There has been a hard authoritarian right wing shift in global politics: the emergence of Trumpism, Brexit, and the triumph of Chinese state capitalism are all symptoms of this social transformation. What is happening and why? And what is to be done about it? I hope to address all of these things here.
HISTORICAL CONTEXT OF MODERN SOCIETY: THE REVOLUTION
There is a general trend in the course of recent human events. Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the masses of common men and women have fought bravely for their individual liberty and their liberation from oppression and exploitation in all its forms. The American revolution, the French revolution, the Haitian revolution, the revolutions of the 1840’s, the workers revolution that founded The Paris Commune, the Russian revolution, the Cuban revolution, the Chinese revolution, and even the revolutions of 1989 have all been a part of this great revolution. Such a revolution undoes itself when it is betrayed, or when it no longer represents the interests of the liberation of the people. It may not do so immediately, it may take many years of struggle. This is what we saw in 1989 with the fall of Stalinism in Eastern Europe. This revolution is not a straight line, it is a spiral of self-contradictions. But the general trend is almost universal: two steps forward, one step back.
The revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries fought mainly and almost exclusively for negative liberty, the barest of human rights. The revolutions of the 20th century fought mainly and almost exclusively for positive liberty, in societies that never had negative liberty to begin with. The revolutions of 1989 made clear that no people can achieve liberation by negating the most basic negative liberties in the pursuit of a society that guarantees positive liberty.
This is what the ‘fall of communism’ symbolized. There can be no socialism without unfettered liberty and democracy, and no real liberty and democracy without socialism. The latter, however, was lost on such a disillusioned people as the Eastern European’s of 1989, and for this we cannot blame them. All these social contradictions and antagonisms, and especially those of our modern society, make clear the need for yet another expansion in the realm of personal liberty, another great revolution, this time for positive liberty on top of the negative liberty we already have in Western countries. This time what is needed is a revolution for a truly democratic and free socialist society, a society in line with the ethics of all the major religions of the world, not one like ours which is against those ethics. This is what we socialists believe.
But the information and telecommunications revolution, itself a phase of the industrial revolution, has revolutionized society to such an extent that it has struck at the very heart of the revolution. It has placed all of ‘free society’ in mortal danger. Not because technology is evil or bad, but because of the way technology functions in our liberal bourgeois society.
WHAT IS THE DIAGNOSIS?
Global politics has taken a hard authoritarian right wing shift in recent few years. There are several reasons for this and I believe the diagnosis is far more serious than anyone realizes. The reasons and consequences of this are as follows:
1.) Neoliberalism is a failed economic and political system that has not only lost all faith in itself, but it has lost the faith of the people.
2.) The establishment liberal left offers no viable alternatives to the existing order. Since the collapse of the USSR and co, the social democratic left offers no viable alternatives to the existing social order that will not be completely undone by capital via privatization and neoliberal ‘reforms’ just years after implementation. This is not because said social programs ‘failed’, but because the bourgeoisie is in power and it puts its own interest above the general interest. There is no USSR left to compete with in regards to ensuring a social safety net for the common people of western nations. As a result, social democracy alone is no longer a viable alternative. The majority of far-left parties are Stalinist, advocating a return not to the democratic ideas of Marx and Rosa Luxemburg, but to a return to the totalitarianism of Stalinism. No one takes Stalinism seriously as a potential alternative. Politically it is a dead end. Anything other than Stalinism is preferable, including the existing social order. The almost total lack of a viable left wing alternative is entirely the fault of the left.
3.) In spite of the fact that we are statistically living in the safest era in all of human history, we are also more connected than we ever have been before thanks to the information and telecommunications revolution and with it, the creation of the internet. The human brain evolved to know only several hundred people that geographically live around the person in question. This is a recipe for disaster when terrorism is introduced to an over-informed and hyper-connected society. This is especially true given the fact that the media is a capitalist organization whose goal is typically to entertain and sensationalize rather then to objectively inform. A terrorist attack that happens 1000’s of miles away killing a few dozen people causes people all over the world to feel unsafe. Even though you are more likely to be struck by lightning, people FEEL like terrorism is a serious threat, they FEEL unsafe and are willing to give up their liberty for illusory promises of security. In our political era, feelings tend to be equated with facts: fear becomes policy.
4.) The later stages of the information and telecommunications revolution has caused a logarithmic growth in the emergence and creation new technologies and with it, new frontiers have emerged for the abuse of state power and the violation of the rights of the people. In combination with the perceived threat of terrorism, this threat is terminal to the existence of any ‘free’ society.
5.) Due to the nature of liberal democracies, there is a significant delay between the creation of new technologies and the creation of ethical legislation regarding the ethical use of said technologies by the state. The laws “protecting” our rights in the digital age are mostly from the 1980’s and earlier. The fourth amendment and the 12th article of the UN’s declaration of human rights guarantee privacy to be a fundamental human right. However, these rights are declared to be null and void in regards to the digital world. Freedom is always and exclusively the freedom of dissent. A free society is one in which the people can meaningfully oppose state power without fear, without self-censorship or surveillance. Privacy is therefore not only a right, but it is the only real prerequisite to the realization of virtually all other rights. Nearly all legislation passed in the United States and similar ‘liberal democracies’ in this regard has been unethical, illiberal, and in direct violation of the rights of the people (ex. House of Reps repealing regulation that forbade ISPs from selling your internet history to the highest bidder in 2017, NSA mass surveillance or ‘bulk collection’ of metadata as revealed by Snowden in 2014 w/ PRISM, TEMPORA, five, nine and fourteen eyes alliances, etc.)
6.) Despite ‘economic growth’ for the rich, real wages have not risen with productivity since the 1970’s and the life quality of working people continues to stagnate or decline. Working people have become increasingly disillusioned with establishment politics. The liberal left’s obsession with political correctness has only furthered this disillusionment. Liberal leaders such as Obama have failed to implement any transparency or “change”, but have instead done the exact opposite.
7.) The combination of all these things has caused a resurgence in right wing and far-right politics and with it, vast increases in authoritarianism and gradual decreases in civil liberty. Privacy is not only a right, but it is the only real prerequisite to all human freedom. Freedom is always and exclusively the freedom of dissent, and the erosion of privacy means the erosion of the capacity of the people to effectively dissent. The state has vastly increased its own power and has effectively decreased the power the people have to meaningfully oppose said power. Censorship is superfluous in a society that imposes mass surveillance. Instead of implementing external censorship and physically crushing dissent, mass surveillance causes people to self-censor themselves because everyone’s most personal secrets are known or are readily available to the state with no real oversight. Anyone who stands effectively in defiance of the state or state policy is an easy target for state-sponsored blackmail, slander, or demonization- and these powers are only growing stronger with time. The safeguards in place, which are policy, not legislation, change every 2 to 4 years in a liberal democracy and are gradually being eroded in the name of ‘security’. This erosion will only speed up in the coming decades.
The governments of the western nations, of the ‘freest’ countries in the world, no longer represent either the will or the general interests of the people. They are the biggest threats to individual and liberal rights that have ever existed in all of human history. Snowden is right in claiming that they have constructed and are continually strengthening architectures of oppression far surpassing those of the wildest dreams of the Stasi and the Nazi Gestapo. Establishment liberal politicians who promise more transparency and less authoritarian measures are Machiavellians in the truest sense of the word. Even the White House review panel on NSA surveillance programs has come to the conclusion that these programs have not stopped a single terrorist attack since their inception. But our political system, like our whole bourgeois society, is not based on reason and facts, it is based on feelings. These Machiavellians know that if they end these Orwellian programs, that they personally will be blamed for the next terrorist attack that happens. It is far too rare for an elected official holding high office to subjugate the individual interest to the social interest, and as such, we cannot rely on elected officials to implement the changes that are necessary.
The common people are conditioned not to be involved in politics. The nature of the political system is such that it is designed to keep things the same, even when there is minor change, it is done by offering small enough concessions to continue the growth of the capitalist system. Freedom in a stable society is always only ever a fundamental issue to the dissenting minority, it is never a question of the majority interest but of the minority interest- and it is an absolutely crucial minority interest just the same. Only when a society becomes authoritarian or unstable (as our society is becoming) do these rights become essential for an entire society. The information and telecommunications revolution has created such an expanse in the emergence of new technologies that abuses of said technologies are deemed to be acceptable to the non-political class precisely because the current political system is designed to keep things the way they are, to maintain existing forms of oppression and exploitation. By design, it alienates the masses from the affairs of the political class, which just so happens to consist mainly of the petty-bourgeoisie and big bourgeoisie.
The only successful form of capitalism in our era is the Chinese model of authoritarian state capitalism, a capitalism wholly divorced from democracy. The future of the capitalist system is a capitalism divorced from democracy. If the United States and Europe continue under capitalism in the coming decades, they will likely and out of necessity, become more like China.
It is for these reasons that we believe that there is an extremely high risk that the late 21st century will consist mainly of a people crushed under the weight of totalitarianism if the current system is allowed to continue. The erosion of privacy, the only real prerequisite to civil liberty in our society, is but a first step in this social transformation. It is a betrayal of almost every revolution that has taken place since 1774. The increasingly authoritarian rightward shift in global geopolitics reflects this diagnosis of society.
WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
The solution to these grave social ills can only be a left wing solution. This cannot mean a solution consisting of a small group of intellectuals seizing power nor of any manner of individual terrorism. It must be a revolution if the people. It cannot aim to establish a Stalinist state or a one-party dictatorship. Only the people are capable of liberating themselves and governing themselves. Nothing can nor will change without the support of the people. We believe the solution to right wing authoritarianism is not left wing authoritarianism, but a democratic, anti-authoritarian, mass socialist movement. This is in line with the ideas of Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg as well as the principles of Trotskyism. Luxemburgism, Trotskyism, and some of the anarchist ideas on the radical left that no one took seriously for most of the 20th century, must be taken seriously today if the people of the 21st and 22nd century are to be free and healthy.
The slogan of socialism in the 21st century is that of expanded individual liberty as much as it is the introduction of industrial democracy, of this be sure. Rosa Luxemburg, in her perhaps misplaced criticism of the Russian Revolution (in Ch.6 of a pamphlet titled ‘The Russian Revolution’), famously declared the necessity of liberty in a socialist society. To quote,
“Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party – however numerous they may be – is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege…
Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly, without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution, becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them, in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously – at bottom, then, a clique affair – a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians, that is a dictatorship in the bourgeois sense, in the sense of the rule of the Jacobins (the postponement of the Soviet Congress from three-month periods to six-month periods!) Yes, we can go even further: such conditions must inevitably cause a brutalization of public life: attempted assassinations, shooting of hostages, etc.”
Any socialist movement worth its salt in the 21st century must defend and expand the liberal rights that have been won through decades of working class struggle.
The way for society to progress in a stable world would be to wait for the inevitable: the later stages of the information and telecommunications revolution will bring vast increases in automation technologies. The automation of most forms of physical labor will make communism (a stateless, classless, moneyless society) a virtual historical inevitability. But we do not live in a stable world. In addition to increasing authoritarianism and the erosion of civil liberty, the capitalist system is utterly nihilistic when it comes to acknowledging its own effect on the environment. To ensure its own survival, it has sacrificed the entire future of humanity to further its own ends. It accepts that it has destroyed the environment beyond repair and refuses to do anything of meaning to address this, it accepts that we are probably living in the final centuries of humanity. It blames the individual for climate change, not its own systematic rape of mother earth. From a species perspective, capitalist society has become so illogical that we would not be wrong to call it suicidal. By the time the automation revolution comes, the effects of climate change will become so acute that the potential such technologies have for ensuring human liberation will become superfluous in its wake.
For this reason, the working people of the world cannot wait for some far off historical inevitability. As Lenin said, “sometimes history needs a push”. And in the advanced capitalist countries where civil liberty already exists and the economy is highly industrialized, where socialism can already be built without the iron whip of Stalinism, we have to agree. As liberal democracies become increasingly unstable, it is only a matter of time before they degenerate completely into a system similar to the Chinese system of authoritarian state capitalism, and this will likely happen far before the automation revolution. It is precisely at this moment of destabilization and crisis that the common people, the working people, must seize all state power and work to ensure the future survival and freedom of the human race. This is the only way that we can cast Trumpism, the suicidal perpetuation of technologies that are destroying the environment, authoritarianism, and capitalism into the dustbin of history. The slogan of such a movement is the same as it was in the 20th century, “Workers of All Countries, Unite!” People should not fear political change, they should not fear a radical restructuring of society. If it is something done by the will of the people, with the people truly in power, have faith that it will be done in a way that changes the world for the better. Only this, we believe, can get us out of our current predicament.