Our cultural hegemony, or rather a particular aspect of it, is designed to dissuade Marxists from doing the most impactful thing they can do at this stage in the class struggle: bring anti-imperialist ideas to the people by any means necessary. This is the part of the cultural hegemony that exists specifically within the modern USA’s “left” spaces, and that’s been cultivated to prevent those in these spaces from nurturing the anti-imperialist impulses of the workers. Which is an essential ingredient to building a relationship with the people, and to rallying the people towards asserting their material interests.
The indispensable nature of that task seems obvious, but there are a series of stigmas and taboos within today’s conventional activist spaces which make anyone who seriously pursues it become labeled as a traitor to leftism. Or rather to the concept of “leftism” which the prevailing culture has normalized.
In a broad sense, the cultural hegemony we live under has the character of dogmatically pro-capitalist ideology; the default beliefs somebody in our society is conditioned to adopt are ones that tell them to see the present socioeconomic order as the best possible system, and to embrace this system’s competitive mentality. When somebody becomes alienated from this society and its prevailing ideology, though, it’s rare that the alternative ideas and practices they seek out lead them towards becoming effective agents within the class struggle.
This is because ever since the incredibly popular and influential 20th century American communist movement was destroyed by McCarthyism, the FBI’s war on the Panthers, and the destructive effects of the USSR’s fall, it’s gotten replaced by a new version of the “left” that’s fundamentally ineffectual. A “left” that’s defined by an anti-popular mindset where appealing to a majority of the people, even when it’s on something as objectively revolutionary as anti-imperialism, is seen as “reactionary.”
That’s the logical conclusion of the stance, shared by our primary “left” groups, that we can’t work with anyone who isn’t as ideologically advanced as they are. (Something these groups judge with a hubristic bias, as they frequently embrace anti-materialist liberal academic theories). When one is operating according to this anti-popular way of thinking, the “solution” they’re led to is an idealistic one; a practice where they assume they can achieve socialism, while bypassing the work required for educating and mobilizing the people.
The tragic situation of so many who’ve become alienated from capitalism in 21st century America is that this false solution is the only type of “socialism” they ever encounter. And the elements which represent an authentic threat towards our ruling institutions get ubiquitously slandered by the compatible left, which too often dissuades the compatible left’s naive members from joining with those truly revolutionary elements.
Anyone who saw the efforts by PSL and ANSWER to censure and isolate the multi-tendency anti-NATO coalition which emerged this year knows what I’m talking about. It was the communists within that coalition who had the superior model of practice (building an antiwar movement that’s capable of connecting with people outside the left activist niche), while it was PSL that had the ineffectual model (trying to appeal to liberals by taking imperialism-compatible positions, like denouncing Russia’s military operation). Additionally, it was the anti-NATO coalition that was actively bringing the antiwar movement forward, whereas PSL and ANSWER engage in worship of spontaneity by only holding actions in response to preexisting momentum. Yet those who were beholden to PSL, or were simply invested in ultra-leftist ideas, accepted the dishonest arguments which the compatible leftists made against the anti-NATO coalition.
The scandal-mongering around this coalition, and about all individuals and orgs adjacent to it, has successfully fooled those within all tendencies of the compatible left: anarchists, Maoists, social democrats, the sectarian types of Trotskyists. As well as the actors who call themselves Marxist-Leninists, but don’t truly practice the dialectical science of Marxism-Leninism.
I used to be part of the latter group; if I had heard of the Rage Against the War Machine coalition prior to February of 2022, I would have been persuaded by the “leftist” arguments condemning the coalition. But when I came to recognize that Russia’s act of defiance against U.S. hegemony was absolutely justified, and was an overall positive development for the anti-imperialist cause, this began to make it possible for me to break from our “left” cultural hegemony. Because if Russia was right for taking action in Ukraine, why have all of our main “left” orgs condemned Russia for doing this? If this is how bad their judgment is, should we uncritically believe them when they say a diverse anti-imperialist coalition is bad?
The dominant cultural narrative in modern American leftism asserts that whenever any political position conflicts with the goal of gaining influence within the insular “left” spaces, that position should be rejected. Because Russiagate solidified an anti-Russia orthodoxy among liberals, and many “leftists” are simply liberals in a more “radical” form, orgs like PSL have sought to distance themselves from Russia’s action. And because the Democratic Party’s narrative managers are easily able to convince the bulk of leftists that it’s never okay to work with any non-leftists on anti-imperialism, even plenty of Marxist-Leninists who should know better have denounced the anti-NATO coalition.
These beliefs are further strengthened by the rationales that they come with; rationales which can convince someone their own thinking has been guided not by liberal tailism, but by objective reality. For instance, a Marxist who’s anti-Russia can believe their stance is justified by Russia being a capitalist state; or a Marxist who opposes the anti-NATO coalition can believe the coalition’s communists are simply empowering the right. These beliefs are self-reinforcing, as they all come from the same mentality which can cause a leftist to act insular and narrow-minded; that mentality being ultra-leftism. The consequence of letting oneself be guided by this thinking is to discard essential parts of Marxist theory (like primary vs secondary contradictions), or essential lessons from communist history (like how the Bolsheviks won because they were willing to work in reactionary trade unions).
The essential character flaw of these types of Marxists (aside from the ones motivated by actual corruption) is susceptibility towards social pressure. When one honestly investigates what kinds of people who are leading the anti-NATO coalition, they find that the things they’ve been told about these people are misleading. But our social spaces, particularly the online ones, don’t incentivize serious investigation; they incentivize conformity, conformity to a predetermined standard for what it means to be a “leftist.”
Because of how common it is for the individuals who most passionately claim to support social and racial justice to be among anti-imperialism’s most vitriolic opponents, I’ve had to conclude that revolution won’t come from the left. It will come from whoever is willing to do what’s necessary for disrupting our liberal cultural hegemony, which is an indispensable prerequisite for proletarian victory.
Marxists may need to discard the “left” label itself, like they discarded the “social democrat” label in the early 20th century after social democracy came to primarily be defined by pro-imperialist opportunism. That the left opportunists are correct about certain things involving social and racial issues doesn’t erase their opportunism, it only makes it more insidious. A vanguard for our workers revolution can include those who are socially progressive; but only if they first come to the synthesis between this social progressivism, and the serious anti-imperialism which our movement’s success requires. The cultural hegemony our left spaces have cultivated makes it appear impossible to be principled on Black and Native rights, or on trans rights, while being an effective anti-imperialist. When one is exposed to perspectives outside this limited range of thinking, they can see how absurd that notion is.
By Rainer Shea
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