Reality and the Left – A Bitter Divorce
WHERE IS THE REALITY amidst all these claims and counter-claims regarding the protest camp on the grounds of Parliament? In an excruciatingly postmodern political moment, reality seems to have vanished, leaving behind only a noisy collection of competing narratives.
To make matters worse, the state itself, supposed to be the supreme arbiter of what is and is not politically real, refuses to do its job. Even though it is his sworn duty, Police Commissioner Andrew Coster has made it chillingly clear to the public that he has neither the will nor the means to assert state authority. The New Zealand Defense Force, meanwhile, are standing aside from the fray. Jacinda Ardern and Christopher Luxon, helpless to intervene, watch to no effect. The crisis is getting worse.
Ask yourself: what does it mean when tow truck drivers, asked to assist the police commissioner, refuse? At what point in the last decade did citizens begin to feel that they had no obligation to the society in which they live? That no one had the right to tell them what to do – not even the police? What is it if the people of Wellington, their neighbors, need their help?
It has been reported that at least one towie has openly declared his support for the protesters camped out on the grounds of Parliament. Completely understandable. The occupants do not accept that their government has the right to require their vaccination against Covid-19. Nor do they believe that they owe their fellow citizens any cooperation in the fight to limit the damage of the virus. This tow truck driver recognized kindred spirits when he saw them. Andrew Coster and the Wellingtonians could fuck off.
Not all towies were so screwed up. According to the media, some of them were simply scared. They said they were threatened with terrible reprisals if they allowed the police to use their trucks. Since these trucks bore the names and phone numbers of their owners, it is not difficult to understand the impact of such threats. If someone were to burn down the premises of a towing company, burn down their trucks, it would cost several livelihoods and ruin a business. Who wouldn’t think twice?
Such tactics are, however, remarkably effective. I remember reading about Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters’ bitter battles with trucking companies. The bosses could count on local politicians, local judges, local editors and local cops to defend them against the Hoffa strikers. The Syndicate was in hiding until Hoffa contacted the Mafia. It only took a few dozen burnt-out trucks for the bosses to understand the message. The Teamsters won their improved contract. But the spoon Hoffa brought to his dinner with the Devil wasn’t long enough. His beloved Teamsters Union now belonged to the Mafia.
Now you might think that people on the left of New Zealand politics would recognize the danger of delaying the occupation of Parliament as a laudable assertion of working class power. As if poverty and marginalization, frustration and anger, ignorance and gullibility were always and everywhere evidence of moral strength and progressive intention.
Karl Marx himself recognized the acute political danger inherent in what he called the lumpenproletariat. According to Marxism Encyclopediathis social formation is composed of the “excluded, degenerate and submerged elements” of industrial society:
“This includes beggars, prostitutes, gangsters, racketeers, swindlers, petty criminals, tramps, the chronically unemployed or unemployable, those rejected by industry and all sorts of downgraded, degraded or degenerate elements. In times of prolonged crisis (depression), countless young people too, who do not find the opportunity to enter the social organism as producers, are pushed into this pariah limbo. Here demagogues and fascists of various tendencies find part of their mass base in times of struggle and social collapse, when the ranks of the lumpenproletariat are enormously swollen with ruined and downgraded elements from all strata of a society. decaying.
That our society is decaying can hardly be doubted. The events of the last ten days offer ample evidence of the seriousness of the weakening of New Zealand society by this decadence. A viable left, recognizing the weakness of the system and its acute vulnerability to those seeking help from “gangsters, racketeers, crooks, petty criminals” would not hesitate to identify the so-called “freedom convoy” as the party reactionary, quasi-fascist, company it has always been.
Alas, New Zealand no longer has a viable left. Identity politics taught an entire generation to accept the self-definitions of “oppressed groups” at face value. Exploring the real character of these groups and examining their relationship with the ruling class is discouraged. Even among leftists who still recognize the primacy of class politics, there is a pronounced reluctance to subject movements like the Freedom Convoy to any sort of rigorous class analysis.
For these leftists, it is enough that the occupants of Parliament are, or have been, members of the working class. These “revolutionaries” are so desperate for the slightest trace of revolutionary consciousness that they are willing to ignore the absence of anything remotely resembling a concrete program for the social and economic emancipation of the working class. The only agenda in evidence among the occupiers is one demanding the immediate cessation of all measures to minimize injury and suffering from Covid-19.
How the self-proclaimed “socialists” could confuse such a noxious potpourri of anti-social attitudes with anything remotely progressive is a mystery. It may be nothing more than the curious allure of the demimonde, coupled with the magnetic eccentricities of the bohemian temperament, which led these desperate socialists to confuse reactionaries with revolutionaries. Obviously, they forgot that Adolf Hitler himself was a lumpenproletarian. A specimen more “downgraded, degraded and degenerated” than history has yet provided!
It was the Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937) who captured the extraordinary fluidity of reality in times of acute social tension and political disintegration. Moments in history when ruling class hegemonic explanations have lost, or are beginning to lose, their power to allay the fears and apprehensions of subordinate classes. In these times – and we are living them now – people are desperately looking for new, more compelling narratives about the nature of reality.
Not all of these stories speak to the best of human nature. It’s not always easy to distinguish the lies of charlatans and demagogues from genuine groundbreaking truths, especially in the age of social media algorithms. Leftists are often surprised to learn that Mussolini was a socialist before becoming a fascist.
Gramsci expressed it well when he wrote: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum appear a great variety of morbid symptoms.
Or, more succinctly: “Now is the time for monsters.”