Too Far Left, or What Does It Mean to Be “Radical”

“On Tuesday, a Florida judge sentenced Daniel Baker, an anti-fascist activist, to 44 months in federal prison for social media posts that called for armed defense against possible far-right attacks on the state’s Capitol in the wake of the January 6 riots. Baker, a 34-year-old yoga teacher and emergency medical technician trainee, had no previous criminal convictions and has already been held for 10 months of harsh pretrial detention, including seven months in solitary confinement. He never brought a weapon near a government building; he amassed no armed anti-fascist forces; he made no threats on a single individual.

Baker will, nonetheless, face considerably more prison time than most January 6 defendants, including those who crossed state lines, small arsenals in tow, with the aim of overturning a presidential election…

…Baker was convicted at trial earlier this year on two counts of “transmitting a communication in interstate commerce containing a threat to kidnap or injure another person.” The threat of kidnapping charge stemmed from a feverish public Facebook post in which Baker put out a general call for anti-racists and anti-fascists to encircle the state Capitol, should far-right groups attack it “on or around inauguration day,” and “trap” right-wingers inside with cops. In the very next sentence, though, he wrote, “we will drive them out of Tallahassee with every caliber available!” The right wing militiae were thus to be trapped in and driven out at once, on an unspecified day, by an unnamed collaboration of counterprotesters.”

-Natasha Lennard, “A Florida Anarchist Will Spend Years in Prison for Online Posts Prompted by Jan. 6 Riot.The Intercept. October 16, 2021.

I find this interesting on two levels.

One, there’s a saying: “The e in email is for evidence.” Same is true of Facebook and other social media. Using Facebook to advocate for any kind of radical societal change is an exercise in trying to use a tool of totalitarianism against itself. It’s unlikely to work, and very likely to land you in prison.

Two, the advantage that the right have is that they, on the surface, support the institutions of the state. Many are police officers, served in the military and so forth. However, the January 6th riots show that if any of those institutions get in the way, they are more than happy to push them aside. Radical leftists are more obviously against the state and its institutions. So, the state is also more obviously against them.

In fact, this brings us to a helpful definition to determine who is and is not a radical. Ask yourself: does this person think that the state is the solution to many of the problems of society or the cause of many of the problems? If they believe it is the cause of the problems of society, do they believe the state can be reformed to address those problems? If the state is the solution, then you are dealing with a traditional leftist, liberal or conservative in their political opinions.

If a “leftist” supports state solutions, whether Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Dennis Kucinch, George McGovern, or whomever, then there is nothing radical about their position. They are only “radical” in so far as they are leftists in a fundamentally and moderately conservative society, where radical is defined as anyone to the left (or occasionally, the right) of the majority or more often, the person making the judgment.

Leftists are advocating to use the government outside of the limited government fiction and the great lie of conservativism that you can have a global war-fighting capability and still maintain a small government with low taxes. The true goal of the limited government lie is to prevent the government from being repurposed to leftist goals, i.e., serving the citizenry rather than elite interests (or at least different elites). From the perspective of someone that believes the lie of limited government, this position is radical.

However, it’s also not radical because much of the justification for modern government is that it protects the citizenry, from providing clean water, consumer protections, national security and so forth. So, it’s clear that limited government, Originalism, and some of the modern tenets of conservativism are actually a reframing of the debate. Calling traditional liberals “radical leftists” is just another way to put them on the defensive and of closing the Overton window around these new conservative ideas.

But, the framing that Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and so forth are radical leftists, “socialists”, and so forth are relativistic arguments. Better to have a clear definition of what makes someone radical that works across both right and left perspectives than define radical relativistically. Being against the state serves that function rather well.

The Abolition of Work—Bob Black

“You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid and monotonous. Work is a much better explanation for the creeping cretinization all around us than even such significant moronizing mechanisms as television and education. People who are regimented all their lives, handed off to work from school and bracketed by the family in the beginning and the nursing home at the end, are habituated to heirarchy and psychologically enslaved. Their aptitude for autonomy is so atrophied that their fear of freedom is among their few rationally grounded phobias.”

—Bob Black, “The Abolition of Work and Other Essays.” Port Townsend: Loompanics Unlimited, 1986.

Leading Marxist Scholar David Harvey on Trump, Wall Street, and Debt Peonage

“I remember watching a speech that Castro gave in which he was talking about, he was lambasting a report by Human Rights Watch, the U.S.-based human rights organization, which often does do the kind of ideological bidding of the U.S. government in the way that it applies its filter to different societies versus the United States, although less so now than it was before. And Castro said that there is essentially a “Western” meaning, like, white-Anglo states’ view of human rights and then there is a different version of what it means to have human rights in countries like Cuba. And he basically was saying, in the West they cherish freedom of speech and freedom of assembly and these things that are sort of of the mind. And here [in Cuba] we would list as human rights, housing, education, health care, etc. Does that absolve Castro of the need to — I mean obviously he’s no longer with us but to embrace the idea that freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are in fact somehow inherently human rights that we all are entitled to just because they’re giving people affordable or free healthcare, affordable or free education, affordable or free housing? I mean is he correct in saying, “Well, these are two different views of what the priorities are in human rights.”

—David Harvey. Interview by Jeremy Scahill. “Leading Marxist Scholar David Harvey on Trump, Wall Street, and Debt Peonage.” The Intercept. January 21, 2018.

Interesting throughout.

A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse

“What would happen if we stopped acting as if the primordial form of work is laboring at a production line, or wheat field, or iron foundry, or even in an office cubicle, and instead started from a mother, a teacher, or a caregiver? We might be forced to conclude that the real business of human life is not contributing toward something called “the economy” (a concept that didn’t even exist three hundred years ago), but the fact that we are all, and have always been, projects of mutual creation. Labor, similarly, should be renegotiated. Submitting oneself to labor discipline—supervision, control, even the self-control of the ambitious self-employed—does not make one a better person. In most really important ways, it probably makes one worse. To undergo it is a misfortune that at best is sometimes necessary. Yet it’s only when we reject the idea that such labor is virtuous in itself that we can start to ask what is virtuous about labor. To which the answer is obvious. Labor is virtuous if it helps others. A renegotiated definition of productivity should make it easier to reimagine the very nature of what work is, since, among other things, it will mean that technological development will be redirected less toward creating ever more consumer products and ever more disciplined labor, and more toward eliminating those forms of labor entirely.”

—Graeber, David. “A Practical Utopian’s Guide to the Coming Collapse.” The Baffler. April 2013.