatever set of evils present themselves. Nihilism is lame.