The importance of the soft and happy human.

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The spirit of the militant persists in the Left. The sad, ascetic militant that will sacrifice their personal safety for the greater good, and engage in clandestinity and risk taking. A spirit that developed throughout two centuries of struggle, where a word uttered against God, the King, or the Republic could land the Leftist  behind bars or under a gravestone. The world had hardened the old militant of the first, second, and third international, sucked from them the softness of the happy human, and instead made them hard as steel, clear as crystal. The militant endured violence and delivered it, cultivated fealty and secrecy in the name of the central committee, the soviet state, or the anarchist ideal.

Here in the West, with its liberal democracies and freedom of speech, the same spirit persists in a diluted form. From the sacrificial work ethic that demands time and energy organizing, doing something, to the risk taking ethos of facing off the fascists and the police in the streets. It’s always about giving something, whether the free time that would have been otherwise destined to leisure, to the economic security that will be endangered once the employers know the Leftist’s labor organizing profile. Bravery, confrontation and risk-taking are encouraged. Yet, is that spirit relevant in today’s Global North?

The Tzar, Mussolini, and Napoleon III demanded asceticism, discipline and sacrifice,  after all the policeman or the blackshirt could spring out from the shadows, robbing the militant from liberty and life for daring to speak up. In many developing countries, the torture chamber is still familiar to the leftist activist. Yet in the Global North, the conditions are different. Although the threat of violence is always implied through the State’s monopoly of violence, through its armed corps of men that deport, kill, and enforce in the name of private property, the liberal democratic state is not the same State confronted by the Parisian Communards or the Bolsheviks. The existence of the liberal State transcends its capacity of violence – its presence extends throughout every molecule of the air. The liberal State heals through public hospitals, speaks through the television and the internet, educates through school, observes and enforces not only through the police, but through the neighbor and employer. Centuries ago, the State was the external force of pure violence that robbed ancestral lands and taxed subjects –  a remote office in a far away capital that could only be recognized by its gangs of armed men.

The historical memory of the Left is branded by the image of the State as an armed gang. In the developing world, in the American ghettos, in the Canadian reserve, the State still exists almost solely as an armed gang – as a corps of uniformed men that executes children and brutalizes unarmed people of color. Yet for the majority of the citizens in the Global North, the armed gang is semi-invisible, sometimes barely showing its face through a traffic ticket or the sound of a siren. A minority still knows very well the armed gang – the homeless, the criminals, the antifascists, the people of color; yet for the majority of people in the Global North, the State is schools, hospitals, roads and tax returns.

Once upon a time, one could speak about a society outside the State, outside the armed gang, within which the old socialist, anarchist and communist organizations could operate; radical organizations colonized this virginal space with their own schools, unions, and taverns – a para-legal space that acted as social glue and also prepared the workers so that someday, they could smash the capitalist armed gang and take power. However, as leftists struggled and pushed the State to reform, it slowly but surely grew, colonizing all space and becoming the sole social glue through its hospitals, parks, schools, and pensions. In the span of a two or three generations, the State outgrew its original armed gang, becoming the alpha and omega of society, becoming legitimate.

However, the militant that was created as a reaction to the old armed gang of the State still persists. The militant, enshrouded in semi-clandestinity, hungry for sacrifice and a street fight, projects an image of a war that their audience doesn’t recognize. The tit of the State, with its hospitals, schools, freedom of speech, and public elections, is comforting and familiar. The militant in black or red garb, with a millenarian language that evokes crisis and violence, is foreign and alienating.

The old militant was willing to bleed and die for a softer and brighter world, yet in the process, they hardened. Perhaps it’s time for the Leftist to embody that softness and humanity, a microcosm of that white light promised for the future. Although confrontation and aggression are still necessary, they shouldn’t overshadow making other people feel safe, welcome, and confident. Instead of projecting an image of sacrifice, violence, and danger, perhaps Leftists should engage in welcoming projects – education, building institutional and organizational power, and bringing the concepts of socialism and internationalism into the dominant discourse – in short, trying to carve a space in the mainstream. In the Global North, it used to be that the old militant was necessary, given that the police and paramilitaries killed, exiled, and incarcerated open leftists and people viewed the State as a foreign entity of pure violence. However, liberal democracies have changed the rules of the game, turning the old militant into an antiquated archetype.

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White supremacy can only be fought through internationalism.

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Much of the Left sees the privileging of regional authority over the authority of larger, more overarching institutions as a way to fight white supremacy. Today, in the Americas, much of indigenous struggles takes the form of fights for more autonomy from the federal government. The history of national liberation also followed a similar dynamic, where the former colonized aspired for autonomy and sovereignty of the territories they inhabited. Yet ultimately,  white supremacy transcends the local, and therefore more global strategies are necessary to fight it. In other words, the forces that pauperize and marginalize people of color are coupled with the global economy in ways that demand an internationalist approach to combat white supremacy.

The Left has good reasons for privileging the local and distrusting large, centralized institutions. To many peoples, capitalist violence was embodied in a foreign State – an armored leviathan that came from across the sea to colonize, enslave, and dispossess. In the Americas, capitalism was delivered to the indigenous as a discipline imposed by the State, forcing them into wage labor and slavery, and dispossessing them from their land in order to privatize it for commodity production. In Africa and India, capitalism came from abroad in the shape of pale skinned imperialists that answered to powerful european states. A more recent example of this dynamic is the way the Canadian state imposes oil pipelines into first nation communities, violating the latter’s autonomy.

Yet, today the whole word has been consolidated into a system. Only very small communities exist that do not participate in the global economy. Most of the marginalized are waged workers, who exchange their labor-time for cash that will subsequently be used in the global market to buy food, shelter, and medicine. Although some communities such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas maintain their ancient, communal practices, their cooperative farms ultimately still produce commodities, which connects them to the world-system of capitalism. The commodity has shackled everyone globally to the same system and there is no escape. The violence that homogenized peoples of the world into proletarians has already happened. The clock cannot be turned back.

In the 20th century, many intellectuals saw the possibility of national liberation as a way to unshackle the colonized from the capitalist system. They thought that sovereignty was possible once they overthrew the imperial masters. But the old anti-imperialists only saw the military and political domination from the colonizers – a white man with a rifle and a constitution that robbed them from their freedom. Yet the abstraction that developed the core economies and pauperized the periphery exists beyond gunpowder and constitutions. Even if the former colonized created their own constitutions, parliaments, and flags, they buy the oil barrels from Canada, and the computer parts from the United States. More than half a century later, these former colonies remain shackled, not to the constitutions and rifles of the white man, but to a commodity world that turns the former colonies into bodegas that can be ransacked for underpaid labor and cheap natural resources.

Today, a shock in the housing market of the United States is felt in the value of tortillas in Mexico. The development of new technology to extract oil from shale trickles down to the price of a tractor bought by a farmer in Zimbabwe. Yet the Left does not have a vision of emancipation through a global, political structure that can mould the course of the global economy. For a long time, activists, militants and theorists thought that the first step for the liberation of people of color was through the increase of legal sovereignty within a specific geographic zone – from the autonomy in first nation reserves in Canada, to the sovereignty of the former colonies in Africa. Yet, the global dynamics that lead to the immiseration of the global south exist beyond the regional, and they couple in complex and non-intuitive ways areas that are thousands of miles in separation.

Anti-racism is incomplete without a political project that exists beyond the confines of the nation-state, because the  global immiseration of people of color is not due to national dynamics alone. We need to create a culture of socialist internationalism that aspires to build democratic structures that manage the global economy. If an economic policy pursued by the United States is felt by a factory worker in Bangladesh, it follows that the Bangladeshi worker should have a say on it. The ruling class has already created stable, semi-democratic structures that administer large territories, such as the ones of Canada and the US; sometimes these structures span many languages and ethnicities. There is nothing in principle that prevents leftists from aspiring to build similar structures that span the whole world, but with a socialist and democratic dimension that doesn’t serve only the needs of the rich and the powerful. To destroy the power and economic differentials that exist between the global south and the global north, we require global, democratic structures that enforce economic policies designed to achieve social and economic justice – in short, we need a world, socialist republic. Such a project seems like a pipe-dream, but so was decolonization before it entered the public discourse. We need to build an ethic of internationalism, in the same way we found colonialism disgusting and amoral more than a century ago.

Not everyone shares the blame for climate change.

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In the current discourse about climate change, concepts like Humanity and Science are often deployed in olympian terms. A recent example of this phenomenon are the “Marches for Science” organized in hundreds of cities as a reaction to Trump’s denial of anthropogenic global warming. Humanity was recently brought into the analytic of natural history through the term “Anthropocene”, where the root of the word implies that Humanity in general is the main force driving the current global warming.

Science and Humanity as discoursive terms have much in common with terms like God and Morality,; concepts that rise above the petty concerns of politics and individual interests. In the context of climate change, Science revealed an impending ecological doom, and therefore Humanity must act in unison in order to not face catastrophe. Science and Humanity can convince the leaders of the modern world to shed off their greed and mutual differences, in order to build a global strategy against climate change. The Paris Agreement follows from this discourse; hundreds of countries that compete geopolitically and economically agreed upon limiting the temperature increase of the Earth.

Yet, as a marxist, I know that all discourse mediates power differentials between social classes and nation-states. The construct of God has always expressed the interests and ambitions of different classes – from justifying the plunder and enslavement of whole continents, to being a tool used by the marginalized and oppressed to fight for social justice. Although, Science and Humanity conjure a certain objectivity that lies beyond politics, their use is precisely political, mediating socio-economic interests. By ascribing responsibility to Humanity at large for global warming through terms like “Anthropocene”, the current discourse obfuscates and hides the social forces that are responsible for bringing us close to catastrophe. Humanity at large didn’t cause the forcing that is moving the Earth-system closer to cataclysmic change, but a specific economic system wielded by a very small percentile of the Earth’s population. This economic system is Capitalism. By ascribing the guilt and responsibility of the Earth-system to humanity at large, the leaders of the modern world avoid laying the blame on the the powerful, and therefore, safe-guard the interests of the capitalist class.

Empirical evidence shows that those who benefit the most from Capitalism share the larger chunk of the responsibility for global warming. Not only do the richest, and most powerful countries, which are also the largest beneficiaries of the current economic system, have the highest CO2 emissions per capita, but carbon footprint correlates positively with household income. It is preposterous to think that the poorest billion of humans, the indigenous in the Americas, the hunter gatherer societies in Africa, the people living in favelas in Rio de Janeiro, are the ones guilty for our current predicament. Not only are these people powerless under the current conditions of capital accumulation, but empirically, each one of them leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than the suits currently dictating the world economic policies in Washington, in the IMF, and in Brussels. Furthermore, the logistical and cultural apparatus behind the global market drives the Earth-system into disequilibrium in very complex and subtle ways – think about the spiritual and physical landscape created by real estate companies, automobile corporations, and oil companies – that sterile, concrete sea of carefully manicured lawns, beige houses and cars, and the resources required to electrify these spaces and fill them with consumer goods. The powerful not only manufacture a culture that makes us desire for the ecologically and socially devastating suburban sprawl that they produce and sell, but they also lobby against the greener and more socially equitable alternative of public housing, sustainable urban planning, and ultimately, against a world beyond commodities,  of leisure time and less work.

Finally, by pretending that Science is sufficient reason to combat climate change, that is, that the world will accept a greener alternative given the scientific evidence, specialists and technocrats refuse to acknowledge the political dimension of climate change. If our current ecological predicament follows from the rules that organize the present global, economic system, rather than something endogenous to Humanity itself, then the only way to fight global warming is destroying those rules. That question is ultimately political, because it implies a new economic and moral order that doesn’t allow an upper percentile to benefit from ecological ruination while the rest of the world has to suffer the consequences. Defanged Science that only exists within the realm of technocratic and polite conversations in peer reviewed journals, is useless without a moral and political vision that hurts the interests of the capitalist class.

White supremacy is polite.

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White supremacy isn’t a meth addled, overweight white male in a biker vest. Nor it looks like a pale virgin lashing out in 4chan about cucks and immigrants. White supremacy isn’t the electoral promise of a giant wall between the United States and Mexico. White supremacy isn’t a swastika tattoo.

White supremacy is a clean room full of light and handshakes. He is a smiling man with caramel skin and a fitted suit that sells hope and dreams while overseeing immigrant deportations. She is a liberal woman in suit-pants that enslaves people of color in prisons. White supremacy is the bank’s multicultural board of directors that denies a black person that loan to get that mortgage. White supremacy is a handsome white man with an indigenous tattoo that poisons the water supply of first nation communities with oil pipelines. White supremacy is that asian cop that murders an unarmed, black man.

White supremacy appears beautiful, rational, and acceptable. White supremacy is polite.

As the left retreats into the realm of the semiotic, into dissecting the discourse of some professor or television show, into ruining someone’s life because they made an off colored remark in twitter or in an academic paper, the leaders of the modern world, who oversee the wars, prisons, and real estate markets – in short the people that direct the material forces that pauperize and destroy people of color, are becoming more anti-racist, more feminist, and more queer. They are being taught by expensive bachelor degrees on how to look a little bit black, a little bit queer, on how to be loved by leftist professors and liberal think-pieces. The KKK, the right-wing redneck and neo-nazi skinehead are vastly inferior versions of what is about to come.

Even the marxist left suffers from the problem of semioticism. Some of this goes under the  modern phenomenon of “Antifa”. In the decades leading up to the triumph of fascism, anarchists, socialists and communists, faced off the fascists in the streets and the barricades. The lesson they learnt is that the fascists should be opposed militantly, so that they never become strong and confident enough to take power ever again. However, the radical left by doing so, forgets about the people in power right now. They think white supremacy only looks like a nazi, an alt-right shithead or a Trump supporter. However, radical theory is about uncovering what is not obvious at first glance. In Canada, the man that oversees the continuing dispossession of First Nations is not Richard Spencer or Milo Yiannopoulos, but someone who wants to legalize marijuana and whose dad took selfies with Fidel Castro.

The problem with leftist obsession with semiotics is that ultimately, the oppressed of the world will not live up those standards. If we eavesdrop  conversations between mexican workers in a cantina, or read the facebook feed of a syrian refugee, the discourse will never be as woke as the one of an overeducated, white person. If anti-racism and anti-sexism are merely about discourse, about saying the right things and not making those off-colored remarks, in short, about being polite, then  the only anti-racists that will exist are those that have paid handsomely for the education that teaches them how to talk the talk – anti-racism will be the realm of politicians, professionals, and academics. However, marxists know that discourse is merely the superstructural expression of material forces – forces that take the form of capital, the police, and the nation-state.

I want to end this blog post with a quote from Martin Glaberman, which I think captures the essence of what I am trying to say:

“If white workers realize they can’t organize steel unless they organize black workers, that doesn’t mean they’re not racist. It means that they have to deal with their own reality, and that transforms them. Who were the workers who made the Russian Revolution? Sexists, nationalists, half of them illiterate. Who were the workers in Polish Solidarity? Anti-Semitic, whatever. That kind of struggle begins to transform people.”

A green empire.

One of the most striking conversations I ever had was with a master’s student in the geosciences. His family had left Brazil to escape criminality, filth and low career prospects. He was a very passionate defendant of hydrocarbons. I told him that sooner or later we will have to phase out hydrocarbons in order to prevent a cataclysmic change in the Earth that could lead to human ruin. He retorted, “you see why this city is so clean and green? It’s because of the oil economy! You know what’s dirty, a third world city!”

Everyone knows what he means. The litter in the streets of Bumbai. The polluted rivers of the Niger Delta. The dense smog in Mexico City. The industrial smoke stacks that emit lead particles, poisoning the air in the shanty towns around the third world city I was born and raised in. In a typical city in Alberta, Canada, the industrial smoke stacks are far away from the cities. From the view of my apartment, I can see a thick foliage of trees, parks, and flowers, enveloping residential towers and office buildings. Colorful, recycle bins stack against each other, with labels for glass, paper, and cardboard.

His statement was both disturbing and enlightening. It laid bare one of the main dialectics of climate change: these rich societies that project an aesthetic of cleanliness, law and order, and ecological consciousness, also are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases per capita. These green cities, with parks, trees and flowers enveloping office towers,  give the appearance of ecological responsibility, while turning the Earth into a thermodynamic hell for the poorest billion of humans. It’s not the ignorance of the poor, with their filthy streets, and lack of recycling consciousness that is destroying the environment, but the highly ordered, clean and beautiful residents of the liberal metropoles of Canada and Germany, who go to the mountains every weekend, ride their bikes to work, and wear hiking shoes in their offices.

Perhaps the old marxist theorists forgot to mention an ecological imperialism, where the earth is made habitable for a few at the expense of the majority.