Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

January 27, 2018

Blocked by Bhaskar Sunkara on Twitter

Filed under: Jacobin — louisproyect @ 11:56 pm

Most celebrities—major and minor—use Twitter as a way of letting their followers know what they are up to. Bhaskar, a major Marxist but only a minor celebrity in American politics, was a past master of letting us know what city he had just landed in, how the NY Knicks could improve, and very occasionally some banal political observation, at least one that can be made in 140 characters. I would also be loath to say he never had much to say in 1,400 words because that would be unkind. Forget I just said that.

I have almost never written a critical reply to one of his Tweets, mostly because it takes me 1,400 words just to get a full head of steam, but he got the old dander up with this:

Now, I have been exposed to Bhaskar-thought for more than a decade and remember vividly his interventions on the Marxism mailing list, especially this:

I’ll be in the DSA, in the cesspool of the Democratic Party, in the mainstream unions, where the working people are, until you comrades can prove me wrong and build a viable alternative for working people and then I’ll apologize and happily join you.

Being of a certain age, I have become rather inured to Marxist special pleading for work in the Democratic Party. This was clearly a sign that the 19-year old had figured out that Marxmail was a waste of his time, filled as it was with toothless old folks who had little interest in diving into the cesspool with him. “Come on in, comrades, the water’s fine. Just remember to bathe with lysol and take penicillin later.”

Greener pastures loomed for the enterprising 19-year old. Writing for Dissent Magazine, launching an edgy new Marxist magazine, fawning profiles in the Washington Post, the N.Y. Times, and the New Yorker Magazine. Who can top that? Who wants to hang around a bunch of loser 60s radicals when you can be in the fast lane making appearances on MSNBC? Yes, there were people in their teens and twenties on the Marxism list but they were likely infected with the sectarian notion that socialist revolution and joining the Democratic Party were incompatible.

What galled me about Bhaskar’s tweet was the faux radicalism. The notion that “the most honorable figures on the left offer a class struggle back to social democracy” struck me as posturing of the worst sort especially in light of Jacobin publishing an article by Vivek Chibber that the honorable, even if a bit on the senior side, Dan La Botz described it in the following terms :

We have arrived it seems at classical social democracy. Or if we haven’t, then what does Chibber actually have in mind? What differentiates his position from social democracy? Nothing in this article would suggest that there is any difference.

I would love to read this article myself since I find Chibber’s preening as the arbiter of true Marxism from the barricades of the NYU Sociology Department unspeakably arrogant. However, the snazzy graphics posed too much of a hurdle for my cataract-encrusted eyes so I took a pass.

Instead, I just dashed off this tweet:

This must have gotten under his skin because—god knows—he must be working all sorts of hours under incredible pressure to turn out what he likely thinks is the Iskra of our day and deserves our everlasting gratitude. Being so mistreated by a resentful old coot like me, he displayed a high dudgeon I’ve never seen from him before:

I don’t know quite how to put this but in the hundreds of articles I have written about Libya and Syria, there is not a single word about supporting American bombing. I know that this is confusing for someone like Bhaskar since in his mind criticizing Seymour Hersh or Patrick Cockburn is tantamount to backing American bombing. After all, correcting Hersh on the chemistry of sarin gas is objectively the same as cheering for NATO, as they used to say in sectarian Leninist politics.

Reacting to this in my customary ill-tempered manner risked getting me blocked but I had to get this off my chest even if it meant missing some tweet about Bhaskar’s impressions of Amsterdam restaurants and the like:

 

18 Comments »

  1. I trust you used the words “major Marxist” sarcastically. If anyone is a Class D minor league thinker it is Sunkara. He knows very little about a very lot of things. Consider it an honor to be blocked by such an anti-Marxist. He doesn’t have a radical bone in his body. He is a master of plausible deniability. Who me? Why Jacobin has published articles in support of (fill in the blank). So how can you say we are anti-Bolshevik, not environmentalists, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.

    Comment by Michael Yates — January 28, 2018 @ 12:59 am

  2. Ah yes, take pride in your inevitable devolution of every conversation to ad hominem vulgarity.

    Comment by Jennifer — January 28, 2018 @ 1:05 am

  3. Thanks for the kind note, Jennifer. Much appreciated.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 28, 2018 @ 1:14 am

  4. It is rather disingenuous of him to say Jacobin aims for something beyond social democracy when you look at Seth Ackerman’s electoral proposals. Now I think some of the people who get published in Jacobin do want to go beyond but probably not a lot of the leadership. If they did they’d know better than to try and hitch a ride with democrats. And as the last year of DNC battle has played out it’s all too apparent that corporate Dems won’t even allow New Dealers back in to the party let alone socialists. Granted I dumped the Dems at 18 when they took back the congress in 2007 and did nothing to put an end to Bush and the other war criminals. I knew they’d spent 8 years talking a great game but when push came to shove they caved.

    I will say that it probably did hurt his feelings more when you called him a little twerp and called him out for hustling his magazine than pointing out his nothing more than a social democrat.

    Comment by Logan — January 28, 2018 @ 1:22 am

  5. Louis Proyect (former self-admitted DSAer) and Bhaskar (DSA). Both headed to the Democratic Party outright or a liberal-radical p-b outfit (Greens) on the periphery of the Democratic Party. One will probably get there before the other, but they will both end up there.

    Comment by Sunny Light — January 28, 2018 @ 2:47 am

  6. Nice to hear from a proletarian revolutionary troll. Not too many of them showing up here lately.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 28, 2018 @ 2:53 am

  7. I have been reading this blog for years. Nowadays i just skim over it.

    What I see over and over by the blog owner (as just posted): Lots and lots of name calling and personal insults. Mixed with a heavy dose of disdain for workers. (e.g. a past attack on Boston bus drivers. For being lowly bus drivers! Marxists of various groups with college degrees working in factories. Stating they wasted their college education) All this and more examples add up to classic middle class cynicism and despair.

    Anyone seeking revolutionary socialism and not warmed over Left Social Democracy had best look elsewhere.

    Just a few thoughts. I expect to be banished. Like many others here who strike a political nerve.

    Comment by Sunny Light — January 28, 2018 @ 4:48 am

  8. I tire of seeing all of the bougie pearl-clutching over insults.

    Our side is too nice. Calling a self-promotional, co-opting social dem a “twerp” is most appropriate.

    Some of you really need to screw off; your timid sensibilities also show up as sucky, milquetoast politics and can partially explain why the US Left is so lame-ass. Thanks. No go turn on NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” and leave the rest of us alone.

    Comment by Brandy Baker — January 28, 2018 @ 9:04 am

  9. Although it’s amusing, in a kind of Leftist Trainspotterish kind of way, and not that I take Jacobin seriously in the first place, Bhaskar seems to have forgotten that Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the subject of many fawning articles in his publication, backed a UN resolution calling for a No-Fly zone in Libya, in 2011, and their (the UN) use of military means to enforce it (https://www.humanite.fr/23_03_2011-libye-d%C3%A9claration-de-jean-luc-m%C3%A9lenchon-pg-468493).

    But then I come from the British left where people like me can recall disputes with Stalinists at the age of 15.

    Comment by Andrew Coates — January 28, 2018 @ 12:35 pm

  10. Whenever someone criticizes you by backing up the criticism citing your very words (for example, when you denigrated someone for being a professor who taught at a community college -rather than an Ivy League school- clearing showing a disdain, if not contempt for working people) you freak and kick him/her off this blog. All the while you lament the supposed lack of internal democracy in parties calling themselves Leninist or Trotskyist!!

    And please stop trying to deflect by keep saying “we.” So far I have not cited what others have said demonstrating a contempt for workers. Only YOU.Those are YOUR words.

    And please refrain from Stalinist-baiting because I merely point out what you have said that clearly show someone who also has a lot of internal anger and resentment (again, YOU have stated that you have been in psychiatric therapy) and is basically tired and politically burned out. But, sadly, you just don’t know you are politically burned out. As someone else here said. I think that is a perfect encapsulation.

    Hopefully, young people becoming interested in Marxism for the first time will see that this blog is instead run by someone who is in a perpetual search for a home (i.e. a new American liberal formation).

    Comment by Sunny Light — January 28, 2018 @ 7:15 pm

  11. “when you denigrated someone for being a professor who taught at a community college -rather than an Ivy League school- clearing showing a disdain, if not contempt for working people”

    I don’t fucking believe that, and even people who hate Louis wouldn’t believe that about him, either.

    Sunny Light is off of his/her rocker.

    Comment by Brandy Baker — January 28, 2018 @ 8:22 pm

  12. “..a class struggle route…”

    Fraternity and sorority types at the U. of Va. back in my grad. student days used to say things like, “It’s wrong to put people in classes!”

    Sunkara’s blurt at the top of this piece reminds me of them.

    Talk about blaming the messenger.

    Of course, if you love your iPhone more than your mother, revere Steve Jobs as some kind of progressive saint, and refuse to think about conditions in the factories where Apple devices are made, the whole thing suddenly makes sense.

    My impression is that Jacobin a few years ago at least paid lip-service to class struggle. A glance at the current online ed. shows a number of mildly interesting left-liberal topics, a lot of tut-tutting over the fate of trades unions, and a schoolmarmish rebuke to leftists infatuated with the old Italian Communist Party, but nothing about a way forward for the working class. Generally, the tone is one of an adult reproving children–the classic Democratic Party response to the so-called “hard left.”

    How many times does one have to say it? Class warfare is important because, de facto, it exists. It isn’t optional.

    We would all rather sashay around Soho or Logan Circle in pegged jeans tweeting furiously on our i-Things while sipping whatever has replaced latte in the affections of the young and fashionable.

    I suspect that the working class, American-style, has need of some new Engels who can both anatomize the current condition and work the difficult equation between workers in the USA and workers abroad. That however doesn’t alter the case. Hell, even Warren Buffet (infamously) admits that class warfare exists.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 29, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

  13. Jacobin introduced me as a younger leftist to a lot of important ideas in the past few years but I am trying to diversify my reading. Any recommendations on alternative publications (for example Monthly Review seems decent)?

    Comment by jboothweb — January 29, 2018 @ 5:18 pm

  14. Monthly Review is good. So is New Politics, n+1, and Against the Current.

    Comment by louisproyect — January 29, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

  15. it’s been mercifully ignored (thank God David Green isn’t stalking this thread), but my comment above was based on a misreading of Sunkara’s blurt (it seems too long for a tweet), which apparently was intended to show how far back the left has been beaten in recent years from some unstated point that (maybe) does include class struggle and so was meant to be a clever twist on the theme and not to suggest an outright dismissal of CS.

    Not my finest crazy outburst, but I still find Sunkara’s point both tortured and strange if indeed it means anything at all. To me, it barely makes sense and sounds like a poseur reaching for a pose.

    If class struggle is real and matters I still ask how can there be a non-class-struggle route to any political objective. The question isn’t whether class struggle shapes a given political outcome but how.

    And I’m still asking, Engels, where art thou when it comes to the condition of today’s working class.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 30, 2018 @ 12:04 am

  16. ” … Sunkara’s blurt (it seems too long for a tweet) … apparently was intended to show how far back the left has been beaten in recent years from some unstated point that (maybe) does include class struggle and so was meant to be a clever twist on the theme and not to suggest an outright dismissal of CS.”

    However, (if I catch your point) he seems to be stepping gingerly around the fact that the Democrats (and those advocating working within the Dem party, the ‘lesser evil’ advocates of the past four decades) share a huge portion of responsibility in pushing back the left. He wants to absolve the Dems from their complicity in this historical process of pushing back the left, steadily. If it wasn’t for the Democrats, my bet is that class awareness would be much higher now.

    In the age when Democrats have been responsible for getting rid of ‘welfare as we know it’, for NAFTA and for deregulation of banking system (all under Bill Clinton), and for continued war-making and its expansion to include un-manned flying objects (by drone President Obama) and selling the people to drug companies and the insurance industry (aka, Obamacare) when they actually had the votes to pass a one-payer system … (we can go on), some “leftist” characters are still advocating working in the “cesspool of Democratic Party”! Indeed, the ‘Left’ has been pushed back.

    But … who is doing the pushing back?

    Comment by Reza — January 30, 2018 @ 12:51 am

  17. I got the thing wrong, but it isn’t at all clear what S. is trying to say about class struggle, and I suspect he is merely preening in front of a mirror that doesn’t love him as much as he thinks it does.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — January 30, 2018 @ 8:38 pm

  18. Apparently New Politics and Against the Current are also the names of bands, and New Pol’s site is down. Say what you will about Jacobin, but at least they’re easy to get to online.

    Comment by Michael — February 15, 2018 @ 6:18 pm


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